Monday, May 31, 2010

Chain Gang

Due to some persistent noise and shifting issues, I realized that Blue Belle's chain needed to be replaced. At first I was just going to stop by the nearest bike shop and get a new one. However, the Beau informed me that I should get a "5 speed chain". Apparently, as rear cassettes have evolved to have 8, 10, or even more gears (on derailleur equipped bicycles), chains have gotten narrower and narrower to make them fit precisely onto these skinny little gears in a narrow space. Who knew?

I was directed to No Brakes, a bicycle shop catering to the fixed-gear crowd, as the most likely place to find a 5-speed chain. Sure enough, they had a "5/6" chain, as in sized for a five or six gear bicycle. I'm told it is a very nice chain to boot. It's called a Z-Chain. The Beau helped me put it on, and things are running smoothly again!

I had fun visiting the No Brakes store, too. This is not like your typical store, which tries to have a little something for everyone - mountain biking, racing, commuting, etc. No Brakes really focuses on quality parts and accessories for the urban, steel-framed, fixed-gear bicycle. Now, I love my gears. But I have a lot of bicycle needs in common with their clientele - I may be going back soon for cloth handlebar tape. They also had some really pretty, unique frames and built-up bicycles for sale. Oh, and they moved, so they are now the closest bike shop to downtown, at least by a few minutes...
(Disclaimer - I did not receive any reward or pay to promote the No Brakes shop.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pedicabs on Parade

An interesting development lately is the growing popularity of pedicabs in Atlanta. Decatur has had a pedicab service for about a year now, provided by Mike of Easy Living Pedicabs. He was out at Atlanta Streets Alive, providing rides. He even transported one guy - and that guy's bicycle - to a bicycle shop 2 miles away for some needed repairs. He also gave a lift to a film crew and all their equipment.

Two other operators were out at ASA as well - Hooters and Green Machine. They were super enthusiastic, but appeared to leave early. Some participants said they were having trouble with their single speed cabs on the hills. Rumor has it they are applying for licenses to operate in downtown Atlanta.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just Smile and Nod

I've occasionally ribbed on motorists for being too confrontational - trying to go faster everyone else, often taking major risks in their quest for the front of the line. But lately, my beliefs have been challenged. And I may be just as bad when I'm on my bike.

I'm in the habit of yelling when a car seems poised to cut me off or potentially hit me. I am also the master of the intimidating stare. This week, however, the response from drivers has been friendly waves, smiles, and polite comments like "Don't worry, I'll wait for you." Wha??

I feel kind of disoriented. Is there something in the water? Did everyone watch footage of Streets Alive, and the sight filled their heads with love and rainbows about bicycling?

At the same time, bicycling has been all over the news. Creative Loafing devoted this week's Add it Up column to cycling. asked about the "state of cycling in Atlanta."

So what's up? Am I reading too much into some random events, or has Atlanta turned a corner on bicycle traffic?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ciclovia, or Atlanta Just Got Way Awesomer

Today was "Atlanta Streets Alive," Atlanta's first ciclovia. It was a modest 2-mile chunk of downtown, along Edgewood and Auburn avenues and some of the streets that connect them.

No one was quite sure what to expect, but we knew that if it was successful, it could be the first of many such events. It would give people a chance to try cycling in the city, to see how convenient it could be. It also showed what Atlanta would be like with fewer cars on the road.

Well, it was a raging success. Thousands of people came out. They walked, bicycled, rode skateboards, bought cold drinks, watched theater and dance performances, and hung out with friends. In spite of the heat - over 90! - the streets were busy with life. Apparently, there are a lot of people who want to enjoy safe, traffic-free streets. It was the most diverse turnout I've seen in a long time - every age and race, men and women, little kids and gray-haired grandmothers. The desire for sociable, bikeable streets seems to be universal.

Nearby businesses got a boost. Traffic on adjacent streets didn't seem to be particularly congested. In fact, traffic seemed lighter than a usual Sunday...maybe everyone was walking and biking instead. I was really impressed by the cool bikes that appeared on the roads - folding bicycles, tandems, modern city bikes, and lots of new and vintage cruisers. I was also impressed by Atlanta's bicycle and pedestrian traffic skills. People shared the car-free streets without incident, yielding, passing, and watching out for each other. You would have thought they'd been doing it all their lives.

And the spirit continued on past the end of the route. I made a quick run up to the bicycle shop in Little Five Points, a mile or two away, for some much-needed tubes. On the way back, I passed several large family groups leaving the event, everyone on bicycles, kids and all, heading home or out to dinner. This is not a normal sight here. They were trying something new, and perhaps finding it fun and easy. Maybe they'll try it again some other ordinary day...

But enough of my observations. I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Valet, my bicycle please...

So, I have been attending the Congress for New Urbanism for the past couple of days. I even did a couple of presentations. I don't love public speaking, but I'm becoming halfway decent at it.

The conference was here in Atlanta at the Hilton. As soon as I learned about the location, I wondered, "Gee, where will all the bicycles park?" An event like this attracts an unusually large number of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit fans. And the downtown Hilton is totally car-oriented - two giant driveways, lots of underground parking, and maybe two good bicycle parking spots. There is a bike rack about a block away from the main entrance, near the loading dock but carefully hidden away in a corner - making it way too easy for bicycle thieves to do their thing. Other than that, there is one usable signpost, seen here in use.

Fortunately, the conference organizers had made an arrangement with the bell hop station to park bicycles inside, back where they store luggage and stuff. It was weird, but kind of cool, to roll my bike inside and watch the looks on everyone's faces. I also got some enthusiastic comments, including one guy who swore he was going to start cycling to work. And one of the bellhops asked if he could ride my bike into the storeroom. Sure, why not?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Bicycle Gospel

As I mentioned before, David Byrne came and gave his presentation on bicycling. The event was held, appropriately, at the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is a church-turned-concert hall, so it was a doubly appropriate place for this former rock star to come and preach to the bicycle choir! A fair number of bicycles were gathered outside...

Coolest of all was the "Gourmandiste", also called the "Pink Pig." I'm told there is a blog associated with this, but I couldn't find it. Jim B. rode this very, very heavy extended two-wheeler all the way down from Buford, GA - at least 30 miles - starting at 3 that afternoon and making a short stop at some ethnic groceries on the way. Spread on the large rear rack is a lovely snack of Russian bread and mustard, mortadella, crudites, Chinese sesame sweets, and much more. Jim has been bicycling around Atlanta his whole life and also repairs and rebuilds bicycle frames. Wow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

So Much Going On - David Byrne, Bike to Work Week, Ciclovia!

What a week. I haven't even had time to think about national Bike to Work week, or day. Which is tomorrow, by the way, for Atlanta. I won't even get to ride in a bike train because I have to go in to an early meeting. But that's cool because it is for the Congress for New Urbanism (a.k.a. CNU) annual conference. The conference has been a lot of fun - they have a bike valet, lots of people talking about how to make livable, walkable, bikeable places...

And David Byrne giving the opening speech. He's kind of the biggest bicycle celebrity we have, designing bicycle racks in NYC and writing books about bicycle travel. If you look back over his career, and even a lot of Talking Heads songs, you realize he has always been very observant about urban form.

The panel also featured Ellen Dunham-Jones from Georgia Tech, Howie Frumkin from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Charles Brewer, developer, and Scotty Greene, former director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District.

In celebration of bike week, bike month, and CNU, Atlanta is hosting its first ciclovia, Atlanta Streets Alive!! Come downtown on Sunday (preferably by bicycle, foot, or transit) and play in the street!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Like Riding a Bicycle - classic bicycle scenes from Slate Magazine.

Oh, and don't forget - it's national bike to work week!!

Summer Games at Let's Go Ride a Bike

For anyone who hasn't already heard, Dottie and Trisha at Let's Go Ride a Bike have put together a fun summer bicycling promotion. Not only are the "events" fun, but you can win some really great prizes! The first place prize is a Batavus BuB city bike. There are also bicycle accessories and fashions to be won from the Dutch Bike Company, Minnehaha Bags, and many others.

The events themselves are intended to get people out on their bicycles, trying new things and meeting new people. I'll let you read more on the contest page:

The first round of events starts this week, so join in!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Around the World in 30 Minutes

I took on another intriguing challenge last week. We have several great food markets in Atlanta, which carry a huge selection of ethnic foods as well as baked goods, dairy, produce, fish, and meats. I discovered the Buford Highway Farmers Market a while ago. This is definitely the place for ethnic goods, where each aisle or section is labeled by nationality - Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Russian, and on and on! Heaven.

Unfortunately, it's way on the other side of town from me. In fact, it is just barely OTP (outside the perimeter, AKA on the wrong side of I-285). I had pretty much written it off as a special occasion trip, something to do if some other errand took me in that direction with my car. But for some reason, I took a second look at it. I realized it was barely half a mile from the Doraville MARTA Station (end of the gold line) and that some relatively minor streets would take you right there.

On Thursday, the Beau and I set out after work. The train ride itself took about 20 minutes, and from there it was barely a 5 minute ride to the side entrance of the market via N. Peachtree Road and Langmire Way. Traffic was light although we were well into the evening rush hour, and drivers seemed nonplussed. The four-lane street gave them plenty of room to pass us. The only frustrating part was the Gwinnett County Transit buses which use that route and seemed reluctant to pass. I felt kind of bad for them idling along behind us, but it's not my call.
Arriving at the market, we discovered two large, well occupied bicycle racks. How unexpected! Not only is there substantial bike traffic in this spot, but the local businesses are aware of the fact. Judging by turnover of parked bicycles while we were shopping, it seemed like some of them belonged to staff and some to customers. Sweet. Anyway, it was a really easy trip and I got all sorts of awesome stuff - asian noodles, masa tortilla flour, organic apples, and German chocolate! It all fit onto my bike. I'll be a regular customer there from now on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Bicycle!

My memory isn't great, but I'm fairly sure that I bought my first bicycle (ever) in May of 2004. Six years! As I've mentioned before, I never rode a bike as a child. My parents bought me a pretty pink cruiser with flowers all over it and a basket on the front. They took me out and tried to teach me how to ride it. But I just couldn't get the hang of it. I gave up after a couple of unsuccessful tries. I didn't feel particularly motivated to learn since none of my friends rode bicycles either, and my parents' matching set of yellow 10-speeds never left the basement. Not that we were lazy or anything - there was tons of walking and hiking - but not really into bicycles.

This all changed once I moved to Atlanta and had a lot of friends who cycled around town. I resolved to get a bike and learn to ride it. I had ridden a motorcycle through most of my college years, so I felt pretty confident in my ability to master a two-wheeled contraption with pedals instead of a throttle.

At first, I could barely get up hills, and riding more than a mile or two made my whole body hurt. I had no idea how to interact with cars and I even rode on the sidewalk. But I kept trying. I had been taking a commuter bus to work a couple days a week. With the bicycle, I could make connections faster, so my transit commute was easier. Eventually I was driving only one day a week (I worked near the Smyrna/Cumberland Mall area) and taking my bicycle on the bus the rest of the time. I was so proud of myself the first time I rode up clock tower hill on Cobb Parkway without stopping! Cobb Parkway is really busy but that section has a wide shoulder that is fairly easy to use...

There were all sorts of incidents and learning experiences. My fender blew off one time when my bike was on the front rack of the bus, as it was heading up the interstate. I fell, swerving to avoid a turning car, and skinned my knee. I learned which clothes would stay unwrinkled in my bag and which shoes had enough traction to stay on my pedals. On a trip to Germany, on a rented European city bike and riverside bicycle paths, I discovered the joys of upright, fully equipped cycling.

Eventually, I decided to go back to school. Instead of riding the bus OTP (outside the perimeter), I was now cycling a couple of miles to downtown Atlanta. I discovered that my little aluminum mountain bike didn't really have the qualifications of a good road bike, and went shopping. I acquired Blue Belle, my pretty blue roadster. I learned from blogs around the world that lots of people like these practical, graceful bicycles. And I finally learned how to ride gracefully, in style.

Now, it has been six years. I have been cycling to work at least 3 days a week for six years, not to mention shopping, dining, etc. The funny thing is how many people - motorists - would say that it's impossible to get anywhere by bicycle. How is it that I've been doing something rumored to be so difficult for so long? Have I made any impression at all on the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of drivers who saw me along their commute or at the grocery store? How can people be so disbelieving?

But on the positive side, many more people do believe now. The number of people riding bicycles - including many influential people - is growing faster than I ever could have imagined. Where will things be by next year?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Back to Civilization

Traveling last weekend was a lot of fun, but lots of highway time... And Atlanta is definitely one of the best cities in Georgia for bicycling, walking, and generally having a real intown lifestyle. I hear Savannah is doing well, but haven't been there in a few years. Anyway, it was a relief to get back to our bustling sidewalks, passing bicycles, friendly neighbors, and thriving businesses!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Field Trip: Albany, GA

Goodness have I been traveling a lot lately! Hopefully, this will be the last "field trip" for a little while.

Anyway, I took a weekend trip down to Albany, Georgia. It's kind of centered in the bottom of the state, three hours from Atlanta by car. I wonder how long it would take by 110 MPH passenger train? The Beau and I took bicycles along, since we had heard rumors about a lovely new riverfront multi-use path. This was my first real ride on the diamond frame Schwinn. The cranks are still a little too long for me and the handlebars are, well, not staying. I knew they were temporary, so they don't even have tape or grips or anything - just bare metal.

The path was a lot of fun, though! Currently, it has to be accessed from a horrible, four lane, high-speed road, but they are planning to extend it. Hopefully they will make lots of connections to surrounding neighborhoods. It runs along the Flint River from Lake Chehaw all the way to downtown Albany. There is a really pretty nature trail at one point, although it was partly flooded during our visit.

We were disappointed to find downtown eerily vacant. A few stores may have still been in business, but for the most part the storefronts were empty and boarded up. The vast streets were nearly unused. We used the angled parking area as a bike lane. One restaurant was open, a delicious barbecue joint. The riverfront park and aquarium were beautifully designed and seemed to attract a decent number of visitors. I was impressed by the architectural detailing of the old brick buildings and the shady streets plunging through tunnels of enormous live oak trees. So much potential.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Smog Alert! Ride your bicycle.

May 1st was the start of smog season in Atlanta, and today we had our first orange alert smog day.

I know what you're thinking. Isn't it unhealthy to ride your bicycle on a smog day? The short answer is No. I have a research report if you're really interested. The slightly less short answer is that air pollution builds up in enclosed spaces close to busy roads. This includes homes and offices near these roads, and it also includes cars driving on the roads. Each car driver or passenger is traveling in their own little pocket of pollution. Bicyclists are also in or beside the road, but in the outdoor air. This lowers their exposure. They may be breathing more heavily, which ups their exposure, but not as much. Bottom line, your are better off on a bicycle than in a car. Walking is pretty good too, or riding a scooter or motorcycle. Trains are good, buses are a little more polluted. Tunnels are the worst place to be, by any mode. The absolute best way to travel is as a passenger as a bicycle (as a child for example).

Of course, the other point is that smog is largely a result of vehicle emissions. By riding your bicycle instead of driving, you don't contibute to smog levels. Every bicycle adds up!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Trip I Had Been Avoiding

There are a few reasons why I haven't completely gotten rid of my car...late night trips through sketchy neighborhoods, the lack of ZipCars near me, the expectation that I will drive out to the mountains to go camping frequently (not true, recently). The final reason for keeping my car is transporting my 100-pound Rottie and his giant bags of dog food.

No, I did not carry the big dog on my bicycle. It wouldn't even be possible; he would need to ride in a trailer or bakfiets-box. But I did go to the pet store and get the medium size bag of dog food (15 pounds) plus a couple of large tubs of treats and supplements. And it was no problem at all. The Takara handled it like a champ, although I felt a little top-heavy at times.
An interesting thing about this trip - from midtown to East Atlanta to my house - was how much of it was on bicycle facilities or bicycle-friendly streets. From the almost-a-bike-lane on Myrtle Street to the wide outer lane on Central Park Drive, next to the "path" on Baker Street (which replaced an on street bicycle lane, something I will rant about another time) and down the Jackson Street bicycle lane/sharrow route, along bicycle lanes on Edgewood Ave, zigzagging through Cabbagetown and ending up on the bike lanes of Bill Kennedy Way and Glenwood Ave. After stopping at the store, I returned to the Glenwood Ave. lane and then worked my way over to the bicycle lane on R.D. Abernathy Blvd. Pretty good use of the few facilities we have!

I was also intrigued to discover that Glenwood is evolving into a major bicycle commuter corridor. Several dead-ends and detours were added to Glenwood when I-20 went in, to prevent motorized traffic from bypassing the freeway on it.  So there I was, making the tricky crossing at Boulevard, where you enter the middle of a signalized intersection from an unsignalized road next to a freeway exit, and dodge some bollards to access a short path which leads back to another section of Glenwood Ave. And all of these practical-looking cyclists were heading the other way, presumably heading home from work. I wonder if something could be done to make Glenwood a more user-friendly bicycle boulevard?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Field Trip: Asheville NC

I ducked off to Asheville last weekend for a much-needed getaway. Naturally, I spent part of the time observing Asheville bicyclists in their natural habitat. My observations:
  • Bicycle mode share is relatively low and infrastructure is minimal
  • Bicycle racks are widely available and 'Share the Road' signs are common
  • Asheville residents do ride on nearly every road, regardless of traffic speed or volume, lack of bicycle facilities, and the mountainous terrain
  • Bicycles are viewed as transportation - they tend to be equipped with baskets and fenders and ridden in ordinary clothing
  • The area is also popular with athletes, for training rides on the steep mountain roads.
Just as I was writing up this trip, I also came across an article about Asheville in Urban Velo.

Here are a few of the people I saw on bicycles...