Monday, June 20, 2005

Keyed alike

In other news, I just got three Kryptonite locks keyed alike in the mail today. Kryptonite has been having tough times since it was discovered that all their locks could be jimmied open with a round plastic Bic pen. Oops. Since then they’ve been busy replacing ALL their locks ever sold with round keys. Free of charge (go to their website for details).

If you have many locks (between me and Zora, we’ve got six), having them keyed alike is a Godsend. My old locks were mostly keyed alike. None of the replacements were. Kryptonite was so busy replacing all their old locks that keying locks alike isn’t high-up on their list of things do. But last week, about 6 months after I last spoke to them, I got a call from a woman there saying they could finally give me some locks keyed alike. I’ve always enjoyed dealing with the people at Kryptonite and not the least because they’ve got some great Boston accents. We haggled a bit and finally settled on three standard U-locks keyed alike. Today they arrived. No charge. Thanks, Kryptonite.

Facing My Demons on the Triborough Bridge

On September 20th, 2004, I was biking back from a Yankee game and wiped out on the Triborough Bridge I was pretty messed up.

I haven’t been over the bridge since then. It’s not that I was avoiding it. I just don’t often need to go to Harlem or the South Bronx from Queens.

Last year, coming back to Astoria, I was on the Triborough Bridge and didn’t see a bump. It was dark, my front light was flopping around, and the headlights from oncoming cars were in my eyes. The bump is probably a half-foot high and is poorly asphalted over. Hitting it is basically like hitting a small curb. It’s also on a downhill. So I was going about 22 miles-per-hour. I hit the bump and went flying. It happened very fast, as they say. I bruised various points on the right side of my body, from my hip to my eye.

You can see some of my injuries in these pictures from last year taken a few days after the fall.

These are old pictures. Please don’t think I fell off my bike again. What the pictures don’t show was the fractured rib. Damn that hurt. Luckily, I didn’t hurt anything that didn’t heal. Amazingly, my bike wasn't damaged at all, except for a lost rear reflector. In fact, I was able to bike home (damn, that hurt, too).

Yesterday I went to see my Chicago Cubs lose yet again at Yankee Stadium. I was able to revisit the disaster scene.

This is the bump that did me in:

I went over it very slowly.

I imagine that after my fall I looked something like this. But bloodier.

The Triborough Bridge is by far the seediest of the city’s bridge crossings. There are three separate bridges. About a 2-mile stretch links Queens and Randalls and Wards Islands (they’ve long since become one land mass). Then you have a choice to go to either the Bronx or to 125th St. in Harlem. Each of these stretches is another mile. In general, the path is long, littered, and frequented by the occasional out-patient from the mental hospitals on Wards Island.

The Triborough is an expensive $4 toll for cars. It brings in a lot of cash for the State (in typical political hypocrisy, New York State won’t let New York City charge any tolls for the city’s bridges). So it’s a real shame that the Bridge Authority can’t sweep the path every now and then of trash and sand and broken glass.

All that said, and if you don’t mind the three flights of stairs, it’s incredibly beautiful. And for the main span over the East River, you’re above the traffic level, which is a peaceful treat.

The views are spectacular. To the North is the Hell Gate Bridge. This underappreciated bridge was the largest span bridge in the world when it opened in 1916. It allowed trains to go from New England through New York to New Jersey and all points West. Previously, trains had to dead end into Grand Central Terminal. .

To the South you see Manhattan and the Empire State Building. The little red bridge links Queens and Roosevelt Island. Behind that is the Queensboro Bridge.

The path continues to the West before turning North.

Between Randalls Island and the Bronx is a little creek connecting the Harlem and East Rivers. This is all the keeps the “Island” in Randalls Island. That’s the mainland on the other side.

The rest of the day can be seen on my other blog.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

These shoes ain’t made for walking

This is from a thread I started on Bike Forums. The end result is that my new shoes are much more comfortable for non-biking than my old bike shoes.

When I first bought bike shoes and went with peddles you clip into, counterintuitive called “clipless peddles” (but it’s because they don’t use toe clips), I assumed I would only use bike shoes when biking for long recreational rides around the city. So I didn’t care so much about non-biking comfort.

But once you try clipless peddles, it’s hard to go back. They make biking both more fun and easier (and faster). So I found myself wearing bike shoes in many more social situations. But there are no great bike shoe for non-bike use. And that’s the problem. But some bike shoes are certainly better than others when it comes to standing or walking around.

Best bike shoes for city walking.
06-17-05, 12:14 PM

With clipless peddles, what are the best bike shoes for walking comfort? (And a more “normal” non-bike shoe look is also a plus.)

It still shocks me that there are no good bikes shoes for urban life. Even the “recessed” cleats of SPD mountain bike shoes aren’t really recessed; they’re flush with the shoe sole.

For crying out loud, why hasn’t anybody made a shoe that has truly recessed cleats, that you can clip into while riding and still walk around like a normal person? Why hasn’t anyone made a bike shoe in simple black leather that could look normal in a somewhat proper setting?

I use a bike as my sole means of transit in New York City. I like riding with clipless peddles and bike shoes (I have SPD peddles but would gladly consider another peddle system).

When I can, I ride in bike shoes. I use normal shoes on platform peddles 1) when I’m not going far, 2) when I plan on doing a lot of walking/standing when I get there, or 3) on the rare occasion when I can’t wear funny looking shoes. I keep a pair of work shoes at work. But that doesn’t help me when I go out and about in the city.

Best I can figure, SPD mountain bike shoes are the best choice. Is this correct? Are some shoes better for walking than others? Right now I have Sidi bike shoes. I love them for biking. And I can and do walk in them. They’re OK (but not great ) for walking comfort. And with my friends and lifestyle, I can handle funny looking shoes. But they’re a little too slippery (especially on wet metal) But it’s the clicking sound when I walk on anything but a marble-smooth surface that I find very annoying. I really don’t want to have my shoes be a topic of conversation every time I walk. Can anybody help?

Please don’t comment on the merits of clipless peddles versus toe clips versus platform peddles (that’s been done plenty). Given that I like clipless peddles, I would love to discuss the best bike shoes for city life. Thanks.

06-17-05, 04:43 PM
So why can’t somebody make a clipless system where the cleat is actually recessed (as opposed to just flush)? I’ve thought about this a bit (perhaps a bit too much). The problem with SPDs are that the cleats must be flush because the sole of the shoe is what keeps the cleat snug. But you could still make a shoe where everything was more recessed (I imagine the whole sole would have to be a bit thicker).

I think there’s a greater problem here that very little in the bike world is made for the urban cyclist. It seems like everything is either designed and marketed for the professional racer, the lycra wearing rider in Colorado or Marin County, or the naive sucker who doesn’t know better.

God forbid that, say, fenders became standard issue or that companies and stores wouldn’t push 21-speed mountain bikes in paved flat cities. I mean, now you can buy a fixed-gear bike off the rack and yet nobody sees a market for bike shoes you can walk in!? Harrumph.

06-18-05, 12:28 PM
I bought a pair of Specialized Sonomas yesterday. They're comfortable, but I haven't tried them out yet. I bought these simply because the store had them (Sid's in Manhattan on 34th between 2nd and 3rd Ave). I always feel funny about buying shoes on-line without trying them on. So I have to go with what the store has.

I wore my new shoes all day yesterday. Biking, Yankee game, and dinner. They click on sidewalks. That’s inevitable, I think. But they are very comfortable. Just like sneakers. It’s silly I went so long wearing my Sidis, even though they’re very good bike shoes.

Handlebar height and the fixed gear

I was biking on the Screamin’ Salmon, my fixed gear bike, and think I discovered the answer to the handlebar dilemma: why are lower handlebars more comfortable on my Bianchi and less comfortable on my fixed gear. The answer has less to do with the style of handlebars, as I mentioned previously, but the kind of bike.

You sit a lot more on a fixed gear. On a road bike, when you coast, your legs are supporting a good part of your body, and your ass is supporting the rest. Your legs are often supporting all your weight, as when you go over a bumpy stretch. Then your butt is hovering just over your seat and your hands are barely grasping the handlebars. The bike and your legs take all the bumps. This is why bikes don’t need shock absorbers.

(I have to say, shock absorbers are kind of fun, but that’s for another post. I think shock absorbers can even be dangerous inasmuch as they may make you relaxed about going over bad pavement. You can’t ignore bad pavement because some potholes in this city will eat you and your bike alive, shocks or not.)

As opposed to riding a normal free-wheel bike, you can’t really coast on a fixed gear. You can, but you have to let your legs turn with the wheel. Because of this, you don’t support yourself with your legs when you “coast” on a fixed gear. Rather than, in effect, standing, you sit on your seat and divide your weight between the seat and the handlebars. Going over bumpy pavement while still peddling is one of the skills you (by default) must learn on a fixed gear. It’s not how you normally ride a bike.

The lower the handlebars, the more weight gets shifted from your bum to your hands. That’s no problem if your legs are holding most of your weight. But if you’re not using your feet for support, low handlebars mean that too much of your weight is on your hands and arms. This hurts.

So raising the handlebars on a fixed gear means your seat takes most of the bumps on the road. And a well-padded seat I have. This also explains why more novice bikers like high handlebars. It’s better for your weight to be on your seat than on your hands. A more racing position, on the other hand, puts most of your weight on your legs, with your seat taking most of the rest and your arms, by pulling and pushing on your grips, primarily give you more peddle power.

I don’t know if all this is right, but at least I think I’ve figured it out.

Handlebar Height

I hate when I don’t practice what I preach. It’s even worse when I finally do, but then discover that I've been preaching to a false idol.

I’ve been preaching about high handlebars for a long time. They’re many reasons you should raise your handlebars, but I won’t go into them here because I’m not sure about them any more. I will say this. Don’t settle for low handlebars just because your bike comes with them. It’s rare that you raise your handlebars and you don’t end up more comfortable. As a rule of thumb, I’d say, be suspicious when your handlebars are below your seat.

But it’s not easy to simply raise handlebars. Odds are your handlebar stem is already at its maximum. So you have to get a new stem. But the real pain is removing your bars from the stem. Some stems have 2 bolts and plate. This makes sense. You unscrew it and take your handlebars off. But most stems have one bolt and to take the bars off you have to take everything off one side of your handlebars: tape, brakes, handlebar grip, bells and whistles. And then, odds are, you have to resize your brakes and shifter cables. It’s a real pain in the ass just to sit up an extra inch or two.

But I finally did this to my bianchi. The picture below (and this will tell you where the story is going) is both the before and after picture. I put the high stem on the bianchi and the low stem on the Screamin’ Salmon. Strangely, both bikes were less comfortable. On both bikes I suddenly had a lot more weight on my hands and arms. I’m still not certain how this could be for the bike I raised the handlebars.

It’s good to have your weight balanced somewhat on your bike (nobody can be against balance, right?). But you should also be able to let go of your handlebars without changing position. If you have to hold on tight at all times, it’s not good for your hands or your arms or your shoulders.

After riding enough to convince myself the new position was not simply a matter of getting used to, I switched everything back again. What a pain. It’s not a complete loss, however, as I did end up turning the moustache handlebars on the screaming salmon upside-down (I think--now the bars raise coming from the stem. This both raises the handlebars some and puts the brake in a better position, rotation-wise).

Look how low the bars on my bianchi are. This goes against everything I thought I stood for. But it’s so much more comfortable than 4 inches higher. Riding the new/old lower handlebars, I think the answer to the comfort question may be that the lower handlebars make me put more weight on my feet. When the handlebars go up, I sit harder in the seat. This makes me grip the handlebars for to keep my upper-body balanced. With lower handlebars, I’m more often just resting on my seat, using my legs much more for both support and shock absorbers (which, unlike your arms, your legs are designed for).

The reason drop handlebars can be very comfortable isn’t their height (or lack thereof). It’s that your hands rest on the brake hoods at a very natural and comfortable position. It’s somewhat close to putting your hand out as if to shake somebody’s hand. As a result, you can grip drop handlebars extremely gentle, or not at all, when going over bumps.

The position of hands on drop-handle bars, ironically, is similar to the position of hands on the handlebars of a old-fashioned granny bike (Omafiets, in Dutch). This allows your arm to be straight from your elbow to your fingers and not be twisted sideways. Your wrists can relax and your arms can absorb some shock quite well.

The worst handlebars, I would say, are those straight-rod mountain-bike handlebars where are arms are taut. It’s hard to grip these gently. Every bump is like a hammer blow into the base of your hand. It goes right through your arms and into your body, causing pain the whole way.

Meanwhile, the lower handlebars on the fixed gear were much less comfortable. This, I believe is because they’re not drop handlebars. Lowering the handlebars made me put more weight on them, and it was tough for me to relax my hands and arms.

So what’s the moral of this story? I don’t know. I guess I learned something about handlebar height, but didn’t learn anything I can generalize. All I’m left with is saying that small changes in handlebar height make a huge difference. But it’s a pain to adjust the height, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be moving them in the right direction.

You’re welcome for nothing.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

All weather biking (1): don't wear cotton

Here’s what you need to bike in the rain (and this list is in order of importance):
1) have fenders.
2) don’t wear glasses.
3) don’t wear a cotton t-shirt.
4) wear a hat (or helmet with that little “visor” thingy).
5) have rain gear.
6) bike slower.

Get fenders. I mean, hell, you can even bike with an umbrella. They do in Amsterdam. But even that won’t protect your blue-jeaned legs from getting wet.

Biking in the rain ain’t ideal. But, as always, biking beats not biking.

So tonight I’m on the Lower East Side meeting an old high-school friend who used to go by the old-school hip-hop name of Disco B. He pointed out that I’m more hard core than any Lower-East-Side lip-pierced mohawk wearing punk/hipster (sorry to put together punk and hipster, but anyway...). Why? Because I’m biking back home to Queens in the rain after a full night of eating and drinking. And all those “posers” live around the corner. Well, perhaps. But I’m not here to debate my harcoredom.

I don’t bike to be hardcore (the denial of which, of course, could just make me even more hardcore). But hardcore or not, the fact is I am biking home on a Friday night through the rain all tipsy and happy, dodging traffic and feeling all the better for it.

While some might say that anybody who bikes in New York is hardcore, what really separates the biking men from the boys is biking in bad weather. But, as they also say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only those inappropriately dressed. I think I’m much better at dressing for the weather than I am at being hardcore. If that makes me soft, so be it.

I bike in rain, sun, clouds, hot, cold, snow, even ice. The only thing I hate biking in is hail. Luckily, it doesn’t hail much. But when it does, just take the subway. Trust me, that shit hurts.

Why bike in bad weather? Well, to be smug, biking doesn’t make the weather worse. Why is biking the rain worse than walking in the rain? And when you’re biking in the rain, you're in the rain a lot less than if you're walking in the rain.

Biking in bad weather isn’t better than biking in good weather. But biking in any weather is better than not biking in that same weather. Take a cab? If you want. Take the subway? Perhaps.

Here’s the dirty truth about biking in bad weather:

I don’t like biking in bad weather, but bad weather doesn’t happen very often. You’d be surprised. To me, bad biking weather is hail, ice covering the streets, temperature above 95 or below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or rain hard enough so that cars have their windshield-wipers on continuous rather than intermittent.

For most places, rain is the only real issue. And unless you live in Seattle or Amsterdam, it really doesn’t rain very often. Don’t think about days when it rains (but even those are few). Think about times when it rains. How many baseball games are rained out every summer? Maybe two out of 162.

I teach college. How many times was it raining hard enough that I didn’t want bike to school this year? Zero. What that means is that between 11 and 11:30AM Mondays and Wednesdays from September to June when I needed to go to work to teach, not one time was it raining so hard that I chose not to bike. Not once. The moral? Bike.

If you can look at free on-line weather radar such as, all the better. This website can tell you with close to 100% accuracy if it’s going to rain in the next few hours. How can you beat that?

But sometimes, like today, it does rain and you’ve got to bike. What does it take to bike in the rain? Very little. My raingear is simple. I have a cheap lightweight pair of rainpants and a cheap rain jacket. Both are from Amsterdam. Such simple gear may actually be hard to get in America. But I’m sure you can find it. My rain gear doesn’t “breath” and it doesn’t glow in the dark. But I wear it and it keeps me dry and I bike in the rain.

My rainpants are always in my bike bag. They just sit there 99 percent of the time. But they’re so light it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes I wear them when it's raining really hard and I'm walking. My rain jacket I bust out only when I need it. I brought (and wore) mine today for the first time in probably a year. And I bike everywhere.

Here’s the real secret for rain biking (or any biking): don’t wear cotton t-shirts. This is the only real sacrifice that you have to make if you want to bike.

I sweat a lot. I don’t want to be all sweaty. You simply have to buy hi-tech wicking polyester t-shirts. They’re not expensive. Around $15 mail order from Campmore in New Jersey (no fabric softener and don't dry them hot! Just line dry them, they dry in no time).

Biking or not, if you’re wearing wicking t-shirt, you won’t get the sweaty wet-armpit look. I can get wet armpits biking or not. So these t-shirts are really wonderful for me. The secret to these shirts is they don’t hold water. When you sweat, they transfer the moisture from your body to the air. Wear these shirts and you can get soaked in the rain. Then go inside and your t-shirt will be dry in no time, maybe 20 minutes at most.

Coolmax and the like really are true wonder fibers. If you bike in the rain, these shirts dry almost as fast as rain can wet them. Just wearing a long-sleeve wicking t-shirt is almost as good as wearing a rain jacket. At least in all but the hardest of rain.

On top of these t-shirts (which come in all the colors), you can wear whatever you like, fancy or simple. Bike in a white t-shirt and just slip on a hipper shirt when you get to where you’re going.

I still wear cotton underwear (boxer briefs, not that you asked, but they're the best for biking). And I always wear blue jeans (even though the worst thing in the world are wet blue jeans, if you ask me).

Almost always I wear black cotton socks. If I think it might rain, I wear wool socks. Cotton sucks when it’s wet. That’s the moral of this post.

When it rains, my socks get wet. Despite all my talk and bike building, my bikes don’t have good fenders (shame on me). So I bike in the rain and my feet get wet. But you don’t care so much when your socks are wet if they’re wool. That’s what wool is for. And it’s easy to get light-weight wool for socks for the summer.

Biking in the rain has a few other considerations. Bike slower. Cars see you even less. Though this isn’t a big deal, as you should always bike assuming that cars don’t see you. But caliper brakes don’t work as well and tires get less traction (this is another reason to buy expensive tires).

Glasses also suck. I can see well enough that I can bike without my glasses. But realistically speaking, you can’t bike in the rain wearing glasses. A hat (or helmet) is also good to keep rain off the head and fact.

And get fenders! This point is so obvious I almost forgot to mention it. But then I see all these bikes without fenders and I just think, “that’s why people don’t bike in the rain.” A rear fender is the most important. But all fenders are essential. There’s nothing cool or hardcore about a wet streak up your back.

And you need fenders even when it’s not raining. There are always puddles. Even my road bikes have at least half-adequate fenders (they protect my body buy not my lower legs and feet). Good fenders costs $45 for the pair. You can get perfectly adequate fenders for cheaper. But you just have to have them. Consider that part of the cost of a bike.

Does this sound like too much to deal with that it’s not worth biking? I hope not. But you have to remember, you make sacrifices for the weather if you don’t bike. And if you bike, you never have to carry and lose an umbrella, for instance. And once you get used to biking, biking for the weather doesn’t seem like a sacrifice at all. Biking always beats not biking.

I’ll talk about biking in the snow and ice when that comes around again.