Just Ask Jack

Another first for Philadelphia — bike thefts

It seems like just yesterday we were extolling the virtues of the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, and its rise to the top of the bike commuting cities in the U.S.

All that growth and increased cycling interest has come at a steep price, however:

Philly has been ranked the number one major city for bike commuting; we’ve landed on the Top Bike-Friendly Cities in America list; new bike lanes are turning up everywhere. But with this increase in bikes has come a historic high for bike theft. The thefts have been on the rise for some time, according to data provided by the police department, climbing from 1,849 in 2011 to 2,122 in 2013. We’re on track to top that this year … and that’s just with the number of bike thefts that are reported.

“The actual number is three to four times higher,” says statistical analyst Tyler Dahlberg, who completed a study on the topic for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia last year.


Now’s a good time to brush up on your anti-theft methods. Take a look at the following articles from our extensive archives:

Choosing a good lock

Bolts or skewers to prevent wheel theft?

In Search of a Better Helmet

We were contacted by Randy Cardona, an Industrial Design graduate student at the Acadamy of Art University in San Francisco. He was hoping to get a little “focus group” action going on by asking you, our readers, to offer your input on bicycle helmets.

I want to design a helmet that meets the needs of commuters better that what already exists and I would appreciate any ideas/feedback you [and your readers] may have.

To get the ball rolling, I am thinking of a helmet that is weatherproof, breathable and has some kind of retractable goggle/faceshield among other attributes. Another possibility is an accessory that is somehow attached to a normal road helmet or BMX style helmet that does the same thing. Any input regarding things that you do NOT like about existing helmets is equally valuable if not more so.

Randy provided us with a few basic guide questions to get the conversation going:

1. What are the problems, if any, that you have with your current helmet?

2. Does your current helmet meet all of your comfort and safety needs during your commute?

3. In terms of wearing a helmet, is weather an issue? In what way?

4. Does bad weather affect your vision to the degree that you feel less safe during your commute?

5. Do you sweat even in cold weather commutes?

6. Does your head stay cool enough/warm enough in your current setup? Why?

7. During cold weather commutes, where do you find persistently cold spots?

8. Is your helmet comfortable? If not, why?

9. Would you pay $80 for a better commuter helmet? $100? $120+?

Please help Randy out by offering your thoughts in the comments below…this sounds like a cool design project and the readers of are the perfect focus group for such an effort! Thanks.

Just Ask Jack: Fighting the Wind?

Jacob sent in the following question:

I’d be curious to know what you guys do to deal with wind. Are there good tips for how to ride during a stiff wind? Do you take the car when the wind gets above a certain speed?

Well, Jacob…wind can be tough, there’s no doubt about that. We don’t have much in the way of winter weather, but from December to May, the wind is a fairly constant thing here in Florida. And, just my luck…it’s almost always a headwind. I don’t own a car, so I can’t comment on whether I would use one if the wind was too high. I’ve ridden in some pretty stiff winds, including the 1993 “No Name Storm” and the runups to several hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. It’s certainly not something I’m a big fan of, but when you’ve got to get to work there’s sometimes no choice but to get out there and ride.

I asked several fellow cyclists if they had any solutions to offer, and overwhelmingly I was met with a bunch of good-natured ribs to “HTFU” (warning: excessive salty language) or “put your head down and deal with it”. That doesn’t really help us much, though…

So, what can we commuters do to help beat back the wind? There are two major “tricks” in a cyclist’s arsenal, one mostly impractical for day-to-day riding and one that’s fairly easy and long-used for just this sort of thing.

Let’s look at the first solution — the fairing:


I say that this is mostly impractical because a recumbent is not often a good choice for a commuter bike (too low-profile for motorists to see at reasonable distances), and I’ve not seen fairings for traditional bicycles. Still, these fairings do a pretty amazing job at getting you through the wind with less effort.

The second solution is right up my alley…the traditional road “drop bar”:


Let’s face it — there are a lot of “commuter-friendly” bikes on the market such as Dutch-style upright citybikes, hybrids and comfort bikes with the features many commuters look for in a primary machine. But, they can be TERRIBLE to ride in stiff winds. That upright position — otherwise great for getting a good view of conditions around you — turns your body into a wind-catching sail. Enter the traditional road handlebar: multiple hand positions for all-day riding comfort, including a couple of positions that get you tucked in and out of the wind’s worst. Aerodynamic positioning is key for spending a lot of time riding in wind, and drop bars get you closer to that ideal position.

Many flat-bar or upright bikes can be converted to a drop-bar configuration, but it’s not always an easy proposition…since the bar diameters differ between flats and drops, you can’t just swap your brake levers and shifter pods over. Luckily, road-style brake levers are readily available (my favorite are the Tektro R200A), and if you replace your shifter pods with friction bar-end shifters, you can run just about any combination of derailleurs and cassette or freewheel, mixing brands as you see fit.

A couple of other tips come to mind. The first is clothing choice. Although many commuters are reluctant to wear cycling-specific gear, there’s a reason cycling wear is form-fitting — it doesn’t catch the wind the way street clothes might. Something to consider, in any case.

The second is route choice. If you have a commute where you can choose your route from several possibilities, a good choice is one that gets shielded from prevailing winds by treelines, buildings and the like. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but a little creative route planning can definitely help. Even a short break from the wind can make a huge difference in the amount of energy you expend.

Remember, there is a benefit to the wind…you WILL get stronger if you have to fight it on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to tough it out…your legs, heart and lungs will thank you for it eventually!

Finally, if you really want to dominate against that wind, here’s the vehicle for you:


It’s able to slice through headwinds like a hot knife through butter…but hang on in a crosswind — you’ll be in for a wild ride!!!

Stay safe out there, and try some of these tips the next time you find yourself fighting against the wind.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack — No More Car?

Rick sent in the following question:

I want to ride full time – no more car. I bought a Randonee touring bike and have done a few 40 milers so I know I can do it. I am concerned about sweating and night riding. I need to wear a dress shirt and tie at work and have thought about buying a pannier bag for that. I am also worried about riding at night – I live in Southern Calif in a busy part of town. Any suggestions. I guess I just wish the roads were more bike friendly.

I just can’t seem to pull the trigger and go all bike.

Rick, we’ve written extensively on dealing with the heat, especially since most of us here at live in areas that experience brutal summer heat. Here’s another article that has tips for you.

As for nighttime safety, I wrote an article in 2008 that covers some of the highlights of riding safely at night. We’ve also done several reviews of lights and a DIY article or two that may be helpful — simply click here to be taken to our archive on those subjects. Basically, nighttime safety means being visible and predictable: you can never have too many lights and reflective items, and maintaining your place on the road (no weaving, no blowing through stop signs, etc.) means that most motorists will do what they have to in order to share roadspace with you.

Overkill for nighttime visibility? There’s no such thing!

It can be daunting at first to ride at night, particularly on busy streets. I commuted late at night for the first three years of my current job and quickly realized that the street I took home was rather peaceful as compared to the gridlocked nightmare it was by day. You may also consider finding slightly more out-of-the-way routes if traffic is still heavy on your return trip home.

Really, going completely car-free is a growing process…some people can do it abruptly, but it is often better to “work up” to it. Do your commute and also try to incorporate as many errands as you can by bike. Before you know it, you’ll wonder why you ever owned a car!

Good luck, be safe and have FUN. If anyone else has tips for Rick, please leave them in the comments below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack: Bike Pooling?

Here’s an interesting one sent in by longtime reader Phil:

So, this afternoon, a co-worker and sometime bike-commuter and I were talking about riding/commuting and car-pooling. I suddenly thought, why not bike-pooling? This lead to wondering about numbers of riders “bike-pooling” to work via tandems or the likes. People living along the same route to work could “share” a tandem.

I’ve heard of “commuter trains”, where folks gather at a convenient starting point and riding en masse to their job(s), but haven’t run across anyone doing the tandem number. Anyone experienced such a thing? Good idea or not? I would imagine various logistics would need to be ironed out — work start/stop times would have to mesh between the two participants, among other things.

Let’s hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.