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Tag Archive: bike commuting

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.

berlin bicycles

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.

The Realities of Biking to Work

There are lots of reasons to trade in your car and make the switch to biking to work every day. The most basic benefits of the switch are outlined in this post from last March. Of course, knowing why you should bike into work is a lot different than knowing how to bike into work every day. The reality is much different than most new cyclists imagine. Here are the biggest obstacles that most cyclists face with their morning (and evening) commute and how to handle them.

Traffic

The relationship you have to the drivers on the road around you is going to depend as much on where you live as much as it does on how you operate your new engine-less vehicle.

The best thing you can do (because even in cycle friendly cities like Portland, the relationship with other drivers can be tense and irritating) is to follow the rules of the road. Remember that a bicycle is considered a vehicle and, as such, you need to ride like you’re driving a car, not like you’re walking. Stay in your lane, keep up with the flow of traffic, follow your local traffic laws.

Visibility

While most drivers know to keep an eye out for cyclists, making sure you are visible is important. Don’t just pop on your helmet and head out to work expecting that you are automatically visible. The special reflective gear that is sold to cyclists is not a racket. You’ll want to make sure that your bike is equipped with the right lights and reflectors. You’ll also want to make sure that your clothing is easily visible. This could mean sewing reflectors on to your coat or buying special coats, pants and shoes that have reflective and glow in the dark capability built into them. You might feel a little goofy at first, but the last thing you need is to blend into your surroundings!

The Bodily Challenges

Riding a bike is great for your health and, yes, it can reduce your dependence on the gym. At the same time, the repetitive motion of pedaling, the posture your bike requires, etc. can lead to some new aches and pains in your muscles, especially when you are first starting out. You can also expect chafing to be a constant threat and worry.

To deal with these changes, treat each ride as the workout that it is. Warm up and stretch first. Make sure that you are outfitted correctly. Therafirm recommends wearing compression shorts to help wick moisture and prevent chafing during the ride.

Weather

Bad weather is a real problem for people who commute by bicycle. Rain and snow and extreme temperatures can all make your commute difficult.

The best way to deal with this is to wear weather appropriate gear while you are on your bicycle and pack your nicer clothing into your bag so that you can change when you get to work. This way you can stay warm (or cool) and dry on the commute and don’t have to worry about showing up for an important meeting looking bedraggled. Remember to adjust your commute for the time you’ll need to change clothes!

Storage

Most of us don’t travel to work with just our bodies. We have wallets, laptops, phones and other gear that must be accommodated. Fitting these things into a simple front bicycle basket isn’t always possible (or very good for the items you’re transporting). According to the BTA, Some things can be carried in a backpack that you wear during the commute. Another option is to fix a rear basket or fixtures that will accommodate saddle bags or panniers.

Remember to be patient! Adjusting to cycling life will take time. You won’t get everything perfect on that first ride. Take your time, do your research, talk to the pros at your local bike shop of send us your questions: info@bikecommuters.com when you need help. You’ll get there!

Giant LIV Alight All City Quick Review

This is the 2015 Giant LIV Alight All City commuter bicycle. What makes this a “commuter?” Well, based on years of running Bikecommuters.com and knowing what our readers consider what a “REAL” commuter bike is, this one takes the cake. For example, it has the ever so important set of fenders and rear rack. In addition it has 700c wheels. Further more the cockpit is equipped with ergonomic grips for added comfort.
giant liv alight all city
You can find all the SPEC info HERE. However, let me high-light a few things that we liked. 24speed drive train offers a wide range of gear selection. From fast flat terrain all the way up to the steepest climbs, you should be able to ride it with the Alight.

Hydroformed Aluxx-aluminum
bikecommuters liv giant
Frame and fork uses Giant’s ALUXX-grade aluminum. This allows the Alight to have a light feel to it. To be honest with you, we didn’t get to weigh it, but when it was picked up by hand to see how heavy it was, we were impressed.

The essentials of a commuter bike. Fenders and rear rack.
giant alight bikecommuters.com
The Alight was designed for the female commuter. Geometry set for this bike has women riders in mind. What does all that mean?

Liv bikes, apparel and gear are designed specifically for women. Liv’s team of female designers and engineers consider all aspects of a woman’s unique strengths and physical characteristics to create the only complete product collection designed solely for women. Examples of this include: Women’s-specific fit based on global body dimension studies Optimized stem lengths, handlebar width and drop, and crank arm length Shorter brake reach Comfortable saddle designed for female pelvis and hip shapes Liv ApparelFit System with multiple fit options.

giant commuter bikes

So what’s the price on this commuter friendly bike? Most Giant retailers will have it around $575, and based on our previous research, $500-$600 is what most commuting consumers would be willing to spend on a new commuter bike. But how does it ride? Like a dream! The 700c wheels make for a smoother and fast ride, while the 24spd drive train provides the rider a plethora of gearing choices. Shifting between gears are smooth, all thanks to the buttery Shimano gruppo Further more, the aesthetics of this bike is spot on. The color pops, yet it doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME!!!

Oh one more thing, just because this is considered a “women specific design” bike, it doesn’t mean that a man can’t enjoy it. I really did enjoy my time with the Alight All City. It’s a great riding bike and it really could serve a rider dual purposes. Use it to commute with and use it on the weekends to go on a long ride through the country side. It’s comfortable and fast, which happens to be a great combo!

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Review: Virtue Encore 5M

Over the last few weeks I’ve been testing (with some help from our very own Ghostrider, whose profoundly enlightening viewpoints will be revealed later on in this post!) the Virtue Encore 5M from Virtue Bikes. Virtue is a San Diego-based company offering stylish city and transportation-oriented bikes at affordable price points. The Encore 5M is their standard men’s frame with a 5-speed Sturmey Archer hub.

Google+ auto-edits FTW! This bike looks right at home in an “old” photo.

Right off the bat, this bike gave me some difficulties… on my first ride, the rear hub locked up suddenly and I almost got dumped in a ditch! Thankfully I had only gone a quarter mile from home… but after inspection, I was unable to determine the issue with the hub. My LBS took a quick look at it, and advised me to request a new wheel from Virtue – so I did, and a few days later I got the new wheel. After a couple weeks delay on my end (family vacation etc.) I was able to install the new wheel (though with a little grumbling as the new wheel was sans rim tape and I had to install my own “rim tape”). A few more tweaks, and it was finally ready to ride!

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This is more like it.

Where is my hand supposed to go??

First up: this is a nice-looking bike. Second up: whoever made the decision on where to put the shifter either has no right hand or never tried riding the bike. Not kidding… check this out:

Yeah. So I fixed that. Nothing too tough… just required moving things around a little bit. The way I’ve got it now still looks fine (IMO) but is actually functional, and allows me to put both hands on the bar!

This type of issue, where looks trump function, seems to extend through some of the component choices on the rest of the bike. The grips look great, but the cushion is really soft, so after a few miles my hands were getting uncomfortable because of the pressure from the bar. Maybe I just have wimpy hands… but I don’t usually have that issue.

Similarly, the saddle looks nice, but after about 5 miles on it various parts of me start to go numb! Not cool! Finally, the flat pedals are single-sided; they look nice, but there’s not really a good excuse to have ones that aren’t double-sided on a city bike.

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Looks are deceiving, this is painful!

All of that said… the bike itself rides pretty nicely. The (chromoly) steel frame absorbs bumps the way you’d expect it to, and the 700×32 tires give enough cushion to smooth out small bumps – which is good, because I think that’s about the max volume tire you can fit in this frame (for the rear at least) – I had to deflate the tire to get the new rear wheel on, and the clearance between the tire and the fender is pretty minimal. The Sturmey Archer 5-speed internal is a nice touch for gearing – that range covers pretty much anything I’d want in a city bike. I will caveat that I never got the shifting to work exactly as it should, but I’m going to put the blame there on my lack of experience adjusting internal hub shifters. I would assume that if this came from a shop, it would be properly adjusted and work nicely. The drum brakes worked pretty nicely too. I tend to prefer the most powerful stoppers I can get, and that’s definitely not drum brakes, but I was able to stop in reasonably short distances with these – pretty comparable with a lot of road-style rim brakes.

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Drum brakes!

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The stubborn drivetrain

Having an internal hub shifter and drum brakes makes for simple lines and simple maintenance – but there is one negative to all of that, which is that if you get a flat while riding this, you’re probably not fixing it right where you are. That is, unless you’re packing (for the front) 15mm and 17mm box wrenches, or (for the rear) 15mm and 10mm box wrenches and a philips screwdriver. This of course is in addition to the normal flat-fixing tools! Not really an issue specific to this bike, just something you might want to be aware of if you haven’t thought about it!

So what do I think of the Encore 5M? Well, in the end I think there’s a pretty reasonable platform here that could be made better with some judicious part swaps. If this was my bike, the previously mentioned grips, seat, and pedals would all get changed out right away – some of that is personal preference of course, though I happen to think my opinions are very reasonable! I’d definitely change out the stem too. The handlebars are pretty close in, resulting in a riding position that’s very upright and occasionally knee-endangering. I think a slightly longer stem would help there. Also, the current stem and bar combo seems less than ideal – I had trouble tightening the bolts down hard enough to prevent bar rotation. In the end I got it where it won’t rotate most of the time, but I can’t tighten it any further because I was starting to strip out the bolts. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of component quality or just making sure the stem/bar are an ideal fit – but I’d want to make it better, and a new stem would likely do the trick.

I’d definitely want to add a rear rack (there are spots to mount one). It would be nice to have a kickstand too – which some of Virtue’s advertisements say is included with the bike, but which I didn’t get with this bike (so maybe I was just unlucky?). Having said all that, none of these changes are very expensive, and I always assume I’m going to want to change out the seat (and possibly other contact points) on any bike I purchase just out of personal preference.

The Virtue Encore 5M has a MSRP of $599, which puts it on the more affordable end price-wise in comparison to other bikes with steel frames and internal shifters. If you like the looks of the frame but don’t need the SA hubs, some of their other offerings come in much lower – $290-$400 for single speed and conventionally-geared bikes with up to 7 speeds.

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Jack’s Thoughts:

I agree with everything Matt said about the strengths and weaknesses of the Virtue. It’s a stylish machine, no doubt, and it definitely has the foundation for a really nice and versatile urban machine. However, some of the parts choices left me cold, starting with the one-sided pedals. A proper citybike should have grippy platform pedals with tread on both sides so you can just get on and go.

The drum brakes were better than other drums I’ve tried in the past — I definitely don’t care for them, in general, as I feel they don’t have enough braking “oomph” for my taste. I tried locking up the rear drum on the Virtue, to no avail. Still, the SA drums seemed to be a bit more powerful than the Shimano drums and rollers I’ve used previously.

I did feel cramped on the Virtue — the swept-back handlebar and the upright stem meant putting the ends of the bars right in my lap. Getting out of the saddle to pedal became a real chore because of that…awkward and unstable. I would like a more stretched-out riding position; that would be remedied easily by a stem swap to something with a bit more extension. This would stretch the rider out some, but not sacrifice the mostly-upright stance such a citybike should have.

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I didn’t like the saddle, either — I like a flat saddle with no cutout, and the cutout on this particular saddle felt like it was taking a cookie cutter chunk out of my nether regions.

In general, I commend Virtue for putting out a line of bikes that is affordable and stylish. I can’t help but think, though, that the company is perhaps too married to their price points, and quality/component spec/overall build suffers a bit for it. None of the parts Matt and I gripe about here in this review are expensive to swap out, but I’d like the Virtue folks to take a deeper look and find more suitable parts to specify for their various bikes.

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