Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Post Over at Wordpress

I'm still trying out WordPress instead of Blogger, and I've put up a new blog post there: Reflections on Biking to Campus. Please visit me over there and bookmark the page! I'm likely to stay there, but will update this page if I make the move permanent.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I've moved!

Based on some recommendations by friends, I've decided to move my blog to wordpress. I will probably keep this one up for a little while just in case I change my mind; however, all new posts will go up at my blog over there. Please stop by!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Product Review: Ortlieb Waterproof Bag

The bag under review: Waterproof Office Bag
If you are going to commute by bike, chances are you are going to want to buy a pannier rack. The reason for this is simple: you need a place to put your stuff. Now, some people love to get the bikes with baskets on the handlebars, or simply buy a cargo bike; those are good options as well. But my impression is that the vast majority of bike commuters use pannier bags.

If you are going to be commuting only on occasion and "when the weather is good," then you probably don't need to invest a lot of money in your pannier bags. However, if you are planning to commute regularly or - like me - your bike is your primary mode of transportation, you are going to want to invest in waterproof or water resistant bags.  I am fortunate enough to be married to something of a bike guru, so I already have a wealth of bags from which to choose. I am also fortunate enough that my husband already owns two waterproof bags, and is willing to part with one. (Thanks, Honey!) That waterproof bag is an Ortlieb Waterproof Office Bag, and it is fantastic.

Now, I'm still a novice in this bicycling world, but my impression is that Ortlieb is one of the premier choices in waterproof bags. If it is, I can see why: these bags are high quality. The material is waterproof, and the top rolls down before cinching, which provides a really good seal to protect what's inside. In addition, this bag has a hard inner shell, which makes it perfect for transporting books and my laptop: the essentials for PhD life.


As you can see, I have my laptop, some folders, and several books in here, and I still have room. Plus, all of my stuff is snug and secure - and protected from rain! In addition, this bag has a nice divided organizer that provides spots for pens, a phone, accessories, and even credit cards.


I prefer to keep my cards, phone, etc. in a separate small bag that I can transfer from place to place, so I don't use most of these pockets. However, I can see how valuable they would be to someone who essentially uses this as a briefcase.

The quality of this bag is complemented by its ease of use. The clips are rigged with a quick-release strap, which is NICE - it makes it easy to put on the rack, and to remove; you just pull up on the handle and the bag pops off the rack. (This is especially nice when it's raining and you don't want to be fiddling with things.) However, even though it is easy to "pop" off, it is also very secure on the rack, which is obviously an important feature. It also has some "customizable" (the red squiggly line is telling me that this isn't a word, but I think it should be)  features that I didn't even know about until I asked my husband why the bag sits crooked on my bike. (Novice alert!)


He pointed out that the reason for this is to aid riders in not kicking their bags (assuming they put it on the correct side, as I have NOT done here). The idea is that you tilt the bag in the opposite direction as is shown above, leaving room for your rotating feet. This is not a problem on my bike, as my feet come nowhere near the bags. However, if it *were* an issue, I could change the set up of the bag on the back:

My husband is holding the bag. Look out, Vanna White!

The bars and clips on the back can be moved, creating a tilt in one direction or the other, or creating a straight strap. (When I'm not feeling lazy, I may fix this on mine). In addition, the latch on the bottom that helps keep it secure can be moved around to create the perfect balance for securing your bag to the rack.

One final feature I really like about this bag is related to safety: it has reflective patches on it. You can see it on the "front" of the bag in my photos above, as the reflective label was activated by the flash on my camera. In addition, it has reflective patches on the sides, which sit behind you when you ride, making you visible to drivers:

Though, in some cases, they still won't care about how much room they give you.
As I believe is obvious by now, I just love this bag. It is well worth the price, especially if you plan on carrying a computer or other electronic devices with you on your commute. It is a pricey bag, that is for sure; however, it is a helluvalot cheaper than buying a new computer. (I got a red squiggly on "helluvalot" too, but I really think that should be a word as well.) I would highly recommend this for the bike commuting office professional. Oh, and if you like the features of this bag but not necessarily the style, Ortlieb has some other styles available, including the Downtown bag, among others.

Though I love this bag, it's not the only one I use on my commute. Other product reviews coming soon: Detours Market Ballard Bag, Detours Coffee Bag.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cuts, Chaos, and Cold: More Lessons Learned

Well. The past few days have been...interesting, to say the least.

Sunday I wrote a post about feeling kinda low, and wishing I had a car. Little did I know that my day was just going to get better.  And by that, I mean that my day was decidedly not getting any better. Around 8 o'clock that evening, Malcolm fell and split his chin. So, there we were, with no car, no insurance, and a kid who needed stitches. <sigh> I started to panic about how to get him to the hospital (no urgent cares in town), because I knew how far away it was (about 5.5 miles), and I also knew that we were on the last day of NO Sunday bus service (starts back up this coming weekend). Don started checking out a route, wondering if he could put Malcolm in the Bakfiets and take him, but that option was quickly vetoed: too bumpy, too far, too dark. I first went up to the neighbors' apartment to see if they could drive us, but they didn't answer the door (turns out they didn't hear me knocking).  Then I started calling cab services in town...which apparently only have one cab each or something, because each of them was "all booked up" for at least a half hour. I checked with the neighbor again after reserving a cab, and they jumped to the rescue! Cancelled the cab and got on our way.  Lesson learned: always have a back-up plan. Unfortunately for me, my back-up plan WAS the cab, but I had never fully checked out cab companies ahead of time...which means, no back-up plan. Yeesh. (Malcolm is fine by the way. Five stitches and a battle wound to brag about, so he's just peachy.)

So...on to the start of this week. Orientation for school started yesterday, so this is really the test week for my biking habits. Yesterday went pretty well, but I didn't have to be to school until 11am, so that left me plenty of time to get situated. I decided to test my electric assist's ability to keep me from getting sweaty, and it worked wonderfully. I think I only pedaled about 12 times total between the apartment and school, which is great for being presentable, but bad for exercise. (I'll have to figure out that balance in the future.) I arrived early (as intended) and dropped off all my extra stuff in my office and headed on my way. This is what happens on a well-planned day.

Now let me tell you what happens on a poorly-planned day.

Today's orientation started at 8am, which means that if I wanted to get all my stuff to my office so I didn't have to lug it around, I would have needed to get to school by 7:40. Didn't happen. First of all, the problems started last night, as I was overwhelmed by the long day of orientation, as well as a little tired and disorganized from doing a bunch of stuff around the apartment after I got home. So...I didn't even climb into bed until around midnight, at which point I realized I had missed a call and had a voice mail. Checking it revealed that I had inadvertently shipped all of my textbooks for the semester to my old address in Toledo instead of to our new address here in Blacksburg. Of course, I handled this with grace and calm, drifting off to sleep with the knowledge that I would handle things in the morning.

Yeah, right.

I went into full-on panic mode. I checked the shipping notifications and discovered the purchase had been split into four different shipments, all arriving at different times. Fantastic. Luckily, I was able to contact my brother-in-law via text message, and he agreed to pick up the packages and ship them back out to me. (Thanks Mike!) Unfortunately, the amount of money I will have to pay in shipping will negate the savings of buying the textbooks from Amazon in the first place. Bah.

So...the point of all of that is that I didn't fall asleep finally until around 1am; so when my alarm went off at 6:15am this morning, I couldn't figure out for the life of me why I would have set it so early. So, naturally I hit "snooze." Twice. (Three times?) Finally, I dragged my butt out of bed only to see that it was around 50 degrees outside. And foggy. So, already running late, I had to figure out a backup plan for my cropped-sleeve shirt/shorts option, because that definitely wasn't going to work for the ride in. I quickly grabbed some warmer clothes, stuffed the cooler clothes in my bag, and headed out the door (without having eaten breakfast, I might add).

I probably wouldn't have been running as late if I had not stopped to take this picture.
The bright side of this unplanned chaos: more lessons learned!

Lesson...Five?: Even if you are dressed warmly, you need gloves; otherwise, your fingers will turn into icy little good-for-nothings during your ride. (Also, if you're not wearing said gloves, you'll find yourself debating between being late and being cold, as a slower speed provides a much "warmer" ride.)

Lesson Let's-Go-With-Six: When you're wearing glasses because you can't put your contacts in because your eyes hurt too bad because you didn't get enough sleep...they fog up. A lot. Which means you have to stop every quarter mile or so to clean them off. This also causes a conflict with timeliness, as you find yourself debating between "being on time" and "not wanting to crash." I opted for not crashing, but somehow still managed to make it to orientation on time - hungry, cold, and bogged down with too much bag weight - but on time.

The silver lining in all of this?  I got to wear my scarf! (several of my friends just burst out laughing) Those of you who know me know I have a slight scarf obsession (24 and counting), and that I was disappointed at the prospect of living in a warmer climate because it might make the scarves not as...prudent. But seriously, the first thought that popped into my head when I realized I would need warmer clothes was "I can wear a scarf!" And that brought me great happiness. It worked out well, really, because it kept my neck warm, which I imagine would have been another issue I would have otherwise complained about. So, maybe we can add that as...

Lesson It-Must-Be-Seven: Scarves are your friend. I already knew this, but..now you do too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday, Rainy Sunday

This morning we were prepared to try out a new church, but at 6am awoke to the sound of pouring rain. <sigh> We were hoping it would clear up in time for us to ride, but the radar was indicating nothing of the sort. (Oddly, every single other day it called for rain here it didn't start until after 1pm. But not today!) Taking the bus is not an option for us for church because even when bus service IS running on Sundays, the first one doesn't start until 11:30, effectively missing the beginning of most services. So, if we can't ride...chances are, we can't go.

Fortunately, our neighbors (who go to the church we were going to check out) so very kindly offered us a ride.  UNfortunately, they have a truck with a rather snug cab, which made it entertaining to try to fit four adults and two kids into this "little" thing while rain is pouring down around us. But, we got to church, checked it off of our shopping list, and came back home (verdict to be determined later). And I promptly fell into a funk.

This is the first day that I've really wished I had a car. Not just because of the rain...but because of how I feel. Checking out a new church for some reason made it "click" with me: I have left my church home. While I have generally been doing fairly well with focusing forward and not dwelling too much on who we left behind, today my eyes were firmly fixed on Toledo. It will be difficult to find the oddball mix we had back there, a community that is so deeply caring for one another and that is focused on social justice. A community that is filled with people who are genuinely interested in studying the Bible deeply and learning what G-d has to say, even if those discoveries break open the boxes they had previously put Him (and Christianity) in. A community filled with people who are interested in the Jewish roots of our faith, who celebrate the festivals and say Shema almost daily. While I was sitting in the pew (yes, a pew!) this morning, tears started welling up in my eyes as I realized that I would no longer get to commune with these people on a weekly basis. I started to feel lost without my spiritual anchors.

So today, as ridiculously "first world problems" as it sounds, I wanted a car. Why? Because I feel drained, and tired, and sad...and I just don't feel like putting forth the effort to ride my bike anywhere. It's kinda chilly here today, and it's supposed to rain some more...and I want whatever superficial form of comfort I can find...in this case, a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. I want to be able to just drive over there, pick one up, and come home and cry softly into it. Why this particular beverage? Because that's what I would grab on chilly, rainy days while studying or hanging out with friends. Because it's warm (and delicious). Because I want some sort of representation of normalcy in an apartment that still doesn't quite feel like home. Because there are Starbucks stores everywhere, and visiting one could mean I'm anywhere...even back in Toledo.

I know that this post is a bit "off topic," but I promised to share the highs and the lows...and this is a low. Today I'm feeling sad, and I wish I had a car. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Two Really, Really Cool Bike-Related Things

Two of my friends shared these links with me, and I just had to do my part to share...

This is a link to the coolest bike helmet ever invented: The Invisible Helmet.

This is a link to a Kickstarter project for stylish clothing with reflective properties.

I'm not going to launch into a lengthy blog here because there are two videos you can watch on the links above to hear about some really cool things coming along in the biking world. (Seriously - if you watch just one, make sure you watch the "invisible helmet" one.  It's really cool)

Happy Biking!

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Final" Thoughts on Busing, and a Happy Welcome Home

First of all, another random thought: why is "busing" spelled with only one s? Wouldn't that seem to make it pronounced "boo-sing?" Or maybe "byoo-sing" - you know, to rhyme with "musing." Only that's more of a z-sound and not an s-sound, but...whatever.  Wade?

My days of riding a bus are by no means over, but I thought I'd offer a few parting thoughts as I won't be riding it as much for a while. Oh, why's that, you ask?  BECAUSE I GOT RUBY BACK!  (Umm...yes, Ruby's my bike. And yes, I named my bike.  And YES, I realize "Ruby" is a really obvious name for a red bike.)

Welcome home, my love.
I have to say (and YES, I realize I use that phrase a lot) - I am surprised at how much I missed my bike and how much I loved getting her - I mean, it - back. But more on that later.

This morning, I was prepared to take the bus everywhere I needed to go, as I thought my bike was still going to be in the shop for awhile. So, I took the bus over to University City Boulevard and I deposited a check, dropped off a package at the post office, purchased a few things from Kroger, and grabbed some lunch at Panera. I then took the bus back to campus before going over to get my bike. This morning's ride brought about a few more observations about bus riding:

  1. There is definitely a better "side" of the bus to sit on depending on whether I'm take the route to campus, or I'm taking it back home.  The route to campus has the bus taking all right turns, so sitting on the driver's side of the bus is better. On the way home, the bus takes all left turns, so it is better to sit on the opposite side of the driver. Why?  Because if you sit on those sides, the <insert fancy physics term here> force keeps you in your seat, and you don't have to dig in your heels or grab the seat in order to not fall off of it. Now, these tips are only applicable to my particular route, but...if you decide to ride the bus, I highly recommend scoping out this sort of thing to avoid falling on your face in front of a bunch of strangers. (Unless you ride my bus...then by all means, fall on your face...it will take the pressure off of me.)
  2. People will wait as long as possible for someone else to pull the yellow "stop requested" thing. I know this, because that is precisely what I did. I finally panicked that I would miss my stop and pulled the yellow thing about 20 feet from the stop. Because of this, I fully expected to be the only one getting off, but NOOOOOO...about 15 people got off at that stop.  Seriously, people?

I'm sure I will have plenty more observations on bus riding as the semester moves forward, but for now...on to happy news:

I GOT MY BIKE BACK!

Very exciting indeed. The bike shop left a message for me last night saying the work would be done by Saturday, Sunday at the latest, which was already earlier than I was expecting.  THEN they called me this morning to say "hey, it will be ready this afternoon." I nearly cheered out loud, I was so gleeful. Then, on the way home I pedaled with great joy and just smiled at everyone and everything with this big dopey grin. I even shared my joy with the mocking duck.

You won't get off so easy next time, pal.

I was - and still am! - so happy to have my bike back. I was so excited to ride again, I didn't even use the motor on the way home! Seriously, people...do you realize how big this is?  If you are someone reading this right now who is thinking, "I could never commute by bike!" Well...that was me three years ago. Heck, that was me just a few months ago! I entered this car-less living situation kicking and screaming, and now I'm gleefully happy to be riding my bike...so I'm certain the same could happen for you. Yes, it could. Yes it could. YES IT COULD!

I was so excited to have it back that I even went out on another ride with the boys this evening. Did you hear that? I went out on an EXTRA ride JUST FOR FUN. WILLINGLY.

This is the start of something new, my friends.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Bus Adventures and Advice (and Adversity)

First of all, totally random thought: it seems like there is a disproportionate number of  words that start with ADV. Which is weird, right?  I mean, that's an odd combination. But we have adventure, advice, advent, advocate, adverse, adverb, advantage...and even more! (If you are curious about this, be sure to check the comments section within 48 hours after this is posted...I'm sure my friend Wade will post a logical explanation for this phenomena, as well as probably some etymology and a link. Or maybe I'm just making a big deal out of nothing.)

So, what were we talking about?  Oh, yeah...taking the bus. Because I am bike-less, I am definitely learning the ins and outs of the bus system. I have to say, I find bus schedules and maps very confusing; in fact, I remember thinking about taking the bus in Toledo and giving up after trying to untangle their web of routes and times. Fortunately, Blacksburg's system is much smaller, so it's a little easier to figure out.  Plus, the existence of Google Transit makes life easier; once I think I've figured out my route, I use Google Maps and click the "transit" button (bus icon) to check to see if I'm right. Sort of a double-redundancy system. I think I'm inordinately scared of getting stuck on the bus and taken somewhere far out of my way, which is sort of ridiculous in a bus system that covers about 16 square miles total.  At the worst, I'd probably be stuck somewhere for a half hour.

Anyway. So, yesterday I decided to take the bus to combine errand-running with studying.  There is a Starbucks directly across the street from the Kroger, and there is a quick bus change on campus that basically gets me from my apartment to Starbucks rather quickly (the return ride is another story). So I did the two-bus ride that dropped me right in front of the store, sat for a while and read, then went to gather my groceries.  The stop I got off at to go to Starbucks is also the closest to Kroger; however, I decided that after I got done shopping, I would walk 1/2 mile to a different stop because I would only be on the bus for 10 minutes instead of 30. The problem with that plan was that I decided to take a "short" detour into the University Bookstore, which was fine until I couldn't figure out how to politely exit a very long conversation with the cashier. It's a weird "problem" down here with how friendly people are: you often get stuck in long conversations when you're on a schedule. So, eventually I found an opening and said I needed to leave, but that gave me only 10 minutes to do the grocery shopping unless I wanted to extend my time and delay another 1/2 hour for the next bus. With dark clouds rolling in, I decided I did not want to do that, so I executed the quickest shopping trip known to (wo)man, and busted my butt hustling to the bus stop.

Now, the one thing you need to keep in mind about grocery shopping without a car is that you have to carry your bags; no tossing those suckers in the trunk or back seat. (This was not even a problem on my bike, as I could hook the bags on to my pannier rack and ride away!) Not so on the bus; you have to carry what you buy whatever distance you need to walk - in this case, a 1/2 mile to that other bus stop. I had one bag slung over my shoulders, another (somewhat light) bag in my one hand, and a freaking ton of bricks in the other. Holy cow! I had brought my insulated bag with me because I needed to pick up some milk, so of course I also had an ice pack in there. And 4 yogurts. And some bags of frozen fruit. And butter. And two containers of salsa. And a ton of other things the bag boy stuffed in there until it was ready to be used for weight training.

So, I exited the store and looked at the time; I estimated I had maybe five minutes until the bus reached that stop. Those of you who know me, picture this: me, fast-walking with this heavy bag, with my sorry lack of stamina and horrible carpal tunnel syndrome, switching the bag back and forth between my right hand and my left hand, and sometimes using both, panting like a ridiculous idiot and sweating like...a ridiculous idiot. Trying to sort of run-walk to the stop while balancing all of these bags. My only comfort was that most of the undergraduates haven't come to town yet, so the audience for my sorry walk-trot-run-whimper to the bus stop was witnessed by very few.

So, I got to the stop and set my bags down and checked the time: 11:53. The bus time-checked on campus at 11:45 and was supposed to time-check in front of our apartment at Noon. Certainly, I had missed the bus, because my stop was only the second one after the campus time-check. I was feeling utterly defeated when I felt it: one single, solitary rain drop. NOOOOOO! Now I was going to have to wait a 1/2 hour until the next bus came...IN THE RAIN? I swear I nearly started crying. Then: a light on the horizon. A choir of angels. Could it be?  It was my bus! It must have been delayed! Oh joy of joys; I was saved! I lugged my bags onto the bus and settled in for a quick 7 minutes to the apartment. Home!

So, that little adventure was completed, and brought with it a good lesson. If I could advocate for anything it would be this: if you are going to start running errands via bus, be sure to find a bag in advance that is advantageous. A bag that converts into a backpack would be most advisable, as you could pack your groceries and then carry it with the weight evenly distributed (you will certainly find this is to your advantage). I just purchased such a bag and will review it shortly following the advent of its use, so stay tuned for that blog post (which, if the bag is as good as I think it will be, will prove to simply be free advertising for this bag company).

P.S. I miss my bike, and find its absence is adversely affecting my joy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Safety Snapshot: How to Position Your Bike

The Virginia Bicycling Federation recently provided a great post about where to safely ride your bike when on the road (not a bike path). If you are a bicycle commuter, I highly recommend that you read their post to learn about where to safely position yourself (WITH traffic, not against it!) to avoid "dooring," the dreaded "right hook," and drivers passing you too close.

If you are NOT a cyclist but wish to learn how to better "share the road" with your cycling comrades, I highly recommend also reading this post (good to know from both sides), as well as boning up on your state's bicycling laws. There are laws that vary from state to state on things like how much room to give a cyclist when passing (Virginia requires 2 feet; some states require three feet...I was lucky to get 18 inches in Toledo). This is important information! I can't tell you how many times I was yelled at, honked at, "right hooked," or "buzzed" while on the road simply because either the driver didn't know the law (I was often told to "get on the sidewalk") or just didn't care. The thing that's infuriating about these incidents is that usually a driver is doing this because they are impatient to get around the cyclist, placing a higher premium on convenience than safety. Some day, the 10 seconds someone will save by driving unsafely around a cyclist will cost that cyclist his/her life. (In fact, it already has.)

Please, drive safe and bike safe!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Malcolm's First "City" Bus Ride/Riding in the Bakfiets

Well, since I am still bike-less and today was Malcolm's last day before school starts, we decided to take the bus into the downtown to enjoy lunch at the Frosty Parrot.  Yes, frozen yogurt for lunch!  That was one of Malcolm's treats for his "last day of summer." Luckily, as I noted before, the bus drops off RIGHT in front of the Parrot!  Awesome! (But they didn't have Sea Salt Caramel Pretzel today.  NOT awesome.)

Gummy worms and Oreos. Lunch choice of champions.
I have to say, the bus system here is incredibly convenient for us.  Right now, we are on "reduced service," so the bus comes almost right to our doorstep every 1/2 hour. During the school year, it comes every 10 minutes. On top of that, it TIME CHECKS at our stop, which means it HAS to be there at the scheduled time. Score! Also, it was only 25 cents for Malcolm to ride (50 cents for an adult, or "free" for VT students), which is phenomenal. The bus passes are actually quite reasonably priced (the same price for six months as one month was in Toledo), but we don't think Malcolm or Don will be riding it *too* often, so we're going to pay per ride for the moment. Anyway, the bus goes almost immediately to campus, so that's another bonus. From the Time Checks on campus, you can catch other buses to other parts of town, or even the Two Town Trolley to Christiansburg. Since Blacksburg isn't all that big to begin with, it's a pretty convenient system.
Malcolm gives the bus service two thumbs up.
Don had a meeting in town, so he met us there on the Bakfiets then took Malcolm out for a "real" lunch of sushi (Malcolm's favorite) and headed home. I went into the office for a few hours, then took the bus to a halfway point to Malcolm's school and rode in the Bakfiets to his Back to School Night. While it is convenient to have a bike that I can ride in while mine is in the shop, I have to say that it definitely touches on a bit of my brokenness to have to do that. There's a part of me that feels like people are thinking, "Hey, there goes a really fit guy hauling his fat wife around." (Especially since Blacksburg is bizarrely thin.) But that's my junk. Fortunately, I'm in a much better place than I used to be, but...sometimes those ugly thoughts float to the forefront of my mind.

All in all, today was a good day.  Malcolm had a good time (and was very well behaved!) on the bus, and we enjoyed getting to meet his teacher and such at school. But I really, really miss my bike!




Sunday, August 12, 2012

My first adventure on the Bakfiets

As I've mentioned before, my husband has a Bakfiets, which is a Dutch cargo bike. It is pretty much the coolest thing since sliced bread; it is also VERY BIG. Because of its sheer size, it is very intimidating; so when Don asked me if I wanted to try riding the Bakfiets while my bike is in the shop, I thought, Ummm....no. But then I was getting the itch to go for a ride (I know, I was as shocked as you are) and so I thought, Okay, why not? 


Famous last words.
For my inaugural Bakfiets journey I decided to take a short, one mile (not even) ride to the "corner store," and was about ready to fall over by the time I got there. It took me a little bit to catch my breath, and I stepped into the store's "Beer Cave" (basically a big walk in fridge) to cool down. Now, it was definitely a difficult ride, but I don't think it was because of the size of the Bakfiets. I definitely think the difficulty of the ride was due to (a) the fact that I am severely out of shape and (b) the fact that I have become accustomed to conquering hills with my motor assist. In fact, I kept trying to hit my throttle and was disappointed each time it didn't work.  (*shakes fist* KHHHHAAAAAAAAANN!!!)

I tried to ride it today to the pool, but there were a few hills on the way there and again, I was about ready to fall over by the time our ride was completed. But...I think I could get used to it in time, and I also think that someone without a medical condition like mine would have an easier time with it. It is actually quite a smooth ride and is easy to maneuver; in fact, it takes corners better than my Revive, and feels more sturdy. So...if you're interested in a bike that could carry more than what you could fit on a pannier rack, this bike might be for you. (And it's also a great candidate for motor assist!)

In case anyone is interested in finding out more about the Bakfiets, I thought I'd provide a couple of links for you. Adeline Adeline is where we purchased our bike, though there are a few other places in the U.S. that sell them (you'd likely have to have it shipped). Also, a simple Google image search will show you many of these Bakfietsen in motion. It is definitely a more expensive bike, as it is (a) extremely well made and (b) quite different than your average bike. All of the gears, chain, etc. (forgive my lack of "lingo") are fully enclosed, so they are not subject to the elements.  A really, really nice bike!

And, bonus: riding a bike with a bell was a thing of power. I love the bell!  And it is very effective in our apartment community, as we are a very international bunch here. I noticed when Don rang the bell around American students, they sort of looked around and then ambled slowly out of the way.  When I rang the bell when coming upon three of our neighbors walking side-by-side on the path, they instantly jumped out of the way! Interesting difference between people who come from a "bike culture" and people who come from a "car culture."

And in case you were wondering: the bell has very little effect on ducks.

Lessons Learned: Chapter 3

Because I am now relying on the bike and bus as my sole modes of transportation, I'm definitely learning a lot about preparation. This was part of my theme of Lessons Learned, Chapter 1, where I discussed the importance of being prepared ahead of time. (That was Lesson #1.) Of course, Lesson #3 was to not forget the lessons as you learn them, so I have failed two lessons over the past few weeks. We weren't properly prepared with Don's paperwork for getting a driver's license, so he doesn't have his yet. I also have forgotten several things on several other occasions. I'm sure this is something that will improve over time as I grow accustomed to my new mode of transportation.

I have another lesson to share now, which is somewhat related to the "always be prepared" lesson: Lesson #4: Call Ahead. Luckily, for the most part I kinda figured this out the "easy" way (I'm assuming this is the opposite of "the hard way?"), and have been calling ahead to places to make sure they are open, available, etc. before going. I find it interesting that I am much more apt to call ahead now that I'm on a bike (or bus) than I was when I owned a car. I realize that it's much more involved to bike back home to grab something, or to have to incorporate an extra stop into a different day, than it is to simply drive back home or whatever. However, isn't my time just as valuable with a car as it is without?  Why was I so willing to waste 5, 10, 15 extra minutes here or there instead of making a simple phone call? Of course, sometimes the checking doesn't always help; we checked Starbucks's website to see how late it was open on Monday night, and it said it would be open 1/2 hour later than it actually WAS. I discovered this sadly upon trying to open the locked doors. Of course, if Starbucks had updated its website, we wouldn't have had that problem - *shakes fist at Starbucks* - but I digress.

Also slightly related is Lesson #5: Plan Errands Ahead of Time (and do them in groups). I had read this tip a while ago actually for ways to save on gas and time! The general idea is that you should run all of your errands in one day instead of running them throughout the week, saving you time and, in most cases, money because you aren't driving back and forth as often. Again, this is one of those lessons that I marvel at ignoring when I was a car owner, because, as I said before, isn't my time just as precious with a car as it is without? But when riding a bike or planning bus stops, planning your errands becomes that much more important. Running back to the store because you forgot one item isn't as quick or appealing when you're riding a bike or bus (although, on occasion it's actually nice to get one more ride in). For the bus, checking the schedule and knowing the stops is of utmost importance, so you can map your errands to get them done in the most efficient way possible.

So, there you have it: Chapter 3 of my Lessons Learned. I actually believe that these two lessons are also prudent for car owners, as they WILL save you time and money. So, even if you aren't quite ready to make the plunge into a car-free lifestyle, I encourage you to apply these two lessons to your life today!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Guess I'm taking the bus...

Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, 
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act Two Scene Two)

Oh yes, that's right: I just quoted Shakespeare. For my bike.

Well, it would appear that I have a split rim.  I'm not quite sure how it happened, but...<sigh> it did. And the problem is that because I have a motor assist, I have a "special" back wheel, so...it is gonna cost me more than just a typical rim. Bah! And in addition to that, the guy at the bike shop recommended that I not ride on it until it is fixed, so I had to leave the bike there. Double bah! Then, on top of that, the part won't be in until Thursday, and then it might still take a week past then. Triple bah!

So, I am bike-less for at least a week and a half. But - stay tuned!  I will still have updates including a book review, reflections on Malcolm's first day of school, and perhaps even my feeble attempts to ride one of Don's bikes. 

I miss my bike. :-(

Friday, August 10, 2012

Biking With Kids

A few people have expressed interest in the idea of bike commuting, but have related some concerns about how they can bring their kids along for the ride. Well, I have to admit that I'm rather lucky in this regard, as Malcolm (age 9) LOVES to ride his bike! We invested in a good bike for him back in February, and even fortunately had an extra lock and set of pannier bags for him to use. So, he feels like an official "biker" and enjoys coming along with us on our rides. In fact, he did a 14 mile ride with Don on Wednesday! So, I'm afraid I don't have much to offer by way of personal experience on the "what to do with your kids" front. However, there are plenty of people who do! So, I thought I'd share a few links to help out those of you with kiddos.

When you have really little ones, a front-mounted seat can be a good way to go - I imagine a parent feels more secure having the little tot basically in his/her arms. Over at bikecommuters.com, a parent reviewed one of these seats. (complete with pictures!) As they get older, a trailer is a great way to go; I've seen many parents with these. InSTEP appears to be a popular brand for these, but other alternatives do exist. Again, at bikecommuters.com, a mother details how she came to love bike commuting after converting a jogging stroller into a trailer.

Now, even though Malcolm loves biking, we do have an alternative in case he is sick, tired, or just not feeling like riding. Several months ago Don ordered a bakfiets, a dutch cargo bike. The nice thing about the bike is that it is designed to not only carry cargo such as groceries, supplies, etc., but it is also designed to carry your most precious cargo.  (That's your kids. Thought I should clarify just in case.)

Don with his precious cargo. And Malcolm.
We even got a rain cover for ours so Malcolm (and other cargo) would be protected during inclement weather.  In the photo above, Don is taking him to school in the middle of February. IN TOLEDO. Malcolm used a Snuggie (don't judge; it was free!) to keep him warm.

Little did he know, a backwards robe would have had the same exact effect.

So, a nice solution, even for the brutal cold of Northwest Ohio. Malcolm does, on occasion, still ride in the bakfiet, but we now primarily use it for the transport of cargo. Don used it to help take supplies over to my office, and to go grocery shopping. Sometimes we even take the dog along in it, and it became a popular thing among our friends to ask for a ride in the bakfiets! It's a very helpful thing to have - sort of the "SUV" of the bike world.

So, there you have it: a few solutions for biking with kids. Even though I don't have much experience to share with little kids, I will be happy to share Malcolm's experiences with biking as we go along.  He plans on biking to school daily, so we'll be sure to write about the first day of school next week!
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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Time is ticking away...

Just a quick update today!

Many people have stated that they don't want to bike commute because of the time factor; they feel that biking would take way more time than driving. I have to say that in our particular circumstance, biking does not take that much more time (if any) than driving. In fact, when we first arrived in Blacksburg, Diana and I drove her car downtown to meet up with the boys, and the boys rode their bikes. And you know what happened? The boys actually beat us home by about 30 seconds! And I've been told by numerous people that traffic will get MUCH worse when all of the students are back in town - making biking actually FASTER than driving. Now, that will not always be the case - witness The Night Everything Went Wrong - however, on average, biking and driving are interchangeable (time-wise). Add to that the fact that you're getting exercise while biking and...well, you get the picture. (For an even more in-depth look at time savings, check out this article.)

So, anyway...today we ran errands, and I have to say that I don't really think it took much more time (if any) than if we had done them by car.  We left the house around noon, took a deposit to the bank, stopped at the post office, picked up a part for my bike at The Bike Barn (and spent the time there attaching it), stopped at the library and got library cards and picked up books, and hung out at Starbucks for about an hour.  All of this, and we were home by 3:30. AND - bonus! - we got to witness a runaway lawnmower. (The second time in 2 months I have done so - what is it with that?) Now, I really don't know that we would have shaved any time off of this trip at all by driving, because everything was within 3 miles or so of home. Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to this; obviously, the 450 miles to Toledo would take quite a bit longer by bike instead of by car.  But shorter distances are quite manageable!

So, to those of you who are concerned about the time factor...I would encourage you to give a bike commute a couple of tries and compare times.  With stop lights, traffic, parking snafus, etc., driving can be time consuming. And even if it does end up taking a few more minutes by bike - well, usually the scenery is a bit better, the frustration level is much lower (road rage, anyone?), AND...you just had your workout, saving you time later at the gym.

So get out those stopwatches and start timing!

(And by the way...no mocking duck today.  I think he tried to crash my bike though, because he ran -well, waddled, I guess - out onto the path in front of me.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Advocacy Snapshot

Graph courtesy of Streetsblog.org 

Streetsblog.org reports that over 7,000 pedestrians and bicyclists have been injured in the first six months of 2012 in New York City. This includes 79 fatalities (67 pedestrians, 12 cyclists). While they do list that some of the incidents were hit-and-runs where the driver could not be found to be cited, the number of citations issued in proportion to the number of people injured seems WAY out of line.

What do you think? Is our car-friendly culture allowing motorists to literally get away with murder?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Does this bus stop at 82nd street?

Part of my move to bike commuting included the knowledge that commuting by bus would be a part of my regular routine. So, today I took my first-ever public bus ride! Here are my first impressions:

  • There is no mercy for the uninitiated. I got on the bus, and it immediately moved. No waiting for people to get their seats...that's it, the bus stops, lets people on, and keeps going! Luckily, I grabbed one of the handles and twisted into a seat...sparing me the embarrassment of falling flat on my face. This time.
  • There are NO SIGNS indicating how to request a stop. This is how naive I am to the ways of public transit: I had no idea you even HAD to request a stop; I only realized this after (a) the bus didn't automatically stop at the next place on the route and (b) after hearing an announcement of "stop requested" at some point in the ride. At first, I had no idea how such a stop was requested! Luckily for me, Rachel Weiss came to my rescue.  Don and I had just watched The Runaway Jury the other day (great movie!), and there is a scene in which Rachel Weiss's character is on a bus and pulls down on a horizontal yellow cable to request a stop. I looked on the side of the bus and lo and behold - there was the yellow cable! Thank you, Hollywood! You've educated me once again.
  • Bus riding has some definite perks. Perk #1: You don't have to worry about where to park a car OR bike. You just get off the bus and go. It's kinda nice.
  • Perk #2 of bus riding: By studying the schedule and maps, I discovered that I can pick up the bus outside of my building on campus and go right to The Frosty Parrot, which is easily the most amazing frozen yogurt place I've ever visited. This is dangerous knowledge, my friends.
  • Perk #3: I still get exercise! Even though I'm not riding my bike to school, I still get some exercise by walking  from the stop to my building, or walking to get lunch or whatever if I choose not to wait for the bus to do so. Of course, if I need some rest, the great thing is that there are many convenient stop locations, including one almost right outside my apartment door.
  • Perk #4: I'm not quite as sweaty by the time I get to school. :-)

All in all, I have to say that it was a fun first day on the bus. I left the house around 11:34 and was seated at my desk in my office by 11:53. I didn't have to stress about traffic, and could sort of "zone out" for a few minutes. On the way home, I actually read my book. So, I guess that's Perk #5: Increased work and/or relaxation time! I'm thinking that I need to find a pair of headphones for my phone, and perhaps I can use my bus rides as my "listen to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" time. THAT would make this experience 10x more enjoyable.

Well, that's it for today!  As my bike and bus riding continues, I will be sure to continue to update on all of the fun - and not so fun - adventures. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Who Am I, and What Have I Done With Myself?

That question sounds a lot better when it's not so reflexive.  Let me try this again: "Who is Tana, and what has biking done with her?" Hm. A little better.

My parents just visited for 5 days. As a result, I did not ride my bike for 5 days. In some ways it was nice to take a break, but I found myself getting antsy. Unbelievably, I asked Don this evening if he would like to get out and go for a bike ride. This is absolutely incredible because (a) I have historically needed to be prodded to go out on bike rides and (b) I knew that the lateness of the hour during which I suggested going out would mean that we would be riding home in the dark, which still freaks me out. I have to say, though...it was SO GREAT. We rode over to campus and tossed the Frisbee around, which turned out to be quite entertaining for my husband and son (let's just say that I'm not going to be coveted by any Ultimate teams any time soon). Then, we stopped and got some ice cream for the boy and some coffee beverages for us. It was such a nice, relaxing evening.

I want to point out that this is so "not me."  Or - it wasn't me even just three weeks ago. It's amazing to me how quickly I've taken to biking.  I mention this because if there is anyone reading this who thinks "my goodness, I could never do that" - well, I thought the same thing!  And if I had just sat inside hanging out on the computer or whatever, I would've have missed not only this amazing view:


...but also a beautiful array of stars on the way home. So, get out and get moving! You won't regret it.

(...and yes, the duck mocked me again.)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Taking a little break...

Well, I'm taking a break from bike commuting because my parents are in town visiting. I have to say, it's a mixed bag of emotions, going bike-less for a few days. Part of me is relieved to have a little break, and to have the advantage of a car to run a bunch of errands (I'm still a little afraid of the 7-8 mile trek to the neighboring town that holds most of the "major" stores). But I'm getting restless! My legs are a little antsy from not exercising, and I kind of miss the fresh air.  Wait...is it possible?  Am I...starting to like the outdoors?

I plan to reflect on these things - and more! - in the days to come, but thought I'd just post a quick update to let y'all know that I might not post for a few days while the 'rents are visiting. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about this process, any of the equipment I use, etc.  I know that someone out there is reading this thing, because in a little over one week, I already have more than half the number of page views that I had for my other blog  OVER FOUR YEARS! So, perhaps there is some interest in this bike commuting thing? Oh - and my blog posts won't be limited to just bike commuting. I will soon be testing out public transit, and may also eventually try the U-car program on campus. After I named this blog, I actually had a micro-instant of regret where I thought, "I should have named this blog the Car-Free Commuter!  It would have been more accurate!" But, I'm still hoping to make the bike my primary mode of transportation.

Anyway...Questions! NOW!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Product Review: VT Cooling Towel

I thought that I might, every now and then, review a product that is helpful for biking. I wanted to start with the "VT" Cooling Towel, because even though it is not necessarily a "bike product," it is definitely something that has been helpful for me with switching to bike commuting. The claim, as you can see from the picture, is that it will make your body feel "up to 20 degrees cooler." Challenge accepted!

I purchased this towel on a whim at Bed Bath and Beyond ($14.99) with the hopes that it might keep me from getting overheated on long rides. The instructions are to immerse the towel in water to "activate" it. I would advise you to definitely follow these instructions, as simply trying to run a little water over the towel does not do the trick (learned that the hard way). After I actually immersed it, this towel worked very well! Honestly, I was surprised at just how effective this little piece of fabric is (actually, I don't think you could technically call it fabric - it is made of PVA). The other day, I stopped in at the graduate school to fill out some paperwork after riding my bike around quite a bit. I paused in the lobby and draped the towel around my neck. Not only did I get some immediate gratification - I felt cooler instantly - the towel helped bring down my overall body temperature after a few minutes. After about 5 minutes, I actually began to feel chilly, if you can believe it.

So, obviously, I heartily endorse this product! My only regret is that I purchased the white towel. Honestly, I think I grabbed this one because it was the "display" piece by the counter, and also because I was caught up in Hokie fever. But there were other similar products - some called "chilly pads" and "frogg toggs" - that I sort of wish I had gotten instead, only because of the color of the product. The white of this towel picked up dirt quite easily and quickly, and I feel that had I gotten, say, the blue one, perhaps the dirt wouldn't be so obvious. Fortunately, it is machine washable, so hopefully this won't be too much of an issue.

Well, there you have it, folks - my first product review! Hopefully it was helpful. If there is any information I left out of the review that you think would be helpful for future reviews, please let me know!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Electric Assist: Some Basic Info

The picture at left is of my awesome, amazing bike. It is a Giant Revive (semi-recumbent). I wanted to post this picture of my bike (a) because my bike is super amazing and awesome and (b) so you can see that I have a bike powered by electric assist. Now, this is not at all necessary to be a bike commuter; in fact, my husband does not have electric assist on either of his bikes, and he uses his much more often. However, I have what is called an autonomic insufficiency, the onset of which negatively affected my exercise habits, and the presence of which causes other problems for regular exercise.  I don't want to spend a lot of time boring you all with the details of this medical condition, so I will just sum up the main problem: If I exert myself too much, become overheated, or become dehydrated, I am in danger of passing out (and the tipping point for this is much quicker for me than the average individual). Since the onset of this condition, I have been slowly building back up my endurance. Five years ago, I could barely walk 3 blocks without having to take a rest; now, I can go for a 45 minute walk, or perhaps a 5 minute jog.  But the consistent pedaling of biking - particularly up hills - can often be problematic. This is where the electric assist comes in.

Now, if you want to be a bike commuter, you don't have to have electric assist. If you are of average health, you can certainly build the endurance more quickly than I can (and I've noticed a marked improvement in just two weeks). But, if you DO have health issues, there may be ways around them. And the electric assist is one of those ways.

I love this little gadget!
So, what is electric assist? Electric assist systems integrate with your bike to add a "boost" to your cycling. When you have the assist "on," it boosts the power of every turn of the pedal. So for example, depending on the level you set the assist, your 9 mph pedaling becomes 10-12 mph of progress. In addition, there is a throttle you can press to go zipping off without even pedaling. (This is usually what elicits exclamations of "Aw, COME ON!" from my son when I fly past him on an incline.)

I believe there are a number of companies you can purchase these from, but we obtained our electric assist from BionX. The systems they make can turn virtually any bike into an "e-bike" - in fact, our system was on Don's Terratrike before it made its way over to my Revive. (He nobly sacrificed it for me) The battery is also outfitted with a light, which is great for safety. Also, an additional perk of having the electric assist is that I can see exactly how many mph I'm pedaling, and I can even track how many miles I've ridden (though, our system is stuck in km and we can't figure out how to get it to miles, so I have to do a conversion - or remain happily deluded). This is great for keeping track of calories burned, when I want to track those. For someone who is very concerned about tracking all of that stuff, this system would be a big help.

The battery for the electric assist.
So, there's the basic info on electric assist. For me, it was essentially the difference between going car-less and not going car-less. Because of my limitations, there's no way I would have been able to make the change so quickly. (Perhaps if I had done a slow change over a year.) If you are thinking about bike commuting, but you have some physical limitations - I would encourage you to check out these systems. And if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments - I'm sure I didn't cover all of the information!