Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tasty Destinations - Just One More Reason to Ride a Bike!

A common barrier to giving bike commuting a try is putting one's mental focus on what one is giving up - AC, the stereo system, multiple cup holders, cell phone charging outlets.  I find it much more helpful to put my thoughts toward what I get out of bike commuting - quiet time, a built in exercise within my day, a little extra exposure to vitamin D . . . . AND . . . .

The wonderful storefront of the new Sweet Shoppe and Nut House!
a guilt free reason to stop in and patronize Flagstaff's newest locally owned business, The Sweet Shoppe and Nut House  at 15 Aspen Avenue.  The luscious looking candy coated apples locked on to us from across the street.  We were helpless under its tractor beam-like strength and entered the crowded new candy shop without the slightest resistance.

And why not?  Enjoyment of what we eat is the civilized way.  When you pedal to most of the places you need to go you don't need to fret about enjoying a small serving of the best cchocolate gelatto on the planet.  And it was, damnit!  I savored every bite of its rich, dark, chocolaty goodness without guilt, shame or worry about calories (all of which contribute to indigestion!). 

Bob got one of the chocolate, caramel and pecan covered apples, sliced for easier munching.  He also purchased a large square of chocolate, coconut and walnut fudge for sharing over the weekend.

Yep!  We went back.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Personal Style and a Bike

Personal style.  Some women just have it; the rest of us somehow manage to muddle through one fashion train wreck after another until we make enough mistakes that we finally figure out what works best on us and what looks we just need to avoid all together.  Too often, we so focus on looking cute and pretty or replicating the latest version of America's Top Model, that we lose who we are and what makes us unique. 

This lovely, young women, who I stopped to photograph on NAU campus last night, represents for me someone who isn't afraid to follow her own fashion rules.  My guess is that she probably lives much of her life by her own considered choices and rarely regrets the outcomes, even when sometimes they aren't what she planned, because even mistakes are opportunities to learn.  Perhaps, I'm romanticizing her just a wee but her look gives off a self-confidence and groove I completely lacked at that age.  I love the combination of dreadlocks; cute, smarty-pants eye glasses; and minimal make-up.  Intentional or not, she sends out the message that she's not trying to impress anyone because she too busy setting her life plans in motion.

Had I not been in a hurry to meet up with Bob, I would have loved to ask her about her bike and whether or not it is merely an affordable way for a college student to get around or if she sees it as a long-term transportation option once she finishes her studies and begins her career.  I've been chatting back and forth with a number of other women who blog about the intersect between fashion and bike commuting and whether or not women will be the force to make it go mainstream in the U.S. the way it has in many parts of Europe.  I am of the belief that women have had and will continue to have an important role in re-establishing bicycles as a legitimate means of transport.  Likewise, I think it is and will continue to be those women who are thoughtful and adventuresome in terms of fashion but also carry that mindset over to their personal priorities and lifestyle choices

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Air Travel with Your Bike

The Dahon and I at Golden Gate Park.
My husband Bob and I enjoy traveling to cities with interesting urban cores, alive with people, an eclectic mix of historic and contemporary architecture, innovative dining, a thriving cultural scene, and that certain something that urban planning wonks refer to as “a sense of place”. As regular bike commuters at home, we know that there is no better way to get to know a new city than by staying close to the street. Rather than wasting time looking for an open meter or a parking garage, we rent bikes and walk, making spontaneous stops for espresso, sushi, or a sidewalk art fair a piece of cake. I’ve really grown to prefer being able to travel this way but I realized last year that I wanted to travel with own bike so that I wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of availability, inconvenient locations, unfamiliar bike geometry, and late return fees. After reading about folding bikes on a number of bike blogs, I investigated Dahon and was impressed with its sophisticated urban look and the good reviews. It was during an unexpected stop at TTR Bikes in Greenville, South Carolina last September that I finally got to test ride the Eco 3, which had just arrived on the floor. Sold! My Eco 3 arrived on my doorstep in Flagstaff a week later.

Taking a folding bike out of town in a car is a cinch. We packed the Eco 3 and my husband’s Breezer in our Honda for a post-Marathon ride through Tempe in January. No struggle to get it in and out of the car, with plenty of room left over for a couple of dogs. However, I actually purchased the Eco 3 for air travel. In anticipation for a March trip to San Francisco, Bob gave me Dahon’s Airporter suitcase last Christmas. Always the attentive husband, he knew exactly what I wanted without even asking.  Our March trip to San Francisco and the Airporter travel test couldn’t get here fast enough!

The Dahon, folded and ready for their Airporter.
The first thing about packing the Airporter is that it forces people like me, who are reluctant to read directions, to learn how to correctly fold their bicycles. Viewing the tutorial video on the Dahon website was very instructive. I learned that I hadn’t been correctly folding down the handlebar for over 6 months!

Correctly folded, I had enough additional room for my Nutcase helmet and some bike tools for just-in-case. The Eco 3 and the other items fit securely between two removable protective pads and beneath straps that lock cross-wise over everything. The Airporter also came with two pads to wrap around the tube protecting the finish from nicks and scuffs. Very thoughtful, Dahon!

Bob and I departed for San Francisco from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, huge facility with an equally mammoth parking lot. Like most of luggage the Airporter is equipped with roller wheels for easy transport, a good thing since we parked in the East Economy lot some distance from the shuttle bus stop.

The only design feature I would have liked would have been the addition of a retractable handle.

When reading up on air travel with a bicycle, I came across a frequent question:  Will I be charged an additional baggage fee for bringing a bike on the plane?  Most airlines limit checked baggage to one bag per person without a fee, with a maximum weight of 50 lbs per bag. Many airlines also charge a fee if the bag is outside prescribed dimensions. The Airporter and its contents weighted 48.5 lbs on our home scale. Its measurements were about 8 inches outside the acceptable range to check without a fee. However, we read that baggage fees are hit or miss at check-in. We flew Southwest and, sure enough, were charged $50 due weight (52 lbs by the Southwest scale) and bag measurements. The counter agent actually asked, with a slight expression of concern, if the Airport contained a bike, and she measured the bag. Oddly enough though, on our return trip out of San Francisco, the airline, still Southwest, did not have any questions about the bag or charge an additional fee when we checked it. So fees are basically a crap shoot. A smart traveler will budget $100 and hope for the best.

After an uneventful flight, we arrived in San Francisco and collected our baggage, except the Airporter. Disappointing since we took a 7 a.m. flight so we could get an early start on a bike adventure from Fisherman’s Wharf to SOMA. Southwest assured me that my bag would arrive on a later flight, most likely that day, although they could not tell me why it was delayed. I suspect that the Airporter was placed on a subsequent flight due to a TSA inspection of the bag contents. When the Airporter arrived at the hotel later that day, I found a notice from TSA inside the bag, indicating that it had been opened. I have no idea whether or not the Eco 3 was removed but it remained perfectly folded and in the same good condition. We didn’t encounter any baggage delays upon our return to Sky Harbor and my guess is that we checked in with Southwest earlier on our way back to Arizona, possibly giving the Airporter more time to get through security, as again the bag had been opened by TSA.

Our March trip to San Francisco was a good test run for using the Airporter to transport my Eco 3. I learned that it might help in the future to reduce the weight by packing only the Dahon in the suitcase and packing a multi-use bike tool in my other baggage. Definitely, I’ll research the baggage guidelines for the airline we are flying and be prepared to pay a fee both way but really grateful if I don’t.

Friday, July 22, 2011

He's Ironman Bound!

The Planner Guy, still on his quest to become Ironman Bob completed his third triathlon this weekend, The Flagstaff Mountain Man Sprint. 

Here he is securing his Kestrel in the Element the evening before the event.

And here he is with our friend Dave at the start of the first portion of the triathlon, the swim segment.  The swim is the toughest portion of the Bob's training. 

Like many triathletes, he struggles with open water swimming due to crowding at the start that results in getting kicked and knocked about by other swimmers and panic attacks brought on by cold water, often too murky to see the bottom.

Bob joined a master swim group last year though, and that's very much helped build his endurance and his confidence. Here's a few highlights from the day:

Bob at the staging area.

Transition from swim to bike.
View from the shore.
Re-entering staging area post bike.
Bob at the Finish!
As usual, Bob was less than pleased with his swim but felt he learned from lessons to carry into his August triathlon.  He felt much better about the bike and running segments, but still hopes to improve his times in all three portions. If you are interested in following his progress, check out his blog Ironman Question.

Mountain Man Bob!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Cursed Myself for Not Being on My Bike!

Last week was just one of those weeks!  Little time to blog; more dental trauma; rain at inconvenient times; too much time in the car.  I had a doctor's visit and had to take the care due to time constraints with work.  Or so I thought!  For it my trip coincided with a mid-day traffic jam and a lengthy wait for a train crossing!  Ugh!  I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw . . . .

this young lady on a bike looking super cool and unconcerned.

Soon she was ahead of me at the light!

Shortly followed by this likewise carefree woman, probably between summer session classes.

I glanced out the passenger window at the traffic awaiting me after the light.  Oh, merde! Je veux mon velo!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

For a Few Moments I Wished for a Car . . .

Monsoon season has finally arrived in Flagstaff.  In Flagstaff we really depend on heavy snowfall and monsoons for water, a limited resource in the high mountain desert and one that creates a fair amount of division about various interests in the community.  I have many opinions about that subject but I won't comment on them here, in writing, except to say that I prefer to conserve water and have opted for desert landscaping in our yard as much as possible.  June was just too, too dry but since I had some relatively new stuff in the ground, planted late last fall, I had to do more watering than I'd prefer and was grateful when the rains arrived this last weekend.  Since then, the rains have come almost daily and the yard has exploded in color. 

In the now four years that I have been a regular bike commuter, I have only been caught in monsoons twice.  Both times I was pedaling home from dinner with my husband, so the soaking rain seemed carefree and romantic.  I didn't think about wet hair, the mascara running down my face or clothing plastered to my skin.  I focused on the refreshing feeling of cool rain on an otherwise overheated body (the temperature rises into the high 80's in Flagstaff), the sound of the rain as it hits the ground, and the exaggerated scent of nature.  Getting caught in the monsoon has thus far not been a problem to be avoided but another EXPERIENCE to be relished.  Until 9 a.m. yesterday morning.

I have no photographic documentation of the events of Friday morning when I set out on my bike for the latest in my three-year dental odyssey to correct the effects of gritting my teeth to the point sleep depriving pain and creating fractures requiring crowns (so many I've lost count), extractions, dental implants, and a shockingly expensive bite guard.  I am on the verge of going on a rant because this odyssey has been extremely expensive (I am grateful for dental insurance, a flexible spending account, and an understanding husband) but I will say that when you find yourself gritting your teeth to the point of constant jaw pain interrupts your sleep STRESS is often the culprit.  I will reiterate that bike commuting can be a wonderful pre and post stress remedy.  That and a good therapist.  Truly, a good locally owned bike shop where they know your face and greet you with a smile and a Masters or PhD level therapist are a great remedy for acute stress.  Forget those stupid stress management seminars that shame participants for "victim" thinking or "glass half-full" orientation.  As a former therapist with 10 years experience working primarily people suffering from acute stress and trauma, I can assure you that such presentations are about as useful as an episode of Oprah or that ethically-challenged television personality "Dr. Drew".  Oooookay, I'm going on another rant again . . . . this is a bike blog, so back to bikes.

So, yesterday morning I had to have my new tooth placed on the implant that my dentist inserted last year.  As I readied for work, I looked out the bedroom window and prognosticated (I have absolutely no training in predicting the weather, mind you) that the rain would begin at or around 3 p.m. and that I could safely miss the downpour.  I would pedal down to my dentist's office, stop 10 minutes out and consume my happy pill (my dentist and I agree that given my past history in his chair, that the happy pill determines whether the procedure requires an hour or four hours of his time; I am that bad a dental patient), arrive, have my new tooth placed, and Bob collect me and the bike in the Element to transport me back home.  Once home, I am disallowed from returning to work or leaving the house for any reason short of natural disaster because I might speak to someone without the benefit of a functioning "filter" (that part of the brain that prevents one from saying exactly what is on one's mind at any given time).  I am also disallowed from getting near the gas stove or even considering making tea.  Naturally, biking while under the influence of the happy pill is also prohibited.

At approximately 8:20 yesterday morning, I glanced out the window only to see that the rain had begun.  It was heavy.  Monsoons don't usually last long,  Heavy rain for 10 minutes or so, then the clouds give way to sun.  I didn't worry and continued my work.  About 8:45 I glanced out the window to find the only light showers and was glad that I wore my yellow Eddie Bauer trench coat and a linen bucket hat from Sage Brush Trading Company.  I'll be fiiiiiiine!

At 9:05 I shut down my computer, tidied my desk and rolled my Dahon out the front doors of the Airport where I work and pedaled past the taxis and rental cars loading and unloading passengers. 

My romantic journey to the dentist's office begins:  Why, yes, I smile, I am an attractively dressed woman riding a bicycle in the rain.  But it's only a light rain, very refreshing, and I'm sure to bike out of it within a half mile.

At about 9:15 I am about a mile out from the airport and my JCrew Cafe Pants are soaked from mid-thigh to my ankle.  I stop at the ramada in Ponderosa Trails Park, having decided perhaps I had miscalculated the exact time the rain would arrive and that I should call Bob and ask him to pick my up at the fire station on Lake Mary Road and take me to the dentist.  Seriously, this trench, Audrey Hepburn worthy as it is, fails the water-proof test as the moisture is gradually penetrating the sleeves and I am pretty sure I'll freeze in an air conditioned dental office.  Oh, merde!  I left my cell charging next to my desk at work.  Quel dommage.  Nothing left to push on and  hope that I pedal out of the rain soon.  I remind myself that the daughter of a U.S. Marine does not under any circumstances complain about a little rain, after all it's not nuclear fall out.

A mile further down the road, I pedal down University Drive next to Target.  At this point, the rain has not lightened is coming down a bit heavier and I am unquestionably soaked to the skin.  I consider that this might have been the day to forget my no Lycra on the bike rule and bring wear my running tights and pullover for the ride and change back into my regular clothes at the dentist's office.  I scold myself for not remembering to put a comb in my pannier since my hair will surely be a mess upon arrival at the dentist's office.   Coulda, shoulda, didn't.  This is an EXPERIENCE I remind myself, and I am learning for the next time.

What I am truly worrying about is the possible reactions of the dentist's very nice staff who are always helpful with my scheduling needs and patiently endure my version of stand-up comedy when I have taken a happy pill pre-dental procedure.  "You rode your bike in the rain?", "Oh, my God, you are soaked to the skin; you poor thing!"   I really dread the potential for a "you poor thing".  I am not a poor thing.  I am not brave.  We just can't afford two cars living here and I made the best decision I could about how to get to my appointment.  And to quote the later, great Peter Falk, "It ain't cancer".  By the time, I pedal through the campus of NAU on the urban trail, I actually realize I am smiling.  I acknowledge a few people also traveling by bike, most likely faculty, and see most of them are also soaked.  Some of them are not soaked because they are wearing rain gear.  Must get some rain gear but I can't worry about that now because I am smiling.  Really, without any effort.  I am drenched but okay, and I haven't even taken the happy pill yet.

So, I arrive at my destination at exactly 10 a.m., slowed by a few detours I made in order to avoid being splashed by cars going through large pools of standing water.  I lock up the bike and enter the office, peeling off my trench and bucket hat as I check in with the front desk.   As predicted, while used to seeing me arrive on a bike, they are shocked that I did so on a rainy day.  I am indeed called brave but not poor.  The air conditioner hums along but the dental assistant has a nice polar fleece throw that I can cover up with head to toe.  Soon I have a new tooth, my clothes are mostly dry, I see that my hair really doesn't look to bad thanks to a great cut from Mr. Paul Ray (with salons in Las Vegas and Flagstaff), and my husband has arrived to carry me and the Dahon back to our house.

I am now sitting on the front porch writing this post and waiting for the pending monsoon of the day.  The Planner Guy and I consoled a recent disappointment over a strong pot of morning coffee, the newspaper, Weekend Edition, and the unconditional love of two little dogs.  Disappointments hit me hard.  Probably harder than they should but I am not gritting my teeth, and I can finally see an end to my dental odyssey.   I finally got caught in a soaking rain on the way to an appointment but pedaled though it without tears.  Arriving with wet hair and clothes was only slightly embarrassing but not a big disaster.  Rain is not an insurmountable obstacle to bike commuting.  I needed to purchase some rain gear a long time ago anyway.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Product Review: The Lane Bicycle Pannier Messenger

My latest product review on Commute by Bike created a bit of a stir in the comments section.  Bike bags shouldn't be that controversial but many people have pretty strong feeling about leather.  Sometimes they just have strong feelings about people with strong feeling about leather.  Regardless, despite the fact that the Lane bag is quite handsome, it's not the bag for everyone, for all kinds of reasons other than leather.  Here's the link.  Feel free to weigh in on whatever you like.