Category: Guest Articles

After the BikeCommuters.com crew posted an article about wanting guest authors, I knew I wanted to write something, but I didn’t know what to write about…until this morning.

As some may know, I have a disability called Spina bifida. It is the most common spinal cord defect in the U.S. (editor’s note: spina bifida is a developmental birth defect involving the neural tube: incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube results in an incompletely formed spinal cord).

Cycling is what keeps me going every day – literally. Since the physical state of a cyclist is almost opposite of my natural physical state I have to work at it every day or, due to the spina bifida, my fitness will more rapidly decline. So, I thought I would write about the adaptations that I need in order to ride, the bikes I use and why I use those particular bikes to keep me and my passion for cycling alive.

My love for cycling started when I was 15 years old. I worked the summer at a Boy Scout camp in northern Virginia and one of the other staff members was a semi-pro level mountain biker. I was just mesmerized at what the guy could do on a bike, so right before the next summer came I bought a GT Outpost Trail and stuck an Indy C fork on it; for the next four years I rode that bike everywhere I could, even through a broken wrist, broken elbow and torn cartilage in my right foot and left knee. Throughout those years my skills developed; however, I still lacked speed due to my underdeveloped legs from the spina bifida. The only adaptation I used at that time was Power Grip straps on a set of Koxx (Try All) pedals. Why? Well, thanks again to my spina bifida, my left ankle rolls in a lot, making clipless pedals impossible to use.
power grips

After I tore up my knee I decided to hang up the bike. I went traveling for a few years, only to gain weight and lose a lot of muscle mass. So, in August of ’06 I picked up a used Diamondback Sorrento. I then had it modified into a commuter with a Shimano 105 crankset and Serfas Drifter tires, and thanks to the owner of a LBS knowing about Knee Savers pedal extensions, I got my first pair of clipless pedals.

How did this help my disability? It opened my eyes again to a simple but very effective way to regain my physical fitness and it gave me a way to deal with starting over after traveling in a nation ruled by the ever-increasing cost of living (biking to work means I don’t have to buy gas or a gym membership).

As for the equipment, the 105 (road) crankset gave me what I call “road competent” gearing until I regained my confidence on the bike. The Serfas Drifter is a serious bombproof tire, so I wouldn’t have to deal with flat tires (1,700 miles without a flat) in addition to the lack of confidence. The Knee Savers are simply a spacer to extend the pedal out from the crank arm — in my case to allow room for my left ankle so it wouldn’t hit the crank arm. Finally, also, clipless pedals. A few reasons for them: we all know about better/more power transfer, and with the lack of muscle that I have in my legs, I will take every little bit of help I can get. Secondly my left leg is about an inch shorter than my right leg, so the clipless pedals keep my left foot on the pedal.

I rode the Sorrento for about 9 months, until I got the “itch” to get back on the dirt again and picked up my Raleigh XXIX. Believe me, thoughts about my spina bifida went into that bike, including the fact that the bike is “conversion ready” and is a 29er. Sure enough, two months after I got it I put a 13-34, 7 speed cassette on it to make it a 1×7. At that point I liked the singlespeed aspect from the maintenance point of view, since there are some days that I fall out of bed because my back hurts so much. There aren’t too many times that I enjoy maintaining or fixing my bikes. Also, with the single chainring, I don’t have to shift, which is good because, due to the previous damage, it is hard for me to shift. As for the 29er aspect, the “Greater Momentum” part really spoke to me, going back to leg strength, it is hard for me to keep up momentum, so just like the clipless pedals, the Knee Saver or the 34t cog, I will take all the help I can get.

To this day this bike is my all time favorite ride. To make it even better, about a month ago I put on an Origin 8 carbon fork and a Thomson Elite seat post, making the bike lighter to help with my lack of muscle and balance.

In October of ’07 I decided that the XXIX was too heavy for me to commute on in the cold weather, thinking of my 10-day stay in the hospital with pneumonia the winter before. So after many years of drooling over a Kona “Jake The Snake?, but knowing I didn’t have the cash I picked up a regular Jake and modified it to a 1×9 (39×11-34) with a flat bar conversion.

Why the Jake? Other than previously stated, it was inexpensive, it’s lighter, more nimble and it can fit up to a 38C tire, giving me a little more cushion for my back. The 1×9 flat bar conversion was because my left arm doesn’t like shifting and I also do not like drop bars. I also get the dampening of carbon (Easton Monkeylite). Also, being able to put on a full-range cassette was very helpful. Lastly I swapped out the rear wheel for a Velocity Glider, giving me even more support since I am more of a seated rider.

Finally, along with my Jake and my XXIX, I also have a single speed On*One Inbred 26er that is rigid, with Felt backpedal pedals and 39-18 gearing. I use this bike as a Dirt/Skate Park bike to hone my balance and strength. With these three bikes I have gone from barely riding 4 miles a day to riding every where and doing everything by bike, in under two years, riding with a smile 90% of the time.

One thing about the Northwest- it rains. I’ve been looking around for bags that would fit nicely inside the Xtracycle’s saddlebags and keep my stuff dry in heavy rain. I also wanted to be able to park the bike and have something detachable, so I could bring things inside that I’d rather not have taken while the bike is parked. Granted, plastic garbage bags will get this done just fine, but it just doesn’t look stylin, plus they are awkward to stuff in there. Plus, I don’t really want to carry trash bags into a movie, grocery store etc.

Main features I was looking for

Must fit nicely in the existing pockets
Must be totally waterproof
Must look good

I think I’ve found that combo in the Overboard Duffel. For tech specs click here

Fits perfectly within the constraints of the sideloaders but isn’t too big to take out and haul around. The bags here are empty, semi deflated and not near to fully packed size.

Lots of space in there. Includes two zipper mesh pockets inside.

Opened up

As a side bonus, I can now carry stuff around when I want to go with the naked look. Just bungee the bag to the top and off we go.
This will be especially handy at night when I want to show off my new down low glow configuration.

First impressions of these bags…. SWEET

As you may have noticed we’ve posted a handful of Guest Articles. From what we can see, people love em’! We have more articles coming your way this week, so if you have something to share, feel free to send us your article and photos and we’ll be glad to publish them!

Send em’ to Info(AT)BikeCommuters(DOT)Com.

Remember, it has to be relevant to the topic of bike commuting, please note that not all of the articles will get published.

The other night I got home from work. “Hey dear,” said my wife, “how
was your day?” “Excellent,” I replied, “I overtook three people on the
climb up the hill, and one guy made a big effort to overtake me,
couldn’t keep up the pace, and cracked. It was really great.”
Really. That was the one thing I was thinking about. Because,
although many people will deny it, there is a subtle race going on.
It’s often referred to as “commuter racing” or the “great race”, but
it’s seldom talked about openly (the first rule of commuter racing is,
of course, that you don’t talk about commuter racing). And one of the
first things you’ll find out when you start bike commuting is, everyone
does it but few people admit it.

Think about it. When you see someone 100m further up the climb you’re
on, do you think “Ahah, a comrade, a confrere, a brother cyclist toiling
up the same ascent as myself – perhaps I could catch up and exchange
some knowing banter about the difficulty of the gradient?” Do you like
heck. You think “His arse is mine”, and you put the hammer down to try
and catch them. And if you do, you don’t slacken off and have a chat in
the Spirit of Cycling Fellowship – you breezily say “Hello!” as you go
past (in brief acknowledgement of the S of CF), while going as fast as
you can without making it obvious that you’re trying. And if you do
slacken off and ride next to someone to have a friendly chat, it’s
usually to demonstrate that you’re able to talk normally while the other
guy is clearly riding at the point where they can’t get out more than
three words without gasping.

But, y’know, it’s not a race.

Of course it’s not a race. If it was a race, you’d have numbers on.
And you’d have all started at the same time. As is, you often see
people who’ve just started their 5k saunter back home pitting themselves
against someone who’s coming up to the end of their 20k of rolling
hills. You’d also be on roughly similar bikes; as is, road bikes
compete with mountain bikes with sit-up-and-beg town bikes. The blatant
inequality of equipment is all part of the fun. Have you ever seen the
face of someone on a town bike when they pass a roadie in full team
replica kit? You can see the grin from space. I know a number of
singlespeed mountain bikers who dedicate their commuting lives to
overtaking riders on geared bikes. You, the guy with the beard riding a
vintage 70s touring bike you’ve owned from new – you’re telling me that
you don’t get a buzz from passing a 20-something on $4k of carbon fibre?
No-one’s immune.

If it was a race, there’d also be some agreement about such things as
start and finish lines. You come up behind someone: maybe they’re
riding all the way to the top of the mountain, maybe they’re turning off
halfway. Maybe you can afford to put out a hell of an effort to stay
ahead of them until the turnoff to Johnsonville, after which you can
grovel slowly up the rest of the hill secure in the knowledge that you
held the contender off. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Do you feel lucky?

If it was a race, you’d have an agreed list of participants. In
practice, you just try and keep up with/overtake people as you see them.
As you pass one rider, you spot the next one ahead and start chasing
them. Over time, you get to recognize other people on your commute. I
know three riders who do roughly the same route I do at about the same
time who are stupidly, stupidly faster than me. Really. They pass me
like I’m standing still. I’ll be rolling at 30kph and they’ll blow past
at 40. But I don’t need to think “Damn, I’ve lost that one” – they’re
clearly so far out of my league that there’s no pressure to feel as
though we’re competing.

And of course, if it was a race there’d be winners and losers. As is,
if you overtake someone you can glory in your victory; if you get
overtaken, you can just think “Och, it’s not a race” and deliberately
slow up a bit to show that you’re more concerned with the bike as a
means of transportation rather than some silly macho competitive thing.
The best of both worlds.

This is not, by the way, to imply that all commuter cyclists are
cut-throat macho types who like nothing better than grinding others into
the dirt. Of course there is a spirit of fellowship: any time I
puncture on my ride home, I can guarantee that at least half the riders
going past will slow down to call out “You OK there mate?” in case I
don’t have a patch kit on me. It’s just that there’s a certain
competitive instinct that comes out of the mildest-mannered person.

So if it’s not a race, why do we do it? Because it is a race. It’s a
race inside my head. And I’m winning.

Five tips for commuter racing:
* Obvious effort is frowned upon. Unless you can make it look like
absolute eyeballs-out full speed head is your normal commute pace,
trying too hard makes it look like you’re, well, trying too hard. You
may well be, of course, but nonchalance is important – when you pass
someone, you’ve got to look as if there’s no effort involved. Bonus
points for putting on a spurt behind someone and then passing while
audibly freewheeling.

* Drafting is fine. C’mon, it makes it feel more like a real race. But
don’t just wheelsuck. If you are drafting, take your turn. Especially
don’t wheelsuck for ages and then do a big sprint around to pass your
imaginary finish line. OK, the pros do it, but it’s annoying.

* Pay attention to traffic and the road. It’s pretty easy to get so
involved in the prospect of overtaking the dude on the Bianchi that you
miss the BMW about to turn across your path. Don’t forget that you’re
on the road, and that there are drivers, kids, little old ladies and red
lights around. And for the love of god, obey the road rules. Yeah, you
can gain a few seconds on someone by blasting through a red light, but
it makes you look like a twerp and further tarnishes cyclists’
reputation. Obey the rules and treat red lights as a chance to practice
your track sprint starts.

* Local knowledge counts. After a while, you get to know your route
really well. Get used to stuff like timing the lights. The rider who
sprints off as the light goes green but has to wait thirty seconds at
the next light down the road doesn’t look as smooth as the rider who
knows that if you stick to 20kph, you hit the next light just as it
turns and you don’t have to get a foot down. Style points count for
stuff like this.

* Don’t bring it unless you can take it. Passing someone is only half
the job – now you’ve got to stay ahead. If you’re just hanging on to
someone’s wheel with a severe effort, you probably don’t want to put
yourself into the red and pass them. Overtaking someone and then falling
off the pace just makes you look silly. You can try to pretend that
you’ve just taken a short turn pulling and are now dropping back to
draft again, but you’re not fooling anyone.

This was written by Mr. Marty Coplea.

I left my car parked in the parking garage at my office and rode my bike home. A 25-mile commute each way that I sometimes break up by driving in and then riding home. My bike commute back into work today was a bit rough. I woke up and my body was saying “NO, BIKE RIDE TODAY, PLEASE!” But, one of the benefits of leaving your car at the office is that you have no choice but to ride. So, I told my body tough turkey… we have no choice but to ride in today. So, I rolled out of bed and had a cup of the” Late for the Train” coffee. It was so smooth and just what I needed to get me going.

I pulled out of my house and it was quite a cold morning. After about 3 minutes, the wind was cutting right through me. So, I pulled over and put on another jacket that I had in my backpack. My legs, lower back, arms, neck and taint are all hurting like a son of a gun. I keep telling myself to roll on and things will get better. So, I get 20 minutes down the road and I am starting to feel better when I hear that dreaded hiss sound that all cyclists hate to hear. Crap, a flat! I change the flat and air it up and guess what, I hear that lovely sound again! So, I take the tire off again and find that I pinched the tube when I was changing the first flat. I do not have another tube on me, but luckily I packed a patch kit. I get one of the tubes patched and very carefully put the tube and tire back on the rim. I have 1 CO2 cartridge left and I am praying that this tube holds. Based on my morning so far, I am not very optimistic at this point. Fortunately, the tube held air and I am back rolling again. Things are looking up!

I get another 20 minutes down the road and now I am starting to get hot from the extra jacket and I can feel myself sweating. I pull over again and take off the extra jacket. Now that I am all sweaty, the wind is cutting through my body again and I feel like a popsicle. I am not a happy camper. I keep rolling for a few more miles and then I hear a “ting”. I thought that I ran over a piece of metal of some sort and I am praying that I do not have another flat. Fortunately no flat, but a spoke on my front wheel broke. That wheel hates me today!! I stop again, wrap the broken spoke around another, open my brake levers all the way and get rolling with a very wobbly wheel. UGH!

At this point, I am just dying to get off my bike. My body hurts, my attitude sucks and I am hating my bike!! I still have about a hour to go until I get to the office and “I want my Mommy!” Believe me, I thought about calling someone to come pick me up and take me away from this hell of a ride. Who knew that a simple 25 mile bike commute to work could feel like an epic ride?

The next 5 miles rolled by without incident. I am now riding on the frontage road next to the 101 freeway and I look over at the 101 that I usually drive every AM. I see that the traffic is backed up bumper to bumper for miles. I start to get a good feeling inside. I am doing something that is good for my body and the environment. Today, I am not part of that nasty congestion or adding to that brown cloud above the Valley of the Sun. My whole attitude takes a 180 degree turn.

I finally arrive at my office and I am feeling great. I have a big smile on my face and I am so glad that I rode in on this day. Not everyday on the bike is all peaches and cream. But, everyday that I spend on my bike is very rewarding in some way or the other. I think sometimes I forget that.

My ride stats:

Miles: 25.5
Ride Time: 1hr 48mins
Total Trip Time: 2hrs 40mins
Avg Speed: 14.3 mph
Calories Burned: 2020

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