Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Burbs

It wasn't a great weekend for cycling. I enjoyed a beautiful ride home Friday night in the early dusk. But Saturday was big grocery run day, and the weather was decidedly nasty - cold and damp. Saturday night was an evening with an out-of-town friend who is staying with her relatives in Marietta. Now, Marietta has a cute town square and some lovely old houses. But it has really been overrun with automobile infrastructure, has no rail transit service at all, and generally forces you into the car.

But, like everywhere, practicality and style are still fighting to stay alive. And in Marietta, this means a bright green chopper bike. Super-low-cost to ride, no age or licensing restrictions, convenient for tackling routes that are too long or inhospitable to walk. And it looks hot! Here is Taylor with his bicycle.
I'm sure it takes some getting used to. And it wouldn't be great for long distances. But for a few miles here and there, it has a lot going for it. Sprung seat, rear fender, and chainguard to keep the rider clean and comfortable, kickstand, built in reflectors, etc. Not bad, Marietta, not bad.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Flow

OK, these are actually from Thursday. But they are here to make us happy today.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Being Seen: Evening Edition

Wednesday evening held a few interesting encounters for me. First was Haley, a local bicycle aficionado with a smashing sense of style. I hope to see her around town on an equally stylish bicycle!

Second was a Cobb County couple driving down Peachtree Street. As we both stopped for a traffic light, they rolled down the window to compliment me on my bike and ask if they could take a picture. Then they asked if I was from Europe. I wasn't quite sure what to say, but hopefully I conveyed to them that you can ride your bicycle around town even if you are just Atlantan (or a transplant Atlantan).

Riding home on a drizzly evening. Sparkle, sparkle. Credit: Kyle
It makes me happy to ride a shiny, pretty, comfortable bicycle, but I like the advocacy aspect of it too. It's a conversation starter.

I have also augmented my lighting situation, and that makes me feel much better about riding after the sun goes down. I now have two lights in the front. One is a Planet Bike one-watt Blaze. It is really bright. The settings give you a choice of bright, super-bright (runs down the batteries faster though), and flicker (which is better in traffic than a slow blink - it allows other road users to track your speed and course more easily). I supplement it with my old headlight set to blink.

On the rear, I have a bright Planet Bike Superflash mounted to my rack, plus an old helmet light suspended from the seat. I leave the Superflash on solid and let the secondary light flash. It has eased my mind considerably about riding through the dark winter evenings.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Social Cycling

I have a 'social cycling' tag on here that brings up all the posts where I am riding with friends or see other people who are riding together. That's one of the lovely things about cycling. If you bump into a friend or are going somewhere together, you can just ride along beside each other. You don't have to worry about where to leave the car, you don't have to choose between convenience and conversation, you are not limited to the honk-and-wave greeting. You can just pedal along together talking and sharing the experience, and then go your separate ways at any point.

Now there is a name for places to do this. According to, Copenhagen has some places where the bicycle lane is very wide; it is actually a couple of lanes added together. They have designated the left lane for faster traffic and the right lane for slower traffic. But instead of such utilitarian terms as 'fast' and 'slow', they have decided to call the right lane a 'Conversation Lane'. The blog entry about it has a great photo of the lane being used for exactly this purpose.

As I've said before, we don't have many lanes in Atlanta, so we usually take the 10 to 12 foot general purpose lane. For some reason, state law prohibits more than two cyclists to ride abreast. Of course, this does not apply to passing situations (a cyclist passing two people who are bicycling side-by-side). Not that this would be enforced, ever, unless there was some sort of conflict resulting from it. The point is that this is a very comfortable width for riding with a friend or two, chatting, pointing things out, pedaling along with your own thoughts for a bit and then closing the distance to hear what your friends are saying.

I hope that more Atlantans - people who have been limited to car travel until now - can get a chance to experience this. Maybe it would create more opportunities to be civilized, express Southern hospitality, meet our neighbors, flirt, see and be seen, and just relax a bit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Goes Around

What goes around? A wheel, for one thing. Did you know that bicycles used to be called "wheels"? And their riders were wheelmen and wheelwomen. I love the sound of that. Also, "The Wheelwoman" was the name of a magazine for bicycling women, published from 1895 through 1897. It was edited by Mary Sargent Hopkins. Her blog pen name was "Merrie Wheeler".

Credit: Andrew Ritchie
The other thing that goes around is fashion. It appears that the current debate over appropriate cycling attire has changed little since bicycles became popular in the 1890s. At this time, women's clothing was still very restrictive - floor length dresses, corsets, lots of drapery and puffed fabric. When women started to ride the bicycle, things changed rapidly. Bloomers were introduced to the horror of many refined Americans. Short skirts (as in knee-length), knickerbockers (as in knickers or pants), and even early skorts (split skirts with a panel that hid the split) started to become acceptable in public. Doctors, who had long disapproved of corsets due to their health effects, strongly discouraged their use in cycling and other forms of activity. In fact, doctors and feminists joined forces to promote the new women's fashions. The following article is by a physician, reportedly published in "The Outlook" in April, 1896 (I don't have the original). Click to view larger.


There are many, many similar articles about "wheeling" closthes for women...from the US, England, New Zealand, etc. A few more interesting links: an article on How to Ride the Bicycle and What to Wear by Mary Sargent Hopkins, and a seasonal article in the 1897 Brooklyn Eagle.

Disclaimer: To the best of my knowledge there is no copyright or other infringement for me to post these for non-commercial purposes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dapper Cycling

I've been meaning for some time to post a few photos of Kyle, one of our more stylish gentleman riders. You will never find him without a bowtie and some argyle. And yes, those purple and yellow gloves do match the bowtie.

Kyle recently acquired a lovely Schwinn Suburban, complete with matching fenders and chainguard, and a really cool chainring. The bike was acquired under unusual circumstances which you can read about on his blog. It has a handy basket on the back with a sign that reads, "Danger - You will be killed by robots." I don't know if the sign came with the bike. Probably not. Be sure to say hi if you see him around town!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bicycles Night Out!

Saturday was the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition Members' Night party. I started the evening by dropping my car off for repairs on Church St. in DeKalb County. Blue Belle rode along on the bicycle rack. I'm not a fan of putting bicycles on cars. It ain't right. But she made the car look a lot better and provided my ride home.

I dropped the car off and proceeded up Church Street, a miserable 5-plus lane road with no sidewalks, which meant that people were walking in the street, in my lane. Average speed was probably over 50 MPH. There were only a few cars on the road but they seemed frustrated and rushed. Not a bicycle-friendly road.

Junction of Sycamore St. and Church St.
I had scouted the route ahead of time with the assistance of the Beau, who grew up near here. So fortunately I knew to turn down Sycamore St. Within moments, I was on a quiet two-lane street lined with homes.

Sycamore Street - popular with the bicycling public 
After crossing Ponce de Leon, it took me right into downtown Decatur where I could pick up the Path or Howard Avenue. After picking up the Beau (and fielding some questions from a local gentleman who professed his love of beach cruisers) I breezed down Howard and then one block over onto McClendon, and along the quiet streets of Inman Park. We wound up on Baker St., turned right on Peachtree Center Ave., and then we were on Peachtree Street - the backbone of Atlanta. The right route makes all the difference.
Just hanging out being shiny...
Member's Night was being held at Engine 11 on North Avenue. The building is gorgeous and they have a great private room upstairs. There were presentations from board members and the popular 'Blinkie Awards'.

Councilmember Ceasar Mitchell received an award and spoke with ABC members

Members of the governing and advisory boards celebrated the year's accomplishments
The awards were made entirely of bicycle parts and really did blink!

Merchandise included custom messenger bags and T-shirs with reflective ink. Sales were brisk.
To wrap the night up, I rode home through either light rain or heavy mist accompanied by the Beau and our friend Kyle (more photos tomorrow!)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Opposite of Aggressive Driving

We often dwell on negative encounters between motorists and bicyclists. And it certainly is angering. It seems so wrong, so brutal that someone could show such disregard for human life. That they could be so casual about the dangers posed by their 2 tons of speeding metal.

But for each of these instances, there are countless positive encounters. I can't remember the last time someone said or did something hostile toward me. (Knock on wood!) Instead, the drivers I encounter leave enough distance when they pass me, they wave me into traffic, they slow down so I can merge into their lane when mine is blocked. They say 'good morning'. At worst, they just treat me like another vehicle.

Is this a change in local attitude? Do I look like a nice girl that they want to help out? I don't know. Cascadina says that she was getting honked at until she started carrying her son around in a bike trailer. Now she gets waves and lots of questions. Anyone else noticing a change in attitude? The last time I encountered this kind of treatment, at least stateside, was a 2005 trip to Chicago.
Bicycle route from Logan Square to the Loop

Friday, January 22, 2010

Paint and Paths

There are only a few bicycle lanes in Atlanta, and I occasionally get to use them. Recently I enjoyed lanes on 5th Street and the Emory campus.


Still, the experience here is nothing like "The Country's Best Urban Bike Commute" which is almost entirely on bicycle lanes, tracks, or paths. Designated space for bicycling seems like a luxury, and I do just fine on our underutilized streets.

There are some pressing bicycle infrastructure needs here though. Cycle paths that parallel our expressways, for one. Since they only evaluated motor vehicle travel, transportation planners from the past did not realize that replacing or converting existing streets to build a limited-access highway would create a problem for bicycle travel. Since these highways have replaced some surface streets and influenced development patterns for many years, there is now a need for an adjacent bicycle superhighway along many highway corridors.

Route 16 Motorway, Denmark. Credit: Jens Dresling/Politiken via

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Everybody's Talking

The hot topic seems to be redesigning American cities for cycling. We are starting almost from scratch, at least in most cities, which makes the task seem impossible. Two articles caught my eye today (via Twitter and Planetizen).

First up is an article in Governing Magazine, "Cities for Cycling Embrace European Street Designs". This highlight Cities for Cycling's attempt to transfer knowledge of bicycle infrastructure to cities that need it. Their source are both American and European.

Second, is Miller-McCune, a research news aggregator, who covered a meeting of the Transportation Research Board, or TRB. TRB is a branch of the National Academies of Science, making it a quasi-federal entity. This too compares US and European cities, particularly Copenhagen where our climate scientists and politicians recently traveled.

I can only hope that all of these experts and reporters have started with a review of John Pucher's "Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany", a fantastic review of infrastructure, promotion, and enforcement strategies that increase cycling. I should also point out that it's not just infrastructure. If half of the people who drove to work today rode their bicycle to work tomorrow, the streets would feel very different. And the rest still drove, or walked, or took transit. We could have the exact same streets, but they would feel safe, lively, and much less congested...

It's a lovely thought, but as Pucher points out, many people will only choose their bicycle if the infrastructure is present. Let's build it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shopping Cart with Pedals

Now that I have so much capacity on the Blue Belle, I have become loathe to carry things any other way, such as by hand. On Tuesday, when I had to carry a bunch of snacks, drinks, plates and napkins, and such to a meeting across campus, I loaded them on the bicycle. All in all, I carried 3 half-gallon bottles of tea and lemonade, 4 bags of chips, several boxes of cookies, some dip, and the plates, cups, napkins, and serving platters to go along. I would love to show you a picture of the result, but my camera batteries had run out. It was very heavy. I swear, it felt like I was riding a shopping cart around.

I'm not the only one who values the ability to carry things. I've been seeing more bicycles every day equipped with racks, bins, bags, baskets, and everything in between. These enhancements are showing up along with other useful things such as fenders, lights, and the occasional chainguard. There is still room for improvement regarding lights, however. I continue to see lots of riders without them.

Sporting fenders, racks, lights, and a nice saddle

Stylish and well-equipped

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bicycle Hindsight

'Hindsight' in this context does not refer to seeing the traffic behind you. Although some recent jaunts on my old mountain bike reminded me how much I like the sideview mirror installed on it.

No, hindsight refers to those trips that you realize you should have made by bicycle, but it is too late to change your mind. I had one of those Sunday night. Heading home from Decatur a little after 8 p.m. on a soft, springlike night. The streets were quiet and I felt a tad sleepy. I had my bicycle (Blue Belle) with me. After dropping the Beau off I headed by default to the MARTA station. Sure, the Sunday train schedule might mean a wait, but I wasn't in a hurry.

But in the 12 minutes that I waited for the train, I realized I had made the wrong choice. Don't get me wrong, MARTA is a great service and I couldn't live without it. But it was a beatiful night. Cruising towards downtown would not have felt like effort at all. It would have been a series of experiences - fresh cool air as I passed by parks, glimpses of sparkling skyscrapers downtown, fading voices of people walking to homes or restaurants. And it would have taken the same amount of time. Ah well. Next time I'll choose more wisely.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

5 Minutes on 5th Street

On Friday afternoon, I took a few minutes to stretch my legs and photo-stalk the cyclists on 5th Street near Georgia Tech. If you ever need to reassure yourself about the existence of other cyclists, this is the place to go!


Friday, January 15, 2010

Pannier Dreams

In the ongoing effort to transport my stuff in comfort and style, I have been thinking about low center-of-gravity rear containment systems. Usually called panniers. "Pannier" evolved from the French word for "bread bag", as in something with which to transport your baguettes. In modern usage, it refers to any sort of open or covered bag that mounts on the side of the bicycle next to the wheel (front or rear). By being on the side, it is lower to the ground. For heavy loads, this makes it more stable than a basket over the wheel. I also refer to baskets mounted in this location as panniers, although that may be incorrect. (PS this is just my accumulated information - feel free to fact check!)

I have seen many types of panniers and they have never seemed quite right to me. They look floppy, bulky, snaggy, vulnerable to theft, awkward to use, and simply not compatible with my style. Obviously, if I were to take a bicycle camping trip, they would be ideal. But, for the same reason that I don't walk around town with my backpacking pack, I felt that the typical pannier was not particularly suited to city cycling. In the city, I need to be on and off the bike frequently, and to lock down or carry all belongings. I will carry many different items - file folders, groceries, books, spare clothing, maybe a bag of cat food or a laptop - sometimes unexpectedly. And of course, I will be in professional and social situations where I need to make a good impression.

Key pannier criteria for me:
  • Either totally waterproof or totally porous. No damp and moldy situations please.
  • Rigid to prevent flopping, but also...
  • Collapsible to save space
  • Secure: either easily removed and carried, or totally locking (onto bicycle and to secure contents), or able to be equipped with separate bags that can easily be placed into the pannier or carried with me.
  • Simple to use. I am impatient, and easily frustrated by clips and zippers and such.
  • Matches my personal style
  • Appropriate size and shape - I haven't decided if a six-pack should determine the width....
As I have started to pay more attention to them as a practical, perhaps necessary, item, I have identified certain things that I do like. For instance, Brooks makes a very appealing bag for only 280€ (about $400) each. Sure, I'll take two! Allegedly one local guy got a pair and had them promptly stolen. What I like about the Brooks is the tidiness, the outer pockets, the rigidity, the size, the alleged water-resistance and the thoughtful shape which will keep it out of the way of my pedaling feet. I don't like the side zipper, lack of water-proofness, and how awkward they would be off the bike if I needed to take them with me. Of course, Brooks's reputation for quality is very good. Their roll-up bag is kind of cool too.

Another item I like are the Clarijs panniers. This Dutch product is waterproof, semi-rigid and semi-collapsible, available in lots of cute colors and patterns,  and comes in different sizes. It has a wide mouth that would be easy to toss a shopping bag into, and appears to have a simple closure system (if any). They even sell a shopping bag designed to fit perfectly into the pannier.

Trial solution: wire baskets
Well anyway, I found something I like. Folding baskets - $7 on Craigslist. They are chrome Wald baskets which match my front basket and rack perfectly. They rattle a little, but not as bad as I feared. They fit my bag just right - maybe could be a little deeper, but fine. Not sure what I will do about rain, but I'll figure something out. The weight distribution is great. Even my big tote bags fit perfectly. Then they fold up for tight parking situations. I love it!

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Hey, I'm doing something totally normal, notice me!

    I argue passionately for the "normalization" of bicycling. I lament aggression from motorists or snarky comments from co-workers. But honestly, I don't have much to complain about.

    Sure, there aren't a ton of other cyclists on the road with me. But there are some. It's not an unusual or exciting event to spot a few every day. And motorists have been great. I wanted them to treat me like another vehicle, and they do. I encounter identical behavior whether I'm driving or bicycling. It's great. And it's kind of a letdown!

    To some extent, I do want to be noticed. Envied. Asked questions. I want to make people think about bicycles and the people who ride them.

    And who knows - maybe they are. Maybe I'm catching peoples' attention and they just aren't expressing it. Maybe they think I'm nuts and try to stay away from me. I don't know. But it's kind of weird.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Happy Heels Heatwave!

    It finally got above freezing here, and it feels like summer! For me, it was cause to leave my insulated boots at home. Instead, I went for the faux-suede boots in black, with brown stockings and skirt and an off-white sweater. I feel so feminine again! And the boots have grippy "Aerosole" bottoms which will help with the few lingering patches of ice.

    In bicycle news, I strapped my bag of tools (a tire pump, spare tube, and Clinique case containing a couple of wrenches and such) onto the back rack with a bungee cord. Removing this weight from the front basket really improved the handling. I have not been comfortable with more than a few pounds in the front. Plus I'm still trying to relocate my headlight from the handlebars, to avoid blockage due to stuff in the basket. For this trip I just had my lunch bag in the basket and the elastic in the back.

    What I really need is a "trioband". These were utterly ubiquitous in Amsterdam and they seem super convenient. They secure the front, back, and middle of your load which keeps if from scooting around or squirting off the back. And, they actually mount on to your axle. This is very important. It prevents one of the major sources of bungee failure - slippage of the attachment hook - and reduces the chance of theft from a parked bicycle - I've had regular bungee cords stolen.  I like the red one in the link, but there are plenty of others. The problem is, I cannot find them for sale on any American website. Seriously, do a web search. They only come up in the UK and The Netherlands. I will pay international shipping if I have to, but why haven't US distributers figured out how useful these things are??

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Signs of Life

    The ice has stuck around in Atlanta, which is unusual. It's a real cold snap. And more flurries are predicted tomorrow. Due to the water in my rear brake line (which freezes the brake), I have been limiting my bicycle trips on the Takara. I need to test the Raleigh in the freezing temps; hopefully it has no problems. I've even ridden the Beast (a.k.a. the mountain bike) a few times, since it is handling the cold well.

    Today, I took the Takara on the train in the morning. This limited my riding to about 5 minutes, which is too short for the brake to freeze completely. It should be above freezing on the way home. Hooray!

    There haven't been many other cyclists on the road, but I know they're out there. I see them parked everywhere I go.

    In Tech Square.

    At the library.

    And at the grocery store. I love this. It reminds me of a family of ducklings or something.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Now and Then

    The title of this post is actually a movie which happened to be on late-night TV the other day. The movie opens by panning across dozens of classic bicycles, which presumably belong to the group of kids playing 'red rover'. The film focuses on four 12-year-old girls in a small town, in 1970. The girls ride their bicycles everywhere together, even to the next town. The image of childhood is freedom. Even if it is fictional, and set in the past, it still makes me wish that children today could have that degree of freedom. Here's a still from the trailer.

    Here's the trailer itself, chock full of bicycling kids. On the downside, all of the grownups drive cars, except for some "crazy" old man who is not in the trailer.

    What have other movies taught us about bicycles, cars, and community? What kind of images are today's movies sending?

    I have noticed, by the way, that TV commercials almost always feature walkable, bicycle-friendly streetscapes, unless they are advertising a car or car-related product (insurance, drive-through service). Pay attention to this some time - apparently livable communities sell!

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Snow Day in the South

    It snowed a little last evening, almost enough to cover the tips of the grass. This is rare and exciting in Atlanta. Our office was closed until noon, but there was still plenty of ice and snow on the way in.

    Snow in the park
    The first flurries started around 2 p.m. Thursday evening. By the time I left work at 5:30, the streets were wet and their was a fine accumulation on the coldest patches of ground. However, I had to pick up my old - and ugly - mountain bike from someone who had borrowed it. It felt very awkward to ride, so I took it on the train to the station closest to my house. It handled fine in the inclement weather, but was very hard to mount, even with a somewhat dropped top tube!

    The beast. With snowfall.
    This morning dawned cold and icy. If the Takara's rear brake weren't freezing up, I might have ridden in. But in slippery conditions, you really need to have that control over your rear end... So it was another day on the train.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010


    In the past few days I have enjoyed viewing Bike by the Sea and the ubiquitous "Waltz of the Bicycles". Bike by the Sea is based in the Santa Monica area, and mostly features photos of stylish cyclists. I am astounded to see that an American city has so many people riding bicycles as part of their everyday life! And they do it with grace and style (and a few celebrities) in a stunning location. Yes, I am jealous. And Waltz of the Bicycles...that speaks for itself.

    The Waltz of the Bikes from mike rubbo on Vimeo.

    One thing you notice in the video is how smoothly the bicycle transitions from pure vehicle, traveling in lanes according to traffic rules, to the human scale, where riders chat with each other and mix in chaotic settings guided by subtle signals and body language.

    So, after enjoying these gems, I headed out into the cold Atlanta evening. Colder than Alaska, according to the local paper! The weather is keeping most cyclists off the roads; I saw a few utility bikes parked at the library and that was it. I was warm and comfy in the rugged winter boots that I swore I would never wear in the South.

    Motorists have been especially awful lately. Not to me in particular, just generally. I'm not sure it the cold weather fogging up their windows? The threat of snow which terrifies people from these parts? Their angst at returning from holiday?

    Or maybe it is me - maybe seeing all these happy places is making Atlanta look worse in comparison. Maybe my new front basket is blocking my headlight too much, or making me look slow or wobbly, and inviting aggressive behavior from others - if so, I may have a solution - you'll see. Maybe I look less fetching when I'm all bundled up. Or maybe the cold is keeping other cyclists and pedestrians indoors, so the streets look vacant and good for speeding. I walked to the train today in anticipation of the inclement weather.

    In other news, it appears that car ownership dropped in 2009. Teenagers in particular appear to be driving less, and even postponing getting their driver's license. The article suggests that cars may seem more like an inconvenience than a necessity as cities densify. It sounds to me like teens should be a target market for transportation cycling! This could also help prevent the large proportion of car crashes caused by young drivers.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010


    The temperature was around 20 F (-7 C) this morning when I left the house. Some people - myself included - might wonder why I would choose to cycle on a day like this.

    1. It's not any more difficult than my other options. Let's see. I could have walked to the MARTA station. I would still need to dress warmly, it would take a little longer, and I would be waiting or underground for much of the trip. I could have driven to the MARTA station, or even to work. That would have involved warming up the car, dealing with traffic, hunting for parking, and possibly paying to park. It would have taken about the same amount of time. And I still would have needed to dress pretty warmly. So that's a wash.
    2. It's comfortable. Since I cycle regularly, I don't have to think too hard about what to bring or wear. I added an extra wool sweater and some thicker gloves, since I was a little chilly on Monday, and was comfortable for the whole trip.
    3. It's beautiful! There are views of the city that you can only enjoy by traveling under your own power. This is something that I can't explain to someone who hasn't experienced it... The clarity of the sky on a cold winter morning, arching over your head and reflecting in thousands of windows, is breathtaking. The rhythm of shallow orange sunlight slanting through a stone railing - brilliant. The towers of the city emerging from behind buildings as you approach the urban core... There is no way to describe it; it can only be experienced by walking or bicycling. Even the train, which has many other merits, cannot give you this.
    4. I never regret it. No matter how unsure I feel before leaving the house or office, I am always glad to be out, flying free through the streets and perceiving the life around me.