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Tag Archive: bicycle commuting

Commuter Profile: 100 Pounds Ago’s Gene Butcher

Next up in our periodic commuter profiles is none other than Gene Butcher, author of the excellent “100 Pounds Ago” blog. I’ve been a reader of his for over a year, and he’s got good things to say there AND here. Welcome to Internet stardom, Gene — you deserve it!

Name: Gene Butcher (recovering fat ass)

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How long have you been a bike commuter?

I have been commuting on and off since March of 2009 but in the last 6 weeks I have converted to commuting and errand running 100% by bike where as before I was probably riding 60% of the time.

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

In reality I started riding my bike as a way to get into shape and lose a lot of weight. In the last year I have lost over 100 pounds by changing my diet and cycling. It was really by accident that I started riding to work and around town. For a lot of years I just sat around the house and was content being fat and unhealthy. A doctor cursed me out for the shape I was in so I started riding. I had no idea that people actually commuted by bike on purpose; I thought that was something people had to do when they didn’t have a car. It was well after I stated riding that I found out through a host of websites that’s it’s a legit practice and you do it by choice. I looked at my situation and it just made sense. I only live about 6 miles away from work and I have the best commuter setup known to man. I work for a fire department and I have access every day to clean showers, my own locker, washers and dryers, secure bike parking, and even a dedicated space inside that I can work on my bikes if I need to. I commute in, shower up, throw my riding clothes into the washer and the next morning I have clean clothes for the ride home. You should understand though that even though I live close to where I work my morning commute is anywhere from 25 to 40 miles. Very rarely do I ever just ride the 6 miles in and park the bike. I have my own private cache of tools and equipment in my locker for working on my bikes when I have to. I am able to wash all of my work uniforms at work so that severely cuts down on stuff I have to commute in with.

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

I could go on for days about how cycling has helped me health wise; essentially cycling has saved my life or at least aided me in saving my own life. I have resigned myself to the fact that if I want to stay in the shape I am in and not revert to the old couch potato-chain smoking-fast food devouring-slovenly-morbidly obese-drunk version of me I HAVE to exercise every day and not just for 20 minutes. A very good way to exercise daily is ride my bike. I can kill two birds with one stone, I save money by not buying gas and I exercise! Economically it makes perfect sense, I have a car and I have no use for it which equals not fueling it which in turn means more money in my pocket to spend on lavish expenditures like cycling shorts, new wheels, snappy jerseys, and chamois balm. Seriously though, I am really militant on where I spend my money, if it’s made in the USA I am all about it, more so if it’s union made and if it’s Michigan made I am hooked all day long. Another aspect to my stance on spending is I like to spend my money in my city. I think it’s a responsibility to support the community and those who live and work in the city which I reside. I am anti “big-box? stores and chains. Commuting and errand running on a bike keeps you a little closer to home I think. Relationship wise I have met some really cool people who also commute and 2 guys I work with have started commuting as well which is just plain rad. Cycling in general has opened many doors for some really good friendships that I would not have had the opportunity to have if it were not for my bike.

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

I am a Professional Firefighter and my commute takes me to all of the deep seedy nooks and crannies of Waterford, Michigan. My typical morning ride/commute takes me through Auburn Hills and Pontiac, Michigan though.

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What kind(s) of bike do you have?

I have a Specialized Tri-Cross, a KHS Solo-One single speed and an ancient Specialized Rockhopper. I am currently using the Specialized Tri-Cross as my commuter bike but I am working on restoring the Rockhopper to use as my commuter bike. I would like to change out all of the components and add racks and panniers. I have my work cut out for me because my plan is to do a complete re-build. It’s kind of hard to shove my groceries into a North Face Backpack and ride home….hard but not impossible. Several times a week I jump on the KHS and commute places but it’s not with any regularity.

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

Outside of the nearly daily wild animal attack…no….I have a pretty boring ride. Just about everything that can happen to you on a bike has happened to me in the past year. I have been hit by a car, crashed on some ice and knocked myself unconscious, crashed after hitting a possum in the dark, been bitten by geese (on numerous occasions) and my standard weekly flat tire. I think there is a pro team out there somewhere that could benefit from my mad tube changing skills, I have it down to a science now.

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

Perhaps I am different since I started riding disgusting amounts daily when I was trying to get into shape. People would see me on the roads all over the place all the time riding. It became very “Forest Gump? like seeing me out on the road somewhere at all hours of the day and night. It does not really surprise anyone when I tell them I have gone weeks without starting up my car. They mostly give me that look that says “You really are a nut-job aren’t you?? When you have been getting that “you’re crazy? look your entire life though it’s really nothing out of the ordinary, you really get used to it. I do get a lot of questions from people that are interested in starting to commute by bike though which is a good thing. They see what kind of results I got from cycling and commuting and it adds validity to my claims that cycling is really good for you. Like I said two guys I work with commute a lot right now and love it.

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

I am as a matter of fact and recommend all cyclists get active in one. I am a member of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and recently I have discovered the Michigan Safe Routes to School Program. Those are the groups that I let speak for me on occasion however I generally make a nuisance of myself to the local elected officials I firmly believe that you have the best opportunity to change the world by starting in your own town. Lately I have been on a letter writing campaign inquiring why the money budgeted for a trail network in my city was never used for a trail network. … and just what in the world happened to that money? I find the conditions of the roads and paths in South-East Michigan completely appalling. I sit and laugh at the struggles that the riders have on the Paris-Roubaix Race….you think cobbles are bad? Try riding 40 miles on Michigan roads homeboy! We have such a huge car culture in Michigan that it is going to take serious hard work to get anywhere with cycling. We do not have bike lanes, our paths and sidewalks blow, and it’s a dangerous proposition to attempt to ride on the road. When I buy tubes I usually buy them by the dozen because of all of the flats I get. Things need to change and they needed to change decades ago. There is such an overwhelming attitude here of “We build the cars and we are going to drive the cars!? We are slowly getting there with the rails to trails program but we are very behind.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

Yes, two things, in my line of work I have had the misfortune of witnessing the effects of some really serious car-vs-bicycle accidents. Please wear your helmets and make yourself as visible as possible even in broad daylight. Secondly, if I (the former 300 pound chain smoker) can commute by bike wherever I go so can you; get out there and do it, it will make you feel really good. Thanks for listening to my ranting!

Thanks for submitting your profile, Gene! Check out Gene’s blog at: http://100poundsago.wordpress.com/, and stay tuned for our next profile in a few days…we’ve got a lot in the hopper.

More “Independence From Oil” Rides Scheduled For This Sunday

Despite some weather setbacks on the first “Independence From Oil” ride here in Tampa, the event was pretty successful in getting the word out. Here’s some coverage from one of the local news outlets.

Now, other cities in the Tampa Bay area are joining in. Check out the (rather lengthy) press release for four other rides scheduled for Sunday, August 15th:

TAMPA, FL (Aug. 9, 2010) — Last week BP finally succeeded in plugging its blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Sealing the well, however, won’t repair the massive environmental damage that has been done to the Gulf, and it won’t solve the other problems related to America’s addiction to oil. To emphasize that fact, and the fact that bicycle commuting has never led — and never will lead — to oil spills that foul our oceans and beaches, local cycling advocates, joined by Tampa BayCycle and SWFBUD (South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers), have declared Sunday, August 15, 2010, “Independence from Oil Day 2.”

Like the first Independence from Oil Day this past 4th of July, the goal is to promote the environmental (and other) benefits of using bicycles for transportation. This one, however, will be much larger, a true Tampa Bay area event, featuring simultaneous rides starting from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa, USF’s Tampa campus, Coachman Park in Clearwater, and the Pier in St. Petersburg.

All the rides will start at 8 a.m., but participants* should arrive at the starting points no later than 7:45 a.m. Since the theme of the event is “independence from oil,” participants are encouraged to ride their bicycles from home to the starting points. To find more bike-friendly routes, people can use the bicycle directions feature on Google Maps. (See below for specific ride information and links to route maps.)

While the organizers of this event believe strongly in the benefits of bicycle commuting, the recent tragic death of retired admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. is a stark reminder of the risks. Therefore, we have also declared August 15th “Bicyclist Safety Day,” and we call on both local and state governments to make Florida’s roads safer by adding more bike-friendly infrastructure, such as bike lanes, multi-use paths and trails, sharrows, and “share the road” signs.

We also call on the media to help keep pressure on government officials to make our roads safer. And we ask them to help raise public awareness by doing more reporting on the issue of bicyclist safety, rather than just reporting the latest traffic fatality or injury. For instance, they could remind their viewers and readers of the 3-foot passing law and that motorists need to watch out for cyclists and pedestrians before making turns.

Finally, since knowledge is a cyclist’s best protection, the organizers will offer some printed copies of bike safety literature to the participants of each ride. (The supply is limited, however.) We also urge cyclists to make use of bike safety resources on the internet. One of the best is the Florida DOT’s online version of Florida Bicycling Street Smarts. Tampa BayCycle has links to many other resources.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make the roads totally safe for bicyclists and pedestrians — or for motorists. Accidents will always happen. Our hope, however, is that by working together, government, media, and advocates can help prevent some needless injuries and deaths in the future.

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SPECIFIC RIDE INFORMATION

Downtown Tampa Rides. Starting place: Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 600 N. Ashley Dr., 33602. Pace: 12-14 mph.

The shorter ride (route map) will be about 11 miles long and will go down scenic Bayshore Blvd. to Ballast Point Park, then head back to downtown. Contact: Karen Kress, 813-221-3686, KKress@tampasdowntown.com

The longer ride (route map) will be about 24.5 miles long and will also go to Ballast Point Park, then west on Gandy Blvd. and across the Gandy Bridge, turning back after reaching the Pinellas side. Contact: Margaret Shepherd, 813-254-8882, shema711@verizon.net

(Thanks to City Bike Tampa, 212 E. Cass Street, for its generous support in offering to provide some refreshments for the participants of the downtown Tampa rides.)

USF Ride. Starting place: Near the Botanical Gardens, 12210 USF Pine Dr., Tampa, 33620. Pace: 12-14 mph. This ride (route map), led by the USF Bicycle Club, will be about 21.5 miles long and will go to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa, then head back to USF. Contact: Jessica Brenner, jlbrenne@mail.usf.edu

Clearwater Ride. Starting place: Coachman Park, 301 Drew St., 33759. Pace: 10-12 mph. This ride (route map) will be about 18.6 miles long and will go to the Pinellas Trail, head north on the trail to the Honeymoon Island spur trail, west on the spur trail across St. Joseph Sound to the entrance of Honeymoon Island State Park, then head back. Contact: Chip Haynes, 727-464-8200, chaynes@pinellascounty.org

St. Petersburg Ride. Starting place: The Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE, 33701. This ride (route map) will be about 28 miles long and will go up to Gandy Blvd. and head east across the Gandy Bridge, turning back after reaching the Hillsborough side. Contact: Jose Menendez, 813-598-1031, linksmaster@netzero.net

In case of rain in the area on the morning of the 15th, the rides will be rescheduled for a later date.
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*All participants in this event assume responsibility for their own actions and safety. By participating, they agree to absolve all organizers and sponsors of the event of all blame and liability for any harm, injury, or loss that may result from participating in the event. All bicyclists must wear a bicycle helmet and ride a bicycle in good operating condition. They are also encouraged to bring spare inner tubes, snacks, and plenty of water.

We’re looking forward to hearing how each of these rides turns out…and I’m praying for better weather than the last time.

The Backlash Against Bicycles…

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of downright wacky stories in the news…a backlash against the growing bicycle “culture” in the U.S.

First, the casino town of Black Hawk, Colorado has banned bicycles from most of its streets despite an outcry from national news organizations and a number of cycling advocacy groups. Next, the town of St. Charles, Missouri proposed a similar ban on its roads. Currently, the St. Charles City Council has tabled the proposal, but will revisit it next week. Not to be outdone, the city of Charleston, South Carolina proposed to ban bicycle parking within its downtown…luckily, this proposal was crushed by a vocal opposition.

And now today I got a number of emailed article links (thanks to Jim and Phil and the five or six others who alerted me to this) concerning some knucklehead named Dan Maes in Colorado who claims that Denver’s mayor is pushing a vast UN-backed bicycle conspiracy upon the city there.

I’m left scratching my head and wondering what the heck is going on? I mean, it’s fairly common knowledge that transportational cycling and pedestrian-friendly streets do wonders for the liveability of an area — helping to reduce traffic congestion, improving the health of residents and eliminating a lot of greenhouse gases from the environment. And I’m the first to admit that bicycle/pedestrian advocates aren’t always that subtle when pitching the benefits…many of us approach the subject with an almost religious fervor that can be off-putting to others. But why do you suppose there is this backlash going on? Any thoughts? We’d love to hear your insights on these developments in the comments area below.

Mission Workshop Vandal Cargo Backpack Review

I’ve been testing the Mission Workshop Vandal Cargo Backpack for the last few months. Before I get into the details of the review, below is some information regarding the bag.

The Vandal

The meat and potatoes of this bag is that you can carry anything from meat to potatoes and all food groups in between, in a weatherproof and flawlessly constructed example of what is rapidly setting the urban backpack standard.

* 3 weatherproof compartments
* 2 external accessory pockets
* Expanding cargo compartment
* Messenger bag durability
* Water-resistant urethane coated zippers
* Rugged internal frame
* Made in America with a lifetime warranty

Dimensions – Compact
Measures – 15” x 21” x 6”
Volume – 1,800 cu. in. / 30 L / 6.75 Gallons
Dimensions – Expanded
Measures – 15” x 21” x 12”
Volume – 4,000 cu. in. / 65 L / 15 Gallon
Price: $239

I’ve been using this bag for just about everything I need a big bag for. I’ve spent countless miles with it on my bike whether I am going to and from work or picking up some groceries; I have also used the Vandal for a recent camping trip. I’ve always preferred backpacks to carry my stuff while commuting, so when the opportunity to review the Vandal came up, I jumped on it.


One of my favorite features of the Vandal is its pretty green color. It’s definitely a nice contrast against a busy scene of cars in traffic. This is good because everyone knows that visibility is a bike commuter’s best friend.

The Vandal has 4 large compartments that can host your clothing, food, shoes, and beer. I was able to separate my shoes from my clothes, which is nice because I don’t want either of them to touch during transport. For one, I don’t want any dirt from my shoes to get on my clothes, and I wouldn’t want my clothes to smell like my feet. In my previous bag, I’d have to wrap up my shoes with a plastic bag before putting them in.

In the compartment close to my back, my 17″ laptop and charger called it home with room to spare.
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The Vandal offers wide straps with multiple height adjustments for the chest strap.

Mission Workshop claims the Vandal is water resistant. Since I didn’t see any rain during the time that I was testing the bag, I decided to call on the help of my garden hose. I set it to a nice shower-like spray and made sure the bag was thoroughly soaked. Just to let you know, I kept the hose on for about 5 minutes.

…like water off a duck’s back

When I opened the zippers I found the inside contents of the bag were nice and dry. Good job Vandal!

When I first learned about Mission Workshop and the Vandal, I thought, “that’s a nice backpack.” Though it has some great features like the water resistant material and zippers and multi location cargo holders, I was more impressed with the fact that they offer a Lifetime Warranty. Yeah I know that the $239 sticker price is a bit steep, but you’re paying for a good quality bag and based on their warranty, you can pretty much do no wrong and they’ll still fix it for you. Well, there are exceptions, but you’ll have to read about it.

Let me get into the adjustibility of the Vandal. As I’ve mentioned you have a chest strap that can be position higher or lower to provide a better fit for the rider. You also receive the standard height adjustment on the shoulder straps. What stuck out the most about this back pack is that it had additional straps to either tilt in/out the bag to make it easier to carry. This feature is pretty helpful especially if you’re carrying a heavier load. Personally I like having my cargo as close to my back as possible.

Though I’m 5’7″ the Vandal fit me just fine. But if you were any shorter, this bag might be a bit big on you. But don’t worry, Mission Workshop has a smaller bag — actually its their medium version called the Rambler.

When it comes to stability, the Vandal is pretty darn secure. If you’ve ever carried cargo on your back that cause you to use your bag’s full capacity, then you’ll understand that when you’re on your bike taking off from a red light, your backpack will sway back and forth. The Vandal was pretty stable when I had a full load in the bag. I expanded it to make sure that all my stuff fit. To prevent it from swaying side to side when sprinting out of the intersection, I previously adjusted the tilt straps and I also adjust these straps below to make sure that my cargo was secured in its place. You see the orange part of the clip in the photo below? That right there is spring loaded and there’s enough tension on it to prevent your buckles from slipping out of place.

Last but not least, “does the bag keep pointy objects from touching my back?” Absolutely. The “back” part of the bag is reinforced with some sort of rugged frame to prevent your machetes or bike parts from poking you.

For the commuter who prefers a backpack over panniers or a messenger bag, a bag like the Mission Workshop Vandal would be a good fit for you. It’s full of features, compartments and if you can get over the the initial sticker shock of the bag, you end up with a product that is designed to last longer than most cars on the road. I gotta be honest with you, it’s their warranty that sold me on the Vandal. Nowadays, its pretty rare to see a “lifetime warranty” on products. Some may have 30-90 days or even up to 2 years. But the words “lifetime” was music to my ears. If anything, just consider it an investment.

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

Spot Brand Hires Sky Yaeger

We don’t post press releases too often here on Bikecommuters.com…but this one we HAD to share. We’re all huge fans of Sky Yaeger and her work…everything she touches, bike-wise, turns to pure gold. Check this out:

SPOT BRAND HIRES SKY YAEGER

Golden, Colorado—July 8, 2010—Andrew Lumpkin, CEO of Spot Brand bikes announced today that they have hired Sky Yaeger for a newly created position as Senior Product Manager. Yaeger started immediately, working out of a Marin County, California office. The majority owner of Spot Brand is Wayne Lumpkin, having founded Avid in 1991 and, after successfully building the international brand, selling it to SRAM in 2004.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for me, as I have always admired Spot Brand and been a huge fan of Wayne and Andrew. After they acquired Spot Brand I was excited to see where they would take it and I am honored to be joining a company with such legitimate MTB heritage, and now huge potential with the Gates belt-drive system,? Yaeger said.

Yaeger brought some of the first production single-speed mountain bikes to market in the mid-90s, while at Bianchi USA, and spec’d Spot hubs on those first bikes. “I go back with the brand and have always liked the simple, clean design and fun vibe.?

Andrew Lumpkin added, “Sky is a trendsetter in the industry and will be instrumental to Spot Brand’s continued trailblazing of new technologies.?

For the past 4 years Yaeger has been working at Swobo Bikes, which was recently acquired by Santa Cruz Bicycles. She started designing the urban bicycle product line in 2006, and the line-up now includes 10 models currently in production. Before that she was VP of Product Development at Bianchi USA for many years.

The industry veteran will be responsible for a new line of Spot models that will incorporate the Gates belt-drive technology. “I think the future looks bright for alternative drivetrain options. I’ve always believed in simple, elegant solutions to complex problems. The internal hub is an old idea but it’s been my mission, since I designed the Bianchi Milano in 1996, to get more people to appreciate the function and simplicity of internally geared hubs on modern bikes. Add a belt to that and you have an almost perfect drivetrain.?

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(photo by Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious — thanks for letting us borrow it!)