April 16, 2014

Spring Transformation of Bike Paths

The bell broke off my bike a couple of months ago and I hadn’t bothered to replace it, mainly because I didn’t have much use for it. During the winter, I have long stretches of empty path to myself. Now that it’s warming up, it’s a different story.
Just like the migratory birds, all of the other path users are back with the warmer weather. Nice sunny days flood the paths with walkers, joggers, strollers, road cyclists, and the seasonal everyday cyclists, along with the occasional skateboarder. That’s when a bell comes in handy.
I enjoy watching the transformation with every ride - I see another species of bird that’s returned, the shoots of daffodils, as well as Madisonians coming out to walk, run, or bike off their cabin fever.  
Welcome back!

April 13, 2014

DIY or Die?

It can be rewarding to do bike maintenance yourself, but if you’re not into it, that’s cool. You can enjoy using a bike for transportation without caring about how to change a tire.
Still, it’s empowering to have a base of knowledge of how your bike works. That way, if your bike starts making an odd sound or something feels off, you can do some troubleshooting and perhaps perform a quick fix.
For me and many of my friends who bike, the desire to tinker with your bike grows the more time you spend on it. No doubt this is partly motivated by saving time and money. For example, I don’t have to worry about being without my bike while it’s in the shop getting a flat fixed.
If you decide to try your hand at bicycle mechanics, set the right expectations and have a back-up plan. Don’t try to fix your first flat in the 30 minutes before you have to leave for work! Instead of having time to enjoy the learning process, anything that goes wrong will undoubtedly result in frustration. Plan to give it a try, but know that if your wheel doesn’t go back on quite right, you can then take your bike to the shop, where the mechanic will likely be happy to give you some pointers.
Investing in a bike stand will make working on your bike much easier. Before I had one, all my attempts to put my rear wheel back on my Dutch bike never worked out. It was just too difficult to align everything with the bike tipped upside down. With my bike stand, I can confidently remove my wheel to fix a flat.
While I’ll do some basic things myself, I still have plenty of work done at the shop - especially for my touring bike, which is more mechanically complex than my three-speed Dutch bike. I’m always working to acquire bike maintenance skills, but I’m a long way from doing a full tune-up.
For the time being, I’m content getting my hands dirty every now and again to fix a flat or make an adjustment here or there. 
Do you perform your own maintenance? 

April 1, 2014

Are You Crazy?

Reflecting back on biking through this winter, it’s not the frigid winds I battled or the snow I plowed through that made the greatest impression. Rather, I can’t stop thinking about how often I arrived somewhere by bike and was asked, “Are you crazy?”
I felt like I never had a good response to this question and it always seemed to catch me off guard. While it was never posed in a rude way, having your sanity questioned by others on a daily basis can make you wonder about yourself or just make you feel weird.  
Continuing to bike during the colder months makes sense to me for all of the reasons I have described in previous posts, so I tried to better understand the statement in the question. I think usually it's meant as a pat on the back rather than a personal jab, like I must be proud to be a “crazy, hardcore winter biker.” However, I would not describe myself that way.
I thought about an appropriate way to respond. Because the question can seem to be committing the faux pas of judging someone else’s lifestyle choice to their face, it's sometimes tempting to give a snarky response. Probably just as off-putting would be to pontificate about the benefits of bicycling to the environment and one’s health. Too brief of a reply or just shrugging off the question wastes having someone else’s ear. Instead, I want to use the opportunity to advocate for biking year-round by letting them know that I don’t think I'm something special for doing so. For me, biking during the winter isn't some act of self-sacrifice on behalf of the planet. I actually find it personally rewarding.
Then one day, it just came out. I was greeted with the usual question by a stranger and I was able to answer in a way that I think describes why I continue my life by bike throughout the seasons:

“I get a lot out of the time I spend on my bike each day. It both relaxes and energizes me. It gives me time with my thoughts or to observe the world around me. It makes me feel good. It’s such a pleasant part of my day that cold weather isn’t enough to make me stop and it’s not something I can give up for months out of the year.”

March 24, 2014

Wintertime Bike Care

Have you ever taken something you love for granted? When I look at my road-salt encrusted bike, I wonder, “How did I let it come to this?!” It’s easy to make excuses for my negligence, because it’s been such a cold winter. After arriving home, I’d rush inside to let my eyelash-cicles melt and leave my bike to rust in the garage, rather than ever taking some time to clean it off.
No excuses - my bike is slowly dying under that coat of sparkling salt. I got some great tips for caring for my bike throughout the winter from Dan Sorger of DBC City Bike Design. I gathered up the supplies he suggested and got to work giving my bike, Madeline, the love a trusty steed deserves.
In the basement and ready for a bath
I set up a work area in the basement where I could wipe down the bike with some dish soap and warm water. Dan suggests using a sponge, because you want to float the dirt and grit off the bike, not grind it into the paint.
Look at the grit that accumulated inside the chain case!
The next step is applying a layer of wax on all the metal to create a moisture barrier and to prevent the bike from rusting. I picked up some car wax from the hardware store and applied it per the instructions.
Looking good!

March 17, 2014

Good-Bye Winter Uniform!

I'm not one to ditch my everyday clothes for anything special simply because I get around on a bike. Still, in the freezing Wisconsin winter, I pile on the necessary gear for warmth: thick mittens, wool coat, winter boots, and even ski goggles, when freezing winds would otherwise sting my cheeks and cloud my vision with tears.

Under this gear, I'll have on some variation of the following outfit: wool skirt, fleece leggings, and a wool or cashmere sweater. Pretty much everyday. 

It's been nice to break out some of my other clothes now that it's warming up some. I'm longing for the day I can trade in my winter boots for my Minnetonka moccasins. Soon!

March 11, 2014

Taking the Scenic Route

Along the Wingra Creek Bike Path

I'm of the mindset that the shortest bike route isn’t necessarily the best route. I often go out of my way to take bike paths or low-traffic roads, but until recently, I never applied this to my commute to work.  

The first half of my commute was comprised of Wingra Path, the Capital City Trail, and some calm residential streets. The second half was dominated by a two-mile section of West Broadway, a four-lane, 45 mph road through Monona. West Broadway does have a bike lane, or at least until it snows. Even with no snow, I rarely see another person on a bike, the lane is littered with debris, cars speed, and semis sweep past me.

Snow and ice in the West Broadway bike lane

I didn’t feel like I had any good options for avoiding West Broadway, because the alternate route added two miles each way, included residential roads not well maintained in the winter, not to mention Pflaum Road, which I couldn’t believe would be any better than West Broadway. Still, about a month ago, I took the alternate route.

First, the extra distance is SO worth the reduction in traffic stress! Second, I don’t mind biking on the snowy, quiet residential streets. Third, I was surprised to find that Pflaum is much better than West Broadway! There are two lanes of traffic instead of four and speeds are reduced in part by schools along the way.

A scenic and snowy route

I’m very happy with my new route and feel silly for waiting so long to try it out!

February 10, 2014

Don't Leave Home Without Them

My lip balm, sunglasses, and a hanky are three accessories I never leave home without during the winter.

I've been accused of having a lip balm addition, which is likely true - I keep it by the side of my bed, there's a tube in the pockets of every coat I own, and I keep at least one spare in my bag. Hey, getting chapped lips is no fun and I like to protect mine from the freezing wind.

Ski goggles can come in handy if there's a frigid headwind or blowing snow, but in most cases I'm happy with just my sunglasses. They provide cover for your eyes without the alpine look. 

Winter and runny noses go hand in hand. Keep a hanky in your pocket and you won't need to sniffle and search for a box of Kleenex upon arriving at your destination.

February 5, 2014

Hand Warmers FTW!

I've got nice winter boots that keep my feet warm and dry while walking in them. On the other hand, after about four miles of biking in single digit temperatures, warm boots aren't enough to stop the cold from setting in, and I've got eight miles to bike from home to work.

I'd been hesitant to put hand warmers in my boots, thinking that the discomfort of cramped toes would outweigh that of frozen ones. However, this winter's weather persuaded me to give them a try.

I'm happy to report that the warmers have helped keep my piggies warm and they still have enough room to wiggle.

January 29, 2014

Make a Bike Touring Journal

When out on a bike tour, it's nice to have a place for notes on your route, where you stop along the way, your pace, observations, and for a general record of your journey.
Peter and I have gotten into the habit of keeping detailed journals while bike touring. It's fun to refer back to when taking the same route later, as well as simply to reflect back on a fun trip. Still, I never had a specific journal for this, rather, I'd just grab some small notebook I had lying around.

This year I decided to make a touring-specific journal. I chose a light, thin Moleskine notebook that would be easy to personalize.
I used the photo scraps left over from an earlier project, letter stamps, a potato stamp, gel medium, and my trusty X-Acto knife to decorate the cover.
Now I just have to wait for spring to take my first tour of the year!

January 27, 2014

Hot Drink & A Bike Book

To quell the longing for bike tours and adventures that begins to pop up about mid-winter, I enjoy a hot drink and a book. I received the book, Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die, as a Christmas gift and it's been fun to flip through and muse about could-be journeys.
Only a few more months until Peter and I take our first bike camping trip of the year to Devil's Lake State Park!