Tuesday, March 31, 2009

End of March Tallies

So I've ridden my new bike to work six times since I bought it on Pi Day (3/14). That's a total of 138 miles, not counting other rides to the store, etc. And I rode my old bike once, so the total for March is actually something like 161 miles.

That's a good start, but I have to admit to being a little disappointed. I thought I had spent more miles than that on the bike.

Here's to a more bike-intense April!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Maiden Voyage

So today was the first day I rode the new bike to work and back. It was everything I hoped it could be.

In particular:

  1. I didn't time it too carefully, but I'm certain the trip took less than an hour. That's fantastic, as the bus ride takes about 1:15, and my previous bike commutes were something like 1:05 -- 1:10. So I'm going to give the new bike credit for 10 minutes. And that's with a couple red lights that seemed a little long to me.

  2. The ride home took 1:08, rather than 1:30 (the ride home is a net climb, end-to-end). That's much better: I can justify times like that for a workout, but I have trouble justifying 1:15 each way just sitting on the bus, when I can drive it in less than half an hour.

  3. The old bike has front shocks, and I didn't really realize how much effort that added. Without those shocks, there is a noticeable change in the effort to move the bike. But then, I discovered just how rough my bike route is this morning. My arms were a little numb from shaking over one stretch.

  4. I love disk brakes. All the hype is deserved. They let you control the stopping so much better. I can ride down a hill at a controlled pace now: not just either ridiculously slowly are all-out fast. This might be one of those things from which there's no going back.

  5. The handlebars need some work. I've been contemplating switching out my bars for something more ergonomic, but I might just add some bar extenders. At any rate, the short T-bars are rough. After about 6 miles, I was getting pretty numb in the hands. I like the bar extenders on my old bike, although the vertical angle is wrong: the variety of hand positions makes riding just a little more comfortable. This could take some research: extenders make me feel like I'm going to get caught on something, but bare T-bars are just too Spartan.

  6. The trunk and built-in panniers are a nice shift of weight from my back to the bike. The weight doesn't actually change---I need to haul the same number of pounds up the hills---but it seems to be better situated than in a backpack. A friend has offered me a used messenger bag, so I'm looking forward to trying that too. I've been riding with a really heavy laptop bag, but now that I have a company-owned workstation, I'm not hauling that laptop anymore. This is a good thing. So maybe the messenger bag will be even better than the trunk, or maybe I'll find they compliment one another well enough I use them both at different times: there are advantages to both methods, and strong proponents of each.

  7. I already moved my tail-light up from the rack to the back of the trunk bag. I might need to move my water-bottle cage too. I think I prefer it on the lower tube, rather than on the seat tube. I'll probably need to just add one, rather than moving what's already there: I might be really dry come summer time.

  8. I don't like the grip-shifts on this bike. I like grip-shifts in general, but the ones on this bike are distracting. They have a little indicator needle that moves, and always makes me shift the wrong direction. This is difficult to describe in words, but maybe a picture helps:
    From Bikes New and Old

    The problem is, the needle moves with the grip, but it's in the wrong place: it looks like it should move against the grip, rather than with it. It's counter-intuitive enough I keep shifting up rather than down, etc. A little electrical tape could be the perfect solution to this problem.

  9. I like the smoother, narrower, higher-pressure tires.

So yeah, this bike is great. I'm really excited to get back on it tomorrow morning.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Bike

So I bought a new bike yesterday. I had agonized over whether to buy a new one or keep the old one for quite some time, but there were some unexpected developments that finally convinced me to go ahead. So we headed over to REI and took a look at their offerings.

I'll be honest, I've been to their stores a couple times and totally scoured their website in the last couple weeks. I've been a little bike-obsessed.

My old bike:
From Bikes New and Old

I was actually torn between two fairly spendy bikes: the Big Buzz and the Safari. I wanted a couple "extras" that come stock on the Safari but not on the Big Buzz, so the $50 price difference was a non-issue. After the add-ons, they'd cost about the same.

But after a few questions about me and my ride, one of the sales guys suggested the Buzz. It's about $200 cheaper than the two I was looking at, and it's really a great fit for what I want. That $200 was basically enough to put some add-ons on the bike and still get me out of the store cheaper than the list price on the other bikes.

My new bike:
From Bikes New and Old

One problem I have in my ride is, it's a 12 mile commute (one way). That's a long way to go on a mountain bike, but the roads here are kinda rough, and I frequently hit significant gravel and so forth. That effectively eliminates a high-efficiency road bike.

The Buzz seems to be a good compromise: it's noticeably lighter than my mountain bike, and rides a lot easier. Just on my short test drive last night (before it started to snow) and this afternoon (between amazing intermittent wind and hail storms), I found the bike is a lot faster and a lot easier to pedal.

This is my first bike with disk brakes, and I'm really interested to see how well they measure up to the hype. My short ride around the block gave me a little taste, but not enough to really get a feel for how they work in "real life." My longer ride out of the neighbourhood today gave me a better taste, but I really want to try them on a real ride.

From Bikes New and Old

One thing about my commute: the two worst hills are within two miles. And since I live on a hill, the end of my ride home is always uphill. And although every ride from home starts out downhill, they generally include a brutal uphill struggle in the first couple miles.

The good news is, I can test the new bike on the worst hills without going more than ten minutes. And so far, this bike is wowing me on the hills. The disk brakes give great control on the downhill stretches, and the narrower tires and lighter frame make the uphills a lot more friendly. I have to admit, I was loathe to part with my mountain bike, as I relied on the low mountain bike gears to beat those hills. But now I wonder whether they were more necessary because of the heavy frame and bulky tires than because of the actual roads. Time will tell.

So the add-ons... I bought a rack for the rear and a trunk:
From Bikes New and Old

the trunk contains some light-weight fold-out panniers:
From Bikes New and Old

and I moved my lights and water-bottle from the old bike to the new
From Bikes New and Old

So I'm admittedly enamoured of this bicycle, but the initial response is that the new bike is much better in every way than what I've been riding, and I'm extremely excited to ride it to work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bike Commuting

So I've been talking a lot about my commute to work. It's probably not interesting to anyone but me, but I'm having fun trying to crack this nut.

I've pretty much decided on biking to and from work, but there are a couple obstacles that I'm working on overcoming:

  1. The ride is 12 miles (19 km) one way, and I'm still not in the best shape. The ride is getting a lot easier, but I'm still wiped by it. Worse, the ride home is largely uphill, and by the last 3 miles, I'm miserable. The solution to this one is to keep it up and get into shape, but that's easier said than done.

  2. The weather hasn't been cooperating. We moved from Charlotte, NC to the Tacoma, WA area; and there are some implications to that. The wet is not as great a problem as the cold. Cold isn't only uncomfortable, icy roads are dangerous. The plan was to be biking full-time in March, but I've found March is a lot icier than I had expected. I'm trying to ride on fine days, but I still drive much more than I ride.

  3. I bought a cheap bike to try and ease into riding, and I'm questioning now my plan to buy a better one "after six months." It's been six months, and I want a better bike, but there is more desire for bike than money to fund one. It's been my experience that better tools generally result in much better results: that is, a better bike will mean an easier ride in, and hence more frequent riding. But there's still the small detail of paying for it.

So my biking plan is coming together, but more slowly than I would have liked.

It's been interesting to note how few people bike here, compared even to Seattle or Portland. This is perhaps not the most bike-friendly place in the world, but after North Carolina, it's awfully friendly.

I've found the drivers here are really great. I've read a lot by cyclists about how aggressive and evil drivers are, but I'm also reading a lot that suggests there are two sides to that story. And noticing bikes more, I'm seeing a lot of cyclists doing things like running stop signs or red lights. In fact, at least one cyclist actually told me he doesn't stop for four-ways.


Here's a hint for cyclists out there: if you run a stop sign and almost get hit by a SUV, it's your own fault. If you then you punch a window "to teach him a lesson"; you deserve whatever the guy gives you. Being on two wheels doesn't make you right. If you ignore the rules of the road, you're the only one to blame when you wind up road-kill.

The good news is, drivers seem to really appreciate a grin and some basic courtesy.

So I'm enjoying what little bike commuting I've managed to get in, and I'm really looking forward to doing it more frequently.