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BikeCommuters.com Is Growing!

Please help me welcome our newest addition to the BikeCommuters.com team, Lance Lowry!

Lance comes on board with a plethora of cycling experience. He is a XC mountain bike racer and a fixed gear commuter. We’ve been riding with Lance on various mountain biking trails and decided to asked him to join the BikeCommuters and MtnBikeRiders.com teams.

We’re pretty excited to see what he’s going to bring to the table and we know that he’s got a lot to offer. So please, don’t be shy and welcome the fella to the BikeCommuters Family!

Resources for the New Bicycle Commuter

Know anyone who has expressed an interest in giving bicycle commuting a try? Many of us have talked to someone who wants to do it but doesn’t really know where to begin. Well, here are a couple Internet resources (besides OUR fine site!) you can point them to. The following sites are generally designed for and aimed at beginners, although a couple of them offer information that will be useful for even the most seasoned, long-time commuter.

Paul Dorn’s Bike Commute Tips

Paul Dorn's Bike Commute Tips website

I’ll start with my favorite — the excellent site put together by Paul Dorn. This site has something for everyone, novices and pros alike. It is clearly divided into major categories and is well-written.

Paul also writes an excellent blog that highlights bicycle commuting news from around the U.S. and beyond.

Bike Safety Institute

Bike Safety Institute website

This site, despite its lofty title, primarily serves as an online ride calendar (that isn’t updated very often). Still, there are quite a few tidbits hidden around the site for the beginning commuter. One tidbit I discovered during a recent visit is the table of bicycle fatalities by state, compiled in 2004 by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration‘s Center for Statistics and Analysis. The top ten most fatal states (per one million population) are Florida at number one (boo!!!), Nevada, Hawaii, Washington D.C., South Carolina, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Delaware, North Dakota and California finishing out at number 10.

Bicycle Fatalities By State

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

Bicycling Info's website

This website is chock-full of statistical information, image libraries, engineering considerations and many other resources. This site is also very popular with transportation planners who are hoping to include pedestrians and bicycles into their urban plans…our local bicycle/pedestrian planners are actually the ones who turned me onto this site!! Plenty of information is geared at beginners, and even more is available to the advanced commuter or active commuting advocate.

Check these sites out — you may learn something new, and you will certainly be able to point someone in the right direction if you’re ever asked “how do I get started commuting by bicycle?”

As always, if there are other sites you could recommend to beginners, please let us know about them and we may include them in future articles.

Riding a fixie for the first time

I don’t consider myself a Fixed Gear Rider expert, but I want to share some of my first time experiences riding a Fixed Gear bike to work.

The first Fixed Gear I ever ridden was a Bianchi Pista that belonged to Steve Boehmke, at that moment I knew I had to have one. Last November I received a Raleigh One Way to review for a previous site that I used write for, although it was a little big, I decided to ride it to work fixed gear style. Here’s what I quickly learned that nobody told me:

*Be mindful while turning. There’s no coasting thru the turns, so if you lean too much, your pedals may scrape causing you to fall.

*Use your brake to slow down on the downhills, if you don’t the super high cadence will cause you to bounce up and down or your feet will fly off the pedals making you look a little goofy.

*Be mindful of your pedal position when stopping, if your pedals are not in the position that you are used to while re-starting, you will have to push the bike or do a rolling start until your feet catch up with the pedals. This is not easily done while riding in traffic.

*Keep in mind that there is NO coasting, a habit that is really hard to break. If you forget, (and I guarantee that you will) the shock to your legs will not be pleasant.

Swobo Sanchez

After a few miles of riding you will get the hang of it, you will either hate it or love it. If you hate it, don’t give up, riding a fixed gear bike is fun and it will improve your endurance and riding form.

Route Mapping and Logging for Bicycle Commuters

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.

Books for Bicyclists

I recently starting working at a busy downtown library here in Tampa. One of the first things I did was to consult our online catalog to see which, if any, books on bicycling our library had on its shelves. I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few! Here are some of the ones I’ve read over the past couple months, organized by type:

Bicycling History and Development

Classic American Bicycles by Jay Pridmore (MBI Publishers, 1999). This book covers the many popular brands (Schwinn, Huffy, Columbia, Roadmaster, etc. and includes many color photographs.

The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle by Frank Berto, et al. (Van der Plas, 2005). This is an exhaustive volume covering the origins and development of the shifting mechanisms we’re all so familiar with. This book is filled with historical photographs and manufacturers specifications and is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of the component manufacturers such as Campagnolo, Huret and Shimano.
The Dancing Chain

No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, an American Institution by Judith Crown and Glenn Coleman (H. Holt, 1996). This is an incredible account of the history and market dominance of family-owned Schwinn Bicycles. The book offers a no-holds-barred analysis of the embarrassing and mostly avoidable financial downfall of one of America’s great bike makers.

Bicycle Touring and Culture

Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey into Australia by Roff Martin Smith (Adventure Press, 2000). This book chronicles the author’s circumnavigation of the Australian continent, from charming seaside towns to blistering desert. The author meets quite a few characters along the way, too.

Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip through Mongolia, China and Vietnam by Erika Warmbrunn (Mountaineers Books, 2001). Erika Warmbrunn writes a captivating tale of her experiences riding a bicycle from Russia into Mongolia and China and beyond. It’s a truly amazing story, and her experiences with the native people of those regions are heartwarming.

Over the Hills: A Midlife Escape Across America by Bicycle by David Lamb (Times Books, 1996). The author decides to get on his bike one day and travel from the East Coast all the way to California. This is an inspiring and funny tale of his adventures, filled with just enough bike-geekery to keep diehards entertained for hours.

The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power by Travis Hugh Culley (Villard Books, 2001). This book looks into the mystique of bicycle messengers, those daredevils of the concrete canyons. The author covers all aspects of his experiences and includes a good bit of railing against America’s carbound, consumer-based culture. I HIGHLY recommend this book!
The Immortal Class

Bicycle Repair and Maintenance

Zinn and the Art of Road Bike/Mountain Bike Maintenance by Lennard Zinn (VeloPress, 2005). These two books are some of the best repair manuals currently on the market – filled with useful tips from the man who builds custom bicycles and components and writes the many tech articles for VeloNews.com.

Sloane’s New Bicycle Repair Manual by Eugene Sloane (Simon and Schuster, 1991). There may be more recent editions of this book, but this is a fantastic “starter? repair manual for the budding home mechanic. It covers tool selection and overhaul/maintenance of all major bicycle systems. I have an older edition of this book at home – no V brakes or disc brakes are covered, nor are suspension systems.

Bicycling Magazine’s Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair for Road and Mountain Bikes by Jim Langley (Rodale Press, 1999). Here is another great starter manual covering nearly everything one needs to know about maintaining your own bicycle fleet. Again, there may be more recent editions that cover disc brakes and such.

Bicycle!: A Repair and Maintenance Manifesto by Sam Tracy (Speck Press, 2005). This is an irreverent look at bicycle repair, written in a hip manifesto style. Not terribly well-arranged, but fun (if not particularly useful) information.
Bicycle!

Childrens’ Books

Anatole by Eve Titus; illustrations by Paul Galdone (McGraw-Hill, 1956). This children’s classic is about a mouse named Anatole who devises a great way to keep his family fed with the finest cheeses in all of France. It’s not about bikes, but Anatole and his friends ride bikes through the streets of Paris. Kids and adults love it!!

Super Grandpa by David Schwartz and Bert Dodson (Tortuga Press, 2005). Based on a true story, an elderly gentleman is told by race officials that he is too old to race in the upcoming Tour of Sweden. Because the old man is stubborn, he decides to do it anyway, riding through the nights and sleeping during the days. He rides 600 miles to start the race, rides 1000 miles during the race and WINS, then rides 600 miles back home. In the meantime, the old man becomes a national hero. This is one of my favorite children’s books of all time!!!
Super Grandpa

So, visit your local library, and if you have other book recommendations, we’d love to hear about them!