Monthly Archives: September 2013

If you are wondering

Why the blog has been a bit quiet–we’ve been on vacation! Look for a full report soon–in the meantime, any guesses where we’ve been? ;)

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Review: Carrera Unisex Foldable Helmet

Let me start out this post with an “I’m Switzerland in the helmet wars” disclaimer. Though I wore a helmet daily for the first year or two after I started cycling, over time, on my most familiar routes, I more or less abandoned it. Why? For many of the reasons Dave mentions in this post as well as the fact that in summer, in Tennessee, heatstroke is a much greater threat than head injury.

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front of the helmet

That said, there are times when I do want to wear a helmet, or am required to wear one—and I’m always looking for one that is cool, comfortable and relatively attractive. So when I saw the Carrera Foldable Helmet online, I had high hopes that it was the helmet holy grail.

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First things first: the “foldable” aspect of this helmet is pretty minimal. Common sense suggests that folding a helmet is not a logical expectation…and that common sense would be right. There’s really only a couple of inches difference between the helmet’s folded and expanded size—the figure they use is 20% smaller and that seems accurate to me.

Carrera helmet: folded

folded helmet

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When folded, you can secure the helmet with a provided strap, which has a carabiner attached so that you can clip it to your bag or purse or the frame of your bike when not in use.

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Carrera helmet folded, with carabiner and strap for attachment to a bag, lock or purse

The strap has a reflective tag and can do double-duty by holding your pants leg away from your chain if you’re into that sort of thing.

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I got this helmet in glossy white, to match Le Peug, but they’re available in lots of pretty colors. The size small/medium fit my puny head perfectly straight out of the box, but there’s an elastic at the back that can tweak the fit as well.

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The interior has removable, washable pads that are very comfortable. I hardly knew I was wearing it during my metric century.

 

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Best of all, the multiple air vents totally deliver—this is definitely the coolest, lightest helmet I’ve ever worn. (My other is a Bern Berkeley and I have spent a lot of time wearing Dottie’s Nutcases when in Chicago. I had a cheap-o Bell helmet from Target when I first started riding.)
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On the shallow side, I also really, really love the sleek fit and look of this helmet. Someone told me it looked like a hat—while I think that’s a little bit of a stretch, it’s definitely the most hat-like helmet I’ve ever worn. I didn’t have that mushroom head feeling at all while wearing it.

To get a little more serious, the helmet complies with EU safety standards (Carrera is an Italian company best known for sunglasses) so the actual protection factor is up to snuff.

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The only real drawback to this helmet is the price: I paid $80 on eBay, which is $20 more than the Nutcase (it’s the same as the MSRP for my Bern, but you can almost always find a Bern sale somewhere). There’s also a “premium” version, which includes a light and a “multiuse scarf” and retails at about $130—if you can find it anywhere online.

Despite the somewhat high price, if you wear a helmet frequently and care about 1.) looks and 2.) lack of head sweat, the Carrera Foldable Helmet is definitely worth your consideration. It was definitely the Helmet Holy Grail for me.

Do you love your helmet? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

 

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Is bicycling contagious?

Earlier this week, I received an email from my friend Aubrey, who has recently gotten back into bicycling and is loving it. She’d just ridden four miles on the road for the first time, and after I applauded her accomplishment she responded with the following:

“[A]pparently I am contagious… Both of my parents are riding now! My Mom just did a 6-mile trail this weekend and the 8-year-old next door knocks on their door to ask her to ride. And my father, who is very overweight, rode 6 miles round trip to work when his car was put in the shop! Now they demand I bring my bike with me whenever I go home. I also taught my sister to ride in July. Thanks to your blog advice, you created a ripple in my family!”

The note stuck with me, because bicycling has also had a ripple effect in my own life. After I started bike commuting, two of my office colleagues did, too. My dad is now a pretty avid transportation/recreational cyclist, and I have photos to prove it. When I’m home in Alabama, my parents and I sometimes go on rides together. My brother and I have been biking together forever, of course, but we’ve returned to it as adults. While none of my non-cycling friends in Nashville have become avid cyclists, there are a few who are willing to hop on one of my bikes on occasion.

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My theory: People can tell how much fun you’re having riding your bike. Then they get curious, try it themselves, and also have fun.  And duh, everyone knows that fun is contagious!

Have you seen cycling’s ripple effect in your own life? How?

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Taking your 10-speed on a metric century ride

So, you already know that Le Peug and I survived the metric century—now I’m going to talk a little more about HOW we did it.

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First, here are some things I thought I might need for a ride like this that I did not, in fact, need:

  • clipless pedals
  • toe cages/straps
  • drop bars
  • gloves
  • 100 energy bars (I went a little crazy at Target!)

Here are some things I added to my bike that I was actually quite grateful for:

  • Ergon grips (discovered through Simply Bike)
  • water bottle cage
  • Brooks saddle (I was so happy to have an excuse to buy this!)

I wore an Adidas clima-cool shirt that I got on clearance at TJ Maxx a few years back, Merrell shoes (also TJ Maxx clearance), and my Terry cycling skort, which was very cool and definitely delivered on the moisture-wicking. I’m not sure the padding helped all that much for my upright riding position—it was placed more for someone riding a road bike—but I figure it didn’t hurt.

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blessedly normal pedals

The night before the ride, we carbo-loaded with pizza at Black Horse Pub (somehow, I managed to restrict myself to sharing a beer sampler rather than ordering a full beer). I was in bed and asleep by 10:30. The morning of the ride, I got up a little before six and went down to breakfast right away. I drank a couple of cups of coffee, ate an English muffin as well as some fruit and a little bit of oatmeal before taking a shower and getting dressed. We left for the site at about 7:15, and got there a good 30 minutes before the 8 am start.

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I was definitely the only person on a 10-speed, and one of very few people not to use clipless pedals. I got passed a lot, but the other riders almost always made friendly comments about my bike or style—and we got a few questions about our Po Campo bags.

Le Peug got hit on hard at the second rest stop by the bike mechanic, who was very nice but rather hilariously started telling me about my own bike. (Guy: “This is a 70s or 80s French bike.” Me: “Yes, it’s a U-18 from the early 1970s.” Guy, not appearing to hear me: “The grips are new, the fenders are original; that saddle is new.” Me: “Actually, I put those fenders on; they’re from Velo-Orange.” Etc.)

As I mentioned in my earlier post, my strategy was to keep a steady, reasonable pace. I didn’t always stick to that, as the 14-15 mph at the beginning attested. But my average pace was about 10.5 mph—since that was calculated including the time spent at rest stops, I’d say it ended up being more like a 11-12 mph average.

We stopped at every rest stop. During the ride, I refilled my 16-oz water bottle twice, drank most of a large coconut water (before it got hot and became totally disgusting—do not recommend!) and a small bottle of gatorade. I ate a peanut butter sandwich and three energy bars, plus a spaghetti lunch after the ride.

I did take off my lights, just to clear the cockpit a little bit and make sure they didn’t accidentally fall off along the way, but I didn’t bother removing anything else. My rack and fenders are so light that I don’t think taking them off would have helped me significantly—and I would have had to carry my bag cross-body, which would have been a total drag.

The one thing I did sort of wish for, especially in the last few miles, was a different handlebar position. But I was actually able to lean forward and hold onto the handlebars right near the stem at a few points when I really needed to change position, so I’m on the fence about whether I would change this in the future. Whitney added bar ends to her bike’s straight handlebars and was very pleased with them, so maybe if I do another ride I’ll give that a shot.

So the moral of the story is, if you train for a ride on your 10-speed, you can complete a ride on your 10-speed—without making any real sporty modifications. So if you’ve been thinking about doing a long ride but are worried about not having the “right” bicycle—just do it. And choose the Clarksville Century ride because the route is super easy. :) As long as you have a high heat tolerance, that is!

A lot of people, online and off, have asked me whether I intend to keep riding centuries. The answer is that I’m not really sure! I did enjoy the sense of accomplishment I got from this ride. If I continue to take long rides on weekends (which I might; most of the time I enjoyed that too) and am able to maintain the increased endurance I developed during this training, I could be talked into doing another one. It might take a while to get me convinced to jump up to 100 miles, though.

 

 

 

 

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The Dick Van Dyke Effect

Today we are pleased to present a guest post from writer/reporter John Greenfield, who co-writes Streetsblog Chicago, the region’s best transportation blog, among many other things.  

[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John's transportation column
in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

I first heard about the “Mary Poppins Effect” back in March 2011 from local bike blogger Dottie, also known as The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling. “This is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair,” she wrote on her site Let’s Go Ride a Bike. “Who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”

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Mary Poppins’ commute

On the other hand, it’s believed that motorists are less likely to operate safely around people wearing bike-specific clothing, bent over drop handlebars on a racing bike. “A cyclist dressed ‘normally’ looks more human to the driver,” wrote Dottie’s Massachusetts counterpart Constance, who coined the term for the phenomenon on her blog Lovely Bicycle two months earlier. “The more ‘I am human! I am you!’ signals we give off when cycling, the more empathy a driver will feel towards us. Dehumanization, on the other hand, makes it easier to cause harm to another human being.”

Dottie speculated that nattily dressed men on upright city bikes might enjoy the same benefits, known as the “Dick Van Dyke Effect,” after the debonair actor who played Mary Poppins’ gentleman friend Bert in the beloved 1964 Disney film. Van Dyke, who grew up in Danville, Illinois, also starred in classic musicals like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” as well as the 1960s sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

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Dick Van Dyke on a bike!

I was interested in testing out the theory by my having one of my male bike buddies pedal downtown in a suit, then in Spandex, while I followed behind taking notes on motorists’ behavior. There were no takers at the time, so I added the idea to my potential story list and promptly forgot about it.

Fast-forward two-and-a-half years to Tuesday of last week, when I was scanning the headlines over my morning coffee. Lo and behold, a Tribune story described how Van Dyke miraculously escaped unscathed after his Jaguar caught fire on a Los Angeles freeway the previous afternoon.

“Somebody’s looking after me,” he told a TV reporter from local station KTLA5, looking chipper as ever. “At first I thought I had a flat. Then it started smoking, then it burned to a crisp.” Later that day he tweeted, “Used Jag for sale REAL CHEAP!!” How many eighty-seven-year-olds do you know who use Twitter?

Inspired by Van Dyke’s obvious joie de vivre, I resolved to test out his eponymous effect, even if I had to serve as my own guinea pig. My blogging partner Steven Vance agreed to follow behind me with a camera as I rode downtown and observe how closely drivers passed me.

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John Greenfield tests the “Dick Van Dyke Effect” (photo by Steven Vance)

That afternoon I put on the pinstripe suit I bought in Bangkok and a straw fedora and began riding my Dutch-inspired cruiser down Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Square at 2:50pm, feeling like William S. Burroughs, the well-dressed author of “Naked Lunch.” When we come to a stoplight, Steven tells me that some drivers are crossing the yellow line to give me plenty of room as they pass me. As I roll past a bus stop at Oakley Avenue, a young man on the bench gets a load of my get-up, grins and nods his head in approval.

We turn east onto Chicago Avenue and roll into River North. Around Wells Street, Steven reports that a cabbie switched lanes in order to pass me. We continue south on Clark Street, where motorists are generally driving in the other travel lane rather than sharing lanes with me. When we arrive at Daley Plaza, we remark that no one had honked or catcalled at me the entire time.

The following afternoon I squeeze myself into some Spandex, which I never wear in real life, strap on a helmet and wraparound shades, and mount my skinny-tired road bike. As Steven and I depart at 2:50pm again, I feel less a distinguished Beat writer and more like a space alien, and more than a little self-conscious. We take the same route and, despite my garish apparel and insect-like posture, I seem to get a fairly similar reception from drivers.

When we reach the plaza I ask Steven for his conclusions. “I think whether a driver passes a cyclist with more or less space is based ninety-nine percent on how much open space the driver has to the left of his or her car,” he says. “There didn’t seem to be a Dick Van Dyke Effect.”

“However, I did hear about a guy who bicycled wearing men’s clothing, and then made the same trip wearing a dress and a wig,” Steven added. “He found he got better treatment when dressed as a woman. That would be the next thing to try.” But that’s an experiment for another day. Oh, the things I do for science!

Thanks for the research, John!  I was surprised that there was no discernible difference in driver behavior, but happy to hear that drivers treat different bicyclists equally well (or equally poorly?).  We’d love to hear the experiences of others out there, especially men in relation to the possible existence of the Dick Van Dyke Effect.  

Also, some have astutely commented in the past that part of the effect may be based on race, class and conformity to societal norms.  I am working on a follow-up to address those issues, so please share below if you have thoughts on this.

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Metric century: Complete!

Readers, you are lucky that I waited two days to compose this post. Had I been writing on Saturday evening, it probably would have been composed mostly of euphoric emoticons, with a liberal use of all caps and VERY EXUBERANT punctuation marks. Because we did it!! (I guess I have a few more exclamation points in me.)

Despite it being a special weather statement sort of day.

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We snapped the photo below just before lining up with the couple hundred other metric century riders for the 8 am start. In case it needs to be said, I was the only one on a 10-speed, and the only one on a vintage bike—although I did see a couple of recumbents.

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After a lengthy prayer, a warbling rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (during which I belatedly remembered to take off my helmet) and a reminder to share the road, there was the sound of a hundred clipless shoes meeting pedals…which Whitney and I weren’t able to join. And we were off!

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The Sunrise Century route loops up into Kentucky and back, passing through the charming small town of Guthrie as well as loads of corn and tobacco fields.

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From the first, it was evident that the ride was well planned: The route was clearly marked, rest stops were fully stocked and there were volunteers directing or stopping traffic at all the major intersections. Most of the roads were very lightly trafficked, and we were often able to ride abreast.

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The course was so flat that I found myself on my big chain ring most of the time, mashing to build speed. My strategy was to maintain as steady a pace as possible, so I wouldn’t tire myself out. Adrenaline and fresh legs carried us through the first 29 miles in just over two hours, so there were some big grins at the second rest stop. Could we really finish the ride in 4 hours?

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Second rest stop photo.

Answer: No. Though the course remained relatively flat, the temperature started climbing and we lost our cloud cover. Those fresh legs were also long gone.

But we pushed on.

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As I pedaled, I spent a lot of time monitoring my body and planning what I would do at the next rest stop to make it as happy as possible. What body parts needed stretching? Was I hungry? Too thirsty? I was terrified of doing the wrong thing and hitting a wall before I realized it was coming.

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Thankfully, it didn’t happen. I felt astonishingly good for about the first 40 miles, and pretty decent through 50. But the last 12 required increasing amounts of willpower. The sun was high in the sky, making shade increasingly rare (and treasured!). I was exhausted: Salt from sweat was crusted on my arms and legs, I was slightly sunburned despite repeated applications of sunscreen, and a weird heat rash was popping up on one of my thighs. Every little incline started making itself known, and the only significant one was, of course, right near the end! As I slowly chugged up it, a guy who’d been leap-frogging us several times during the ride passed me and said bracingly, “Almost there!” Then he promptly got tangled up in his clipless pedals and fell over. Luckily, when I asked he told me he was fine, because if I had stopped at that moment it would have been very hard to get back on the bike. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as grateful to see anything as I was to see the Rossview High School sign and know that I only had a few more yards to go.

Whitney had finished a few minutes ahead of me, and was sprawled on a bench in the shade near her car and bike. The euphoria I felt from being finished with the ride gave me the energy for a limp cheerleader stance and an exclamation of “We did it!” before I collapsed on a neighboring bench. We sat in exhausted silence for a few minutes before I thought to check the time: 1:45. We’d finished in under 6 hours! I had estimated that we would take at least 6 hours, so knowing we’d done better than our target gave me an even greater sense of accomplishment.

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Been there, done that, got the 100% polyester T-shirt

After a few minutes of rest, we mustered up the energy to put the bikes on the car and head inside to find Amanda and Andy and partake of the spaghetti lunch. (Garlic bread=awesome recovery food.) Despite a few minor aches and pains (and a deep desire to sit on anything that was softer than a bike seat), all of us were thrilled with how normal we felt, despite our exhaustion. It felt just a little bit miraculous, given our somewhat haphazard approach to training (Amanda, to the guy who took our picture at the start: “We’ve been training a whole MONTH for this!”).

Of course, part of that was because of the accessibility of the course. At no point did I feel aerobically challenged—party due to the terrain and partly due to my slow and steady ride strategy—so it was really only my endurance that was tested. Not that that was a small thing. Sure, bicycling is an efficient exercise, but when was the last time you did something for nearly six straight hours?

I realize this post isn’t getting into the nitty gritty of my bike and outfit setup. or what I ate the day of or night before, etc. I’ll geek out on that a little bit more in a future post. This one’s all about proclaiming VICTORY!!! :-) And, you know, getting all the all caps and emoticons out of my system. If anyone has specific questions they want answered, have at it in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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