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Commuter Profile: Marsha “Princess Hungry” Ungchusri

Today’s commuter profile comes from Marsha Ungchusri, known as “Princess Hungry” to legions of fixed-gear fans for her great product reviews and fantastic sense of humor over at Fixed Gear Gallery. Here’s a bit about her in her own words:

pink dress

How long have you been a bike commuter?

About two and a half years. I got back on the bike three years ago to do a charity bike ride from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK to raise money for cancer research through Texas 4000 for Cancer (www.texas4000.org). My perception of distance and what my body was capable of doing encouraged the idea of cycling to commute when I came back to Austin.

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

I started consistently cycling to work when I graduated from college and began teaching at a middle school 6 miles from home. Before, I use to just putz around campus by bike, but since joining the ‘grown-up’ world, I’ve done all I could to stay a kid at heart. My students got a kick out of seeing me ride by their bus stop in the mornings and I would always get waves and “HEY MISS U!!!!? (My last name is really long and unpronounceable by the general public). It was definitely a workout since the ride there was uphill and I had to haul graded papers, lunch, change of clothes, etc. daily. I started leaving my ‘teacher shoes’ at work to lighten the load a bit.

My commute to work is now a downhill 3-mile cruise through downtown where I currently work at a local bike shop in town. While Jack and Adam’s is not a commuter shop per se (we mostly sell road and triathlon bicycles), most of the employees ride to work (anywhere from 3-20 miles round trip). Since there is no shower at the store we usually hose off in the back and give the customers at the Jack in the Box across the street a show. Unfortunately, we recently put up a fence in the back so no more shows.

xtra

What do you do for a living and in what city do you bike commute?

I am the Queen Bee @ Jack & Adam’s Bicycles in Austin, TX. I run the sales floor and make sure people are taken care of. I use to teach 6th grade science at Mendez Middle School.

Right now I also intern at The Butler Bros. Firm where I get to play on Illustrator and participate in ad branding.

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

Do you mean what kind of bikes I don’t have? Ha.

Right now I currently have 4.5 bikes in my quiver. I race on a Level 3 custom Lynskey titanium bike. My previous race bike was the Trek 1500 I rode to Alaska in 2005 that is now my geared commuter bike. I also have a KHS Flite 100 fixed (48-18) for toodling around town and my most recent build, an 80’s Univega MTB xtracycle single speed conversion with pink grips (Thanks Lee). I also had a Fuji Palisade fixed conversion (my first!) that was a beautiful light cream color with sky blue logos and Michelin tires to match. It also had little red bullhorns. I lent it to a friend and it pretty much belongs to him now, but your first conversion is always close to your heart, eh?

lynskey

I’ve been eyeing this beautiful Biondi frame from Spain that is hanging at a shop here in town. I am torn between building it up as a geared bike or as my ‘nice’ going out fixed. I would also like to get a cross bike at some point and go play in the dirt.

So many decisions!

another KHS fan

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

It was 7am and I had just turned off my street onto the main street into town and a guy on a Bianchi Brava flies by and slows down. He waits for me to catch up and blurts out, “OMG YOU’RE PRINCESSHUNGRY! YOU WRITE ALL THOSE REVIEWS FOR FIXED GEAR GALLERY!!?

Mind you, it’s early in the morning and my coffee has not kicked in yet. I don’t normally respond to anything loud very well that early.

We stop at the light and I mumble something like “Yep, that’s me…? When the light turned green I dropped him. Poor guy.

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

I think my favorite comments/questions are:

“Do you sweat??
“Isn’t it hot out there??
“What do you do when it rains??
“What about groceries??
“You’re crazy?
“What do you mean you haven’t driven your car in 6 months??
“I would do it but it’s too hard/far/no showers at work?

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

Right now I am looking for a local cycling advocacy group to invest my time and resources in, but what I have found has left me rather disappointed. Most cycling groups here are geared towards recreational riding, trail riding, or racing. While I race for AT&T Brain and Spine, there isn’t very much to be had for cycle commuting advocacy. We do have the Streets Smarts Task Force and one of my teammates is the Cycling and Pedestrian manager for the City of Austin, but for a city that is ranked Silver by the League of American Bicyclists, we are definitely lacking. As one of my friends from NYC said after riding around Austin for a week, “You guys talk the talk, but you sure don’t walk the walk?. With people riding bicycles on the sidewalk, up the wrong side of the street, etc. I agree with him wholeheartedly. Sure, we may be better off than say the likes of Houston or Dallas, but in the grand scope of things with cities like Portland, Seattle, Copenhagen… we are eons behind.

I think what this fair city needs is a group that unifies all of the different genres of cyclists we have here in town. What we lack is a common voice and mission to be heard. Instead our voices get lost in the din of big trucks and SUVs and the infrastructure to support a cycling Austin will stay blue prints.

I love this city and I see the potential in it to become car-lite and cycling friendly. With gas prices through the roof (woohoo!) we are at a tipping point that will either shepherd us into a world with more bikes, or we will continue to be wholly dependent on the car.

racing mode
(Photo courtesy of DCM Photography)

Anything else that you want to share with us?

For my internship at the Butler Bros. marketing firm my current project is to create a brand and mission statement for a hypothetical bicycle advocacy group (which may not be so hypothetical once I am through with it). In my head is brewing a campaign called the Cute Commute Campaign that will be a subgroup within what I think I will be branding “bikeAustin?.

More info to come on: http://princesshungry.blogspot.com

We’d like to thank Marsha for sharing her pictures and information…the marketing campaign sounds like a great idea, and we wish you the best of luck in implementing it!

Peace Coffee Review: Guatemalan Organic Dark Roast

This week’s coffee review is the Guatemalan Organic Dark Roast

Here are the specs:

Hang with a smooth Guatemalan. Well-rounded and complete. Layers of deep solidarity from a dark roasted chocolate place. A fat favorite all around. Big.

Roast Level: Dark
Acidity: Medium – Low
Body: Heavy
Aroma: Dark chocolate
Flavor Notes: Bitter-sweet chocolate with dark roast smokiness and a slight remainder of citrus.

Farmer Cooperatives: ADIPCO, Apecaform, Nahuala, Rio Azul & Chajulense

Here’s how the beans look. Now I’m no Starbucks Barista but from what I’ve learned over the years, the darker the roast the more visible oil is on the bean. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but these beans are glistening as if they’ve been sunbathing on the beach with baby oil.
beans

Once the beans were grounded, the sweet scent of a fine dark chocolate hits the air. Eventually the whole room smells awesome.
grounds

Much like the last reviews we did with Peace Coffee, the French Press has been the standard for the test. Look how rich the coffee looks. You just can’t get that with an automatic drip. Oh and here’s the thing, I TRIED to use my Mr. Coffee Auto Drip machine for this test…you know to be different. But those machines literally murder the flavor and texture of the coffee. It wasn’t until I used the press that the flavors came back to life and greeted my taste buds.
french press

What’s great about using a press is you get a full bodied and richer coffee. Usually if you use a drip machine, the coffee looks more like a shiny dark tea. But the press gives you texture, flavors and that nice little frothy foam..
pour

So here’s how this coffee did…the specs show that this has a bitter sweet chocolate flavor. As I sipped my cup of sweetness…well not really since its a dark roast and it was black…anyhow, the certain flavors do jump out then lounge on your tongue; think of a Dove Dark Chocolate Bar. If you’ve ever had one of those then you’ll understand that this is the exact flavor the Guatemalan provides. It’s smooth, rich…oh wait, I already said that, and overall delicious. Though it’s a dark roast it doesn’t mean that it is super bitter. No, not at all — what happens is when you drink this, you do get the smokey flavor that it has been roasted longer than other beans, but it’s not like it is a kick in the mouth where you feel violated because the “dark roast” is taking advantage of your mouth. No the Guatemalan is very smooth and easy to drink. Acidity level is rated at low to medium, not bad considering darker roasts typically have a higher level. Plus I never experienced any stomach aches or heartburn after drinking it.

From this coffee lover to another, my gift to everyone reading is this review. You really have to give Peace Coffee a try. I’ve been really blown away on their coffees. They’re nice people too! Peace sells the Guatemalan Organic Dark Roast for about $9.99 per pound, and I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

Sometimes, good lane positioning (being at least three feet away from the curb or painted line), good visibility (bright colors, reflectors and lights) and good reflexes just aren’t enough to prevent a crash.

ouch

On Leah’s way home from work the other night, a giant SUV darted in front of her as she was riding down Florida Avenue in central Tampa. No turn signal — no warning. The SUV made a hard right turn just in front of her, and Leah got to experience firsthand the dreaded “right hook”. Grabbing a fistful of brake wasn’t enough…and Leah bounced off the rear fender of the truck before going down. The momentum of the collision carried Leah with the truck into the turn, keeping her from falling out into the travel lane of the busier road. She’s ok, though…just some scrapes, a deep bruise on her elbow and a smaller one on her hip. She’s still gung-ho to ride, but related to me that when the truck’s driver stopped to see if she was alright, it was less out of concern that she might have hurt someone and more out of concern that she might get into trouble for her actions. Nice, huh?

Leah was so stunned by the incident that she didn’t think to get the license plate or name of the driver. No one else was around and it was getting dark, so a couple salty words were exchanged and both parties went their separate ways.

So, everyone, let’s be careful out there — all the preparation in the world cannot prevent every collision. And remember, if something like this happens to you, PLEASE have the presence of mind to exchange information with the driver or at least try to get the complete license plate of the offending vehicle, followed by a call to your local law enforcement agency to report the incident.

Cargo Bikes? Yeah, they’ve got cargo bikes…

You have GOT to watch this video…The Austin Yellow Bike Project recently moved to new digs, and bicycling photographer/mad-skills-knitter/blogger extraordinaire Chainsaw Panda was there to capture it on video:


Austin Yellow Bike Shop Move from iridemybike on Vimeo.

Some of the load-hauling contraptions are amazing — trailers bigger than a car, cycletrucks, extended-bed trikes and everything in between. It is jaw-droppingly amazing!

Just Ask Jack — OK Bike and Safety for the Kids?

Raye Lynn sent in the following questions:

“Hey, I am new to commuting by bike (haven’t started yet.) I have been doing research online and I am drawn to your site daily. I have a couple of questions/ concerns that I can’t get a straight answer on and was wondering if you can help me out.

We have a very tight budget and being a bit overweight, my husband wanted to make sure I stuck with it before we invested real money into biking. So, we bought a Schwinn Jaguar Cruiser from Target with a bike trailer for the two kids under 3. I work 0.8 miles from home, 1.8 miles from church, doctors, grocery store, etc… Its ridiculous that I havent been commuting by bike sooner. My question is, is this bike ok for the distance/ purpose for someone just starting off?

Second question. I know riding on the sidewalk is not a good thing to do (would have never known that prior to researching.) But, my concern is for the kids. I live in a small town in NE Georgia. Bike lanes are no where to be found and frankly, they are a bunch of rednecks who will probably scream obscenities about riding on the road, my weight, etc… There are mostly back roads I can take, but there are some busy roads in my commute. Is it safe to haul a trailer on the road?”

jaguar

Raye Lynn, the answer to the first question is easy — your bike is ABSOLUTELY ok for your commute!!! There’s a misconception among many new bike commuters that there’s one “right bike” for bicycle commuting, and that’s actually right, in a sense. The “right bike” is the one you enjoy riding! So, I see nothing wrong at all with your choice of bike for getting started, based on the distances you intend to cover. Remember, too, that as your fitness increases and you discover the many other joys of using a bicycle as transportation, you can always upgrade to something more suitable for longer distances or bigger loads. You needn’t pay a fortune for an upgrade, either: the bicycle market is flooded with suitable choices at price points below $600.

The second question is something I have had a personal struggle with…I have a four-year-old, and while he loves to ride in his trailer and has done so almost his entire life, I’ve been very leery of certain roads and routes in my area. That being said, I get a perception that the brightly-colored trailer, which is obviously intended for children, actually gets me more respect from motorists out on the road! Many trailers come with that silly fluorescent orange flag…might as well use it for more conspicuity. For those of you who are considering a child trailer, purchase the most garishly colored one you can find that also has the features you’re looking for — the brighter and uglier it is, the more folks will notice it!

My boy

Even after some favorable experiences, however, I would carefully choose routes that have less vehicle traffic and more shoulder whenever possible. And, as dangerous as sidewalks can be for bicyclists, sometimes they are the smartest and safest choice for really ugly situations (but don’t get too much in the habit of using them: use “as needed” and check your local laws carefully for legality). I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks with my child, and I don’t think anyone else should, either. For short stretches on busy roads, hog as much of the lane as you can — folks will catcall and yell and honk no matter what we cyclists are doing out there, so just let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back. While you’re enjoying your health and your gas savings, those same rude motorists will be suffering — struggling to keep their gas tanks full and their car payments up to date.

Now that my child is getting too big for the trailer, I rigged up a passenger setup on my new Xtracycle…and I’m going through the same internal debates I did when we first started using the trailer: “is he safe back there?” “Is he ready for this?” “Are motorists going to give us the room we deserve?” I am happy to report that so far, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “yes”.

xtra boys by Alan Snel photo by Alan Snel

Good luck, Raye Lynn, and be safe. Thanks for your questions!

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