Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Perfect Commuter Bike: my Surly Long Haul Trucker

Recently, I took a break from riding my Surly Long Haul Trucker because it was just too dirty to ride. Every time I touched the bike I deposited dirt somewhere on my person. I washed it over the weekend (OK, Felkerino washed it over the weekend) and now it’s too clean to ride.

Surly Long Haul Trucker

In the interim, I dusted off my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket and have been tooling around on it instead. I really like my Bike Friday, but spending the week on the Pocket Rocket made me realize why I hop on my Surly LHT almost every day for my commute.

  • Carrying Capacity

The Surly LHT can really be loaded down. I don’t have a front rack on it, but I do use a small Rickshaw Pipsqueak front bag for my phone and camera. On the rear I affixed a Carradice Pendle for days when I don’t feel like carrying much. This bag is also a home for my lock, tools, spare tube, and patch kit.

For days when I want to carry more and use a pannier, I installed a Nitto Campee rack. That rack is awesome. First, it’s beautiful. Second, I almost always use at least one pannier for commuting and the Nitto rack is so sturdy that I don’t feel the pannier pulling the bike at all.

  • Utility

The Surly’s setup also allows me to make any post-work grocery or shopping runs. I don’t even have to plan them. I suddenly realize the cupboards are bare? No worries! I steer my Surly to the nearest grocery store knowing that it can easily tolerate the weight of groceries.

If I had to suddenly evacuate my home, I’d be hard-pressed to choose any other bike besides the Long Haul Trucker. It carries all the stuff I need without making me feel like I’m going to fall over, and the mountain gearing allows me to pedal steadily without any fear of hurting my knees.

Stocking up with the Surly at the White House Farmers’ Market

  • Tire Width

My Surly is a size 54 and all you Surly LHT owners know what that means. Twenty-six inch wheels (and no toe overlap, yay!).

Originally this bike came stock with 38 millimeter tires, but that seemed a little excessive for urban riding and after they wore out I switched to 32s.

I lapsed into not appreciating 32s until this week, when I was tooling around on 28s. I think I might need to see the dentist from all the jarring bumps I’ve thrown myself over on this week’s commutes.

Wider tires that require lower pressure like those on the Surly allow me to roll easily over almost everything. Pothole? No problem. (OK, I’m being hyperbolic here.) But you know what I mean? It’s just an easier ride in the city with those wider and slightly softer tires.

I also don’t have to worry as much about those cracks in the pavement into which a narrower tire (like the 28s on my Friday) can get stuck. Again, the Surly doesn’t even notice these. There were a couple of times this week where I forgot I was riding 28s and almost lodged my tires and myself into a dangerous spot. I didn’t go down, but I felt the bike herk and jerk out of the little crevasse the tire had fallen into.

  • Aesthetics

I like the look of my Surly. I think it’s a cool color. I like the little detailing on the fork. I like that it’s steel. The decals don’t even bother me, though I could do without the “fatties fit fine” on the chainstays.

My Surly and me

  • Price Point

Nobody wants anything to happen to their bike, especially a bike they love (as I love my Surly). However, the Surly’s price point and availability in bike shops means that I don’t feel too terrible about locking it up in a public area. I would be SUPER HOPPING mad if this bike were to go missing on me, but it is not an irreplaceable heirloom bike.

Second, given that it is not an heirloom, I don’t feel too bad about locking it to a pole or bike rack, leaving it exposed to the elements, and risking a little dinging up of the paint. That said, if the forecast predicts rain I always try to cover my saddle with a plastic bag and I did buy my bike a little sweater/top tube protector from a nice person on Etsy to help keep the dings at bay.

  • Comfort

My Surly fits me perfectly. Remarkably, the stock 54 cm build required no post-purchase alterations, not even in stem length or handlebar width.

I have ridden this ride as far as century distances and I have experienced zero pain. That kind of comfort makes me feel like the bike might actually love me back. (Is that possible? Say it might be possible!) It’s hard not to love a bike that offers this kind of comfort.

There you have it, people. The reasons I think the Surly Long Haul Trucker has treated me right and become my go-to commuter bike. Like I say, I might not be riding it for a while as I would hate for it to get dirty again, but the utility, fit, and ultimate comfort of this bike make it hard for me to not ride it.

What about you? Have a favorite commute bike with a feature I didn’t mention? Inquiring minds (i.e., me) want to know what they are.

It’s Life Changing: Marc M. on #BikeDC Speaks

This week I’m launching a series of guest posts called “BikeDC Speaks.” And I don’t mean “Passing on your left.” We’re going beyond that. This series explores local cyclists’ thoughts and views about their bicycling experiences in the D.C. area.

My first post features Marc M., a fellow Tweep and FridayCoffeeClub regular. Thanks so much, Marc, and I hope you all enjoy the upcoming series!

Marc M.’s Bianchi on top of Sugarloaf Mountain (c) Marc M.

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

A little over a year. I bought a bike when I first moved here almost 7 years ago, but never rode it because I was out of shape and scared to ride on the roads.

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

In order of time spent, I’d say commuting, fitness riding, and picking up Chinese food. I also throw in some random evening rides, Target runs, and that kind of stuff.

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

The freedom. Sure, you can drive most places in the area, but traffic and parking are so unpredictable and frustrating.

On a bike, you don’t really have to worry about those things and you get to experience all the sights on sounds of the Nation’s capital while doing something as mundane as commuting or running errands.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

I think there are universal challenges (bad drivers, infrastructure, etc.).

Specific to D.C., I’d say the challenges are things like the weather extremes (cold-ish winters and hot summers, with decent precipitation and humidity year-round) and geography/topography. I don’t just mean hills, but the rivers really limit your routes if you want to get in or out of the city, which most people do, whether it’s for work or recreation.

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

Well, I’ve lived in Capitol Hill the entire time I’ve been cycling so I’m biased, but I think it’s a fantastic place to ride. Plenty of bike lanes, the street grid is a bit more consistent, and traffic is much easier to deal with.

I’ve also had good experiences up in Columbia Heights. I don’t spend much time west of Rock Creek Park because I have no reason to go up there, but that area seems a bit more challenging for numerous reasons.

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

Traffic enforcement. I get that crime is a problem, but if the city spent more time taming the 3,000-pound beasts, it would do a lot to make the place safer for everyone (and bring in lots of revenue).

Maybe then neighborhoods would become the walkable and bikeable spaces we’d all like, rather than vehicle thoroughfares.

7. Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare?

CaBi is what got me hooked on cycling, so I’m a big fan. I’m one of those Living Social deal converts, but I renewed my fiance’s and my memberships at full price because I think the system is so worth it.

Now that I have my own bike(s) that I really love (and bought after starting with CaBi), I don’t use CaBi as much. However, it’s nice to be able to ride a bike and not have to stress about theft or getting the bike home if you don’t feel like riding for your return trip.

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

The best clothes to wear and the best bike to ride are those that you enjoy using. It’s not about how you look or how much money you spend.

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

1. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid to ride, you won’t, but if you pay attention, every ride is an experience.

2. Cycling is very safe, but assume no one knows you’re there.

3. Seek out other cyclists. Although cycling is something most of us learn at a young age, riding in the city comes with a fairly specific set of “rules” and best practices that aren’t readily apparent, but can be learned quickly from others with more experience.

In the long run, this will make for better and more consistent cyclist behavior, which will go a long way toward making cycling a “normal” mode of transportation from the drivers’ perspective.

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

Life changing!

11. What did I not ask about #BikeDC that you want to add?

Has cycling caused you to make different lifestyle choices, good or bad?

Since I started riding, my fiancé and I sold a car and now just have one. I think it also has made me a more relaxed and patient person. I definitely don’t get as worked up dealing with traffic, or in as much of a hurry to get places.

Thank you again, Marc, for being part of #BikeDC Speaks. Have a question or comment for Marc? You know what to do. Comment!

Tandem Cycling 411: Is She Really Not Pedaling?

Riding tandem on the 2012 DCR Hyattstown 200K (c) Bill Beck

Those who have never ridden a tandem have a lot of thoughts about what riding a tandem must be like, and they will often share them with Felkerino and me when they see us out and about. I’m not quite sure why; there’s just something about riding that bike.

People say some crazy stuff when I ride my single, but riding a tandem is somewhat akin to being pregnant. Certain people just can’t keep themselves from saying extra weird stuff.

I believe most of these comments stem from a lack of understanding about riding tandem and not because they’re trying to get on my nerves. Therefore, the next time anyone says anything to me about it, I’m going to refer them to this post, which is designed to clarify some of the questions and misconceptions people have about tandem bicycling.

Captain and Stoker

The person who rides at the front of the bike is called the captain and the person in the back seat is the stoker. Usually, the taller person of the tandem team is the captain. If you are going to captain, you have to be conscientious and anticipatory about the terrain ahead.

The stoker has no control over the gears, braking, or steering so he or she relies on the choices made by the captain. The stoker really has to trust the person captaining the bike, and the captain has to rely on a stoker who maintains a steady position and is responsive to the choices the captain makes.

Often the captain (especially when a team is just starting out) will announce to the stoker what’s coming up. Bumps, stops, standing, and the like. As the team evolves, each person will get a sense of the other person’s riding style that will probably reduce or eliminate these verbal cues.

Captain and Stoker. Look, I’m pedaling! (c) Bill Beck


In order to be a good tandem team, it’s important to be compatible. What do I mean in terms of compatibility?

Spin/Cadence. If you like to grind a big gear, then riding with Felkerino would not be your thing, as he likes to maintain a higher cadence. I also prefer a higher spin on the tandem, though I prefer a slightly heavier gear when on my single.

Stopping and Starting. Unlike riding a single bike, where you can take breaks whenever you feel like it, these must be coordinated among the team. If you are a person who likes to ride straight through a ride with minimal stops, then you probably would not like riding with Felkerino and me.We like to take breaks around every 50 miles when we ride brevets, and we stop for meals, too.

Distance. It’s obvious, but you both have to agree upon the distance you’re going to travel. 20 miles, 50 miles, brevets. It’s best for both members of the team to commit to an agreed-upon distance. Otherwise, people get frustrated and nobody has a good ride.

It’s important to have a shared understanding about how you plan to ride your ride on the same bike together. Otherwise, you might find yourself reaching for a coupler wrench or the nearest saw.

Ed and me on the 2012 DCR 600K. Hey, I thought we were just going to the coffee shop! (c) Bill Beck

Tandem Riding is Easier than Riding a Single Bike because Two People Pedal

Yes and no.

Headwinds. Tandems are great for headwinds because you have both people, perfectly aligned, plowing into the wind. Two are better than one for taking on a headwind.

Uphills. Tandems are a bummer on uphills. Felkerino and I weigh over three hundred pounds (together, not individually) and all of that weight works against us on an uphill.

Downhills. Downhills are a tandem’s friend and, as Felkerino likes to say, they are our specialty. If you have a good runout or a descent that is not too twisty, you can really roll on a downhill. Felkerino and I have hit a sustained 56 miles per hour on select downhills in the Mid-Atlantic. Lo’ they were awesome.

Rollers. Steep rollers are a drag, but there are some mild rollers (for example, the Berryville Century, which the Potomac Pedalers use for their annual century ride) that are tandem-friendly. That means you can take the momentum you both gathered up from the roller you just descended to reach the top of the next roller without grinding away. That type of terrain is quite fun.

Tandeming on Skyline Drive (not tandem friendly)

When Riding a Tandem, the Stoker Can Take a Break and the Captain Will Never Know

Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha! No.

Let me tell you, when one person is not pedaling, the other person on the bike knows it. What happens is that the gear will become heavy and the captain will have to shift up to an easier gear. If the stoker is outpedaling the captain, the captain will be spun out. I think it’s called kicking the pedals or something.

It is true for me that, when riding a tandem, I find it more difficult to always get a sense of how hard I am pedaling. The pedals keep turning round and round. I must be pedaling hard, right? Sometimes I might get distracted and my energy will go into thinking rather than pedaling. And guess what? I hear about it in a number of ways, which are stated in code and are usually a variation of “Are you ok back there, honey?” Not a very complex code, no?

Night Riding

I believe night riding can be challenging for stokers. When it’s dark out in a rural area, there are no lights and I cannot see in front of me. Felkerino blocks my view. Peripherally, I have no view, either, as it is dark outside. My saving grace is a clear starry evening so I can occasionally look up and see which constellations are keeping us company. That darkness can be a real mental challenge. Nothing insurmountable, but an element the stoker must manage.

The Draft from the Captain

The stoker always has a draft from the captain. In return, the captain takes the full brunt of the cold, wind, and any bugs that fly into the bike’s path.

In wintertime or on cool fall days, the draft is great! I don’t have to layer up quite as much as Felkerino, my face does not get as beat up by the wind, and few bugs fly into me.

In the summer, though, the draft can be a challenge because it is just that much hotter in the stoker zone on toasty summer days. My first year of riding tandem, I was unprepared for the heat as well as the additional draft protection and it caused some troubles for me. Now that I’m accustomed I have a better idea of what to expect.

Tandem Riding is Cute/Sweet/Romantic

I suppose that it can be, but when you’ve ridden over 150 miles in one day, cute/sweet/romantic are not terms that come to mind. I think it’s bad@$$ (and a little sweaty and smelly). And when a long ride goes well on a tandem, it’s a pretty exhilarating feeling because it took both of you falling into sync and working together to make it happen.

Hope you have found my “Tandem Cycling 411″ helpful. Please let me know if you have any additional thoughts or questions. I’d also love to hear what other tandem teams would add.

Oh, and welcome to the work week, everybody!

The Evolution of a Transportation and Recreational Cyclist

Dahon HonSolo and me

Today as I rode home listening to my chain plead loudly for me to lube it, I thought back to my return to cycling as an adult. I had used my bike some for transportation in college, but after graduating and moving to Des Moines, Iowa, I essentially stopped cycling and drove most places even when they were only a few miles away. I have never been a fan of driving, but I lapsed into accepting that it was a necessary way of life. I did not seek an alternate transportation method.

After moving to Washington, D.C., driving was less palatable. Narrow streets, overcrowded roads, limited parking, and a (mostly) reliable system of mass transit opened the door to a new way of life where a car did not figure into the equation.

Initially, I used Metro and my own two feet to take me all the places I needed to go. Eventually, though, I dusted off my old Ross mountain bike and decided to give transportation and recreational cycling another whirl. I packed up a backpack and hopped on my bike.

At first, I was pretty hopeless with the whole cycling thing.

I over-lubed my chain and essentially drowned the rear cassette, certain it would solve any shifting problems I might encounter. I aired up my tires, but somehow convinced myself that tires only need to be inflated once a year. Why did I believe that? I really have no idea.

After a pinch flat and a trip to the bike shop, a mechanic informed me that tires should be aired up more than once a year. I am so glad he did not laugh at my ignorance.

My insane chain lube application did not help my shifting problems, and I learned that dousing the gears with lube was not the answer. A bit of maintenance was required.

I initially chose some heavily trafficked roads for my rides to work, and I researched alternate methods that might work better and be somewhat safer for getting me from point A to B.

Weekend routes were primarily via the local paths, as I was scared to venture out onto the roads. And riding beyond the Beltway? Past the Metro lines? What if I got lost? What if I pedaled further than I thought my legs could take me? Then what?

Things eventually started to fall into place. After a couple of bike rides to and from work, I realized that it was the fastest way to get from home to my office. A few weekend rides on the trail showed me that I could explore more of the city on two wheels than by walking.

A couple of bike upgrades later, I realized that I was really enjoying this bicycling thing. It was becoming my main mode of transportation and recreation. As I continued to ride, I developed better confidence with riding in traffic, honed my skills at anticipating what drivers might do, and figured out how to best position myself on the road at any given time. I finally started to feel like I knew what I was doing.

Through trial and error (and meeting Felkerino) I learned basic bicycle maintenance. I bought a floor pump and a multi-tool, and every couple of weeks I aired up my tires.

Weekend rides on the trail evolved into a summer RAGBRAI, rides into the countryside outside D.C., and eventually century rides and longer.

Nine years later and I have a partner who shares my cycling-centric lifestyle. I still commute and recreate by bike, and ride brevets when I can.

Felkerino and me in France for PBP ; 

As I listened to my chain squeak away today (oil. me. please.), I thought about how far I’ve come from that person who thought she only needed to air up her tires once a year and that lube would was the solution to all things shifting-related. It happened over a period of years, but when I compare where I am to where I started, it seems hard to believe.

I never imagined all of the things that I do by bike, nor how proud and happy they all make me feel.

Randonneuring: When it’s Worth the Effort

Morning riding on the DC Randonneurs 600K

This past weekend Felkerino I rode the D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Instead of a full ride report, I wrote up a short reflection about 2012 randonneuring and the Super Randonneur series. It’s on that other blog I know, The Daily Randonneur. Click here for the post.

By the way, thanks to everybody who has sent words of encouragement Felkerino’s and my way this year and followed our blogs. Knowing that people are following the rides, reading our stories, and wishing us well keeps us moving forward. ♥

Ride Organizing: Why We Care About Tweets and Facebook Updates

On longer brevets, riders tend to get pretty spread out. During the recent D.C. Randonneurs 400K, the first finisher arrived at 7:30 p.m., and the lanterne rouge ended its journey at 5:50 a.m. Other rider arrivals were interspersed throughout the evening. The 17 finishers spanned more than 10 hours (and one good night’s sleep) in their completion of the brevet.

Waiting up for the 400K Riders (c) Bill Beck

Felkerino and I were able to make it out to a couple of the early controls and saw how the riders were beginning to shake out in terms of pace and placement in the field. That helped give us a visual of rider progress as the brevet unfolded.

A couple of the other things that really helped us as the miles added up and the hours passed were the tweets and Facebook updates we received from riders. Updates included information like:

  • Location (Shippensburg, 90 miles to go);
  • Temperature and weather (HEAT! Thunder!);
  • Rider disposition (Tired. Hungry); and
  • Whether people were alone or paired with other riders.

All tweets and Facebook updates were time-stamped.  This information gave us a good sense of the field throughout the ride.  These updates also allowed us to guesstimate the randonneurs’ arrival times, and plan our pizza orders accordingly.

Bon voyage. Don’t forget to tweet!

Lots of people have mixed feelings or outright dislike social media applications like Twitter and Facebook. However, from the perspective of a ride organizer, it’s helpful to get periodic notes regarding rider progress.

I find Twitter to be particularly helpful in regard to tracking rider progress because:

  1. Unless a person protect his or her tweets, everyone can see them;
  2. It’s easy to track people by event;
  3. Tweets are quick and easy to send, and limited to 140 characters.

Facebook, while also helpful, is a little clunkier for rider tracking because:

  1. Usually, you have to be friends with the rider to access their updates; and
  2. Facebook is a less nimble application than Twitter (and takes forever to load on a mobile device). On the road, it’s better to have something fast. Tweet and go; don’t get mired in the distraction that is Facebook!

Nevertheless, both Facebook and Twitter proved beneficial during our recent foray into long-distance ride organizing. If you randonneur and have a smart phone, I recommend setting up a Twitter account and tweeting your progress on brevets.

Twitter and Facebook updates are helpful ways to apprise ride organizers, friends, and even fellow riders of your journey. It can be as easy as eating a Snicker’s bar (or an apple, if you prefer) with one hand and typing an update with the other. Easy, right?

And, most importantly, electronic updates let the ride organizers know when to order your hard-earned reward for finishing: pizza!