Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Car-Free Transportation - A Few Last Words

Here are a few tips for bicycle commuting. If any readers have more tips, feel free to send them in.

If you have to ride a fair distance, and you have to look nice when you get to where you're going (as in commuting to work), wear a set of clothes specifically for bicycling and pack your nice clothes in a pannier.

How to pack clothes in a pannier (so that they don't wrinkle): Go to Kinko's or a craft or office supply store, and pick up a used 3-inch cardboard tube. These are usually used to hold paper rolls for CAD drafting plotters and heavy-duty printers, so places like Kinko's should have some empty tubes lying around. Using a hacksaw, cut the tube down so that it is short enough to fit in a pannier, yet long enough to wrap a folded shirt and pair of pants around it. On the morning of your commute, wrap your shirt and pants carefully around the tube, stuff a pair of dress socks and an undershirt inside it (and underwear too, if you think you'll need an extra pair) and insert the wrapped tube carefully into your pannier. Wrapping your clothes around the tube thus will keep them from getting wrinkled during your ride to work. But don't do this the night before your commute or you will have some unwanted creases.

When I said above, “wear a set of clothes specifically for bicycling,” I did not mean to go to a bike shop and buy the clothes they sell. Those clothes are very expensive, and most of us don't look cool in lycra. What I mean, rather, is that you should get some good sturdy shorts with lots of pockets, some boxer briefs, a few T-shirts that you don't mind getting a little grubby, and some tennis shoes. Of course, that's for summer riding. If you have to commute at this time of year (there's snow in Portland right now and the temperature is below freezing. Imagine that!), then you'll want some long johns, maybe some sweat pants and a sweat shirt, a good pair of gloves, and a ski mask or beanie.

And don't forget the helmet! I personally know a guy who was glad he was wearing a helmet when he “ate it” on a ride. If you don't like your brain, a helmet is optional.

For extra visibility, wear a fluorescent reflectively-striped vest. Again, don't buy the expensive lightweight “Tour De France” kind sold at a bike shop unless you have money to burn. Instead, go to a place like Lowe's or Home Depot (one of my old ex-neighbors calls it “Home Cheapo”) and get yourself a vest for under $10.

If you have to take the bus while riding your bike and your bike has a rack on the front fork, carry a bungee cord with you on your commute. When you put your bike on the bus bike rack, bungee the bike holder arm so that it doesn't slip down off the front wheel.

If you find that you're hot and sweaty when you arrive at work, take a pack of baby wipes and a bottle or stick of “Crystal Deodorant” with you. What is “Crystal Deodorant?” you ask. Here you can read about it: www.thecrystal.com. Both baby wipes and deodorant can be had at many drug stores, as well as “health-food” chain stores like New Seasons Market and Whole Foods. When you get to work, go into the handicapped stall of the restroom and wipe down/deodorize using the baby wipes and Crystal Deodorant. Then change clothes and you're ready to go.

Much can be said about riding in snow and on ice. Most sources advise getting some studded tires or making some studded tires yourself. In the Portland area, most bike shops don't carry such tires because their owners don't seem to think it snows or ices up that much here (Maybe it doesn't, but I've been looking at white stuff on the ground for the last three days.) Anyway, if you have to ride in the snow, do the following:

  • Go slow. Falling over slows you down more than going slow does.

  • Ride on fat tires. Right now I'm riding on Continental Town & Country 2” tires.

  • Inflate your tires to the bare minimum recommended pressure (in fact, you may want to go even a few PSI less than the recommended minimum).

  • Practice a lot until you get the hang of it.

These are the things I'm doing, and so far, I've only fallen once.

Wear some sort of eye protection. Being blinded by bugs or road debris is not cool.

Here are some books and websites I have found to be helpful:

On a rather different subject, I've been reading about the riots and protests now taking place in Greece. It seems that Greece has become very much what the neoliberals and “free-market” capitalists tried to make the U.S. into – a nation whose resources are all privatized, whose wealth is concentrated into the hands of a very small elite, whose government exists solely to raid, loot and funnel the wealth of the nation into the hands of that elite, a nation which has driven the cost of living up to unsustainable levels for the poor majority while driving wages down as low as possible, all while violently suppressing any dissent. Now their chickens are coming home to roost. I wonder if our chickens are very far behind. You can read all about it at The Guardian, “How Police Shooting of a Teenage Boy Rallied the 700-Euro Generation,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/13/athens-greece-riots.

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