Category: Articles

Meet Abhishek “Shek” Mukherjee, a faithful reader and commenter of Bikecommuters.com and soon-to-be owner of an Xtracycle (his birthday present to himself — Happy Birthday, Shek!):

Shek

How long have you been a bike commuter?

Since 29 May 2008.

Why did you start riding your bike to work and how long is your commute?

I started riding my bike to work and to other errands for fitness, health and reducing my carbon footprint. After being car-lite for a few weeks, I found a new motivation in being independent from cars. That is what drives me most now. My work commute is 2 miles one way. I come home for lunch, so I get almost 10 miles a day. I commute around 260 miles a month on my bike (and 170 in the car).

How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?

Bike commuting saves me $150 a month in gas money alone. (see details here: link ). I have lost some weight. I feel energized and ready-to-go when I get to work. I feel very active now. Overall, my quality of life has definitely gone up.

route

What do you do for a living and in what city do you bike commute?
I am a Logistics Engineer and work for a contract logistics company (3rd Party Logistics). I am not in IT.

I work and live in Jacksonville FL’s Edge City. It is the part of Jacksonville south of the river built around the JT Butler Blvd. primarily for office complexes. The commute to work is lined by manicured lawns and trees but no bike lanes. Housing in this area is in the form of large sub-divisions with winding roads. This whole part of town is very car-dependent (Walkscore gives it a whopping 28 out of 100). Oh, the joys of having suburbia within city limits!

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

I have a 12+ year old Specialized Rockhopper Comp that I bought from my friend. He bought it when he was a teenager and it has been sitting in his garage since then. The bike was well kept, has no rust and is sturdy as a rock. I have replaced the knobby tires with slick road tires. This bike is the work mule. It has plenty of low gearing to haul groceries in a difficult head wind. Once I sell my car, I may convert this to an Xtracycle or buy a complete long tail. Right now, my Banjo Brothers waterproof panniers do the job. A crate of 12 cans of dog food or a 12 pack of Heineken fits nicely on the bike’s rack. A bag of dry dog food is what I cannot carry yet. I am sure the Xtracycle will solve that. I also use this for my 5+ mile rides.

specialized

My other bike is an Amsterdam. It is an old city bike, probably from the 1960’s and 1970’s. It has a French flag on it but I dont know if it is French or Danish. It is an old-school single speed bike with a coaster brake. It is also my primary mode of commute to work. I wear business casuals on Mondays and Fridays and business formals (dress clothes and a tie, no jacket) on the other three days. This one lets me hop on the bike and go. I don’t have to be hunched over the handlebars and fold up my dress pants. I get a lot more respect on the road with this one than on the Specialized. I rarely get honked at. This bike has a generator on the front wheel and it powers the headlight and taillight. It is almost perfect for a short leisurely ride if you are not trying to break the sound barrier.

dutch

The 5 way OYB bag switches bikes depending on which one I ride. It holds my extra tubes (2 sizes, one for each bike), an adjustable wrench and a cloth napkin to wipe off sweat. I carry the wrench to fix a flat on the Amsterdam bike though I hope the rear tire does not get a flat. It is a big pain to remove. The panniers are exclusively for the Specialized. They come on only when I have to buy groceries or pick up clothes at the dry cleaners.

I recently bought a Solvit Trackr large dog trailer for my 60 Lb greyhound. Laya has begun to grow fond of it and it will be mostly used for trips to the vet or the dog park. It is a tight fit if she stands and she has not started to lay down in it yet. I recommend it for your pets.

more route

Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?

The people at the local Panera Bread were very amused to see my “Drink Beer Not Gas” T shirt (designed by my co-worker Matt Martin at nopollutecommute.com). Maybe the next time I will get a free souffle!

What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?

They thought I was crazy when I started riding to work. Most didn’t think I would last over a week. They gave me stories about bicycle crashes, motorist negligence and failed bicycle commuting attempts of other people, pretty much every play in the book to dissuade me. I even got a lot of resistance towards riding on the roads as opposed to sidewalks. Some still think that I impede traffic. They got a lot more supportive after the first two weeks of riding. I keep getting offered rides. Even the VP of my department has commended me for it. Motivated by my gas savings, a good friend and coworker got himself a bike and started commuting 3.5 miles on way. He has stopped for a while due to the uncertain rains and storms as he carries a laptop.

Now that I am getting close to going car-free, I get a lot of criticism. Friends and coworkers do not think that is possible. They ask me if I am going to start hunting for my own food too! I have a log (http://www.sheksfootprint.com/car-dependency ) of all the times I drove my car since going car-lite and I can do all of those by car-pooling, xtra-cycling and hiring a taxi.

almost there

How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?

I participate in Bikejax. It is a blog hosted by Matt Uhrig in promoting bicycle commuting. There aren’t really any bicycle commuting advocacy groups in Jacksonville FL and I am not into racing and mountain biking.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

In my journey to commuting by bicycle, I am surprised to how dependent we have become towards the car. It is a very good convineance but we have made it a necessity. There lies my fundamental problem with cars that they are an expensive depreciating necessity. I hate to lift cars up in the ranks with shelter and electricity.

I recommend everyone to read the book “Divorce your Car” by Katie Alvord (editor’s note: I will be reviewing this book in the coming weeks). It is a fantastic history lesson explaining America’s dependency on oil and cars and suggests a lot of methods for living car-free or car-lite.
I also see a shortage of understanding with the general public that a bicycle can be used for commuting. Most are of the opinion that bicycles are for racing, mountain biking or just plain riding. The majority of people here in Jack-sprawl-ville do not understand that concept of riding your bike for something more meaningful like going to work and groceries and visiting friends! That is a big change in mindset and culture that I hope happens if we are to be truly independent.

We’d like to thank Shek for contributing his profile and his photographs. To get even MORE Shek, spin on over to Shek’s Crib…his own blog, links to his photos and a whole lot more.

One of the joys of working in a library is that I often have access to free books — particularly sample review copies sent by publishers. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt caught my eye a few weeks ago, and I’m glad I brought it home.
Traffic is published by Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 2008).

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

This book is an utterly fascinating look at the physiological, psychological and social dynamics of motor vehicle use worldwide. In a nutshell, this book contains insights into everything you’ve ever thought of (and a lot of things you never dreamed of) while stuck in traffic: why is the other lane always moving faster? What’s up with all these signs? Why do our personalities change when we get behind the wheels of our cars? Why is it so hard to find a parking space?

Vanderbilt traveled the world, speaking to traffic engineers, road planners and law enforcement officials. Along the way, he discovered many tidbits, from the absurd — topless Danish models holding speed-limit signs (strangely enough, it worked — no one sped!), to the nearly-suicidal traffic frenzy in Delhi, India, where somehow traffic moves efficiently. Vanderbilt also spends a good bit of time discussing the work of Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer and visionary who is the father of the Shared Streets concept.

The book is wonderful; filled with lighthearted humor and great insights into what’s happening on the streets of the world. Although it is not geared towards cyclists, exactly, there are tidbits contained within these pages that address some of our concerns.

You may ask yourself, “are humans REALLY meant to drive?” after reading this book. I know I did, and as far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on that…in any case, I sincerely hope that motorists who wind up reading this book may start to consider bicycles as a valid mode of transportation. Put this book on your “short list”, reading-wise. It’s really good stuff!

Frederick Lippens spends a good mile of his commute rolling over cobblestones. While most of us don’t have commuting routes that rough, there are some good tips to share, so Frederick offered to write an article about his experiences. I’ll add some of my observations at the end, since just under a mile of my own commute (including the street right in front of my house) is on 1920s-era cobblestones.

cobbles1

Frederick:
On my daily commute in Antwerp, Belgium I have about one mile of cobblestones, which is not disturbing because it’s quite short and more of a welcome variation. Some people think they are remains of Roman roads; well, most are not, although a few of them still exist and are even still in use. But believe me: you don’t want to try those; just take a close look at Via Domitia, a preserved stretch in Narbonne (South of France):

via domitia

But it is true that quite a few of these roads still follow the original itinerary; they just put a new layer over it — why bother building a completely new road?

Enough history, let’s get down to business.
What do you do when it’s a longer stretch…what’s the best way to tackle a road like this?
Is there a secret recipe telling you how you should do it? Some just fly over them while others have to visit the dentist for new dentures after a stretch of these cobblestones.
There are different ways to approach this problem:
– weight plays a role; heavy bikers have less problems because they are more steady
– contrary to what most may think, you must remain seated, stay on your saddle — that way you have more control
– if it’s really a long distance you might consider deflating your tires a bit (more comfy that way)
– a curved fork is better than a stiff straight-bladed fork as is a frame that is less stiff (so people with bent forks and wobbly frames have an advantage)
– riding faster is better because it ‘flattens’ the road surface, you ‘float’ from bump to bump
– of course do not try the ‘ride faster method’ when it is wet, because cobblestones are very slippery
– always make sure you wear a helmet

more cobbles

The fact that these cobblestones are so slippery when wet is something I learned the hard way when I was young, but there is one big advantage when you fall on a surface like this. You don’t get any abrasive wounds as you would get on tarmac or even worse on gravel.

If you don’t know where you kidneys are located, believe me, you will be able to pinpoint them exactly when you have tried a nice stretch of cobblestones.

Still they have a certain charm; think Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, … … aaah, la douce France.

Jack:
When cobblestones are wet, they are tremendously slippery. The rough surface and all those nooks and crannies trap water, grit and oils right at the surface, and in some cases the road will become almost as slick as ice. I’ve seen many a cyclist go down on the cobblestones in Tampa…the tiniest bit of moisture is enough to cause concern. Riding steadily at a moderate pace seems to be the trick — no sudden accelerations or braking, no hard steering efforts…sort of like driving on snow or ice (I know what you’re thinking: “what does a Florida resident know about driving in snow?”). Lowering your tire pressure is good for a little extra contact patch, as is swapping out skinnier road tires for something a little meatier (28mm or 32mm tires are nice).

These techniques apply for any rough road surface — whether it is old, cracked asphalt or “chip and seal”. My favorite “tip”, though, is to use your imagination: I like to pretend I’m in the Paris-Roubaix on the stretches of cobbles. Taking your mind off the incessant rattling is a good thing!

even more cobbles

I wanted to post an update on my recent flipped bike. The Fila Torino sold this afternoon for a cool $150! I had originally posted it for $175 but after one week, I didn’t sell it and decided to relist it at $150. Sure enough, after one day being listed, the bike sold.

The funny thing was, the guy that I sold it to said he’d take it without even riding it. I still felt compelled to give him my sales pitch so I did and I encouraged him to at least test ride the bike.

Now that transaction is over, I have two more bikes to flip! I’ll keep you all posted since these bikes will take more work than I had originally anticipated.

I don’t usually carry a camera when I commute…I wish I did more often, but it is one extra thing to worry about. Today, though, I had some time on my hands and I wanted to snap a disturbing photo to share with you.

Before that, though, I got a couple shots of something most of us don’t get to see very often on our commutes. We’re used to seeing cars, buildings and the like, but when was the last time you saw a dolphin on your commute?!?

Just a few blocks from where I work is the Tampa Convention Center, home of the fabled (and way behind schedule) Tampa Riverwalk. This section of the Riverwalk is at the confluence of the Hillsborough River and both Seddon and Garrison Channels. I was standing at the seawall, catching my breath and getting a drink of water when I saw a couple of huge splashes. I whipped out my camera just in time to capture a young Tursiops truncatus, the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, chasing a fat mullet…

You can see him just to the right of the red arrow:
dolphin

And here he is ducking under the edge of the seawall:
dolphin

How cool is that? There were at least three others feeding in the area, but my batteries died on me so I didn’t get shots of them. I’ll go back, though…it was exciting to see such beautiful creatures mere feet away from me!

After that, I took a spin over to Tampa General Hospital, where a crosswalk sign caught my eyes a few months ago. Within days of the installation of this sign, I noticed that it had some damage done to it. Since then, the damage has only gotten worse:

crosswalk

Yeah, that’s right: cars keep driving OVER this sign! This sign is placed squarely in the middle of a well-trafficked crosswalk that separates the hospital’s parking garage from Davis Islands, where there are a number of hospital-affiliated offices. It’s a surprise that no one has gotten creamed by a vehicle here; if motorists can’t avoid a bright green warning sign, what’s to stop them from hitting a person?