Category: Travels and Adventures

Editor’s note: Here’s the latest from Andrew “Doc” Li — you may remember him from his excellent DIY repair stand tutorial a couple weeks ago. Today, Andrew will give us some smart and practical advice on trek planning. Read on:

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“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” Confucius

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” Arthur Ashe

Being successful in whatever you do relies on a certain amount of thorough preparation and foresight. On the flip side is that we can always build on our mistakes and failures. And if Confucius and Ashe, among millions of others, arrived at the same belief, then certainly we can learn and apply this concept to many, if not, all aspects of our lives.

One such aspect is making a successful trip by bicycle between 2 points. Regardless of whether these two points span the distance between 2 continents or 2 city blocks, the right preparation is always needed. Never underestimate a journey, or reason that a shorter trip deserves less preparatory attention than a longer trip. I have been burned my fair share of times thinking this way.

I recall one particular autumn afternoon in Southern California when I decided to go for a ride purely for leisure. My plan was to bike 5 miles in one direction and back, in total a short 10 mile ride. It was a gorgeous day, so I went longer than planned and ended up exploring a park nearby. My 10 mile ride turned into 30 miles. When I decided to turn around, the sun was already setting and some ominous clouds had set in. Unfortunately, I did not confirm the sunset time that day nor verify the weather forecast.

So I set forth towards home (at that point about 14 miles away), and not more than 2 minutes into my ride large droplets of rain started pelting me. I pedaled harder, but eventually felt that I was going much slower. I looked down and as luck would have it I had acquired a flat. At that point, I was about 10 miles from home. It was now pouring and quite dark outside. I was wet, had no tire pump, repair kit, rain gear, or lights. I did not have a cell phone at that time either. Moreover, my bike route was not meant for pedestrians, and I did not bring any navigation to find an alternative route. The area was new to me, so I couldn’t “improvise” a new route. I ended up walking home, at night, with no lights, in the rain, constantly watching for fast traffic, while dragging my injured steed.

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Over the years, I have learned my lessons, and I have developed a list of things that I feel are essential for a safe and successful journey. In order to remember this list, I have developed my ABCs of trek preparation. They go like this:

A: Alimentation: food, water etc.
B: Bearing: map, GPS, compass etc.
C: Climate: rain gear, fenders, sun glasses, extra layers etc.
D: Defense: Lock, lights
E: Emergency: phone, contacts who know where you are heading, basic repair gear.

Alimentation: I hydrate before the trip and bring 500cc to 1000cc of water, and for me this is enough for trips less than 20 miles. Also, I can often refill water at my destination (my work place). You may have to adjust this volume based on your own distances, climate, etc. If I do bring food, it is usually for breakfast after my morning commute. I eat plenty of carbs the night before and ride on an empty stomach in the AM (personal preference).

Bearing: Before my smart phone, I would carry a small map cutout encompassing an area with the radius of my commuting distance (e.g. a 10 mile commute from A to B would require a map of a 10 mile radius area with point B at the center). A compass has also been very handy for me.

Climate: I wear layers, and wicking fabrics are exceptionally useful in cold, hot, and rainy weather. Wear stuff that you can easily take off and put back on to achieve that happy medium between hot and cold. Temperature regulation is not just for comfort; it is vital for performance efficiency. Excessive sweating depletes the body of fluids and also contributes to excessive heat loss. For summers in Southern California and other areas with similar climate, if you plan on biking into the night, bring another layer; you will be surprised how chilly it can get with a 20+ mph wind whipping past your body on a cool evening.

Defense: Defend your bike against theft with a lock, and defend yourself against motorists, other cyclists, pedestrians, dooring by keeping VISIBLE with a set of bike lights. I ALWAYS keep bike lights with me in my pack (can be recharged with a USB port). Night time riding is a topic unto itself, and this will be addressed in a later article.

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Emergency: Bring a form of mobile communication. If this is not possible, bring change for a payphone and let people know of your trip, where you are heading, and about what time you will be back. Bring basic repair gear (I take a patch kit, pump, and leatherman). For me, this gear is for “damage control”, that is, a temporizing measure that will allow you to get back home or to a destination that will have more resources for you or a mechanic to make a definitive repair.

This is by no means a definitive list, but one that has served me well over the years. As of late, I have developed a shorter, perhaps more basic list:

Lights, lock, liquids, lost, limp. Don’t forget your lights, lock, liquids. Make sure you have a way to prevent getting lost. And if you end up limping (either yourself or your bike), have some strategy for a quick repair of the bike or getting yourself to the right care.

Take from it what you will, add to it, and improve it based on your own cycling habits. Peace out everyone. Do good and ride well.

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We’re lucky to have Andrew writing periodic articles for us…and if you’d like to submit an article for possible publishing, drop us a line at info[at]bikecommuters[dot]com.

The Tour de France kicks off in a few short days…what better time than to present a review of Graeme Fife’s stellar Tour de France: The History…The Legend…The Riders…14th ed. (London: Mainstream Publishing, 2012)!

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Originally published in 1999, this edition of Tour de France was revised to include the Tours through 2012, where Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the coveted yellow jersey. This book is a thrilling and weighty look at the lore, the triumphs, the challenges and the defeats of the greatest cycling event we know. Compiled from exhaustive research, interviews with riders and anecdotes from historical accounts, Tour de France is dense and satisfying like a fine meal. The book is of two major parts: the first section divided into chapters named after the famous Alpine and Pyrenean summits that feature so prominently in the Tour. The second part is a series of chapters, starting in 1998 and finishing with 2012, that give the highlights and lowlights, the victories and the scandals that accompanied those years. Interspersed throughout the first part of the book are Fife’s own cyclotouriste efforts up the celebrated cols where so many legends were made (and broken).

The word “epic” has been used overmuch in the world of cycling, but that word suits this book just fine. Fife’s writing has an almost lyrical quality to it; his descriptions of events as they happened is breathtaking. Here’s an example, where he is describing the scene of a mountain stage:

The riders plough on through a cacophony of klaxons yodelling like a jamboree of deranged Tyroleans, exhaust pipes snorting plumes of carbon monoxide, the whole circus parade of team cars, service cars, official race cars, motorbikes with and without cameramen perched on the pillion seat, broom wagon snaking up the mountain — as fast as the leader at the front, as slow as the stragglers at the tail — through a jungle of spectators crammed so deep by the road’s edge they leave no more than a single file path down their middle and then bulge shut over the riders as they pass, like a python consuming its lunch.

The entire book is like that — and sometimes those vivid descriptions require re-reading a time or two for them to sink in. This is not “light reading” in any sense of the word, and at 518 pages, this isn’t a quick weekend read either. The book is meant to be savored, and in fact that is the only way to survive this dense tale: read, absorb…read, absorb…repeat until finished.

Fife references many photographs of the Tour as he writes, and while he thoughtfully includes a small handful for the readers, I was left wanting more. There are so many references to scenes from the past that a companion photo album would not be out of the question. Perhaps a future edition may address that one shortcoming?

If you are a fan of the Tour, a cycling historian or anyone who loves learning about professional cycling, this is a fantastic book to read. It can be an uphill slog at times to get through this massive volume…but the view from the top is worth it!

Thanks to our friends at the Independent Publishers Group for furnishing a complimentary review copy to us.

Hey there U.S.A Bike Commuters: yours truly, Mir.I.Am reporting from the good ol’ Southeast in Asheville, North Carolina! “Asheville?!” you say. “What the eff, Mir, I thought you were a Honolulu heat-stroke commuter!” Normally, you’d be as right as a Waikiki double rainbow, but the boyfriend and I have relocated to Asheville for ten weeks this summer.

Asheville Downtown

Asheville, not Nashville – Bike Lanes and friendly drivers compared to Honolulu. Oh yeah, the mountains and hills are whoopin my ass. Photo cred to chris_lanzarotti on flickr.

Shamefully, I must admit that my mainland geography knowledge is limited and underwhelming… a few months ago I was convinced that Asheville was actually Nashville but mispronounced, in a whole other state called “Tennessee”. Now I find myself in the midst of a quasi-Berkeley, CA in North Carolina. Complete with weirdos on tall bikes, organic farmer’s markets, and – as my local friend says – a strong whiff of patchouli in the air.

Tall bike Nun

Keep Asheville Weird: Yeah, this is the local nun on a tall bike riding through downtown AVL, photo creds to clarkmackey via flickr.

Little did I know that this bearded Smoky Mountain summer destination town would be full of all sorts of fun Cycle Ladies and Gents. I showed up a week ago bikeless yet again (is there such a site as www.footcommuters.com?) debating if I should have my sister ship my orange bike from Cali or buy a used one here in town. We strolled over to the local Asheville Recyclery to check out their new-used rides:

AVL recyclery flyer

This laid back “volunteer-run community bike shop” is SO low-key – good luck finding them on the web!

The shop is located under the French Broad Food Co-Op, in a garage-like spot with a mural on the front. The bikes are made up of local donations. You can build your own for free or buy a shop-built ride if they have one in your size.

AVL recyclery entrance

All my inner hippie-in-denial dreams come true: organic produce stacked on top of used bikes! I nominate this building as the epitome of Mir-ness in all of Asheville!!!

Apparently these crazy folks operate on ZERO FUNDING and are not a typical non-profit with a board of important peeps, just local bike lovers keepin’ it real… a.k.a. real cheap! I almost needed a pair of
Oops I Crapped My Pants when the shop guys told me I could have a Frankenbike for only $40 (or like 20 ChickenBiscuit things from Bojangles). Asheville Recyclery for the win…!

avl recyclery Bianchi Mir

**GASP** A Bianchi Frankenbuild just my size for only forty dolla-I-make-a-you-holla!? “Impossible,” you say. “Wrong” I reply, “anything is possible in AsheVegas.”

Oh southern hospitality is where it’s at folks. Helmets for $10, cable combo locks for $5, smiles and bike advice for free… what more could a cycle lady want? Maybe a power stance with my new summer commuting stallion in front of the Recyclery Logo? That could work:

AVL recyclery mir

It’s time to get real, Ashevillans. I be on your hills like ALL DAY! TGIGGG: Thanks Goodness It’s Got Granny Gears!

Or maybe a $6 pulled pork plate from a BBQ joint that happens to be a Presidential favorite?

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That’ll do, pig. That’ll do. Skippyhaha on flickr.

Guys, I feel like a complete Cycle Lady again with my new Frankenbike. The free Mejor en Bici bike share in Buenos Aires was good enough at the time, and the bike tours with Biking Buenos Aires made up for my bikeless butt envy… but nothing beats your very own commuter beater sitting pretty on your back porch. If you’re in Asheville, keep an eye out for a suspicious looking asian girl climbing hills in super low gears. She may be after your Sweet Tea. I’ll leave you lovely Bike Commuters with a final image from my local commute:

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It’s fairly rare that anything positive in terms of bicycle-infrastructure news comes out of Florida, but here’s something pretty big: lawmakers have approved $50 million to create the Coast To Coast Connector:

The Pinellas Trail could become the first leg in a 275-mile bike and walking path stretching from St. Petersburg to Titusville.

State lawmakers recently approved $50 million for the Coast to Coast Connector, which will link more than 200 miles of existing bike paths.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s goal is to bridge seven gaps among more than a dozen regional trails that snake across Central Florida. Collectively, the gaps cover 72 miles.

Once completed, the trail would be longest continuous bike path in Florida and among the biggest in the nation.

Read more about the plan by visiting the Tampa Tribune page.

Coast-to-Coast-Connector-Map

Link to larger version

The plan still has a number of hurdles to overcome…namely, Governor Rick Scott’s potential veto (he’s no fan of sensible transportation/recreation plans). In addition, similar connector trails in Florida have been fraught with hassles from landowners balking at selling portions of their properties to complete trails. Here’s a perfect example of an existing project that has been languishing for years.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the kinks can be ironed out — this will be a great project to commingle Florida’s many disparate regional trail systems.

Hey everyone. Mir.I.Am here, wrapping up a solid summer season in Buenos Aires… The leaves have begun to change color just as platform birkenstock sandals are changing into platform oxfords.

I may have missed this trend elsewhere in the world, but this was the summer shoe of choice in Buenos Aires… pedal power?

As boyfriend and I count down the days until our departure, I thought I’d share one last WTF travel-themed post about our time here and the weirdo things I see during my bike commute.

But first! Why don’t we take a look at some of the bikey highlights of this last couple months of free bike love in Buenos Aires, Colonia del Sacramento, and Mexico City, huh? The Mejor en Bici program turned out to be a little better than I thought… I ended up using it about 1-2X per month for errands and coffee dates. Check out the pics:

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Mejor en Bici free bikes – better than nothing, but only used them once every 2 weeks.

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Bikes in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay – locked up to windows.

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Tourists sight-seeing on bamboo bikes in Buenos Aires.

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Knife sharpening skills – A bike turned into a grinding stone!

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Heavy-duty delivery trikes, complete with safety flag in Mexico City.

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The best Colombian cortado in Buenos Aires, and the only reason I’ll incur a penalty for taking a free yellow bike out longer than the allotted 1-hour at Full City Coffee House.

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Mejor in Bici, hanging out in the garden courtyard in Full City Coffee, with a flat-tired purple friend.

Ahh yes, the seasons are all reversed on the other side of the equator… as the bike commuters of Buenos Aires gear up for fall with long sleeves and scarves, Boyfriend and I will soon return back to the states for swimsuits and sandals.

So, let’s wrap up this bikey roundup with the real  reason I’m writing today: weird things I’ve seen on my commutes. Let’s sum it up with a list, shall we? (Note to readers, Mir is a terrible smartphone user, and cannot take photos while actually bike commuting, so all images of weird things seen while bike commuting have been hastily “curated” from the Google machine).

Weirdest Sightings while Bike Commuting in BA:

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This custom paint-job is one of a kind. What are they chances I’d see it in real life!?

  1. A woman riding the bike-crush of my dreams (the Rainbow folder I was drooling over on Mercado Libre a few months back) riding in Retiro.
  2. A 20-foot length of green painted bike lane + a can of spray paint + a dirty mind = Bike Lane Male Genitalia in Palermo Hollywood.
  3. A guy drinking a mate while riding a bike slightly uphill and weaving back and forth in the bike lane in Recoleta.

    Yerba Mate: sometimes you just can’t get enough, even if you’re biking.

  4. Monsato demonstration with people dressed in Haz-mat suits and Corn near Plaza de Mayo.
  5. A dude riding a sweet pink cruiser who was totally covered in tattoos (including his face and bald head) in Barrio Norte.
  6. Batman touching the hand of God Joker in Palermo.
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Insert “Arrested Development” quote here.

I know we’ve all seen our fare share of parked cars, dumpsters, and piles of fruit crates in the bike lane, but sometimes you just can’t beat Batman touching the hand of the Joker while you’re biking on your way to work. If only I had the smart phone skills to snap a photo of the obscene bike-lane-turned-male-genitals… Enjoy the weirdness, Bike Commuters!