Monthly Archives: August 2010

Video: Bike Commuting in the Rain

This is not a full how-to video.  I just made a quick little overview of me leaving for work yesterday while it was raining.  Read our full rain how-to here.

How do you ride in the rain?

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Bike Cycle: Doomed to Repeat History?

Is the current bicycle boom simply part of a never-ending bike cycle, wherein the press rattles on and Americans ride a little more, but real progress is never made?

I’m contemplating this question after reading an article from 1941 in Click Magazine that I found at a book fair, entitled: “Bike Cycle?  How to Go Places Without Gasoline.”  At first glance, the article seemed to be a bit of vintage fun, like the preceding article, “Your hat in 1941 will show how you feel about the war.”  Step-through frames with baskets!  Women on bikes in skirts!  Men in suits riding to the train station!

However, as I read the article, I realized it was eerily similar to the issues presented today.  Take out the retrograde parts about “men” going to the office and “housewives,” and the piece could have been in the latest issue of Time. The writer seemed very excited about the future of transportation cycling in America, yet 70 years later there’s been no progress.  To me this is horrific in a Twilight Zone kind of way.

Below I present the article in its entirety (apologies to the original copyright holders).  I bolded and italicized the parts that struck me the most and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bike Cycle? how to go places without gasoline

BIKE CYCLE?  HOW TO GO PLACES WITHOUT GASOLINE

Town and country have both witnessed the return of the bicycle as a pleasure vehicle.  During the Gay Nineties, heyday of cycling, only 10% of the bicycles sold were made for women.  Today women buy over 30% of the bicycles made.  College girls like those on the right helped bring back the bicycle’s popularity. In cities, bicycles must obey all traffic laws.  Bicycle fans want state registration and license tags just like automobiles.

When the phrase “they never come back” was muttered about the American bicycle, the mutterers were muttering too soon. True enough, bicycle sales in America dropped from a high of 1,089,000 in 1899 to 180,000 in 1932. But then the great comeback started. Last year, bicycle sales reached an all time American high – more than 1,300,000 were sold. Cycle paths were built in city parks, and women took the wheel in amazing numbers. As a fun vehicle, the bicycle’s comeback was complete.

"Today, women buy over 30% of the bicycles made."

Now, with gasoline shortages looming importantly on our horizon, the bicycle is making a serious bid for at least some of the jobs being performed by automobiles. It is no longer necessary to release pictures like the one above to make people bicycle-concious. Bike lovers see their two-wheelers usurping most of the duties of the family car – and they might be right.

Men who now use automobiles to drive to the railroad station while they commute from suburb to city daily may follow the lead of commuters like Norman Hill, who pedals two miles from his home to the Maplewood, N.J. station in ten minutes every morning. He parks his bike there all day.

The huge quantities of gasoline now being burned by the cheap second-hand cars many families maintain for children who go to rural and suburban schools can well be saved by sending them to school on bicycles. Bikes are healthier, often less dangerous than cars.

"Suburbanites find they can make two wheels do the work of four."

Housewives who now drive a mile or less to do their shopping may soon find themselves faced with the alternative of cycling or walking to the store. But many American women, like this suburban Pennsylvania matron, find that cycle shopping can be completely practical.

The pleasures of parking and touring the countryside are enjoyed by any bicycle owner who desires them. A pair of shorts are all this girl needs in the way of special cycling clothes. The growth of roadside youth hostels has paved the way for bicycle tours covering hundreds of enjoyable miles.

"...and get an amusing exercise program out of legwork that replaces gasoline."

With the private family car completely eliminated by the fortunes of World War II all over Europe, most people are finding bicycles to be their only form of private transportation.  Gadgets like this side car for Parisian youngsters are becoming more and more common in European city streets.

American schools and factories may soon have to erect bicycle garages like this one in Paris if gasoline shortages on this side of the Atlantic become even remotely as acute as they are in contemporary Europe.  Cycling enthusiasts say this will make for healthier Americans.

"Bicycles have already replaced automobiles in Europe"

Prominent Americans love bikes.  Bicycle enthusiasts take great pride in the prominent Americans who ride bikes.  Civilian Defense Director La Guardia must have seen this picture of Grover Whalen before he appointed him director of the gas-saver drive.

L to R: Lana Turner, Wendell Willkie, Ann Rutherford, Grover Whalen

Click Magazine, 1941

What do you think – Fun piece of vintage bike history or terrible sign of the status quo?  I’m afraid that in another 70 years another article like this will be written and nothing will have changed.

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Roll Models: Molly Kleinman, Ann Arbor Activist

Today’s “Roll Model” is Molly Kleinman, a standout Summer Games participant (she completed some of the events on her honeymoon!) and a dedicated bike activist. Since returning to transportation cycling earlier this year, she’s already become part of an active bicycle collective, Common Cycle. Read on to learn more about this inspiring project, Ann Arbor’s burgeoning cycling scene and Rocky the Raleigh.

Molly and her bike, Rocky—Photo by Pieter Kleymeer

Describe your bicycling style in 3 words.
Not very fast.

What kind of bike do you ride, and why?
Most of the time I ride Rocky, a 1970 Raleigh Sport ladies bike. I found Rocky at a used bike shop in South Philadelphia in April, and we’ve been very much in love ever since. Three speeds, 40 pounds, original Brooks saddle. Rocky is my commuter/farmers market/around town bike, and he’s perfect for those things because I can sit upright and look around easily and wear skirts and cute shoes if I feel like it. I can’t go very fast on Rocky, but that’s actually a good thing. He helps me to stay calm, wait at red lights, stop for pedestrians, and keep my patience with jerky drivers. I have a wicker basket on the front and a rack on the back, and one day soon I’m going to get some shopper panniers so that I can do a full-sized grocery shop in addition to my regular trips to the farmers market.  I also have a newish Trek 1000 men’s road bike, which is for longer rides.

How long have you been riding? What made you start riding a bike?
I have been riding on and off since I learned to ride a bike at the ripe old age of 8. Growing up, my family used to go for rides along the rail trails and canal paths around eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Riding bikes this way—on easy trails, past trees and rivers—was just a family activity that we always did, and I never thought much about it. I still bring my bike every time I go visit my parents and we usually manage to fit in a ride or two when we’re together.

I didn’t start biking for transportation until I came to Ann Arbor for grad school a few years ago. It just made sense. The town isn’t very big or hilly so I could usually get anywhere I wanted within 10 or 15 minutes by bike. I rode the old purple Giant hybrid that I’d had since I was 12, which means I never worried about it getting stolen. Since then, I’ve experimented with different bikes for getting around town. At one point I had a really cool 1980 Miyata road bike, but it was too small for me and I also hated the feeling of a road bike when I was constantly stopping and starting and trying to keep an eye on traffic, so for awhile I gave up riding altogether. Since finding Rocky in April I have become completely rededicated to biking for transportation, and I’m in the market for a bike that will help me ride at least partway through the winter.

Rocky carries the perfect picnic

Since taking up cycling again, you have become an advocate—you’ve even helped start a bicycle collective! Tell us about Common Cycle.
Common Cycle is a nonprofit organization dedicated to make it easier for people in Ann Arbor to ride their bikes by providing access to tools, education, and workspace. We want to help people learn how to work on their bikes, and to have tools and space available for people to do maintenance and repairs. So far, we don’t have a permanent space and we borrow all our tools, but we’ve already helped a lot of people through our Mobile Repair Stand. We set up shop at the local Artisan’s Market in Kerrytown every Sunday, and provide repairs, tools, and as-needed instruction to anyone who brings us a bike in need of fixing. We haul all our tools and stands and tables on homemade bicycle trailers, and all of the mechanics who help with repairs and instruction are volunteers.

Since we started in April we have fixed over 400 bikes, and a few weeks ago we also taught our first workshop, which went really well. I learned all about how derailleurs work (they seem like magic but they are not!). Eventually we hope to offer regular workshops, including women-only workshops and a build-a-bike program for kids, as well as open shop hours so members can come in and use our tools and work on their bikes and just hang out with other cyclists. We aim to be welcoming to all kinds of bikes and all kinds of riders, and especially to make sure we’re a friendly place for women and kids to come and learn. Right now we are running our first fundraising campaign on Kickstarter in order to buy tools and trailers so we can make the Mobile Repair Stand a permanent fixture in the community, and we would be incredibly grateful if any LGRAB readers offered their support. If you pledge as little as $1 you’ll get a sticker, and the rewards get better the more you give.

Molly repacks a hub as part of the LGRAB Summer Games

What’s the Ann Arbor cycling scene like? Has it changed since you started riding, and if so, how?
There isn’t really one Ann Arbor cycling scene, I don’t think. There are the many college kids riding beat up old Schwinns and rusty mountain bikes. There are the speed freaks with their fancy road bikes who ride fast through the farmland around town. There is a subset of people riding fixies, and a smaller subset of those who play bike polo. There are also a lot of people who ride their bikes for transportation and errands without really thinking about it. Their bikes and gear aren’t the prettiest, but they are functional. And then I think there is a growing group who are into what I think of as LGRAB biking—they bike for transportation, but they like to do it on pretty bikes, and possibly also in pretty outfits. The city itself is slowly improving its cycling infrastructure, but Michigan is still very much a car-centric state (hello, Detroit), so the attitudes of many drivers still have a long way to go.

As far as change, I know that every year it seems like there are more people on the road biking just to get around. Last winter especially I was really impressed with how many people I saw out on their bikes.

What inspires you to keep cycling?
It’s just so much better than not cycling. On days I don’t ride, I am cranky.

Molly rides the Mont Royal greenway during her honeymoon on Montreal - click the pic for the full story

What do you like most about riding your bike?
I love getting exercise just by getting around town, I love how easy it is to stop and chat when I come across a friend or neighbor, and I love the feeling of being on my bike. I can’t think of a not-cheesy way to say it—riding my bike just feels good.

What do you like least about riding your bike?
Jerky drivers, of course.

Do you have a dream bike? And if so, what is it?
I am obsessed with cargo bikes lately, especially cargo trikes. Not any one in particular, though the Bakfiets are beautiful.

What advice would you give to those new to cycling, especially women?
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. If anyone makes you feel dumb for trying to learn more about your bike, that person is a jerk. Also, ride whatever bike you feel best on. If anyone makes you feel bad about the kind of bike you ride, that person is also a jerk. You want a bike that you’re going to be excited to get onto every day, and it really doesn’t matter what kind of bike that is. It’s different for different people. For me, I thought it would be a badass road bike, but it’s actually an old steel behemoth with a ladies frame. If you have a bike that you really don’t feel comfortable on, don’t blame yourself, blame the bike. Try something else. When you love your bike and you feel comfortable on it, you’re going to want to ride.

{Great advice! Thanks, Molly, for taking the time to answer our questions. For more, check out  Common Cycle, the Kickstart fundraising campaign, or Molly’s collection of pictures and stories from the LGRAB Summer Games.}

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The Sweetness of Riding a Bike

I’ve talked before about how bicycling can help you to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and boost your body confidence. Put the two together and what do you get? Cupcakes, of course! Also, cookies, gelato and whatever sweet treat you like best.

That’s right – a major benefit of riding a bike is enjoying the sweetness of life. Many people tend to live in a never-ending state of stifling guilt, wherein they eat something decadent, feel bad about it, hate their body and berate their lack of willpower. Whether they can summon the energy to go to the gym is a make-or-break determination of their self-worth. What should be a simple enjoyment becomes a torture.

That is no way to live.

Here’s an alternative: ride a bike; eat a cupcake; smile.

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Let your body work for you as part of your everyday routine, not as “exercise.” Then reward your body with a sugar high. You deserve it. And ease up a little on yourself – perfection is an unworthy goal. Everything will balance itself out in the end.

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