Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The EB Christine Trench and that Being Visible Thing

A few months ago I got the Eddie Bauer Spring Preview catalog in the mailbox and quickly went looking for outerwear, in search of a light, car-coat length trench.  I wanted it specifically to wear on my bike rides during the spring and morning and evening when the temperature is cool. 

But would Audrey wear this trench?

This year's offering is the Christine Trench, which I believe returns from last season.  It's a fairly classic, single-breasted trench with minimal detail and no hood; exactly what I was looking for.  The catalog described it as having a cotton/nylon shell with polyester lining and fully lined and water-repellent.  It features a back gusset unbuttons for extra ease of movement and runs small, medium and large, with petite, tall and women's plus sizes as well. 
Made with real lemon juice - it says so on the box!
The trench comes in six colors, including "lemon drop".  Goody!  I wanted a yellow trench coat for added visibility but didn't want to resort to the usual "safety green" shade that screams "I'm a scared, nervous cyclist.  Please don't run over me!".   Lemon Drop is a subtle shade of yellow. Neither too pale nor too bright; it is indeed the exact shade of yellow of a Lemonhead hard candies (the actual candies not the box) one sometimes finds at the movies.  Knowing that retailers aren't running the risk of overstocking this season, I snapped one up for the non-sale price of $89.  The Eddie Bauer website indicates that the trench is now on sale for $59, and I'm a bit tempted to purchase another one in "geranium" (pinkish-red). 

I'd like to segue to the issue of visibility for a moment.  I'm a little reluctant after three years of bike commuting to admit that I'd buy an article of clothing for the purpose of being more visible on my bicycle.  I just don't see bicycling as inherently dangerous, no matter how often my mother frets for my safety.  Though I have a healthy respect for bike safety and my physical vulnerability on a bike, I think observing the rules of the road and defensive biking strategies  do more to keep me in one piece than electric colors and 20 blinkie lights.  On the other hand, my husband and I have both noticed too many cyclists pedaling at night in dark clothing and without the benefit of headlights or red blinkies - often going in the wrong direction in the bike lane.  We live in a "Dark Skies" community so that Lowell Observatory and local stargazers don't loose the nighttime sky scape so after dark often means pitch black.  Both while on bikes or in our car, we have been suddenly surprised by night cyclists who we couldn't even see despite the fact that we actively look for them.  Normally, I'd probably purchase a black or tan trench but out of consideration for my mother and perhaps the best intentioned nighttime drivers I selected Lemon Drop.

A vision sunshine panda shot.

Now back the the Christine Trench.  After reading a number of customer reviews I decided to order my coat in a petite medium.  Good choice for me.  The cut is a bit boxier than the on-line photos suggest so while I cut was slightly bigger than what I would prefer the shoulders are cut smaller than the rest of the jacket.  It would be nice to see next years version but fuller in the shoulders, with a more nipped at the waist.

The trench doesn't have any the interior pockets that I've grown used to with so many of my coats and jackets but the two exterior side pockets are wonderful.  Very deep and cut at an angle such that items can't easily fall out.  I never worried that either my mobile phone or my camera would be tossed out of my pocket if I went over a bump. 

So far, I've been pedaling on mostly clear days so I haven't had the chance to test it in the rain but the fabric feels like it would be fine in a light to moderate rain.   My last few rides though, I haven't even been thinking about precipitation but just enjoying the sun and indulging thoughts of warmer weather.  Pretty soon, my trip home will be punctuated by stops on the side of the road to more closely inspect high-country wildflowers and the antics of humming birds recklessly buzzing around me - but never flying into me because I am quite visible in my Lemon Drop colored trench.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Product Review: The Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger

It's a pannier and a messenger bag in one!

Recently, Bike Shop Hub asked me to review the Timbuk2 Pannier Messenger for their blog Commute by Bike.  I love, love, love bike bags and immediately jumped at the chance.  Here's a link to my full review on Commute by Bike.  If you haven't checked out this blog yet, I highly recommend spending some time there since they cover just about everything from  bike and bike products, to advocacy and trends in cycling culture.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just Pedaling Along . . .

A J.C. Higgins Classic Cruiser.
When I ran into this classic J.C. Higgins at a "garage sale" at an antique store on the Southside of San Francisco Street in downtown Flagstaff.  The price tag read $250.  A Google search said that J.C. Higgins bikes were often sold at Sears Roebucks and Company in the 1950's and are quite a collector's item.  I wonder if the handlebars are orginal?  Anybody have any thoughts on that?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What's In Your Pannier?

Because there is no time like the present, despite high winds and cloudy skies, I decided to forgo a much desired day on the sofa and pedal around Flagstaff doing errands in service of testing out the Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger bag for Bike Shop Hub's Commute by Bike blog.  That review will be up on http://www.commutebybike.com/ in the next week or two but the process of getting ready to set out on my ride got me thinking about the stuff I consider necessary for any bike trip.

I don't pedal anywhere without a bike bag.
From time to time women's magazines will ask women to dump open their purse and expose the soup that is the contents of their purses.  In years past, this would have caused me a degree of self-consciousness but these  I tote around a pannier or bike bag more often than a purse and tend to carry with me the "essentials".   I wish I could say that a set of emergency bike tools were among them . . . .

I'm NOT usually this organized.
 For a typical day's journey, I carry my wallet, a set of reading glasses, my camera, my Android, keys, u-lock, a small makeup bag, a couple of oranges or a small container of mixed nuts and dried food, the latest copy of Sunset magazine (really, it's much cooler than you think), a couple of tea bags, a fine-point Sharpie, and a French phrase book (I just keep hoping!).   Since I had things to pick up today around town the oranges, magazine and phrase book remained at home.  I needed room for . . . . .

I'll pedal for coffee.  The brownie fits the pocket perfectly, too.
 a can of North Rim dark roast coffee beans from Late for the Train and a brownie for the Planner Guy.

Where the coffee action happens.
Paul, the barista (baristo?) at Late for the Train, admired my Shift messenger bag, and I explained that Bike Shop Hub asked me to test it and write an on-line review.  We chatted about gear and seeing my camera he asked me if I'd like him to take a picture of me with it for the blog post.  Tired of my own picture, I asked if I could photograph him with the bag instead.  He was happy to oblige.

Paul wears this messenger bag well!  Why are tall, slim people so photogenic?  Thanks, Paul!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cold Brew, A Bike and A Big Winner

New Belgium Brewing Company's Northern Arizona Beer Ranger Grant Dunstan invited Bob and I and a large crew of beer and bike fanatics to Keep the Glass, Win a Bike night at New Altitudes Bar and Grill yesterday evening. 

We settled in on the front porch with friends David, Connor and late arrival Maggie for New Belgium brews in souvenir globe glasses.

Bob ordered me a frosty Mighty Earl, and Grant presented me with my winnings from an earlier fall contest - a New Belgium bike messenger bag from Patagonia and this sporty New Belgium pullover, which I promptly donned since darkness and chill were descending.

I was thrilled with the bike messenger bag because it is precisely the kind of messenger bag I wanted to get for Bob to carry to work.  Every Planner Guy needs a sharp looking messenger bag for transporting his . . . plans.  Thanks Grant!

Besides our lovely souvenir New Belgium globe glasses, the big prize for the evening was a drawing for a New Belgium cruiser, one of many that the Colorado brewing company provides for Grant for contests and fundraisers in Northern Arizona.  The cruisers are real attention-getters and bike winners are a pretty proud group so Grant handed out many a raffle ticket.  I mentioned earlier that Maggie was a late arrival and we on the front porch loudly urged her to hurry with locking up her bike so she could get her lottery ticket before Grant drew for the winner.  Woo-hoo!  She made it and WON!

Here's Grant attaching the New Belgium bike bell on the handlebar as Maggie gushes in disbelief.  It's true Maggie; I can't believe that I didn't win the cruiser, either.

Here's Maggie calling her husband, who was home with their children.  We won!  We won!  We won!

Maggie and her husband Will have been really committed to winning one of the New Belgium cruisers and, because they have kiddos at home, have been alternating previous Keep a Glass, Win a Bike nights.   Since it was Maggie's night, I wondered, who gets the bike?

Maybe they can take turns riding shotgun on the porter's rack?  Will they race each other to the garage before each trip to see who gets to the cruiser first?  Nope.  Maggie says Will gets the bike.  Having just returned from a strenuous hike in and out of the Grand Canyon though, Maggie wasn't quite sure if Will had enough physical and mental energy to comprehend his good luck when she called him to deliver the news.  I'm pretty sure that upon waking up this morning it all made sense to him when he saw his new cruiser.  You're a good wife, Maggie.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pedaling (and Living) in the Moment, at NIght

At the end of February Bob and I took an unexpected trip to Louisville, Kentucky to visit his parents. Normally, I anticipate the trip home with excitement at the thought of seeing long-time friends with whom I remain close, as well as hanging out in all my old haunts. This trip, however, was one of necessity. My father-in-law's struggle with MS had taken a turn for the worse, and Bob was needed at home to provide emotional support and assist with some family decision making. Despite the circumstances of our journey, it was good to be at home with family. To lighten our mood, Bob and I decided to run the first leg of my beloved Triple Crown of Running Series, and even convinced Bob’s brother, a recent running convert, to join us on the course for his first race. We also watched our oldest niece (and future Olympian?) at a big swim meet held at University of Louisville.

Ron and Bob, pre-5K.
Bob and I at the starting line of the Anthen Classic.
I’m always sad about leaving Louisville, and this time was no exception. Luckily, before returning to Flagstaff we had a day in Phoenix with my cousin (more family!) before heading further west to San Francisco for a long weekend, planned many months ago. While Louisville is certainly not a smaller version of San Francisco, both cities share an abundance of Victorian architecture and the flavor of crumbling elegance, which my transition into the week ahead. The weekend in Fisherman’s Wharf was a wonderful blend of biking, great food, and time spent together with no agenda.

Us on the Golden Gate on the way to Sausalito.
Biking in typical SF weather.
But trips come to an end and return to work we did. I just felt sad and down-in-the-dumps all week, desperately missing my former Louisville routine, not having truly established a satisfying one for myself in Flagstaff. The week lumbered along but Friday finally arrived.  I asked Bob before work if I should meet him downtown that evening after his Master Swim class. We were both biking that day and since the weather was spring-like I thought a bike date was well in order. Yes, he replied. His class would end around 7 p.m. so I would bike down to NAU’s natatorium after dark.

I love night-time pedaling with Bob, but on my ride to meet him, it occurred to me that sometimes biking alone in the quiet evening is just plain good for the mind. I became conscious of how strongly I was pedaling, possibly my legs having been strengthened by biking over the steep, steep hills of San Francisco. I felt light, calm and centered – not, I might add, my usual frame of mind. This, I told myself, must be what it is like to live in the moment. Both my mother and my mother-in-law have suggested that I need to try this sometime. I breathed it in deep, concentrating on the silence, the dark, the light breeze. Soon I would be joining dear husband, whose previous week had been much harder than mine but always selflessly places my happiness above his own.
Me, and the twin Breezers in front of Tinderbox.
Bob exited Wall Natatorium shortly after I, leaning again the bike rack, completed my turn at Words with Friends (in this case, my mother-in-law). I let him to take the lead for the rest of the evening. We end up sharing drinks at the bar of Tinderbox, laughing at the controversies of the day just ended.

Bob and the Himalayan 'tini.
Next, we pedaled over to Milton Avenue and celebrated Bob’s return to the Master Swim class by pedaling over to Himalayan Grill, perhaps our favorite dining spot in Flagstaff. My biking confidence boosted by pedaling without incident on slick streets in San Francisco, why yes, I said, I do want to take the bike lane on Milton Avenue! Once there, Bob and I split Yellow Dal and Chicken Korma with some wheat nan. It doesn’t get any better than that and praised the restaurateur for another superb meal. And yes, we did overhear him say he was soon to be sworn-in as a U.S. citizen!

It's that good!
Gastronomically satisfied, we made our way home. A plastic bag holding the remainder of my Yellow Dal and a slice of nan was securely tied to my handlebar. “How many midlife people do this?” asked the Planner Guy. None, I said, still living in the moment. Just us, I thought, as we pedaled under the stars back to our house, my earlier worries placed, at least temporarily, in a faraway place.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A New Experience: Combining Biking and Light Rail

Doug hangs his bike for extra space
Between cities at the moment, Bob and I are staying over with my cousin Angie and her family before heading out to San Francisco for a long weekend. When we last checked in with my cousin, she and her husband had each purchased good quality, gently used bikes and were in the process of building a small bike garage on the side of their Phoenix ranch house. Without the standard garage for their car, we were pretty impressed that these parents of a toddler were so committed to options outside of strict car-ridership that they decided on the small addition of a bike garage.  Well, the little garage is now finished and sheltering both bikes quite nicely.  Might seem impractical for non-cyclists but I think SRAB readers can fully appreciate what a great amenity a bike garage is.

The Townie has a space of its very own.
Since her bike purchase, Angie has kept her older cousin fully informed of her bike commuting activities and is always open to suggestions on how to expand her comfort zone just a little bit further.  Last Thursday, Angie had planned a trip to her massage therapist and decided to pedal her Townie to the Metro Phoenix Light Rail station near her house, haul her bike and board and take the rail for the rest of her trip. This would be Angie’s first trip with her bike on the light rail and she was slightly nervous about what to expect. Since we don’t have a light rail system in either Louisville or Flagstaff, I haven’t yet had the pleasure so my parting thoughts were that the trip was only about 3 blocks, most by bike lane, and that it would be an easy practice run for more complicated trips.

Bikes are welcome.
Upon arriving at the rail station with only a few seconds to spare, Angie sent me a text reporting that a nice fellow had helped her hang her Townie on the bike hooks in the train. Many people are reluctant to ride public transit, be it bus or rail, because they anticipate problems but they shouldn’t let it stop them from giving it a try. I expect to have a little trouble hanging my bike as well when I have my first light rail trip with it because I’m short and lifting my bike can feel awkward.  For the most part though, I’ve found that experienced public transit riders are usually happy to show newbies the ropes and offer assistance.  In fact, when Angie returned she said that she received three good natured remarks about the size of her bike, three compliments on it appearance, and two offers of assistance with hanging it.

Pure glamour!
On a side note, Angie mentioned that she was surprised to see how crowded the stops and rail cars were both before and after her visit with the massage therapist.  I wonder if is more a result of the spike in gas prices or people simply leaving their cars at home to enjoy the nice weather?  Regardless, I hope Metro Light Rail gained some new ridership that day.  I know my cousin will definitely combine her Townie with light rail trips for future trips around town.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cousin Angie's Product Review: The Axiom Gatherer Shopper Saddlebag

The Axiom Gatherer Shopper Bag
Cousin Angie, a new convert to bike commuting, purchased this attractive Axiom “Gatherer Shopper” saddlebag for her Townie a few months ago. While style was an important feature, Angie is a working mom and prizes function as well.  Her new Axiom bag fits the bill for both.  She uses it for everything from consignment and grocery shopping but it still looks appropriately professional for carrying files to work meetings. This lightweight saddlebag is made with 600D polyester and attaches to the rear bike rack with Velcro fasteners. A handle in between the two bags allows one to carry it like a briefcase or over the arm when detached from the bike. The roomy interior of the bag is supported by a large stiff, removable sleeve, making it easy to stand open for loading purchases. The sides of each bag also have the usual band of reflective safety tape sewn into the fabric for safety in traffic.

Angie and bag in front of the new bike garage!

Angie’s favorite thing about the Axiom saddlebag, besides its stylish appearance, is its carrying capacity. She has no problem using it for grocery shopping and said it is weighty enough to haul multiple gallons of milk, large diaper boxes, bags of fruit and other heavy items.

Axiom interior.
She is less happy with the Velcro straps that attach the bag to the rear of her Townie, finding them awkward to manipulate, especially when the saddlebags are full. A much pricier version is available, however. Angie further noted that snaps secure the closure flaps on either side of the bag but that they are difficult to locate and join together and don’t stay snapped. She felt any updated design should include magnetic snaps and that a band of Velcro on the body of the bag and on the underside of the flap would keep the flap from flying about when she pedaling. I think an updated version should also include interior zip pockets to keep items such as keys, mobile phone and spare change neatly organized.

The Gatherer Shopper saddlebag comes in three patterns, although I think Angie’s pattern is from a previous year. She purchased it from Landis Cyclery in Phoenix for $75.  Landis has four locations in the Phoenix area.