My company, Comcast Technology Solutions, made the local Seattle bike blog news! Good stuff – it’s heartening to encourage folks to get out on a bike even after Seattle’s record breaking rain this year (45 inches since October). I’m proud to work for a company that encourages folks to ride, and not worry too much about coming in wet, late, messy. We have happy folks who ride!
I had my first real accident of any consequence last night on my commute home. I was heading to our cabin for the weekend. It started with a short ride to the Sounder Train heading north to Mukilteo. From there, a quick ferry crossing to the island set me on my way. The climb up the hill from the landing was great, and when the land leveled out, I found myself speeding along the fast route home – Hwy 525. I was going to take the route all the way to Freeland, but decided to take the more hilly passage over Lancaster Rd, as I was trying to get away from the sporadic traffic, and it offers a nearly car-free alternative. It also offers a nice climb with a great descent to Mutiny Bay Rd very near my destination. The last part is a nice ride along the coastline.
The climb was good, but the descent was better! I love that hill – there is a second climb up to a false summit on the west side, so I tucked and hit max speed. On the other side of the second summit, there is another nice drop, and I recalled it turning right near the bottom. It had started a light sprinkle, but the roads weren’t wet yet. The bigger problem was that I was outpacing the throw of my light. As I neared the bend, I started to brake, but the wheels slid, so I let off and started pumping the levers. I quickly realized I was going too fast to make the corner, so I started picking my line while trying more brakes. As I went off the road still going about 20mph per my cyclemeter app, my bike and I pitched into a dense blackberry thicket, with me going in head first over the bike.
I remember a fast deceleration and my head tucking under my body. I heard and felt a loud spine crunching sound as I came to rest in a panic. I immediately thought I had damaged my neck or spine somehow – no head trauma, but my limbs were still there, and I could move. I fished the phone out of my pocket as well as I could – I was quite entangled in the vines. I called my wife and told her the bad news and asked for a pickup, giving her the rough directions to where I was. After hanging up, I started trying to get up, but it took several minutes of untangling myself from the bike and the vines. I remember looking out of what seemed like a briar tunnel. I was able to get up, but my neck was very sore, and I was worried about spine damage, so I just stood there. After a minute or two, Jan called me, and I saw her car lights. She got me in the car, and tried to hide my bike in the ditch, and we made our way to the ER for 4 hrs of waiting, x-rays, and worry.
Long story short, I was just fine. No broken bones, and a couple tylenol for the road. Unfortunately, when we returned for the bike, it was gone. Lessons (re)learned:
- Slow down when you know a bend is coming – don’t wait until you can see it.
- Don’t rely on your lights to help – especially when they are not projecting far enough based on your speed.
- Don’t bomb a hill at night even when you have been down it several times before with no incident – if the conditions are not perfect – no sense in the extra danger – could have been a car or a deer in the way.
- Don’t leave a perfectly good bike in the ditch for more than a few minutes…
- Don’t let it stop you from what you enjoy – went out for a short ride today. Still feels great to be on a bike!
P.S. if you see a white Velo Routier (Cycles Toussaint) on Whidbey Island, please drop me a line… Link to Bike Index
Back when I was riding a mountain bike to work regularly, I bought Albatross bars to get a more upright position. While I enjoyed the wide range of positions for my hands, the one issue I had was a lesser ability to get “aero” when it was windy. In my rambling experiments, these fell out of fashion after a time and I moved on to drops.
I recently revived the bars when I wanted to get my camp bike set up for an upcoming Seattle/Portland Riv Ramble that will be happening near the halfway point of Packwood, WA. I started the conversion away from the road-friendly Nitto Noodles to the more dirt oriented Midge bars. They seemed to be too much of a compromise in that they didn’t offer the feel of drops with the big vertical differences, and didn’t have an “upright” position.
The Albatross bars are all about upright, but also flare forward of the stem for a stretched position. There is also the near-stem narrow position that gets one in a nice aero setup, as well. I had an older mountain bike stem from a ’92 Stumpjumper Pro that had enough reach to push the Albatross bars out far enough to get that aero position I need for the windy days, as well as enabling me to extend the bar ends back even more with bar end shifters. Here’s what it looks like:
I got a chance this week to test the wind theory, with a couple commutes. May is a great month for me as the wind often shifts mid-day giving me headwinds both ways. Using the inner hand position, I was able to get a nice aero tuck on the bike. Holding the forward curves also kept me out of the wind, and if I bent my elbows, I could get nearly as aero as on drop bars. The leverage from 56cm bars is another great benefit of these bars.
Riding with Albas may even be safer on a commute. For example, I take a route that runs downhill on a busy arterial on the way into work, and often cars are backed up across intersections. There is constant danger of cars/bikes/people crossing in front of me between stopped traffic. I noticed right away that riding upright affords a much better view of traffic and potential collision fodder. Side benefit or primary if you’re a safety hound…
OK – I’m not fooling myself, part of why I like this setup is that it is the configuration of the Riv video that originally piqued my interest in the Hunqapillar, and it gives the bike a different, more specific setup than my other bikes. It really is a country rambler, camp/tour bike now with the capacity to be a great commuting “truck” when I need/want to carry a lot of cargo. As it is a stiffer bike than the Homer, it feels both heavier, and more solid when carrying loads. That’s great if I’m not tired out, but I’ll have to evaluate it after a couple days of touring around in the hills.
Since May is bike month, I figured I would post some thoughts and experiences on my years of bike commuting in Seattle, WA. I consider myself lucky to live in a town that permits this year-round, but I recall standing at the bus-stop in Minneapolis one day when it was about 14 below zero and seeing a grizzled bike commuter pedaling by. I guess this can be done anywhere! That takes me to the first item:
If you want to succeed in biking to work regularly, you have to get through the first month. If your commute is more than a few miles, you may want to start out small and work up. I generally ride 4-5 days a week these days, but when I started out, I did one day a week until that felt ok. Then I stepped it up to two days. After a few weeks of this I went to three, and so on. You will be frustrated at first by lack of energy, weather, bad drivers, bad bikers, etc… After a month, though, you may find that getting in a car is actually more frustrating, and you may find exhilaration in anticipating a nice ride in, or home. There will be days where you hear wind and rain and think “what the hell am I doing riding in this?”, but when you get out in it, it’s not really that bad. Same as skiing – water or snow. You will get wet and/or cold, but you’re still having fun.
You will need to plan a tiny bit more to be a bike commuter – time, clothes, shower are all slightly modified. First off, it takes longer to bike to work (usually). Figure out how much time it takes on a day when you don’t have to be somewhere, or just give yourself way too much time. Keep your main clothes at work. I just bring an undershirt and socks with me. I take a shower before I leave. It’s generally cool in the morning, so I don’t break too much of a sweat on the way in. Nothing a good towel won’t take care of. I keep a week’s worth of pants and 2-weeks worth of shirts in the office. I launder these at a dry cleaner, but have brought bundles home via car/bus on my rest days. Remember – if you’re in an office job, you can generally get multiple wears out of a set of clothes between washes.
Find and Vary Routes
I have 3 or 4 routes I take regularly. There is the short-direct shot into work; the meandering coffee shop route; the long scenic route; the mostly trail route. It really helps to have options as it makes the trips fun, and not tedious. If you don’t like your route, take a different option, and don’t worry if it adds miles. My shortest route is 7.5 miles, and the longest route is over 13 miles one way. I can be just as tired after either of them, and all of them get me where I’m going. There is nothing quite as satisfying as passing a lot of traffic that is gridlocked due to a game or other random event. On a bike you have endless options!
I hope this helps – commuting by bike is really rewarding in health, stress-relief, and giving you time to think or wind down on the way home. It is a great way to turn a stressful activity on its head, and get something beneficial out of the time you may be spending in traffic.