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Return to the Road

This is the story behind my purchase of a 2009 Bianchi Vigorelli. I have always had an interest in bicycles since childhood, from my first two-wheeler at the age of four, progressing into BMX bikes through my teen years. At about the age of sixteen I gave up cycling and spent my time borrowing Mom’s car and working to eventually achieve car ownership. Like all the other teens in Southern California, car ownership was the peak of life in my mind. I never stopped thinking bikes were fun, I just thought cars would be more fun.

Despite being a car-commuter student at UC Irvine from 2000-2005, I actually found myself back on a bike due to parking! With an annual parking pass running around three hundred dollars, I went to the Local Bike Shop (LBS) and purchased a dirt jump specific BMX bike and commuted with that in the back of my car. I’d park a couple miles off-campus and ride in. Eventually that bike would be stolen and again, I was bike-less.

Shortly after graduation and finding my first “real? job, I discovered something new! Disposable income! Thanks to Lance Armstrong and the road cycling wave sweeping the U.S., I purchased a clearance Specialized Roubaix Elite compact road bike, along with a friend who purchased a Giant OCR2 at the same time. I took to cycling and really enjoyed the first couple months, however my enthusiasm waned as my friend lost interest. I commuted a few times to and from work, but eventually hung that up when I moved from La Mirada to Fullerton and away from the Los Coyotes Creek bike path. I sold the bike in 2007, thinking I’m not going to find myself riding road again.

Los Coyotes Creek Bike Trail, Northbound @ 91 Freeway

Los Coyotes Creek Bike Trail, Northbound @ 91 Freeway

Around 2006 I also found mountain biking, first on a Specialized Hardrock, progressing to a 2006 Fsr XC Pro. Living close to the Fullerton Loop, this became my new hobby. My riding buddies were going strong and riding regularly. As life slowly filtered them out between work, marriage and children, I soon found myself riding the Loop alone. A year later, fed up with riding the loop alone, I found the website MtnBikeRiders.com. Looking through the pictures of RL and crew, I realized they had to be Fullerton locals. I sent an email to RL asking if I could join them for a ride. Suddenly, I had a group to ride with again and my passion for biking began to grow again. My fitness level improved dramatically and I’ve even entered a few mountain bike races, the thought of road biking, maybe for training began to enter my mind. alone again.

The final piece of the puzzle came at my friend’s wedding. There I ran into an old college friend who is now an avid cyclist. He told me about the Cool Breeze Century in Ventura CA. I was sold, I’ve always thought a century ride would be a lot of fun and something on my list of things to do before I die, now was the chance to reconnect with an old friend, increase my training and have some more fun in my life!

2004 Cannondale Road Warrior 600

2004 Cannondale Road Warrior 600

I scoured craigslist and eventually came away with a 04 Cannondale Road Warrior 600. A 700c hybrid, I thought it would be a perfect city bike and capable for the Cool Breeze century. As it turns out, the Warrior is perfect for those things, but as I monitored my average speed, compared to my speeds in 2006 on the Roubaix, along with my new found fitness, I knew I could do better.

Back to Craigslist and EBay I searched for a good deal on a great used bike. Armed with the geometry specs of the 2005 Roubaix I searched for my “deal?. Committed to finding a plush road bike, I spent a month without luck. Finally perusing through the inventory at one of the local shops I found a Vigorelli on sale. For one of the first times in my life, I did not make the impulse buy. I continued to search the used bikes in the area until finally three weeks later I returned to the Vigorelli. She (sorry for the politically incorrect terminology) was beautiful. Her thin classic tubes and the promise of a sweet ride, attested to by the Reynolds 631 tubing sticker she wore.

Reynolds 631 Tubing

Reynolds 631 Tubing

A modern carbon fork supporting a vintage-looking head tube clad with the Edoardo Bianchi badge. I finally spoke up and asked for a test ride. I swung a leg over the bike and coolly pedaled down the alley way. I circled up and down the street twice, and then broke into a sprint; she felt beautiful, clearly overweight by anorexic road bike means — she’s not the supermodel, and she’s not sexy, just good-looking. She wasn’t fast, rather she offered comfort, and she felt like home.

2009 Bianchi Vigorelli

2009 Bianchi Vigorelli

Chicago’s Bike to Work Week challenges commuters

Are you ready for this year’s bike commuter challenge? National Bike to Work Day may have been on May 15, but Chicagoans get competitive about bike commuting in mid-June, after getting primed with May’s Bike the Drive.

The Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation) “challenges” companies and workers to bike to work at least once during Chicago’s June Bike to Work Week (June 13-19).

In fact, they sum up the challenge by asking “Does your company have what it takes?”

If your company accepts the challenge, then ATA’s Bike Commuter Challenge offers companies the chance to compete with other businesses to see which can get the most employees to bike to work during Bike to Work Week, June 13-19. As of this posting, 320 teams had registered.

For those seasoned bike commuters and the newbies alike, ATA has a helpful list of resources to help any team get ready for the challenge of bike commuting.

In this era of being eco-conscious, this year’s bike to work week is getting recognition not only from athletic sites and blogs, but also from environmental blogs, including Chicago’s edition of A Fresh Squeeze.

Book Review: “Bike Touring — The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels” by Raymond Bridge

Orli Cotel, publicist for The Sierra Club, graciously sent us a copy of the newly revised 2nd edition of the classic Bike Touring: The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels by Raymond Bridge (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2009) for review.

sierra club cover

Planning on doing any bike touring? Not sure where to begin with preparation, gear selection and route planning? Look no further…this book is a complete guide to all aspects of bicycle touring. The author concentrates an incredible amount of information into this pocket-sized guide. Bridge spends a lot of time discussing gear (both the bicycle itself and its cargo-hauling apparatus), giving even the newest “greenhorn” a comprehensive view of the things to look for when selecting a rig for touring. But that’s not all; there are also extensive tips on route planning, packing checklists for different types of tours and other logistical considerations. Finally, the author includes a lot of resources (both print and Web-based) at the end of the guide.

The author presents all of his information in a matter-of-fact, clear manner. He doesn’t try to “dumb things down” for the amateur, yet he never gets bogged down in overly complex descriptions either. The book reads well and is easy to follow.

Bridge’s first edition was a wild success and was a must-read for the new (or seasoned) bicycle tourer. With this 2nd edition, there is even more to share — the addition of Web resources is a great thing. And, this 2nd edition is FRESHLY updated…there are mentions of guides and gear that have only been around for a few months.

If you’re interested in bike touring…from quick overnighters to lengthy cross-country excursions, this book is worth a look. Perhaps my only gripe with the book is that the author fails to include our own Russ Roca in his discussion of valuable bike-touring Web resources. Russ’s “Epicurean Cyclist” deserves a mention in this guide!

Just Ask Jack — What Bike Do I Buy?

We get a lot of “which bike do I buy?? questions submitted to us…a LOT. While we absolutely love to help guide bike purchasers toward suitable commuting bikes, this is an incredibly difficult question to answer without relying on a bunch of generalities…with dozens of great commuter bikes and literally hundreds of other bike models on dealer floors at any given time, there’s a lot to wade through, especially for the novice bike enthusiast.

bike mountain
(image borrowed from jugsi.com)

So, I thought it would be a good idea to distill some of those generalities down into a handy “starter guide? for folks to use. I won’t be naming any specific brands or models – that’s not the point of this exercise. Rather, this is intended to get bike shoppers thinking about what they need and expect out of a new bicycle.

Many people go into the bike purchasing experience with only one thing in mind: price. Price is important, of course, but it is only one of many aspects to be considered when selecting a new bicycle; different needs require different features.

Generally, when asked “what bike do I buy??, I answer the question with a series of my own questions. In no particular order, they are:

–What is my price ceiling?

–Do I plan to use the bike for recreation purposes as well as commuting?

–How long is my commute?

–Is my area flat or hilly?

–Do I plan on hauling books, groceries or other cargo every now and then?

–How comfortable am I with the various gearing and braking systems on modern bicycles?

As you can see, the answers to those questions help narrow the field down – a sleek fixed-gear or singlespeed road bike might be great for a fast, flat long-distance commute but terrible at hauling groceries and children around town, while a sturdy, clunky “grocery getter? would be great for around-town utility purposes but might not be suitable for some recreational uses. Complicated gearing and braking systems might be daunting for the novice bicyclist and utterly unnecessary for someone in a flattish urban environment.

Concerning the price ceiling – be flexible with this. A little more money can mean a lot better of a bike. If this means putting off your purchase for a few more weeks to save up some extra dollars, do it…but don’t forget that a more expensive bike does not mean a more suitable bike for you, merely that it probably has better-quality parts and accessories than a lesser-priced model.

One of the best pieces of advice we can give folks shopping for a new bike is to check out their local bike shops. Walking in and saying, “I’ve got X dollars to spend…what do you have?? is an exercise in futility. But, prepared with the answers to the above questions, you and your local shops can help pinpoint something that’s actually suitable for your needs. Still, any old local shop won’t do – they must understand your needs and be receptive to letting you try different models at different price ranges. No one likes the “hard sell? – if a dealer is trying to push you toward a specific model that doesn’t do EVERYTHING you need a bike to do, you’re probably in the wrong shop and should exit gracefully! Visit as many shops as you can…this gives you the opportunity to test and evaluate a whole range of different bikes (and find a trustworthy shop in the process).

The other critical piece of advice we like to share is this: buy the bike that you look forward to riding…comfortable, pretty, feature-packed, whatever. Being excited to ride your new machine is half the battle…and you’re far less likely to be excited by something that doesn’t feel good or doesn’t do what you need it to do.

Buying a new bike is a daunting process; there’s no doubt about that. Arming yourself with some answers and a bit of personal research under your belt can make the whole thing a lot easier to stomach.

Perhaps our readers have some additional considerations for the new bike shopper they’d like to share? If so, have at it in the comments section.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

An All-Too-Brief Look at Minneapolis Bike Culture

Last week, I was able to travel with my family to the great city of Minneapolis for a family obligation. I hadn’t been there since 1982, and since then a LOT of things have changed — including Minneapolis’s growing reputation as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States.

That reputation is well-earned…there are bicycles EVERYWHERE. Heck, I even saw bicycle parking at the airport! Cyclists of all shapes, sizes and disciplines were present pretty much everywhere I went around the city — from sleek fixies and hip young riders to kids to hardcore commuters, roadies and everyone in between. Ah, what a refreshing change from my own city, where I mostly see “guys on bikes” and myself.

Anyhow, we shot a bunch of pictures and stopped at some of the hotbeds of the Minneapolis bike “scene”…concentrating on the vibrant neighborhoods in the Lyn Lake/Uptown area.

First off, this is a typical street scene in south Minneapolis: bikes locked up everywhere. There were bikes on racks, bikes on poles, bikes on porch railings, in yards and every other conceivable location. My friend and tour guide Laura insists that “it’s like this all year-round”, not just when the weather is nice!

street scene

We stopped by Cars R Coffins Coffee Bar/Cykel Garage to see if we could meet Hurl Everstone, who had promised the Bikecommuters.com crew a few months back that he’d submit a commuter profile for us. No luck…he had the day off. Still, we checked the place out and got a cup of badass hot chocolate, too!

my crew

The tiny CRC Coffee Bar is packed to the gills with bike culture — bikes and parts for sale crammed everywhere they’d fit. One thing that caught my eye in particular were a pair of beautiful vintage cruisers hanging from the rafters:

cruise

Walking further down Lyndale Avenue and after eating a spectacular breakfast at The Egg & I, we spotted this bike rack…one of dozens we spotted peppering the community. It just so happened that this day was the day Minneapolis celebrated Bike to Work Day and was early enough that a lot of folks were still riding to work, so the racks weren’t full. But, they were everywhere — no worries about finding a suitable lockup point in this area!

lockup

My wife spotted this cute fixie locked up on the street — a springtimey slice of delicious watermelon:

watermelon

Strangely enough, I’m coveting some pink rims for a bike now!

Later on in the week, we stopped in at The Alt , a legendary bike shop and a great place to hang out. I told the employees that I wished they were MY local shop, and I meant it — friendly folks who are really passionate about bikes. The Alt was STUFFED with bikes, snowboards and goodies galore, and also serves as one of the primary dealers for the new Handsome Cycles brand. I wasn’t able to check out any Handsome Devils in person, though, because they were being featured in a display at another great Minneapolis shop called One on One Bicycle Studio. Next time I’m in town, I’ll make it down to the Warehouse District to check out One on One.

the alt

More bikes on the street, and the Minneapolis Re Cycle. I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but I heard good things about the place.

re cycle

And a parting shot of some fixed-gear riders heading down Nicollet Avenue in front of excellent German restaurant Black Forest Inn.

nicollet

We only got to spend a few days in the city, but what we saw blew us away — bike-friendly infrastructure galore and more importantly, people taking advantage of it. I spoke to many bike commuters while walking the streets Uptown, and they raved about the city’s efforts to encourage transportational cyclists.

Although I didn’t get a picture of it, it seemed like the must-have bicycle accessory in Minneapolis is a milk crate strapped on. I saw dozens of bikes rockin’ milk-crates (after all, America’s Dairyland is right next door)…so, if you want to channel some of the Minneapolis bike spirit, get your own and wear it proudly!

I’m looking forward already to my next visit — the Mini Apple is a fantastic place…diverse, friendly and very cosmopolitan. And they love bikes up there — can it get any better?!?