Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'm a winner!

Just found out last night that I won a very cool cargo rack from Rivendell Bicycle Works in the Let's Go Ride A Bike Summer Games! I'm already scheming how to use it! Here's Dottie reading my name. Even she sounds excited!

Now I just need a killer commuter bike, like one of Rivendell's beauties to go with it. Or maybe a Boston Roadster by ANT Bicycles. And then there's Sweetpea Bicycles. Or the grandaddy prize, a Batavus BuB.

Perhaps next year.

In the meantime, there's the next round of challenges in the Summer Games: New Territory. I think maybe the dudes and I will try to take our bikes on the bus. That would definitely be a challenge for me! Here are the details.

June 28-July 18: New Territory
  • Ride a greenway
  • Have a bicycle picnic
  • If you don’t normally ride to work, commute by bike, or by bike/train or bike/bus
  • If you do commute, take the long way home: add distance to your usual ride
  • Explore a new part of town by bike
Note: Trish at LGRAB defined a greenway as a separated bike path, usually found in parks.

Many thanks to Trish and Dottie for organizing this contest and making the activities so much fun! It's nice to see so much enthusiasm for biking outside the realm of racing.

The rack on a much cooler bike than mine.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My secret life: dreaming in Dutch

I'm a practical girl who's prone to flights of fancy.

I have two point five bikes. They're very functional and durable and have served me very well. My more than 15- year-old (Who's counting?) Jamis Durango is now my commuter bike. It helps me bring Monkey Boy and his Trail-A-Bike around town, and I don't have to worry about scratches and dirt. It's a workhorse. My other bike is a Felt Z40 women's specific road bike, which is light, fast and fits me beautifully. It's my ticket to freedom. I also share a Motobecane mountain bike with my husband.

Reality: I live two miles out of town, with a couple of decent-sized hills. I'm a mom with three young boys. Any bike I own should be bomb-proof and have more than three gears. Bike-wise, I have all I need.

But I still dream of a beautiful Dutch bike with a step-through frame and an elegant basket. I ride it through town wearing chic heels and a skirt, carrying flowers and wind blowing through my hair. I don't have to be anywhere in a hurry, especially when I'm pedaling to the coffee shop. (See Amsterdamize to see this in action.)

The good news is that whenever I feel like I need to check in with this fantasy, I'm only a bike shop away. Chalet Sports, my favorite local bike shop, stocks beautiful Electra bikes like this Alexander Girard "Tree of Life" number. And they let me test ride them. For free.

I'm not going to give you a real review of this bike. I can tell you that it has a steel frame, a 3-speed internal hub, coaster brakes with a backup hand brake, simple rubber pedals, a rear rack with an elastic strap, and a halogen headlight with generator. The steel frame is hefty, and it's not as if the chain and skirt guards say "speed." The shifting and turning are very smooth, and I just love riding it through town.

It's the details that really steal my heart on this baby. Check out the beautiful skirt guard and seat. See the design on the bell and hand grips? It's just a stunner from one end to the other. I'm sure there those who would take a pass on it because it's too frilly, but given the level of testosterone in my house, I find I need some pretty things.

For now, I'll stick with what I have, since I am at heart a practical girl. But when my dreams take flight, look out. I'll be the one with the flowers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fixing a flat. Yeah, gotta know this.

Tips from the pros . . .

Trish and Dottie at the fun blog Let's Go Ride a Bike are doing a very magical thing. They already inspire regular folks to get on a bike and ride, just for the fun of it, but they've taken it a step further by creating the LGRAB Summer Games. They're hoping that by offering prizes for doing some cycling related activities, we'll all be better bikers. Some of the requirements are fun, and others are experience-building.

Take this session, for instance. Dottie and Trish suggested performing a bike maintenance task, large or small. My biking buddy Elle and I knew just what to do. We're both married to finesse guys who love to take care of the nitty-gritty details for us. When I've had a flat, Hot Husband has fixed with a smile. It's so wonderful to feel pampered, but that's not gonna make life easier when I'm 5 miles from home with glass in my tire.

Elle's husband Jay, a huge bike enthusiast and cyclocross monster, agreed to show us both how to change a tire and how to oil the chain on our own. I'm still not sure how we conned him into instructing two sarcastic women.

No step-by-step photos to see here. I'm simply not qualified to give instructions, and I don't want the headache of more knowledgeable people telling me exactly how I did it wrong. But rest assured, it is possible for even mechanical klutzes like me to get the job done.

A few notes, however:

* The hardest part is getting the tire off and back on the rim, since you're stretching the not-very-flexible rubber with your hands. Tire levers are your friends.

* Elle's husband suggests starting near the valve when removing the tire.

* Having strong hands really helps. Guess I'll work on that.

* I really need to get a repair kit in a little bag for emergencies.

By comparison, lubing the chain was a snap. After deciding against the spray version (too much oil in the air), it was just a matter of dripping a bit of oil on each link as I slowly turned the pedal backward. Jay said the ideal time to lube was after a ride, even though you're thinking more about a shower than bike care. That timing allows the oil to get into the chain's nooks and crannies while the bike is waiting for its next ride. Oil applied pre-ride has more of a chance to pick up road grime, which only increases chain gunk.

I rarely watch TV, but I'm tempted to pick a program and sit with a wheel to practice getting the tire changed, just so it doesn't take me 20 minutes on a blazing hot or bone-chilling cold day when I'm stranded by the side of the road. We'll see.

Thanks to Jay for taking the time to increase my bike maintenance know-how!

Using tire levers to pull the tire from the rim. My road bike in the background.

 Wrestling with tires; keeping a sense of humor

One of those funny-face activities

Elle pumping up her tire after changing it

Me oil chain.

Jay's emergency kit, including pump, all in one itty, bitty bag.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book review: Just skip Biking to Work

I really hate giving bad reviews. If an author and a publisher have spent the time and money to put a book on the market, there's gotta be something redeeming inside the covers, right? Notsomuch.

Don't get me wrong. I love many of the other books published by Chelsea Green, but this one is a dud. It's poorly organized, meanders, and tries to cover far too much territory in one thin volume. It's almost as if the author, while writing, kept saying, "Oh wait! I just thought of something else!" and then threw it in. There aren't even many good stories to keep the reader entertained along the way.

I have no doubt that the author, Rory McMullan, has a wealth of knowledge about the topic of bike commuting, but in trying to cover all the bases, he ended up muddying the waters so much that I fear some new cyclists might think the matter was too complicated, and give up.

If you're really, truly looking for tips on bike commuting, you're far better served by finding a bike blog that you enjoy and reading that. You'll get to see on a daily basis how a real-time cyclist handles every topic under the sun, like choosing a bike, dealing with hot or cold weather, surviving rude drivers, finding the best route from home to work, choosing gear, and much more. Better yet, you might even be able to post comments and get a quick response from the blog's author. See the list "Bliss Chick Reads" for my blog recommendations. Let's Go Ride a Bike is definitely my favorite, though.

The only positive thing I can say about Biking to Work is that it does include some good statistics. However, many of those numbers are changing each year, so websites and blogs might be the best way to find out what's happening this year and close to your home.

There. I'm done. Now I'm hoping to get my hands on David Byrne's book, Bicycle Diaries. Ahhh . . .

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Family biking in Chicago: extended version

 We made it! My favorite dudes at the Museum of Science and Industry. Cool bike racks.

The ever-chic Dottie and the Bean (Cloud Gate)

When it comes to vacation, everyone's all looking for something outside their normal routine. City folks head for wide open spaces, and country folks want a hit of the urban vibe. We're no different. With a tiny urban farm and views of the mountains, we wanted to see monuments to human innovation, like exotic food, great architecture and bike paths.

Ah, Chicago! We were only there for 36 hours, which isn't nearly enough to do this fair city justice. We still managed to squeeze in some amazing Thai food at Big Bowl and boy time at the Legoland Discovery Center (both in Schaumburg), water play and sculpture gazing at Millenium Park downtown, and some wonderful biking along the Lakefront Trail (click for maps) to the ever-amazing Museum of Science and Industry. The boys ate their first Chicago-style hot dogs and got another taste of Chicago deep-dish pizza, too. We don't mess around when it comes to good food.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting up with fellow blogger Dottie from the wonderful blog Let's Go Ride a Bike. She and co-blogger Tricia are one of the reasons that I decided to try biking through a Montana winter, and they continually inspire me to challenge my assumptions about biking and its lycra-clad stereotypes.

Over her lunch hour, skirt-clad Dottie was gracious enough to meet me with her gorgeous Azor Oma by Workcycles and we took a little spin on her turf--the Lakefront Trail. We chatted about the genesis of LGRAB's Summer Games, urban biking and the relief of finding other women who love everyday cycling.

My dudes' challenge of the day was getting from downtown to MSI and back via bike. Usually when we're in city, we rely on public transportation or our feet to get us from place to place, but this time, we brought the bikes. We weren't sure how the boys would react to the whole adventure, but Dottie assured us that the bike path extended that far south, so we put on our best faces and went for it.

We shouldn't have worried. To be sure, there were a few "Are we there yet?" moments, but it was a very pleasant trip, even on a warm, humid day. What I forget about summer biking is that you create your own breeze as you go along. The trick is to find the optimal speed so that you're biking fast enough to make that breeze, but not going fast enough to sweat buckets once you stop. It's not that hard when you're going kid speed.

Fueled by popsicles and the glorious view of the downtown skyline, we made it back to Millenium Park in what seemed like minutes. (Figure about an hour to be on the safe side.) Dragon Boy rode through every single puddle on the way, so we stopped at the Crown Fountain to hose off the grime.

I expected to be wowed by the Lakeshore Tail's views, but I didn't give much thought about what kinds of people would be on the trail. On downtown streets, it's smorgasboard of fashion-conscious folks. On the bike paths, the focus is on fitness and being outside. It's a facet of city life that wasn't really on my radar.

Without a doubt, it was worth taking the bikes. This post is long, so if you want more of the nitty-gritty details about hauling a family's worth of bikes into the city, leave a comment and I'll make sure I tell you more.

The family reflected in Cloud Gate

 Who knew one shiny sculpture could be so fun?

Dragon Boy and Tiger Boy splashing in The Crown Fountain

 Dottie and me after our lakeshore ride

On the trail . . .

 Geekin' over DNA

So that's how a tornado works!

At MSI before the ride back

Dudes and the Chicago skyline

Where city and nature connect

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Family biking in Chicago: preview

Just a little preview of our time in Chicago. We're hitting the road soon for Minneapolis, and I wanted to make sure I said a big thank you to this great city. We drove into the city, but biked around the lake shore during the day. Great city, great times!