March 2013 archive

Warm Spring Ride!

20130331-P1020979

What’s that?!  A mittenless hand?

20130331-P1030058

Bootless feet?

20130331-P1030051

Muffless ears?

20130331-P1030044

That’s right – spring is HERE!  (Okay, I’m willfully ignoring the 20-30 degree temps predicted for Monday.)

20130331-P1030021

This long-awaited warm-up set the stage for a highly enjoyable and leisurely bike ride with friends Dan and Janet.

20130331-P1020975

The destination was a lovely Easter lunch at the home of our friends Sara and Glenn.

20130331-P1020979

20130331-P1020981

20130331-P1020978

20130331-P1020984

Oh yeah, Che lives there, too!

20130331-P1030008

After a delicious meal and a spirited game of Scrabble, we were off on our bikes again to return home.  The evening sun made the ride chillier, but still very enjoyable.

20130331-P1030036

The feel of warm air on bare skin is such a luxury this time of year.  Here’s hoping there is much more of it soon!

20130331-P1030046

Did you enjoy any special rides this weekend in the warm spring air?

Biking Chicago to Grand Rapids, In One Day, On a Fixie

Lakeshore Express  June 2012 Milwaukee 07resized

The approaching warm weather has me itching to take long bike rides.  I’m betting you all feel the same.  For some inspiration, I’m sharing reader Jeff Kwapil’s story of biking on his Trek fixed gear, leaving from Chicago, Illinois in the morning and arriving in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the evening.  Enjoy!

Lakeshore Express  June 2012 Milwaukee 07resized

My long-time half-baked plan to ride from my place in Chicago to my mother’s house in Grand Rapids Michigan (GR) became reality last summer. I haven’t ridden much long distance. I commute a lot, 12 miles each way. And I take weekend rides, 10, 20, 30 miles, occasionally 50 or 60. I have done one century, four years ago.

However, in my mind I’m a bike touring kind of guy. But three obstacles have prevented this ride until now.

1) The one-way ride would take take three days. That reduces the time I have in GR to visit Mom, compared to just driving there in three hours.
2) Amtrak does not take any luggage from GR to Chicago, so I would have to ride back (another three days) or arrange some other ride home.
3) Navigating through the steel mills & such around Gary Indiana does not look like fun.

So, I have a week off work, and the solution popped into my head. I made it in ONE day! Here’s how I did it.

06:15 AM Depart home on bike to Metra commuter train stop
06:33 AM Depart Chicago on train to Kenosha WI
08:25 AM 35 miles biking Kenosha WI to Milwaukee ferry terminal (arrived 11:00 AM)
12:30 PM Depart Milwaukee on boat – arrive Muskegon MI ferry terminal 04:00 PM
04:40 PM 50 miles biking Muskegon to GR
09:00 PM Arrive Mom’s

This was not planned as a fixie ride, but my geared bike suffered a catastrophic frame failure Wednesday, so I went ahead on the my lovely fixie*.

Holy Moly, people have built A LOT of trails in the past few years!! Maybe 60% of the riding was on paved and crushed rock trails. Much appreciated. It’s very different from the days of my youth, riding 2-lane roads and earning the ire of drivers who felt crowded and expressed themselves with honked horns and upraised fingers.

The Racine and Kenosha county crushed rock bike rails-to-trails bike path got me most of the way to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee County a lot of the ride was in the lakefront parks.

In Michigan, the Musketawa Trail led from the outskirts of Muskegon to the outskirts of GR.

Notes:

Google Maps bicycle directions are amazingly helpful.

Navigating with only a smartphone is a pain in the ass, but the GPS is spiffy. In the future I will carry real paper maps, augmented with the GPS phone.

Fixed gear is no fun on downhills. Normally I only use my fixie around town, where the “hills” are bridges with 10- to 40-foot elevations. I missed tucking in and racing full-bore downhill. Instead I had to either brake a lot, or spread my legs and risk the Whirling Pedals of Death (not comfortable).

85 miles in a day was hard, but not bad. After a long hot shower and a good night’s sleep I felt fine, no aches, no sores. I think I am in pretty good shape thanks to the commuting.

– Jeff Kwapil
Chicago IL USA

Puffy Coat Weather

P1020948resized

When I’m wearing my puffy coat in late March, I’m not happy. As you can see, winter has not yet released her grip on Chicago.

P1020948resized

BUT this photo was from last week and spring weather is riiiiight around the corner now. Allegedly.  I hope to have happy spring bicycling stories to share after Easter.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the comfort of escaping the bitter cold in a corner cafe, sipping French apple brandy with friends.  :-)

P1020959resized

P1020961resized

P.S.  and apropos of nothing, can someone make me a bike out of this awesome guy?  That would be amazing, thanks!

P1020954resized

(Spotted at Architectural Artifacts.)

Video: Bicycle Bag Basics

20130108-R1-01018-030A

We here at LGRAB get a lot of questions about which bike bags we use and recommend.  Over the years, I have accumulated quite a collection!  I’m constantly switching from bag to bag – usually between my two Po Campo panniers, my regular purse and canvas shopping bags.  In this video, I go through my entire collection and discuss which styles I like best.

I figure this post will be a resource for new bicyclists searching for ideas about how to carry stuff on their bikes, so please share your bike bag recommendations in the comments.

Brands:

Wald basket

Basil

Arkel

Detours

Po Campo

Fieldguided canvas

Patagonia

Chrome

P.S.  For more info on my bicycle, see my Rivendell Betty Foy video.  Also, my bungie straps and Po Campo review.

Nashville B-cycle ride + program update

IMG_1169

Last week, I rode a B-cycle downtown for the first time. I know, kinda crazy that this is the first real ride I’ve taken on a B-cycle after being a member for three months. But it won’t be my last. If it has to be said, I’ve gone from cautious optimism about this system to a full-fledged supporter.

IMG_1168

view from a B-cycle on 21st Ave. S.

I had biked to work on my own bike that morning, and if I took a B-cycle downtown the lack of stations in my neighborhood meant I would have to take the bus home, but I decided to go for it. Biking downtown and then taking a bus home (or vice-versa) is kind of my jam these days anyway. Plus, Kermit Allegra doesn’t mind spending the night in my office and I don’t mind walking to work in the morning when the weather is decent. Win-win.

The Hillsboro Village B-cycle station was pretty full, and only one of the bikes had a flat tire.

flat tire

Just like bathroom stalls, inspect your B-cycle carefully before use.

I picked a bike that looked OK, adjusted the seat, checked the brakes, threw my snacks in the basket and was off to the Walk/Bike Nashville annual meeting.

IMG_1167

It was a really windy, gusty afternoon, but the sun was out and the ride was otherwise uneventful, even though it was right at 5 pm. The bikes are solid, but not too heavy, and once I got used to the way the front basket affected the steering, I didn’t have any trouble at all.

 IMG_1169

When I got downtown, returning the bike was a breeze.

IMG_1171

Here’s how I knew I’d done it right.

IMG_1170

My selection of a mode of transport was quite apt because a Nashville B-cycle coordinator spoke at the meeting, and he divulged several intriguing tidbits about the way the program was going so far.

Since its launch in mid-December, Nashville’s B-cycle program has recruited more than 200 annual members and has had more than 2000 24-hour rentals. We have the longest check-out time for bikes in the country—more than 45 minutes on average—perhaps because the most popular station in town is the one at Centennial Park. (The second most popular is the one that I used on 21st and Wedgewood.) We also had the most annual membership signups at a launch event ever, though, which I thought was pretty cool. Oh—and bike share memberships are reciprocal. So if you are a B-cycle member in Nashville, you can rent B-cycles in every city that has a B-cycle program. This is an especially great deal because Nashville’s B-cycle program is the cheapest in the country (yeah!).

Though the system still needs more stations and bikes to be a transportation cyclist’s dream date, I have really been impressed with the launch and implementation so far. Anyone else ridden a B-cycle in Nashville or elsewhere?

My trip to Detroit

detfisherbldg

Here are a few snapshots from my trip to Detroit — I did get up to a few things besides going to Shinola.

 

dettrainstation

My flight was a little delayed because of the weather, so our first stop was Corktown and The Sugar House — Detroit’s Patterson House (or for you Chicagoans, Detroit’s Violet Hour).

 

detsugarhouse

After a few too many delicious cocktails and a charcuterie plate to die for, we went across the street to Mercury Burger Bar and ended up having s’mores and a snowball fight in the courtyard outside. No, s’mores were not on the menu, but when we mentioned how sad it was to have a fire pit but no s’mores, our friendly waitress handed us a bag of supplies and told us to go to town. You’ve gotta love Detroit. And the night wasn’t over yet—we walked down Michigan to hear some (pretty bad, but enthusiastic) music at PJ’s Lager Bar and stopped to make snow angels in the Tiger Field. This itinerary is recommended, but be sure to take a few ibuprofen before going to bed.

The next day, we toured a few spots in the city, after breakfast at Le Petit Zinc.

My favorite stop was The Fisher Building—I could have spent ages gawking at the amazing Art Deco interior.

detfisherfountain

Fountain made of Pewabic tile, which I am completely obsessed with

detfisherceiling detfisherdetail

I loved the food—and the incredible prices!—at our lunch spot, Green Dot Stables.

greendotdrink menu

We checked out the Heidelberg Project, which looked even creepier in the snow.

detheidel

A folk artist has decorated several abandoned houses with discarded and found objects.

 

detheidanimal

Stuffed animal house!

 

On Sunday, we visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, which has one of the 20-odd original casts of The Thinker outside. I’ve now seen two of them—maybe I should try to visit them all!

 

detroitthinker

The museum did a terrific job of integrating activities for kids into the permanent collection; there were lots of families there.
detroitDIAkids

The Diego Rivera mural is incredibly impressive. That’s Henry Ford in the panel.

detroitDIAmuralford

Then we went to the recently renovated and reopened Detroit Historical Museum. Along with the car-focused exhibits you might expect, the museum devoted some space to bicycles. Fitting, since many car manufacturers got their start in the bicycle business—including the Dodge Brothers.

dethistbike

detdodgebrosbikebuilders

bikesindetroit

Vintage bicycle shop recreation in the history museum

To top off our day of culture, we went to the Fisher Mansion, an estate built by one of the Fisher brothers in the 1920s. It is now a Hare Krishna temple, and every Sunday night they have a free vegetarian feast that’s open to the public. They also offer tours of the mansion for a $5 donation—our guide knew the building’s history from top to bottom, and the blend of slightly run-down 1920s luxury with the Indian art collection that the current owners have amassed is something to see. Definitely worth visiting if you’re up for something different, although I didn’t take pictures for obvious reasons.

Before going to the airport, we drove past this bike shop with an awesome low rider mural.

detroitbikeshop

This was my second time visiting Detroit—it’s a fascinating city, the sort of place where you end up having interesting conversations with strangers.

My next trip will be just a little teeny tad different: I’m heading to Italy next week! Stay tuned for some Italian bicycle shots. I’ll do my best to capture Europe without Dottie’s amazing photog skills.

Looking Back on Winter 2012-13

20130308-0118045-R2-E038resized

Five!  That’s how many Chicago winters I have biked through.  I counted over and over because five seems too high, but my math is correct.

20130308-0118045-R2-E038resized

Biking through my first winter, 2008-09, seemed so dramatic – I was amazed at my achievement. That was a particularly snowy winter, and I biked through all kinds of extreme weather to prove to myself that I could.

My second, third and fourth winters all seem like a blur now (except I distinctly remember bicycling the day after the great 2011 blizzard!), but it’s all documented in the LGRAB archives.

20130308-0118045-R2-E039resized

This winter started not so great, but I did not let that stop me.  And there was soon cheerful news, as Chicago celebrated the installation of its first downtown protected bike lane.

20130308-0118045-R2-E043resized

There were some seriously freezing days, when I was very thankful for my hand and toe warmers.  But many of the days were sunny and not too extremely cold.

wore skirts and dresses almost every day, along with tights, of course.

20130308-0118045-R2-E047resized

Most of all, I took time to appreciate the unique beauty of biking through winter.

20130308-0118045-R2-E048resized

 Now I am ready for spring!

20130308-0118045-R2-E041resized

How about you – did you bike through winter?  Was it your first time?  What stands out to you the most, looking back?

Wintry Beauty

P1020932resized

Dusk.  Lake Michigan.  Frozen waves.  Two days after a storm dumped 9 inches of snow on Chicago.  Just another work commute.

P1020912resized

 

P1020914resized
P1020919resized
P1020915resized
P1020936resized

P1020932resized
P1020929resized

P1020933resized
P1020928resized
P1020920resized
By the time I made my way up the trail, the sun had finished setting.  As you can see, despite the heaps of snow, the trail itself is totally clear – plowed and salted.

P1020938resized

There is something about bicycling outside on a particularly beautiful winter day that gets me every time.  During these magical moments, no other season can compare.

This is a reminder to enjoy and appreciate the wintry beauty while we can, even while excited for spring.

{A different look at the beauty of wintry Lake Michigan two years ago.}

Inside Shinola—Detroit’s newest old name brand

bixbybell

Few things make me happier than the increase in the rise of affordable city bikes available in North America. When I bought my Batavus in 2009, I went all the way to England to get it, because Batavus bikes were only sold by a few North American dealers. Now Public and Brooklyn Cruiser and even mainstream manufacturers like Trek have added city bikes to their lineups for well under $1000.

Of course, selling bikes at that price point means having the frameset built overseas. If you want a city bike built in the US, your choices are myriad, but your price options are not: Most run upwards of $2000 for the frame alone. Which is not a criticism—if you’re getting a handbuilt frame from Ant, for example, it is cheap at the price. But what if you want similar quality on a smaller budget? That’s the gap that Shinola is trying to fill with their line of city bicycles.

shinolawelcome

When I was in Detroit last week, I was able to visit Shinola and learn a little more about the brand—and the bikes. The brand Shinola has been around for quite some time—and yes, it’s the same one that inspired the famous catchphrase.

Headquartered in the famous Argonaut Building, GM’s former design headquarters, the entry to the offices is a nod to the brand’s history of shoe polish production. Now, however, the company focuses on bicycles, watches and leather goods.

shinolaheritage

Original Shinola products

The first thing everyone asks me when I tell them what Shinola makes is why those three products—so of course it was the first question I asked Alex Stchekine, Shinola’s bike assembly specialist, when I arrived. The answer? People who geek out over watches and people who geek out over bikes have a lot of overlap—and of course, bikes and watches are both efficient, useful technologies, and can be investment pieces that are built to last. As for the leather goods, well, if you’re going to make watchbands, bike saddles and grips, you might as well make bags, wallets and journals. (Plans are in the works to make leather bike bags to match the bicycles.)

alexandme

 

As an aside, apparently people are *really* eager to see Shinola watches—even more than the bikes! They’ll be available for men and women soon, and feature quartz movements and leather bands made in Missouri.

women's watch/men's watch

women’s watch/men’s watch

 

This is where the watches are assembled.

This is where the watches are assembled.

But I know our readers are here for the bikes, so let’s move on! Shinola is starting out with two models: The Runwell and the Bixby, which are sold as complete bikes. The Runwell has 11 speeds and retails at $2950. The Bixby, a three-speed with a distinctive decal and geometry, retails at $1950. Both come in three frame sizes and three colors, and the Bixby comes in a relaxed diamond or a step-through frame. The diamond Bixby is sold in black or the emerald shown below; the stepthrough Bixby is sold in black, cream or mauve.

runwellheadbadge greenbixby

Made in the same Waterford, Wisconsin, factory that formerly built Schwinns and now produces its own line of bicycles and those of some other small manufacturers—including a few of the higher-end Rivendell models—the bikes are then assembled in Detroit. They can be shipped fully or partially assembled.

allofthebikes

runwellframes

Runwell frames

Whether they’re building bikes, watches or leather journals or bags, attention to detail is important at Shinola. Most of this post will focus on the Bixby, since that’s the bike I test rode, but let’s take a minute to admire the lugs, custom dropouts and reinforced front fork on the Runwell. Can you see how the cables are routed through the frame?

doublefrontfork

shinoladrivetrain

shinoladropouts

Both bike models feature internal Shimano hubs, Shimano disc brakes, Velo Orange fenders and stems. The saddles and grips are custom Shinola-branded leather. Somehow, I cut the nose off this one when taking the photo! But the feel was similar to a new Brooks B17, although I think the nose is slightly longer.

Shinola saddle

Shinola saddle

These are pictures of a Bixby, which is accented with warm copper rivets, pedals and grip borders. The Runwell accents are silver.

shinolagrips

pedalsblog

The tires are Schwalbe, of course.

waitingwheels

And the bell is a Crane.

bixbybell

Each bike also has a serial number.

shinolabadgeserial

The Argonaut Building is also home to the College for Creative Studies, and several students have worked on projects with Shinola dealing with bike design. The walls are decorated with student prototype ideas—elements of some of them have made it into the final Shinola designs, including the elegant cream decal on the Bixby. You can also see here, again, how the cables are routed through the frame.

bixbyblog

Here’s one example of a student project. We at LGRAB support the creation of a bicycle meant to haul wine!

studentprojectbike

I only got to ride the Bixby around the offices, but here are my impressions of it.

meandbixby

FIrst, the posture was more agressive than any of my other bikes, with the saddle positioned slightly above the handlebars. I felt perched on the bike, although still fairly upright. Obviously this is something that could be adjusted by raising the handlebars, but it also felt like something I could get used to easily and seemed to be a good position for this bike’s geometry.

ridingbixby3

ridingbixby2

The 47cm Bixby fit me almost perfectly, something that, as a short-torsoed 5-feet-and-change girl, I find to be pretty rare. The only other bike that I’ve ridden that fits me as well is Kermit Allegra. This is the only size ladies’ Bixby listed on Shinola’s site, which says it should fit riders up to 5’8″. I’m not sure that would be true if the 5’8″ person in question has long legs. The inseam measurements say that the 47cm Bixby fits those with inseams between 25-32, and as usual that seems like a better way to judge whether the bike will fit you (my inseam is 28 inches).

ridingbixby

Stopping power felt good, and pedaling was a breeze, though obviously there was no real challenge on terrain like this!

inspectingbixby

inspectingbixby2

That said, this bike is light! Hard to say without a comparison around, but for a bike with fenders and a steel frame, I was surprised to find it so easy to lift. They don’t list weights on their site, but I’d say that it is under 30 pounds—at least as light as my Abici, if not lighter. Of course, it doesn’t have lights or a rack on it yet.

pickingupbixby

Alex told me that response to the bikes has been better than expected so far. They’re currently building about 50 a month at Waterford, and they expect to build around 500 this year.

Obviously it’s impossible to compare the Bixby to the competition in any meaningful way after a short indoor test ride, but I was impressed with the attention to detail and the quality feel of the bicycle. Luckily, those of you in the market for a bike at this price range can check the Bixby or Runwell out for yourself. Currently they are available at Copenhagen Cyclery in Chicago, and in a few other shops across the country, but Shinola will be opening two storefronts in the near future: One on West Canfield street in Detroit, and the other in Tribeca in New York City. I really enjoyed my test ride of the Shinola Bixby and might have to take another spin when I’m in NYC this spring.

{Thanks to Bridget and Alex at Shinola for setting up the visit and being so generous with their time, and to my brother Charlie for taking most of these photos!}

1 2