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Sizzling Strategies – Part 2: Dress for Distress

It seems like years ago that I mentioned how much I like the products from Duluth Trading Company. Wait a minute … it was years ago: Doctor’s Orders: Ride Naked!

As I said in that ancient article, Duluth makes stuff for real working people, which means they’re very familiar with clothes which will help to keep you both safe and comfortable while you’re out in the sun and the brutal heat. I still stand by the philosophy of that article, too, especially the parts concerning the advantages of loose-fitting clothing and man-made fabrics which enhance your body’s cooling system by wicking the sweat away from your skin.

The links in that old article are no longer valid, but if you go to the link for Duluth in the first sentence of this article you’ll find the same products for men and women under the “Buck Naked Performance” brand. I’ve always loved the product names at Duluth. How can you not believe their clothes will treat your body right with labels like Buck Naked Performance, Middle Management Chinos, Ballroom Jeans and Armachillo Cooling Underwear?

Buck Naked Undies (Left), Armachillo Undies (right)

That last item deserves a special mention here because I think it is a good addition to your clothing strategy of dressing for the distress of riding your bike in the heat. According to Duluth, the Armachillo products are cooler to the touch because they have “microscopic jade embedded in the fabric.” When I first read about this idea in the Duluth catalog I was skeptical, but my wife purchased a few pairs of the briefs for me for my birthday and I can say there’s some validity to their pitch. When you pull the Armachillos out of the drawer, along some other cotton and nylon mix undies, you can definitely feel that the Armachillos are cooler to the touch. Now, when you put them out in the sun for a bit (as I did when I put a pair alongside a pair of Buck Naked briefs on the hood of my car so I could take some photos) you really don’t notice any difference in temperature. Armachillos also seem to be cooler than other underwear when they start to collect some moisture from your sweat as you ride; I don’t have any experimental evidence to support this, and I have no intention of taping a thermometer to my butt cheek in order to confirm it; the evidence shall remain totally anecdotal.

Another product I want to mention trying, and subsequently using a lot, are the Buck Naked Performance Undershirts. I’ve got both the crew necks and the V-necks. They’re made out of the same material as the Buck Naked underwear. I buy them a full size larger than my “official” size, and because they tend to billow a bit as a result you wouldn’t think they would wick moisture as well as if they hugged your body. Maybe they don’t, but – as I’ve said quite often – I don’t like clothes which fit snugly as I ride. If I want to wear uncomfortable clothes, I’ll wear a necktie to work!

Buck Naked T-Shirt

Cargo shorts are my preferred cover for my Duluth undies, and Duluth does have an excellent selection of shorts in all of their materials. They are expensive, and so I continue to buy cheap cargos from a local Big Box store that are made out of a material like parachute cloth. They wear fairly well, but the Velcro on the pockets tends to peel a little bit, leaving a little space around which coins can escape. I may have to let my wife know that I’d sure like to try the expensive Duluth shorts.

In the past, I’ve usually worn just any kind of sock, from a cheap cotton crew sock sold by the same Big Box store where I get my cargos, to some People for Bikes nylon mix socks my favorite local bike shop had on sale for their 60th anniversary ($1 a pair; they were trying to clean out their back room). As I’ve “matured” (that’s a code word for “becoming a finicky old snot”), I’ve discovered there is some wisdom to the idea that man-made materials work to wick sweat from your stinky feet as well as from your stinky body, so I may dip further in my wife’s willingness to get me neat clothes and buy some Duluth 7-Year Performance No Show Socks.

Whether I’m running around at work, or using the platform side of my multi-purpose bike pedals, my only shoes are Brooks Addiction Walkers. They provide great support for my old feet. If I’m clipping into the SPD side of my pedals, I use a pair of DZR Minna cycling sneakers.

 


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He doesn’t believe that “clothes make the man,” but he thinks they certainly can break him, and going without them can land you in jail.

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Sizzling Strategies – Part 1: Timing is Everything

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before, but just in case I haven’t: I do not commute by bike during the hot summer months in Phoenix, Arizona. The reason is simple: I don’t need to complicate life for either the Phoenix Fire Department EMTs or myself. With nightly temperatures sometimes still above 100°F at 10:00 PM, and sometimes going over 115°F when I would begin my ride home at 4:00 PM, common sense tells you to do the 16 mile roundtrip in the car!

As a lifelong desert rat – with a history of hiking, hunting, backpacking, camping and playing in the brutally hot, dry climate – it should come as no surprise that I’ve suffered heat exhaustion several times. The dizziness, cramps, headache and nausea have served to make me extremely cautious about strenuous exercise in the heat.

The heat and the high ultraviolet light also take their toll on your biking equipment. This was brought home, in dramatic fashion, a few Sundays ago in the middle of July. In the late morning, I had just returned from running some errands in the car and my wife reported that when she was in the laundry room she had heard a brief, loud swishing sound emanating from somewhere in the house. She said it sounded like an aerosol can emptying all at once. I went to the room where we park the bikes and, sure enough, the front tire on my recumbent was flat. It was more than flat, the tire bead had almost separated from the rim on one side. Upon closer examination, I saw that the tube valve stem had disintegrated and appeared to be as dry as a cracker. I’ve got to believe it was the heat which destroyed the valve and caused it to fail with explosive force.

Destructive Heat

These tire tubes are not that old, and I had been riding the bike just a few hours before. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had been out in the heat of the day and the tube had exploded while I was crossing in front of some sweaty, hot, uncomfortable motorist messing with his AC controls!

All this does not mean that I stay off the bike in the summer. My bicycle riding is an important part of my mere existence. In the words of basketball great Bill Walton: “My bike is my gym, my wheelchair, and my church all in one.” Yup. The key to surviving on your bike during an Arizona desert summer is developing a series of strategies for riding. So many components are involved, I will need to break the information into a number of posts.

In this post, we will address time and place. With the very best of intentions, a friend of mine referred to my Walton quote and asked if the bike was my gym, why I wouldn’t stay in the coolness of a real gym and ride a stationary bike to get my fix. To me, riding a bike that doesn’t go anywhere is like drinking beer that doesn’t contain any alcohol. I mean, what’s the point? Yeah, I like the taste of beer, any beer, much better than any soda, but there are also extra … benefits to real beer that are associated with alcohol. (And anybody who would argue with me about this is the same sort of laughable liar who says he only looks at Playboy Magazine for the articles!)

Also, an important part of my bicycle church is the solitude and opportunity to be alone to think my noble, sublime, transcendental thoughts. Sitting on a gym bike, and having some sweaty, smelly, grunting twenty-something fellow with outstanding pectorals on a bike next to me is hardly my idea of a satisfying religious experience.

Time to Ride

So I ride the neighborhood streets either before the sun comes up or really late in the evening. The only time I’m on the main thoroughfares is when I cross them on the way to a coffee shop or an ice cream joint. And I keep my mileage down to about two to three miles for each outing; the idea is to have fun, not lay it all out there and have to dial 911.

 


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He buys and reads the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition because he loves and appreciates great photography.

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Phone Follies

I’m a bona fide nerd. I even have the credentials to prove it: a first edition Netware CNE (Certified Novell Engineer) certificate and a Windows NT MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certificate. In case you don’t know, this means I am not only a Nerd, but  am truly an Old Blood Geek. The further proof of this the fact that the MCSE acronym no longer means what it should mean and did mean when I got it, it means Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. They’ve stolen the engineer-ship from all of you whippersnappers!

But I digress, I didn’t come here today to boast of my legendary techie credentials, I came here to talk about electronic gadgets and bicycles. In my home office, I have drawers and boxes full of the flotsam of 35 years in the computer business. Items which once cost more than a brand new car are stuffed in with cables belonging to long discarded devices whose original purpose I can’t even remember. I’m comforted by the fact that even my wife knows this evidence of a hoarding instinct on my part will never be lost, and my collection will be a treasure trove for some future Anthropologist of Gizmos.

I digress … again.

Mixed in with all those electronic artifacts are a number of electric bike gizmos I’ve acquired over the years, used for a while, and then placed in my impromptu museum: there are several speedometers of both the wired and wireless variety; there is the totally righteous Signal Pod I wrote about in 2012, a bike turn signal/hazard light which encourages you to play Sixties hot rod music as you cruise; there is also a Garmin eTrex Legend, my first (and only) exclusively GPS device.

And, of course, there are the cell phones. I’ve got flip phones and classic Nokia phones. I still have the ancient Droid phone I used to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Google Maps has an army of Thrall Maidens they have captured and forced to give you your biking Directions (Ha! Worked right back on topic, didn’t I?)

These days, the only real electronic gizmo I have with me when I ride is my Android smartphone. Google Maps has greatly improved since the days of the Slave Princesses (the Google Gal is much more businesslike). And there are a number of apps which substitute for a speedometer and fitness tracker.

LG G6 – LG Health App
Samsung Health Main Screen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been a fan of LG phones for several years. My current device is an LG G6. I have the LG Health app running on it which records a variety of information.

Setting up the LG Health app is pretty simple. You just enter the app, put some information in your profile and check the circle which says “Record exercise type.” The app does a pretty good job of figuring out whether you’re walking, climbing stairs, cycling and so forth. I get exhausted just looking at the data sometimes (“I WALKED six miles at work today?!? No wonder I fell asleep watching the game and spilled my beer all over the La-Z-Boy!”).

There’s another feature which allows you to start recording your cycling run in a stopwatch sort of mode. Among other things, it will track the duration of your ride, the calories expended, the equivalency of the ride in steps, the distance, your average speed and the pace in minutes per mile. No doubt this is a good training tool if you’re into competitive cycling.

If you really are competitive, you can sync LG Health up to the Web and compare your exercise results with a selected group of friends. You can also sync it with something called the LG Health Service. I guess this would be a good way to tell if you’re over exercising and are going to croak.

Samsung has a similar app called Samsung Health. It records basically the same information as the LG and gives you the same opportunity to brag to your friends or be embarrassed about your woeful physical conditioning.

An additional, really trick feature is the ability, through the camera lens, to record your heartbeat and stress level. Maybe, if you hook it up to WebMD, and could get it to take your blood pressure, you could skip those regular doctor’s visits!

I know the Apple iPhone has a health app, too, but my only iPhone is a little old iPhone 5 and I haven’t had a lot of luck using the health app. Apparently, you download another app, like a cycling app, and the Apple program uses the information from that program as a data source. It collects all the information about walking and exercising from other apps and puts it altogether into a sort of  fitness compendium.

My son has the top shelf iPhone X, and he doesn’t use the Apple app when he’s cycling. He used to have a Samsung, and says he wishes Samsung Health would be ported over to the iPhone. He uses a program called Strava, which is one of the better known fitness apps.

Strava requires you create an account and give them all kinds of personal data. As I mentioned previously, I’m a genuine geek, which means I’m very paranoid about spreading my personal information all over the Internet. Therefore, I don’t know too much about Strava.

The last thing I want to do is make a personal plea to everyone out there: if you use your phone as a bike accessory, please just put it out of sight and don’t look at it while you’re riding. You don’t want your last words to be “Hey! Look! I just hit 28 miles per hour as I’m crossing in front of that Mack truc…”

 


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He is not a health nut, but he likes walnuts.

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The Better Bike Lanes

In my last post, I groused about bike lanes that I thought were done poorly; that were actually, in some situations, dangerous to the folks who are supposed to use them. I thought it was only fair to bring attention to some bike lanes in Phoenix which I think are done well. My home town is dominated by automobiles. The phrase “good Phoenix bike lane” might seem to be a textbook example of an oxymoron, or an urban legend, but I can testify to their existence and I have photographic proof!

I’m not talking here about multiuse paths. Those facilities separate bikes, pedestrians and equestrians from automobiles completely. I’m talking about roadways which try to make it safer for bicycles to share the road with automobiles.

The most important components of this type of infrastructure are painted road elements called Shared Lane Markings (SLMs), or “sharrows.” The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has an excellent description of them in their Urban Bikeway Design Guide – Shared Lane Markings. The Complete Streets programs all over America include sharrows as an automatic characteristic of their planning.

A sharrow is a painted image of a bicycle topped with two chevrons indicating the direction the bicycle rider should go when traveling in that lane. Its purpose is to let motorists know they may encounter bikes in that lane, and bicycles have a right to be there.

A Sharrow

Evidence says the use of sharrows makes the roadways safer for bicyclists. I think when they are sometimes included in marked bike lanes, they make the bike lanes even safer. That is what I expected to see a little bit further on, when I saw the white lines:

Bike Lane Ahead of the Sharrow?

No, actually, these are on-street parking areas. If there are no cars parked there, in my opinion they function as an excellent bike lane.

Parking and Lane

The closed lane markings still make it somewhat of a no man’s land at the intersections, but at least these are side streets controlled by stop signs. Traveling up this road about another quarter of a mile, making a right and riding another half mile I come to a bike-lane-to-intersection-transition I think is the best idea short of a cycle track (a bike lane physically separated from the roadway using curbing or a change in elevation):

Bike Lane and Turn Lane

Even though the solid white bike lane markings have become dashed, it is still clearly a bike lane. And the use of sharrows makes it even safer.

Good Bike Lane Ending

Ironically, the only two times I have seen infrastructure like this not work so well is when irresponsible bike riders are going the wrong way down the bike lane or irresponsible drivers are parked in a clearly marked bike lanes!

 


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He had problems with this post: his auto-correction kept substituting “shallow” for “sharrow”!

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Building a Better Bike Share

What happens when you finally arrive?

For decades I’ve been trying to get more people onto bikes in my adopted hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. I’ve tried appealing to their motivation; reminding them that they say that want to ride more. I’ve tried to create more opportunities for folks to bike by working with my local advocacy group, Bike Norfolk, to lobby for more bicycle infrastructure. And I’ve tried to increase the ability of my family and their friends to ride by regularly tuning up their bikes. Yet no matter what I did, I still felt like a lonely prophet in a sea of internal combustion.

Enter Zagster, and their Norfolk Pace Bike program.

Pace bikes are simple, reliable and user-friendly.

On a recent sunny spring day in Norfolk, I looked up from wrapping sandwiches at Jimmy John’s  (for delivery by bike) to see a dozen gleaming white bicycles being unloaded from the back of the truck and then locked to the bike racks along the street. It’s finally happening, I thought, bike share is here!

Bike-share” is what it sounds like: instead of owning a bike outright, and then only riding it occasionally, a person can rent a bike when they need it for a few minutes, hours or days. Maybe it’s to ride to class. Maybe it’s a quick spin to the drug store for some relief from the spring pollen. Maybe it’s bar hopping with friends.

Of course, bike share works best in a dense urban community that already has a critical mass of both bicycle infrastructure and bicyclists. A decade ago, when I had been organizing and leading Critical Mass bike rides in Norfolk, we had only a vision of Norfolk as a cycling city. The reality then was that without bike lanes, bike racks and bike culture, riding in Norfolk was a lonely, iconoclastic exercise.  Now our vision is becoming a reality. After a major municipal investment in bicycle infrastructure, our cycling dream was being validated by capitalism. Norfolk was finally bikeable enough to be profitable to a bike-share program.

Pace Bikes are docked at key locations throughout the city.

At first, the Pace Bikes stayed where they had been locked up, in groups of three and four near university lecture halls and grocery stores. But then they started to spread. I began to see students and professors alike riding across campus on Pace Bikes. And a couple of days later they began to spread away from campus and into residential neighborhoods. Unlike the much-ballyhooed bike share programs in Paris and New York, there is no need to “dock” Pace Bikes to a proprietary bike stand. Pace Bikes can be locked up anywhere. People can check them out from a bike stand near their favorite restaurant and ride them home. In the morning the same folks can ride them to work, and lock them up to any convenient bike rack, no fuss. With a smartphone app, it’s easy to find and reserve a bike. Each Pace Bike has its own GPS receiver and an electronic wheel lock. Without a reservation, a Pace Bike can’t be unlocked or ridden away. If there’s a wobble in a wheel or soft tire, it can be reported in the app, and a mechanic will be dispatched.

In the first month of service, Pace Bikes were ridden for almost six thousand hours in Norfolk, according to Aviva Manin, Account Director for Zagster, the largest bike-share provider in North America. “When we look at the data from the past month of operations in Norfolk, we see thousands and thousands of bike rides that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise…because the barrier to being a biker is so low.”

Continuing, Aviva said that, “to get people to change their behavior, you have to provide the motivation, the opportunity, and the ability. It’s going to be a matter of focusing on specific user groups, what their use-cases are, and what behavior change actually looks like. And where we are in Norfolk right now in the life cycle is getting people out riding, getting people having fun, remembering how much biking adds to their lives, and then narrowing down on specific user groups: your students, your tourists, your professionals, and understanding what the gaps are in motivation, opportunity and ability, and building that out.”

As the summer of 2018 progresses, Norfolk can expect to see more folks renting Pace Bikes in groups of twos and threes, taking a spin downtown along the Elizabeth River Trail, or riding from one microbrewery to the next, making casual users into habitual cyclists. The cultural changes that early bicycle adopters pushed for in the past decade will be cemented and intensified in the coming months. As Aviva explained, “One of the things we definitely hear is for people who are sort of car-dependent or habitual car users, is they see parking and streets being taken up by bike infrastructure, and at first it feels really threatening: congestion is going to get worse, parking is going to get more difficult.”

While in the short-term it may seem that there is less space for cars, it’s really more space for people. It’s space for people to spend more time enjoying their community, and less time trapped in a steel box, trying to get somewhere. It’s about living life more fully and getting away from the automobile-centric lifestyle. It’s about manifesting our best human potential. As H.G. Wells said, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”

What happens when you arrive? You go for another ride.

Go for a victory lap.

Author Wesley Cheney leaves  Jimmy John’s  in Norfolk, Virginia for Skagway Alaska for a summer of leading bicycle tours down Alaska’s White Pass for Sockeye Cycle Co. He broadcasts his ukulele performances on Periscope.

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Traffic Troubles

FACT: Maricopa County, Arizona, where I call home, is the fastest growing county in the United States. That is not me talking, that is the U.S. Census Bureau. The data says we add an average of 222 people every day.

FACT: Arizona has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the nation. Again, that ain’t the Bluescat merely bloviating, that is a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Reading the report, it is clear that bicyclists are classified as sort of a pedestrian. According to the report, 224 walkers were killed in Arizona in 2017, along with 30 bicyclists.

So, common sense and facts should tell us that traffic has become worse and more dangerous in Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona. Right? Well, realizing how disdainful Americans have become about truth, facts and common sense in the last year or so, I shall result to deferring to a totally redoubtable authority in this matter: my wife.

“Honey, do you think traffic has gotten worse and more dangerous in Phoenix lately?”

“What? Of course! YES!”

(At least she didn’t give me her typical look when I ask a stupid question; think of how the damsel in distress looks at the thing which has just exited the alien pod.)

I agree with her, of course, and not just because I’ve learned it is vital to agree with her, but because she should know. She travels over 30 miles every weekday, through some of the most freeway intensive space in the state. She has had two accidents in the last 18 months, both involved trying to get into a proper lane in order to make a turn which would allow her to reach her desired destination. Luckily, there were no injuries, but I could have purchased two brand new bikes with what we paid for in repairs.

I’ve taken some photos to support our position. In one of them, we see the rear of my recumbent parked on a sidewalk next to a bike lane. A steady line of cars is streaming by us, all the way up to a stop light which has just changed to yellow. Just ahead of my bike we see a driveway entrance, and just beyond that – in the shadow of a tree – we see that the striping for the bike lane ends; over a block from the right-turn lane at the intersection.

Danger at the End of the White Line

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of bike lanes, but this represents one of my biggest beefs with them: they are oftentimes implemented horrendously. The picture shows how a cyclist is entering a no man’s land for over seven car lengths. I’ve travelled this stretch of road many times, and can testify to witnessing a few near misses with cyclists trying to get into the traffic lane to head straight ahead through the light, or almost getting mowed down by drivers who whip over into that “right lane” there figuring it is open to pass all that traffic.

My strategy here has always been to stay in the bike lane until I get to that driveway opening, and then glide up onto the sidewalk and take it all the way through the light. I can do that in Phoenix. I guess in Tucson, Arizona, you can’t do that unless there is a sign posted allowing you to do that.

One of the alternatives is doing what this brave fellow is doing:

The Brave Soul

He’s staying to the right, letting the traffic squeeze by on his left. This isn’t, of course, what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to “take your lane” because the Arizona Revised Statutes say your bicycle has every right to be there.

In reality, very few motor vehicle drivers believe that. They believe that the road belongs to them, and that bicyclists “don’t belong out there.” I had a Phoenix cop tell me that himself, using those exact words: “You don’t belong out there!”

I had been waiting at a stop sign, the cop pulled up behind me, honked and gestured for me to move over to the side. He then pulled up next to me, buzzed down the front passenger’s side window of his big American branded SUV, said “You don’t belong out there,” and pointed over at the sidewalk.

Let’s think about that sidewalk for a second, and while we do lets take a look at that same intersection less than a minute after The Brave Soul rode through it:

The Grand Ballroom Crosswalk

Not a pedestrian in sight, and the crosswalk is big enough for two bikes and a whole Cub Scout troop ushering a dozen little old ladies across the street in opposite directions onto the sidewalks. Still, the masters of bike safety claim bikes don’t belong on sidewalks and pose a danger to the poor pedestrians.

Well, yeah, bike roadies blazing down the sidewalks at full throttle do pose a hazard … to themselves and everybody else, but the typical bike commuter is in much greater danger if he tries to occupy the hostile environment of a traffic lane of a two-lane street at rush hour.

And in one of my previous writings, I’ve even addressed how in certain circumstances communities require bicyclists to ride the wrong way on sidewalks: Sidewalk Salmoning: It’s The Law.

I do think the idea of bikes on sidewalks is starting to gain some traction. If you look closely at the picture of that grand ballroom of a crosswalk, you’ll notice the ramped curb returns. These features invite bicyclists to glide up onto the sidewalk. Heck, they even replaced all the vertical curb returns at all the intersections in my little middle-income neighborhood!

Welcome Ramp

I don’t think there are enough wheelchairs or power chairs within a one-mile radius of my house to justify the expense.

Yes, the traffic has gotten bad, and I bet it is only going to get worse. I would also bet we will never be able to convince motorists to share the road with our bicycles. It is up to cyclists to stay out of their way and move at sedate speeds when we venture onto the walkways.

I still believe bicycling is a pretty safe way to get around. I’ve been hurt worse simply lifting heavy stuff than I’ve ever been hurt riding my bike.

We just gotta remember the last thing police Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) always said at the end of his roll call on the old Hill Street Blues television show:

“Let’s be careful out there!”


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He’ll share the sidewalk and even his bike pump; he will not share his beer.

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Lighten Up!

I remember the first “portable computer” I had. It was called, appropriately enough, the Compaq Portable. In the vernacular of us computer geeks of the time it was referred to as a “luggable.” It was the size of a portable sewing machine. You laid the thing on its side, unsnapped the keyboard from the bottom of it to gain access to a 9-inch screen, and searched around for an electrical outlet to plug it into (no battery on this puppy!).

And it weighed around 30 pounds.

In the years since the old Portable, because of my job in Information Technology I’ve always had access to some sort of take-it-with-you computer either as a full-time workstation or as a lightweight backup machine to take into the field. Luckily, just as portable PC’s have become lighter, so have bikes, bike components and bike accessories.

Ten years ago I started back riding a bike to work (after an over 30 year hiatus). Not long after that I was issued a laptop which weighed a mere five pounds. I eventually got a Vaude Egger bag to carry that laptop; it weighs just three pounds.

In a previous post I spoke of my new bag, a Vaude Reva which weighs 2.5 pounds. The Reva is smaller than the Egger, but the reason it works for me is that I have traded in that old, heavy laptop for a new, much smaller ultralight which weighs just 2.5 pounds.

Just as computer manufacturers continuously put more features and power into smaller and lighter machines, so do bike accessory makers constantly improve their products in a variety of ways. For instance, on my Reva bag, the quick release hooks are attached to a bar which can be detached from the bag; this means that on those days when I am forced to drive to work, I can take the hooks off so the bag is even lighter and the hooks aren’t there to dig into my side as I sling the bag over my shoulder.

Vaude Reva Detachable Quick Release Bar

The quick pannier-to-messenger-bag conversion feature is what sold me on the Vaude Reva, but the other products I was considering also had some innovations which would satisfy riders with different needs. The Banjo Brothers Backpack Pannier Combo has a wicking surface on the back, which helps to keep your own back from getting all sweaty; it has a big side pocket for carrying a BluesCat sized coffee mug and a super attractive price.

Just recently, I saw a Carradice Super C Recumbent Panniers bag set which can carry over 22 cubic feet of stuff in a pair of them and both bags don’t weigh much more than my old Egger. I could live out of those bags! The Carradice bags also take advantage of the fact that heel clearance isn’t a problem on a ‘bent  (as it was with the Egger on my mountain bike back rack) so they can make them big enough to accommodate really large items … like my cat (should he ever express a desire to ride with me to work; so far, he hasn’t).

Until my cat indicates he does want to ride in with me, my new Reva bag has plenty of room for all the much lighter stuff I carry these days, and because of the vertical, messenger bag configuration I can strap it to my mountain bike rear rack and heel strike isn’t a problem.

No Heel Strike!

Vaude, along with a lot of other gear manufacturers, are also becoming more planet considerate by using a lot of recycled materials. Light to carry and light on your conscious, now that’s the ticket!


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He has never been accused of being a bagman.

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Rent-A-Commuter

A Dockless Bike Stable

I’ve been seeing a few Limebike and Ofo bicycles parked around my neighborhood lately. For those who are not familiar with these brightly colored rides, Limebike and Ofo are the two most prevalent dockless bicycle-sharing systems.

The two systems work similarly: you download an app to your smartphone, insert the information for a credit or debit card you wish to use for payment, use the GPS facility of the app to locate a bike near you, go find the bike and use your phone camera to scan the unique QR code on a label on the bike. The curved bar of a locking mechanism on the seatstays then slides out of the way of the spokes and you’re ready to ride. You are charged for the time you keep the bike unlocked: $1.00 USD for every 30 minutes on a Limebike, $1.00 USD per hour on an Ofo. When you’re finished riding, you use a little lever to slide the locking bar back into place between the spokes and the meter stops.

Locked (left) and Unlocked (right)

I was intrigued by the idea of using one of these dockless systems as a backup ride. I have my own emergency commuter, but I know several people who do not have room for one in their apartment. And what if your ride is stolen from where you parked and locked it? You are really stuck if you don’t have a friendly coworker or neighbor available to rescue you, so a dockless bike share would certainly come in handy in that situation.

Although I have seen a few dockless bikes around my part of east Phoenix, Arizona, I knew that Scottsdale and Tempe, just to the east of me, was where these programs were based and would provide better photo opportunities. I hopped in the car and headed towards an area where I had seen clusters of the bikes around bus stops and public parking lots.

Just down the block from an establishment I frequent frequently, I spotted a cluster of Limebikes around an unused bus stop. I parked my car in the lot of the aforementioned establishment, spoke with a young man, Jerel, inside the business to confirm it was okay to park there, grabbed my sling bag out of the car and headed over to the bus stop.

I had already downloaded the Limebike app, so I focused my phone camera on the QR code on one of the bikes and pressed the shutter button. The bike emitted a series of “smartphoney-like” tones, the locking bar slid out of the way and I was ready to go.

Both Ofo and Limebike rides follow a similar design. They have aluminum step-through frames, airless (foam filled) tires, wheels which appear to be in the 700c size range, drum brakes, fenders, a front basket and a chain guard. They are single speed and have a seat which can be adjusted to work for all but the very tallest riders. The ride position is very upright and cruiser-like.

My Inaugural Ride

Once I got used to the heavy front wheel (remember: I usually ride a recumbent with a 20″ front wheel), I felt pretty comfortable and confident. I rode the bike around for about 17 minutes, returning it to the starting point to take more pictures and look it over more closely. Limebikes have a headlight and a taillight, but I’m not sure of the lumens rating; in the bottom of the basket is a solar panel which charges the batteries to power the lights and 3G GPS unit.

Jerel had mentioned he had used a Limebike on several occasions, so when I returned to his shop I asked him about his experience. He said he hadn’t used it for commuting to work, but as a quick method to get to several restaurants at lunch time. The eateries are too far from his business to walk on a lunch hour, but the Limebike allows him to get there much quicker, and he doesn’t have to waste gas firing up his car and spend time finding a parking spot in the crowded lot. Since the only dent I have ever gotten in my Subaru was in a parking lot, at lunch time, I thought that was a brilliantly clever use for a bike-share program, and it got me wishing Phoenix would start encouraging the programs in the area of my office.

I don’t think I’d be able to use it for my commute, no matter how ubiquitous the bikes become.  My ride is eight miles each way, with a few ups and downs and one, quarter mile decent uphill grade in the morning. The single speed would just not cut it. However, I understand that over in California they have introduced an electric Lime E+ bike and an electric scooter; one of those might just work.

Limebike also offers a discount fare program for businesses who want to encourage bike commuting and another program for low-income folks.

The only apparent downside to dockless bike-share programs is inconsiderate bike parking. Some cities have been receiving complaints about the bikes being parked on private property or in the middle of the sidewalk when the rider is done. Hopefully, as these programs grow, we’ll see the providers field more bike retrieval teams to mitigate that problem. Maybe I could get them to tow away my neighbor’s eyesore of an automobile from across the street!


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He would like to see all politicians be required to ride bikes to work.

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Click Cycling Shopping

In my previous post, I explained why I think the best place to get a ride is a local bike shop (LBS) where you have a one-on-one relationship with a knowledgeable, accommodating vendor. I also said I didn’t think an LBS was the only place to get everything bike related, and we’ll talk about that now. I’ll use a recent accessory purchase of my own to demonstrate.

For years I’ve used a Vaude Egger Commuter Pannier as both a pannier and briefcase. It can carry a 15.4″ laptop and all my other stuff. The old warrior is threadbare, has a broken zipper, and I wanted to treat myself to something new.

I visit my favorite LBS, only to discover they are completely sold out of bike bags as a result of the holiday season and won’t be getting more in anytime soon. Onto the Web I go, and in short order I’ve identified three suitable candidates: the Vaude Reva Single Urban Pannier, the Ortlieb Downtown Commuter Pannier – 2016 and the Banjo Brothers Backpack Pannier Combo. After looking at the specs, features and pricing of all three bags, I settled on the Vaude and ordered it.

The Old Warrior (left) and The New Kid (right)

In a future post, I’ll explain why I bought the Vaude, but for the purposes of this article here is a list of reasons for making this purchase online:

  1. Other than the bicycle itself, and some specific bike clothing, most bike products do not require an up-close, personal, touchy-feely precondition to purchase; good web sites always provide an image of the product which will satisfy any aesthetic concerns.
  2. The variety of vendors and products is much richer online than almost anywhere else; online vendors can serve suppliers from all over the world, from places where bicycling is a bigger component of transportation than here in the U.S. where I live.
  3. Most online retailers have a web feature which facilitates a side by side comparison of products; so that buyers can quickly determine the best fit for their needs.
  4. A lot of online merchants have access to a variety of closeouts and special products; the savings can be pretty impressive.
  5. Some online merchants will team up with the big boys on the Internet like Amazon Prime for billing and product fulfillment; you can save even more money with further discounts and free shipping.

When I started this post, I had a decent dose of apprehension. Since one of my favorite online resources for bike stuff is the BikeShopHub, and since almost all the links to date have been to it, I wondered if it would be perceived as blatant shilling by the readers and if I would be called out by a cynical mob. My first impulse was to get proactive and call attention to all the other times I’ve mentioned products and services not provided by the BikeShopHub.

Then I remembered an adage I heard recently: “The sane are only ones who question their sanity.” So, since my fervent belief is that I’m really good at giving the reader intelligent strategies and tactics for discerning the wheat from the chaff as far as bike products go, and since I am nobody’s sycophant, I ain’t gonna apologize upfront! If anybody wants to discuss suspected “toadiness” on my part, we can have at it in the comments!


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He is slowly progressing from cranky old coot to crotchety old cuss.

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The BEST Bike for Commuting

Test Ride THIS Big Fat Fellow

Whenever you start to talk about the “best bike” for anything, you’re venturing into monumentally subjective territory. For commuting in Phoenix, Arizona, the best bike for me is my long wheelbase recumbent. The combination of the flat terrain, warm weather throughout most of the year, and the laidback, comfortable riding position in the chaise lounge style seat serve to make the experience like cycling on a big, fast, two-wheeled limousine for this old duffer.

A twenty-something New York City resident, who lives just a few blocks from his office, might be better served grabbing a knapsack and blazing off on his fixie; and a gal who commutes in frigid Alaska will need a bike with huge donuts for tires. If you’re new to bike commuting, or just looking into some new alternatives for your commute, a better strategy to employ would be to look for ways to find that “best bike” … for YOU.

Since my goal is to approach my return to bike commuting “with renewed interest and the anticipation of discovery,” I decided I would play the neophyte and head to the first place a newbie might go to acquire a bike: The Big Box Store!

Yes, the BBS has bikes; a broad selection, they’re pretty inexpensive (I’ll avoid using the possibly pejorative term “cheap”), and they put some of them way up on the wall out of reach on a weird rack that I couldn’t figure out how to work. Even from my distant vantage point I could tell they were not high-dollar rides with top-of-the-line components, but my remote, cursory examination told me they might be perfectly suitable for a commuter who only had a few miles to ride.

On placards next to each bike there was a brief description of what the store believed were good uses for it. And on the wall behind the bikes was a sign that stated “We do NOT do bike tune-ups” and gave you the phone numbers of the bike manufacturers should you experience any problems.

The philosophy here would seem to be “you pays yer money and takes yer chances,” but wait: on that same placard which addressed suggested uses was a phrase which encouraged you to “Try it out for size.” Curious as to what that meant, I flagged down a store “associate” and asked him. He was a young fellow, possibly a seasonal worker, and he said he didn’t know (he also explained he didn’t know to work that weird bikes-as-decorations rack either, so I felt much better); he got on his radio and summoned an older guy who obviously was a manager of some sort. The older guy explained that he could take the bike down from the rack and I could sit on it to see if the seat could be adjusted to the proper height for me. When I asked if I could also take the bike outside to test ride it, I thought he was going to hurt himself laughing.

“Oh, NOOO!” he guffawed, “But you could ride it up and down the aisle here.”

Bikes as Store Decorations

I thanked both BBS employees and left the store. I did not think it was of any value to ask either of them if they walked onto a new-car lot would they consider purchasing an automobile there if the furthest they could go on a test drive was the edge of the dealership parking lot?

Big Box stores put bicycles in the toy department, because they do not view them as “serious transportation.” Whenever I venture out on the roadway, I am very happy I get my bikes from an establishment which takes bicycles very seriously.

That establishment is a bike shop I’ve shopped with for over twenty years, and that was the next stop on my quest. The first thing you notice upon walking into the store is that most of the bikes are down on wheels on the floor, ready for you to grab them by the handlebars and head out. Sure, they also have some bikes up on racks on the wall, but they’re mostly the $6,000 and up road and racing bikes, and a person who works in the store is also there right with you from the start; you’ll have no problem at all with getting a bike down to examine.

I started talking to the woman who has been there as long as I can remember and who has sold me most of my bikes. I hadn’t even gotten my first question out before she held up her finger and said “Wait a sec, I see my test riders are coming back in.”

Through the door came about seven happy riders who had been up and down the road out front for about a half mile or so. As she went to complete the sales for two bikes out of the seven, I wandered around the store and listened. As the gal rang up the sales, she mentioned the one-month free tune-up which came with every bike. She also handed the buyers store coupons which gave them discounts for future purchases.

One of the other bike mechanics explained to a customer that the chain on his bike was worn and should be replaced in order to avoid more expensive wear on the other drivetrain components.

Ready for a Tune-Up

Another store employee explained to another customer how that fat tired bike worked well in the snow and sand, and really wasn’t that difficult to control after a couple of miles.

You get the idea: launch your quest for a new bike at a place where they take your needs and safety as the primary goal. Does that mean you should buy everything bike related at a local bike shop? No, but that is a discussion for next time! Meanwhile, I think I may head back down to the bike shop and take a ride on that Specialized Fatboy; I bet, with an aftermarket Brooks saddle, even I could be comfortable on that big fellow!


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He claims to only be interested in comfy recumbent bicycles, but he’ll roam the bike shop and drool over all the rides as readily as anybody!