Now They’re Making Comics About Me

Korey from someone else's perspective

Image by Paul Murray

 

Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage

Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage

Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage

I recently finished reading the non-fiction novel Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage, a must-read for anyone who is the least bit into exploring, adventure cycling, and traveling.  Heck, anyone who is into anthropology, geography, culture, etc. should read it as well.  I’m into all of the above, so this book was my perfect cup of tea.  It is really a fun read for anyone.  This book was a gift to me from my good friend, Travis Poppe, and I’m really glad he shared it with me!

This book is the epitome of the idea that one of the best ways to travel and get up close and personal with the environment around you is to travel by bicycle.  People, animals, weather, sites, smells, and all of your other senses have the opportunity to absorb what is around you when you’re moving through it by bicycle.  It is this intimacy with your surroundings that puts a lot of the adventure into adventure cycling!  And yet a bicycle can get you where you want to go with a fair about of ease and timeliness.  Traveling by bicycle gives you the best of all worlds.

This book features the couple, Larry and Barbara Savage, as they travel through 25 countries around the world by bicycle in the late 1970s.  To me, the most vivid and fantastic aspect of this book is the vastly different habits and customs of the cultures that are encountered.  Maybe “encounter” is the wrong word here because Larry and Barbara have to communicate, eat, and many times sleep in the same dwelling as the people they encounter.  Their experience is very different than the “tourist” experience you read about in travel magazines.  They must travel the back-roads for safety, stop somewhat frequently to buy food at a road-side stand or restaurant and refill water containers, which requires a lot of communication with the locals.  Many of the countries they visit seem to have sort of a cookie-cutter itinerary for the tourists coming by bus and airplane, which is only a secondary option for the bicycle tourists.  The Savages really make up their experience as they go, based on whatever is available in the towns and villages they happen upon.  If I ever decide to go abroad, I would like a good portion of it to be in this wandering style.

Their travels aren’t all lovely and blissful, however; the Savages go through some pretty downright frightening scenarios.  It is these situations I would like to forego when I go off on vacation somewhere (not than I’m a pansy or anything)!  Foreign illnesses, big crawly things in the jungle, people with guns; yeah, that part I can do without in my ideal expedition.  :-)  However, reading about it in this book made it quite the thriller, and gave some real first-person insight into extreme places and events of the time.  I still find it hard to wrap my mind around how some cultures are so very kind and generous, like New Zealanders who gave the best of their food and dwellings, whereas others are downright horrible, like the road-rage drivers in Florida, frigid Germans in the Alps and the rock-throwing Egyptians on the road to Luxor.  When I have the time, I would like to spend some time understanding why there exist such drastic differences in courtesy among cultures.  But I think that would require a degree in anthropology.  Guess I better get started.  ;-)

And of course the aspect of this book that is most valuable to cyclists is the cycling related trials and tribulations, such as icy cold rain, mechanical problems, steep grades, stiff winds, muscle cramps, fatigue, and so on.  It was really nice to read about the cycling related suffering of a fellow long distance cyclist.  Then again, the relatively short distances that I ride and the somewhat mild climate and environment of Pocatello, Idaho in which I cycle made me feel like a real wuss and gave me huge admiration for what the Savages endured.  The people of Pocatello are quite kind and are very courteous drivers.  This book made me feel quite fortunate to live and bicycle here.

Anyway, this book can be had for as little as $5 if you look around on Google Product Search and will definitely inspire you to load up your bike with camping gear and go head off into the wilderness!

My Favorite 2-Hour Challenge Ride

Portneuf Buckskin loop

Courtesy, Mapmyride.com

For the last few years, I have been using a really fun and scenic route over and over again that is also quite popular with many other cyclists in Pocatello.  This route consists of Portneuf Road, Rapid Creek Road, and Buckskin Road, and is some of the most beautiful territory near Pocatello.  Portneuf Road gives you glimpses of the Portneuf River surrounded by trees, farms, and green pastures.  Rapid Creek and Buckskin are a combination of farms and forested areas, and is a lush valley sheltered by the Portneuf Range mountains and other mountains that lay east of Pocatello.  Your eyes never get bored on this ride, due to all the lovely things to see!  Quite a sharp contrast to the rather boring, brown flatlands that surround Highway 91.  On the other hand, the flatlands are a lot easier to cycle on than the hilly and mountainous Portneuf and Buckskin areas.

Several times a year, I do this awesome ride and I give myself a personal challenge to see if I can beat my past times.  I start my cyclometer at Benton street and I stop it at the corner of Pocatello Creek Road and Booth Drive, looping through Inkom, and traversing Portneuf, Rapid Creek, and Buckskin (see map).  My best time has been just under 2 hours, and yesterday’s time was 2 hours and 19 minutes.  I guess I have to shed a bit of my winter weight :-)  Also, hill-climbing is definitely not my forte and this path is rife with hills and some quite steep mountain climbs.  But, hey, it’s good to work on your weaknesses!  Today, my legs have that lovely well-worked feel to them.  ;-)

It is fun to try this path in each direction, taking note of how each section challenges you differently based on when you encounter them during the ride.  The tough section is around the “10” marker you see on the map, which features the steep grades on Buckskin.  Yesterday, I saved this for last and was going 4 mph at times up the steeper parts.  Yeah, can you say fatigued?  I was about ready to die before finally getting to the downhill.

I started on the corner of Benton and Arthur Avenue, cycling southeast along Bannock Highway.  Cycling east on Portneuf Road was a challenge since it is both hilly and I was facing a headwind.  I was feeling pretty good and my endorphins were in full force by the time I cycled through Inkom, and out to sunny Rapid Creek Road (near marker 20) which was nice since I was no longer facing a headwind.  From there, it is a slow climb until you turn left onto Buckskin, and the grade increases from there.  After suffering the steep grade for a grueling 40 minutes or so, you get to enjoy the steep decent into Pocatello.  There are actually some straight parts on the winding road, where I was hurling along at 38 mph for some time!  Loads of fun :-)

Anyway, if you like a scenic ride with lots of different variations, I highly recommend this route!  Enjoy!

Snow Cycling Fun!

My Snow Bike Parked At Work

My Snow Bike Parked At Work

I remember it was only last year that I was learning to bicycle in the snow and attempting to gain some confidence with this unique cycling environment.  This year, I am proud to say that I have a much more positive view of this fun and challenging activity.  Note: please read my Learning To Bicycle In The Winter article for more information on how to commute by bicycle in the snow safely.

I woke up this morning to my radio alarm clock announcing school closures due to snow and I had an idea of what I was in for.  I stepped out onto my back porch into a 5 inches of snow and said “oh, heck.”  Apprehensive?  Yes.  Excited?  You bet!  I switched my panniers from my touring bike onto my mountain bike with studded tires.  This is about the third time this year I have performed this switch-over; Pocatello winters are very off-and-on.  After putting my lunch and thermos of coffee into my panniers, I rolled my bike out into the thick snow on the road.

I began pedaling cautiously to the first intersection, feeling my tires move a bit erratically over the mushy surface.  “Oh yeah baby”, I chuckled.  Next I pulled onto a main road to find that cycling along over the snow packed by the cars was very easy.  After making it across the next intersection without any mishaps, I found myself heading into a deep section of partially-trodden snow that resembled a large helping of cottage cheese and whipped topping (I don’t recommend this recipe).  My front wheel slipped sideways and forced me to over-correct while balancing on my samba-dancing bicycle and I had to come to a halt in the deep snow.  After a few attempts at getting moving again with my rear tire spinning in the deep mush, I proceeded down the residential street.

After that, it was just a matter of going slow, handling the soft spots in the road that crept up on me, and trying to stay in the “single tracks” made by cars.  I was surprised to find about 75% less traffic this morning due to all the school closures, so I really didn’t encounter much more than the occasional home owner snow blowing their driveway.  I didn’t have a lot of time to look around since I was focused on trying to make sense of the sea of white ridges, globs, and other snowy formations that lay before me.  It really is nice cycling on days like this for a few other reasons:

  1. It is so very, very quiet.  There’s very little traffic, and the traffic that is out is driving on a silent, padded surface.
  2. It’s warm and the wind was still.  Usually after a significant snow storm in Pocatello, the temperature is around 25 and flakes float gently around you.  It’s lovely!
  3. You get to say hi to people who greet you with a warm “whoa, man, you’re hardcore!”

I haven’t wiped out a single time with all the crazy commuting in the snow I’ve done this year.  It’s surprisingly easy keeping your balance as your tires have a mind of their own on the unpredictable snowy surfaces.  You just have to try to read the road and keep your balance.  Gee, I feel like taking the rest of the day off, getting into some warm cycling clothes, and doing it some more!  When you’re cycling to work in semi-formal attire, you are extra careful so as not to wipe out and mess your clothes up.  So I’d like to try it some more in some clothes I don’t mind splattering with muck!  Tempting, tempting….

By the way, my snow bicycle (shown above) is the Windsor Cliff 4300 that I write about in this article.

Windsor Cliff 4300 Review

Windsor Cliff 4300

Windsor Cliff 4300 Gallery

Ok, folks, this isn’t going to be an exhaustive review, and I’ve only taken this bike on one significant mountain bike ride (a better review would come after, say, 500 miles of riding or something).  But I can give you what I’ve observed so far!

First of all, here are a few important component specifications, which are the components I mention in this review.  I say “important” because they’re really the only ones I care about.  I don’t really care as much about forks, frame details, or headsets.  But, who knows, some day I might.  All kinds of hobbyists become more and more picky (snobbish?) about their hobby as they become more advanced.  :-)

  • Crankset – 22/32/42T
  • Cassette – 12-34T
  • Front derailleur – Shimano Acera
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Deore
  • Brakes – Tektro IO Mechanical Disc
  • Shifters – SunRace M30 Trigger shift

My previous mountain bike was a 2007 Motobecane 300HT and there was two things that bothered me about it:

  1. It’s lowest chainring was 28 tooth and it’s lowest geared cog was 28 tooth.  Yeah, pretty sucky for climbing.
  2. I have taken a liking to winter cycling, sometimes in fairly deep snow.  V-brakes get clogged up with ice and snow after a while, so I wanted to try out disc brakes.

As you can see in the above specs for the Cliff 4300, it’s got some plenty low gearing and it has disc brakes.  I was talking about this bicycle on Facebook, and the famous Alex Wetmore wrote the following reply about the Tektro IO brakes:

They are difficult to impossible to adjust so that the pads don’t rub and so that they function properly. They usually don’t have the all available adjustments to align the caliper and rotor, or don’t make it easy to adjust the pad to rotor clearance.  I’m fine with cheap v-brakes, but cheap discs are not fun.

Cliff 4300 Action Shot!

This statement concerned me, but the next price up on bikesdirect.com for a bike that comes with nice Avid disc brakes was around $550, and my price range was closer to $350.  Besides, my shopping philosophy is to buy something low-cost and if it doesn’t work out, sell it and buy the next higher-priced model.  Not everyone shops this way, but I think it has worked out for me pretty well so far.  I should probably mention that this is my fifth bicycle purchase from bikesdirect.com.  Yeah, I’m nuts.

The Cliff 4500 and 4700 were the same price as the 4300, but their rear cogsets did not go as low as the 4300.  And they all had pretty similar hardware, so I went with the 4300.  The higher models had nicer forks, but as I said above, I really don’t care about forks at this point in my cycling career.  All I need is something to soften the bumps a little, and just about any modern fork can do that for you.

Assembling the Cliff 4300 was pretty easy for the most part, except for 2 issues:

  1. The 3-speed left shifter for front derailleur was defective.  It would not shift onto the big chain ring.  I completely disconnected the cable and it still just wouldn’t click into number three.  I emailed Bikes Direct and explained the issue and they sent me a new shifter with cable, no questions asked.  It arrived in 3 days.  Thumbs up for good customer service there!
  2. Yes, you guessed it.  I had a tough time getting those disc brakes to stop rubbing.  Groan.  I played with them until they nearly stopped rubbing and then I gave up.  As long as the wheels spun freely with just a hint of rubbing at some points of the rotation, that was good enough for me.

Other than that, assembling this bike was a snap and everything looked good on it.

The Mountain Bike Ride

Chinese Peak

Chinese Peak

So a few weeks later, my friend Dan wanted to take me on a mountain bike ride up Chinese Peak just east of Pocatello.  Climbing the steep 3-mile trail was pretty nice on this bike.  The uber-low gear made it quite pleasant and I found myself enjoying the climb instead of struggling so much like I did on my old bike.  About half way up, however, I heard my front brake rubbing a lot on the disc.  So I stopped, whipped out my trusty multi-tool, unscrewed the brake-to-frame connector screws a little, yanked the brake over a bit, tightened the screws, and then things were back to normal.  I hope this doesn’t continue to happen or else I might have to buy some better brakes.

Soon we made it to the top and I felt good, and not very fatigued at all.  Dan mentioned that there were some steep parts on the way down the other side, but I was not prepared for what I saw ahead in the trail.  Yeah, I’ve dealt with a lot of steep downhilling; but I usual “deal” with it by walking my bike down the steep parts.  Yup, I’m downhill-a-phobic when it comes to the steep stuff.  Dan, however, merrily flew down the entire trail, steep parts and all, like it wasn’t any concern.  He waited for me down the trail about a half mile while I skidded my feet and bike down a steep section.  I felt like a goon.  Sigh.

The steep parts were near the top of the peak and soon the trail was a bit more friendly.  I started actually having a pretty good time since there were a lot of nifty little jumps in the trail, which were sometimes terrifying if you had your speed up.  Dan was having a great time while I was feeling half nervous and half thrilled; sort of like the feeling you have on a roller coaster, anticipating the sudden descents and twists.  Yeah, I think I need to practice my downhilling.  :-)

We then exited the wilderness via Black Rock Canyon and cycled home on Highway 91.  During the following few days, I was surprised that my quadriceps were pretty dang sore.   Cycling usually doesn’t make me sore any more like it used to, but I guess between the long hill climb and getting used to the new bike, I subjected my legs to some good exercise.  Anyway, stay tuned and I will be posted edits to the bottom of this article as I continue to ride this bike and see what happens with it!  I’ll also take some detailed photos of it soon for your viewing pleasure.

Update, October 15, 2010: A couple of days ago I went out in my front yard and took snapshots of the Windsor Cliff 4300 at every angle I could think of and here is the photo gallery.  Enjoy!  The bike is a little dusty from the above bike ride, but that gives it a more realistic look I think (I was just too lazy to wash the bike).  :-)  Also, in case you’re wondering, at the bottom of the gallery, you’ll see a couple shots of the bit of clothes hanger wire I used to attach the top of the rear fender to the frame.  I think I’ll write an article about that in the near future.

Update, October 18, 2010: On Sunday afternoon, I put 37 miles on this bike, half of those miles on some pretty brutal off-road terrain.  A friend and I cycled up West Fork Mink Creek and down Gibson Jack road.  I put myself and this bike through some steep grades, mud, bounced it over rocks, and did a lot of heavy cranking and braking.  So far so good!  I didn’t have to adjust the brakes during the ride this time and the bike held together fine and performed well.  Needless to say, this bike is a much better climber, and just feels better generally, than my previous mountain bike.  :-)

The Two Cycling Philosophies (Classifications?)

I still consider myself a new cyclist in a lot of ways, and what I’m about to write has been written a bunch of different ways, and probably better ways, in the past by other much more experienced cyclists.  But, hey, there’s nothing wrong about writing down your own thoughts in your own way.  And that’s pretty much the reason why people write blogs.  :-)

A few days ago, I got an email from the local ICE (Idaho Cycling Enthusiasts) mailing list which expressed some views that various people brought up at a recent ICE meetings.  ICE, for as long as I’ve known about the club, dedicates most of its time to the sport of cycling.  And by “sport” I mean stage races, criteriums, time trials, cyclocross, and other competitive cycling events.  And ICE does a really, really good job at putting these events on.  A couple of years ago, I was a spectator at their Pocatello Cyclocross race at the Idaho State University Bartz Field, and holy cow I had a really good time watching those guys peddling around on wet grass, sand, and hopping over barriers.  That was one exciting event to attend.  (ICE hasn’t done that event in the past couple of years, and should totally do that again every year!  HINT, HINT!  ;-)

So, the views that were expressed by some attendees at the ICE meeting were along the lines that ICE was too 100% sports-centered and that ICE needed to broaden its horizons into recreational and family cycling activities.  The response to this from the leadership of the ICE club was, to put it briefly, “sure, we’re open to all kinds of ideas like that, but if you want it to happen you have to make it happen” which is the perfect response to such a request.  That’s the same response I’ve heard over and over again in other clubs that I have led and been a member of.  A club is not a group of people waiting to do your bidding, but rather a group of peers that are willing to help you out with any club-related goal that you want to achieve.  And that is the beauty and purpose of any club.  If you want something to happen, you have to be willing to lead the effort and put in the time and work.

But, anyway, on to the subject of this article: cycling philosophies.  I think broadening ICE into areas of recreation and family cycling probably isn’t the best thing for ICE.  Most cycling clubs I’ve read about are definitely focused on sports, and focusing effort in only one or two areas is a good thing for a club.  Unless your club has a ton of members and the ability to spread itself broadly into several areas, it needs to try and focus in one or two areas.  For the number of members that ICE has, I think it’s got its hands full with all the activities that it currently puts on every year.  And it puts on quite a few big events, and a larger number of small ones.  ICE has my admiration for its immense amount of activity.

So, what we have here are 2 different kinds of cyclists: competitive and recreational.  Sure, they both like to ride bikes, but for very different reasons.  And if you think about it, there are a lot of different hobbies in this world that have both kinds of enthusiasts: cars, fishing, bowling, sewing… I can hardly think of a hobby that doesn’t have both kinds of enthusiasts.  However, the two kinds of hobbyists have two different end goals.  The competitive cyclist wants to get into great physical condition and win races, and the recreational cyclist wants to have a fun, enjoyable experience on their bicycle.  And if you want a good, graphical example of this, go read the Yehuda Moon online comic for a while!  Yehuda, the main character, is all about getting people to ride their bikes to work everyday and enjoy the cycling lifestyle experience, and Joe, Yehuda’s sidekick and business partner, is all about cycling hard and fast on a road racing bicycle.  It’s a fun read.  :-)

So, a possible solution to those who want to have a recreational cycling club may be to create their own club and use the ICE mailing list to advertise it a little.  Would such a club be feasible?  Someone would have to give it a shot and see!  It was a friend of mine that got me into recreational cycling, and if it wasn’t for that friend I may not have overcome the daunting challenge of that first ride to Inkom and back.  I mean, really, for the new cyclist a 25 mile road ride really sounds insane.  But it’s those first beginning hurdles that seem to be the most challenging and that require some guidance, inspiration, and companionship from a peer or two.  The best way to help the new cyclists out could be a circle of friends, a cycling buddy, a club, or something similar.  Would I be interested in being a part of this club?  Sure, I might like to help out here and there.  But at this point in my cycling “career”, my most enjoyable recreational cycling involves cycling by myself or with one or two of my cycling pals.  And I think you might hear the same response from other recreational cyclists.  Every recreational cyclist is at a different experience level, and so they connect with one or two other cyclists that are at that same level and enjoy the same type of cycling (mountain biking, road riding, cycle-camping, etc.).  However, I don’t know if putting together a club of recreational cyclists would work or not.  They’d have to split out into whatever level and type of cycling they want to do.  But I suppose they could all get together and do a cycle camp once or twice a year or something.  Dunno!  But it is definitely something to consider.

So, anyway, there’s my two cents on this subject.  Yes, my conclusion to this subject is “dunno” because, like I said above, I’ve only been a cyclist for 4 years, so I’ve got a lot to learn about all the dynamics of cyclists.  But hopefully this article has been somewhat thought provoking and has led the reader to consider their own philosophies and “classification” of cyclists!  Comment away, my friends!

Cycle Camp 2010!

Bikes and Trailers

As you may have read in my past articles, every year my buddies and I have to do a cycle camp.  The summer is just not complete without one.  They usually involve cycling too far, carrying too much gear, exhaustion, and heavy drinking.  :-)

We enjoyed camping in Goodenough Canyon near McCammon, Idaho in the past so much that we decided to do it again this year!  The distance is good (30 miles one way), there’s plenty of trees (a rarity in southern Idaho), and McCammon is only a few miles away from the campground.  I was late, as usual, arriving at our meeting spot near the south end of Pocatello, so we set out at about 9:30 am.  I was riding my Windsor Tourist touring bicycle and towing my Nashbar Kid Karriage trailer full of firewood, sleeping bag, etc.  Dan Lloyd was riding his Motobecane 29er mountain bike and towing a Burley Nomad trailer full of supplies.  And Travis Poppe was riding his Surley Long Haul Trucker with his massive Ortlieb panniers stuffed full.  Yeah, we weren’t planning on averaging more than 12 miles per hour on this fine Labor Day weekend.  :-)

Ahh, The Great Outdoors

After passing the usual 500-or-so Pocatello Marathon runners that are usually on this stretch over Labor Day weekend, we arrived at the Inkom town park feeling fine; after resting for a bit and refilling water bottles, we continued on to McCammon on Highway 91.  In McCammon, about noon, we locked our bikes up at our restaurant of choice, Subway, and went in to get some lunch.  Wow, a foot long cold cut combo sandwich loaded with veggies tastes great after towing a trailer by bicycle for 25 miles!  After Subway, we cycled over to the nearby convenience store and loaded up on beer, hot dog material, chips, and extra water.  Our rigs now weighed significantly more than when we arrived.  Oh well, the campground was only a few miles more, weighing a ton is no problem!  Yeah, those were famous last words.  ;-)

The campground lay to the west, and is about a 600 foot elevation gain from McCammon, with the first part of the climb being very steep (over 10% grade).  Trudging up the steep road in our lowest gear was slow, and we each concentrated on our own method of climbing.  It was about 1:00 pm and the temperature had reached 95 degrees, according to Dan’s fancy digital watch.  I was pedaling very slowly, concentrating on my breathing, and just focusing on getting through this last part of the journey.  My attitude was pretty positive at this point, since slow, torturous hill climbing is something I have mastered over time.  However, it was difficult staying positive in the next portions of this climb.

The Camp Site

After what seemed like an eternity, the road leveled out and then turned to gravel.  I was sweating buckets and drinking water frequently while continuing to low-gear along the road.  As I continued along the canyon road, the temperature seemed to be getting hotter and I began splashing my face, head, and neck with my water bottle and maintaining a steady pace.  And next I saw the trees in the distance and I was very glad.  Some thick clouds covered the sun a few times and the temperature felt like it immediately dropped 10 degrees; and then the sun came back out and I was in the oven again.  After I felt like I was doing to die, I reached the top of the last hill of the road, sped down the other side, got off my bike, laid my bike down, and dumped more water on my head and back.  Oh my god it felt good getting off that bike.  After a minute, Travis caught up and next came Dan.  We all looked at each others sweaty, red faces and Dan said his watch said 101 degrees.

Relaxing With Beer!

We got to the campground, put our stuff down, and began cracking open the beers, which were still cold.  I swear, there is nothing in the world as good as a cool beer after putting yourself through a long, hard, and hot bike journey.  The beer helped us relax and improved our mood 100%.  Soon, we were jolly and thinking that this trip wasn’t so bad.

We talked for a long time, drank all our beer, played some Frisbee, made a fire, cook hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks, and went to bed.  The rest of this trip is rather uneventful, except for the stupid large rodent that got into our trash that night and was clinking beer bottles all night long.  I think we were all just too tired to get up and shoo it away.

Click the photos to see the gallery!

Mountain Bike Ride Near Scout Mountain

Trying to look like a real MTBer.

A few months ago, a couple of friends of mine, Dan and Darren, expressed their yearning for a mountain bike ride, so being the avid cyclist that I am (or try to be), I agreed to come along.  I’ve never been very good at mountain biking for several reasons:

  1. I weigh 200 lbs, so I am not optimally designed for hill climbing.  Dan and Darren are a couple of lean, mean, climbing machines.  Yeah, skinny dudes.
  2. My bicycle, a Motobecane 300HT (see bikesdirect.com) cost me $199 on Ebay back in 2007, had a 28 tooth granny chainring and a 28 tooth large cog.  Yeah, not the best for climbing steep grades.
  3. Besides not being a big fan of climbing steep grades, I also don’t like descending them, unless it’s paved and I’m riding my favorite road racer.  Descending trails around Pocatello usually means bouncing over roots and rocks, and trying to avoid deep ruts and other nasties.  I’m not exactly an adrenaline junkie, ok?

But I went along anyway because I love riding bikes and exploring the great outdoors at the same time.  It’s awesome.

We began the ascent on one of the trails near Scout Mountain (I forget the name), and things were lovely.  It was a not-too-steep trail through some shady forest, and we were having a great time.  And then about half way up the trail, things got a little more rough and steep.  Then we eventually encountered snow (welcome to spring in the Rockies).  Trudging uphill through deep, sloppy snow and mud proved to be very difficult.  It made winter commuting through urban Pocatello to work every morning seem not so bad.  I would spin out in the snow, tip over a little, and feel the goo seep into my shoe.  I wanted to head back, but my nutty cohorts were enjoying themselves, so we made our way through.

After reaching a bend in the trail, we decided the few hours of climbing we’d done was enough and that we’d head back.  As to be expected, the adrenaline junkies sped down the trail and were soon out of sight.  I meandered my way down much slower, with my ass over the rear of my saddle, and my fingers carefully pumping the brakes.  Oh crap, a root, a rock, aahh!  Oh snap, here comes another tricky part.  Blargh, mud, slippery, gah!  Ah, whew, some straightaway section… gah, more tricky stuff!  I’m sure some of you can identify with my trail anxiety disorder.  I only fell off my bike three times.  :-)

I was so damn glad to see the entrance to the parking lot.

Windsor Cliff 4300

So, anyway, I recently sold my Motobecane 300HT along with my Dawes Lightning Sport.  Yup, it was time to push out the old and buy something new!  I’ve been wanting a mountain bike with lower gears and some disc brakes!  I want the lower gears so that I can climb easier without fatiguing my legs so much, and I want the disc brakes so that snow doesn’t muck up my brakes in the winter time.  Introducing the Windsor Cliff 4300.  It’s got a 22 tooth granny gear, a 34 tooth big cog, and some cheap-o disc brakes.  I’ve been warned by a few people about buying cheap disc brakes, but I really can’t afford a bike with nice disc brakes right now.  If I decide I hate the cheap ones, I’ll just replace them in the future.

Stay tuned for my future review of this bicycle!

Low Cost Racks And Panniers

My good friend and cycling buddy, Travis, really, really cares about his cycling experience and he is serious about it.  He only buys excellent quality equipment with rave reviews.  His touring bicycle is equipped with a Tubus rear rack ($90) and a pair of Ortlieb panniers ($150).  That equipment is probably going to last him a lifetime and is never going to fail under a cross-country tour.  He says that the rack comes with a warranty that states that if it ever breaks, the Tubus company will send someone to where ever god forsaken place you are in the country and replace it for you.  Wow, that must be a really good rack.

But we aren’t going to talk about Travis’ gear today.  We’re going to talk about racks and panniers that aren’t going to cost you an arm and a leg, and that are sufficient for weekend get-aways, commuting around town, and other more common cycling activities.  These are the kinds of racks and panniers that I buy, and for the past 3 years they have held up very well and work fine.

I have bought about 4 different rear racks during the last 3 years, and the racks certainly vary in hardware style and quality.  The sturdiest rack I own is a Bor Yueh rack from Nashbar.com (it still appears to be listed in their rack section if you want to take a look at it).  Surprisingly this rack is only $15.99.  The only thing I don’t like about it is that it is hard to attach the bottom hooks of my Avenir Metro Pannier to it due to the shape of it’s “legs”.  However, you can still jamb the hooks onto a section of the legs of the rack and make it work.  It’s just hard getting the panniers off and on.

Topeak Explorer Rack

The best advice I can give you is to look for racks with thick-looking tubing and preferably with 3-tube leg support, similar to the rack to the left.  You can also read reviews, compare rack descriptions, and so on.  The rack you see on the left, by the way, is the Topeak Explorer Bike Rack and is about $28.  I have never used this rack, but it looks pretty good.  Also, the Avenir pannier I refered to earlier would fit well on this rack since its bottom hooks would fit perfectly under those little flared bits at the bottom of the legs of this rack.  Most racks and panniers work fairly well together, but it’s nice to pick a pannier and rack that are as well matched as possible.  A pannier that fits well on a rack and is easy to take off and put on makes your life that much easier.  :-)

Whether or not you even need panniers depends on what you’re going to be carrying around.  Are you going to go grocery shopping for a lot of little things?  You might want to use panniers.  Are you going on a beer run for a 30-can case of Hamm’s?  All you need is your rack and some short bungee cords (I do this all the time, by the way)!

Avenir Metro Panniers

I have only bought one set of panniers in my 3 year cycling career and they have worked out pretty well.  The Avenir Metro Panniers have 2,165 cubic inches of cargo space, 1 large top pocket, 2 medium side pockets, and 2 small side pockets.  I’ve been using this rack a lot over the past two years and I’m really surprised none of the zippers have failed yet.  I was sure one of them would break by now, seeing that I bought these panniers for only $40.  But, by heck, they have held up fine.  Also, if you need to strap that case of beer to the top of your rack, you can leave that big top pocket empty and it just lays flat.   And the large side pockets fit 6-packs perfectly, almost as though that is what they had in mind when they designed these panniers.  :-)

Yes, cycling and buying beer go together well and should be an important consideration in your cycling equipment decisions!  You have been warned!

My Ideas For Bannock Transportation Planning

I recently received an invitation from the Bannock Transportation Planning Organization to attend an open house to discuss needs and strategies to address problems with our streets and highways, how these problems effect cyclists and pedestrians, and problems with our transit system.  I won’t be able to attend the open house due to prior commitments, however I would really like to contribute my thoughts to this extremely worthy cause.  So, I’m writing my thoughts here on my blog!  Feel free to link or post this article anywhere you deem appropriate.

My Perspective

Just so you know where I’m coming from when I write this, I’ll give you some basic information about myself.  I am 30 years old, I live on the east side of town with my wife and 2 children (a 3 year old and a newborn), my job is 2 miles away from my home, and I work in the Information Technology field.  I’m a home owner, and I own 1 car and 4 bicycles.  I very seldom drive to work because my wife usually needs the car to run errands, take the children to activities, etc. Additionally, I would really like to use my personal savings for other things besides buying another vehicle.  Along with these logistic and financial reasons, here is a description of my reasons for my transportation choices.

Reasons I Ride My Bike And Take The Bus

Have you ever stood on the corner of an intersection at rush hour and watched everyone driving by?  Stop and go traffic, engines heating up, exhaust filling the air, tempers flaring, inattentive drivers on cellphones.  People get from place to place hauling 4,000 pounds of metal along with them just so they can sit in a sofa-like seat while doing it, and so that they can get to where ever they need to go in the shortest amount of time.  There has got to be a better way to get a few miles across town than this.  I really think a single occupant in a motorized vehicle is a pretty danged inefficient method of doing this.  With some strategy applied to this need for short-distance travel, we should be able to save a lot of money and make the air cleaner, wouldn’t you say?

By choosing to ride my bike and take the bus, I have saved a lot of money that would otherwise been spent on another car, more vehicle maintenance, more gasoline, more insurance, and so on.  I have also stayed in good physical shape and discovered a love for cycling.  Because of my cycling, I have a good chance of avoiding common heart and metabolism illnesses that appear to be becoming increasingly more common nowadays.  Also, cycling to work is a stress reliever, while driving to work only adds stress to your day (unless you listen to soothing New Age music on the way, or something).  :-)

Reasons People Don’t Ride Their Bike Nor Take The Bus

Most people automatically assume that driving a vehicle all by themselves around town is the most convenient and quickest way to get to their destination.  They don’t have to consider the transportation needs of any other occupants of their vehicle (since they’re all by themselves),  and they can accelerate up to the speed limit as quickly as possible in order to get where they are going in the most time-efficient manner.  Why would anyone use any other kind of transportation?  Single occupant motorized vehicles are surely the best of all transportation types.

Pocatello and Chubbuck together only cover about 5 miles east to west (at its widest point) and 6 miles north to south.  And there’s a ton of intersections with stop signs and traffic lights in between.  It would be efficient to be able to cruise 30 miles per hour without stopping from point A to point B.  But, that isn’t possible.  With all the stops and slowing down you have to do in town, the best you can hope for is maybe a 20 mile per hour average.  You aren’t going to do much better than that unless you are flooring it away from every stop sign, and then you’d be wasting a lot of gasoline.

By bicycle, you can easily average 10 miles per hour in any journey across town, even if you aren’t in the greatest shape.  According to Idaho code, cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs.  Many times, this law allows a cyclist to look around for traffic while still moving, and pedal right on through a stop sign.  It’s perfectly legal.  I commute by bicycle on the residential back roads, and I’m usually the only one at most intersections.

So, really, the only reason people are driving motorized vehicles is to get that extra 10 miles per hour of speed?  You’ve got to be joking.

Ok, sorry, I’ve gotten off on a tangent there.

A lot of people don’t ride their bikes for transportation because they don’t like to be sweaty, they are afraid of getting hit by a car, they are unsure of their cycling skills, and they don’t know what to do if it gets too dark, too cold, or too hot.  I think that about covers it.

People don’t ride the bus because they assume it’s not going to fit their busy, hectic schedule.  They want the freedom to be able to drop their daughter off at soccer practice in the morning, run a few errands at lunchtime, and pick up a loaf of bread after work on the way home.  Sorry, but trying to fit all that into a bus schedule would be a serious, and probably futile, endeavor.

So, What’s Wrong With Our Transportation Infrastructure?

Nothing.  It’s just fine for Pocatello and Chubbuck.  I’ve been using my bicycle and the bus for 3 years now, and I have no complaints.  Sure, that’s easy for me to say.  My life isn’t terribly hectic, and I live only a couple of miles from the middle of town.  Then again, I would wager that at least 60% of the population of Pocatello and Chubbuck has a similar life as mine (in terms of busy-ness) and live approximately 2 miles from the center of town or less.  Remember, this town is only 5 miles by 6 miles.

So, What’s The Solution, Mr. Bike-And-Bus Guy!?

There’s 2 really good ways of selling any idea.

Simple and accessible education (otherwise known as good marketing strategies). People don’t know if commuting by bicycle and by bus is right for them or if they’re going to like it.  Well, show them what to do.  Show them what bicycles to buy, what cycling clothing to wear, what bicycle accessories they’ll need to make their bicycle commuting experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible!  Make it SIMPLE and EASY or people aren’t going to do it.  The auto industry has made using cars ridiculously easy (at a big price, but who cares, right?) and that’s why everyone is doing it.  We can do the same thing with bicycles with some strategy and effort.  People don’t know if taking the bus is going to meet their needs on a given day.  Well, why isn’t there a nice little online web application where they enter in all the points they’d like to go today, and the web application spits out a bus schedule for them?  Wow, that would make taking the bus SIMPLE and EASY, wouldn’t it?  People also need to be educated on the idea of lowering the number of trips they have to make around town.  Buying a few loaves of bread on the weekend saves more time and effort that buying one loaf of bread several times a week.

Show them their return on investment, and remind them of it every now and then. No one does anything without reaping a decent benefit.  And they aren’t going to do it in the first place if there’s too much risk involved, no matter what the benefits are.  With cycling, people need to learn how to cycle safely and how to buy bicycles and accessories that aren’t going to cost them as much as the car they bought last year.  People need to be sold on the health and environment benefits of cycling.  People need to be reminded of the money they’ll save and pollution they’ll reduce by taking the bus.

So, How Should BTPO Invest Its Time And Money?

In my opinion, the best way for the Bannock Transportation Planning Organization to spend their money and time in the next few decades is to get that 60% of eligible citizens I mentioned previously to ride their bike and/or take the bus at least a few times a week.  And they should do it by creating a variety of tools that educate the masses and show them the return on investment of commuting by bicycle and bus.  We know that doing these things is good for the people and good for the community, now all we need to do is help the people understand how and why.

In closing, I would like to say that so far the BTPO is doing a really good job of increasing community awareness about alternative transportation and I truly applaud you for it!  Keep up the good work, you are going in the right direction!

Sincerely,

Korey Pelton