The Agony and Ecstasy Of A Bleeding Edge Bike Commute

This is a love story and a cautionary tale of my first bike commute on my new super-light folding bike.

It is safe to say I have a challenging bike commute: 41 miles each way; 7 miles of water to cross each way; and 300 meters of vertical to climb on the way home. Given all that, I leverage public transit all I can to ensure I don’t spend 4+ hours a day commuting. That means going over to San Francisco on BART (Bay Area Public Transportation) and down the peninsula on CalTrain or down the East Bay on BART and across the Dumbarton Bridge on bus. The first option was preferable because the CalTrain system on the peninsula has dedicated bike cars. No other system in the Bay area does.

The Challenge
Therein lies the problem. No public transit, except for CalTrain, is very keen on seeing cyclists around rush hour. BART outright bans them for each of the two rush hour periods.

The Initial Solution
Instead of crossing the bay and then heading down to work, I would head down and then cross the bay. I would take BART south to Union City and either cycle or bus across the Dumbarton Bridge.

Some Bridges Like Bikes
I was astounded and impressed to find that the Dumbarton is the one transbay bridge that has a bicycle/pedestrian lane all the way across. A heartening fact in the face of the recent Bay Bridge reconstruction’s new bicycle/pedestrian bridge from Oakland to Treasure Island, but not beyond (aka a “bridge to nowhere”).

Anyway, for the first few weeks of April, this plan worked fine. If I got up early enough, I would BART down and cycle across the Dumbarton. The whole trip took 90 minutes, but who’s counting when this includes a workout? (aka a reprieve from a gym visit).

Some Buses Like Bikes
Whenever I woke up late, I would bus across with my bike in a bus rack, and the whole trip took 70 minutes.

Neither option was super-fast, but given that a traffic jam could make a car trip last 90 minutes or more, neither wasn’t bad. Not to mention, one could fill the whole time with web-surfing or reading, instead of driving.

The Reality
Then Spring hit. It stopped raining and warmed up enough so that other cyclists started having the same idea for crossing the Dumbarton. This ensured that the Dumbarton Express bus racks were always full. I tried getting to it a little early, but no dice: still full. After all, there were only two racks.

I quickly realized that the Dumbarton bus route was not a reliable option for a cyclist given the limited capacity. This produced a real bind. I didn’t have time to cycle the bridge everyday, and I couldn’t reliably get up early enough to beat the bike crowds to the Dumbarton Express bus.

Hefty Hiatus
Right about that time, someone asked me to carpool so I took a bike-commuting-hiatus. However, this felt more restrictive than all the bicycle curfews I was avoiding. No longer could I stay late at work or run errands at lunch with my bike. Carpooling wasn’t working but, by then, I had really fallen off the wagon with early rising so it felt like I couldn’t turn back. Months passed. I gained 10 pounds. I had failed to replace the cycling with another form of exercise. This wouldn’t do.

The New Solution
After trying and failing to get BART to lift their rush hour bike curfew, I suddenly realized that BART’s curfew excluded folding bikes. I researched those and found almost all to be sorely lacking in sturdiness and speed. The one exception was a new generation of bikes coming from a company called Tern.

The Tern Verge X20 seemed like a great candidate for the kind of folding bike I would need. An incredible bike by any measure: folding (easily I might add, which is more than I can say for many); 9.3kg (that’s high end road bike territory weight-wise); SRAM Red components throughout (the very best road bike components, and a price to match of course); and 1.11 inch wide wheels (picture 23c road tire, but only 20 inches in diameter, aka minimal resistance gliders).

This bike sounded perfect, given all my constraints: 300 meters of high-speed vertical on the ride down the hill from my home; 300 meters of steep climbing on the return ride home; bike curfews; rack space constraints; and time constraints (lighter equals much shorter commute times on bikes).

With a folding bike, I could travel with impunity on any transit system. The bike wouldn’t even need a bike rack on a bus and it would circumvent the curfews on BART. Best of all, because it was ultralight and ultrafast, it would climb hills and cross flats almost as fast my road bike. “Woohoo! What a great time to be a bike commuter”, I thought.

After an interminable wait and after gaining even more weight, the bike finally arrived on the market and I bought the first one I found. It is here where this story really begins. The first day of bike commuting with this bleeding edge commuter bike was both fantastic and horrific (no fault of the bike’s, by the way).

The Ecstasy
The first moments were ecstasy. The bike was very stable while I reached 35 kph going down 300 meters of vertical. I only added about 2 minutes to the first leg of my commute. Not bad!

Better still, I walked onto the BART train for San Francisco with no fear of punishment even though the sign flashed “no bikes”.

Once across the bay, I discovered I had 10 minutes to get to the CalTrain station 2km away. This was a job for the super fast Verge X20. Again, it performed magnificently, I found the small wheels of the folding bike much more nimble at dodging pedestrians and weaving through cars amidst the morning gridlock of downtown San Francisco.

Likewise, the bike cruised along at a respectable 25 kph on the flat, long blocks. All my waiting, planning, and spending on this new cutting-edge commute tool had paid off. I was leaving all the other heavy and slow commuter bikes in the dust.

Beginner’s Unluck
Then fate turned on me. It started when I arrived at the CalTrain station just as the doors closed on my train’s gate. That cost a 15 minute delay. No matter, I thought. The bike was fast, I could still make up time on the last leg in Menlo Park.

The Agony
I hit the ground running in Menlo Park, I got off the train and on the bike in seconds. I charged ahead on one of Menlo Park’s beautiful bike lanes to make up some lost time. Then, 100 yards out, I ran over something weird only to feel that unmistakable rumble from my rear tire. Ugh!!!!!!!! A flat.

One thing I am pretty good at is being prepared for these mishaps. The day before, I had made a special trip to the bike store for spare inner tubes for just such an occasion as this. I had also inquired about extra tires, but all the shop had were unfoldables so I skipped those. I figured I would order them soon.

Not soon enough–the flat was from a cut to the sidewall. That’s death for any kind of tire. So there I was: rendered a pedestrian by a tiny piece of metal with a new foldable bike in tow. I went back and gave the jagged metal a good kick to vent frustration and spare someone else the same fate.

Extraordinary Bikes Require Extraordinary Bike Stores
My fate was just getting warmed up. I’ve been without a tire or tube before. It’s a long walk but eventually you get to a bike store and you are on your way. But this wasn’t just any bike so I couldn’t use just any bike store. I needed a 20″ diameter, 1.1″ wide, tire. That’s Greek to most standard bike shops, and folding shops for that matter.

My mind raced: Where had I seen foldable bike dealers in this area? Only 2 shops out of a dozen came to mind. Also, is the shop open? I am late to work, but it is only 9 a.m. How will I get to the shop in my bike shoes without trashing my ankles? After making a few calls, I discovered the 2 folding bike shops were open. However, the bike was so new that none of the staff had heard of it, much less knew which parts would fix it. Still, after a LOT of explaining, I established that one shop had a tire I could use. Naturally, that was the most distant shop.

Googling for public transit solutions only embellished the need for a working bicycle in times like these. No buses were nearby and no bus would take me anywhere near the shop. Ironically, CalTrain delivered me the closest to the shop, so I walked back to the station, waited a quarter hour, and caught the next train.

The next hour was filled with lots of super-fun walking in bike shoes and having the rare cab swiped from me by a business man while I folded my bike. But I finally got to the shop, got the tire and rode to work. Only 2.5 hours late. Woohoo!

Epilogue
The moral of the story for me is this: like any bleeding edge solution, be prepared to provide your own technological support. The newer the solution, the fewer resources to help when things go wrong. After my ordeal, I even discovered that the shop that sold me the bike had sold me the wrong size of inner tubes. When you are on the bleeding edge, you are really on your own.

Nevertheless, despite my initial lack of supplies and abundance of bad luck, I have no regrets. The ability of this type of bicycle to negotiate both the capricious bike policies of regional transit systems and the capricious streets of downtown rush hours, should ensure these bikes become increasingly popular. That should mean more stores will carry them soon and, in turn, will mean I will have less far to walk for parts.

Regardless, I now stock a new tube and tire on my back for this bike as I do for all my full-sized bikes. I gambled and lost this time, but I won’t again, especially with such a wonderful new type of bike.

How to Choose the Best Single Speed Bikes

For clarification purposes, a single speed bike is that one which has only one gear that is fixed on the rear wheel. Having this fixed gear means that you will have to paddle to have the bike moving. Such bikes don’t require shifters, chaining (double or triple) cranksets, or derailleurs. The absence of these parts makes the bike easy to maintain and clean. Since it’s a simple bike without many components and with only one gear, it is normally light in weight, easy to maintain, and repair. Such bikes are ideal for those who are commuters.

So how do you choose the perfect single speed bike?

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing such a bike. Below are some of the most important things to look out for:

Which is the best gear?

Because it is a one gear bike, it is a fundamental factor to have the right one. For instance, if the gear has a lot of resistance, then definitely you will have to stop at every steep landscape. On the other hand, if the bike has a little gear, you will have to constantly be spinning the legs to get yourself on the motion. Since the ration between the rear and front chaining is used to determine the gear, commuters will find it ideal if they are using a gear of about 65 – 7 inches. As for track cycles, they probably need a gear with bigger inches. Actually, the gear inches increase with the wideness of the tire.

And what about the bike’s size?

This is another important area to be keen on when selecting a single speed bike. Most people have regretted purchasing a bike of the wrong size because they get uncomfortable when riding due to it being either too small or too big. To avoid this, make sure that you see the specifications of the bike. Better still is when you try it out, like a sample ride to see if it really fits you.

Wheels:

When it comes to the wheels, the majority think that this is purely aesthetic. In reality, there is a difference in performance when it comes to wheel types.

  • If you choose a 30mm wheelset, it is considered to be the lightest and offers a perfect balance between rigidity and weight. It will be the ideal choice for those who commute.
  • On the other hand, wheels of 42mm (deep-v) rims weigh a little bit more and are perfect for those looking to put some power to prevent flexing.
  • Lastly, the mag wheels are known to be the heaviest of all. People prefer it because it gives the bike an appealing loo, but when it comes to weight, it is a drawback.

Handlebars: The actually are available in very many sizes and shapes. Here, it is the choice of one which can determine which is the best, though some bars are the best fit for specific applications. Examples of such handlebars include: Drop handlebars, straight bars, riser bars, and bullhorns.

Bearings: This is the part which basically runs the bike’s hubs, headset, and the bottom bracket. In the market, you will find two types of bearings, which are:

  • Scaled bearings: This type has one single unit which houses the bearings. The unit is directly pushed into the hub/frame. Bikes with this bearing spin freely and smoothly than those with open bearings. Because they got rubber seals that protect the bearings, they are easily maintained as particles or elements don’t get into the bearings.
  • Open bearings: It is an open system of bearings supported with a cone and cup structure. Such a system requires a lot of maintenance for it to operate smoothly.

In short when looking for a single speed bike:

When selecting the best single speed bikes, the above factors can be very helpful. Never rush in choosing any bike because of its appearance. Such a mistake comes along with regrets. Now well the bike’s size, the type bearing it has, the wheel system, and most importantly the type of gear.

How I Got Into Mountain Biking

It was a humid Saturday morning as I had one foot clipped into my mountain bike while there must have been thirty of us lined up onto the starting line of this 15 mile mountain bike race. As I stood there I glanced over at the other competitors, some of whom had what looked like a ball of fire in their eyes while others had ripped leg muscles. They all sat onto their bikes, some of witch were carbon fiber bikes, hard tail and full suspension bikes and even a few 29ers. Here I am with only a year of experience riding on single track trails with my Trek full suspension mountain bike as I tried to keep myself pumped up for what could potentially be a very grueling race. Before the gunshot was heard, I kept my hands relaxed on the handle bar grips, only letting go to make sure my gloves were on tight, my helmet was adjusted properly and I took a few sips from the Camelbak hydration system that was strapped to me. Once the gun went off and was heard all over the mountain bike park, we were all in a dash to leave the starting line while clipping in and jockeying for position like a herd of wild animals as we made our way from the open field and into the single track trails. As I kept changing gears, looking around at the riders in front of me and thinking about what I would encounter during the race, I had a thought in the back of my mind.

I thought about what led me to buy a mountain bike, how long would it take before I would become confident enough to ride through rugged terrain, switchback trails and steep hills. Could this new sport help me out in the other endurance sports that I compete in?

With the background of a distance runner, and a triathlete, mountain biking would definitely benefit me. A little more than a year and a half before this race, a friend convinced me to buy an inexpensive hard tail mountain bike to participate in group rides in the winter time where we would be doing a lot hill repeats on a twenty mile loop on pavement. These workouts would keep us in shape through the winter so we would all be better off for the upcoming triathlon season. Once springtime rolled around and I wanted to get into ridding on single track trails that offer switchbacks, rugged terrain and steep hills, I realized that the bike that I currently had was inadequate for this type of ridding. So then I found myself buying a Trek full suspension mountain bike. The more I rode my new bike at the local mountain bike parks, the more I appreciated having an intermediate level bike. He way the dual suspension was forgiving on the terrain of the trails along with how well the tires gave me enough traction through the different trail conditions were just a couple of key features that I began to appreciate about this bike. As I rode my mountain bike on the easy and intermediate trails, I not only realized that I was turning into a better mountain biker, I noticed something else along the way. When I was not making my way though the local mountain bike parks, I was out on the road on my triathlon bike. What I found out about mountain biking is that it forces you to become very good at being able to handle your bike in all different situations. It is that same requirement in mountain biking that made me more confident when riding on road, especially through a village where there are a lot of cars, traffic lights, potholes and other various problems that a cyclist has to be aware of. At the time, while I was still becoming acclimated to this bike that I had bought, I knew that sometime in the future I would like to try a mountain bike race. I also knew that I would have to become a much better mountain biker at this new discipline before I try to do it at a competitive level. I soon found myself waking up very early on a September morning to join a of friends on what was going to be a sixty mile ride on our bikes. We would ride the first thirty five miles on a flat trail and then stop for breakfast and then the fun would really begin. Then twenty five miles of singe track trails and see who could endure the most pain. As the leaves fell off the trees and the snow blanketed the ground, there was yet another opportunity for me. Mountain biking on the snow packed trails while breathing the dry air and trying not to let my tires lose their grip in the snow. Eventually in the middle of the summer, I found myself on vacation visiting a friend in Massachusetts near the New Hampshire border and we mountain biked at various parks in the area. My friend and I rode in parks that offered an endless amount of rocks, boulders, roots, logs, man made bridges over creeks and even a few mosquitoes! At this time I was confident enough in my bike handling that I had registered for my first mountain bike race.

Now here I was in the first of four laps in this grueling mountain bike race while I was thinking about how I got into the sport instead of thinking about the race itself. I was quickly getting exhausted while I tried to keep up with the more experienced athletes in this race. With beads of sweat already dripping down my face and realizing that my mental toughness was slowly fading away, this discipline was beginning to feel a lot harder than distance running and competing in triathlons. I found myself on trails that meandered through the park as well as steep climbs, a few rollers, roots, logs, some rocks and then an open field to have a chance to gain speed. Overall I didn’t finish as well as I wanted to, but I plan to compete in more mountain bike races in the future. With the various mountain bike parks around the country, this is a very rewarding sport for a beginner to get into as well as an experienced mountain biker. Both types of mountain bikers will still reap the benefits and enjoyment, while continuously trying to push themselves past their comfort zone.

This is how I got into the sport of mountain biking. This is a sport where I have not only learned a lot about the sport itself, but also about myself as an athlete. I’m sure after reading this you are ready to go out and buy a bike or if you already have a mountain bike, dust it off and take it out to the trails.

For More Mountain Bike Information, Visit My Website At http://www.mountainbikeblogger.com

The Top 5 Bike Trails North and Northwest of Chicago

The Chicagoland area is known for great bike trails and you’ve just found a summary of the best bike trails in the Chicagoland area (north and northwest).

With so many great bike trails to choose from, there will, of course, be different opinions, depending on your personal riding style and preferences and what is most important to you. The top 5 bike trails selected have quite a bit to offer to a wide variety of riders.

Our top 5 bike trails choices include nicely paved trails as well as crushed stone trails and trails with access to more rugged mountain biking areas. Most of our top 5 trails connect other trails which will allow you to vary or extend your rides as you choose. You can select the best sections of the trails for short or medium distance rides or extend your rides to 100 miles or more on a some of these trails!

The Top 5 Bike Trails – Chicago North and Northwest

Fox River Bike Trail – The Fox River Trail (FRT) is the nicest paved bike trail in the Chicagoland area. The FRT has beautiful wooded areas along the river, cool winding paths through the woods and scenic views from the trail and from the many bridges that the FRT crosses.

The FRT starts in Aurora, Illinois on its southern end and runs north to Algonquin where it connects to the McHenry County Prairie Trail. Although the Prairie Trail can be taken all the way to the Wisconsin border, it becomes crushed stone and more rugged as you go north. You can also connect to the Illinois Prairie Path (IPP) (also crushed stone in many sections) at three different locations, for some very nice rides that branch out east on the beautiful IPP.

You can easily ride over 100 miles on the FRT and it’s connecting trails or you can select your favorite areas along the Fox River and enjoy a relaxing ride in the wooded areas along the riverside. This bike trail does get a little crowded on hot summer weekends and on holidays so if you prefer less people, I would suggest a weekday or off time.

Des Plaines River Trail – The Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) is a nice crushed stone trail with some wooded and shaded areas mixed with sunny prairie sections. Traffic on the trail is a little lighter than many of the other bike trails in this area (probably due to the crushed stone surface). Most of the highway intersections are bridge underpasses so you can do quite a distance, non stop without having to deal with highway crossings.

The northern section of the DPRT is the nicest crushed stone bike trail in the area. The northern part of the DPRT starts in Lincolnshire (Half Day) and can be taken all the way to the Wisconsin border. One of the nicest features of this trail is that most of it is well shaded on hot summer days. You may want to avoid this trail in extremely wet weather. The underpasses can be closed when the river is high and when there has been flooding.

Green Bay Bike Trail – The Green Bay Trail (GBT) is a crushed stone path that winds it’s way through the wooded north shore suburbs not far from the shores of Lake Michigan. The main 18 mile stretch of the GBT avoids most of the north shore business areas but there are many nice places that are easily accessible for an interesting break from the trail. Some parts of the GBT actually lead you through some residential streets of the affluent north shore suburbs and you can also visit Ravina Music Festival and some of the beautiful beaches on Lake Michigan.

The GBT starts in Wilmette, Illinois at the southern end and goes north to Lake Bluff when it turns into the Robert McClory Bike Path. There is some disputes regarding the exact path names but for this article I am referring to the GBT between Wilmette and Lake Bluff. The GBT does get a little crowded at peak times so if you prefer more solitude, I would suggest planning your ride around the potential busy times.

Great Western Bike Trail  -The Great Western Trail (GWT) is one of the many Rails to Trails bike trails and rolls through the Illinois prairies and countryside from St. Charles, Illinois to Sycamore. The trail is crushed stone, has a few easy rolling hills and very light bike traffic. What I really like is the rural atmosphere, prairies and open farmland.

The eastern end of the GWT is mostly shaded while the tree cover on the western part of the trail opens up and it can be quite sunny. The trail ends in a quite community park in Sycamore. I’d suggest this trail if you would like to get away from the rush of the city and enjoy a quiet rural bike ride where you can hear your own thoughts.

Busse Woods Bike Trail – The Busse Woods Trail (BWT) is a paved bike trail that loops through the Busse Woods Forest Preserve in Elk Grove, Illinois. There’s quite a variety of scenery in this 12 mile bike trail. At the northeastern part of the trail there is an actual Elk heard (in a large fenced off area). Once you head south from the elk herd you’ll ride past a number of forest preserve entrances with lots of activity on busy summer days and weekends. You will pass over the Salt Creek and some small lakes and will ride through some scenic wooded areas.

There are also plenty of other side attractions such as lots of boaters, fishers, major kite flyers and a Remote Controlled airplane field in one of the groves. It can be a lot of fun to watch the flyers do their aerobatics… The one drawback to this trail is that it can get quite crowded on busy weekends and at peak times. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds you will want to visit this trail at an off time.

Please keep in mind that there have been quite a few “runner ups” for this top 5 bike trail category, and there are many more great bike trails out there in the Chicagoland area. There may also be some changes in this top 5 listing as time goes on, but for now, this should give you some real good opportunities to get out and enjoy the ride!