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Commuter Profile: Andrew Li

Editor’s note: Many of you may have seen Andrew Li’s excellent guest articles over the past couple months…well, we loved his work, and he loved doing it for us. So, we figured “why not add him to our staff?” So, welcome Andrew to the Bikecommuters.com team; in our tradition, here is his commuter profile for your reading pleasure.

Name: Andrew Li

Andrew clownbike Figure 2

How long have you been a bike commuter?

Since about 2001, I have been commuting by bike. By no means am I car-independent. I would say that about 30% of my commuting distance during these last 10 years has been by bicycle.

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

I started pretty much out of necessity, in high-school. At that point, I did not have a car. So I carpooled, walked, or biked to school. By my senior year, I realized how fast a bicycle could be, and so I adopted cycling as my primary mode of transportation all throughout college and medical school.

Currently, my standard car-free commute is 20 miles, both directions combined. My longest car-free commute was about 32 miles, again, both directions combined.

How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?

Bike commuting allows me to:
1. Exercise (saves me a gym membership) and get somewhere I need to get to, all at the same time.
2. Saving me money not having to buy as much gas (check out the “commuter tools” tab on bikecommuters.com to see how much you can save by biking a few miles here and there).
3. Reduce my time sitting in traffic.
4. Slow down so I can more easily see and appreciate my surroundings and be more aware of the community through which I am cycling, both the good AND the bad. “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
a. I can’t tell you how many little shops and nooks I started noticing when I biked a route that I usually drove.
b. And since I was on a bike, I was more willing to stop and explore on foot.
5. Appreciate my car more, and as such, when I must drive, I don’t get as frustrated when stuck in traffic. Fascinating cycle: I bike to avoid driving, and in the end, it makes me a better driver.
6. Value the food I eat and view it not merely for pleasure but more for its properties as a source of energy and means of improving my performance and health. I was quick to learn that a bad diet easily manifested itself in a weak and weary ride.
7. Reduce your carbon footprint.
8. Cool topic of discussion at dinner parties.

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

I am a general surgery resident, and live with my wife in Long Beach, CA. I bike from Long Beach to Torrance for my current commute.

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

My first commuter was an old Taiwanese road bike that my dad bought in the 80s at a garage sale for $20. It was my first love and a real beauty. I rode that bike for about 8 years, until it was stolen. In this photo, I am wearing a mask because Southern California during that year was having a bad firestorm, and so the smoke from the fire was pretty noticeable.

Andrew LA commute Figure 1

I had a beautiful Panasonic at one point, but we had to leave it when we moved away.

In college, a friend bequested an old Cannondale to me. However, the front wheel got stolen. So I rummaged through our engineering department and found a BMX wheel that no one needed, and the clownbike was born (see first picture above). I rode that thing for about 2 years all around campus and beyond. Amazingly good handling (small wheels mean tighter turns). It got a LOT of attention, pointing fingers, and great laughs. Riding it, you just could not help but smile and laugh. I also called it the “happy bike.” As tradition dictated, I bequested it to a friend when I graduated.

Currently I own an old Trek Antelope 830 with some simple personal modifications for my commute. Pretty robust so far.

trek commuter Figure 3

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

Some of the most interesting experiences for me were during my commute to one job I had in South Central Los Angeles (LA). The ride started in North Hollywood, and I saw the transitions from Valley suburbia, to decadent Hollywood Hills mansions, to the stark Business District and Downtown LA streets rushing with expensive cars, to South Central LA with its stretches of industrial compounds, schools with uniformed children laughing and playing behind high metal fences garnished with barbed wire, and the rattling homeless shopping carts.

One of the most powerful memories I had during that commute was biking by two homeless guys fighting over a shopping cart filled with empty soda cans and about 50 others trying to break it up. As I rode by, one of them overturned the cart, and the sound of a hundred empty soda cans crashing on concrete and my bike tires crunching over them was overwhelming.

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

They usually ask if I have ever gotten mugged before, as quite a few of my commutes have and currently go through rougher parts of town. Overall they are extremely supportive. I even converted one guy at my current work, and he is now a regular commuter.

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

I have been getting involved with bikelongbeach.org. We are trying to get RL’s mobile bike repair unit getting started in Long Beach.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

I think I have gotten more tickets cycling than driving.

Guest Article: The ABCs of Trip Planning

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.

torrey_pines

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.

lightbike

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.

bridge

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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.

Mobile Bicycle Repair Unit: Five Guys with Big Hearts

This past Sunday afternoon I assembled another team of guys to join me in Santa Ana, Ca. to help fix bicycles for the homeless. This was my third outing fixing bicycles and it seems like the word is spreading in the local community. Every time I do show up, more and more people are bringing their bikes to be serviced. I was privileged to be joined by some great guys. You may recognize the name Moe Ramirez (The Moe); he was one of the original co-founders of BikeCommuters.com, along with our friend Gabe Preda and two of our fine readers, David Peckham and Andrew Li.

We met up at 3:30pm and set up shop. Once the locals found out that we were there, they all started showing up. We tried to work as fast as we could to address all the issues, but honestly, at a certain point, it got overwhelming. Most of these bikes are in so much disrepair that most of us here would either replace the whole bike or donate it to Goodwill. But for the folks there, this was their livelihood. Notice Dave on the left side of the photo. He put in some great effort on this beach cruiser that belonged to “Girl-Tony.” Though this bike looks pretty, it came to us with a loose bottom bracket, brakes not working, bent derailleur hanger and it wasn’t shifting. Girl-Tony got her name because there are 3 other people named Tony, but she was the only girl named Tony.

This was at the beginning. Later on a large line had formed. I lost count of how my bicycles we serviced.

The repairs ranged from basic derailleur adjustments to full over-hauls. The most common problem we saw were non-working brakes. Either their pads were so worn out they couldn’t stop or their cables were frayed and broken. One of the guys we helped was telling us the that he was doored by a car which damaged his shifter and brakes. Due to the fact he didn’t have brakes, he got a ticket for it. So I made sure I installed a new shifter cable since it was damaged from the crash as well as adjusted his brakes.

Here’s Moe dealing with and old shifter housing problem:

One of the more common problems we had: shifter cables and housing that needed to be replaced.

Gabe and Andrew working together to replace cables. Notice Andrew’s DIY workstand. We’re hoping he can do a small write up on how he made it. That stand worked like a charm!

The team ended up working on so many bikes that when it was time to go, we couldn’t leave because there was still a long line of folks waiting for help. We cranked out a few more repairs and had to call it a day. Once again the locals appreciated it and we kept getting compliments, hand shakes and even “God bless you!”

From left to right: David Peckham, Gabe Preda, Moe Ramirez, RL Policar and Andrew Li.

It certainly a service that is much needed and we’re very grateful to be able to provide it. Our next scheduled event is on July 7th. We could sure use more help. All we ask is you bring a work stand, basic tools and a desire to help. We could also use some donations in the form of hard goods. From brake pads to brake/shifter cable/housing, tubes, tires, lubes, degreasers and any old bicycle parts you may not be using. You can either ship them to the BikeCommuters.com World HQ or if you’re local to Orange County, Ca., I can pick it up from you.

I do want to thank the guys that came to help. I really appreciate the heart and willingness to help out. One thing I do believe is that God has blessed me with the skill to fix bicycles and it’s my way of giving back to those who need the help. I hope our team of Mechanics can grow in the future and if you’re a Jr. High/High School student that needs community service hours, come out and help — I’ll sign off on your forms.