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Tag Archive: bike commuting

Intro and Mid-term Review: Dahon Mariner

So a few weeks ago I accepted delivery of Dahon’s Mariner D7 folding bike for review! I’ve been considering adding a folder to the stable, so I was pretty stoked to get the chance to take this for a spin or 20. Because I’ve been all over the place and crazy busy, I’m wrapping the out-of-the-box and midterm reviews into one here, so get your coffee and settle back!

Smaller box than usual…

First off though, some specs. The Mariner weighs about 26 lbs, which for the functionality (including folding) and price point (MSRP $599) is pretty decent. It comes equipped with a rear rack, integrated bungee (snaps into rack), kickstand, and SKS fenders. Sounds like a good fit for Bikecommuters.com! Components are mostly not big brand names, but appear solid. V-brakes provide some good stopping power, and the 7-speed drivetrain provides a decent range.

Out of the box, the Mariner was easy to set up – it came folded and without instructions, but thanks to my insane skills reasonable mechanical aptitude I figured everything out pretty quickly. Unfolding time is somewhere around 20 -30 seconds, folding time a bit longer depending on how it’s been set up. Everything is adjustable – the seatpost, stem, handlebar angle, etc. – and depending on how the handlebars have been situated they may need to be adjusted before folding (they fit in between the two wheels when folded). The seatpost always needs to come down, because the bottom portion of it also functions as support for the bike when its folded. Pedals also fold in, and there is a clip that holds the two axles together when folded; it’s not tremendously strong, just enough so the whole thing doesn’t come open unexpectedly. Once folded, the front wheel still rolls so you can move it around a bit but it’s a little awkward. Carrying it by the seat isn’t that difficult though.

So how does it ride? Pretty well! It took me a few minutes to adjust to the small wheels – they’re definitely much more responsive to small steering adjustments than my usual 700c or 29er wheels. Otherwise, everything was pretty easy: the ride is comfortable, the brakes work well, the shifting works well, and there’s really not an awful lot to think about. The only caveat there is that because everything is so adjustable, it takes a bit to figure out where to set it all to be comfortable – and then to figure it out again the next time. I’d definitely recommend making some sort of marks on it for preferred setup.

All folded.

Because I hadn’t gotten much opportunity to ride it before heading out on a family vacation to Maine, I managed to squeeze the Mariner into the back of the car (hey, no bike rack!) and got a couple rides in while we were vacationing – including one to the grocery store, which was a (very hilly) 9 mile ride each way. I went with my brother-in-law, who was on his Surly Long Haul Trucker, and found out some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Mariner relative to a 700c commuting/touring bike. First, the gear range on the Mariner, while more than adequate for most cities (maybe an exception for San Francisco, but I assume all bikers in San Francisco have massive quads and can deal), was a little less than ideal for coastal Maine hills. I ran out of gears on both ends – so there was a little walking up some particularly steep hills, and then some coasting down the other side of those same hills when I got to spinning too fast in the top end. Standing and cranking really isn’t an option on the Mariner – the geometry makes it so it’s pretty much a seated-only bike. I also have to note that especially when loaded down with groceries in the back, the front end felt very light and twitchy and going downhill quickly was just a little hairy! So adding a top gear probably wouldn’t be very beneficial – but I thought having an 8-speed with a lower low end wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Finally, we both noticed that I was working a lot harder on some of the hills than he was on the LHT – mostly just a function of the wheel size and gear range, I think – but possibly also related to pedaling position (the Mariner is much more relaxed).

Loaded down with groceries.


In terms of carrying capacity, the Nuvo-brand rear rack has a 10kg (22 lbs) max load printed on it, which seems pretty silly to me. Probably a liability thing, but if there’s a rack, I’m going to want to put more than 22 lbs on it! I’m pretty sure what I carried was closer to 30 or 40, and I’d bet a decent amount of money it could take 50+ lbs without too much issue. The Ortlieb panniers I used were a little bit of a tight fit – I had to shove them pretty far back to get adequate heel clearance – but they did work. I’m sure there are other panniers that would work a bit better if you were buying specifically for this bike.

Other quibbles? I’d like to see some bottle cage bosses somewhere on the frame. I didn’t particularly like their choice of grips – I’ve been riding without gloves since I see this as being targeted for riders not all kitted out, and have found that when my hands get sweaty the grips get slippery – not good! Also, the drivetrain was a bit noisier than I prefer when in high or low gears (though functional).

Those nits aside, I’m very much liking the Mariner. It wouldn’t be my choice for a lengthy commute, but it seems quite reasonable for shorter rides and I’ve been pretty happy with how it packs down. I’ll be putting in a final report later, and Ghost Rider will hopefully be adding in his impressions after he’s had a chance to ride it.

All set to ride

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The problem with Census data

By now, many of you have heard that the U.S. Census released new data (based on 2012 surveys) recently that shows bike commuting up by around 60% over the past decade. This sounds great, doesn’t it?

But seasoned bike advocate and author Elly Blue has some concerns about the way those numbers are collected, interpreted, and presented. Like her, I’ve often felt that the Census data collection on bicycle travel left a lot to be desired, and Blue sums up her concerns very eloquently in a recent Bicycling Magazine blog post:

New census numbers are out for 2012 (press release). Any time you hear anything in the next few years about the number of people who bicycle in the US or in a specific city and state, there is a very good chance the numbers will be from this survey. Proceed with caution: They don’t necessarily mean what we want them to.


Spin on over, give it a read, and then come back to tell us what you think — do you sometimes feel that bike commuters get under-represented? Are there more of us than the numbers show? Any other thoughts — we’d love to hear them!

Commuter Profile: Bruce Wright

 

Note: We’re pleased to offer an intro to Bruce Wright, one of the leading advocates for better bicycling facilities, policies, and education in the greater Washington, D.C. area (and specifically Fairfax County, VA). Bruce’s advocacy work on the board of WABA and as chairman of FABB is very nearly a full-time job at this point, so we appreciate him taking the time to answer some questions for us!

brucewright

Bruce Wright. Photo by Shannon Ayres, www.shannonayres.com

How long have you been a bike commuter?
I started commuting by bike on a regular basis in 1979 and have been doing so almost daily since then (34 years).

Why did you start riding your bike to work and how long is/was your commute?
There were several reasons why I started to bike to work. I understood the health, economic, and environmental benefits of biking and since I had a short, 3 mile commute, I decided to bike instead of buying a second car and driving. I could commute by bus when necessary, which was very rare, maybe 3 or 4 times a year.

How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?
Since I retired from working full time my bike commuting to work has transformed to using a bike for almost all other local trips. I’m 64 years old and have been able to maintain the same weight as when I was in high school. I take no prescription drugs other than for minor medical procedures and usually only visit the doctor once a year for a physical. I think I’m a happier, more well-adjusted person because I get regular exercise by riding. My wife and I enjoy riding together as well. One caveat; I now use sunscreen whenever I go outside. Bike commuters are exposed to the sun more than others and we need to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of UV rays.

What do you do for a living and in what city/town do you bike commute?
When I worked full time I was a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA. Since I left the Survey in 1999 I’ve worked part time in several different jobs: as a legislative aide to a local politician, as a bike shop employee (at bikes@vienna), as a bicycle skills teacher, and now as the head of a local bicycle advocacy non-profit (volunteer). I’ve made a conscious decision to work in places where I can easily bike.

Bruce (3rd from left) with other FABB members at Bike to Work Day 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

Lately I’ve been mostly using a Brompton folding bike. It has six gears, fenders and a rack and a front carrier block that holds a large bag. The bike is great for taking on Metrorail and bus and is a fun way to get around. For longer commutes or trips where I need to haul more stuff I use a Bruce Gordon touring bike outfitted with fenders, front (occasionally) and rear rack, and large panniers. I used that bike to travel cross country in 1999. I also own a recumbent tandem that I ride with my wife, a beater bike for parking at Metro, and a short wheelbase recumbent that doesn’t get much use these days.

Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?
I’ve helped many motorists who have car problems. When traveling on a bike it’s harder to pass by someone in need.

Bruce at the 2012 Fairfax Bike Summit

What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?
Most people have never tried riding a bike to work so the concept is foreign to them. I tell them that it’s easier than they think and that they should try it one day. It takes a little planning but most people can easily ride farther than they think. Bike to Work Day is a great time to encourage co-workers to try biking. I know many people who rode for the first time on Bike to Work Day and have continued to bike commute at least some of the time since then.

How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?
I’m on the Board of Directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and chair of their advocacy committee. I’m also one of the founders and now chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), a local volunteer non-profit advocating for better bike conditions and policies in Fairfax County, VA. I’m also a member of the League of American Bicyclists and a League Cycling Instructor.

Anything else that you want to share with us?
The world would be a healthier, happier place if more people took short trips by bike.

 

Review: Dual Action Bike Seat Test Ride

My fellow contributors were more than happy to let me take a crack at the funky Dual Action Seat #400 as my first equipment review.  When I pulled the funny looking Dual Action Seat out of its box, I thought, “this is definitely newbie hazing.” The aptly named seat has two independently moving butt flaps that rotate up and down as you pedal, and the whole thing swivels right to left with the movement of your hips. This is definitely unlike any bike seat I’ve encountered.

Dual Action Bike Seat

The Dual Action Seat is designed as an alternative for riders looking to relieve issues associated with the traditional horn-shape bike saddle. The roomy five-inch-wide seat pads are separated by a two-inch gap intended to reduce pressure on the tailbone and groin area, and the rotating action to limit hip pain. I read up on Dual Action’s website about perineal pressure, and dudes, penile paralysis associated with a traditional saddle is scary stuff!  If this seat helps minimize or eliminate damage to fella bike riders’ delicates, I don’t care how funny looking it is.

Dual Action Bike Seat 2

Dual Action Bike Seat 1

I may not be the target user, but I do love a wide, cushy seat, so I was stoked to give the Dual Action a little, uh, action. Though the seat is geared toward touring or stationary bikes, with a few minor tweaks of an Allen wrench, it can be swapped in for any bike with a straight stem 7/8″ diameter seat post. Including my trusty steed, Roy the Roady.

Emily allen wrenching DAS

It was relatively easy to install. And by easy, I mean it is literally just adjusting two Allen bolts. A little too easy. I didn’t trust the simple directions included with the seat, so I managed to put it on backwards my first go.

DABS Instructions

The movement of the butt flappers seat pads is a bit strange at first and I spent a while finessing the proper installation angle.

Dual Action Bike Seat 3

Roy with DABS

Roy with DABS 2

Once I had Roy all geared up, I took him for a spin. The seat felt more precarious than I had anticipated. While the up-and-down movement of the pads felt natural with my pedal movements, the swivel action along the vertical axis was disconcerting. I felt like I was constantly falling off the seat. It didn’t help that I was slipping from the slick fabric of the seat itself—fyi, yoga pants and gel seat coverings don’t work well together (and I imagine a snazzy pair of spandex bike shorts might have the same issue).

Emily on DABS

The more I rode, the more comfortable I became with the seat’s movement; however, I just couldn’t shake the precarious feeling of the swivel motion. I felt like I was fighting the side-to-side motion, having to bring my hips back in line after each pedal rotation. Rather than enhancing my natural movements, I was having to work to stay on my seat. As for comfort, I wish the pads had been more naturally contoured—rounded or tapered toward the front. The squared edges tended to poke and rub uncomfortably for me. Also, the seat itself is heavy, adding weight to my fairly light road bike and making it more difficult to haul up and down stairs (which I have to do to board the train on my commute).

After putting in quality time with the Dual Action Seat on Roy, I realized it wouldn’t be a permanent seat swap for me, but I wanted to get a second opinion. So I mounted the seat on our office spin bike and persuaded my boss (yep, my boss), Jim to give it a try and let me know what he thought.

Jim Dual Action Bike Seat 2

Jim Dual Action Bike Seat 3

An avid road cyclist and fellow bike commuter, Jim gave the Dual Action Seat a trial run. After getting accustomed to the seat’s movement, Jim had a similar discomfort with the swivel motion of the seat. He suggested that if the seat resisted or sprang back to neutral after each pedal stroke, the rider’s hips would still have the benefit of natural motion without strain of realigning the seat back to a centered position. Sounds clever to me. Overall, I think he’ll stick with his current saddle too.

I have no doubt that the Dual Action Seat design will continue to improve and serve as an alternative to the traditional bike saddle. While this inventive seat might not be right for me, if it can help riders keep riding without pain or medical complications, I am all for this wonky seat. And if you happen to be looking for a bike saddle to reduce pain while riding or said medical complications, you can purchase the D.A.S. Model #400 for $239.00 with free shipping. A bit pricey, but it does come with a 30-day money back guarantee.

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

Merry Xmas Bike Commuters: DIY Bike Rack Just for YOU!

My office has a plethora of bikes that live full– or part–time in the warehouse. This small fleet of communal cruisers and commuter bicycles needed an organized home rather than randomly strewn about the room.

Luckily, we have a couple of industrious fellas who took on the task of building a bike rack with limited funds, two wooden pallets, and an hour to spare. Now we’re sharing with you the step-by-step guide on how to build your own hanging bike rack.

Build Your Own Bike Rack

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

Materials

  • Two ~6’ tall wooden pallets (or five 6′ 2x4s, plus one 8′ 1×6 and one 8′ 1×4)
  • Wood screws (We used Grabber screws #8 x 2.5” and #9 x 3”)
  • Bicycle or storage hooks

Tools

  • Power drill
  • Power saw
  • Hammer

BYOBR Equipment

Building buddy!
Grab a friend or two. The building will be easier, safer, and more fun with a friend.

BYOBR Parker & Will

STEP ONE
Carefully disassemble the two pallets and remove all nails––this is where the hammer comes in handy. Group the pallet lumber into similarly sized pieces. All the longest, sturdiest pieces (the 2x4s) will form the frame of the bike rack.

BYOBR Wood Pallet Parts

BYOBR Pallet Pieces

STEP TWO
Construct the frame using five of the 2x4s. You may need to trim some of the lumber to size as Will & Parker did for our bike rack.

BYOBR Frame

Secure each corner with two long wood screws.

BYOBR Building Frame

The bottom beam usually needs to be the flattest, least likely to wobble; however, the bottom beam on the rack built by Parker & Will was warped. Gotta work with what you have.

STEP THREE
You should now have a large rectangle. Place the third and remaining 2×4 directly in the middle between the two outer columns. You can see how carefully Will measures the distance using the highly-scientific “counting-his-steps” method.

BYOBR Measuring Frame copy

You may need to trim the lumber to size. Secure the middle column with two screws at either end.

BYOBR Building Frame 2

BYOBR Frame Raised

STEP FOUR
Give this rack some feet to stand on! Secure a 1×6 to the base of the outer columns with four screws each.

BYOBR Adding Feet

BYOBR Adding Feet 2

STEP FIVE
Bracer. Create a stabilizer for each foot––’cause you know triangles are the strongest shape (I learned that in 3rd Grade).

BYOBR Feet Added

Parker identified the angle for the cut by holding the 1×6 in place and marking with his favorite mechanical pencil. Super sophisticated stuff here.

BYOBR Measuring Cuts

Trim each stabilizing piece along the identified angles, so that the edges are flush with the frame.

BYOBR Preparing Cuts

Secure each brace with a couple screws.

BYOBR Adding Stabilizers

BYOBR Stabilizers

STEP SIX
More stabilizers! Add a small 1×4 stabilizer at each corner of frame for added stability. That’s four in total, if you’re counting.

BYOBR Top Stabilizers

Measure and cut the smaller stabilizers using the same method in Step Five. IMPORTANT: Don’t place your stabilizers too far into the frame or they may obstruct how your bikes hang. Secure with the smaller length screws.

BYOBR Parker Drilling

Lookin’ good! You’re almost there.

STEP SEVEN
Evenly space four bicycle hooks into the frame. Leave plenty of elbowroom for your bikes’ handlebars. Hint: it helps if you drill a starter hole before screwing the hooks into place. (Look at the teamwork happening!)

BYOBR Will & Parker Adding Hooks

STEP EIGHT
Hang up yo’ bikes! Stand back and admire a job well (and economically) done.

BYOBR Will hanging up bikes

BYOBR Completed Bike Rack

BYOBR Completed Bike Rack 2