Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Many is Too Many?

It's a question that has been asked in various places by many, many people. How many bicycles does one person need, and how many are simply too many? In reading over the years, it has become apparent that there are two very separated sides of this question: those who believe one bicycle is more than enough, and those who follow the n+1 philosophy. There are definitely those who fall somewhere in the middle too. I suppose I fancy myself one of those people - the middle of the road sort of person. While I believe it is possible to live with just one bicycle, I understand that there are many types of terrain and distances that riders will cover, so it is less likely that one bicycle will do the job in every situation.

Still, I can't help but question how many bicycles a person truly needs. Recently, Sam and I were in conversation about such matters.  We have both (separately, but somehow around the same stretch of time) had thoughts of limiting bicycles. Sam has been in search of "the one" bicycle to rule them all. When I pointed out that he rides rough mountain roads and long paved roads as well, he agreed that he wasn't truly going to be able to limit his bicycles to one single ride.

My problem is nearly the exact opposite. While Sam's bicycles all have a different purpose, my bicycles all (for the most part) perform the same type of riding. They all cover distance fine, they all have wide-ish tires that allow for some trail riding when needed, they can all have racks/bags added or removed at will, and they're all set up with comfort at the forefront and speed as a secondary point.

However, several of my bicycles I could never own again either due to the cost-prohibitive nature of repurchasing in the future or because the size or bicycle is no longer made. This makes the idea of eliminating a bicycle (or three) very difficult! Yes, this is truly a first world problem. I have so much that I don't know what to eliminate from my life. That in itself is a bit unsettling.
Our "bike house." It is approximately 11 ft tall at its peak to allow storage in the rafters for wheels, frames that are un-built, and other miscellaneous parts.
Yet, I know what it is to go without, and I don't wish to live a life of hoarding excessive material possessions. Our bicycle obsession - and that is the only appropriate word I can think to use at this moment - even resulted in building a separate storage shed just for housing bikes. Granted, we built the shed ourselves for almost no cost from scrap pieces of wood, but one has to question how far things have turned when a separate housing structure is required for bicycle storage.

Currently, we have 12 built bicycles between the two of us. While I realize that is far from the shocking numbers often shared by other enthusiasts, in our minds, it still feels like overkill. But, when we sit down to try to figure out which bicycles should go, it becomes a far more challenging task than one might expect. It's great to have bicycles that work well, but when is it too much of a good thing?

Speaking for myself, I ride each of my bicycles. Some get more saddle time than others, but they all get used. In some ways, I know I've done this intentionally to justify owning them, and in many ways it does provide comfort to be able to say, "Well, I use them all." But, I can't help but believe that there is still a bit of sickness taking place under the surface.

Most people have some kind of hobby that s/he spends on, and those items are usually not regarded as necessary. I suppose bicycles, while utilitarian, provide a sort of hobby for each of us. Of course they are practical machines, but does that practicality reach an end point when the numbers become excessive? And how many exactly marks an excessive number? I had personally thought that it was easy for Sam to justify his bicycles because they each fulfill a unique task, as opposed to myself who simply owns similar bicycles but in greater quantity than necessary, but when our discussion came up, I quickly understood that even he feels that the justification is difficult when the numbers get higher.

To a greater or lesser extent, having "spare" bicycles can come in handy when there are repairs or maintenance that need to be completed. It's also nice when friends or family visit to be able to loan out a bike. I also particularly enjoy being able to test out different parts and not have every bicycle dismantled in order to test a change - particularly when I'm not certain how well the test will go or how long the test may drag out.

Then there's the costs involved in each build. Sam and I often take on different methods in this regard. Sam takes his time, searching for the absolute best deal on a part (or frame), waiting patiently and watching for the one that suits his pre-set budget. He is flexible (obviously within the constraints of what is needed for a particular frame) when it comes to exact part selection. In fact, there is a local secondhand seller on eBay that employs individuals who are on a first name basis with Sam. Sometimes, even if a part is currently unneeded but is too good a deal to pass up, Sam will make the leap and hope that it will get used on a future build or that someone else will need the part.

While I also want to get a deal, if there is a part I'm particularly fond of using, I will spend a little more to get the particulars that suit me. I don't like having extra parts that aren't getting used (with the exception of handlebars - this is one part for which I actually like to have options) and I prefer to resell or give away the excess unless I believe I will use it on another bike, such as newer bar tape or pedals.

Even though we approach builds differently, we have both obviously reached a point that has caused us to stop and question what we are doing and have both been wondering exactly how many bicycles we should individually own. As Sam pointed out during our discussion, even if we were to flush out the excess, we would still be looking, wondering, and pondering other bicycles though. It's as though the n+1 rule comes into play whether we want it to or not.

I don't truly think anyone can answer for another how many bicycles are too many. For one, having two bicycles may seem excessive, and for others they may extend well into double digits before having such thoughts. Perhaps for some "excessive" never enters their thoughts at all.

As for me, I don't know where this process is leading. I'm hesitant to sell off bikes as I've regretted doing so in the past, but there's still that nagging voice telling me that the number owned is simply too many. Sam's suggestion was to pull a couple of builds apart and store them to see how I feel about not using them for a stretch of time. That may be a plausible suggestion that I implement, but for now, I continue to enjoy my bicycles. I think that's the most important piece of the puzzle to me -- that I find joy each time I get to ride.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Flat Tire Protection: Test Results from Homemade and Retail Options

Keeping bicycle tires from getting punctures can be a challenge. For the most part, I've given up on having pretty, soft (comfortable) tires because I have found that they aren't low maintenance when it comes to dealing with road debris. When making a run to the grocery store or taking care of a quick errand, it can be a nuisance to have to stop to fix a flat.

There are a variety of options available for sale. Everything from putting goop in tires to thicker tubes, but last fall, I decided I wanted to try out a couple of options that I'd been curious about, and I thought I'd share what's happened to date.

Over the last several months, I have been testing a couple of fairly inexpensive flat protection possibilities. One is a homemade option, while the other is store bought. I wanted to see if either (or both) would actually provide protection from glass and other potentially poke-through-the-tire debris found commonly on roads and paths. I will say from the get-go, I have been pretty impressed thus far with both options.
Stop Flats 2 comes with a set of two liners, one for each tire.
When I picked up another bike early this year, I wanted to put cream tires on it, but the two tire options I enjoy riding have both left me wanting when it comes to flat protection. I decided to try StopFlats as liners in the tires to see if would provide the protection I need.

These liners are not new to the market, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to test them. I have had the opportunity to see and hold them close up and thought that they seemed a viable option to actually help prevent flats, but the only way to know for sure would be to put them on and get to riding.

The first challenge was deciding which size to buy. There seems to be a plethora of size options and it's supposed to be made easier by the color coded liners, but I still found it to be a bit challenging. There seems to be some overlap in sizing in a few instances and some sizes that are still missing from the line up too.
A few samples from the size line up of StopFlats
Ultimately, I settled on a size to try for my 650bx38 tires and went about installing them. The installation is pretty simple and wraps around the interior of the tire before the tube is inserted. I had installed these once before on a customer's bike while filling in at a local bike shop, but the process seemed a bit more challenging with my tires. It could be that they are simply a softer tire so keeping the liners in place while adding the tube presented a bit of a challenge, but nothing that was unmanageable.

My tests with this liner are still fairly limited as they have been in place for only a couple of months (and certainly not the most thorn-centric months), but thus far, they have not disappointed. I have ridden through glass shards, dirt paths with goatheads and other stickers, and rolled over metal and other road debris without experiencing a flat tire. To date, these liners have lived up to expectations, but I look forward to testing them over the longer term to see how they withstand longer use over roads and paths with debris.

The second liner I've been experimenting with is a homemade option. Several years ago, I read a comment on a forum about someone who was going to try lining his tires with tyvek to see if it would help prevent flats. There was never any follow up to this statement, so I always wondered if it was something that could really work. In theory, it seemed reasonable because those mailing envelopes are pretty strong and durable, but I wasn't sure if it would work in real-world use.
It has been suggested that USPS mailing envelopes can be had free of charge,which is true, but I would point out that it is illegal to use USPS envelopes for anything other than mailing a package via the post office... and I don't want to feel responsible for someone breaking the law.  
The first step was to get some tyvek mailing envelopes. These can be obtained at just about any office supply store, Amazon, or many other big box retail/discount establishments, if they aren't already somewhere in your home or office.

I decided to test this liner on my fat tire bike because it's more challenging to find flat liners for this size bike tire. To make the liner, I took a mailing envelope and folded it width-wise so that it would be narrow and long. Depending on the width of the tire and the envelope in question, the envelope may need to be cut down a bit so that it isn't too wide.
Then, I repeated the folding step with the next envelope and used packing tape to attach one end of the first folded piece to one end of the second envelope. This process continues until there is enough of the envelope length to make a circle to fit inside the tire.

The worst part about this homemade creation is fitting the "liner" into the tire. I may have left a bit too much on the width, creating a bigger headache than it needed to be. The secret seems to be getting the envelopes to lay flat against the tire. Once that happens, it's much easier to get the tube in place.

I have had these tyvek liners in the bike tires for about seven months now and I have not had to deal with a flat tire. While I have ridden through the same types of debris as on the other bike with its liners, I have not yet had a goathead or any debris physically stick and stay in the tires, so I don't know if I've just been fortunate enough to not run directly over any goatheads (unlikely, but possible), or if they have simply been pushed out prior to my seeing them. The same is true for glass. I have definitely run over pieces, but nothing has stayed long enough for me to inspect at the end of a ride.

Both of these options add a small amount of weight to the bike, but both are fairly light and for the bikes in question, the added weight is not significant enough to cause issues. They are both bikes that are heavier than a race bike and are used for transportation and/or dirt riding, so a few extra ounces is not noticeable when pedaling. The ease of knowing I won't get a flat (or at least, am far less likely to get one) is worth it, certainly, to me.

I'll be continuing to test these options and look forward to updating after more long-term use is had, but in the meantime, I thought perhaps one of these might be an option for anyone looking for flat protection.

What do you use as flat protection, if anything? Have you tried retail or homemade options that worked well? I would certainly be interested in hearing about other experiences with preventing flat tires.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Frame Bag for the Surly Wednesday: ATM Handmade Goods (aka Andrew the Maker)

When I first wrote about the Surly Wednesday making its way into my life, I mentioned that I was in search of a frame bag. I was offered some suggestions here, by email, and had done my own research to see what might work.

Specifically, I wanted a frame bag because I knew, even with the frames' very small triangle, a frame bag would allow me to carry more than what I could shove into a tiny saddlebag. I've become used to being able to carry things on my bike, and even though I knew this bike probably wouldn't be used very frequently for fetching items, I still needed to carry things with me sometimes beyond a multi-tool and extra small pump.

My initial searches quickly illustrated that frame bags are not something easily found for extra small frames. Like bicycles themselves, it seems that smalls and talls often get left out of the manufacturing equation. There are a few makers who do span the range, so I shouldn't lump every company together, but as a household of less than standard height individuals, we know how hard it is to find something off the shelf in an appropriate size.

When it comes to the Wednesday, at the time of my searching, there really weren't a lot of non-custom options for the frame. There was a chance that Relevate's frame bag may have worked, but it was still a bit too long (or rather too wide at the longest point) and I had concerns that it wouldn't quite fit into the wee-sized frame triangle without some customizing of my own.  I had some money stashed from some side jobs and figured, if I wanted it to be right, I should probably look at a custom bag.

I was surprised to discover how many custom bag manufacturers exist, and that they are made in a multitude of fabrics and at various price points. Some makers seem more particular about measurements, while others are a little looser with their requests for templates of an individual's frame. After quite a bit of looking and reading, I decided on a manufacturer: ATM Handmade Goods, otherwise known as Andrew the Maker.

Why ATM? Well, that's perhaps a little more difficult to pinpoint. One reason is that I had seen his work prior, making it easy for me to know what the quality would likely be on my own custom bag. I'd read and seen photos of his work, such as here and here, so I felt a certain level of confidence going this route. It was neither the least expensive nor the fastest option, but sometimes good things are worth the wait and even extra funds.
*Image from ATM Handmade Goods Instagram feed
I also liked that Andrew makes different types of bags. I've considered a handlebar bag for this bike as well and wanted the option to have it coordinate, if I chose to go this route. From top tube bags to snack sacks and even hip packs (or fanny packs, if you prefer), the options are plentiful from ATM.

The getting started process was fairly simple. As with many custom-made goods, payment is required up front in order to get started on the project. This always unnerves me just a tad. It's not that I mind paying up front, but there's always that small amount of concern that the product could be paid for and then never arrive. But, having seen that Andrew has made bags for a few years now and has many satisfied users, I forged ahead.

After payment is received, the customer is asked to make a template of his/her frame and send it to ATM. This was a little more challenging than I would have expected, but perhaps it's because I chose to attempt it on my own, rather than asking for some assistance and an extra set of hands. It took a couple of tries to get it (close to) right, and off it went to Andrew.

Since I was going the custom route, I figured I should pick a color that wouldn't be found on every bicycle. I had to keep in mind that this bike sees time in less than ideal conditions. Snow, rain, dirt, mud, gravel are all possibilities (and probabilities) on this bike and if I chose too light a color, I knew I'd pay for that decision in the end. Still, I didn't want a boring bag that could've been picked up off the shelf in most bike shops. I knew that a brown, tan, olive, or gray fabric was probably the best way to go, but still it just seemed a little dull and the bike's frame color alone is not horribly exciting, so I had to throw something in to give it a little bit of personality.

The compromise with myself was to have the bottom, larger portion made in gray and have a print for the upper portion of the bag. That way, when the bag had mud or dirt slung on it, I wouldn't have regrets about fabric color choices - or so I hoped.

I started the process of this bag in early January. Foolishly, I believed it would be a slow time of year for Andrew and that the 6-8 week timeline that is typical for his work would perhaps be shortened. In reality, he was busy with several projects and I wouldn't see the bag for about 11 weeks.

Fortunately, our winter was - oddly - almost entirely devoid of snow, so I was riding other bikes many days. When the bag arrived it didn't disappoint in the least. I tore into the package, anxious to see it for myself and was taken aback by the brightness of the pattern I'd chosen. It wasn't a bad reaction, just a bit of shock. I loved that Andrew chose to use a bright pink for the threading and the zipper pulls. It gave the bag a near-obnoxious quality -- something that I enjoy in bicycles (see this photo for reference to my love of bright color combinations).
The bag seems rather subdued on the bike, but the color, I think, gave it a little personality - even if  the colors are clashing.
What truly mattered though was the functionality of the frame bag. The fit was great for the size of the frame, and it went on easily and without issue. The big zippers (there are compartments on each side of the bag) work well and allow for easy access. Best of all, there is a decent amount of carrying capacity, even for this rather small sized bag.
A closer look at the print with gray solid. Perhaps not everyone's favorite combo, but it makes me smile. 
I can fit quite a bit, surprisingly. One might think the bag couldn't carry much, but having the open space pockets are perfect for rolled up sweaters or other clothing, bike lock, a multi-tool, spare tube, patch kit, pump, wallet, keys, phone, camera, banana (or other food), a bottle of water, and although I haven't tried it yet, I'm pretty sure I can get a small hydration bladder in one side too (which would be great given that I have use of only one water bottle cage now).

The fabric itself is fantastic, allowing for easy cleaning with a damp towel (or at least that has been the case thus far) and often shows little sign of use. On the particular day the photo just above was taken, I'd been through several mud and water puddles and the bag looks no worse for the wear.

Speaking of water, the bag does a pretty decent job of keeping water out - at least when the zipper is closed (I had a minor incident in rain because I failed to close the zipper - which is, of course, entirely user error and not the fault of the bag or zipper). I've ridden in some average rain storms and everything inside remained dry (sans the incident just mentioned). While Andrew recommends a dry bag for items that absolutely must remain dry, I have not found water to be an issue as of yet.

My only complaint about this bag thus far is that it has caused a want for one on every bike. It's truly a great use of space in between the frame's triangle and allows for so much carrying capacity. I understand that perhaps it's impractical to put these on every bike (particularly road bikes that one really needs the water bottle cages available - though perhaps if one went in this direction, it could still work), but I could see it being practical on the commuter/around town/gravel/camping/shorter ride sorts of bicycles.

Having this frame bag also makes it far more practical to use this bike on snow days as a commuter/errand bike. That wasn't really the bike's intended purpose, but when it's the one that can get me where I need to go in less-than-sunny weather, at least I know I have the ability to carry a few items with me... perhaps not quite the same capacity as having giant panniers or baskets, but something is always better than nothing...and, for average to tall humans, the capacity would be even better.

As for a coordinating handlebar bag, I'm still thinking about it. Having just a bit more capacity for this bike could be a great thing. But, I also know it's easier to find a handlebar bag than a frame bag for a small bike. And, I am seriously contemplating a frame bag for another bicycle that sees some gravel/dirt time as well.

Overall, I couldn't have had a better experience with my first custom made bike bag, and it has become the perfect accessory for keeping those need-to-have-handy items at the ready. While I can't quite comment yet on long-term quality, I can see and feel that the bag is solidly made, and I look forward to many years of use out of it.

Have you had a custom bag made for a bicycle? How and what was your experience? Has the bag held up to its intended use? If you haven't had a custom bag made, is it a route you would consider for a bike, or is the availability of off-the-rack options better suited to your needs?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Longmont Bike Share - Zagster Has Landed!

Hi! It's been awhile. I've been busy trying to be a good human and attempting to find some sort of normal schedule with which to complete things, but (as is obvious if you've come here looking for posts and don't find anything new), somewhere along the way this space wasn't added into the schedule. Every week I say, "Ah, yes, I have many things I could be chatting about with others on E.V.L. Go woman! Go and share!" and then nothing happens because I get sidetracked with approximately 101 other things that need to get accomplished... and then I have a habit of losing interest in whatever it was I was going to share. Eeek!

When last I had shared though, I wrote about a NOS bicycle that I had ordered that hadn't yet arrived. It did finally make its way here (actually, not long after that post) and I've been happily riding it all around. Although it was a completely unnecessary bicycle to purchase, I could not help myself (which will make more sense when I share more... I think... although not much of what I do seems to make sense - only in my contorted mind that likes to make up logic).

While I'm not quite ready to share that story today, I did want to chat about a recent addition to our local transportation.

Longmont, Colorado is not exactly a hotbed for the newest or latest, nor it is the preeminent authority on most things bicycle-related. This is not to say that we don't have infrastructure or bike lanes in our community, nor that we don't have some fantastic places to ride, but rather that it seems we take a back seat to our very close neighbors in Boulder, Colorado. EVERYONE it seems has heard of Boulder, been to Boulder, knows someone who lives in Boulder, used to live in Boulder, went to school in Boulder, works in Boulder, and so on.  Boulder, Boulder, Boulder. Yes, we get it. Boulder is the Marcia Brady of cities. I would actually argue that there are many attributes Longmont possesses that Boulder simply cannot top, but that is a debate that doesn't need to be had in this time or place.

It is easy though to feel that we sometimes are the forgotten part of the county. So, about a year ago when I started hearing rumblings of a bike share program test, I was a little surprised (but secretly super excited) to see what would come of it. Mostly, I thought that it would never happen. Who comes to Longmont? Would a bike share program even get used? True, we are a very quickly growing city, but I couldn't help but wonder if such a program would ever come to fruition.

Lo and behold, this bike share program has arrived. Granted, it's an initial test to see if it is feasible, usable, practical, affordable, and so on for the city (or at least that is my understanding), but I am beyond thrilled to see this come about. On April 20, the bike share officially launched!

Why Zagster instead of B-Cycle (as Boulder and Denver already use)? Well, I suppose it made more sense for our smaller community because Zagster is able to help in many ways such as designing the right sized bike share program for our specific community, riders can use a mobile app that helps the city know what is working (and potentially, isn't) with the program and users, and perhaps most importantly for the city, Zagster has a national team of mechanics that services the bicycles allowing the city to keep focused on what needs to get done rather than on maintaining the bicycles around town.

Longmont is the third city in Colorado to join with Zagster. We are following in the footsteps (tire roll?) of both Fort Collins (which launched in March 2016) and Westminster (launched in June 2016). Zagster promotes having both flexible and affordable programs to help better serve the riders in mid-sized cities, so I think it was the right opportunity for our growing community.

I would agree that the program seems fairly affordable. While the idea of $3/hour could get a bit pricey if looking at it in terms of multiple hours, I think the one month fee of $15, or $60 for an annual membership is quite reasonable.

After hearing that a bike share program might be in the works last year, I have to admit I pretty much let it go from my mind though because I frankly didn't see it happening, so when I saw in recent weeks that it was starting soon, I had no idea where the stations would actually be located. My curiosity got the best of me right after the launch and Sam and I went on a hunt to find the stations. Sadly, I wasn't aware enough to realize I could've just logged on to Zagster's website to get the locations. It was fun to hunt them down regardless.

Ten Zagster stations currently stand in Longmont
For those who may be curious and/or local and not know where the stations are, they are listed below. There are a total of 10 stations throughout the city (I'll detail some thoughts on the "throughout" the city portion in a moment):
Mountain View near Hover St, at Longmont United Hospital
Alpine and Mountain View, just outside Centennial Pool (the station itself is on Alpine St)
Coffman and 8th, beside the main bus stop
Coffman and 5th, just to the south of the county buildings
Kimbark and 4th, at the Library
Ken Pratt and Bowen, just outside Chuburger
Ken Pratt and Hover St, right outside Oskar Blues/the new pedestrian underpass at Hover
Off of Quail Rd, just outside the Rec Center
Sunset St just north of Pike Rd, outside of Oskar Blues Brewery
Nelson and Airport Rd, outside Cyclhops

In case it isn't obvious, Oskar Blues was one of the sponsors of Zagster (also sponsoring the program are Longmont United Hospital, Envision Longmont, Boulder County, and Visit Longmont), so their four locations in town have stations just outside.

I believe the city and Zagster did a fairly decent job of spreading out the locations of the stations, but I am disappointed to see that none were placed on the north side of the city. In the future, it would be nice to see additions at the north west side of town (perhaps at Lake McIntosh or at Hover and 21st?) and another station on the north side (perhaps at Main St and 21st or even outside of the Walmart at Hwy 66/Main St), but I realize this is still early and a test to see how the program is used and potentially where it can go. There also aren't businesses to sponsor the bicycles in those locations -- well, at least the north west locations. Perhaps as sponsors are added, it may help with adding stations as well.

But, how do these bicycles ride and is the phone app easy to deal with? Well, I wanted to know so I set out to test them both for myself.

Downloading the phone app was super easy. I have an android phone, so I visited the Play Store, searched for Zagster, and installed the app. I did note that the app doesn't have a very high rating (2.7 stars to be exact), so that concerned me mildly, but then I also considered that we humans today like to complain a lot about our electronics not working instantly and the way we want, so I wasn't entirely sure how much of the low-star-rating is whining and how many were/are legitimate complaints about usability. It's a nearly 33MB download, so it took a couple of minutes (or perhaps my phone is just slow), but then I was ready for my first test.

To set up the app, the user enters his/her name, phone number, email, birth date and then selects the location s/he would like to join (meaning, the city's bike share being used). There is a long user agreement to agree to (I did scan for important notices, but did not thoroughly read word-for-word the entire agreement, but it seemed reasonable... you're going to be charged if you don't return the bike, don't do illegal things, lock the bike up if it's left unattended, and so on). It took a few minutes to get the whole thing set up, so if one were in a hurry, I'd say setting up the app beforehand is probably a good idea. The user attaches a credit card to the account so that s/he is billed in accordance with the plan selected (hourly, monthly, annually).
After that was set up, I set off to take my first bike share ride! I decided to try the system out at the Longmont United Hospital location. At first, I couldn't find the bikes, but I think it was because I expected to find them outside of the emergency room entrance (I have no idea why this was my initial thought), but they are actually easy to find, just outside and to the left of the main entrance. Which makes sense.
When I arrived at the station, I was greeted by a sign that briefly explains the program, as well as the locked bikes.
The station has locks for 10 bicycles (there are a total of 50 bikes available throughout the city), but a few spaces were empty. I admit that I did go by a few and squeeze the tires to see if they had air, and they all seemed to be in functioning shape (which they should be as the program has only been open a very short time). Had any of the bicycles required air, there is a pump available at the station.
Checking out the bicycle was easy. The app gets opened, the user types in the bicycle's individual number, and the app responds with a code to unlock the bike. The user punches in the four digit code and removes the cable from just below the saddle, releasing the bike.
I took off on the bicycle and immediately ran into a problem. The seat post wouldn't stay put. I got off the bike and tried tightening the seat collar with the quick release, but it still sank down almost immediately and continued to shift side to side throughout my ride. I decided not to bother with it for my test because I knew I wasn't going to be traveling far, but it was a little concerning to me - particularly for someone who may be riding with little to no experience with bicycles.

The bicycle itself is manufactured by Breezer, and the rider sits upright with easy mounting and dismounting via the step-through frame.
The twist shifters easily transitioned between the 8 gears available and the hand brakes worked very well, even when descending hills.
The bicycles come equipped with fenders and a chainguard, as well as a front basket and a bell (that had a pleasant sound that can be heard here).
The basket has capacity to hold a fair amount, though it is not as large as some might like to see. To be fair, I think the basket would hold a moderately sized grocery bag, so it's certainly adequate to hold a few items. I also think that if a person happened to have a strap of some sort with them, the rear rack could be used to attach items. There is also a mounting area at the side of the rear rack to attach a pannier, making additional storage a possibility if the rider were prepared.
I personally love that each bicycle comes equipped with dynamo powered front and rear lights, making it easier to use these bicycles both in the evening/early morning, and in lower-visibility situations.
The saddle was reasonably comfortable (given that I am quite particular about my saddles), and I took in to account the reality that most people are going to ride these bikes for 1-3 miles at most.
The tires seemed adequate for city-type terrain; meaning that they have appropriate tread for covering pavement, packed dirt, asphalt, and so on.

During my ride, I went over several bumps, up and down small to average sized city of Longmont hills, and endured a stint with some rough winds, and the bike handled adequately. One particularly violent wind gust had me correcting to get the bike back on track, but I suspect that would be more an oddity than the norm as most inside-the-city rides are protected by buildings, at least somewhat, from overly gusty winds. The gearing seems appropriate for the hills that could or would be tackled in our city and it was easy to just get on and ride without a lot of fussing. The bike I rode was slightly rattly (something I wouldn't expect from a set of new bicycles), but I also understand that this is not a personal bike being set up to my own specifications, likes/dislikes, and so on, and that the components being used are not (of course) the most expensive.

When I returned the bike to a station, I went back into the app to end the ride. It provided instructions as to how to ensure the bike is properly locked (it required holding the lock button and sliding the orange handle down on the bike to lock back into place) and how to end the ride. Overall, a simple, easy to use experience.

The seatpost conundrum was still weighing on me though, so I went around the station to test other seatposts to see if they were any different. Of the handful I tried there, none of them would stay in place with any amount of hand pressure applied. The seatposts all moved easily from side to side and up and down without even the weight of a body on the saddle. I am not a tall rider, so it wasn't a huge deal for me not to be able to get the saddle precisely where I wanted, but it still seems concerning to me that both taller riders would be stuck in a very low position, and that even riding the saddle at it's lowest point results in movement from side to side.

Also of note is Zagster's "strong recommendation" for riders to wear a helmet when riding; however, there are no helmets available to use when checking out a bike. In the case of someone traveling by foot (as I was on this particular day), I'd have no need to have a bike helmet on my person, so it would be nice to see bike helmets available for use with the bikes. Perhaps even making it part of the bike checkout process would be simple enough and encourage riders to wear a helmet.

Additionally, after my test ride I emailed Zagster with questions about the seatpost and inquiring whether this is typical of bike share bicycles at other locations, or if it was simply a run of bad luck at my particular location. As of the writing of this post, I have not received a response, but I will update with information when it becomes available.

During my email contact I inquired about pricing structure. The wording of the user agreement sounds as though there is an annual fee associated with the use of Zagster, and I wanted to clarify that matter as well. I also wanted to know whether monthly and annual users are automatically charged or if charges only take place if Zagster is used during the given time frame. Again, I have not yet heard back in this regard but will update as soon as I have more information.

In the meantime, if you are a local, I encourage you to try out our new bike share. If you have tried it, I'd love to hear how your experience went and if you see yourself (or family, visitors, etc) using this new service in our fair city. If you aren't local, do you have a bike share system available in your city? Have you encountered any problems in using the system/bikes? How has your city ensured that the bike share program continues to be available to inhabitants and visitors alike? If you'd like a bit more information, there is also a Times-Call article that can be found here.

Post Script: I heard back from Zagster regarding the seatpost issue. They were helpful in their reply and stated that the seatpost should be movable, but shouldn't shift after it is secured (which is, yes, obvious), so they are sending a mechanic out to have a look at the particular bike in question. I am still curious as other bikes at that particular corral seemed to have the same problem, but we shall see! 

Additionally, I received further clarification about the fees associated with the bike share. So, for the hourly rental, it is simply $3/hour and no recurring charges take place beyond that. With the monthly and annual subscription, the fees are billed every month, but there is also an additional charge of $3/hour AFTER the first hour of riding. So, assuming that an individual only needs the bike for short amounts of time, there would be no additional fees, but if the bike is out longer than an hour, subscribers should expect to see the $3/hour charge after the first hour. If ever a user wants to cancel the account, s/he can email or call, or use the website online to change or end service.

It was also pointed out that if ever a person is in need of immediate/urgent assistance, s/he should call Zagster's phone number, which is readily available via the app service.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Eerran... hoo?

It's been about a month since I've written anything here (I like to point out the obvious). I'm trying not to feel guilty, but it's challenging some days. I think I've just come to accept that there may be long pauses in between times that I write here. And that's okay. At least for me it's okay. I have come to realize that these are reflective periods and necessary for me, though I should probably use this space to sort through thoughts during these times.

There have been some happenings and hope for happenings around here, so I think it's had my brain sidetracked. There's been chatter about moving to the city. Maybe not right in the heart of everything (though that thought crossed our minds as well), but at least right on the edge of happenings. This turned into house hunting, which turned into a smack in the face with the realization that, holy moly, the last two years have brought huge increases in property values throughout the state and can we actually even afford to move? Should we even consider moving? We live in a lovely community, but it's questionable as to whether it's the right place for us. There is no resolution to that thought at the moment, but it's been a huge distraction. It's hard to stay focused on the every day when there are so many thoughts and potential outcomes.

In addition, I purchased a bicycle frame during the second week of January, and I'm still awaiting its arrival. It was an already-built-frame, but new-old-stock, and it was supposed to be a few weeks before I'd receive it (it required paint as it was still raw), but apparently my definition of a few weeks is different than the company's definition. After a quick inquiry, I was told that the "painter is really slow right now." So, I have no idea when it will arrive at this point. But, hopefully, I'll be able to share more about that sometime soon. I am super excited about it though, and I feel like a kid who's been told Disneyland is in the future, but that day never seems to actually arrive.

As you may recall from my last writing, my goal was to try to ride every day this year. All was going well until the last week of February, but things quickly came apart at the seams. I may have to revise the goal itself (which was the point of making it a goal rather than a resolution), but I've had some interesting encounters during my rides. Even though many of them have been quite short, it's fascinated me how many interactions I've had with others simply because I was on a bicycle. I thought I'd share one of the brief encounters for now, but hopefully I will have time to share more moving forward.

The gym seems to provide me with some very interesting and entertaining conversation. While I'm working out, I tend to go into my own little world, headphones on, drowning out the people and activities happening around me, but before and after, I have to say I've had some fascinating encounters with others over the years. If an odd conversation is  to be had, one can almost wager that I have had it at some point in or around the gym. It's as though these spaces are magnets for people to approach me for these non-typical moments.

Today's tale isn't necessarily all that unusual, but it made me smile, so I had to share it. I was leaving the gym at the same moment that an older gentleman was making his way inside.

"Lovely day for a ride," he began as he stood aside my bicycle.

"It is. It really is beautiful," I responded, looking up from unlocking my bike to his smiling face.

"I used to ride my bike all the time," he started again. "I had a stroke though and now they won't let me ride it anymore. That's why I'm here. Trying to get in a little movement. My wife and I had matching Schwinn's. They were really beautiful." His eyes moved up toward the sky as if remembering specific moments on his bike. "I really miss riding my bicycle though."

I smiled. "It's great that you're here and getting in some exercise," I wanted to share that a trike might be a good option, but before I could even formulate the thought fully, he was on to other matters.

"Eee.. eeeuuu...errran..." he stammered a bit but kept trying, "Eerran... hoo?"

Confused for a moment, I wondered if there was a health incident taking place until I realized he was staring at the rear of my bicycle at my saddle bag. "Errandonnee? Did you see my patch?" I asked.
He looked at me confused. "What is that?"

I couldn't help but smile. How strange a word it must seem to others, though once it is explained it becomes clearer to most. Even I had to pause for a moment to think of the most efficient way to explain the errandonnee.

"There are a group of people who participate in a challenge to ride a certain number and type of errands by bicycle during a specified time. If the person completes the challenge, they are awarded the patch," I said. "I chose to put mine on my bag since this is the bike I use to run many errands normally."

"Oh," he responded, and then paused for a moment before continuing on, "That sounds like fun!" With that, he went to the front door of the gym and proceeded in.

I couldn't help but smile during the ride home. Sometimes the simplest interactions make for the best days. I only wish every interaction at the gym was as pleasant. Most of them have me leaving in anger or disgust (or both).

Monday, February 6, 2017

Winter Blues

Many moons ago, back before Sam and I had moved to Colorado, we had come out for a visit to see Sam's father. At the time, his dad lived in Estes Park, which is in the mountains about 35-ish miles north-west of our current residence.
Downtown Estes Park, CO in mid-September 2002. It honestly hasn't changed much in the last 14.5 years.
While we were out visiting, we took a lot of photos.
View from the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, 2002
Although I had considered Boulder (about 15 miles south-west of our current residence) as an option for college just out of high school, I had never visited prior to Sam's and my first road trip together in 2002.

I was absolutely struck by the beauty of this state.
Deer and elk roamed freely through yards during our visit.
The mountains, the sky, the animals all had my attention, and even the populated areas weren't half bad. I jokingly stated at the end of our visit, "We should move here - It's so beautiful!!"
A view from just outside Rocky Mountain National Park looking down into the Estes Park area/valley in 2002. It was a hazy day, but still lovely.
Little did I know at the time that less than half a year later life circumstances would dramatically change and we would do exactly that.
We had to stop during our travel through the mountains because I couldn't get over the rock formations, water and trees.
When we returned home, everyone wanted to see photos from the trip - or at least they feigned interest in such matters, as I'm sure my excitement was obvious. The one question I was continually asked was:  Are the skies really that blue?

Our home at the time was in typically smog-filled southern California and rarely, unless at a beach on a clear day, would we see skies even remotely as clear and blue as those in Colorado. It was easy to understand why people continued to ask the question because to us it seemed such a thing couldn't possibly exist. I assured anyone who wondered such thoughts that the photographs were undoctored and that yes, in fact, the skies truly are that blue.
A photo taken last year, just down the road from home.
I share this today because I understand that I often take my surroundings for granted. It's a lot easier to do than I might have thought at one time, but I am occasionally smacked in the face by a moment or a situation that brings me back to those feelings and thoughts that took place over 14 years ago.
A partly cloudy day, but the backdrop was still something to behold.
Out on a short ride, I caught a glimpse of the blue in the sky and although we are fortunate to have many sunny days in winter, I went back to those conversations years ago and reminded myself that I am so fortunate to call this place home.
A gravel ride three years ago left me in awe of my surroundings.
Occasionally, these rides happen, I think, just to remind me that I shouldn't take any day or situation for granted. I never thought I'd leave home in California, but it happened (and swiftly). I have to remind myself that it could just as easily take place again -- and I could only hope to be so fortunate to find myself in another part of the country with such beautiful surroundings.

It's easy to grow weary of the dry, dead, browns of winter, and this season has been unusually light on snow, making it feel somehow even more dreary (or maybe that's just me). Perhaps my brain expects that if no snow is falling, it should be spring and I expect to see greens and blooms?

Oh well. Regardless, I am enjoying the season and my surroundings as I pedal or walk about. The fat tire bike may not be getting as much use as I'd have thought at the start of winter, but I have no doubt it will see its fair share of time as well. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the tans and browns that overtake in winter, as well as the beautiful winter blue sky. How can I not when there is so much loveliness to see? Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a small part is still looking forward to spring. It's closing in faster than I thought!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Goals v. Resolutions & a 2017 Challenge

Resolutions and I are not friends.
Not even a little bit.
*Image found here
In fact, several years ago, I made the very conscious decision to never again make a resolution at the start of a new year, and if I could help it, I would choose not to make any resolutions at all. After so many failed attempts to change something in my life, it felt silly to continue to do this year after year. I do still reflect, and often times I find myself making goals, but I look at goals very differently than I do resolutions.

When it comes to goals, I find that it is perfectly acceptable to make mistakes along the way. A goal is something I want to achieve and work towards with specific steps in mind. If a step is missed somewhere along the way, in my mind, it is simple enough to try again, approach it from a different angle or method, or to modify as I move along. With goals, I feel flexibility and believe that I have options along the way if my original point isn't attainable or needs some adjustment.

When I make a resolution, I am telling myself that it is a firm and unchanging destination point; so, if mistakes are made along the way, it feels somewhat easy to give up on it entirely. Take a look at any gym in early January versus early February. The numbers definitely decrease in just those few weeks because people resolved that they would go to the gym every day, and then when they miss a day or two, often times the thought of failure kicks in and some, perhaps many, give up entirely. I have witnessed this year after year first hand as I watch the masses come in during the first couple of weeks in January, only to disappear before winter comes to an end.

If my distinction between goals and resolutions just seems like semantics, I understand, but look at the definitions of the two words:

- goal: (noun) the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
- resolution: (noun) a firm decision to do or not to do something.

One just feels as though it has flexibility built in, while the other appears to have hard and fast lines to which one must adhere.

With that, I started this particular new year lacking any thought of resolutions or goals. Admittedly, I had a lot on my mind, so I wasn't particularly focused when January 1 hit. Still, I wanted to make some sort of goal for the year, even if it seemed silly or small, so, with about a week left in January, I decided that my goal for the remainder of the year would be simple: Ride a bicycle somewhere every remaining day of the year.

There are no stipulations regarding distance or time, nor where I have to go, but the goal is to go somewhere on a bicycle every day (even if it's just around the corner). I understand that doesn't seem like much of a goal, but for a person who works from home, I can go multiple days without need to leave the house. In winter and cold months, I find it even easier to put things off and then combine trips into one day. I do leave for one reason or another throughout the day, but it isn't necessarily on a bicycle, so my hope with this goal is not to create a situation in which I dread going out, but rather one for which I look forward to time outdoors. If history is any indicator, the more frequently I ride, the more I will want to ride.

I understand that there will be challenges and that in truth, the day will come when I likely won't be able to get out on a bicycle for one reason or another, but I do look forward to the challenge to see how many days I'll be able to accomplish for the remainder of the year.  My hope is that knowing that I'll be sharing here, I'll remember to take more photos (I don't know why this is always an issue for me, but it seems to be the case). The plan is to share reports once a month here. I need some sort of accountability, or it's too easy for me to wander off and forget my goal. We'll see how things move along (I may need more frequent check-ins).

Because I only had a week of every day riding for January (I did ride several days earlier in the month, but I wasn't tracking it at all, so I will simply start with the day I began to consciously track rides), there isn't much to report, but here goes!

Day 1 (1/25)
3.6 miles
Bicycle: Rivendell Hillborne
Rode to the gym. I was almost run over by an elderly woman in a Buick who didn't see me. I noted that despite having pretty warm winter days thus far, there's still a substantial amount of ice in the bike lanes and in the gutter portion of roads. My hands froze because I wore inappropriate gloves (as usual).

Day 2 (1/26)
0.8 miles
Bicycle: Velo Orange Campeur
This was a short ride - a very short ride. I walked to the bike shop to pick up the Campeur that was getting cleaned and tuned up (trying to give Sam a break from tuning bikes). Just a short little test to get it home.

Day 3 (1/27)
3.6 miles
Bicycle: VO Campeur
Rode to the gym again. It is easy to get these rides in when I have a purpose, but I don't always want riding to the gym to be the only place I go. Still, I'm cutting myself some slack as I start this in the midst of winter, albeit a pretty warm one for the most part thus far (hope that's not a jinx).

Day 4 (1/28)
3.6 miles
Bicycle: VO Campeur
Rode to the gym. We had a busy day in front of us and I knew this would likely be the only time I would have to ride. It was pleasant (sunny), but very cold. Even Sam said his hands were frozen when we arrived. Of course, leaving early in the morning doesn't help matters this time of year.
Viewed at a recently-renovated older house, I thought this idea could be useful in our own yard.
Day 5 (1/29)
3.4 miles
Bicycle: Riv Hillborne
Another busy day; however, there was an open house I wanted to see, so while Sam was starting on one of our projects, I pedaled over to take a look. Open houses seem to be a hobby for us over the last few years. I think we need a new pastime in all honesty, but we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking. Usually, we peek in simply because housing prices have skyrocketed locally over the last couple of years and we have a kind of morbid fascination with seeing what becomes available, but this time, there was actually something in the backyard that I thought might be interesting in our own yard (pictured in the photo above).
(left) Dropping package at the post office; (middle) Several unused bike racks at the grocery store; (right) FixIt station at the grocer.
Day 6 (1/30)
8.0 miles
Bicycle: VO Campeur
I had a package that needed to be dropped at the post office and the house was lacking any sort of food, so I decided to combine the two trips. There's some construction taking place around the roads of the market I was headed to, so I knew getting home would be a bit found in a roundabout manner, but it turned out okay. I also had a photo op with the multitude of empty bike racks outside the grocer and took note of both the pump for bicycles and tools available. I thought it was pretty cool (and should be a note to other retailers in the area)! I will also add that riding a few miles with about 25 pounds of groceries was interesting. It's not something I've done for awhile and it took a minute for my balance to readjust. Thankfully, the VO is pretty stable, so we made it home just fine. It's unfortunate that the trip home was uphill loaded with the groceries, but it obviously didn't kill me as I lived to write about it. :)

Day 7 (1/31)
0.5 miles
Bicycle: Riv Hillborne
A last minute chiropractic appointment took me on a very, very brief ride. In fact, I sometimes walk instead of riding a bike because it's just that close. But, because the day was full of many obligations, I knew this would likely be all the riding I would see for the day, and I was correct. Unfortunately, I was informed that I have bursitis in my hip (how old am I anyway???), so that should be a (not very) fun addition to my list of ailments to deal with as we move into February.

A mere 23.5 miles is the grand tally for January (well, the last week of January, since I wasn't logging prior to then). The good news is that I should be able to top it fairly easily in February. The distance certainly wasn't earth shattering, but again, mileage is not the goal. I have decided not to count any pedaling on the bike trainer (while it may help cardiovascular fitness and/or muscle memory, I want to actually be outside to ride), and even though I walk fairly often, I won't be counting those miles either.

What plans or goals have you set for yourself this year? Are things off to a good start? Also, if you'd like to keep tabs on what's going on during the month, I'm going to do my very best to take at least one photo on each ride (I wasn't entirely successful with that piece for my short stint with January), and I'll share them on Flickr here, should you have interest.