May 20, 2015

What's in Your Panniers?!

I was waiting for the light to cross John Nolan Drive when two MAMILs pulled up next to me on their road bikes. What’s a MAMIL you ask? That would be a Middle-Aged Man In Lycra. I noticed the man closest to me was eyeballing my bike with a bit of intrigue. Since my Dutch bike is somewhat of a novelty around Madison, I’m used to this. I anticipated him to ask about the bike as others often do. However, it was something else that caught his interest in particular. He asked, “What have you got in your panniers?! Not ALL of your possessions I hope!”

This of course made me laugh. The light changed and we were on our respective ways. I pedaled along thinking about the stark differences between myself and the MAMIL, who passed me and sped away. He rode a bike manufactured to be as light as possible. Nothing superfluous was attached to it - no fenders, bags, or racks - not an ounce of extra weight.
Carrying camera equipment by bike
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is my 45 lb steel bike. It has front and rear racks, large panniers, fenders, a chainguard, and skirt guards. The consideration here is every-day practicality, not lightness and speed, although I can keep up with the average cyclist on the paths. The bike is built for haulin’ and can carry 115 lbs on the racks. Even fully loaded, it still handles well and isn’t awkward.
Getting groceries by bike
To answer his question, no, I didn’t have all my possessions in my panniers, only those necessary for a regular weekday, and that happens to be a good bit of stuff! I had my work bag with my laptop, large planner, and writing supplies (which for me means pens in every color imaginable). I also have a gym bag with clothes, shoes, and toiletries. Then there’s my lunchbox, and the small, but essential items, such as my wallet, phone, lip balm, etc.
Some days require enough gear that I use a large gym bag PLUS my panniers!
Perhaps it takes a little more planning and preparation to set out each day on my bike, but it won’t surprise you that I think it’s totally worth it. It also can be more of a hassle to make impromptu stops or an extra challenge to meet someone at a restaurant, when I have so much stuff in tow. This sometimes means leaving my used gym clothes in my panniers along with my lunchbox. I figure if someone steals that stuff, the joke’s on them.
Blogger Tricks

February 12, 2015

WorkCycles Secret Service

After several years of year-round use, my trusty old Dutch bike was becoming rusty and less trustworthy. The time had come to replace it with a nicer, more reliable ride. There was no question about it - I would definitely be getting another Dutch bike. As I’ve written about in the past, I find Dutch bikes to be perfectly suited for everyday cycling. My older bike was very basic and I was looking forward to something a little fancier. Enter WorkCycles.
I rode a WorkCycles while visiting Portland and was immediately impressed by its luxurious feel, sturdy construction, and top-of-the-line components. Peter has been riding around on a WorkCycles for a couple years now and has been quite pleased with his bike. I’ve also read many good reviews. The only way to know for sure though was to test ride them myself.
I headed down to Chicago to visit J.C. Lind Bike Co., which had the WorkCycles Oma and Secret Service in stock, as well as a Pilen that I was curious about. I took each bike out for a spin and they were all great, but I knew the Secret Service was the one. It’s more appropriate for the longer distances I ride than the traditional Oma, which is less lively in its handling.
The Secret Service offers a smooth ride that you have to experience to understand. I won’t go into all the specs, which you can find here, but a few of my favorite features include rollerbrakes, which are great in the snow. Also, whereas as my old Dutch bike has three gears, the Secret Service has eight, a noticeable advantage on hills.
Along with the heavy duty rear rack, I have a frame-mounted front rack as well. So far I’ve hauled my daily essentials, groceries, and even video equipment with the bike. I’ve been super impressed by how well it handles with the racks loaded and that I don’t really sense the extra weight.
The dynamo lighting is very convenient. However, because I set out before dawn and go through some areas without streetlights, I’ve also attached a USB rechargeable light to the handlebars.
Several years ago Peter purchased a bike from J.C. Lind Bike Co. and rode it back to Madison. I opted to bring my new bike home an easier way. The bike rack wasn’t exactly designed for step-through bikes, but it worked with a little creativity. Once back in Madison, Peter and I immediately set out on a celebratory ride on our respective WorkCycles.

Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with my new bike!

January 26, 2015

She's Got Leggings

And she knows how to use them. Hey, my dad listened to a lot of ZZ Top when I was growing up - I couldn’t help myself! In my years of biking in cold weather, I’ve identified the best garments that work well with my style and the time I spend in the saddle. Today I’m giving a shout-out to leggings!
I have some cotton leggings that are great for the fall and spring. They are warm, have a tight knit that helps to block the wind, and are super comfy. 

The ultimate in leggings for winter are fleece leggings, which look like typical leggings on the outside, but have plush, brushed fleece on the inside. These are warmer and better at blocking the winter wind than cotton leggings. Bonus - they are very quick drying and can handle a light rain or snowfall.

For freezing days - and you know we have plenty of those here in Wisconsin - I double them up. Yes, two luscious layers of fleece leggings. It’s like having your legs in a windproof, warm cloud!
I wear skirts most days during the colder months because it’s hard to beat the warmth and comfort of fleece leggings. My pants aren’t nearly as warm and it’s not comfortable to squeeze my skinny jeans on over leggings or long janes. 

Not only are fleece leggings perfect for cold-weather riding, they are also inexpensive to add to your wardrobe - I’ve found them at TJ Maxx for about $10 a pair. Don’t avoid the weather - avoid not dressing properly for it!

October 20, 2014

Microbrew Bike Ride

One of the perks of blogging is meeting new people with similar interests. Beth of and I have been “blogger friends” for months and decided to go on a ride together. When she rode up to my apartment, I felt like I already knew her, though it was the first time we met in real life!
Taking advantage of the tandem when a tire went flat
I suppose she had a pretty good idea of who I am too, since she was going to crash at my place the night before our ride. We geeked out about all things biking - gear, our rides, favorite winter riding get-up, you name it. 
Beth mapped out our ride route to include four stops for microbrews - Ale Asylum, Karben4, One Barrel, and The Malt House. I highly encourage you to gather your beer-loving friends and take this ride.
Be sure to check out Beth’s thoughts on the ride here.

September 17, 2014

My First Century

I bike to go places. When not biking for transportation, even my recreational riding has a destination - a park for a picnic, a campground for the night, a brunch spot - even if it may just seem like an excuse to bike somewhere. 
After several years of touring, I finally had a reason to bike 100 miles in a day. In planning a bike trip from Madison to Rock Island State Park (off the tip of Door County), Peter and I decided to camp the first night north of Milwaukee.
On a fully loaded touring bike, with hands numb from gripping the handlebars and a big desire to get out of the saddle, I joined the Century Club sometime near midnight and somewhere just south of Cedarburg. 
Instead of staying up to celebrate, as soon as we got the tent set up and my sleeping bag unrolled, I went to bed. In the morning, we had coffee and a typical, yet delicious, breakfast at a main street cafe in Port Washington. Recharged, I was ready to complete the additional 80 miles up to Two Rivers, where we would rest for a day before continuing north along the Lake Michigan coastline. 
Guerrilla campsite off the bike trail

August 12, 2014

Biking into the Future - DIY Electric Bike

Please welcome my friend Seth to the blog! He’s here to share how he added an electric assist to a couple of everyday bikes and how it’s helped him bike more often. - Alyson

I love to bike for the thrill of being outside with the wind on my face and feeling close to nature. Still, there are days when I wake up late and am pressed for time, or when it seems so easy to just hop in my car and drive that I forget why I like biking to work.

I wanted to avoid these kinds of mornings and make going by bike the easy decision. How could I get to work faster, but without the rush? How could I still get in some exercise, yet ride when I am dog-tired or unmotivated? Enter modern technology.
Prefabricated electric bikes can be bulky and expensive, but it’s possible to convert existing bikes at a fraction of the cost and with little extra weight (about 7lbs). This seemed like just the thing to get me and my girlfriend on our bikes on those days we might not otherwise ride.
After about an afternoon’s worth of work, our bikes were sporting inconspicuous, lightweight, motorized hubs powered by rechargeable battery packs. The hubs are controlled by a handlebar-mounted throttle with a tiny display panel indicating power usage. It’s easy to use - engage the throttle for a boost or ride the old-fashioned way when it’s disengaged with no additional drag.  
How much the throttle is engaged + the amount of pedaling = how fast the bike will go, as well as how much juice is drained from the battery. With the throttle fully engaged and without any pedaling, our electric bikes go about 15 miles an hour, for 8-10 miles. With pedaling, we can reach 20 miles an hour and a much longer distance.
Each charge of the battery costs only about $0.03 worth of electricity. I just need to remember to bring it in and charge it!
Our trips by bike have gone beyond simply getting to work. Now we’re running errands and heading out to see friends on our bikes. If you hear a slight whirring sound on the bike path and see a couple of smiling faces, it just might be us.

You can send me email at lakowske at gmail dot com for any questions about the electric conversion.  Feel free to stop by my website to learn more about what I am up to.

June 27, 2014

Where Ya Headed?

A pair of fully loaded touring bikes is a sight that makes people wonder, perhaps where we came from and where we’re headed. I think most people tend to imagine it’s Coast to Coast, while we may only be on our way to a Wisconsin state park. Nonetheless, a comradery of wanderlust is built on as little as a smile or a nod to two people on a bike camping adventure. 
In any case, we’ve found people are more hospitable to bicyclists with panniers and camping equipment than without. For example, motorists tend to slow down and give more space. People we pass along the way, whether working on their yards or walking along the sidewalk, often smile and say “Hi.” Other cyclists really get a kick out of seeing us grinding up a hill, pulling the weight of everything stuffed into panniers or bungeed across the racks. As they pass by on sleek road bikes, they quite commonly give a cheer or a thumbs up.
A fully loaded touring bike also invites a conversation. It seems like whenever we’re stopped, people come up to us to ask about touring, where we’re headed (and react with a bit of surprise to a destination in Wisconsin), or to share a story about their own cross-country trek.

June 13, 2014

A Hot Mess

If my name wasn’t Alyson, it would be Betty. Sweaty Betty. Sweating can be a major concern for people considering biking for transportation. So let’s have a candid talk about it!

For many bike commuters, sweat won’t be a problem. Your ride will be short enough that you won’t have the time to work up much heat. Or maybe your ride is stop and go, so again, you’re not likely to get sweaty.
For some of us, this isn’t the case. I bike eight miles to work and there are several stretches where I can pick up the pace and go fast for miles at a time. I know the adage is, “bike slowly if you don’t want to sweat,” but I can’t help it. If I can go fast, I will - it’s part of the fun of biking!
Over the years I’ve been biking for transportation, I’ve gotten comfortable in my own (sweaty) skin. I’ve found that sweating doesn't make you “dirty.” I can sweat a little in the morning and still feel fresh for the day. I’ve developed non-showering methods to freshen up and choose clothing that will keep me cool.
What doesn’t feel fresh and can lead to body odor is wearing sweaty synthetic fabrics. In the winter my go-tos are wool and cashmere because they are quick-drying and never smell. Tank tops are my favorite for hot summer days because of the great ventilation. Often I’ll bike in a tank top and throw on a light cardigan at work. If it’s a particularly hot and humid day, I may even bring a fresh shirt to change into at work.

Look - you might sweat, but that doesn't mean you have to shower. Get used to a little sweat, it’s ok. Really.

May 29, 2014

5 Tips for Grocery Shopping by Bike

1. Find your go-to system
There’s no wrong way to shop by bike. What kind of bike you have and how many people you’re shopping for will largely dictate how you go about grocery-getting.

If you’re only shopping for yourself, or just picking up a couple things, a single backpack may do the trick. Maybe your bike is set up with a rack and you have some nice panniers with room enough to carry home a week’s worth of groceries for two or more people.

Find the best way to carry things on your bike. You may need to invest in a rack and panniers - it’s worth it.
2. Make a shopping list
You can only carry so much back with you, so know what you want and stick to the list. This takes some planning, but is worth the extra effort.
3. Be prepared for overflow
Even with a list I’ll sometimes get a few more things than planned - often it’s some fruit that looks so good I can’t pass it up! To plan for this contingency, I always bring my empty backpack to hold any overflow from my panniers and basket.
4. Shop in cycles (no pun intended!)
Once a month I make a big haul from the grocery store which requires both my large panniers, my rear basket, and my backpack. On this trip I stock up on nonperishables I like to always have on hand, but don’t need to resupply every week - things like flour, oats, rice, beans, cartons of almond milk, frozen veggies, onions, and potatoes.

Keeping my pantry stocked with the above items reduces my other weekly shopping trips to simply replacing fresh foods we go through every week - greens, fruit, fresh veggies, and dairy.
5. Have a routine
I go grocery shopping pretty much every Sunday. It’s my habit and makes it easier to plan meals for the week, make a list, and go. I’m never trying to think of when can I fit in in, instead I simply know it’s something I have to do on Sunday.

If you have the option of shopping by car, and you feel pressed for time, you probably won’t ride your bike. Don’t make a decision every time, instead make it a habit to go by bike.

May 23, 2014

Bike into an Active Lifestyle

Getting a significant amount of daily exercise used to be a challenge for me, but when I got a new job in 2010, I started biking about seven miles to work. As such, a sizable dose of daily exercise became the norm rather than the exception. On the recreational side, I was really getting into touring and bike camping, extending my rides tens of miles and hours in the saddle, getting a feel for what I was capable of.
Around this time, I started tracking my physical activity in a log I have faithfully kept to this day. It can be easy to feel like you’ve been active when you’ve really been a couch potato. I know, I’ve been there. The log is not so easily fooled! 
Before the boost in activity from my longer bike commute, I struggled to meet my goal of averaging one hour of exercise a day. Days would go by with nothing to record in my log. Then when I felt motivated, I’d go to the UW-Madison rec center to pound out a few (boring) miles on the treadmill, journey on a long walk around town, do some yoga, or on occasion take my vintage Schwinn on what felt like an epic ride of 20 miles. Yet, I never created a habit out of any of it that amounted to much exercise - my log made that clear.
Since then, my experiences with biking have given me confidence to try new fitness activities, like long-distance running, bouldering, and CrossFit. Having established the habit of daily exercise has made it easier to integrate these new activities into my lifestyle, maybe like learning a second foreign language. 
Now I have no problem surpassing what were once goals I struggled to achieve. My exercise log is documentation of how far I’ve come and a way for me to celebrate my success. 
Try biking for transportation as the first step toward an active lifestyle. You don’t need to be in shape to get started, it’s easy to fit into your day, and it will make you feel good. Keep track of your progress. In the beginning, your bike may just get you to work - then see where else it takes you!