Jun 13 2017

Paddlers’ Pearls from the Man Who Loved Bicycles by Farwell Forrest

Can a book about bicycling have anything to say to canoeists and kayakers? It can—and more than you might think. So this week Farwell returns to The Man Who Loved Bicycles to see what he can find. And you’re invited to come along for the ride.

What does Daniel Behrman, the “Man Who Loved Bicycles,” have to say to canoeists? Well, to begin with, he points out the not-so-hidden messages with which the Mad Men mesmerize the masses into pursuing powersport at any price. Here, for example, is his take on the iconography of the sport car, …

that contradiction in terms, the overhead-cammed, mid-engined, wide-tired wheelchair for the dead tired. … The sport car is nothing but plastic surgery[,] … a four-wheeled phallus, … the ultimate prosthesis.

He is, of course, speaking of cars, but with just a few changes (drop the wheels, add a couple of ‘rudes), he could have been describing the latest offerings from Walleye Warrior or Waterski Warehouse. Nor did he confine himself to questions of power and potency. Behrman addressed issues of substance, as well… Read more…

The Man Who Loved Bicycles?

Originally published at Paddling.com on June 13, 2017

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Jun 11 2017

The Relaxed Alternative to Finding Your Cycling Comfort Zone by Tamia Nelson

Bicycling isn’t only for jocks in lycra, and there are alternatives to a traditional diamond-frame road bike, too. So if you’re looking for a more relaxed ride, consider one of these bikes.

My article on a friend’s Day 6 Dream semi-recumbent bike sparked the imaginations of readers who wanted for more information about a kind of bike which they’d never seen before. Clearly there are plenty of folks who would go cycling if they had a choice beyond the mountain bike or road bike. They like the idea of a more relaxed frame geometry, because that gives them a bike with traits such as these:

  • Upright position when cycling
  • Little to no pressure on hands and wrists
  • Comfortable seat
  • Feet can be placed flat on ground while sitting in the saddle
  • One size of bike frame can fit a range of riders
  • Lower center of gravity inspires confidence
  • Easier to straddle than diamond frame bikes, especially if the bike has a step-through frame

Bikes with qualities like these are known by a number of terms, including:

  • Comfort Bikes
  • Crank Forward Bikes
  • Semi-Recumbent Bikes
  • Relaxed Geometry Bikes
  • Flat-Footed Bikes

Whatever they’re called, one thing is universal—bikes of this design allow a cyclist to put his or her feet flat on the ground while still sitting in the saddle. That seems to be the most appealing characteristic for most folks, and it’s easy to see why. If your back or hips have a limited range of motion, or if your balance is wonky, you don’t need to be quite so concerned about toppling over when you slow down and stop. Furthermore, saddling up is easier, especially if the bike has a very low top tube or a step-through frame (often seen on women’s bikes, but also with some unisex frames).

Here’s a diagram showing six different models of relaxed frame bikes, with a Surly Long Haul Trucker at the top for comparison’s sake:

Name That Bike

You can see how the main elements of the different bikes compare with one another and with the more traditional diamond frame of the Surly. Note hot the saddles on relaxed frame bikes are below the level of the handlebars, rather than on the same level like with the Surly. The pedals are very much further forward of the saddles of the relaxed frame bikes, too. Moreover, your sitting position is lower to the ground with a relaxed frame. All these features endear the relaxed frame bike to folks looking for a more relaxed ride.

RANS Crank Forward Bike Photo (c) Vik Banerjee

The six bikes in my graphic are but a sample of what the marketplace has to offer. So, if you’re intrigued by a bike which offers comfort and sure-footedness when you come to a stop, you can find a model to suit your needs and pocketbook. Prices range from below USD100 for a sale bike in Walmart to a few hundred US dollars. They’re becoming more popular, and it’s possible you might even find one used. Before long, I’m betting you’ll be finding your comfort zone with a relaxed alternative to the diamond frame bike.

This article is an update of one originally published on 22 August 2009.

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Jun 11 2017

The Day 6 Dream Crank Forward Semi-Recumbent Bike for Finding Your Comfort Zone by Tamia nelson

Have you given up on cycling because of a bad back, or because you’re nervous about not being able to plant your feet flat on the ground? Then consider doing what my friend Les has done—get yourself a crank-forward bike.

A friend from college spends her days in a commercial bakery hefting heavy crates, manhandling 50-pound sacks of flour, and carrying large trays of fresh bread. Twenty years of this work has given Les a dodgy back. A back which became so bothersome she had to give up on riding a roadie and move to a mountain bike with high bars. After a time she couldn’t even tolerate that. Les has been living car-free for most of her adult life, and she didn’t want to give in just because her back was a pain. Her solution was to buy a Day 6 Dream bicycle. Day 6 calls their comfort bikes semi-recumbents, and you can see why:

Day 6 Bike

Les hauls groceries and supplies in panniers, and intends to do so even when the roads aren’t dry, so her Day 6 is outfitted with fenders, a rear rack, and Jandd panniers:

Day 6 Bike

The thickly padded wide saddle is augmented with an adjustable padded backrest:

Day 6 Bike

Behind the backrest, a large zippered pocket can hold necessities where they’re accessible but out of the way.:

Day 6 Bike

Les’ alloy-framed Dream weighs in at about 34 pounds, shifts through 21 speeds, has SRAM twist-grip shifters, linear breaks, 26″ x 1.95″ double-walled rims and Kenda Komfort tires, Shimano derailleurs, platform pedals, a kickstand, and the usual assortment of reflectors. Look at the length of that chain:

Day 6 Bike

Les has short arms, so her bike shop reversed the stem to improve the fit:

Day 6 Bike

I was glad to see a rearview mirror, but not so pleased to notice that the folks shown riding Day 6 bikes on the manufacturer’s website aren’t wearing helmets. Still, I imagine that there are plenty of folks like Les, who find a crank-forward (or semi-recumbent) bicycle of this kind admirably suits their requirements. No need to swing a leg over a top tube. No need to dismount to place feet flat on the ground, come to that. And the backrest in combination with high handlebars makes it possible for folks with troublesome backs to get out on two wheels. That’s all to the good in my book.

This article is an update of one originally published on 15 August 2009.

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Jun 08 2017

Shopping by Bike: Your Questions Answered by Tamia Nelson

When Tamia was packing groceries into her bike’s panniers outside the shopping store not long ago, a passerby stopped to express his skepticism that she could fit it all into a pair of “saddlebags.” As he watched and asked questions, skepticism became astonishment, then optimism. After all, he had a bike. So could he do the grocery shopping, too? Of course he could! And so can you.

Watching other people at a manual task is a guarantee that kibitzers will stop by to enjoy the show, so I wasn’t surprised to have an audience when packing up the panniers on a routine shopping trip to the grocery store. “You’ll never get all that stuff in those little saddlebags!” a passerby proclaimed. I looked up from the dark interior of the starboard pannier to see a wide grin creasing the man’s deeply wrinkled face.

I grinned back, expecting him to move along as most do. But he was interested and asked pertinent questions as I loaded up. By the time I’d cinched bright yellow rain covers over the panniers, Sam, my new acquaintance, had concluded that he would clean up his old three-spee and try shopping with his bike, too. Holding up his two plastic shopping bags loaded with bananas and apples, boxes of cookies and frozen meals-for-one, he asked…

Do you need a fancy, expensive bike to do grocery shopping with it?  No. The right bike for the job is most likely the one you have. A fancy racing bike isn’t the best choice for utility cycling. The bike will need to accommodate a rear rack or be capable of hitching a bicycle trailer, though small loads of groceries—those that fit into one or two basic plastic shopping bags—can be carried in a pack on your back. Just be sure no straps dangle and get caught in a wheel or chain.

How can you get saddlebags and how do you put ’em on the bike?  Handy folks can repurpose buckets or kitty-litter pails, but most of us buy panniers. These can be found in some bike shops and ordered from Amazon or online bike retailers. Even small panniers hold enough for several days of food. My small, inexpensive Delta Compact panniers carry quite a lot. The photo below shows just the tip of the, er, produce pile gleaned from the farmer’s market:

Bringing Home the Produce

Even better are purpose-built panniers for shopping. For going on ten years we’ve been hauling the load in Nashbar Townie shopping panniers:

Nashbar Townie Panniers Ready to Be Fed

These are specially designed for efficient grocery haulage. A bonus is that they fold flat against the bike when they’re not needed…

Nashbar Townie Pannier Folded Flat

…and they each come with a rain cover, which serves just as well as a dust cover and as a sun barrier to keep pannier contents cooler.

Nashbar Townie Pannier Rain Covers

To mount panniers you’ll need a rack that bolts to the rear triangle of the bike or is clamped to the seat post.

Bor Yueh Rear Rack

You can get by with inexpensive models, but be sure they’re capable of managing loads up to 40 or 50 pounds. This doesn’t mean you have to carry a heavy a load, by the way. But a rack rated for hauling such loads will be solidly built and unlikely to break when you hit a pothole or bump.

Do you have to use saddlebags?  No. You can use a trailer, instead. For years our shopping was towed in a Nashbar Kid Karriage—a trailer for towing small children behind your bike:

Bringing Home the Tofu

Now we use a Croozer cargo carrier trailer, which is boxy and has a lower profile, and is made for towing loads, not people:

Croozing With Croozer

Your bike may have to be fitted with a hitch, though some kid-carriers clamp directly to the bike’s frame. In addition to bike shops and online retailers, look for bike trailers in your local Big Box store—Target and Walmart both are said to carry reasonably priced models—and check local classified adverts as well as garage sales.

Can you haul groceries on a bike even if you’re an out of shape old guy (or gal)?  If you have no medical reason not to exert yourself, sure you can. Just keep the load modest, take it easy, stop and rest when you need to, and use the bike’s gears sensibly. It won’t be long before you’ll be in better shape, with firmer muscles and more energy.

How do you keep frozen and refrigerated food from going bad?  We use generic soft coolers that fit right inside the panniers, or which can be loaded directly into a trailer. A freezer block or two helps, as well. We’ve successfully kept frozen and cold foods intact on the one-hour pull home on 90-degree days with soft coolers and freezer blocks.

I guess I have to lock the bike, right?  You should. Find a metal pillar or other solid object to lock to—we use cable locks but many choose to augment these with U-locks—and don’t park where your bike will be in the way of the cart jockey or passersby. If you are hauling a trailer, lock the trailer, too. We lock ours to the bikes, then lock the bikes to a pillar which supports an overhang outside the main entrance.

Is there any other advice you have before I start?  Map out your route in advance to be sure you can safely ride a bike to the grocery store while complying with local laws. For instance, if the road is a four-lane highway with high-speed traffic, and if the law prohibits cyclists on sidewalks, than it may be wise to look for a different store to shop at. Consider a less busy road even if it means a longer route. You want to stay alive, right?

Once you’ve decided on a route, make your maiden voyage on a lightly traveled day with comfortable weather. Your first trip is not the time to ride in thunderstorms or on the Friday before a three-day weekend. Lighten up your purchases so your load isn’t too heavy, and take your time loading up and riding back home. Then reward yourself with a hot shower and cold beverage!


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