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The struggling cyclist.

Before I explain where I am let me mention where I came from.
I was always an outsider to sports. I had the determination and heart but I never had the raw skill. In golf they use the term L.O.F.T. Google it . Baseball, football, soccer, whatever, I was not really very good. I came into cycling after an injury. It was meant to be rehab for my back. That lead to the idea of commuting. Well, what it would lead to  was an obsession. At my lowest point I was fighting multiple addictions and cycling was what kept me going the streight path. I began racing and riding daily. I would race for a few years for a few teams and even for myself (unattached) when I lacked the fitness to race for a team .

Fast forward 10 years, I’m now married, a father of 3, and I have a dog to boot. In many ways I have what I want. I still have the drive to go out and test myself when I’m riding but there are many weeks that I just can’t ride, some weeks I’m just too tired, and yet others I’m not willing to make the sacrifice to get a ride in.  The fire is still there but the time/motivation/will is at times lacking. I set goals but get confronted with realities. Sure I could ride Saturday but one son has practice and the other has a soccer game. Did I mention my two-year old? So my choices are 4am ride or no ride. I made my choice before I typed it.

I don’t think I’m alone in my position nor do I think I need a small violin playing “sad romance”. What I need is a spark, something to convince myself to ride when it’s difficult to get going . As it turned out that spark that made me want to ride was a ride. That and something I heard on a podcast, something about second degree fun. It’s fun, just not from the idea or start. Like a climb, not really fun as a idea but as you get to the top, you can look back at the climb as a good time. Albeit a miserable, painful, good time .

So what keeps you going? Do you ever need a break or time to miss riding? Are you the type of rider who just wishes they had more time to ride? Let me know as that’s one of my motivations (I love hearing about others passion to ride).

Exploring Beautiful Berlin by Bicycle

When it comes to exploring any capital city of the world, you can be certain of the fact that there is bound to be a large number of cars and buses zipping around the busy streets. Based on this very reason, when one visits such a town as a tourist, they often try to find ways to move around that keep them off of the roads. If you are not travelling far distances on your adventures, then cycling is definitely one of the most enjoyable ways to explore a city, providing the rider with the freedom to go wherever they desire. Berlin has a number of fantastic sites to see, offering a little something for everyone.

Before one can think about stepping foot into the hustle and bustle of the German capital, it is important to first find the perfect accommodation. If you are in it for the full German experience, then you should greatly consider staying in one of the many warm, cosy cottages or villas spread across the city.

With accommodation out of the way, the next step is to decide whether you would prefer to see Berlin through the number of guided bicycle tours available or whether you prefer to spread your wings, hopping out of the nest and enjoying your own creative bicycle routes.

The guided tours allow you to follow set routes that provide the rider with a chance to experience the different sides of Berlin. With a large range of tours offered, you have the choice between visiting well-known sights, such as the Berlin Wall, or tours that focus on more specific subjects such as historical tours and wine routes.

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If making your own paths is more your style, you will be glad to know that Berlin has a fantastic public bike-share system in place. Like many other cities around Europe, this great initiative provides an extremely cost-efficient way to discover what the city has to offer. The process is easy, simply call the hotline provided at the bike-share location, you will then be provided with the unlock code and the bicycle is yours until you are all cycled out. At 1 euro every thirty minute and the handiness of being able to return the bike at any bike-share location, this is truly the future of city tourism.

Book reviews: Last-minute gift ideas for the bicycling reader in your life

I’ve got a backlog of book reviews waiting to be published, so I thought I would combine them into a longer “roundup” — as you well know, books can be a great holiday gift for the two-wheeler in your life. Or, you could always treat yourself to one of these titles. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Bike Porn, Volume 1

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Chris Naylor is the author of Bike Porn, Volume 1 (West Sussex, UK: Summersdale Publishers, Ltd., 2013). In this book, Chris has compiled dozens of high-quality photos of some really spectacular bikes. These photos are juxataposed with cycling-friendly quotes, from notables such as H.G. Wells, Grant Peterson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bob Weir, and many more. It’s a celebration of the craftsmanship and technology of the modern bicycle.

Lots of custom bikes from today’s hot builders are featured, as are components like wheels. The photographs are from many contributors, and all of them display crisp resolution, focusing on subtle details as well as the entire bike. The book is printed on matte-finished, high-quality paper, and serves as a mini “coffee table” book. The tech geek in me wished for more information about some of the bicycles displayed within Bike Porn’s pages, but that’s beyond the scope of the book. This is a good addition to a collection of bicycle design titles, generating inspiration and interest in some really fantastic two-wheeled machines.

The Road Less Taken

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Kathryn Bertine’s The Road Less Taken: Lessons from a Life Spent Cycling (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2014) is a humorous peek into the world of professional women’s bike racing. Kathryn is an accomplished writer, penning features for publications like ESPN, espnW. In addition to her professional racing career with the Wiggle-Honda team, she has also found the time to create documentary films and to write two other cycling memoirs. Most importantly, she is one of the founders of Le Tour Entier, an organization that helped launch La Course, the women’s Tour de France that premiered in the 2014 season.

Kathryn details what it’s like to be a professional cyclist among women’s ranks — the financial struggles, homestays, mechanical issues, and so much else. She approaches her narrative with a large dose of self-deprecating humor, giving a funny and insightful overview of the fairly deplorable state of professional women’s bike racing. Kathryn’s ability to convey her passion for the sport despite the many struggles is refreshing, and she gives a great look into what motivates riders, how they stay focused, and how she was able to overcome adversity during her years as a racer. She finishes off the book with some articles she wrote for other publications, highlighting women’s sports issues and showcasing other female athletes. The book, on the whole, is a bit scattershot — Kathryn tends to jump around a bit in almost a stream-of-consciousness writing style. It works here, though, and I found it to be a very enjoyable read.

The Monuments

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Since I began following bike racing in the mid 1980s, I always had a soft spot for the spring and fall classics, particularly the five races known as “The Monuments”. In Peter Cossin’s book The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), I found a treasure trove of information. Let me just put this out here right now: this is overwhelmingly the best book I’ve read this year, and I read a LOT of books (60-80 a year). I simply could not put this tome down…it is filled with historical accounts, little-known facts, and the origins of the greatest races on the pro calendar.

What are The Monuments, you ask? Well, in order of their placement on the racing calendar, we’ve got Milan-Sanremo (known as “La Primavera” in Italian, their phrase for “spring”). Next up is de Ronde van Vlaanderen, known to English speakers as the Tour of Flanders, referred to by fans as “Vlaanderens mooiste” (Flander’s most beautiful). A week later comes Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North. This one is considered the Queen of the Classics, and legends are born on the cobbles. Next up is La Doyenne (the old lady), cycling’s oldest Monument that most people know as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Rounding out the calendar is the Giro di Lombardia, colloquially known as “The Race of the Falling Leaves”. This last used to mark the end of the pro season, and was a last chance for many cyclists to get a prestigious win for the year.

Peter Cossins addresses each race with incredible detail, from accounts of the first runnings of each race through to modern times. These accounts are amazing in their detail — it is almost as if the author was there, roadside, catching all the breathtaking action of true cycling legends giving their all in these events. Even as a seasoned follower of these races, I learned many details. For example, most fans think Paris-Roubaix is called “Hell of the North” due to the mud, the inclement weather, and the torturous cobbled secteurs. In fact, it was given that nickname just after World War I, when the race traversed areas utterly devastated by the fighting in that brutal conflict.

The Monuments deserves a place in every racing fan’s bookshelf — I simply cannot convey how much I enjoyed reading this title. I even skipped meals in order to finish this thing; it is that compelling.

Faster

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Written by Michael Hutchinson, a professional cyclist with over 50 national titles, Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) gives a detailed examination into the art and science of professional bike racers. Hutchinson presents the information in a way that breaks down complex ideas about physiology, nutrition, and technology into concepts that are easily digested, even for a layperson. In other words, I didn’t have to ask my wife to explain some of the physiological details to me (she’s a medical professional working on her doctorate).

Hutchinson talks about some of the extremes pros go to to eke out those crucial seconds that stand between them and a win (high-altitude simulation tents, anyone?). He delves deeply into laboratory testing, the psychology of successful riders, and many other facets of the sacrifices, black magic, and hard science of the professional athlete’s training regimen. Throughout the book, Hutchinson is not afraid to poke fun at himself or at a lot of the mysteries surrounding extreme athletic preparation. His writing style blends humor with a rich examination of the sport, and it’s been very pleasant to read (so far…I’m not quite finished with the book yet). For the cyclist who also likes to pin on a race number from time to time, this is a valuable addition to a book collection. There are no “secret formulas” on offer here, but much of the information can be used to formulate training game plans all the same.

These four books are available online or at most well-stocked book retailers. Each of them makes a fantastic gift for the bike fan in your life.

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

Review: ArroWhere reflective cycling jacket

Back at Interbike in September, RL ran across the ArroWhere company. Their product line “caught our eye”, as they say — with bright colors and loads of reflective accents for nighttime safety.

We reached out the the ArroWhere company and they sent us a pre-production sample of their Solid Arrow Reflective Jacket to try out. Remember, this is a pre-production sample, so minor details have changed from the actual version for sale. We’ll get into those changes in a bit.

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First, a bit about the jacket directly from the manufacturer’s website:

-Waterproof and breathable polyester fabric
-Top quality 3M reflective material
-Patent pending ArroWhere arrow design visible at night at least 1/4 mile away
-Lower tail
-Reflective panels and striping
-Fleece lined collar and pockets
-Waterproof zippers
-Zippered armpit vents

The ArroWhere jacket has an extended tail to help fight off splashes. The arms are extra long to provide coverage when stretched out on the bike — a perfect length for me. The jacket has a fine mesh lining to help it breathe. I got a size medium to test, and while it feels a little bit large when I’m standing around, it conforms nicely to me when I’m actually on the bike. There is room for underlayers, too.

The jacket has a fleece-lined collar with a protective zipper garage that prevents throat gouges when it’s zipped up all the way. The handwarmer pockets are lined in the same luxurious fleece, too — great for when your hands need a quick warmup. All the zippers are waterproof and easy to manipulate on or off the bike, including the generously long pit zips for venting excess heat:

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The cuffs have a hook-and-loop adjustment system that snugs them up nicely to prevent wind intrusion:

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This jacket is LOADED with reflective accents. The large arrow on the back gives other road users a good visual indication of what to do when approaching, and the arrow is available pointing right for users in the UK and other areas where driving on the left is the norm. The rest of the reflective trim catches the light nicely. I would have liked reflective cuffs here, though, to help make my arm-motion directional signals more visible out on the roads.

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Now, about the changes in the final jacket: I spoke to Khyle Pinkman, the founder of the company. He said that the production jacket fabric demonstrates better waterproofing than the sample we tested, and also is nicer in terms of overall fabric quality. I did not get to try this out in the wet (yet), so I can’t make any claims about the fabric on this sample.

In addition to safety yellow, the jacket is available in high-visibility orange and in navy blue. It is available in sizes from S to XXL, and female riders rejoice, because there is a wide range of women’s sizes, too! The jacket retails for $129.95, which is right at the price point many similar jackets with fewer features live at. That makes it a good value in my book.

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For my purposes, the jacket is nearly perfect as-is. It helps keep me warm, there’s room for clothing underneath, and the reflective accents are effective at night. Add in the details like the fleece linings and trim and we’ve got a winner here. As I mentioned, if there was more reflective at the cuffs, I’d call it PERFECT.

Check out the full range of ArroWhere jackets by visiting their website. They make reflective vests and backpack covers with the same quality and patent-pending reflective design for additional nighttime safety and visibility on dark streets.

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