Basic Commuter Skills

When you don’t have health insurance…do you ride slower?

In the last few years of my bike commuting career, I pretty much rode with the confidence that if I were to get hurt while riding that I could simply go to the doctors/hospital for my injuries. Well as of March of 1st I lost my medical coverage. My employer has been making some cut backs and since we aren’t on what they consider, affordable health insurance plans, they decided to cut that benefit off to all the employees.

So now this leaves me with the a few concerns, 1. Do I find cheap insurance? 2. Do I ride with more caution/slower?


In this situation, the answer would be both. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I ride like a reckless fool on a bike, I’m pretty conservative, meaning I value my life. So I try not to make maneuvers that would put me in danger such as riding against traffic, lane splitting, and arguing with drivers. For the most part, I ride at a comfortable speed and I try and enjoy my ride as much as I can. But now that I know that my health care benefits are gone, mentally, I’m just a bit more careful when I ride.

A new web series: “To Catch a Bike Thief”

Ingo Lou, producer for an upcoming web series entitled “To Catch a Bike Thief”, dropped us a press release about the project. This ties in nicely with our recent coverage of Outside Magazine‘s great article “Who Pinched My Ride?”, where the author used GPS tracking devices to follow stolen bikes.

Here’s the press release:

Contact: Ingo Lou
Mobile: (604) 889-1096
Twitter: @tocatchabikethf


Cyclists are angry at rates of bicycle theft and want more to be done to stop it. Roughly 2.5 bicycles are stolen every minute, and even when bike theft is reported to police, victims stand a less-than-one-per-cent chance of actually recovering their bike, according to the Centre for Problem-Oriented Policing in a report prepared for the US Department of Justice.

This has inspired a group of Vancouver cyclists to create a web series, aptly called “To Catch a Bike Thief,” to chronicle their adventures as they attempt to recover GPS-tracked bait bikes they constructed themselves.

The web series is intended to raise awareness about bike theft, promote discussion, and explore ways that individuals and communities can protect themselves against theft.

“I’m constantly surprised at the level of support and encouragement we receive from everyone in the cycling community for our project,” said Broderick Albright, one of the first members of the To Catch a Bike Thief team.

Broderick and the rest of their team began experimenting with GPS tracking technologies for bicycles in early 2011 and constructed their first bait bike in June 2011. During the summer, production of the series began when the group tested their DIY bait bike, keeping it on a short leash at first. They ran round-the-clock stakeouts, waiting for a thief to cut the lock so the To Catch a Bike Thief intercept team could hop onto their bikes and chase the stolen bait bike.

The GPS tracker in the bait bike (purchased online from a website specializing in equipment to help catch cheating spouses!) has a vibration sensor that activates the tracker once the lock is cut. The tracker then broadcasts its real-time location every 10 seconds to a mapping server accessed through a web-application. In To Catch a Bike Thief, the team designated a “dispatcher” to coordinate with the intercept team in the field via two-way radios.

“GPS tracking gives our intercept team dispatch real-time response of the bait bike, and allows our team to develop a proper intercept strategy that is both safe and effective,” said Ingo Lou, producer of To Catch a Bike Thief. “We want to make sure we have all the information we need before we go and intercept our bait bike after it’s been stolen.”

The To Catch a Bike Thief team hired security guards on bicycles to be on hand when confronting bike thieves. The security detail isn’t there to make arrests, but to observe, report and deter any potential violent behavior to protect the intercept team.

Series director, Kirsten Aubrey envisions a web series in which the full picture of bicycle theft can be thoroughly explored by a combination of GPS tracking, rigorous research and good old-fashioned documentary-style filming. “I want to understand the big picture of bike theft, in order to help cyclists protect their bikes.”

To Catch a Bike Thief is produced in Vancouver, B.C., and the trailer for Season 1 was released on February 2, 2012. The pilot episode is planned to release in spring 2012.


If you’d like more information about To Catch a Bike Thief or to schedule an interview with a team member, please contact Ingo Lou at (604) 351-5077 or via e-mail at


To tantalize you, here’s the trailer for the series:

Book Review: The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide

There are a large number of books targeting new commuters…some good, some bad. A few months ago, the publishers of The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2011) offered to send us a review copy. Authored by James Rubin, an L.A. based journalist, and Scott Rowan, a Chicago-area commuter and writer, the book intends to be a primer on the ins and outs of bicycle commuting…hoping to attract new riders to try this two-wheeled transportation thing.

It’s not a rosy picture, however. Start with the cover:


If a book wants to attract people on the fence or new to the bicycle commuting world, why on EARTH would the authors/publishers choose such a disturbing image for the cover? My hackles were already up, and I’d barely cracked the spine of this book.

The book is divided into the chapters one might expect from such a guide: clothing, choosing a bike, safety issues, accessories, repairs and more. Nothing new here, but there is a good overview of the main issues and logistics in starting to commute by bike. Where this book really falls off the tracks is the authors’ insistence on circling back to the many possible negatives — theft, angry/dangerous motorists, breakdowns on the road, more angry/dangerous motorists, common collision scenarios and the like. I tried to read the book as if I was brand-new to the idea of riding a bike for transportation (a difficult mindset to put myself in, I know), and I was left with a feeling of dread: “man, this bike commuting thing sounds like a genuinely dangerous pain in the ass!” To be fair, many of the concerns and issues raised in the book are important for new (and seasoned) commuters to understand, if nothing more than to avoid such scenarios. But, the tone of the book is very off-putting. Yes, it can be hectic out there on the streets of the U.S. Yes, motorists and cyclists historically have had some issues getting along together. Yes, collisions can happen despite caution and preparation. Repeatedly harping on and on about it, though, drives away those people who might have considered bikes but are still making up their minds. As such, this book is a failure when it comes to providing that last bit of encouragement to a new commuter.

And that’s a shame, really, because the book DOES have a lot of good information, tips and resources contained within it.

One personal pet peeve is the authors’ use of the plural “we” and “our” to describe the events of a single person. During the authors’ visits to several L.A.-based bike shops, they were trying to determine how shops went about getting a rider on an appropriate bike. In one, a FitKit was used:

“For the FitKit, we stood on a nice piece of polished wood that looked like a shoe measure. The board had two holes at one end, and Carretero inserted a roughly 18″ aluminum tube that connected vertically to another piece of wood. The device resembled a surgical cane. Carretero unfastened a lock, and the wooden top rose steadily until it pressing firmly but not painfully into the bottom part of our crotch. We were 55 1/2 centimeters, which he dutifully wrote on a piece of paper.”

See what they’re doing there? I have no idea if this is grammatically correct (somehow I strongly doubt it), but it’s annoying as hell.

In all, the book fails on a few levels for me. As I mentioned earlier, there is a host of useful information in The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide, but too much time and effort is spent on the perils and fears that the “good message” comes through dimly. As it stands, I have a very difficult time recommending this book to anyone. There are a number of similar books on the market that are better suited to giving new commuters the tools they need to hit the streets. In fact, it’s ironic in that in this book’s resource guide, the authors call out MY personal favorite for a similar guide — The Practical Cyclist — by my friend Chip Haynes.

The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide retails for $14.95, but it is available on a certain online bookseller for as low as $10.00. If you’re trying to bulk up your cycling library, by all means, snap up a cheap copy. Otherwise, hang onto your money and spend it wisely elsewhere.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

To Clip or Not? Pondering your Pedal Preference

What pedals would you use to escape the Zombie Apocalypse?

What’s up busy Bike Commuters… I woke up groggy with a chance of grumpy this morning, hoping a shot of caffeine and a leisurely bike commute would snap me out of it.  I stumbled around the darkness in my apartment looking for my bike shoes like a zombie looking for a 20-pack of McBrains Nuggets.  When I finally retrieved my shoes, I shoved them on, only to realize that someone else had also taken a liking to my shoes over the weekend.  Zombie ANTS!  A mini-ant-party was going down in the toe of my right shoe.  Nasty!

Two years later, and I never regretted the $30 purchase... is it time for a change?

One can of Raid later and a change of socks left me riding to work in a pair of ballet flats on my little Shimano M520 pedals.  Lucky for me, the commute is flat and only lasts around 10 minutes.  I still enjoyed myself and the ants did snap me out of it!  BUT, it lead me to think about a possible pedal conversion – platform on one side and spd on the other?  I’ve always liked my M520’s, easy to clip in because it’s double sided, CHEAP, and reliable!  Perfect for a beginner clippie-shoe rider like myself.

RL's foot prefers the leather strap commute... nice kicks!

My “back home for the Holidays” bike had leather straps that I removed because I kept dragging them on the ground face down.  My Kona Dew bike had metal stock platform pedals that suited me just fine.  And  I’ve never come around to the one side only fancy road bike pedals, since I prefer the recessed SPD cleat in my Specialized Riata Shoe.  Anyway Bike Commuters,  what’s your preference for pedals?  What’s your pedal history and  your related footwear?  Dress shoes, casual shoes, MTB shoes, road shoes, incognito Chrome Kursk kicks?  When it comes down to the Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll want those SPDs to help me crank up the hill to escape my fate as a Zombie buffet.  I’m not ready to give up the SPD, but sometimes it would be nice to ride in a dress shoe without the feeling of a steel-dipped Chicken Nugget pressing into the ball of my foot… What’s your perfect pedal set up?

Possibly my new best friends? I had pedal envy when I saw Elizabeth's SPD/platform combo in Chicago and my co-worker has some too!

Friday Musings – Tiny awesome things about Bike Commuting

Happy Aloha Friday everybody!  Sometimes I make tiny mental lists of the tiny awesome things about bike commuting that I love including tips, hidden moments on the commute, commuter-specific nuances, and ultimate randomness.  Let’s get all loosey-goosey and see what we can come up with.  P.S. – some of these things are shared from others, so be sure to comment and fill in yours too.  Let’s roll out the red carpet for the little things we love about Bike Commuting:

It's Friday, and it's time to NERD OUT over Bike Commuting!

  • Front light/Front flip: One out of three of my commuter stallions has had the problem of anorexic handlebars!  What this means is that in ideal spot to mount my front light, the tube diameter is too small for thesmallest grippy-diameter of my Planet Bike Blaze front mount (even with piling up those rubber fillers).  The front light would tip forward after every big bump in the road, resulting in half my commute flashing a front-light strobe party pointing straight down on the ground!  So much for being seen!… Instinctively, each time Bumblebee and I rode over a lumpy-hump, I would reach for the front light and prop it back up.  It wasn’t until this past year that my co-worker spotted a neat trick on someone else’s ride: flip the light upside down so gravity is on your side!  Now my front light hangs underneath the bars, and I never have to readjust after humps and bumps!  Yay! No more front light push-up like pointdexter adjusting my glasses.

    The Front Light Front Flip!

  • Smell factor: This can be something good or something bad depending on where you are in your commute!  Two awesome smells I’ve been recording on my brain are ripe mangoes at Hotel and Maunakea St. and cinnamon rolls baking at the enormous warehouse-style bakery a block from my office!  I love the smell of my bike commute, better than the smell of the inside of the bus on a rainy day, or that weird Crayola smell in Volkswagen Jettas.  I’ll take “fresh” bike air any day…
  • Helmet Basket:  No shame in this, a quick trip to the grocery store to grab the makings for a FlufferNutter – why grab a plastic shopping basket when you can use your helmet upside down! I do this all the time at the grocery!  I also use this trick while locking up: I clip the helmet so it hangs from my top tube, and toss the flat bar with key of my U-lock into the helmet as I thread the cable through my wheels and line everything up for the final lock down.  I love dual purpose of helmets: stores my brains and knowledge, or Fluff and U-locks!  Elizabeth has her own trick for carrying groceries home.

Ok, I don't think it works well the other way around, buckethead!

  • Nightride Karaoke Solo: Whenever I work late and am riding alone on the streets, I love to sing really embarrassing pop songs like Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” out loud for no one to hear!  The streets are mine, and no one is around to give me the stink eye, so I enjoy it!

I want one that says Cycle Ladies like Bike Nerds.

  • Left-Turn Signal Habit: I know I’ve posted this before to the facebook, but to any new readers who didn’t catch it; you know you are a bike commuter when you left turn signal while walking back from lunch to your office.  NERD ALERT!  Another good one I heard from a reader is when you try to do a mirror check while walking in the hallway at the office.

Anyway guys, enjoy your Aloha Friday, Bike Commuters! Don’t be ashamed of nerding out, enjoy those tiny moments on your ride home this weekend.  What other awesome randomness do you enjoy on your commute!? Share it in the comments box puh-leeze!