Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holey saddle

As a plan to do some upgrades to my cyclocross bike (more about it sometime soon) I bought a new saddle - Selle An-Atomica Titanico. Apparently, this is supposed to be the most comfortable bicycle saddle in the world. At least this is what manufacturer claims. And many riders as well. We shall see.
So far I can say that Titanico is more comfortable than the old saddle I had on this bike. I do have to make some fine adjustments though. The slot seems to work as expected - It lets both parts of leather move independently as you pedal. Plus, leather is suspended across the rails so you feel more like you sit in a hammock. This way Titanico adjusts to my butt and not the other way around.

This piece of leather with a giant cut in the middle is not exactly cheap. It retails for $190 (yikes!). However, there has been a sale recently and I managed to get a new one for half the price. My saddle is white, which may make it less visually compatible with many bikes (In case I want to move it to another bike in the future.), but it does match my white cross bike really well.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I see bicycles everywhere!

Just when I was ready to put my bike away for a short Christmas break and focus on other things than bicycling, I saw this at the Christmas party:
UPDATE: And another one!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Time to put the bike away. Temporarily, of course. Christmas is not a bicycling time for me. More like a time to spend with family at the table.
I hope that Santa will be good for you this year and you will find some appropriate gifts under the Christmas tree. Maybe those studded tires, biking gloves or a wicker basket that you were thinking about?
Have a great Christmas holiday!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Be American, save your legs?

Today's weather is quite amazing. It really feels more like October than the end of December. It is 13 degrees C outside! Obviously with such a winter weather, there is no excuse not to ride a bike. Or walk.

Elka took Dr. J. for a walk to Wilson Farm in Lexington this morning since she had to run some last minute Christmas errands. I would prefer to ride a bike since the farm is nearly 4km away from our house, but Elka likes to walk. Especially that we are not prepared to accomodate Dr. J. on a bike yet. His first ride will likely happen next spring.
On the way back, she met a German woman living nearby, who was also pushing a stroller with her kid. The ladies started talking and at some point our neighbor said "I thought you were European." Then she explained: "Because no American would ever walk that distance."

I just say: weather is nice so keep walking or riding a bike. Especially now with all that Christmas shopping rush when finding a place to park at the mall could be impossible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


As you may remember, I wrote a post about 5 main reasons why a bike is better than a car. Today I discovered the reason #6:
You don't need keys to ride a bicycle.
Today I had one of those low-motivation mornings. I don't know if it is the winter time, darkness, low temperatures, or something else, but I didn't really feel like riding a bicycle and I planned to drive instead. I thought that it would be a good idea to let my legs rest for a day. And then, as I was going to leave for work, I couldn't find my car keys. I spent over 5 minutes searching for them and finally gave up. This is when I realized that my bike is just there, waiting for me, I don't need keys to ride it, and with air temperature of 2 degrees C it is really not that cold for a bike ride.

It seems that it is always possible to find motivation to ride a bicycle. With some help of misplaced car keys.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Trying The Other Bike

It is getting chilly. This morning my cheeks froze pretty well on my ride to work. I guess winter is finally going to visit us this year.

Last weekend I decided to do some tweaks on my Other Bike to make my riding position more comfortable. I am trying different stem lengths and saddle positions to figure out what the best combo will be. Until now, I felt a bit too stretched between the saddle and the handlebars and I want to make sure that even longer rides on this bike would be pleasant.
Riding on the Minuteman Bikeway (Pictures are from a cell phone, unfortunatelly. A SLR camera somehow doesn't fit well in my jersey's back pockets.)

To try out some of the new settings I rode along the Minuteman Bikeway to Bedford. It is a nice 25km (round trip) ride from Arlington ending at The Bikeway Source store...
...and a historic railway car parked next to the Bedford Depot Park museum.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do you really know how to drive?

LuckyChow99 left a comment to my Tuesday's post:
It doesn't help that you can get driver license (here in Georgia) by taking the road test in a parking lot.
That made me think - do most people even know how to drive?

I remember my first driving test ever - 16 years ago in Poland. There were 3 parts:
1. The usual written test with 30 multiple choice questions where more than one answer could have been correct. Most questions were about various road situations, especially on intersections, presented in simple drawings where I had to decide, which vehicle should yield to others, etc. I was allowed to make only 1 mistake (And I did).
2. The second part was a parking lot driving, where I had to parallel park, back into a garage, start uphill (The test car had a manual transmission, naturally), etc.
3. Third part was finally a road test in regular city traffic.
I didn't pass the first time since my parallel parking was less than perfect.

Years later, I decided to get a Massachusetts driver license. Out of 20 multiple choice questions, easily half of them were related to alcohol. I still keep wondering what is the benefit of knowing the maximum fine a person under 21 would have to pay for having an opened beer bottle in the car? I always thought that knowing how to respond to various road conditions is the most important part of every driving test. Well, apparently not in U.S. In this country, it is much more important to know how to safely transport a six pack than safely transport people.
I nearly failed that test, since I had to guess many of those stupid questions that didn't even apply to me (I was well over 21 at that time).

The road test was a joke as well. Mr. Policeman seeing me being familiar with the car, stopped me after driving just a few meters and decided that I was only wasting his time.

Seeing all this, I am 99% sure that no American would pass Polish driver license test. Of course, this doesn't mean that in Poland we know how to drive. Quite the opposite. How many people know how to really control their cars? Many more in Finland than in Poland or U.S. for sure.
Since having a driver's license in 21st century America became as important as owning a revolver in 19th century Wild West, I wonder - did we make it too accessible? Maybe 17 year old drivers should really learn how to drive before using their fathers' 3-tonne trucks? Maybe if we refocus test questions on what is really important, drivers would know what to do when they get to a 4-way stop?

Considering this, it would be safer to put all these drivers on bicycles. At least they would move slower and had less chance to kill anyone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

...and stop signs too.

Since I got pretty upset yesterday with some cycling idiots running red lights in the middle of always-busy Manhattan, it is time now to even things out a little. The other side of the equation is not much better (mostly much worse, actually). This video by a fellow bike commuter from Boston area proves the point - 60 seconds, 6 cars, not even one stopped at the stop sign.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Red lights are for fools

There is a good reason why road traffic is regulated by lights and signs, especially in a thickly-settled urban environment, like the middle of Manhattan. Yet it looks like some believe that red lights are only a "suggestion" to stop and one-way streets can be ridden in the wrong direction.

This is a year-old video but it is definitely worth watching again. It seems that most chaos in this part of Manhattan is caused by cyclists. I have no idea if those were some daredevil bike messengers, hipsters on fixies, or cycling moms with children. All of them seemed to ignore basic rules of traffic, endangering themselves and others. Unbelievable. Seeing this, I am not surprised that many motorists still hate cyclists.

If you like to have more freedom and not be limited by red lights, why don't you move to a place where it is perfectly normal to ride this way?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Dark Age of Cycling

Do you remember your first childhood bike? You know, the one that used to take you everywhere. Do you remember all the fun you had then? Have you continued cycling once you joined high school and college?

If at any time of your life you stopped cycling, either for transportation and/or recreation, only to rediscover it later, you went through the Dark Age of Cycling.

The Dark Age is a period in our life when we stop using bicycles completely. It may happen to us at any time of life but most often we go through it in our mid to late 20's. This is when we graduate from college, get our first job and start commuting to work instead of going to school. It is also the time when we usually buy our first car, get married, buy homes, and plan to have kids. Our life gets busier and we just don't find time for recreational cycling anymore.

What makes us leave the darkness of the Dark Age is either new (cycling) friends we make, bicycle blogs we start to read, memories of childhood biking fun, and many other events.

My Dark Age happened in 2006-2007 when I didn't own a bike at all. The Worst-Bike-Ever that I got for free basically fell apart and I didn't buy a new one until early 2008. I drove a car to work and I didn't ride a bicycle for nearly 2 years. That must have felt like a long, long break and eventually I visited a local bike store and finally bought a new bike.
Human evolution (Source: Google Images)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Six most absurd ideas for cycling laws

1. Cyclists should pay "road tax"
Fake "Road Tax" payment tag (Source:

First of all, there is no such thing as "road tax" although many drivers would like to belive so. It is the excise tax what all drivers pay, even if they don't drive their car at all. That's because the excise tax is the tax of car ownership, not usage. Yet many drivers think that since cyclists don't pay for roads in a form of a "road tax" they should not use them. Roads are financed from income taxes, not "road tax", and those are paid by all drivers and cyclists.

2. Mandatory insurance
This has been discussed so many times yet still there is a large number of drivers believing that cyclists should pay a mandatory insurance. The reason why drivers have to be insured is that they use a 2 tonne vehicle that moves at high speed. Any accidents would likely result in injuries, even fatal, to cyclists or pedestrians, but less likely to drivers themselves. Cyclists on the other hand, operate a lightweight vehicle moving at low speed that is unlikely going to kill anyone, except maybe its rider. The damage done by bicycle in case of a collison is minimal compared to the one done by car and it doesn't justify the need for insurance. This is exactly why pedestrians are not insured either.

3. Bicycle license plates

Some drivers believe that since they have to display a license plate on their vehicles, cyclists should do the same. You know, it would help identify those cyclists who break the law running red lights. The problem is that license plates don't stop drivers from breaking the law so why would they stop cyclists? Actually, why don't we require pedestrians to wear license plates as well? They too disobey law by crossing the street on red. Bicycle license plates would not increase safety but only add cost of owning a bicycle.

4. Mandatory helmets 
Must wear a helmet (Source:

Well, this is not just an idea. In some countries it is the law. Requiring everyone to wear a helmet does not prevent accidents. It may result in less injuries. It definitely leads to decrease of number of cyclists. It discourages users of city bike sharing programs. In general, it leads nowhere.

5. Bikes off the streets
Some drivers would love to believe that cyclists don't belong to streets. Those are the same who think bikes should be only used for recreation in state parks. But bicycles are vehicles too. Just like cars, trucks and excavators. There is no good reason why bikes should not be allowed on streets. Except the highways. But the same way it is foolish to require cyclists to use bike lanes exclusively. Just like you don't expect drivers to use highways only.

6. Signal pothole-evasive maneuvers
That is the most interesting one I heard. Apparently, it aggravates drivers when cyclists ride in a some "zig-zac" pattern trying to avoid potholes and they think that cyclists should signal those maneuvers. Why should they, if they don't change lanes? When you drive on a country road that turns 45 degrees, would you signal that? Cyclists should remember that they move between much heavier and faster vehicles and should not try any sudden, unexpected maneuvers. But why would you require them to signal every change of direction? Especially that cyclists have a right to use the full width of the lane.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lovely mountain bikes

A few weeks ago I read a post by Velouria of the Lovely Bicycle! about city bikes with mountain bike heritage. Velouria always looks for beautiful bicycles and her main interest seems to be in city or touring bikes. Her blog is always fun to read and thought-provoking. In the above-mentioned post she wrote: "contemporary mountain bikes are rather ugly", which made me search for beautiful mountain bikes.

Mountain bike is certainly a very different pair of shoes. Unlike city bikes, MTBs are usually designed with performance in mind. Using always-favorite car analogy, mountain bikes are Land Rover Defenders of cars. These boxy, raw, rugged vehicles may not appear beautiful, but once you drive off that paved road you will quickly realize that they are unbeatable in their natural habitat. So while it is unlikely to find lugged steel frames, hand-hammered fenders, chrome-coated headlights or cream tires on mountain bikes, we have to find beauty elsewhere.

Beauty of simplicity

Moots YBB MTB. (Source:

This Moots YBB bike beautifully solves the problem of adding a rear suspension to a MTB frame without disrupting its classic shape. Also, its natural titanium color (greyish-brownish-purplish-whatever) makes it look clam, simple, and... beautiful.
Sure, this bike is handmade of titanium so it will cost you an arm and a leg but hey, it's Moots.

Beauty of power

I hesitated which bike should belong to this category as I considered two of them. Eventually, I decided to include both: Intense M1 and Foes DH1. Both represent a true beauty of power.
Foes DH1 (tube). (Source: Google Images)

Foes DH1 shown above is the original tube version of DH1 designed for Foes Racing Team. Some would say that the later monocoque version looked even more killer-like, but I somehow like the older tube frame better. The monocoque version was used in professional downhill racing by the "devil in the saddle" herself - iconic Missy "Missile" Giove.
Intense M1 with Hanebrink fork. (Source: Google Images)

If you need the ultimate downhill bike, Intense M1 is the answer. Or actually was, since it is not being made any more. It was replaced by some newer, lighter-looking models. But in terms of pure looks, M1 is still the winner, which must be due to its heavy, tank-like frame. Hanebrink fork is a beauty of its own. Large diameter tubes, upside-down design - it is essentially a scaled-down (although not by much) version of a motorcycle fork. The complete  bike looks, well... intense.

Custom-made beauties

A quick look at NAHBS website reveals more MTB beauties. These bikes are custom-made and often present some very unconventional design.
 Black Sheep Fabrication, Inc.

Rosene Hand Built Bicycles

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coffee with sugar

I decided to upgrade my Coffee a little and now this project is almost completed. I mentioned earlier that the one part I really disliked about it was the saddle. I replaced it with a sprung Brooks B67. It still has to be broken in a bit but I can already feel the difference in my butt. The new saddle is noticeably heavier, but I guess it doesn't really matter since this bike was not lightweight anyway.
I also added some cheap leather grips, to color-match the saddle. They are not exactly the same color (Saddle is dark brown, grips are honey color), but still look better than the stock, black rubber grips.
I added two lights on the rear rack. I feel safer with two lights, especially now, during the winter months when I have to ride back from work in complete darkness. Usually I set the bottom 5 LED PlanetBike light in continuous mode, while I keep the top Cateye TL-LD150-R flashing. This should increase my visibility.
There is also a new brass bell on handlebars. Loud and shiny. I found my old panniers in the basement and now they work pretty well as simple bags to carry my stuff to work. They are easily 12 years old but I didn't use them much and they are still in a pretty good shape.
The last thing was the front light. I would like to use something retro and I remember that I still have the old headlamp from my grandfather's commuter bike. It must be easily 30 years old. It has a mounting bracket to attach it to the side of the fork and it also has a bottle-type dynamo on it. It is pretty simple to install, still works, looks classic so why not use it? Since I left it in my parents house in Poland, I would have to get it the next time I visit them. For now, I use the light I had on my cyclocross bike. It is an older Dinotte headlight. Incredibly tiny, yet still outputs 300 lumen beam on full power setting.

The bike is complete now. Looks pretty good, I think and rides nicely. I am glad that I bought a bike that has handlebars positioned at the same height as the saddle. Plus, handlebars are swept back, but not as much as in Dutch bikes. This requires me to lean forward just a bit so I don't really sit fully upright. All this is good, since my work commute takes me through a number of hills. After riding this route several times I have a feeling that a fully upright 3-speed Dutch bike would not work well for me. It would be difficult to ride uphill and could make my commute unpleasant.

Total cost after all upgrades was about $550.