Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stop rolling through the lights!

Listen, you know who you are. You're the guy (or gal...) that thinks it's alright to time the traffic light change from RED to GREEN such that you begin rolling through the intersection prior to the light actually changing GREEN.

STOP IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That's right, STOP IT! You're an idiot. I*D*I*O*T! I know you think you're clever figuring out the oh-so-predictable patterns of the highway stop lights, but you're not. You're just an idiot that's pissing off the folks in cars that already hate us. As long as you're doing something stupid that makes your movement on the bike unpredictable to drivers, you're doing us a disservice.

We already have to deal with angry drivers on a regular basis, so why do something stupid to make them even angrier? Do you want them to run you off the road? Or are you just as stupid as they are and don't realize what you're doing to fuel their anger?

"Oh, but I'm not moving out that far before the light changes, I'm just getting ready to go."

No, you're not. I've seen you 1/2-way into the intersection before the damn light changes. Just like the jackass in the vehicle wanting to run you down, you're going to be fine when you get to your destination 5 seconds later than you would otherwise. Actually, you're so slow that even when you do get a head start I still fly past your ass. So how about instead of riding like an idiot you build some muscle to cut down your commute time? How about you don't give drivers a reason to want to hate us?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mt. Walker Kicked My Ass

WARNING: Never hike a 2-mile, 20% grade at break-neck speed up and down the mountain, twice. This is your only warning. Unfortunately I had no such warning.

My boss talked me into hiking Mt. Townsend in Quilcene, WA last weekend. As far as hiking mountains goes, I'm pretty much a newb. I didn't know what I was getting myself into.

It was me, my boss, and his brother. We left early in the morning and headed out to the mountain. After driving the majority of the way up the mountain to the trail head, we ran into too much snow to continue. Had we made it to the trail head, we surely would have been hiking the entire trail in snow. So we headed to Mt. Walker instead.

The actual hike up to Mt. Walker is a fairly steep grade at 20%. It's a 2-mile trail with 2000 ft of elevation gain. I wouldn't recommend this trail for anyone who isn't in pretty good shape.

We started out on the trail at a pretty good pace. We all had backpacks on with extra clothing, food, and water. My load was fairly light, maybe 10-15 lbs. My boss, on the other hand, was carrying probably 30-40lbs to help train for his up-coming mountain climbing adventure in Russia. I wasn't training for anything; only along for the ride.

On the way up I felt great. We did the climb in 39 mins. My legs were in great shape, with no burning the entire way up.

And then we went down... This was painful. We basically jogged down the entire mountain. The jarring on your body from an event like this is pretty harsh. My quads were starting to burn on the way down. Having to partially stop my body weight with every step took its toll. By the time I reached the bottom my legs were beginning to feel the pain.

We took a break at the bottom and refreshed ourselves with some food and water. Rather than call it a day after conquering the mountain at a record pace we decided to do something incredibly stupid: climb it again.

We went up the second time at a fairly fast pace, doing it in about 45 minutes. We came down at a little slower pace than the first time, but we certainly weren't taking it easy. My legs felt pretty drained by the time we got down the second time.

On Sunday the ache was beginning to set in. I woke up with some pretty intense leg pain that required a 40 minute (gentle) massage courtesy of my wife. My wife and I were supposed to do a 50-mile bike ride that day, so the massage was pretty much required if I was going to be able to do any riding.

After the massage my legs were feeling a bit looser, but they were still incredibly sore. So we set out on the bikes for the 50-miler, taking a route that would allow me to return to the house if I couldn't make it...... I made it 25 miles before I had to head back to the house. All of the jarring down the mountain made my right knee sore and I didn't want to aggravate it any further.

Later that night after having time to rest, the pain really began to set in. I'm pretty sure getting on the bike was a terrible idea and only worsened my condition. In retrospect getting on the bike was incredibly stupid.

On Monday morning I could barely get out of bed. Just rolling over on my legs in bed was an intense experience. This was a soreness I had never felt before. But I hobbled out of bed and managed to get myself together. Walking was quite challenging. I would have welcomed one of those walker things with the tennis balls on the ends. My legs were so sore that you barely needed to touch them to induce intense pain. The kind of pain you get when you push on freshly bruised muscle. It felt like Muhammed Ali went bare-knuckled on each leg for 10 minutes.

Needless to say I took the car into work. I could barely walk and I wasn't about to ride my bike another 20 miles that day. It was a challenge even getting down my 2 front steps and into the car. My arms did a lot of work on Monday keeping me up right.

Tuesday and Wednesday were much the same as Monday; intense pain, requiring 40-minute massages every night from my wife (THANK YOU!), no bike to work, only car. Today (Thursday) I am at least able to walk around fairly well. The pain has started to subside quite a bit and I'm beginning to return to normal. I took a light spin on the bike to loosen my legs. I think I'll be back on the bike for the commute to work tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the ride in tomorrow given my 4-day recovery period. I never would have expected my intense mountain climbing adventure could put me in so much pain and require such a long recovery period.

You can bet my next mountain climbing adventure will be on my bike.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Commuting Tip #1: Helmets and Rain Caps

When I bought my first cycling coat for cold weather I picked up a rain cap to go with it. It was bright and reflective and I figured it would help me be seen.

The first time I rode in the rain and used the rain cap I discovered it made my head a little too warm. The rain was light, so I probably didn't need the cap to begin with. Thereafter, when riding in light rain, I would forgo the rain cap and ride unshielded. This worked well.

It wasn't until my first down pour that I discovered a very good reason to use the rain cap that had never occurred to me prior. One would normally tend to think that a rain cap would keep your head dryer and warmer during a heavy down pour, and that was its sole purpose. The rain cap does indeed keep your head dryer and warmer. But there's one little hidden secret I'd like to share with you now: it keeps those sweat filled pads in your helmet dry too.

After riding for a number of miles in the heavy rain without the cap it didn't take long before I had a very nasty, salty, bitter taste in my mouth. You guessed it: those sweat filled helmet pads were unleashing their nastiness and streaming down my face. That wasn't delicious rain water I was tasting. It was weeks of sweat soaked into my helmet pads.

Moral of the story? Wear the rain cap if there's enough water falling out of the sky to soak the pads. That, or keep your mouth shut during the ride.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What do I ride? What's the commute like?

What do I ride?

I have two primary bicycles that I ride on a regular basis. One is a Cannondale Carbon Synapse and the other is a Surly Long Haul Trucker. The Synapse is the "fun" bike, while the LHT is the commuter bike.

Cannondale Carbon Synapse

Surly Long Haul Trucker

The LHT is outfitted with all of the commuting essentials: fenders, rack, panniers, head light, flashers, and puncture resistant tires.

The Synapse is the "fun" bike because it is a fairly light weight carbon frame with minimal accessories. This is the bike I ride when I want to go fast (or climb hills). After commuting with my LHT all week with loaded panniers, it really is a thrill to hop on this bike and feel the acceleration.

The LHT is the ultimate commuter. The fit is nearly perfect for my body (the frame is 52cm and I'm 5'8"). The LHT is geared for anything from cruising down a mountain, to climbing a 10% grade. The frame fits very wide tires (although I have very narrow tires since I commute on pavement), has multiple rack and fender mounting points, and space for 3 water bottles. As you can see in the picture above I use the water bottle cage on the bottom side of the down tube for my headlight battery. The chain stay even has space to hold a few spare spokes. The LHT is a touring bike and is absolutely perfect for commuting. The standard LHT from Surly comes with bar end shifters. My LHT was built up by my LBS with STI shifters. I like to shift frequently with the hilly terrain around here, so this is a welcomed modification.

How far is my commute and what's it like?
10 miles each way. The terrain is rolling hills. There are no extreme grades to ascend or descend.

I ride along the shoulder of the highway from Poulsbo to Bainbridge Island and back. The shoulder is fairly wide most of the way. The ride is pleasant aside from the occassional exhaust fumes. Recently I picked up a riding partner that makes the ride go by really quickly. It's almost too short when I'm busy talking to someone else on the ride.

Drivers seems to be aware of cyclists along the highway. I would guess there are around 15 to 25 of us that commute along the highway every day. The more people cycling on the road every day, the more drivers become aware of cyclists. This is a good thing.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Panniers for the Rain

I'm going to try and review most of the things I purchase related to cycling. I find it very helpful when I can browse the internet for product reviews before I go ahead and make a purchase. Hopefully my reviews will make your purchasing decisions a little bit easier.

Living in the Seattle area I'm forced to deal with a lot of wetness. Not only do I carry clothing, food, books, etc..., but I also frequently carry electronics. Because of this I have to have panniers that are completely waterproof. Water resistant just isn't good enough.

I chose the Ortlieb Backroller Classic Panniers. These suckers are completely waterproof. They also come in my favorite color, orange (although they may have discontinued this color). Behold:

The Pros:

1. Waterproof -- I can throw my laptop in the bags and ride through a hurricane and feel confident my electronics are safe. I've yet to see a single drop of water inside the bag after riding through the rain/mud/puddles.

2. Spacious -- They roughly hold the equivalent of your average backpack. The rolling action you do to close them allows you to easily adjust the volume from large to small. This means if all you have in the bag is your clothes for the day you can easily cinch up the bag so no extra is flapping in the wind as your ride.

3. Easy On/Off -- They come on and off your racks very quickly, yet they hold very securely. I've never had a problem with them jiggling or moving around regardless of a really light load, or really heavy load. I ride 99% on pavement, so I'm not sure how they'd hold up off road, but my guess is you wouldn't have a problem. To remove them simply pull up on the strap handle which releases the clips/hooks that grab onto your rack while pulling the bag slightly forward. Putting them back on is almost as easy as taking them off (almost).

4. Reflectors -- The bags have reflective patches on the front and back side (see white spots in picture). These are actually very bright to approaching vehicles. They are a welcomed addition for those of us who ride at night.

5. Easy Open/Close -- When open, it's much like a paper grocery bag. To close them fold the tops of the bag together and roll it up. There's a strap with a clip to keep the rolled up portion of the bag closed. This works very well. It's easy to open and close and you don't have to worry about any water getting in.

6. Durability -- I've been using these for about 7 months now. They still look almost like new. Prior to purchasing these panniers I spoke with a cyclist on the ferry who had a pair. I was curious as to how he liked them. He told me he had been using them for 5 years and they'd held up very well (his still looked like they were in great condition). He said his wife had a pair and they've never regretted buying them.

The Cons:

1. Compartments -- There really aren't any comparments in these things. There is a small side bag inside the panniers, but basically they're just a bag that can hold a lot of stuff. If you need to organize your shirts, socks, pants, wallet, pump, spare tire, etc... Then you're certainly not going to be able to do it with these panniers. Everything will basically be in one big pile in the bag -- just like filling a grocery bag with produce, cheese, cereal, etc... I have a smaller bag that fits on the top of my rear rack for this purpose. I use these for all of my big stuff. I've never felt the need for special compartments in these panniers.

2. Breathability -- This is not really a complaint that I have. When I was researching these panniers before making a purchase I came across someone complaing that because they were waterproof they didn't breath. I ride to work, I ride home, I go to the grocery store, and sometimes I go on short outtings with my wife that may turn into overnight stays. I haven't traveled across the country and had to worry about drying clothes along the way. I've always been able to change into something dry upon arriving at my destination. If you need breathable panniers that will dry out your clothes/etc... during a ride, these aren't going to work for you. Everything will stay wet. Personally I've never had to deal with this type of problem, so I don't know how valid it really is.

If you own a set of these panniers and have anything to add to this post, please leave a comment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Man Meets Hill, Hill Wins

I've been actively commuting to work by bicycle for over a year and a half now. In this relatively short amount of time I've managed to learn quite a bit about bicycle commuting. It is my hope that this blog will allow me to share what I've learned. In addition I may rant, rave, and jump up and down over just about anything on my mind. I want this to be a place to consolidate my thoughts and share my experiences with the cycling world. If my feedback proves useful to you, let me know.

So what made me start commuting to work by bicycle? I was conquered by a hill. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I tried riding my bike up a hill one day and after I realized I was too fat and slow that I had to do something about it. Well, you're wrong. I didn't go up a hill at all. Sadly, I went down -- on skiis.

I stopped at least four or five times down every run. "What the hell?" I thought. Had my body gone so far into the crapper I couldn't even ski down a hill anymore?

Oh boy. Old age had caught up to me and I was only 27. To be honest, I was horrified. In my childhood I could have skied up a hill and burnt fewer calories. What happened to me?

It was time for a change. Why not cycling? When I was a kid I rode just about everywhere. That is, until I was 18 and was damned with the automobile. In college I rode my bicycle to and from class. I visited my then-girlfriend, now-wife. I shopped at the grocery store. I was mobile at the expense of a few calories.

And so it began. With the bleak reality that was, I set out to change. Five thousand plus miles later, I've changed.

I can go down a hill again.