Just Ask Jack

Just Ask Jack — Deflecting the Naysayers?

Here’s an interesting question…and one I’m pretty well stumped on. Readers, we need your help with this one! If you’ve had experiences like those mentioned in the article, please leave your comments so we can help Karen out.

Karen submitted the following question:

“My husband and I live in Northern Arizona where it is quite expense to live even a modest middle class lifestyle but having no kiddos we just squeeze by. With the price of gas though, we looked for ways to cut back and since we live less than 5 miles from our work, we decided to sell one of our cars and buy bikes. We’ve been at it for over a month and probably bike in 3 – 4 days per week. It has really reduced our time at the pump since we also geared up with panniers and saddlebags. We make brief stops at the grocers from time to time rather than haul the car out of the garage. Since we also run the biking has been great cross-training.

Although we know several people at our work who also bike in we also get some remarks from a few people who seem to subtly suggest that we are trying to make a political statement or trying to look ‘hip’ or ‘holier than thou’. Yes, I am a liberal but I am also a hair and makeup girl and getting to work slightly messed up has been a mental barrier I had to overcame solely because I can’t stomach or afford $4+ a gallon – we have a mortgage to pay.

Do you ever get this?? If so, how do you handle it? Some of this comes from people who are a little higher in rank at work than us. I am a little tired of it but don’t feel like poor mouthing when so many other people are in far worse shape than us.”

We’re all pretty aware of how hot it is to be “green”…everywhere you turn, there’s some celebrity spouting off about how they’re making a difference. While that’s great — people coming around and realizing that living a more eco-friendly lifestyle makes sense — the incessant media attention on “outgreensmanship” gets kind of tiresome. On the whole, the bike commuters we’ve had the pleasure of riding with and communicating with through are not evangelical about their choice of transportation. We just do it because, for the most part, we love to ride bikes! And, of course, we’re getting exercise, reducing our carbon footprints and saving money.

So, my first “gut reaction” response to Karen was that negative comments like this arise from jealousy. While I’ve never personally been accused of being “holier than thou” (well, at least about bike commuting 😉 ), I’ve perceived a fair bit of jealousy in comments from coworkers, neighbors and friends. It’s something we’ve talked about around here for a long time — the folks who “would try to commute by bike, but…”

As far as the higher-ups with negative or snide attitudes, I sense that there’s a bit of territoriality at play here. After all, they’re the supervisors or senior staff members…THEY should be the ones with the brilliant ideas and the smart solutions — not some slightly-rumpled junior partner (who, by the way, is looking mighty fit and healthy these days)!

So, I’ve thrown out a couple of ideas as to where these comments come from, but I’m sure there are more. As far as solutions go, I try to stick to a fairly modest tactic my wife uses at work: “Why do I bike commute? Well, I can’t really think of anyone who couldn’t use some more exercise…and I’m saving money, too.” It’s better to deflect gently rather than to get hot under the collar (something I am NOT good at doing). Gentle deflections beat evangelicalism any day!

Now it’s your turn: have you faced these kinds of comments? What is up with that kind of attitude? And, what do you do to deflect the naysayers? Please leave your comments below.

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

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?”


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.

Just Ask Jack — Rain in the Forecast?

Fellow Tampa Bay-area commuter Julie sent in the following question:

“I live in Florida where every summer we get thunderstorms every day at 5pm. I can plan my day around that so I can cycle home before that starts but what is the best way to protect myself against the rain if I happen to get caught in a rain shower? What kind of rain suit do you recommend, etc…?”

Photo by Texantiff23 on Flickr

If only I could count all the times I’ve been caught in the same predicament…ugh! As lots of folks in the Deep South know, it can rain like clockwork right around “quittin’ time”. And, of all the states in the south, Florida is the worst — competing warm-air masses from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet over the peninsula of Florida and start to brawl, resulting in furious, lightning-filled deluges.

So, what to do? Well, there are a couple of options — a variety of rain jackets, ponchos and capes are available and they are specifically designed for cyclists. The first is the traditional rain jacket. I sometimes use a battered old Campmor coated-nylon jacket
that stows into its own pocket, and other times I’ve been known to use something as simple (and chic!) as a trashbag with holes torn in it for my head and arms. A highly-regarded jacket is the O2 “Rainshield” model, both hooded and unhooded. Most folks who’ve tried one seem to rave about these jackets — they’re inexpensive, effective and they pack down very small so you can always keep one with you.

O2 Rainshield

I should add that another fellow central-Florida commuter (faithful reader Mike Myers, soon to be featured in his own “commuter profile”) pointed out to me that wearing a rainjacket in Florida is a “catch 22” — you either get wet from the rain or you get wet sweating inside your jacket…even a fancy breathable fabric model.

There’s an alternative to this — the rain cape. Think back to your youth…the shapeless, billowy rubberized nylon ponchos at ball games and summer camps. Now, imagine a similar product made of high-end materials with built-in reflectors, handlebar loops and a host of other useful features. Rain capes such as these are wildly popular with randonneurs and long-distance bicycle tourists — they protect you and your bike from the rain but still allow cooling breezes “up your skirt”, as it were. The Cadillacs of rain capes have got to be the Carradice Pro-Tour or Duxback models…pricey as can be but oh so effective at keeping the rain off of you! Just remember that fenders are mandatory if you’re using a rain cape — the last thing you want is road spray getting up underneath the cape.

Carradice cape with matching booties and helmet cover

To keep your work clothes and related gear clean and dry, consider investing in a waterproof backpack, messenger bag or pannier (the Seattle Sports “Fast Pack” is an excellent choice), and again…don’t mess around: put some fenders on your bike already!!! Nothing helps keep you and your bike clean of grime and road grit better than a pair of full-coverage fenders.

When it rains in summertime here in Florida, my personal preference is to just ride it out — as long as I’m headed home rather than to work. I feel like a kid splashing in puddles again, and nothing cools me off like a good drenching. When I’m headed toward work, though, I don my rain jacket, make sure my gear and work clothes are well-protected and hit the road!

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

Just Ask Jack — High-Speed Roads?

Shante sent in the following question:

“How do you share the road when the speed limit is 55 mph, there is a low shoulder and cars are going about 70 mph? I live off of a two lane highway.”

I had a quick answer for Shante…in short, there’s not a good answer for that question….while most of us know that bikes are entitled an equal share of the road, some roads are just too unsafe (speed,
narrowness) to exercise that right.

No shoulder
Photo by Robert Raburn of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition

My suggestion was to look for an alternate route — even if it takes you out of your way.
That’s probably not what Shante wanted to hear, but in my experience, roads like she described are just too sketchy for reasonably safe bicycle travel.

I feel that this is an incomplete answer, at best. I’d sure like to hear from other readers what their tactics are for such roads. The gut feeling is that most of us avoid such roads, but I’d particularly like to hear from anyone who is a League Cycling Instructor (Dominic, are you out there?) or anyone else who deals with such poorly-designed and bicycle-unfriendly roadways. Just leave your comments below.

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

Just Ask Jack — Skewers or Bolts?

Brian from Calgary sent in the following question:

“My current commuter bike has bolt-on wheels, and I’ve never had a wheel stolen, but I’ll need to replace it soon and new bikes all seem to have quick-release hubs, so I’m curious what your take is on this – is it worth getting quick-release locks, or just deal with the hassle of carrying a long cable and U-lock?”

This question brings up two very good points — keeping your wheels and keeping the bike itself. As many people have discovered, the loss of a wheel by theft can be an expensive replacement proposition (and can leave you stranded), so it is crucial to have a locking strategy that defeats all but the most dedicated thief.

While no bike can be rendered entirely theft-proof in most situations, the more you do to protect it by using a variety of locking methods and hardware, the more likely it is that a thief will move on to an easier target.

The first step is to decide on a wheel-retention strategy. Quick-release skewers are common on most bikes these days, and they sure are convenient for tube changes. The trouble with them is that they are also very convenient for even the most casual thief. Just a few seconds is all it takes for someone to flip a lever and walk off with an expensive wheel.

There are a number of “locking” wheel skewers on the market. One of the most popular is the Pitlock system, which uses a unique socket to loosen or tighten the skewers for hubs and seat collars:


Another popular variety is the Hublox system from Delta Cycle, which uses a special wrench to engage the skewer’s locknut:


The drawback to either of the above systems is that if you lose or forget the special tool needed to open them and you get a flat…you’re dead in the water. I know this from bitter experience, as I left my special Hublox key at home and got a flat about 4 miles away. That was a long walk!

My preferred method is a skewer system that takes a standard 5mm hex wrench to loosen or tighten…everyone carries a multitool of some sort, right? This type of skewer can really slow down a casual thief — after all, do thieves come prepared with a pocket full of hex wrenches and other tools? A myriad of companies make such skewers, and they range from totally affordable to frighteningly expensive. Here’s what they look like:

hex skewer

Traditional bolt-on hubs slow down casual thieves for the same reasons as the hex-based skewers…unless said thief has a 15mm socket wrench or an adjustable wrench in his or her possession.

The second part of this equation is “total locking strategy”…and the trick seems to be using two different types of locks to secure your bike. For example, you lock the frame to a bike rack or post with a U-lock and then lock the wheels to the frame and rack with a stout cable and padlock. The theory is that a thief will have tools to defeat a cable, such as a pair of bolt cutters, but not a bottle jack or other device needed to leverage a U-lock (or vice versa, as the case may be). Again, I speak from personal experience: my first week at the library, before I found secure indoor parking for my bike, someone tried to steal my rig. They successfully cut through a heavy 15mm cable, but were unable to cut through my vintage Kryptonite lock…all they did was chew up the vinyl covering with their bolt cutters (thank the stars they didn’t know the Bic Pen trick).

Here’s a photo gleaned from the Web that shows the double-locking method:

double locked

An alternative, especially if you have time and money on your hands, is to absolutely overwhelm even the most hardcore thief:

ulock frenzy

That bike isn’t going anywhere!

Keep your bike safe — because riding a bicycle is much more fun than walking home without it. Brian, thanks for the question!

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