Category Archives: bicycles

A View from my Handlebars

This was a view from my handlebars on my way to work this morning; I was at a traffic signal at this corner. There’s a lot going on in this picture. There were a group of guys doing something where they had to take up the sidewalk (pavements to my friends in the EU). I’m not sure what they are doing but whatever it is they were doing it to the opposite corner yesterday. You can see the guy in the lower left…he’s the one creating all the smoke with a concrete saw; it was loud. The group on the right were discussing loudly–arguing–over how to do something. And there’s the guy in the center who just finished fueling his car at the petrol station behind them. I’m not sure if he is looking at me–sitting on a bike taking his/their picture, or if he is looking at all the activity as I am. Incidentally, the gas at this satation was $4.13 US/gl this morning…I know that’s not a lot to other parts of the world, but it sure has people squawking around here. But what you, the reader of this blog, cannot see, is the car to my direct left and adjacent to me. A man in a suit in the driver’s seat who appeared to be about my age and looking bored (I of course, have no idea what this man was thinking or feeling, obviously I’m projecting). And when I looked over and saw him it made me remember. It made me remember how grateful I was to be on a bike–out in the elements with the sites, smells, and feeling of wind on my face. This morning I was heading into another stressfull day at work and already a few minutes late, but this respite–however brief–really made for a nice beginning to my day. And this is what I was thinking as I sat on my bike on a chilly Spring morning looking over my handlebars.

Urban Simplicity.

Love the Bike but not the Color (mon nouveau vélo est arrivé)

Yep…loving this bike so far but not the color (more on why I purchased this color below). I’ve been in the market for a somewhat inexpensive bike to replace my winter bike (aka…the Mule; aka…my home built cargo bike). This is not to replace the Mundo (which is still my favorite bike); it’s just that some days–many days–I don’t need 7ft of bike to ride to-and-from work, the health club, or the store for a few items…but I still want a bike to carry stuff. I’ve looked at the above bike many times (on the website, not in person) and have also thought of the Africa Bike 3 (that’s one of the reasons for my visit to Toronto last week). What I would really like, but is way out of my price range, is a Batavus Personal Delivery Bike, but the Torker Cargo-T–pictured above–is actually based on the Batavus Bike (albeit an economy version). So here is the reason for the bright green color (it is so very green, isn’t it?)…after checking the Torker website recently I found they no longer had the Cargo-T listed, turns out they stopped making this particular model…but they still had a few of last year’s models in the warehouse. So after contacting Torker, and then my local bike shop, I was able to get a deal on one of last year’s bikes at nearly $150 discount…but this was the only color they had left (not a surprise…it’s only two colors available were this neon green and grey). But seeing how I like all my bikes black–either purchased that way or painted by me–the next time you’ll see a post of this bike it will likely be black…two cans of matte black paint were the first things I carried home today. Anyhow, as I had to work a double shift today I only had a chance to test ride it for a few miles but I really liked it. And I find it interesting in that in all of the positive reviews I’ve read (haven’t found any negative) a lot of people describe this bike as like riding like a tank or comment on how heavy it is. It is heavy (steel frame), but after riding a Mundo for the past few years this bike seems sort of…well, small. Will this bike replace my Yuba Mundo…not a chance. But do I like it…most definitely yes. I’ll post more on my views of it after I ride it more, but in the meantime if you are interested in reading a well-written review of this bike click here (it’s a review of the 2009 version; they didn’t make a 2010 that I know of).

Bike Happy

In the event you haven’t seen this floating around the Internet for the past couple weeks I thought I’d post it. When I saw it it made me smile and it still does. But I also find it appropriate because I just ordered another bike. Another, you may ask? My response…Hey, I’ve pared the fleet down to four, only three of which I use. But I did make the personal commitment that if I bring another bike in the house one has  to exit…so yes, my loyal and trusty winter bike (aka, the Mule) is going up for sale. If you are in the Western New York / Southern Ontario region and are looking for a good solid–albeit basic–bike that can carry you and your stuff through every weather element, contact me. Anyhow, I’ve been seeking a simple but hefty (and inexpensive) cargo bike–a smaller version of the Mundo–for daily rides, and I think I found one. I love the Mundo but find I don’t always need 7ft of bike when I’m only carrying myself and a gym bag or other small item. Anyhow, more on this later in the week. I’ll post pictures. And yes…a new bike does make me happy.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#408)…and what I made with it

A basket full of fresh vegetables, which I turned into a hearty chicken-and-vegetable soup/stew with Near East spices.

Urban Simplicity.

A Couple Bikes and a One-Man-Band

I took a day trip with my son to the vibrant city of Toronto. It’s a mere 100 miles / 160 kilometers from my home and a very simple drive (granting you don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic). And every time I go there I realize getting there once or twice a year is not nearly enough. I was window-shopping for another bike (yikes…more on that in a later post) and stopped at three of my favorite Toronto bike shops…Curbside Cycle, Sweet Pete’s, and The Urbane Cyclist. Anyhow, here’s a couple photos of bikes and a bicyclist I saw today. The top is a photo of an old delivery bike leaning against an ornate rickshaw-style trike on Queen West. And the series below are of a guy we saw in the Kensington Market (actually we heard him before we saw him). He has a small amp hanging from his handlebars and a microphone strapped to his face. There’s also a small bongo somewhere, a series of harmonicas, and 3 or 4 tambourines.  In the first of the three pictures you can see that he saw me take his photo. He started to slowly pedal toward me as he sang and clanged away. I thought for sure he was going to ask for money. He didn’t. He simply wanted to play his music and get his photo taken. I shook his hand (while he continued to sing and play) and he slowly pedaled away. It’s things like this that really make my day…people quite literally living outside the box that society tells us exists (but I think it only exists if we allow it).

Urban Simplicity.

Bicycle Ambulance

By now you, the reader or visitor to this blog, know that I am a proponent of bicycles as a utility machine, not just a weekend toy but a serious piece of equipment that can carry you and all your stuff where it needs to go. I believe that bikes are utilitarian, and in the past have posted not just them carrying your everyday stuff, but also about fire fighters, soldiers, mail carriers, police, all sorts of delivery vehicles, and even a pedal-powered camper (caravan to my EU friends). Well this may be the most important…the bicycle as an ambulance. The above photo is from WWI and looks to be two tandems carrying a gurney in the middle. The below three are more modern. Just below is a London ambulance bike, which enables care-givers to get to those in need in traffic-clogged areas. And the two below are images from Africa, using a trailer as a human powered ambulance.
A few years ago I was on holiday in NYC and was walking through Times Square at night. Traffic was at gridlock and there was an ambulance in the middle of it with its sirens blaring and lights swirling. Drivers seemed to be doing their best at letting it through but there was nowhere for them to pull over. I can remember peering, from the sidewalk (pavements), into the ambulance and seeing a lot of movement…all I could do was say a silent prayer for the people inside, for both the patient and the workers.
I’m an optimist (finally) but also a realist. If I were in a life threatening situation and a traditional ambulance could reach me would I choose a bicycle version instead…of course not. But if a team of health care workers could pull me ten blocks to a hospital by bicycle instead of being stuck in traffic, or a person on a bike could bring me the proper medical care…hell yes, I’d welcome a bike. The bike ambulances in Africa (bottom two photos) really seem the most practical. If I had to make a choice between being carried or struggling to walk to a clinic or ambulance in a rural setting I would without doubt choose a bike trailer. And the most moving part (moving as in emotional, not motion), I think, is the thought of the bicyclist pulling a person on one of those bike ambulances…talk about precious cargo.
To read more about the London Bicycle Ambulances, click here.
To read more about the African Bicycle Ambulances, click here or here.

How To Ride A Bike

OK, first a couple things. The title of this post is a bit incorrect…it should read how I ride a bike, but I didn’t want it to sound too self-centric (but isn’t that what everyone’s blogs are about…themselves). And the photo above is not recent; it is one I took last spring when I had to move my bikes from my living room for spring cleaning (yes I keep my bikes off to the side in the main living space of my house…don’t you). But they are still the same bikes I ride; from back-to-front…the Yuba Mundo (a cargo bike and still my favorite everyday bike), my winter bike (an old Trek which I bought at a flea market and fixed up and outfitted with fenders and racks), and a Dahon folder (which I use for quick zips around town and bring on day trips to Toronto).

I guess that the main reason for this post is the current topic of gas prices. In my neck of the woods it has hit about $4/gal and is expected to go higher and there are many areas of the country where it is already higher. And yes, to my European friends reading this, I am aware that it is twice that already (so why do we Americans whine about it…because we are spoiled). Anyhow, why you may ask, am I writing about the price of gas on a simple-living/pro-bicycle blog…well the answer is obvious isn’t it. One of the solutions, I really believe, is to hop on a bike (just one of the solutions). I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I don’t mind the price of gas going up, but also that it didn’t effect me (a little). For the first time ever this past week I filled up the tank in my truck (or nearly filled it up). I’ve owned this particular vehicle for nearly 4 years and have never filled it from empty to full…well you can imaging how surprised I was when I stopped filling at $65 (US) and there was still room for more. The reason I put gas in it was that I am planning a couple-hundred-mile trip next week…otherwise a tank full of gas like this would last me at least a month, likely longer.

Anyhow, I’m assuming that if you are a regular visitor to this blog you already support green/human-powered propulsion…but if not, this post is for you. Here’s how to ride a bike (or at least how I do it)…a few suggestions.

Firstly–and this may sound obvious but it’s not necessarily the case–get a bike that fits you well and is comfortable to ride in ordinary clothing…get a bike that is fun to ride and one you enjoy riding. When I see people riding hunched over or with seats that are way too low it makes me cringe, and racing bikes that require spandex clothing are fine for the weekend warrior but to ride every day and in all conditions a bike where you sit up straight–and with fenders and racks to carry your stuff–is not only more comfortable but also way more fun (just my humble opinion).

Next–and this may be the most difficult part–change your mindset. Don’t think of riding a bike as just a weekend adventure–or even worse, a chore–think of it as a viable means of transportation, especially if you live in a city or town. This is actually what inspired me to start this blog more than four years ago…to ride a bike (rather than use a car) anywhere within a two mile radius of my house (click here for my original post). Do I keep this commitment religiously? Mostly, but not always. I use my truck about once a week, less in the summer months.

Living in a condensed area really is key to riding a bike as everyday transportation, I think (this would be much more difficult in a rural or suburban setting). I am fortunate to live in a closely populated neighborhood that has a score of 98 (out of 100) from…meaning there are plenty basic–and not-so-basic–needs and necessities within walking/biking distance.

I of course could go on and on here, but I won’t (ok, maybe I’ll go on a bit longer)…the previous was the lecturing part, now here is where I get preachy.

Riding a bike to save gas money is just one of the many reasons an adult should ride a bike…for me it’s more of a bi-product. The real reason I ride, and I’ve posted this too many times to count (click here to read one), is that I enjoy it on so many levels. It makes me feel free. When I pedal and coast through traffic and see people trapped in their metal boxes (which they work so hard to make payments on) I sometimes feel sorry for them…that I wish they knew the joy of what it feels like to be on a bike (again) and out in the elements (and by that I mean all elements).

Today, for example, it was really something to be on a bike. It was not that cold (32F/0C) but it was very windy…crazy windy, wind gusts up to 70mph/112kph. I’d be lying again if I said it wasn’t difficult…but it certainly was exhilarating. At one point, when the wind was to my back, I was coasting and must have been doing more than 20mph/32kph. I was on a side street and weaved back and forth while I looked up to the sky and watched the tree tops sway in the wind.

Keep in mind that I am not a 20-something fixie kid…I turned 50 this past fall and still love to use a bike as my main transport. This may not be that uncommon to the Europeans reading this, but stateside it is a rarity…I know of only a few people my age in this city that choose to ride a bike when they can drive a car. This is not meant to be a braggart’s statement, I’m simply stating a fact.

Here’s an example of my day. I had a meeting at my church in the early after noon (2 miles each way), then after a quick lunch went to the health club for a steam-and-swim (1.5 miles). Then I rode and did some errands, shopping, stopped at a coffee shop, and for a couple beers (maybe 6 miles total). All the while I burned some calories, cleared my head, pedaled into and coasted with the wind, got the best parking spaces, and snickered as I passed petrol stations.

I really believe that if more adults would get on bikes they would remember how much fun they are to ride. Simple as that. Saving gas money is just a minor part in the bigger picture (for me).

I’ll get off my little soapbox now.

I’ve posted the below video a few other times but I never tire of it. I came across it randomly a couple years ago. And in the event you’ve yet to see it I encourage you to take the 60 seconds to watch it. It could be me narrating it, but it’s not.

Urban Simplicity.

Barcelona 1908

I’ve posted this video in the past but not in a while. I thought I’d re-post in the event you haven’t seen it. When I first came across it I was mesmerized…I still am. I think it’s beautiful. Maybe it’s the music, I’m not sure. It captures the street scene more than a hundred years ago from the view of the front of a street car. The people look so happy…they were likely trying to be on film, something that was new at the time. One thing (one of the many things) I like about this film is the amount of bicycles that people are riding, which would also have been brand new at the time (at least the type they are riding, which are similar to those we still ride today). Anyhow, it’s a little over seven minutes long. Watch a little or sit back, sip some wine or a coffee…and be mesmerized.

Urban Simplicity.

The Man Who Lived on His Bike

This short film (3 minutes) is excellent. I loved it. Whether you ride a bike or not it will undoubtedly make you smile…and  the music is good, too. Here’s a description from the author:

I love being on a bike. It helps me feel free. I get it from my dad.

After 382 days spent riding through the streets of Montreal, being sometimes quite cold, sometimes quite hot – and sometimes quite scared, I dedicate this movie to you, Yves Blanchet 🙂

Urban Simplicity.

Buffalo Soldiers

Well first off, the title of this post has nothing to do with soldiers in the city where I was born and live, Buffalo, NY.  It’s referring to the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry Regiment, also known as Buffalo Soldiers, which was at the time a racially segregated regiment.

I’ve posted the above picture before and enjoy it so much that I use it as the background image on my computer at work (click it for a larger view). Sometimes while I’m eating lunch I sit and look at it, and that’s just what I was doing today (I love how proud they look). It’s an image captured in 1896 by Frank Jay Haynes in Yellowstone Park. That summer they rode those heavy bikes nearly 2000 miles/3218 kilometers, while carrying all their gear and wearing heavy wool clothing…impressive by any means. And I can’t imagine the hardships they likely endured…not just physical but also emotional and racial (this was 1896 after all). I was thinking this as I looked at the photo today, and found it so inspiring (and also remembered that it is Black History Month) so I thought I’d re-post the photo with a couple additional photos and a few new words.

Here’s some stats (borrowed from The Historical Museum of Fort Missoula.

Duration of trip: June 14 – July 24, 1897, 41 days.
Distance traveled: 1900.2 miles in 34 days of actual travel. An average of 55.9 miles per day and 6.3 miles per hour.
Delays: the command was delayed a total of seven days for the following reasons:
13 hours repairing bicycles
4 7/60 hours fixing tires
117 hours for lunch
71 1/3 hours for other causes.
The heaviest soldier, stripped, weighed 177 pounds; and the lightest 125 ½ pounds; the average weight being 148 ½ pounds.
The oldest man was 39 years old, the youngest 24 years; the average age was 27.

What I find fascinating about these guys–besides their heavy clothing and gear–is that the bikes themselves were likely heavy and they were fixed gear. And most incredible, I think, is that the roads were not paved.

The last time I posted the top picture, a follower of this blog, alerted me to a book he had written about these soldiers titled, Rescue at Pine Ridge. To read more about their fascinating history click here or here.

Lastly, I leave you with the song bearing the same name as these soldiers, by Bob Marley.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#399)…and a quick comment

Things on the bike…a gym bag containing two swim suits, two towels, and two pair of swim goggles; and a canvas bag containing a book, magazine, and camera.

A quick comment…That’s my bike parked about 10ft from the door to the health club of which I’m a member. Being Monday I almost drove…my street has alternate parking and I have to move the truck and find a spot where I won’t get ticketed; it can be a real hassle. But I chose to ride and I’m glad I did. It’s difficult to see by the picture but the parking lot–in the background–at that time of the day (early evening) is mayhem…parents picking up their children from the after school program and health club members–like me–who just got out of work and are arriving at the facility. There are cars circling the parking lot being driven by annoyed and anxious-looking people seeking a spot to park…some are simply waiting at a stand-still while others double park with flashers on…and wait. I, on the other hand, was able to coast up to the front door.

I know riding a bike is not accessible to everyone–and not many are as crazy as me and the other few souls I see in the snow–but there are alternatives, such as walking and riding occasionally (or even car-pooling and sharing). Anyhow, I’ve always thought it was a bit silly when I see people drive cars  to a health club only to ride a stationary bike for a few miles (and then comment how far they “rode”), but another incentive–at least at this club–is that bikes always get the best parking spaces. I’m just saying.

I’ll get off my little soapbox now.

Urban Simplicity.

The Times They Are A Changing…

I’ve posted this short video before but recently came upon it and it seems as fresh as when I first saw it, so thought I’d re-post (for those who may not have seen it initially). I originally came across it at the excellent Toronto based blog, The Urban Country. It’s only a minute long and worth your time. And if you are…um…well…of a certain age group (like me) you’ll likely find this funny.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#395)…and a couple comments

On the bike: A new 6 qt. KitchenAid stand mixer.

First Comment: As some of you may know, I had a mixer fail on me recently (click here) and have had a very dissatisfying experience attempting to have it repaired at Sears (click here). To make a long story short, I have the old mixer back, not repaired. It is, if you are interested, for sale…cheap (if you have the inclination to repair it yourself). And I am still too frustrated at this point to mention the reasons I am selling it, rather than having it repaired. I did end up purchasing a new one, mainly because I found one at nearly half-price simply because the color is being discontinued…which, interestingly, is the same color of my former mixer: silver. I must not be that trendy.

Second comment: When I ordered the mixer I had it delivered to my place of employment because I am there during business/delivery hours…I didn’t want to miss it. It arrived today, and before I left I rode my bike around the city block to the front of the building where it was delivered (the hired help–even the chef–enters the rear of the building, which is fine with me). Anyhow, upon seeing me with my bike the general manager and the office manager both offered to drive me home with the package. No thanks, I told them, this bike is built to carry stuff…and you know me by now, this is how I like to do it. Almost without listening, the manager said that she would call the maintenance man and have him drive me home…that he has a pickup truck. Really, I told them, and thank you very much, but this bike can handle it, and I reminded them that I too owned a pickup truck, but I choose to ride and carry things on my bike(s) when I can. Finally they let me go, but they still looked a little worried. As I was strapping the box down a guy walked past me on the sidewalk (pavements), smiled and said, Geez, that’s quite a bike you have there. Yes it is, I replied, and pedaled and coasted home nearly effortlessly on this beautiful and unseasonably warm spring-like evening.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#393)…and how my bikes are therapeutic

Things on the bike and in the Bike Rev trailer…

$127 (US) of groceries from two separate stores.
3 liters of red wine
4.4lbs. dog food
A gym bag full of wet cloths
A canvas bag containing books and an extra camera
Two portions of Chinese take out

One (of the many) ways my bikes are therapeutic (to me)…

I had a busy day at work, slightly short handed–staff-wise–but just busy (and for some reason the wait staff seemed especially loud and annoying today). Anyhow, by the time I arrived home I was exhausted and had a crazy headache that extended across my entire brow. I rested for a bit and took some aspirin but to no avail. I had planned on going to the health club for a quick steam and swim (which I did) and then do some grocery shopping. I knew I’d be doing a larger shopping trip (for me) and there is still ice on some parts of the roads near the curb (kerb, for my EU friends), and I generally don’t ride the Mundo on ice…so I almost drove the truck. But then in a moment of clarity I realized that likely the best thing for me was fresh air…and it was. The minute I got on the bike in the refreshingly chilly air (30F/-1C) it felt good. It was a bit of a struggle–riding my ill-maintained winter bike and pulling a trailer–but it still felt good. My headache was gone by the time I arrived at the health club. When I arrived at the club there were cars circling the parking lot angrily looking for spaces (which there were none), I  in turn was able to coast up nearly to the front door. After leaving the club I rode and did my shopping at 3 separate stores, each time loading items into the trailer and on the bike. And on the short ride home (about 2mi./3.2km.) on this old winter bike with both it and the trailer loaded–and going up a slight incline–I’d be fibbing if I said it was easy and that I wasn’t huffing and puffing. Then, on the last stretch of my short journey there is a slight decline in the road and I was able to coast. And as I coasted–with the cold breeze on my face and the sound of my knobby winter tires against the road–there was nowhere I’d rather be. I felt free.

Urban Simplicity.

And Now For Something Really Interesting…

I have long been interested in the history of the bicycle. I’ve also been to California numerous times, though never to Los Angeles. And quite frankly, I would never think of bicycle history and Los Angeles in the same thought. More likely, and this is stereotyping (please, Los Angelers, don’t send me hate mail), I think of cars and wide highways. But 100 years ago this wasn’t the case…they were on the cutting edge. You can imagine my surprise and intrigue when I came upon an article about the California Cycleway. Built in 1900 and dismantled about 10 years later, it’s original intention was to link Pasadena with L.A….via an elevated bike path. To read more about it on Wikipedia, click here. For a well-written story about it–with more photos, I recommend this site. Am I the only cyclist who thinks that path looks like a ton of fun?

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#391)…and a few comments about repairs

Things on the bike: A cardboard box containing two hand-crank pasta machines and two ravioli plates, a plastic bucket containing a partially mixed batch of Ezekiel Bread, and a canvas bag containing–among other things–a few books and a mini tripod.

A couple comments: The reason the dough on the bike is partially mixed is because I still do not have my mixer back from repair (as discussed here)…actually, I’m not quite sure where it is. A few weeks ago I took it to Sears to have it repaired. The national phone service told me that they do indeed repair Kitchen Aid mixers, but when I brought it there everyone seemed pretty confused. To make a long story short, after numerous phone calls (and various people telling me it was either shipped or received elsewhere) someone finally called me back from Florida. She told me it was shipped to an incorrect location and that it had to be shipped back to the Buffalo location before it can be shipped out to the correct repair location in the Midwest. Where does it have to be shipped to? I don’t know. What’s wrong with it? Still not sure. Has anyone actually looked at it? Doubtful. How long will this take or how much will it cost or do I even know where the hell it is or if it can actually be repaired? Don’t know…to all of it.No one seems to know. If I don’t hear from them by Monday (as promised) I’ll start my barrage of  phone calls again.

Sorry, just had to vent. If you happen to see a tired-looking middle-aged guy picketing outside Sears in the freezing cold while standing next to a bike loaded down with odd objects it’ll likely be me. Please stop and say hello…or better yet, bring me a warm cup of coffee.

Urban Simplicity.

Lifecycle…a year in the life of a parked bicycle

This is really cool. Last year the design group, Red Peak, in conjunction with Hudson Urban Bicycles, parked and locked up a bicycle on a street in Soho…and then took a photo of it every day for a year; the result is this video. I was surprised it lasted as long as it did. Anyhow, it’s a short but really interesting video to watch.

Urban Simplicity.

A View From My Handlebars, a Couple Thoughts, and a Self-Portrait

There’s an old saying that I suppose could be used in many regions but it seems especially pertinent in Western New York, maybe you’ve heard it before…If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. About 72 hours ago it was in the single digits Fahrenheit, then yesterday it warmed up to spring-like temperatures and poured rain all day, and now as I type these words it’s frigid again. This morning when I woke it was sunny, and just before I left for work the clouds seemed to speak to each other and push together just in time to squeeze out a short burst of snow. The picture above is a snapshot of my morning commute as I approached Delaware Ave on Allen. The photo is blurry for two reasons. The first is that the camera was shaking…I pulled it out of my pocket as I road and snapped a shot, but the second–and this is something the camera didn’t capture that well–was because of the gush of snow. I don’t take or show pictures of myself too often on the Internet, but below is a self-portrait of sorts that I took just before I left the house (gotta love the reverse camera feature on the iPhone). Anyhow, one of the many tings I enjoy about riding a bike in all weather is just that…the weather. A biker is not only keenly aware of of nearly every pothole or crevice in the road of his/her regular commute, but also of the weather conditions. And for that I am grateful. 

Urban Simplicity.