Category: Advanced Commuter Tips

Meet Elizabeth Adamczyk — Elizabeth is a circulation supervisor for Northwestern University Library’s Chicago campus branch and is also a dedicated bike commuter. Here is her profile:

Elizabeth Adamczyk

Why do you bike commute?
Living in Chicago, it’s just so much easier to hop on my bike in the morning and go. I never looked forward to the crowded bus or EL ride (or the long wait for public transit). Riding my bike is my favorite part of the day, plus it has cut my commute time almost in half.

How long have you been bike commuting?
My commute started as something of convenience on “nice” days a few years ago. I was a fair-weather cyclist for a while. But once I got the right gear and fenders, I now opt to commute year round. (Last year was my first Bike Winter.)

Chicago skyline

What kind of bikes do you have?
I have a Jamis Nova cyclocross that I now primarily ride on weekends. My commuter bike is my old Schwinn Sprint from the early 90s. It’s “the tank” or “the purple demonâ€?.

How long is your commute?
My commute usually takes me close to 5 miles each way, around 25 minutes.

Any funny or interesting story that you may want to share.
First off, in the winter I wear a screaming yellow color jacket. The guy
driving the garbage truck in my alley waved and smiled at me as I trudged my bike past him and his truck through the unplowed alley to the street. He thought I was nuts for riding in such weather. Then he told me he wished more bikers stood out as much as I do with my lights and bright clothing. He also told me to be safe out there. I asked him to watch out for me and fellow bikers on the road. From that day on, he has always nodded at me when we pass each other. What a great way to start that day.

Last winter I struggled with keeping my fingers and toes warm. I remember being almost to work one morning and my fingers were SOOO cold that I could barely use them to apply my brakes. When I finally got indoors, my only thoughts were not that ‘it’s too cold to ride’ but rather ‘what more can I do to keep my fingers warm? I don’t want to stop riding because of my cold fingers!!!’ I was feeling desperate for a solution. Somehow I made it through — mittens and hand warmers (on the coldest of days) helped. Thank goodness… and I’m still riding.

Lincoln Ave.

What do people say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?
Most people first ask me where I live that I commute by bike. Usually they’re more surprised when they find out I ride year-round and don’t plan to garage my bike for the winter.

Do you have an ‘advanced commuter tip’?
Stay alert. It’s not really an advanced tip, but it’s one that even I need
to remember. All it takes is a moment of daydreaming to get into a really bad situation — like running into a pothole or getting doored or carelessly crossing an intersection.

Lincoln Ave. southbound

Anything that you may want to add?
Bicycling has completely changed my life — for the better. I truly believe that the world just looks better from the saddle. To quote the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, “The more you bike, the better your world.”

Also, I advocate sharing the road. The Ride of Silence is a worldwide event that takes place in May to recognize fallen cyclists and the legal sharing of the road. Look for your local Ride of Silence or organize one in your community. Let the silence roar(http://www.rideofsilence.org).

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Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your profile and insights and your excellent pictures of Chicago!

If you want to be profiled on Bikecommuters.com, just send us an email!

I was talking to one of my friends named Ralph Boaz about the subject of bicyclists turning traffic lights green. You see, Ralph is a Transportation Engineering Consultant with Pillar Inc. So he knows all about what makes traffic flow better and where to put traffic lights and stuff like that.

So here’s what he told me:

In actuated traffic signals (not those just on fixed timing plans), there are various types of detection methods including: Inductive Loops (wires in the ground), Video Detection, microwave, and others. Inductive Loops are the most common. An Inductive Loop is somewhat obvious because a groove has been cut into the road, the wire has been dropped in it and it is then filled with sealant that can be seen from the surface.

While there are preferred loop designs for bicycle detection (see http://www.humantransport.org/bicycledriving/library/signals/detection.htm and http://www.humantransport.org/bicycledriving/library/signals/green.htm), the average loop should be able to detect a bicycle with metal rims (any type). The key is for the cyclist to cross the loop over the most wire. On diamond and oval loops, cross left or right of center. On a square loop, ride down the right or left edge. On a quadrupole loop (often looks like a box with a line down the center), ride down the center line.

Photo courtesy of Human Transport.

Loops can get damaged or may need to be tuned. If you find that you cannot actuate the signal (be careful practicing), call your local traffic department.

A great way to visualize a new or different bicycling route is to pull out a map and try to find the best way from point “A” to point “B”. With the release of Google Map’s underlying source code, however, this process has become even easier! In this article I will present four route-mapping websites that allow a user to create, save and share favorite bicycle routes all with a few clicks of the mouse. All four use the Google Map source code, so from a functional perspective, they all work very similar to each other. Finally, I will show you a great place to log your miles and favorite routes on an easy-to-use Web interface.

Gmaps Pedometer
(no registration required)
Gmap-pedometer.com screenshot
This is one of the first of the public sites to use the Google Map source code “hack”, and is the one I use most frequently for planning rides and sharing routes with fellow commuters. The interface is easy to use, but not terribly glamorous. Since the underlying code is the ever-familiar Google Map, the routes can be viewed in four different ways: map, satellite, hybrid and topographical. Once a route is created, it can be saved and shared (a URL is generated “on the fly” by the Gmap interface). In addition, a user can turn on a “calorie counter” to determine just how much fat is being burned out there on the ride. All the while, a mileage counter keeps track of individual leg and total distance, and milemarkers are created on the route.

Mapmyride
(no registration required)
Mapmyride.com screenshot
Mapmyride uses the same Google Map “hack”, but adds a couple features to the route-generating toolbox. A user can add aid stations, water sources, parking spots and a bunch of other “markers” to the route. Also, route maps can be exported to GPS devices…a great feature!

Bikely
(free registration is required to use)
Bikely.com screenshot
While I have never used this route-mapper, I know that Bikely’s interface is very popular and is often the first one of these tools to be recommended by bicyclists. One of the things I like best about Bikely is that it knows your starting area without you telling it…kinda creepy but cool. The moment you log in, even though registration doesn’t require inputting a city, Bikely will take you directly to a map of where you live! This trick eliminates a few clicks to get started — you can start mapping instantly upon login. One of the other prominent features is a method to add descriptive tags to the routes created, which facilitates sharing (mmm…metadata…it must be the librarian in me!).

Routeslip
(free registration is required to use)
Routeslip.com screenshot
Routeslip is perhaps the sexiest of these route-mapping sites — the interface is cool and the site’s design is sleek and stylish. Despite the design, getting started on Routeslip can be kind of clunky, especially if you are used to one of the other sites mentioned. Some of the tools are hidden behind drop-down panels, and it requires some extra clicks to open and close these panels. However, once you locate and master the available tools, you will churn out well-labeled, shareable routes that are also downloadable to GPS units.

Bikejournal
(free registration required to use, paid subscription required for advanced features)
Bikejournal.com screenshot
While this site doesn’t let you create visual, shareable maps, it DOES allow descriptive routes to be created and shared. This site is really geared for something else altogether, though: logging bicycling data. With a free registration, a user can create a spreadsheet-style ride log that can contain up to 28 different data points to track (mileage, weather conditions, heart rate, watts, etc.). In addition, a user can create a detailed profile showing goals for the year, the bikes in a rider’s “quiver” and a lot of other fun tools. Bikejournal.com also offers a free user forum and collects and shares members’ stats for viewing. I am a dedicated user of this site…once I set a yearly mileage goal, I find that I am riding further and more often than I might if I didn’t have some way of tracking my progress. My favorite feature is the ranking — whenever you add a ride, your ranking among users updates in real time (as of this writing I am ranked 2783 out of 22,377 total members….whoo hoo!).

These are all great tools — you should try them! One of the things I like best about any of these tools is that it allows someone to create a safe, calm route for someone who is new to bicycle commuting…what better way to turn someone on to the joys of bike commuting than presenting them with a customized, full-color map that shows the best route for their needs?

Alright, then…get out there and RIDE! If anyone has another favorite route-mapping site, please let us know about them.

As bike commuters, we rely on our bikes to get us to and from work without breaking down. A few simple maintenance tasks done periodically help ensure that there will be no ugly surprises midway through the commute.

Washing Your Bike – If your bike commute includes muddy offroad paths, salty slush or other grime, the best thing you can do for your bike is to wash it every now and then. A couple tricks here: don’t use high-pressure water sprays or you will contaminate the bearings in the bottom bracket, hubs and headset; also, use a gentle detergent (preferably something bike-specific). Use a soft scrub brush and lather that bike up from top to bottom. Next, using a fine mist or gentle flow from the hose, rinse the bike completely. Bounce the bike on its tires a couple times to shake off the excess water and then dry it with clean rags. Finally, you can use a car-type paste wax to give that bike a real shine. Our main man Moe suggests an even better final step: Finish Line’s Pro Detailer Bike Polish.

Dirty bike before:Oooh, that's DIRTY!

Clean bike after:Now THAT'S shiny!

Tires – check the pressure before you ride, preferably the night before. You don’t want to have to mess with pumping up a tire if you’re running late to work. When you check your tires’ pressure, give them a good inspection, looking for embedded bits of glass or metal and checking for overall wear. If you suspect a slow leak, better go ahead right then and change/patch the tube…this sure beats a mid-ride tube change!
Pump it...pump it up!

Chain cleaning – the most crucial thing you can do is to make sure your chain is clean and well-lubricated. No fancy tools are required for this, either! While many chain-cleaning tools and methods exist, I have found that the most effective (and quick) way to do it is to dampen a rag with chain cleaner (I swear by Park Tool’s Citrus Chain Brite – easy on the hands and the environment), wrap it around the installed chain and turn the cranks backward, keeping pressure on the rag and rewrapping to clean areas periodically. Cleaning the chain
While you have the degreaser out, wipe down the cogs, chainrings and derailleur pulleys (if applicable) to remove the built-up gunk.

You DON’T want to remove the chain unless you absolutely must for two reasons: today’s modern chains don’t like having their pins pushed in and out. Maybe this is why so many chains come with a “powerlink�-type breakable link? Second, removing and soaking the chain in solvent washes away important lubricant deep within the chain’s rollers. Once it is cleaned away, it is nearly impossible to get fresh lube into those tiny crevices!!

Here are my favorite chain-care products — Park’s ChainBrite and White Lightning wax lube:
ChainBrite and White Lightning

Once the chain is clean, apply lubricant to each roller…the fastest way is to backpedal the bike and drip lube as the chain passes over one of the derailleur pulleys. Everyone has his or her favorite lube (my favorite for years has been White Lightning) – the important thing here is to apply it liberally, let it soak in and wipe away the excess. This entire process – cleaning and relubing — takes less than 10 minutes. I try to clean and lube the chain every 100 miles or so unless I have ridden in the rain (which is pretty often here in Florida), in which case I add some lube when the chain has dried off.
Adding some lube to each link and roller of the chain

Brakes – obviously, your brakes are very important pieces of equipment (except maybe for our brakeless fixed-gear riders out there)! Routine maintenance consists of periodically inspecting the pads for embedded abrasives (glass, gravel, etc.) and wear as well as adjusting the cable tension and brake-pad-to-rim alignment. Use a sharp tool, like a dental pick, to remove crap from the brake pads:
Cleaning the crap out of the brake pads
Also, you may want to clean your rims’ brake tracks periodically. This is easy: dip a piece of Scotchbrite-type scrubber sponge in rubbing alcohol and use it to scrub away any brake pad residue or glazing on the rim.

Derailleur adjustment – this isn’t as complicated as it looks or sounds. In fact, it is much harder to describe than to do! Indexed shifting systems work best when cable tension, high and low stop screws and pulley angle are all spot-on. For a great tutorial on the ins and outs of adjusting your shifting system, the best place to go is Park Tool’s online repair database.

For those commuters with Shimano’s Nexus internal hubs, nothing could be simpler to adjust! It’s easy: shift into 4th gear (applicable for 4, 7 and 8 speed Nexus hubs). With the rear cover removed, look for two red dots (yellow on the 8 speed hub). They should line up perfectly with each other. If they are misaligned, turn the shifter-side cable adjuster clock- or counter-clockwise until those dots line up. The below picture shows what the two alignment points look like when they’re lined up (highlighted by the yellow arrows):Nexus hub with alignment points highlighted
Replace the cover and you’re done! Otherwise, maintenance of these hubs is a non-issue – many people suggest “riding it until it is broken� and then replacing it. For those adventurous souls out there who itch to rebuild the guts of these hubs, a great resource is Sheldon Brown’s online Nexus hub service manual.

Bolts and other threaded fittings – resist the temptation to periodically tighten every bolt and nut on your bike. This is asking for trouble – broken-off heads, stripped threads, crushed components!

Do, however, ensure that when you install new components or build up your bike initially that you grease all threads liberally. This prevents stripping and also allows the bolts to reach their proper tightening torque. You should also pull out your seatpost and quill stem (if you have one of those) a couple times a year and smear a bit of grease on it before replacing it…nothing sucks worse than having to hacksaw and drill out a frozen seatpost or stem!

Also, consider replacing hardware with stainless steel bolts and nuts. Seeing as how rust is the enemy of bicycles, replacing crucial hardware with the “good stuff� makes a lot of sense. A great source for metric stainless steel hardware is Bolt Depot (free goodies with every purchase, too!).

Finally, for our fixed gear friends, chain alignment (chainline) and chain tension are of the utmost importance, especially if you’re running brakeless. The best tutorial for both is, again, Sheldon Brown’s website (chainline and chain tension).
Proper chain tension

So, come up with a schedule for these routine tasks – your bike will thank you, your boss will thank you for showing up on time and you will have a few less things to worry about on your daily commute.