October 20, 2014

Microbrew Bike Ride

One of the perks of blogging is meeting new people with similar interests. Beth of brewcitybiker.com 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 sethlakowske.com 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!

May 15, 2014

A Stand of Trees

There’s something romantic about changing into your party clothes with only the cover of a few bare trees and your husband yelling, “car!” when you need to duck down.
Our friend’s annual Kentucky Derby party isn’t an event you want to miss - the company and mint juleps can’t be beat. So when our friends moved out to the country near Cross Plains a few years ago, we continued to bike to the party. 
On account of a stiff headwind topping 20 mph, this year’s trip was slow going on the Military Ridge State Trail and became a real struggle when we turned off the trail onto hilly country roads. I had a couple heart-sinking moments while grinding up a hill into the wind and realizing I already was in my lowest gear. I groaned, yelled out, and spun my legs vehemently to make it to the top.

I was happy when we could see our au naturel changing area off in the distance - it meant we had only about a mile left! We grabbed our panniers stuffed with our party clothes and headed down the ditch and into the trees. For the full story of packing and changing in this manner, check out this video post I made last year.
After changing and freshening up, Peter and I rode off to the party, pulling up looking like we didn’t bike.

May 13, 2014

Rainy Day Go-Bag

It’s time for spring showers. Instead of groaning about the weather, I put together a rainy day go-bag.
I already owned decent rain gear, so a little rain was not the problem, rather it was the hassle of getting all my stuff together. Rifling through my coat closet to find rain pants and searching a bin of camping gear for a dry sack, when I should have already been out the door and well on my way, was no fun. By the time I had found everything, it was difficult to retain a good attitude about riding through the rain - it was already an inconvenience.
So that rainy days no longer upset my morning routine, I put all my rain gear in a dry sack and keep it stashed somewhere easily accessible. Maybe the sky is clear on my way to work, but it’ll be raining when I’m heading home -  I just grab my rainy day go-bag and well, go!
Here’s what’s in my bag: rain pants, small dry sack, and lightweight rain jacket with a hood.
My backpack is water-resistant and will keep its contents dry in a light shower, but in heavier rain I slide it into the large dry sack before putting it in my bike basket. Anything I want to easily access - phone, keys, wallet, - I put in the small dry sack, which also goes into my basket.

May 5, 2014

Easy Painted Bike Bell DIY

A compass bike bell I had gotten as a souvenir from Berlin broke off my bike last winter and I didn't rush to replace it, but now that the bike paths are brimming with people, a bell comes in handy. Yeah, I could yell out, "On your left!" but have found this less effective than the ding of a bell.
I made a couple of personalized bells as Christmas gifts and was happy with how they turned out (though I accidentally dropped one of them in the snow before the enamel dried). The process was a bit time-consuming. Then I got the idea to try using paint pens, which would be faster and easier for creating a design on a bell.
I picked up some paint pens from the craft store, along with a shiny new bell from my neighborhood bike shop, and got to work.
 Again with the triangles! I'm obsessed!
The fine-tipped paint pens worked great. The paint flowed evenly in a nice thin line.
I only wanted to apply the enamel to the dome of the bell, so I wrapped some paper around it and sprayed on the enamel per the instructions on the canister. Now the paint can't be scratched off (I tried).
I love the final bell from this quick and easy DIY!