Thursday, February 21, 2013

Windy winter wonderland

We are having a very "bikeable" winter week. It is pretty warm for Boston's February standards (high 20's F) and sunny. Yet there are two things that make my commute a bit troublesome the last few days.
Headwind. (Comic strip from

Wind. It slows me down to a crawl. I noticed that it takes me a couple more minutes to get to my destination, especially in the morning. And why does it always have to blow the wrong way?

Salt. We are at the end of winter season, which means that by now all streets around are thoroughly preserved with a thick layer of salt. But what may be good for roads is not good for bicycles. Not only my usually black bicycle looks greyish-white right now, but I also noticed multiple corrosion spots on it. These are mostly on the rear rack and I couldn't care less about them. Generally, as long as the drivetrain (rear hub, chain, cranks and bottom bracket) and breaks work, I don't worry about the rest. I keep the chain oiled and brakes adjusted. Nevertheless, my bike desperately needs a serious spring cleaning.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The advantages of winter blizzards

The "scary" blizzard is long gone but despite a much warmer weather this week there is still plenty of snow piled up everywhere along roads. And still a lot of it is blocking some traffic lanes to the point where you can't really fit a car between the huge snow bank on one side and the second traffic lane on the other.

While biking to work this week I realized something - blizzards are good! They really help cyclists! Well, not blizzards themselves but what happens after. With half of the width of the rightmost lane occupied by snow there is simply no space for cars to travel, but there is plenty of space for bikes. Usually, I ride my bike about 2-3 feet away from the curb but now I have the comfort of taking the whole lane and not being honked constantly by passing drivers. They too realize that out of two lanes in each direction they can only use the left one. The rightmost one becomes a cycling lane. Nice!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Scare tactics

"You are riding your bike to work? On those busy streets? Aren't you scared? It's dangerous!". How many times have you heard something like this? I guess, we like to be reminded requently about the "danger" waiting for us around every corner. And when we tell our kids to put those tools down and don't play with "dangerous" toys, kids in Norway learn how to use a hammer and cut wood with a saw. A real one. In kindergarten (I can't give you a link but I read about Scandinavian children upgringing several months ago).

We are supposed to get up to 2 feet of snow tomorrow night. Weather reports are filled with scare tactics: Blizzard is coming! Stay home! Buy bottled water! I never really understood this panic mode many people here seem to follow in such situations. When I happen to be in a supermarket just a day before the blizzard I see most of the water bottles gone, batteries, canned food, etc. And I think to myself: "Is this the end of the world?". No, it isn't. It is supposed to be only 2 feet of snow. Supposed to, which means that usually it is less than that. And even if we get 3 feet of snow, it is winter now. Snow is not something unusual, right?

I also wonder why I never witnessed such panic mode when living in Europe and I can't find a simple explanation. Maybe it is because many of European low-voltage electrical lines are underground so you would never have that many downed wires as here and, as a result, electrical blackouts. Or maybe just people are different. Or media reports are less dramatic. Or both. I am not sure.

But I am sure that tomorrow would be just another great day to ride a bike.

Stay warm. Happy shoveling!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Racktime WorkIt Classic pannier review

Those of us who ride bicycles for transportation know that sooner or later you will end up buying panniers or another similar storage system that can be attached to your bike. Whether it is a front-mounted bag, top rack bag, or a rear rack pannier set, having the cargo attached to your bike rather than your back is simply much more convenient in the city (Mountainbiking is different - I prefer a small backpack for such situation).

I have used two simple rear rack panniers on my Coffee for over a year. What was supposed to be a temporary solution turned out to be a long-term one. The panniers I used were very old. I mean it - probably over 15 years old! They do their job in carrying stuff but I had to leave them permanently attached to my bike. The mounting provisions are simple hooks and straps and there is no quick-release system of any kind. That proved to be very inconvenient.
My old setup with two ancient panniers.

I bike to work but on some days I have to visit client sites, which means driving tens of miles. Obviously, I drive to work then since bicycling would be simply inefficient. This all means that often I have to move all my usual office stuff from the panniers on my bike to my regular office bag. I ended up using zip-lock bags where I kept all loose items and placed those bags inside my panniers. Then when I had to drive to work, I moved those zip-locks to my office bag. Similarly, once I got to my office and parked my bike, I had to carry those zip-locks to my desk, together with the helmet, gloves, jacket, etc. As you can tell, this wasn't the best solution.

What would definitely work much better is a simple pannier, designed to carry my office stuff (papers, lunch, laptop, bike tools) with a quick-release system. This way I would use the same bag for all situations and never have to switch between the panniers and another office bag. I did some search and my eyes turned toward Racktime WorkIt Classic.
Racktime WorkIt Classic.

WorkIt is a pannier that looks and works like a regular laptop bag. However, except of just carrying a laptop and some papers to/from your office, it can do couple more things. First of all, it has 2 main compartments. The one in the front comes with many internal pockets. Great for keeping those loose business cards, pens, phone, wallet and of course... a few bike tools as well! The back compartment can easily store your laptop and some papers. Should you need more space, WorkIt can be unzipped to expand its width. I liked this feature a lot because I usually don't need that much space and I can keep WorkIt compacted for its lower profile on the rack. There is also a large pocket in the front and a smaller one on the outside, where you can keep the items you would want to have a frequent access to. Carrying strap is included as well.
 Main compartment.

 Secondary (expandable) compartment.

Small front pocket.

 The pannier in its narrower form...

and when expanded.

Up to now, the bag looks like a regular laptop case but when you unzip two covers on the backside you can access the part that is the most interesting for cyclists - a quick release system. Racktime used QL2 system by Ortlieb and it works well with almost all rear racks. It comes with an adapter if your rack uses a smaller diameter tubing (max. is 16mm). Installation and adjustment is quick and simple. Putting on and taking the bag off the rack takes only seconds.
Ortlieb QL2 quick-release system...

which can be hidden when unused.

WorkIt is not exactly waterproof. It will survive a light drizzle easily and its fabric looks heavy-duty. But if you bike in a heavy downpour, unzip the little pocket on the side where you will find a rain cover. Easy to install, the cover is 100% waterproof and protects the bag from all debris from the road. Well, almost all. The back of the bag where it is mounted to a rack is not covered and can get messy. Fortunately, the fabric seems to be hydrophobic and it is very easy to clean. What I also liked was that cover can be detached from bag and rinsed. Not such an obvious feature, I guess. I had an older Deuter backpack where cover was permanently attached, which meant that washing it was a bit troublesome.
Waterproof cover in its storage pocket...

and on the bike. 

Is it worth it? Well, depends on what you are looking for. As an office bag, WorkIt is nearly perfect. If you have to stop by at a grocery store on the way home, you may have to add more storage options to your bike. Available in brown, black, grey or red, WorkIt costs between $100 and $120.