Monday, November 21, 2011

Dynamic Dynamo

I will keep to a regular posting schedule on this blog that nobody reads if it kills me!

Aside from my commute, I haven't really been riding much lately. Most of that is due to overwork; when I get home, the last thing I want to do is go for a long bike ride for fun. Or, rather, that's one of the first things I want to do, but I also have to do dishes and wash clothes and all that boring adult stuff. So the riding falls by the wayside, a lot of the time. But I have reason to believe things might improve in January, so yay? Even though I don't think I'll be doing much recreational riding in January anyway, because snow (boo!).

But! I have a new bike toy, and while I can't play with it yet, I am super excited about it. It's a bottle dynamo for a human-powered thievery-averse lighting system.

It looks like a tiny gun. Or maybe a hair dryer.
I now need to get a headlight and taillight, and oh yeah, figure out how to hook up the whole thing. It would probably be better to go to a bike shop to get this done, but I enjoy tinkering, and it doesn't look too too hard, at least once I get the voltages right. The dynamo is used and vintage because it was way cheaper than a new one, but I think I'll stick with modern lights. These would be for the vintage Raleigh as the newer hybrid already has battery lights, and while the battery lights are detachable they don't fit on the Sports very well. I'm also constantly leaving them on the hybrid or on the kitchen table instead of taking them with me, which does nothing for my nighttime safety. So I think I'll be much better off with a system I can't possibly leave at home.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's All in the Commute?

So, as I alluded to in my last post, I have a new day job. Without going too far into details, it isn't the greatest job in the world. To go slightly more into details, it isn't the job I applied for and I'm a little irked at the bait and switch. But enough with the details!

I've noticed that, as non-ideal as my job is, I am a lot less cranky than I feel like I "should" be when I get home. Part of that is that I'm (by choice) not working full-time. But I think that, weird as it sounds, a very big part of the reason why I don't come home cranky and miserable is -- you guessed it -- because I ride my bike to work.

See, for around a year when I lived in Pittsburgh, I used to have a walking commute. It was approximately the same amount of time as my current bike commute (20 minutes each way). And I didn't come home cranky then, either. I really liked that job, which could be part of it... but when I moved and had to start taking the bus to work every day, I started getting cranky. And pretty much didn't stop being cranky about my job for the next few years.

I can't really get much thinking done on a bus. Oh, sure, I got a lot of reading done. But deep thinking, the kind I need to cleanse my introvert brain after a long day of working in an extravert's world... no. Not with all the stop calls, the babble of voices, people pushing and bumping into me, and oh god, the motion sickness. I don't get carsick as easily on a bus as I do in a car, but it's still present. (Well, someone's a delicate butterfly.) And I think all these various bus annoyances had a lot to do with why my attitude went downhill all those years.

Maybe there's no correlation. Or only a very weak correlation. I'm not a scientist.

I kind of wish my commute was longer, although I'm sure I won't feel that way after the first snow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's New! It's Old! It's Vintage!

Apologies for the delay in posting for the maybe five people who read this. As it turns out, starting a blog at the exact same time you start a new job (after almost two years unemployed!) isn't such a great idea. Really going to have to get on a regular posting schedule soon!

But anyway, big news: I got a new bike! I shouldn't have really been trawling Craigslist's bike section, but I did and came upon a vintage three-speed Raleigh Sports at a price I could afford. After hemming and hawing for a few days, I finally realized that I couldn't not at least look into it, and shot the owner an email.

Parks and Recreation: lessons for life.

The bike lived in my old stomping ground of Towson, at one of the soulless apartment complexes that are so numerous in suburban Maryland. I was late to my appointment, because the road I had to take didn't have sidewalks and drivers in MD speed like hell so I was a nervous wreck. (In fact, the lack of sidewalks in a lot of places there is one of the reasons I decided to start cycling!) But once I got on the bike -- well, after me and the bike's owner went to a gas station to fill the tires -- everything felt a lot better.

I'd been wary of the steel-is-king mantra, believing it just to be a scam to sell expensive steel-frame bikes to suckers. But wow, it's true: steel is better on potholes, cracks, grates, and all the other road inconsistencies that you get in an average city. During the test ride, I deliberately rode it over some extremely shitty potholes, and ones that normally would have put my heart in my mouth were little more than gentle waves. On an aluminum frame, you feel everything, and while I don't dislike aluminum as much as other bike enthusiasts (sometimes you want to feel the road!), I can't deny that steel is in many ways superior for a city environment.

The internal hub feels far different from a derailleur. The "junk in the trunk" effect took a few minutes to get used to, but it makes the bike feel a lot more stable. It's much harder to climb hills on this bike, but that was only an issue for two hills I encountered on the way back from Towson, and will not be an issue with any hills in the city. (I also imagine my riding style and my legs will learn to compensate for the extra rear weight.) I do notice it has a tendency to drop out of gear randomly, usually when I'm trying to shift while pedaling (the opposite of a derailleur, which can only change gears while you are pedaling). But these are just minor inconveniences. On the plus side, my chain hasn't fallen off once; it falls off at least every tenth ride on my hybrid, leading to hands that are stained black for at least the rest of the following day. But then, I tend to give the gears on my hybrid a workout, using all seven on the same two-mile ride.

The bike is in seriously beautiful condition for its age. The blue paint isn't faded or patchy at all, looks like it just came out of a showroom. The only rust I see is a slight bit around the back fender which considering the bike is from 1973 is a goddamn miracle. I wonder if this thing was even ridden at all! The Brooks saddle isn't a "real" Brooks, i.e. leather, but it is super comfy and I don't plan on changing it. And while I'm not usually a person who notices or cares about little details on bikes, I admit to loving the lugged frame and little chromey details on the fenders. And that reflector on the back fender! Everything on this bike is adorable.

So cute I could explode!
Things to add: lights! Right now I put my little clippy lights on at dusk, but I'm probably going to spring for some kind of generator system (at least in the front) as the bike is set up for it with a headlight bracket. I may also get a rack, but not unless I can find one that doesn't look out of place on a vintage bike. This may just become my city commuter, with the hybrid as a grocery bike plus a bike to ride on rails to trails and other recreational rides where I have to drive the bike to the ride spot. (The Sports doesn't have quick release wheels, so no car rides for this baby.)

So, yeah, buying this bike was pretty gratuitous but we all need to do something gratuitous for ourselves every so often. I smile every time I look at it, even when I'm not riding it. And I've already gotten a few compliments, which is something I care about even though it's sorta shallow. Basically, if you have a few Jacksons to spare, treat yourself to a vintage bike. It's still cheaper than a month of gas.

A good view of the front. Hello there!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Daylight Saving Time: A Cyclist's Perspective

If you're reading this American blog written in English, chances are probably pretty good that you've just participated in the twice-yearly changing of the clocks. Amid the jokes about time travel and the elation at getting an "extra hour," there is the harsh reality that we're going to be faced with an ever-decreasing amount of daylight, which moving the clocks back will only hasten. The day we switch to Standard Time is one of my least favorite days of the year, which is why I've spent all day lounging around in my adult onesie and listening to the Smiths.

The view from my window, approximately 5:52 pm.
I am a fan of DST. I like coming out of work and having a good three hours, or even one measly hour, of glorious natural sunlight. Daylight saving time has many non-transportation-related benefits for me and for others: lessened seasonal depression (those sun lamps don't work, that is not the sun), lower energy costs (although those are doubtful), and less time watching TV or playing on the Internet because hey, what else are you going to do? But as this is a bicycle blog, let's just talk about the transportation effects, because those alone are enough to convince anyone that a move to permanent DST is an excellent idea that should be carried out immediately. According to some British news site:

  • Car accident rates in November go up 17% as drivers adjust to darker conditions. This wouldn't happen if the change to darkness was more gradual, and if there was less darkness in the evening overall.
  • Motorcycle accidents go up 41.8% during standard time. Our two-wheeled brothers and sisters bear the brunt of the decrease in driver attentiveness.
  • 80 lives per year in the UK would be saved if permanent DST were the norm. Extrapolate this to the US, where  more people are driving longer distances, and that's a huge amount of people.

Although bike commuters aren't mentioned specifically on that article, it's pretty easy to see that permanent DST would have enormous benefit for us, the main benefit being more people would bike commute. I mean, I'm going to commute by bike all winter long anyway: I don't have a choice. But for people who do have a choice, it's awfully hard to convince them that it's safe and healthy to ride their bike home from work when it's pitch black outside. Most people who work standard shifts, and most students, stop working/going to school around five at the latest, which in standard time is just when it turns from dusk to evening. But with an extra hour? It would still be pretty light, and that extra 20-40 minutes of fading daylight might be enough to assure greener cyclists that the roads are still safe for them. And more riders equals more safety! (But still turn on those lights, kids.)

But also, more daylight means more protection from drivers. Cyclists are just as susceptible to driver inattention and poor night vision (hey, I have both!) as people on motorcycles, and just like them we're much less likely to survive an accident. Lights are an essential tool for cyclists, but no light can match the sun, the ultimate bottle dynamo.

Of course, a trade-off of longer daylight hours is that it will still be dark when many of us leave for the day, but personally I don't mind riding at dawn nearly as much as I mind riding at dusk. Okay, I do hardly any dawn riding because I am lazy and don't like leaving the house before mid-morning if I can help it. But the little I've done, I haven't minded. I'd guess that it's safer than dusk riding, because after all the light is increasing, so every minute that passes gets safer and safer.

I can't think of any good reason why we shouldn't have year-round DST. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

First post!

Well, hello there! I previously "blogged" (seriously, I hate that word) about my bicycling adventures on Breakfast at Twilight, but my interest in cycling has grown to the point at which I felt it warranted its own site.

Anyway, here's the story, for those too lazy to read the "about me" link: my name is Erica, I live in Baltimore, and I don't drive. Sometimes this hasn't affected my life in the slightest, and other times, it's been a major barrier to my employment, socialization, entertainment, and independence. I also have a lot of political beliefs shaped by my non-driving status. Up until 2010, I lived in a city (Pittsburgh, PA) with a fairly extensive public transportation system, which is currently in the process of being dismantled. In 2010, I moved to a satellite city of Baltimore where public transportation was severely lacking, so I decided to start bicycling. And I fell in love!

One of the many pieces of Hampden public art.
Cycling has improved my life in so many ways. Although public transportation is a wonderful thing, there is really something to be said for getting where you need to go under your own power. The feeling of being on your own timetable, without the delays common with buses and trains, is liberating. Bicycles really are freedom machines, at least for those of us fortunate enough to live in places where cycling is possible. (I grew up in a place where it wasn't possible, and I'm sure my suburbia hate will come out here sooner or later.) At the same time, cycling in a major American city that isn't Portland is quite often a daunting experience... it's always better than driving (for me), but there's still an ever-present danger which doesn't have to be there.

With this blog, I hope to give a little bit of insight into cycling in Baltimore, as well as talk about what it's like to be a non-driver kinda-but-not-really-but-YES-REALLY by choice (my driving history, it's complicated), public perceptions of cyclists/non-drivers, and how to commute and run errands easily on a bike (protip: it's really, really easy). I'll also probably post more pictures here than at the other blog, although I'm really not much of a photographer.

Happy reading, and happy riding!