January 2010 archive

Snow Days in Nashville

Biking news out of Nashville is going to be slow for the next day or two, due to Snowpocalypse 2010. Friday morning, snow started falling and continued for the rest of the day, ending with an accumulation of (gasp!) about four inches (I can hear Dot laughing all the way from Chicago).

My office was closed on Friday, as were all the schools, and many businesses were shut over the weekend.

Snowy day in Nashville

Snow!!

Before you hardier New England and Midwestern souls start laughing too loudly, I should explain that this sort of weather strikes us, oh, only every 10 years or so, so the city has no proper snow plows. This means that streets stay icy/slushy/snowy for days following a snowfall–especially side streets, which are what I take to work. And of course, none of my bikes are set up to cope with this amount of slush, snow or ice.

icicles

icicles

It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow, with a high of 4o, so fingers crossed some of this snow will be melted away and I can be back on two wheels come Tuesday or Wednesday! I’ve missed my bikes.

Minnie

My car stayed at home this weekend too

Luckily, my neighborhood is walkable. I spent most of the weekend tromping around, trying out the new Thai restaurant that’s just blocks away and having a beer at my local pub — at least, when I wasn’t at home drinking hot chocolate, working on a long-neglected craft project or two, or catching up on “Gossip Girl.”

snowy me

Snowy me

Anyone else dealing with unexpected wintry weather?

Brooklyn Tricycle Chic: Vintage Style III

My favorite online vintage shop is Market Publique, where the sellers are vetted, the pictures are well-styled and the selection is a top-notch mix of designer duds and affordable finds. Imagine my delight when I saw that the intrepid entrepreneur behind the site, Pamela, uses a vintage trike to get around and haul cargo for the shop. She was gracious enough to talk with us for Part III of our Vintage Style Series. Read on to hear about the traumatic event that stopped her from cycling for so long, her return to pedal-powered transportation and the intersection between chic cycling and vintage style.

Pamela's first vintage trike

Pamela and her Vintage Trike

Hi Pamela. Thanks again for taking the time for this! We love to profile real women who use bikes for transportation, and you and your trike are perfect for our vintage series.

Tell us a bit about your history with cycling. When and why did you start, and how do you use cycling now in your life?

I didn’t really start cycling until this summer. I knew how to ride a bike when I was a kid, but I was pretty bad at it, and once crashed into a small bush outside this lady’s driveway because she was backing out and I had never learned to use my backpedal brake. As I was lying amidst the bush, under my bike, the lady backed up more, rolled down her window and said: “Can you please be more careful with my bushes?” then she rolled up the window and sped away… I was stunned, hurt, scarred for life and never rode my bike again.

My husband Jon has always been on my case about how awesome it would be if we could go ride our bikes together around Brooklyn. I was also walking many many blocks with tons of packages from the Market Publique office to the Post Office, and we had just signed up for a CSA, where I would have to pick up our vegetables every two weeks – it seemed like I really needed a bike then.

(Yikes.) So what is the story of your awesome vintage trike?

I hesitated getting a bike because of my childhood experiences, so I jokingly said that maybe I should get a Big Wheel or some kind of tricycle so I could carry a bunch of stuff and not worry about falling over.

I didn’t really know adult tricycles existed, but after some googling, we found a few. I got super excited and was trying to decide between a blue and a red model on Amazon, when a few days later, Jon surprised me with an early birthday present: my awesome vintage trike, found on Craigslist. My birthday is actually in September, but that way I could ride it around all summer and really enjoy it.

Unfortunately, knowing little about bikes, I bought the wrong lock and my trike got stolen before my birthday even came. We instantly searched Craigslist and eBay, to see if the thieves were up to no good, and lo-and-behold, we found a very similar one, which we bought instead.

Pamela's Second Vintage Trike

Do other cyclists and drivers on the road treat you differently because of your bike and clothes?

Ummm, yes. I think people think I’m weird (it’s true). Some cyclists get very excited, and ring their bell or yell “awesome bike” (I like those). Others give me dirty looks and complain I’m taking too much of the bike lane or going to slow (not so keen on them). About the clothes, I do live in Williamsburg, so I don’t stick out as much as I would in other places.

Is there a link between your passion for vintage clothing and your passion for cycling (aesthetic, environmental, economic, etc.)?

I think biking is a great way to get around without having a carbon footprint. It’s much better than driving a car to go 10 blocks away, and great exercise!

It is very much tied to my vintage lifestyle, as the main reason I got it was to be able to take the packages of clothing I’ve sold on Market Publique to the Post Office. We also love to eat local, so we joined a the Southside CSA. I ride my bike to pick up our veggies all the way from the Northside, and take my reusable bags in the basket with me.

Aesthetically, I love how my trike has recently become my signature accessory, it’s really fun! And the fact that we were able to get a vintage one is even better.

Vintage style seems to be having a moment right now. What do you attribute that to?

People are wanting to be more eco-friendly and sustainable without sacrificing style. Vintage achieves that, because you can get something fashionable and one-of-a-kind, that’s also eco-friendly. You’re not only reusing, but there’s less waste created when the fashion you buy is stylish but not necessarily trendy: you can wear your vintage season after season, since it won’t really go out of style, instead of buying things made in China that won’t last or will be out of fashion in a few months.

Plus, vintage tends to be a better value, as the quality is often higher than that of new items at an equal price point. If a dress has been around for more than 20 years, you know it will hold up for a few more years – unlike the new things that you wash once and get destroyed.

Pamela and her Topshop cruiser

Pamela and her Topshop cruiser via Chictopia contest

The online vintage shop you co-founded, Market Publique, is a huge success. Tell us about the concept.

Well thank you! I think we’ve had the success we’ve had because we solved a problem.

I was selling vintage on eBay and then on Etsy for a few years before we started Market Publique, and was really frustrated with both options. eBay changed their policies, fees, and feedback system to a point where it no longer made sense for me to sell my vintage there. Plus, it’s overrun with fakes, vintage reproductions not listed correctly, and a lot of irrelevant items, which made it hard to find the true vintage or trust any of the sellers.

I tried Etsy, but items sat on the virtual shelves for way too long without moving, and the lack of auctions made pricing difficult. You could also have very little creative control over your shop and branding, which is essential in conveying your message and presenting your items in an attractive way. Plus I felt that vintage should not have to be a second-class citizen on a handmade site, but should have a marketplace designed and built for it.

Since my partners and I are designers and developers, we decided we should start a site that fills in the gap, and gives vintage buyers and sellers a focused environment where vintage is truly appreciated – thus, Market Publique was born about six months ago.

We’re truly grateful to everyone who has supported us in our short existence. Because of them, our budding new site is now competing with eBay (10 years old!) and Etsy (5 years old!). We are thrilled at this quick start, and excited to finally bring the vintage community together, giving them the place and attention they deserve.

What is the vintage outfit of your dreams to ride your bike with (or perhaps you already own it!)?

Hmmm… I have so many dream outfits! Some I do own, like many of my 50s dresses, which pair excellently with some flat sandals and a picnic basket on the trike. I would love to have a swimsuit by Rudi Geinreich with a cute little skirt that I could ride to Brighton Beach and go sunning in (with a big hat and SPF, of course!).

Do you have any guidelines you apply to yourself when dressing to go somewhere on your trike, or do you ride in any outfit without giving it a second thought?

I try to ride with any outfit, but that has gotten me into trouble before, so now I give it a little more thought: Rompers usually work the best. Too short skirts or skirts that tend to twirl and blow in the wind require bike shorts or cute little tap pants. Long skirts are a no-no. Shoes are better without a heel, but hey, it all depends how far you’re going! And no shoes that are too precious to get scratches, as that’s almost inevitable.

The aforementioned "trouble"

The Aforementioned "Trouble"

The Aftermath

Is there any advice you would like to pass on to women considering city cycling?

I would say, stay on the bike lane and wear a helmet. I go to http://www.nycbikemaps.com/ and plan my route if I don’t know where I am going. I also bike with other people if I am going long distances, so we can help each other out if necessary – although they don’t like to wait for my grandma trike… hehehe. I try to only bike around Brooklyn, and not go into Manhattan so much, as it is mighty crazy over there.

Plus, get all your gear: a good helmet that fits properly, lights for night riding, a bell, and most importantly – a mighty good Kryptonite lock – they will steal ANYTHING in big cities.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks, Pamela! What an interesting and inspiring story.

If you are a vintage lover, check out Market Publique. You can find everything from this amazing 80′s Chanel dress (with price tag to match) to this much more affordable floral polyester shirt dress, this well-priced plaid and velvet YSL dress, and this sexy Dior cocktail dress. Also check out Pamela’s blog for fun fashion inspiration and trike spottings.

You can read Part I and Part II of our Vintage Style Series at those links. Stay tuned for the final series post, Trisha’s guide to buying and owning a vintage bicycle.

Anyone else out there have a trike? Love vintage? Both? :)

More Visible: Neon or Bunnies?

Some bicyclists never leave home without their neon, like this guy below.  Not a bad idea.

Other bicyclists get noticed by wearing stuffed bunnies atop their helmets.  Naturally.

If you or someone you know rides an Oma in Chicago while wearing a Bern helmet topped with a pink bunny and streamers (YES!  you read that right) please contact me.  Mr. Dottie spotted this woman yesterday, obviously someone I need to have a drink with.

LGRAB, California style

It all started with our friend Wanda . . .

. . . who summoned me, Dottie and our friend Erin to California to visit her for a long weekend. At the end of January. Who were we to say no?

Because Dottie and I can’t seem to travel without taking at least one turn around the city by bike, our sunniest San Diego day was reserved for a cruise down the boardwalk near Belmont Park, and a meetup with our blogger buddy Beany of Brown Girl in the Lane. Though Beany didn’t want her picture on the blog, if you look closely you might catch a glimpse of the handlebar of her sharp customized Surly in some of these shots.

The group sets off!

The group sets off!

We didn’t get a real sense of what cycling in San Diego day-to-day was like (check Beany’s blog for that), but our one beachside afternoon was a lot of fun. So consider this your glimpse of what LGRAB would be if Dottie and I relocated from the midwest tundra and the land-locked southeast!

First of all, the colors would be a lot brighter; at least, this time of year.

Grass would be green, and it would be windy! The hair is flying in these shots.

Erin against the ocean

We would make sure to pause for some goofy photo breaks — OK, so that’s not a change.

handlebar pushups!

And stop for ice cream. OK, also not much of a change!

I’m still not completely sold on beach cruisers. In addition to the strange geometry, they don’t do much to encourage people to make cycling part of their everyday lives, even though they’re easy to ride in everyday clothes — we saw a lot more bikes on the boardwalk in San Diego than on the streets. On the other hand, a pleasant cruise alongside the beach might be a nice introduction for a reluctant rider — and who says cycling has to be serious all the time? Certainly not us.

Dottie & her cruiser

Dottie sparkles!

A beautiful beach with a vibrant city behind it is a pretty killer combination — now I realize why people fall in love with San Diego. You can see more pictures from our trip here.

Roll Models: Catherine and Her E-Bike

If you hang around here, you’re probably already familiar with the awesome Catherine of The Freckled Diaries. We asked her to share her bicycling story and tell us more about her cool bikes.

Brief introduction:

I’m Catherine, a librarian working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  I live in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia–a small city just on the other side of the Potomac from DC.  I own two bikes–one regular and one electric and I’m in the final stages of going totally car-free and I’m excited about it!

Catherine with her Electra Amsterdam

A little about my bike history:

I was big into bike riding as a kid, particularly from ages 10-14, when I pretty much lived on my bike. I had what felt like free reign to the whole universe, but in retrospect, the outer limits of what was allowed was a mile and a half away. It didn’t matter though because my school, after school activities, most of my friends, the YMCA, the library, playgrounds, etc were in this 1.5 mile circle around my house so, for a pre-teen/young teen, that may as well be the whole world. My bike riding came to an abrupt stop at about age 14 when I started high school in a town 10 miles away and I outgrew my pink Schwinn. This being the mid-90s, it was replaced with a mountain bike. I hated that bike. I didn’t like the way I felt riding it, but because I didn’t know any better, I figured it was because I had outgrown bikes. In retrospect, it was the hunched over feeling, the perched too high feeling, the handle brakes (as opposed to coaster brakes which I still prefer) that I hated. I think I rode that thing twice.

A Reintroduction to bikes and the Electra Amsterdam:

Fast forward a double-digit number of years and I find myself living in Old Town. It’s pretty much the perfect city environment for bike riding: streets on a grid, not heavy or fast traffic, everything you need within 2 miles, extensive trail network all over Northern Virginia and DC to get elsewhere. I bought an Electra Amsterdam with the intention of riding it around town for errands, getting myself to the Metro station, etc. I thought maybe I’d take it out on the trail every now and again, but at the time I was heavy and not physically fit and “cyclists,” particularly those out on the trails, seemed like such athletic people that I couldn’t really imagine doing much more than scooting around town.

I quickly learned that I need a better imagination.

The bike commute:

When my bike arrived in March, I immediately fell back in love with the freeing feeling of cycling, and found myself inventing errands to do so I could spend more time on the bike. After a few weeks, I took to the trail to see how far I could make it, and after doing that a few times (by mid April) I realized that I was 3/4 of the way to work and that I really could make a go of bike commuting. After dealing with a broken foot (minor setback), I started bike commuting twice a week in early June.

The commute is about 10 miles each way, and is largely flat but does have a few short but steep hills and one very seriously large and steep hill at the end. (Here’s a video I made of the commute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvYI2PYivw8). It’s a great ride: a bit of Old Town streets, then a trail all the way up and across the Potomac, a sidewalk/trail to the Washington Monument, then a straight shot up the National Mall to Capitol Hill. It also takes me past two rugby fields, which I particularly like because there’s frequently a match in the spring and summer evenings. I love rugby and rugby players, so it’s kind of an ideal situation for me :).

Catherine with her e-bike

My e-bike decision:

A combination of the time factor, my fitness level and various logistic concerns made a daily commute not really workable for me. I thought about it more and more and realized that if I got an electric bike, I could bike commute every day and completely replace my car with the combination of the bikes, Metro and Zipcar. By early August, I had my e-bike (an Ecobike Elegance) and began bike commuting every day–most days with the e-bike and some with the Amsterdam. I still consider the Amsterdam my main bike; it’s all I use for everything but the longest of rides, and I frequently take it on Metro to get to/from farther-flung friends’ houses. The e-bike is more the utilitarian commuting beast.  Either way, I haven’t driven my car since September and have its sale in the works.  All in all, the sale of the car will cover the cost of both bikes, and between insurance, gas and maintenance (plus the ability to rent out my parking space), I’ll be saving/earning almost $5000/year (the parking space is worth a pretty penny ’round these parts).

More about the electric bike:

About e-bikes….they introduce a level of complexity into the situation but I’m really a proponent of them. Mine works in two ways–one by “turn the handle, bike goes” (the throttle option) and by pedal assist option–you pedal and the bike “senses” the effort you’re putting in and matches it. Most of the time, I use pedal assist because that’s what comes naturally to me and it doesn’t drain the battery nearly as much. I use the throttle mainly to help starting from a red light (particularly if I’ve forgotten to change gears before stopping!), or every now and again for a little “daredevil” boost of speed.  Most e-bikes work in a variety of different ways (some allow the cyclist to select the percentage of assistance for pedal assist, others are throttle only, some regenerate the battery when coasting/breaking). I know that they’re a little “controversial”, mainly because of the perceived “laziness” factor, but I think that this quote from a recent New York Times article about e-bikes in the US addresses that nicely (and coincidentally comes from my brand):

“Four years ago, we encountered many people saying, ‘Oh wow, we are so lazy, we need motors on our bikes’ ” said Scott Shaw, president of EcoBike USA, an e-bike maker in Southern California. “Now people are understanding and saying, this is more a utilitarian vehicle for commuting and getting outside on two wheels rather than four.”

I think it’s really important to recognize that not everyone is willing or able (physically, or time-wise) to commute, or otherwise travel daily by regular bike. While e-bikes are not as simple or “green” as regular bikes, and don’t provide the same level of exercise, they are far simpler, more sustainable and provide far more exercise than cars and public transportation. I think they’re a great option for that large segment of people who “would cycle to work but….”. I think that the more we embrace (or at least not dismiss) e-bikes, the more we’ll see bikes being thought of and used as transportation rather than “just” recreation.

So that’s it! If anyone’s ever in the DC area and wants some tips on where to go, what to do (or even a personal tour of the Capitol– a little staff perk), drop me a line!

Thanks so much for your inspiring story, Catherine! Visit Catherine at The Freckled Diaries.

Her story contains a common thread that also runs through my and Trisha’s stories: that of abandoning the bicycle in early teenage years, only to rediscover as adults the fun of riding a bike. We are curious to hear who shares this experience. Or has anyone ridden bikes without pause from childhood up through adulthood? If so, what kept you from falling into the societal trap of trading a bike for a license? On the other end of the spectrum, has anyone picked up a bicycle for the first time in adulthood, having never ridden as a kid?

Back From California

We are back from a trip to San Diego for our annual girlfriend reunion.  We will have intelligent stuff to say about the city and its bicycling culture later – which includes cruisers and meeting the fantastic Beany of Brown Girl in the Lane.  For now we’ll leave you with pictures.

I’ll put them after the jump to spare loading time…

(more…)

The Winter Cycling Community

While I was taking this shot, hunched over Betty Foy to balance my camera on the saddle, two separate passing cyclists asked if everything was okay. Yes, thank you! This random kindness reminded me how strong the Chicago cycling community remains even in the winter.

Sometimes while waiting at a light I find myself flanked by two or three other people on bikes. Note that I said “waiting” at a light – winter cyclists as a group seem more responsible than the influx of summer cyclists. The percentage of men vs. women is definitely more skewed toward men in the winter, but plenty of women are out there, too. Friendliness is all over the map, with some people striking up whole conversations and others completely ignoring my chipper “Good mornings.”

Overall, I am impressed by the number of winter cyclists and feel that the worse the weather, the stronger our collective bond. That’s one reason why events such as today’s Winter Bike to Work Day hosted by the Active Transportation Alliance – complete with coffee and cheesecake – are so great.

How is the winter cycling community where you live? Is there one?

DIY: Fun with Fenders

Technically, this should have been categorized as a DIWYF — do it with your family! Without my dad and my brother, there’s no way these Velo Orange Fluted Fenders would have made it onto Le Peug. I had read about fender installations before purchasing mine, and the one thing that all the stories had in common was the potential to get into something difficult–something that required special tools or customization. As luck would have it, mine required both.

Twas the week after Christmas, and we wheeled Le Peug into my Dad’s garage.

Le Peug before

Le Peug enters the garage . . . he doesn't know what he's in for

First step was to clean the bike and touch up the 30-year-old paint job. Dad promised that his 3M compound could take out all but the deepest scratches, and that Wenol, an extra-strength German metal cleaner, could make the dull aluminum rims shine.

tools

cast of characters

As usual, he was right. Check out these before/after shots. That compound cream worked miracles. If you think your bike needs to be repainted, try this first — but keep in mind that it does remove some of the paint, so be cautious.

portion of seat tube near bottom of photo has been cleaned

stays

stay at top of photo has been cleaned

After cleaning the frame with compound, we touched up the scratches with some white paint. Once that dried, it was time for wax. Now, the frame is back to blinding white and looks almost like new.

The clean, touched-up frame — like new!

That took a couple of hours, and a lot of elbow grease, but it was the easy part. Next, we had to figure out how to install the fenders. Le Peug’s brake and stay clearance was tight, so we had to reshape both the front and rear fenders a bit.

And because the screw on our brake bolt wasn’t long enough to attach the fender, too, we had to come up with a makeshift L-bracket. Luckily, right about that time my brother wandered into the garage. He scrounged up some scrap metal and got to work.

Charlie bracket

Charlie drills the custom bracket

One fender down! I study the instructions for our next step.

The other major modification? Shaving down the front sides of the rear fender so that it would fit better between the chain stays behind the bottom bracket. Sorry, but I did not take pictures of this process since flying sparks were involved.

We replaced the wheels and cut the extra length off the stays (more sparks!).

Both fenders on, we replace the wheels.

Then we wiped the frame down again, removing some of the marks we had made with wrenches, etc, during the installation. And here’s the finished product!

front fender with custom bracket

Charlie wasn’t happy with the L-bracket was, since it was so visible and made of two different colored metals, but I like it — the gold matches the decal on the bottom tube and it is distinctive.

all done

my finished beautiful bicycle

While I don’t really enjoy day-to-day bike maintenance duties (refilling tires, yawn), projects like this feel different. Taking the bike apart, cleaning it, installing the fenders and putting it all back together gave me a better sense of how my bike works. And seeing the finished project was oh-so-satisfying: Le Peug looks better than ever, and our painstaking custom installation means a perfect fit with no rattling. I’m now saving my pennies for the next upgrade on my list: a Brooks saddle.

What’s your latest DIY project?

Guitar Bike: Week Two

Another guitar class means another guitar-bike picture. Since the weather is beautiful and the roads are clear, I rode Betty Foy this time. I felt perfectly stable, but had to lean forward a bit more than I would like, making the ride somewhat uncomfortable. Luckily, it was less than two miles. Cars seem to give me more room when I have this on my back.

Now I’m off to enjoy the beautiful weather with Betty some more :)

Foggy Navy Pier Ride

Today we engaged in our absolute favorite Saturday activity – cycling to Navy Pier to see a play at the Shakespeare Theater. In my opinion, this is the best theater in Chicago and we never miss a performance. There has been a “heat wave” of just above freezing this week. I doubled-up my tights, wore two sweaters, threw on snow boots and was good to go (my Marc Jacobs maryjanes rode in my basket – I have cycled in these heels, but my feet would have been too cold today). Since most of the snow and ice melted, I was able to pull out sweet Betty Foy for the ride. I missed her effortless pedaling, although the potholes that Oma handles so easily rattled my teeth.

Navy Pier looks much different on a foggy day. To see pictures I took on a beautiful blue day, click here.

Where did you ride this weekend?

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