BikeCommuters.com

Author Archive: Matt

Commuter Profile: Bruce Wright

 

Note: We’re pleased to offer an intro to Bruce Wright, one of the leading advocates for better bicycling facilities, policies, and education in the greater Washington, D.C. area (and specifically Fairfax County, VA). Bruce’s advocacy work on the board of WABA and as chairman of FABB is very nearly a full-time job at this point, so we appreciate him taking the time to answer some questions for us!

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Bruce Wright. Photo by Shannon Ayres, www.shannonayres.com

How long have you been a bike commuter?
I started commuting by bike on a regular basis in 1979 and have been doing so almost daily since then (34 years).

Why did you start riding your bike to work and how long is/was your commute?
There were several reasons why I started to bike to work. I understood the health, economic, and environmental benefits of biking and since I had a short, 3 mile commute, I decided to bike instead of buying a second car and driving. I could commute by bus when necessary, which was very rare, maybe 3 or 4 times a year.

How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?
Since I retired from working full time my bike commuting to work has transformed to using a bike for almost all other local trips. I’m 64 years old and have been able to maintain the same weight as when I was in high school. I take no prescription drugs other than for minor medical procedures and usually only visit the doctor once a year for a physical. I think I’m a happier, more well-adjusted person because I get regular exercise by riding. My wife and I enjoy riding together as well. One caveat; I now use sunscreen whenever I go outside. Bike commuters are exposed to the sun more than others and we need to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of UV rays.

What do you do for a living and in what city/town do you bike commute?
When I worked full time I was a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA. Since I left the Survey in 1999 I’ve worked part time in several different jobs: as a legislative aide to a local politician, as a bike shop employee (at bikes@vienna), as a bicycle skills teacher, and now as the head of a local bicycle advocacy non-profit (volunteer). I’ve made a conscious decision to work in places where I can easily bike.

Bruce (3rd from left) with other FABB members at Bike to Work Day 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

Lately I’ve been mostly using a Brompton folding bike. It has six gears, fenders and a rack and a front carrier block that holds a large bag. The bike is great for taking on Metrorail and bus and is a fun way to get around. For longer commutes or trips where I need to haul more stuff I use a Bruce Gordon touring bike outfitted with fenders, front (occasionally) and rear rack, and large panniers. I used that bike to travel cross country in 1999. I also own a recumbent tandem that I ride with my wife, a beater bike for parking at Metro, and a short wheelbase recumbent that doesn’t get much use these days.

Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?
I’ve helped many motorists who have car problems. When traveling on a bike it’s harder to pass by someone in need.

Bruce at the 2012 Fairfax Bike Summit

What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?
Most people have never tried riding a bike to work so the concept is foreign to them. I tell them that it’s easier than they think and that they should try it one day. It takes a little planning but most people can easily ride farther than they think. Bike to Work Day is a great time to encourage co-workers to try biking. I know many people who rode for the first time on Bike to Work Day and have continued to bike commute at least some of the time since then.

How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?
I’m on the Board of Directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and chair of their advocacy committee. I’m also one of the founders and now chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), a local volunteer non-profit advocating for better bike conditions and policies in Fairfax County, VA. I’m also a member of the League of American Bicyclists and a League Cycling Instructor.

Anything else that you want to share with us?
The world would be a healthier, happier place if more people took short trips by bike.

 

On Test: 2014 Jamis Hudson with Slidepad Brakes

So during Interbike (remember Interbike?) RL and Jack got to see some Torker bikes equipped with Slidepad technology. Most of you were drooling over the Torkers… but we also were intrigued by the Slidepad stuff, and now we’ve got our hands (well, my hands) on a new-for-2014 Jamis Hudson equipped with Slidepad brakes.

The slide pad for Slidepad.

So how does Slidepad work? Basically, when you engage the rear brake, one of the pads slides forward (pad sliding… Slidepad… get it?) and puts tension on a cable from the rear brakes to the front. So – your rear brake always engages first (and with more power), then your front brake engages with slightly less power. You can check out Slidepad’s video for some in-action views.

Since I’ve received this bike, I’ve been hit with a nasty 3-week cold (residing primarily in my lungs, of course!) and then subjected to snow and ice… so I haven’t had as many chances to ride it as I’d have liked. However, I’ve gotten out on the bike a few times and can offer some preliminary comments on both the bike and the brakes. I’ll be riding it over the coming weeks, and will let you all know whether my initial impressions hold up and what else I notice!

First… the bike! The Jamis Hudson is a comfort/cruiser-style bike with a MSRP of $480 – so about what you’d expect for a decent entry-level bike. This is NOT a bike that’s marketed to most of you with your serious-commuter cred… it’s aimed at getting your mom/brother/grandma/friend who hasn’t ridden a bike in 10-50 years back onto one. So, it’s got a basic 7-speed grip shift, 26″ wheels, the Slidepad brakes, a cushy seat, and laid-back pedaling position. It’s easy and comfortable to ride, as long as your ride isn’t going to be too fast or too far. Perfect for jaunts into (a nearby) town or around the neighborhood with the kids.

Jamis Hudson Sport


At nearly 30 lbs it’s not a lightweight beast (even though it’s got an aluminum frame!), but that doesn’t matter because it’s not supposed to be. It comes in one basic size, and that size is quite adjustable thanks to the quick release seatpost and the quill stem that has a few inches of adjustability in it. It seems like it could work for anyone in the 5′ – 6′ range pretty easily (possibly more, but I haven’t had any of those folks available to try it out!). It also comes with one of the nicer stock kickstands I’ve seen.

Now… the brakes! So I’ve got to say up front – I have to look at these from the perspective of the aforementioned non-riders rather than my own. I’m not going to be swapping out my disc brakes for these things, but again I don’t think Slidepad expects me to.

The good:
– The brakes work. The bike stops as advertised, and the front wheel does not lock up at all. Yes it’s only one bullet point… but it’s a pretty darn important one!

The neither-good-nor-bad:
– I have to say I don’t know quite where the “efficiency” claims come from. Certainly the bike stops in a reasonable distance, but I’m quite confident I can stop faster on my other bikes than on this one.
– If you’re not going fast, the front brake doesn’t engage at all, because there’s not enough force on the back brake to move the slide.

The bad:
– As a consequence of rear-wheel-first braking, it’s actually pretty easy to lock the rear wheel up – so I would definitely not want this system if I was going to ride in wet/icy/snowy conditions, where a rear-wheel slide could potentially be worse than a locked front wheel.
– The basic Tektro brake lever is one of my least favorite ones out there. Swap this out for an Avid Speed Dial lever and I’d be a much happier camper!
– The brake system is so interdependent that it makes what is usually an easy job – setting up a pair of V brakes – kind of a pain in the butt. To get everything the way I wanted it, I had to set both front and rear brakes VERY close to the rim – and I still don’t get full braking power until the lever nearly hits the handlebars (though I suspect part of that is the fault of the lever, see above). To most riders of this bike this won’t matter… but I’m betting their mechanics (probably their bikey friends, aka our readers) won’t appreciate it that much!

One of my test riders takes the Hudson for a spin


Despite my complaints on the brakes, this is an overall decent setup for a new rider (and that rider probably won’t have any issues with complaints 2 or 3). I had a couple of not-new riders (but riders unaccustomed to cruiser style bikes) check it out, and they both thought the bike was comfortable and the brakes didn’t give them a problem. I suspect most prospective buyers for the bike and brake system will feel somewhat the same way.

 

 

Product Review: Continental Super Sport Plus Tires


SONY DSCSo a lot of us commuter types end up riding road (ish) bikes with road (ish) tires. Unfortunately, this often means we end up using road tires meant for racer folks, not commuting folks! While they’re not the only players in the game, Continental definitely brings a good solution to market with the Super Sport Plus tires we’ve had on long-term test. They’re equipped with an anti-puncture belt, which according to Continental is “Nearly impenetrable.” The Super Sport Plusses (henceforward referred to by me as SSPs) have just enough tread to lend a bit more confidence on the slightly-sketchy stuff (for super-sketchy stuff you’d be better off with something like this, or possibly this!). The SSPs also come with extra-thick tread – something us commuters can appreciate (because hey, tires can get expensive!). My set was 700×25; they also come in 700×23 and even some 27 inch sizes for those of you riding what I’ll call… “classic”… bikes.



So how do they ride? Well, I mounted them up to my old Bridgestone single speed to test them out, and the verdict was… Smooooth. Also pretty fast for a tire that isn’t that lightweight (no I didn’t weigh them, who do you think I am?). Riding unloaded, I was able to maintain pretty respectable speeds over the course of an hour or two. Recommended inflation on the 700×25 size was 95-120 PSI, but I found 90-95 was the sweet spot for me.
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In terms of wet – they work well there too. No real sense of lost grip (though I’ll warn that might change with the narrower sizes – it’s hard to tell what was because of the tire and what was because of the tire size). I would recommend against snow though (sorry E, they’re not gonna be your Chicago winter tires!).

The verdict on flat protection? Well, it’s always hard to prove a negative… I didn’t get any flats on these! I’m not usually riding any glass or tack-studded roads though, so it’s hard to say. I did hit one sharp-edged bump at about 20mph… so I CAN say at a minimum that they don’t pinch flat easily!SONY DSC

Street price for these babies seems to average around $30/tire, though there are a few deals out there depending on which version you’re after. My verdict? Worth the money. You won’t find a heck of a lot that’s much cheaper, and knowing that you’ve got quality tires under you is worth quite a bit.
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Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Product Review: Serfas Thunderbolt lights

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Front and back views.

I’ve been running the Serfas Thunderbolt headlight and taillight for about 6 months now, and have used them on a variety of bikes and for a variety of applications.

These lights are USB-powered and use micro-LED strips rather than bulbs. Let me tell you – the LED strips are BRIGHT!! It hurts to look at them even obliquely. This is both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because you get around 180 degrees of visibility from each light – way more than you typically get from either headlights or taillights, and it gives a degree of confidence that you can be seen from the side nearly as well as from the front or rear. The negative? Well, you can’t mount them quite everywhere you might want to without getting blinded! Despite the brightness, these are definitely more in the “be seen” than “see” category of lights – they don’t light up enough road/trail to function in that fashion, but that’s OK since it’s not what they were designed for. I liked using them in tandem with a brighter headlight, and mounting the Thunderbolt to my fork. However, I couldn’t do this with every bike, since on some of my bikes the structure of the fork meant that a decent bit of the light actually went back up into my eyes! Not really a fault of the light – but a note for those who might be thinking of using a light in that fashion!

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Mounted on a road bike fork

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Mounted on a seat stay

The lights are encased in a silicone rubber body with straps that allow quick attachment and detachment to/from just about any part of your bike. I initially thought they might not last very long, but so far the only thing that’s happened is that the (white) models I received are no longer white, and the little flap that covers the USB charge port is a little loose (not a big deal, since that bit sits pretty tightly against the bike frame/handlebar/etc). The flexibility of being able to put a light pretty much wherever I want is AWESOME. I don’t know why more light manufacturers don’t use this method. I’ve attached the lights to bars, forks, seat stays, racks, and a trailer. No problems with them staying anywhere! Once attached they stay put.

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On a suspension fork!

According to Serfas, “burn” time is “1.75 hours (high beam); 7 hours (low beam); 3 hours (high blink); 9.5 hours (low blink).” My experience would indicate that these numbers are a little on the high side, but I can’t say for sure as I often wasn’t running them totally in a single mode for a single use (I definitely never used them on low blink for 9.5 hours). I DO know that the front has run out in under 1.5 hours of total use (two 45-minute trips in the dark, separated by about 2 hours). Similarly, I think the other modes run out in a bit less time than advertised. The only one where I’d say this is a true negative is with the high beam for the front. Most of the time, that’s the mode I want it in – and since I do ride for longer periods at night, it’s possible for my ride to last longer than the battery. I’d also say that for anyone who is not commuting to a destination where a friendly USB charger awaits, this might be a little short for longer there-and-back-in-the-dark commuting. However, it probably will cover 90% of potential users just fine.

The on/off button also functions as a mode switch (short hold to switch modes, long hold to turn off). Pretty standard commuter light function, and I never had any issues. The only (slight) beef I had with the switch is that it’s a little tough to manage in winter gloves – on multiple occasions I had to remove a glove to turn a light on. Those of you in warmer climes (or who are only fair-weather riders) won’t be bothered by this.

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Mounted around/over the stem faceplate

TL;DR summary: the Serfas Thunderbolt lights are a solid set of be-seen lights that offer unparalleled side visibility and impressive brightness for their size. Run times may be on the shorter end, but the attach-anywhere flexibility brings the Thunderbolt solidly into the “good buy” category.

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Mounted on a seatpost

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Are You in the Top 25 Percent?

If you walk or bike somewhere at least once a week*, the answer is yes!

According to a study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, less than a quarter of adults in the U.S. walk or bike for transportation more than 10 minutes per week. Pretty pathetic…


The study credits “active transportation” (mostly biking and walking) regularly with a variety of improved health conditions such as lower BMI and waist circumference, and much lower levels of hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes (up to 30%!).

From the study discussion:

Active transportation is an untapped reservoir of opportunity for physical activity for many U.S. adults. A study using the National Household Transportation Survey found similar low utilization of active transportation, with only 19% of Americans aged ≥5 years reporting walking or bicycling for transportation. In contrast to the U.S., many European countries experience high population levels of active transportation. In Germany, the proportion of individuals reporting any walking or cycling for transportation are two and seven times greater than in the U.S., respectively.These differences are in part due to policies, community planning, and infrastructure design that make active transportation appealing. Implementing similar strategies in the U.S. could have important implications for individuals with time or financial constraints that prohibit leisure-time physical activity or with professions and work environments that are not conducive to occupational physical activity.

The authors finish by noting that their research provides “additional justification for infrastructure and policies that permit and encourage active transportation.”

Is there a little bit of a, “well, duh” factor to this? Yes, probably… but it’s pretty encouraging that instead of just being told “people need to exercise more!” these researchers have come out and identified our infrastructure as a big part of the problem. If we make it easy for people to bike and walk, we’ll have more people biking and walking… and a lot fewer people with health problems.

*And also live in the U.S. of A. Sorry international readers, you’re all wonderful too but these statistics don’t apply to you!

Via everydayhealth.com