Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bicycle Safety Tips from King Dorko

I was discussing helmets with someone the other day - their general dorkiness and unfortunate essentialness - and recalled this excellent list of safety tips courtesy of The Onion (And by "courtesy of" I mean "completely unauthorized use of").

Once again The Onion provides a real public service:

Bicycle-Safety Tips

March 28, 2001

Warm weather is just around the corner, and soon it will be time to dust off those bicycles. Here are some tips for safe riding:

  • Always use hand signals when turning at intersections. There's nothing motorists pay more attention to than hand signals from bicyclists.
  • Leaving your bike out in the ice and cold all winter may cause serious damage. But it makes a nice subject for the cover illustration of a short-fiction quarterly.
  • Always wear a helmet. If this makes you uncomfortable, think of the helmet as a crown and yourself as King Dorko.
  • Placing your feet firmly on the pedals of the bike will help reduce the "Wheee" sound emitted from your mouth while going downhill.
  • Insist on a bicycle made of solid matter. Liquid and vapor bikes are a passing fancy; argon frames are particularly shoddy.
  • Taking your bike in for a professional tune-up is a great way to waste $25.
  • Be sure to wear your seatbelt, even if just biking down to the corner store.
  • Fat-bottomed girls may be riding today, so look out for those beauties, oh, yeah.
  • Visibility is crucial when biking. Ride with a lit highway flare in each hand.
  • Every three to four weeks, lightly oil the chain. Then dip it in flour and fry it for a real taste treat.
  • As soon as you buy a bike, talk to your friends about how great Shimano crank sets and STX hubs are.
  • Does your city have adequate bike paths? If not, consider bitching about it to your local government for the next 40 years.
  • If rich, spoiled Francis Buxton steals your bike, go on a hilarious and heartwarming journey through the American Southwest to get it back.
  • Bike safety can never be stressed enough. If you doubt this, try stressing it as much as you possibly can. It won't be enough–guaranteed.

There. Don't you feel safer already?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Fisher Simple City 8M

So I've been trolling the internets, diving down endless link-holes in search of a new bike. A speedy commuter, a well-geared trailer hauler, a minimally cluttered steed. Just when you think you've suffered through every manufacturer's ill-conceived website (although there are some that are very cool) I find yet another option. But I have nominated a few rides I'm considering, and a few that are just neat. So here's one:

The Fisher Simple City 8M - $969.

This is a nice looking bike. It's got a vintage vibe without being too kitchy (well the rack is a tad kitchy...), it's ready for real-life commuting and errand-running with some nice modern touches. (I should say real-life commuting for me is usually just me and a messenger bag with my laptop. I like the practicality of panniers, but too often they are too "backpacky" for me. I'm still looking for a nice looking, removeable pannier with a shoulder strap, that when removed just looks like a nice bag. Nice in this case meaning it is more stylish than outdoorsy.)

This Fisher is my old 3-speed brought up to date. I probably want something a bit more roadie/sporty at the end of the day, but I like this bike. It has the internal 8-speed hub, which I'm considering but have never ridden. I like how the internal gears clean up the overall look by not having a rear derailleur hanging there. From what I've read it has a gear range similar to having a 12-38T cassette in the back, which is mountain bike territory (though the front chainwheel is more moderate). I like the rack aesthetic, but I bet I'd ditch that rack and go with one on the rear since I read the balance with a load in that particular front rack is pretty crappy.

This has the Shimano Nexus internal hub, but I'd probably prefer the higher-end Shimano Alfine. There is an extensive write up on the different internal hubs here, and one point it makes is comparing the steps between each gear - how some models are more evenly spaced and others can jump pretty wildly. The Shimano's were not at the top of that list. Also, I'd need to make sure that I could attach the hitch for the kid's trailer to that type of hub.

I like the straight(ish) handlebars, since for some of the riding I do (think lots of stopping and starting towing a trailer) I need easy access to the brakes. I like drop bars, but it's not practical having to reach for the brakes considering this ride's job. Having the bars even with the seat suits the way I would be riding this bike. The Simple City comes with fenders (though that front one would need a flap for full coverage) and a nice chain guard/chainwheel guard combo - nice for commuting. The frame is aluminum which I'm not sure I'll go for - I'd need to be convinced I won't miss the steel Bridgestone I'm riding now.

So the pros: Clean, classic look and design, internal hub, straight(ish) bars and nice medium riding position, fenders and chainguard, and the brakes aren't disks (which can clutter up the clean look). The price isn't crazy, but on the higher end of what I'd like to pay. Oh, and it's a very respectable date bike.

Cons: Might lose the rack (if I found it didn't work well), Nexus hub not my first choice (on paper anyway), the price is pushing it, the aluminum frame and at the end of the day I may want something sportier. I mean, I'm a 50 year-old dad with all the obligations and responsibilities, so I really enjoy the times I get to open it up and fly (even if half the time I'm towing a trailer...).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Searching for the perfect Commuter/Trailer Tow-er/Foxy Minimalist/Utilitarian Date Bike. Why so elusive?

OK so it's a bit ambitious, and maybe I'm a niche market of one, but I am nothing if not obsessive and something like a hound with a scent. I will search the internets and beyond for a solution to my various biking needs. I am on a quest.

Here is what I do with my bike:

I tow 100 pounds of kids + trailer about 5 miles a day, with one small hill. So I need a sturdy frame with a pretty decent low gear and the ability to attach a hitch to the rear quick-release skewer. Currently I get down to about a 23T in front and an 18T in the back. I get stronger all the time, but that gear makes me laugh in the general direction of the hill on our regular route. The other hills in our neighborhood still instill a bit of fear. Is there an internal hub (for a cleaner look than a triple + granny derailleur) that can give me what I need? I'm not yet sure about that. This rig is also used for grocery shopping and other cargo situations you'd think you might need a car for. So this is my Family Man ride.

I commute and generally leave the car at home when possible, on easy 4-10 mile routes depending on the destination. For this I'd probably be fine with a single-speed with a slightly forgiving gearing, and I love the clean, stripped-down look. I don't carry too much back and forth, usually just a laptop and maybe some clothes, but I'm not totally opposed to panniers or some other bike-mounted bags/racks. My messenger bag works OK, but I do like the feel of getting the junk off my back, especially as the weather warms up here in L.A. But racks and cargo space and lights and locks can quickly turn into a mishmash of utilitarian debris, loosing the simplicity I love. I also like to really fly when on these rides, so I like something on the sporty side. This is my Bread-Winner, Eco-Proselytyzer ride.

I also like just getting out with the wife, for a lazy shopping run or a Bike Date (as the blog title implies) so I like something a bit relaxed and elegant. Not a full-on Dutch bike necessarily (though I love those, too) but something with some élan, some form to go with the function. Something I can wear nice clothes on, an eye catcher as we pull up to a swanky L.A. valet. This is the Date Bike.

Writing this reminds of the scene in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories where he is in love with specific elements of two different women, so he has this fantasy of taking the best parts of one and combining them with the best parts of the other, Frankenstein style. But then once he completes the transformation, he falls in love with the one with all the bad traits!

I am also more aware of the challenge, the impossibility you might say, as I write down the contradictions. But my journey in the wilderness, my search for this Two-Wheeled Grail of Transportation goes on. So I will post some of the bikes that catch my eye, and how they attain or fall short of my ideal. I will continue my quest, because it is something bigger than me.

Oh, I forgot. It needs to be reasonably priced. I need a pile of cash left over for one of those sweet Rapha Tweed Softshell Jackets...

UPDATE: I like some of these...

Friday, February 20, 2009

First thoughts about the last mile

One of the issues in getting people to use public transportation is the "last mile" problem - how do you get people from, say, a light rail station to their office if it's not located within a few blocks. It's this conundrum that dissuades some potential users from leaving the car at home - how do they travel the last mile? This is often talked about regarding public transportation, but what about here in L.A. where cars are still so dominant?

As I ride around Santa Monica and think about bike access issues and general congestion, I was wondering if there could be a version of the "park & ride" idea we could apply here. Generally park & ride is where people in suburban areas drive a short distance to a parking area where they connect with public transportation for the longer haul to where they work. The problem in L.A. is that if you are not on the current Metro rail routes, long distance transportation sucks and takes forever.

But what if there was a good parking area say, near the 405/10 interchange, or around the VA - somewhere short of the westside commuter destinations? Commuters from the Valley could drive their car to that parking area with their bike, and then ride the easy mile or two to their office, easing congestion in the business districts (and getting in a bit of exercise, but not so much they are a sweaty lump once they get to the office). It seems far better than trying to cram more and more parking into the downtown Santa Monica/Westside business district. It requires a little in terms of infrastructure, but certainly way less than accommodating all those cars downtown.

What am I missing? Seems like a good way to go.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bike Boulevards - I want to go to there

In thinking about ways to improve bike accessibility and safety I often find the idea of bike boulevards very appealing. As I ride around Santa Monica, the most pleasant streets to ride are, ironically, usually roads that don't have bike lanes; those side streets that are not major auto thoroughfares and as such are less traveled, generally at slower speeds. Euclid between Pico and Ocean Park is a perfect example, or 21st Street in the same area as shown in this photo. Who wouldn't want to ride there?

The problem in using these streets for bike commuting is usually the same reason cars don't use them - there are not lights to get you across major cross streets. But the bike boulevard approach makes use of these streets, sometimes including planters so that bikes can get through but cars can't, and bike-triggered lights to cross those busy streets. As with everything else there are issues, and I'm sure Big Car (you know, the volunteer car lobbyists that seem hellbent on acting all victimized whenever cyclists want some small piece of the pie) would complain, but wouldn't it be better than trying to cram bike lanes into already heavily traveled arterial routes? Just today I was riding up Ocean Park and I was thinking it's amazing that you can be in a bike lane and still get doored - that's just nuts.

I'm still thinking about the boulevard concept, but it seems like the direction bike advocacy should go when possible - make use of parallel, lightly traveled streets. And this idea needs to be forced into the heads of our reps in government. It often seems that when asked about their opinions on bike issues they just say, "More bike lanes!". We need to make sure whatever infrastructure dollars and attention we get, is actually well thought out and useful, not just a well-intentioned disappointment. Without question, people in decision-making positions should be taken out on a regular commute before deciding on anything.

And the term "bike boulevards" just sounds so classy. That's a party I want to go to.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oh why do you displease me, Santa Monica bike lanes?

One of the main elements of our family's "bikes-as-transportation" crusade is taking the kids to school in the morning in the bike trailer. They go to two different schools, one on the north end of town and one on the south. It makes for a nice five and a half mile round trip, with one short climb on the way home. Just a block or so, but still pulling about 60 extra pounds at that point makes the heart pound a bit.

Once we get home I can shower and get back on the bike and head off to work (without pulling the extra weight), an easy two mile ride each way.

While Santa Monica has a partial grid of bike lanes (and the dubiously useful "bike routes") they are definitely a work in progress. It seems that they are chosen less for "How can we get cyclists to various important destinations safely?" than "Where do we have a little extra space?" So you end up with lanes that come and go, end short of obvious destinations (like the downtown/Promenade area), and often still leave riders choosing between chancing it with fast moving cars (or getting doored) and just retreating to the sidewalk.

This photo attempts to show how the bike lanes stop as you approach busy intersections, and then don't begin again for about 100 feet after the intersection. You can just barely see the lane restarting up in the distance. This happens every block. So as you approach and then cross the intersection there is no space for the rider anymore. You need to just force yourself in (or wait for all the traffic to pass) and the cars have to move over into the opposing left turn lane to pass. Often we just bail up onto the sidewalk and dodge pedestrians.

Maybe I shouldn't complain since our city is pretty "well endowed" by local bike-friendliness standards, but those standards are pretty low. Our bike infrastructure could be useful, well-designed and safe. It should be. I mean, there are times it just feels borderline irresponsible to have my kids in the trailer out there among the oblivious behind-the-wheel texters. There are several individuals and groups working on bike advocacy here in L.A. in general, and I'm working to find them, meet them and help them.

I guess I just have that condition familiar to those that love and appreciate bikes - the belief that they are a wonderfully healthy, efficient, fun, community enhancing machine, and dismay that others don't enthusiastically agree. Bikes are one of the easiest ways to make a real and positive change in your world. The reasons to encourage people to use bikes are seriously no-brainers. They provide benefits without downsides. Bikes directly address issues of great concern to our country, from personal to environmental health. It’s so easy a kid can do it, it just takes a break from our habit of getting in a car every time we walk out the door. So we get a bit annoyed when we hear politicians or other foot-draggers say it’s not worth it, or it can’t be done.

It is worth it, and it can be done.

I mean, how could you say no to her?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hey look! It's Bertolt Brecht's house!

I've been working like a madam (to use a much-loved typo) so there's been no time for much of anything (except the bike commute, thank GOD), but I did want to share this great site for finding bike friendly routes (h/t to The Bike Librarian...). You can click the little arrows to maneuver along the route, and some posters add great notes of interest like, "Bertolt Brecht's old house!" or "Beggar ahead!" Good things to be on the lookout for, indeed...

Thanks all you spreaders of goodwill and goodroutes. OK, back to work, Grrr...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bike trailers, stalkers & Whippets, Oh My!

Here's a picture of us out on our morning routine hauling the kids across town to school. Our friend Andrew was stalking us apparently and snapped this shot of me, our craptastic trailer filled with two kids, my wife and our Whippet Zipper (in his coat - it's a bit brisk today).

The great thing about using the bike for transportation is that you get your exercise in while doing things you have to do anyway (like take the kids to school). People are always surprised when they pass us in their cars on the way to school but we still beat them there, since we don't have to park and walk the kids in. We pull right into the playground and we're there. After you get used to that, searching for parking feels even more galling.

And re: the trailer, we actually put in our order today for its replacement. We could only find one trailer that could fit growing kids, since the industry seems to think trailers are for weekend jaunts to the park with a couple toddlers, not an actual way to leave the car at home for most trips. So we ordered the Chariot Corsaire XL, for the whopping cost of almost EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS!! You read that right. You can find cheaper ones, but none this big (and it's not even that much bigger...).

But dang, 800 bucks...

Friday, February 6, 2009

You, me and the SMDP

My bike advocacy career just went global. OK, so it just went super-duper local, but hey, you have to start somewhere...

Not Another Parking Lot

Regarding the article on Thursday ("Parking puzzle comes together," page 1), I sincerely hope the acquisition of the property on Fifth Street isn't just a chance to build more parking structures. Increasing lanes of traffic and adding parking doesn't reduce congestion, it simply attracts more cars up to the level where that congestion again becomes intolerable.

I imagine a Downtown Santa Monica that is comfortable for non-motorized use, where people interact in green spaces, shop, eat, go to the movies. Instead it's becoming an overheated, congested, car-park where non-car use is secondary (and dangerous).

Let's really think about what we want our city to be, and not address congestion with short-term, uninspired choices. Maybe those parking structures could be spread out, decentralized, and create some pleasant, attractive ways of moving pedestrians into a gorgeous central area.

A beautiful destination is good for our residents and our business community.

I am glad the city is making these purchases, but I hope they are used to make this unique city more attractive, more healthy, more supportive of this vibrant place we call home. Let's not blow this chance to get it right.

Jim Haygood
Sunset Park
February 05, 2009

Yes. We. Can! (Wait, that's already been used...)

Of blog updates and bike valets

One thing I like about setting up this blog is the list (on the right) of favorite bike blogs. It sorts them by most recent updates, so I don't face the crushing disappointment of going to a site and finding nothing but yesterday's news (or last year's, for that matter).

So I actually use this site myself when I go looking for something bike related to read. I may set up other blogs just to hold other reading lists. I never caught on to the RSS feed to Mac Mail - just doesn't work for me graphically somehow. Anyway, love that feature. A cornucopia of diversions, time-wasters, trivia, and bottomless link-holes calling to me like Sirens. ("Link-holes", I like that.)

And in my desire to figure out how this blogger software works, I'm linking to this video of the bike valet at the Sunday Farmer's Market here in Santa Monica. I grouse about the insufficient bike-friendliness of Santa Monica as a rule, but our town really is trying. Exhibit A being the bike valet...

That's pretty cool. (Both the valet, and the fact I got it embedded without hurting anyone.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My famous Burley

So we bought a Burley D'lite trailer in our search for a replacement, but it turned out to be too small for our six year-old's legs. So like we do with everything else, we put it on Craigslist. We got it at a good price so we were able to sell it for one, and it sold right away. (Decent trailers go like hotcakes, a brand new one goes like, I don't know, Pigs in a Blanket?)

When the buyer arrived it turned out to be a famous member of the local film community - hey everyone likes a bargain, and those trailers are pricey...

And now what do I see but our former trailer gracing the celebrity pages of People Magazine!

Now I just need to find a trailer that fits my larger, below-the-line children...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I've been off work since before Christmas so I haven't been doing the work commute. As commutes go, I have it easy. It's about 2 miles each way, a few busy streets to manage but mostly smooth sailing, not much at all in the way of hills.

Leaving the office tonight it was completely dark, but that perfect January in L.A. temperature - balmy with a just a hint of brisk. I'd picked up a bunch of slacks at Banana Republic a couple weeks ago when they were dumping things for like 20 bucks, so I was stylin' in new black pin-striped slacks and a gray T-shirt. I'm not sure why it feels great to fly by on the bike in pin-stripes and wing-tips, but it does.

Pulling out alongside traffic, seeing my opening to take a left, and loving that feeling of stepping on it and moving at the same speed as the cars, then banking off onto a side street, wide open, all to myself. Feeling the muscles wake up, pumping, the efficiency of the bike a thing of beauty.

After being in a chair all day that ride is just sensational. Inspirational. Free.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Does L.A. suck?

I was in Chicago recently and you've got to hand it to these commuters I saw from my (cozy) hotel room window. Nothing is going to keep them from their appointed rounds. I have real admiration, and would actually like to try that. I love me some hardcore weather!

Still, a lot of things might suck about L.A., strolling the Farmer's Market in January is not one of them.

It's not just for kids

I love how utilitarian the bicycle is. A simple design that has remained fundamentally unchanged for over a hundred years (though the fact one iteration was called "The Boneshaker" implies we've made some improvements...). Most technology from that period has disappeared completely or is unrecognizable (though apparently toilet paper was invented around the same time, so there's that).

But the bike forges on. Adding the trailer takes that a step further, from just alternative transportation to a real tool for real world tasks. We take a lot of our inspiration from those familes I saw in Amsterdam when I was there 25 years ago, where riding a bike doesn't define your social class - it's a tool that just makes sense.

But now that we've made this jump to finding more opportunities to leave the car at home, we'd like to do it with a bit more style. To avoid the bicycling image of a sweaty mish-mash of function over form. We want to be emissaries (in our small way) of cycling as an important social, political and ecological change; to show others in our community that riding a bike isn't just a way to get to the next hacky-sack festival (not that there's anything wrong with that!) since you can't afford a car. We want to show you can ride up to restaurant and step off the bike in style. It's a necessary evolution, an acceptance of the fact that the way we transport people and goods in America is unsustainable and it's killing us.

But that change doesn't need to be some dour return to the dark ages as the foot-draggers suggest. In this case it can be inspiring. It can be fun. It can make us healthier and more connected as a community. It can be elegant. All it takes is confronting the small discomforts of change, and through creativity and experimentation finding ways we can adjust our habits. For our family, it has been a small revelation. We are happier.

Now we just need to replace that sad old bike trailer that looks like we stole it from some poor soul here in the Home of the Homeless...