Archive of ‘Learning’ category

Belle accessories for your bike

Look closely: do you notice anything different about my tire?
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A ladybug is hitching a ride!
untitled-8 This pair of cuties (one for each tire) is made in Poland and came to me as a gift from Gosia of Bike Belle, who recently visited Chicago from London/Krakow.  Bike Belle carries a fun variety of bike accessories, much of them handmade/painted/knitted.  From the Bike Belle About Us page: “We design, make and sell designer bicycle accessories to make your bikes easier to use, prettier and more you.”  Sounds good to me!  Bonus: they ship worldwide.  :)
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These ladybugs (and other designs) are called “jewelry for your bicycle” – love it!  I guess these would be Oma’s earnings.  More beautiful jewelry: this rosy bell would be perfect for spring.

I also got this adorable, waterproof seat cover, staying with the polka dot trend.  (Why do I want this mouse one so much?? It’s mesmerizing.)
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If anyone has always wanted a full ladybug kit for her bike, look no further.

Here are Maria of PoCampo, Gosia and me after a lovely brunch.

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I’m so glad I had the chance to meet Gosia, hear a lot about bicycling in Krakow (sounds a lot like cycling in Chicago, actually), and learn more about her shop.

She also has a Bike Belle blog, with plenty of beautiful pictures, so you can enjoy it even if you don’t speak Polish.

Yay for cool, entrepreneurial cycling ladies!

Does your bike wear jewelry?  :)

Review: Bike USB Rechargeable Lights

Good morning! Daylight savings time might be right around the corner, but night-time visibility has always been a cyclist’s dilemma. One possible solution? Bike USB Rechargeable Lights, which I received for review from Uncommon Goods.

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I have been impressed with these small, sturdy lights They come in sets of two: One front, in white, and one rear, in red. As shown in the photo above, they attach easily to your bike with an attached rubber band, not unlike other small bike lights such as Knog Lights. There is a groove in the top of the light so that the elastic band is held securely. These lights will not fall off your bike, but they’re easy to remove if you live in a city where bike light theft is a concern.

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The bonus with these little lights? No new batteries: just plug the lights into your computer with any mini-USB cable to recharge. (Fellow NOOK owners: your charging cable is now multiuse.) According to the website, you can get 5 hours of use before needing to recharge—I’ve used the lights for at least 20 minutes a day for about 20 days and have not needed to recharge them, so they may actually last slightly longer. Attaining a full charge takes about 2 hours.

A red light indicates that the light is still charging.

A red light indicates that the light is still charging.

Like most bike lights, these have a blinking mode as well as a steady mode. Just click the button on the top to toggle between modes and on/off.

nightlightrear And the front light is bright enough to help you see rather than just be seen.  It rivals my CatEye.

nightlightAt $49 for the pair, these are a bit pricier than Knog, but the convenience of not needing to replace batteries just might be priceless. (Also, shhh, Uncommon Goods often has sales or coupon codes available.) The final verdict: Worth checking out if you need a little extra illumination!

{ These lights were provided by Uncommon Goods for review, but the opinions expressed are my own. }

 

Not afraid of a little snow…

EleanorNYC has a lovely little post today showing “women who look stylish on their bike and not afraid of a little snow.”  This reminded me that to not be afraid of a little snow, I need studded tires.  If there is snow on the ground that has not yet been totally plowed off the salted streets, I’ll only ride my bike with studded tires.

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These are the bad boys on which I rely: Schwalbe Marathon Winters.  I bought them five or six winters ago and they’re still going strong.

Because I don’t have the time, patience or interest to swap out the tires myself (a longer-than-usual process for my Dutch bike), I brought Oma to a local bike shop a few weeks ago for her yearly tire swap.

When it was time to pick Oma up the next day, I Divvied to the shop.  (Thanks again, Divvy!)

20121225-DSCF5480resizedMy girl was waiting for me, still wearing her medical bracelet.

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Oma was also wearing a note from my friend Dan, who saw her when he happened by the shop later to have his bike serviced.  An inside joke involving karaoke and Justin Timberlake – fun!  :-)

20121225-DSCF5489resizedNow Oma and I are ready to take on winter together and not be afraid of snow.

20121225-DSCF5501resized 20121225-DSCF5502resizedA lot of Chicago bicyclists get by fine without studded tires – and in fact I never put mine on two winters ago due to the relatively mild weather – but I like having them as an option.  What do you do to take on winter bicycling?

See also,

My Schwalbe Marathon Winter review from 2009

In defense of studded tires

My studded tires getting me through a post-blizzard ride

The return of my winter wheels in 2010

Wool and Leather in the Rain

This evening I had a dark ride home in light rain.  I was caught without my raincoat or any other special rain accessories, but my normal outfit worked well.

My wool trench coat kept me warm and dry.

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My leather boots served the same purpose for my feet, plus sported a reflective strap for extra visibility.

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My beloved bag was unfazed by the wet weather, thanks to dark leather and pre-treatment with Cadillac Shield Spray.

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My Brooks saddle was protected by me for the ride, but got a bit wet while I took pictures.  I know some people baby their leather saddles, but mine is holding up well, so I’m not too worried.

DSCF4171resized For the most part, light rain does not bother me much.  And soon rain will be replaced by snow!

P.S. Really hard for me to avoid a November Rain reference in this post.  :)

Bicycling as exercise…or not?

I have been cycling almost daily for so long – over five years now! – that I do not think much about the physical aspect.  When I first started bike commuting, I could feel it in my legs for several months.  By now the act is so routine, I sometimes forget that bicycling is exercise.

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Oma and I setting off to work last week

I was reminded of this fact when I returned to bike commuting after almost a month’s break, due to my travels and other factors.  After two days back in Chicago riding Oma in the wind, my legs muscles were sore.  Really, riding a bike as heavy as Oma is more like weight training than cardio.  :-)

Years ago, I read a Dutch woman comment that because she’s been cycling her whole life, her leg muscles are too used to the motions and she has to do separate exercises to keep her legs toned.  I refuse to believe that – I hate squats!

I wonder how others experience the physical aspects of bicycling and how that has changed (or not) over time.  Anyone care to share?

Review: Carrera Unisex Foldable Helmet

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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?

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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?

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.

A wooden crate as a bike basket

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When I posted about riding my Dutch bike last week, Trisha noticed that I have a new crate on the front.  Yes, and I love it!

As I explained in my Oma review, I purchased my bike with a heavy duty front rack that attaches to the frame, making a sturdy base for up to 50 pounds of cargo.  I was using a Hershberger’s Baker Basket on the front rack, but two years of heavy use was more than the delicate basket could handle.  First the leather strap in the front broke, causing the top to fly open in the wind, then one of the small leather straps on the back of the lid broke, making the top sit crooked.  The wicker became dried and bleached by the sun.  Basically, the poor thing fell apart.

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Baker Basket in better days

For a while, I detached the front rack and used a pannier on my rear rack to carry stuff.  Then one day Mr. Dottie found a wooden crate in an alley behind a Mexican restaurant, which he thinks was used for avacados.  The crate has “Made in Mexico” stamped on the side.  He attached the crate to my rack with a bungie cord through the bottom and a few zip ties all around; it does not move an inch.

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My new Mexican crate

I love the crate for both aesthetics and utility.  I can fit so much stuff in there, and I tend always to be carrying a bunch of stuff – for example, two full grocery bags and a purse.  I can also easily and quickly reach my bag when stopped at a red light.

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The crate is heavy – it’s all solid wood and nails.  But so is my bike!  When I’m riding Oma, I’m slow and steady and generally traveling no more than five or six miles, so extra weight is not a big deal.

Does anyone else use a wooden crate like this?

Bike-a-bee founder attacked while bicycling

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Jana of Bike-a-bee, who I wrote about last year,  was attacked this week while riding her bike in Logan Square.  A passenger in an SUV leaned out the window and grabbed Jana by her backpack, dragging her on her bike for several seconds.  When she crashed into a parked car and hit the ground,  she could hear the men laughing as they drove away.  They have not been caught, but the police have upgraded the incident from hit-and-run to aggravated battery.

This incident is horrifying, a sad reminder of how awful some people can be and how vulnerable we are on the roads.

You can donate to help Jana with her medical and physical therapy bills and lost income.

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