Bicycle beginnings — Part 1

We start every session of “Truth and Techniques,” the classroom portion of CyclingSavvy, with brief introductions that include participants’ history with bikes.*  As part of my effort to get back to more bike-related posts here, I thought I would share a bit of my own story.

While I probably had some kind of tricycle in my early years, I remember the pink banana seat bicycle my parents gave me for my fifth birthday as my first bike.  It looked something like this:

Image from another bicycle beginnings type post, click for link
Image from another bicycle beginnings type post, click for link

It was probably a bit big for me, but I had long legs, and, most importantly, determination to ride my beautiful new bike!  I remember my dad doing the classic running-and-holding-on-to-the-back, then letting go, as I learned to ride without training wheels.

My other main memory of that bike is riding down our alley one day, and noticing my shoelace getting caught in the pedal.  Instead of stopping to untangle it, I chose to continue riding, with the shoelace getting wound ever more tightly, until finally there was no more lace, the pedal wouldn’t turn, and I went down.  It was a slow-motion crash, reminiscent of a couple of falls that I would take years down the road, as I adjusted to clipless pedals.

I didn’t ride a bike to school since we lived only three houses from my elementary school, easily walkable.

I don’t know if my first ten-speed was a new, discount-store bike or a nice garage-sale find, but, at some point, probably when I was around ten or eleven, I graduated to a “grown up” bike, something with gears that made that cool whirring sound while coasting like my parents’ bikes did.

I should note that while my parents rode some recreationally, they didn’t really use bikes for transportation (to my knowledge).  I should also note that, while we had to wear helmets, my parents did not wear helmets, so I looked forward to the day when I would be grown up enough to not have to wear a helmet.  I believe this occurred sometime in middle school, when my parents finally gave up the battle.  Not judging or trying to turn this into a helmet manifesto, but I always shake my head now when I see a helmetless parent riding with his/her helmeted child.

My new bike and advanced age brought new freedoms.  I have fond memories of summers spent riding downtown to the library (ah, being able to go to the library anytime I wanted!) and to Mosquito Park, a small park on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, where my friends and I would sit for hours, eating snacks we bought from the gas station and talking of all that is of import to middle school girls.

For whatever reason, I didn’t ride my bike to middle school.  At just under a mile away, and in an area that I rode regularly anyway, it would have been convenient, but instead I walked (uphill both ways, in the snow, of course).  My load of a heavy backpack and a violin may have served as the main deterrents to biking.

Once high school hit, the bike began to lose its shine, especially when I reached the magical age of sixteen and got a drivers’ license.  While they didn’t officially buy me a car, my parents very generously bought a car for me to use (and later share with my younger sister).  The bike rarely saw the outside of the garage.

And then came college.  Though I hadn’t done much biking in the past few years, I decided that having a bicycle would be a convenient way to get around campus.  I remember going to Wal-Mart with my dad and picking out a pretty purple and bright blue ten-speed, along with a basic cable lock.

When heading to on-campus destinations with friends, I often walked, but when traveling solo, especially to more distant destinations like the bookstore, the bike was quite helpful.

Senior year I moved off campus and bought a car.  The parking lot I used was a good distance from the heart of campus, so I took to leaving my bike locked in the parking lot at the end of the day, and using it as a shuttle of sorts.

One night, I locked my bike up, perhaps in a slightly different location than previous times, and headed home as usual.  When I returned in the morning, the bike was nowhere to be found.  I scratched my head as I looked at the empty post where I’d locked my bike, and then realized that my lock-up of choice was a free-standing waist high post, that, while quite sturdy and nicely cemented, could quite easily be overcome simply by lifting the bike, lock and all, up over the top of the post.  Not my most brilliant moment.

I didn’t bother with a new bike, but a couple of months later, as I was walking by a campus bike rack, I spotted my bike.  Ever since it disappeared, I couldn’t pass a bike on campus without scrutinizing it closely.  Given that it was a basic model from a local discount store, there were actually several of “my bikes” on campus, but this one actually was MY bike.

The lock was still hanging on the frame, and my key fit.  Since the new “owner” had not bothered to secure the bicycle in any way, I glanced around, shrugged, and reclaimed my bike.  I did a better job of locking it up after that!

Well, this is obviously a much longer spiel than I give during class, and we’re only halfway there.  Stay tuned for Part Two, which starts after college graduation, when I moved to St. Louis for grad school, and rediscovered bicycles as a a means of transportation (as they had been for me in middle school).

Until then, do you have any vivid memories from your own bicycle history?  First bike?  Places you liked to ride?

*For all you local folks, there’s a “Truth & Techniques” session tomorrow, March 9th, at Cafe Ventana in Midtown.  Through continued support from Great Rivers Greenway, we’re offering the class at no cost to you, but please click here to register.

Of recent bicycle escapades

A small snowfall that melted and then froze into a nice slippery layer, followed a few days later by freezing rain, made our streets rather bike unfriendly for a full week.  St. Louis makes no attempt to plow or salt anything other than the biggest roads, leaving many of the ideal cycling routes treacherous for bikers, pedestrians, and drivers alike.

Fortunately, things warmed up a bit toward the end of last week and into the weekend, and we were ready to roll (albeit with caution for those icy patches that remain where the sun don’t shine) on Saturday and Sunday.  I ran a few errands by bike on Saturday, followed with biking to church on Sunday.

Both rides were lovely, with the only treacherous spot being the icy patches in our alley.  On Sunday, I encountered the obligatory jerk driver on The Hill.  He was quite outraged that I delayed his trip by 30-60 seconds for a 1 1/2 block stretch where there was not enough room for him to pass me safely.

His tirade included the oh-so-helpful information that I was operating my bike illegally — that the law* said I could ride no more than two feet from parked cars — and HE KNEW because he raced bikes for 30 years.

Well, Mr. Jerk picked the wrong lady to quote “cycling law” to, but I really wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying my handy-dandy, ready-to-hand-out copy of Missouri Bicycle Statutes.  (I have copies, and I’ll be ready next time.)

Realizing that Mr. Jerk was not in a state to make this encounter remotely positive, I eventually biked away, with two thoughts in my head:

  1. “If he thought that riding within two feet of parked cars (i.e., squarely within the deadly “door zone”) was a safe cycling practice, it’s a bit of a wonder that he survived 30 years of cycling.”  His comment was not surprising, as I see plenty of the spandex-clad crowd riding in this unsafe position on a regular basis.
  2. “Small penis.”  Sometimes this is the only logical conclusion when one encounters an unreasonable male motorist who thinks he owns the road.  This thought, combined with some deep breathing, did much to help restore the equilibrium of my nice Sunday morning ride.

* I have no idea where he pulled this from (okay, maybe I could take a guess 😉 ), but this is NOT a law in Missouri, nor is it a law anywhere else as far as I know.  If you think about how far a car door would swing out if suddenly opened, two feet is clearly not enough space.  I try to ride 4-5 feet from parked cars — you want to be out of the path of the door if it were to suddenly swing wide open AND confident enough in that distance and your position that you won’t swerve out into traffic should a door in fact open.

Ha ha, universe

Due to some scheduling issues, my bike/carpool situation disappeared for two weeks.  Yesterday, we were on again, and the heat did not lessen my excitement.  A couple of blocks into my morning ride, I realized that I left my flat repair kit and pump at home (the hazard of riding two bikes and switching those items back and forth).  BUB and Baby Jake have different size wheels, so I did have a spare tube, and I opted to keep going instead of returning for the repair kit and pump, given the short (2 mile) distance to my coworker’s house.

Later in the day . . .

I returned to BUB after work, loaded up my bags in the high-class carrying device, started to wheel my bike out of the yard, and realized that my rear tire was completely flat.  And me without the repair kit and pump — brilliant!

I quickly realized that half-carrying the bike (I didn’t want to damage the bike tire or the wheel by rolling it on the flat) for 2 miles in 100-degree heat was not a recipe for having a good night, and so I called SAG support.  My one day of not using my car to get to work was going to end with the car after all 😦

But not all was lost — Matthew offered to bike over with a pump and repair kit.  My knight in sweaty clothing arrived in minutes, and we quickly changed the tube and headed home at last.

The culprit

I didn’t need a sink full of water to find this guy; it jumped right out at me when I inspected the tube this morning.  I patched it up, and I’ll go ahead and swap the repaired tube for the brand new one that I put in last night so I can have the new one as a back-up again.

Green tip: If you have an inner tube that’s beyond repair, or one that has multiple patches and really has seen better days, check with your local bike shop about recycling options.  Many bike shops will take old tubes and tires for recycling.

Behind Door #1 . . .

I biked to my old stomping grounds (U-City Loop area) today for a conference at the RAC and the Moonrise Hotel.  The day ended with networking at the Moonrise’s rooftop bar — very cool space, other than the ashtrays.

Anyhow, I headed to the restroom to morph into biker girl for the ride home, and that’s when things got weird.

I walked into the restroom.  “What a strange restroom,” I thought to myself.  “What are those . . . ?  Hmm, they appear to be urinals.  Wait a minute — urinals?!?!”

I did an abrupt about-face and slunk out the door, hoping no one noticed.

Next time I’ll try the door that says “Women” on it first 😉

Backpacks, racks, and panniers, oh my!

Recent question from reader Rebecca: “At the moment I’m using a backback, but it has limited capacity. So I’m wondering what you do… baskets? panniers? racks? I’d love any advice on that subject.”

Great question.  I used to be a backpack gal, too.

At first, I carried a regular back pack, plus a small gym bag.  I found that carrying two bags was awkward (and sometimes unsafe), so I switched to the internal frame backpack pictured above (yes, I’m in the picture too, hiding behind the pack).  With a volume of 50.5 L (3082 cubic inches), this pack easily handled everything I needed most days, and, with the waist belt and suspension system, felt pretty comfortable, even fully loaded, when riding my hybrid.

Once I switched to a road-style bike, with the bent-over riding position, the huge pack was a) more awkward and less comfortable and b) somewhat dangerous — when I turned to look over my shoulder, I couldn’t really see the road behind me — not good!

I took the plunge and bought a rear rack and panniers.

With a total volume (for the pair) of 20 L (1220 cubic inches), the panniers (Cartier by Axiom) provide much less space than my pack.  Although they come with a detachable over-the-shoulder carrying strap, it is not very comfortable, making these panniers great while on the bike, but not so good when you want to take them off and carry them around.  I hesitate to leave them on the bike, even when empty, because they’re not cheap.    For some errands, I need more volume (or a different configuration) than these provide.

I experimented with adding a milk crate (which is what my husband uses).

I like the milk crate because I can use whatever bag I want — just toss it in the crate.  With the milk crate and panniers, I have lots of carrying capacity, although the panniers are a bit difficult to access and pretty much impossible to remove while the crate is attached (which is good from a theft perspective, not so good when I want to remove them quickly).  For now, I just use bungee cords to secure the crate when I want extra space, but my hubby uses zip ties for a more permanent attachment (just make sure to carry a couple extra, as zip ties eventually wear out and snap).

Cool green tip: Over the weekend, I heard about people using cat litter buckets as make-your-own panniers (see here and here).  I wish I knew about this innovative reuse solution before I sunk $100 into my panniers.