My Bike Is My Car

Cyclist Road Rage
December 3, 2008, 6:01 pm
Filed under: bicycling, bike safety, bike transportation, commute biking, Uncategorized | Tags:

Anyone who rides regularly for transportation knows what I’m talking about. After weeks of minor incidences with irresponsible, oblivious and aggressive drivers, a kind of cyclist’s “road rage” builds up. At some point during a ride the pot will inevitably boil over when a soccer mom cuts you off, pulls a u-turn without seeing you coming, or simply fails to look in your direction as she pulls out of the strip mall parking lot. That’s when you go balistic, stop your bike directly in front of her and start yelling and pointing like a maniac army sargeant.

Okay, gendering this scenario was unnecessary. The road rage I’m talking about is very general among bicycle commuters I know, men and women. Of course, I could have chosen a stereotyped male driver for this scenario, too.

I’ve noticed recently that this road rage is not a good thing. Moreover, it can be downright dangerous to let this anger build up in the first place. I began thinking about the dangers of bicyclist’s road rage when I exploded one day at a driver who honked impatiently simply because I took control of the lane (I had to take control of the lane in order to make the inappropriate left turn using a pedestrian cross walk ahead). I stopped my bike and placed it horizontally in the middle of the road, leaving her no option to pass and proceeded to give her a lecture on California bike law. She just stared in disbelief, gesturing “what’s up? Let’s go!”. But what if she had been more aggressive than that? What if she had decided to use her metal hulk to intimidate me?

The same day this occurred my wife told me about an incident of road rage on her part. I don’t recall the specifics, except that it was clear that she was venting an anger and tension that had been building over weeks of small incidents of inconsideration and worse on the same route. I’m sure that whatever it she did (I don’t recall) to vent her frustration likely put her at unnecessary further risk, as it did in my case to stop the bike in the middle of the road to give a fiery speech.

My concern with cyclist’s road rage extends beyond the moment of imprudent venting, however. After some consideration (in the saddle, of course), I’ve come to the conclusion that the anger and frustration alone poses a safety risk. When I allow a driver’s actions to disturb me, I become less focused on the next obstacle, the next driver, and the road ahead. Furthermore, I find them by becoming agitated, I’m less nimble and ready to react to whatever dangers may lie ahead. In other words, I’m still thinking about what that asshole just did to me back there instead of thinking about what lies ahead. And this is just the effect on my riding abilities without taking into consideration the highly imprudent acts of venting such as I described above. For this reason I’ve been experimenting with controlling my anger at drivers, staying calm and focused. A distinct advantage of staying calm is that I can continue to carefully observe egregious driver actions and learn from this how to ride more defensively, exposing myself less and less to driver foolishness.


Leather Mud Guard
December 3, 2008, 5:29 pm
Filed under: bicycling, bike transportation, commute biking | Tags: ,

A new addition to my commuter is a big, fat and ugly black leather mud guard. Leather mud guards are not easy to come by. Bicycle stores generally do not stock them. Brooks sells one, but it is quite expensive (it is stamped with the Brooks logo. I suppose that explains the hefty price). I found mine for a third the price at Velo-Orange. Assembly took less than five minutes (a drill is needed). I’m using one guard attached to the bottom of the front fender. Some people put mud guards on the back tire as well, but that is only to decrease the splash on anyone riding close behind.

With the first good rain I noticed a dramatic reduction in splash to the frame and feet. This is not a minor convenience, but a major addition to my foul weather preparedness and something I would recommend to anyone commuting in the rain. It’s remarkable how much water the guard prevents from splashing back and up. Get one if you ride for transportation.

Rain Gear
November 2, 2008, 5:05 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve had two good opportunities to try out my rain gear this week.

My “all wool” strategy worked very well on a commute where I spent a good thirty minutes or more in rain. I wore medium thickness wool socks (with biking sandals), wool underwear, wool tights, Icebreaker wool beanie, and an REI wool long sleeve crew neck shirt. For gloves I had the Descente Cold Front to keep me warm and dry. Still in experimentation mode, I brought along my Pearl Izumi water-resistant vest, my North Face rain shell, and a fleece jacket. After about 10 minutes in the rain I put on the fleece jacket. That lasted one or two long blocks before I felt way too warm. Took that off and decided to go with just the wool shirt and the Pearl Izumi vest to keep my torso a little more protected. I said to myself: let the rain soak my shirt and we’ll see how well this wool strategy works.  And it does work.

Here’s why it works to go with only wool in the rain. The shirt does become wet, yes. But since I notice no change in temperature and continue to feel warm, there is no discomfort in letting the wool get wet. Of course I can feel the wetness, but only as a wet sensation on the skin, not as coldness or (worse) clammy. And my skin continues to breathe and feel just as if it were dry.

When I arrived at my destination it did not take long at all for the wool to dry out. Again, there was no discomfort wearing the same clothes for more than four hours before my return ride home. 

Since it was very windy coming home I decided to try a different approach. Same wool shirt, but now with the waterproof North Face shell. When I arrived home ten miles later the inside of the shell and the shirt were completely soaked with sweat and although I was never cold, the sensation when I got off the bike was not pleasant. I was very relieved to strip the shell and shirt off and take a shower immediately.

Today I rode for about six hours continuously in the rain. I wore the thickest wool socks I could find (REI’s “expedition” weight), a polyester base layer shirt, light wool sweater over that, North Face rain shell, polyester wicking underwear, my Ibex wool + poly tights, Icebreaker beanie, Descente gloves. The gloves were fantastic. Although by the end of the ride they were completely soaked they miraculously maintained their warmth. The only time they revealed how disgustingly wet they were was in the act of taking them off or putting them on. Once in them again, however, they were fine. The socks with the sandals worked very well, too. I went through long puddles that completely soaked them but never once felt any discomfort. The tights were soaked but also held up pretty well considering the amount of water. The poly-wool blend in the front got a little cold and uncomfortable by the end, but the my backside stayed comfy. Again, the Icebreaker beanie was absolutely perfect. Stayed warm even through the wetness. Where I continued to have trouble is with my torso. The supposedly rain-proof shell got soaked and the poly baselayer shirt became less and less comfortable. I think that if I had had a light or mid-weight wool shirt on instead I would have been perfectly fine all the way to the end.

Hostile Driver
October 29, 2008, 10:40 pm
Filed under: bicycling, bike security, bike transportation, commute biking | Tags:

The other day I was in the outside of two turn lane. My lane allowed for both left turn and straight ahead and the lane next to me allowed only for left turn. I was turning left and noticed a crappy old compact in the lane to my left headed straight toward me. This beater had a large, homemade wood sign on the roof that stated something like this: “Is Your Body a Coffin? Go Veg!”  Well, this guy just kept motoring forward, straight ahead without turning. I used my voice to notify him that I was there and that he was making a dangerous and illegal move: “he, he, he!” I shouted none too loud (his windows were down and we were close, too close). His response: a string of nasty obscenities as he powered his way forward, forcing me to brake and cut back (exposing me to danger from the turning cars behind me) and then the finger to boot! Man, I thought, this guy should try eating red meat! Perhaps it will curb his aggression!

My utility bike: Bianchi “San Jose” 2009
October 25, 2008, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Bianchi San Jose 2009 model

Bianchi San Jose 2009 model

This is my daily use, utility and transport bike. I use it to commute to work (10 miles each way) every day, do my shopping, and for weekend bike rides on and off the pavement. To do all this, I wanted a bike that was smooth and comfortable for my 45 minute street rides twice a day, could take full-length fenders and racks, wider tires to handle the roadside debris and other shocks of the road, especially when weighted down with a lot of books, papers, food, and extra clothes. Most of what you see came with the bike. I changed the tires from the stock All-Terrainasaurus (too knobby, too much friction) to Continental Contact 700 x 32. I also put these Forté pedals on. They are platform for street shoes (good grip!) on one side and spd cleat compatible on the other side. I use both street shoes and clipless regularly and find both very comfortable. I added the rack that fits my Topeak bag and, of course, the lights. I also added both cages. In one cage I keep my tools and spare tube, but I’m thinking of getting a saddle/wedge bag for this purpose and carrying two water bottles as I sometimes run out of water, especially if I forget to refill before my return trip.

This is my first singlespeed bike. The hub can also be fitted for fixed-gear on the other side, becoming I guess what is called a “flip-flop” hub. I haven’t added the fixed-gear cog to the hub yet, although I am eager to try it and see what so many cyclists like about fixed-gear. I thought that singlespeed would take some time to get used to. Not at all. So far I’m extremely satisfied with the singlespeed and do not miss having more gears on my relatively flat commutes. When necessary I just stand up and pump.

The biggest advantage of singlespeed for my purposes, it seems, is that I don’t have to mess with tuning and am less likely to have any problems. That’s one thing that makes this more of a “utility bike” in the sense that my Dutch-bike-fan commentator emphasized. The wide tire capacity is another utilitarian element, as is the semi-upright position of the flat bars. This is also my first time with a bike that doesn’t use drop bars. I’m very comfortable with drop bars, having commuted with them (riding the brake lever rubbers) for at least a decade. I find that the flat bars put me in a similar position as drop bars but afford more visibility and greater ease of braking. Whether true or not, I feel that I can reach the brakes a touch faster and I feel that I am more alert to what is happening around me (not just in front).

This bike is wonderful and I’m quite satisfied. My  criticisms so far are few. I’m a little disappointed with the “start speed” from stationary position (waiting at a red light) to moving. It takes me longer than I would like to get this bike moving and up to cruising speed. Secondly, it handles corners like an old, overweight dog: stiff, upright and cautious.

If I were to start over looking for a bike for the same functionality (daily commute, transport, and recreation), I’d look seriously at the Surly Cross Check and Surly Long Haul Trucker (touring); Specialized cross bikes; Trek cross bikes; IRO and Soma cross bikes; and perhaps a Redline singlespeed. If I had more money I’d also look at Gunnar and the Dutch luxury commuters by Koga-Miyata. If I had had more patience, I would have continued looking for a nice, older steel frame such as a Miyata, Bridgestone, Centurion, Fuji and others made in the 80s.

Keen Commuter sandal
October 23, 2008, 5:58 pm
Filed under: bicycling, bike transportation, commute biking | Tags:

These are new. It still hasn’t rained in the Bay Area (we’ve had one rain, for just a few hours, since May), so I’ll be posting again on how these sandals are once the weather changes. So far, I’ve ridden home in some pretty cold temps–low-50s– with wool socks and felt just fine. The sandals adjust nicely to different thickness of socks– and I have both extremes; ultra-thin and super-thick.

One surprise: I should have thought twice about the waterproof material because without socks on these sandals feel terriblly clammy and uncomfortable after a 45 minute ride: the moisture just doesn’t go away! This has been the one big disappointment, to realize that I can’t wear these sandals without socks in warmer weather– unless I’m ready to take them off as soon as I get off the bike, or put on socks. That’s the drawback to anything “waterproof” and the main reason I avoid clothing labeled as such and much prefer “water resistant”. Okay, I mainly got the sandals for riding in wet conditions so I wouldn’t have to worry about drying out wet shoes at work. But I was looking forward to the “free feet” summer riding without socks. Pity. I could have purchased a different, non-waterproof SPD-compatible sandal (Shimano, Nashbar, and Lake all make them), but none of them have a closed-toe which is something I definitely wanted for fear of injury.

Bicycle tracking systems do exist!
October 21, 2008, 7:07 am
Filed under: bicycling, bike security, bike transportation, commute biking

I just read this in a New York Times article about campus bike programs (10/21/2008):

“Students can wave their ID card over a docking port. The port is attached to a rubber tube, which can be used as a lock and opened by entering an access code. Students must enter the bike’s condition before it can be unlocked. The system is used in Europe, but with credit cards.

The first 15 minutes are free, and users pay 60 cents for each additional 15 minutes, or $2.40 per hour. All 925 resident students automatically become members through their ID cards. The system was intended to be environmentally friendly, with solar panels powering the ports.

A tracking system similar to G.P.S. will keep tabs on the bikes.” (

So, bicycle tracking systems similar to GPS do indeed exist.