Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oregon bike registration

Just when I was considering moving to the west coast mecca of cycling:

I've read about several states and countries who tried this and failed. I seem to remember Minnesota being one of them. Places like Madison Wisconsin and Berkeley CA have been successful with registration, but they have kept the cost low because their goals have been more about tracking ownership than about taxing riders.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Portland to Seattle by bike and train

Every two weeks or so, I take a bi-monthly business trip to Seattle on the Amtrak Cascades. On this particular train, Amtrak has installed a bike rack in the baggage car - so I'm able to ride my bike from home to the train Portland station, pay the extra $5 fee for a bike, then ride from the Seattle train station to my office in the Washington State Convention Center. Three years ago, I used to drive this trip - and dread it. Switching from my car to a bike and a train ride has made this trip something I actually look forward to. (And do me a favor, don't mention that to my wife...)

This week, I thought I would chronicle my trip in pictures.

Packing the panniers the night before. After three years, I can do this in my sleep.

This time of year, I leave before the sun comes up. There's my trusty Kogswell P/R, loaded with panniers, and waiting to leave. She loves this trip.

Stopping at Stumptown coffee to grab a cup with the regulars (and fill up my thermos for the train). When I first started taking the train, I had a tradition of getting a cup of coffee and some oatmeal in the dining car, but the Amtrak snack service uses, I kid you not: a styrofoam bowl with a styrofoam lid for the oatmeal, a cardboard carrying tray, a paper cup with a lid for the milk that comes with it, a little plastic ramekin with a lid for the nuts, fruit and sugar that go on the oatmeal, a napkin, a spoon that's wrapped in a plastic sleeve, and then two paper cups and a plastic lid for the coffee. It's almost a pound of landfill for a single bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. This hurts my soul. Now I bring fruit and pastries from home, and/or stop at Stumptown on the way into town and fill the ol' thermos up before I get on the train. No landfill (happy Vaughn).

At the PDX train station waiting to board. This is usually where people come up and ask me about taking the bike up on the train. In under 2 minutes I have usually converted them from ever taking a taxi again.

Outside the baggage car waiting to load up.

Mike (who keeps things running smoothly at the PDX station, certainly more smoothly that the SEA train station) seen here hanging bikes up in the baggage car. They have room for about 6 bikes. After the train gets moving, you can see your bike (but the door's locked. I've checked.)

My regular seat in the dining car.

Off-loading in Seattle. Just like Portland, the Seattle train station is right down town, which makes zipping up to the office a snap.

Bike parking at the convention center is pretty nice.

Certainly better than bike parking at my hotel down the street. The valets don't know what to do with me when I pull up on a bike. After 3 years, they're finally getting used to me though.

Heading back to PDX - in the Seattle train station getting my seat assignment.

After getting my tickets squared away, I have about an hour till we board - so I ride up the street to the International District to get cream cheese buns at the yummy house bakery.

Then I grab a quick dinner at Shanghai Garden chinese restaurant (one of my favorite chinese restaurants in any city).

Waiting to load up on the SEA platform.

A brief station stop in Tukwila as the sun is setting. The ride down during sunset is usually amazing. The later in the season (towards summer) the better. The train tracks run along the waterside of Puget sound from North of Tacoma, all the way south, almost to Olympia. Watching the sun set over the bay, as the Tacoma Narrows bridges are passing by is a sight to behold. Just a beautiful ride.

Union workers hard at work... ahem. :-) Kidding - these are the regular conductors on the Tuesday night Cascade line. I sit with these guys every trip. After a few years, they're like family. And boy do they have stories to tell.

I can't speak for other train lines in the country, but if you ever find yourself needing to travel between Eugene/Portland Oregon and Seattle Washington, the Cascade line is a beautiful ride. More than that though, they've made the trip extremely friendly to bike travel. Check it out yourself - and bring a bike!


All these pictures in hi-rez here on Flickr.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reviewing the Kogswell P/R

I've had my 56cm Kogswell 650B P/R for coming on 2 years now - and I've easily put a few thousand in-town miles on her, so I figured I'm qualified to give her a solid review.

A little history
For those of you not familiar with this frame, or the concept of "porteur" style bikes in the first place. "Porteurs" were used to deliver newspapers in Paris in the mid-1900's. Traditionally, they had a large, flat rack built on the front fork - on to which you could stack a heavy load of newspapers. They were popular enough at the time that there were even porteur bike races in Paris (with newspapers and all). Porteurs are enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the last few years, somewhat in response to the current need/craze for utility bikes, but also due to the fact that Kogswell has introduced a very smart, modern frame that takes it's geometry directly from the famous porteurs of or 20th century Paris.

The Kogswell P/R is a sturdy, steel, utility frame with fenders and a slightly more upright, English 3-speed sensibility. Despite the bomb-proof nature of the frame, the tubing is lighter than the classic porteur frames of yesteryear. It's not a featherweight by any means, but for the amount of punishment it can take, it's quite light. Kogswell only sells the frame, fork and fenders - so it's up to you to configure it to your liking. Looking at the Kogswell Flickr group, you can see an infinite number or handlebar types, racks, saddles, and basic stem set-ups - some that facilitate more upright riding, and then others set to more touring, or race-like geometries.

When I first discovered the Kogswell, I was in the market for a year-round commuter/car-replacement that could double as a light touring bike. I had been poking around and for a while, and had been drawn to the look of the classic French touring bikes, with their fancy racks and canvas panniers. Stumbling across the Kogswell site, I immediately knew I had found my frame. I loved the history of the porteur bikes, and the big front racks seemed a perfect platform for built-in lights, store runs, and commuting; in essence, a car-replacement.

When I called Kogswell, I got to speak with Matthew (the owner) who is a bit of a throwback when it comes to dealing with customers. He's likes to spend time with you, getting your measurements and fitting you with the right frame. We must have spent 30 minutes on the phone just chatting about bike fit, what I was looking for in a frame, etc. I'm not sure if he spends this much time with all his customers, but it was refreshing to talk to someone who was as passionate about bikes and bike-building as I was.

By the time the frame arrived (which, unfortunately, took a few months since Kogswell was between shipments) I had all the parts assembled and was ready to build. My build kit originally went like this:

- Panaracer 650b tires
- Velo-Orange porteur rack
- Rivbike Big Back Rack (by Nitto)
- Velocity Synergy 650b rims
- Selle An-Atomica seat
- Front Shimano Nexus Dynamo generator hub
- Soma cranks
- Rear Shimano 8-speed internal hub
- Shimano 8-speed rotary shifter
- Busch&Müller Lumotec headlight
- Busch&Müller Seculite Plus taillight
- Keven's Bag saddle bag from Rivendell
- Paul brakes and levers
- Cork grips

I had originally purchased the Nitto mustache bars, but the bar-ends were to short to accommodate grips + Shimano rotary shifter + brake levers. My local bike shop (7-Corners Cycles in Southeast Portland, OR) ended up pulling a pair of proprietary Jamis mustache bars off of one of their parts bikes in the back of the shop. Their great bars - and, unfortunately, irreplaceable (without pulling some major strings at Jamis I'm assuming).

I built quite a bit of the bike myself, under the tutelage of Rik and Cory at 7-Corners. They handled the heavy lifting, of course - I'm no wheel builder. I decided to use more spacers, and flip the handlebars down, instead of up. If you're curious, that was entirely an aesthetic decision.

How she performs
Like a dream. The steel and bigger tires together provide the smoothest ride you could ask for - but with way more zip than you could ever expect from a cruiser bike or traditional townie. 650B tires (if you've never seen them) are sturdy, smooth, and almost entirely flat-proof. To be fair, there are plenty of 700C tires that are wider, sturdy and virtually flat proof; but to my knowledge, none that are quite as wide - and therefore, none that offer this smooth a ride. After years of riding 120 psi racing tires, the 650B tires (at max 50 psi) run like a Lincoln Town Car. Not nearly as fast, but very, very smooth (have I mentioned that these tires are smooth?). Since the 650B rims are smaller in diameter, the bike gets off the line a tad faster than 700C tires as well. The mustache handle-bars (which admittedly are an accessory that has nothing to do with the frame) are a welcome change from a lifetime of road bars, and provide a little added stability. I have the bars much lower than I think the average Kogswell rider does because I like the racing position. You sacrifice room for taller loads on the front rack, but I haven't found that to be too much of an imposition.

The frame itself is very solid. I had an opportunity to find out just how solid this past summer when I got my first and only wreck on the Kogswell. I was pedaling through to sharp a turn downtown (rookie!) clipped a pedal on the street and kept my balance just long enough to hit the back of a parked car. The front tire of my Kogswell hit the back bumper of the car and the bike just bounced straight back. I caught the stem right in the ribs (which were bruised for a month) and smacked the back of the car with my arms and my helmet. I could catalogue the scrapes and bruises that I sustained - but that bike didn't have a scratch, ding, or dent on it. Crashes aside, the bike is just plain solid. With two fully loaded panniers on the back, I can crank up hills with little flex, and no complaints.

The front rack turned out to be far less useful than I imagined. It's beautiful, and it stays true to the classic look of the Parisian porteur; but the little bars in the front only hold large things like boxes, half-racks, and briefcases (maybe a stack of newspapers...?) Small things fall right through. To be honest, though I don't like the look nearly as much, a plain old Wald front basket would be infinitely more useful (for my purposes). The days that I do like the rack are when I'm carrying large loads - in this it excels. Having a load on the front makes the steering act a bit wonky (the front wheel tends to go where it wants) but after a bit of practice with something heavy up there, you hardly notice. It's also nice for mounting front lights. I have one halogen Busch&Müller Lumotec headlight that gives off a pretty decent amount of light. Not enough to illuminate a street at night, but definitely bright enough to make cars notice you're there. I plan on replacing it with one of those new-fangled LEDs soon (same wattage, much brighter, almost never burn out).

The Kogswell frame ships with matching steel fenders, and these are great. I commute year around in downtown Portland, Oregon with this bike - and if you're not familiar with Portland, it rains a bit here. I always tell people who are interested in bike commuting during the winter that, on a bike, you get more wet from the ground than the sky. The wheels kick up water from wet pavement whether it's raining or not. If you have full fenders, this isn't true. Kogswell fenders are full, and very sturdy, and they keep me dry (from the ground anyway) year around. The fact that they're steel makes it possible for me to mount a taillight right into the rear fender. It's the perfect position to shine right into car-drivers eyes. And with my set-up, (Shimano dynamo hub) the lights are on when the bike is moving. No batteries to replace, no need to remember to turn them off, just get on and go.

I need to give an honorable mention to my drivetrain. I built a Shimano internal 8-speed hub into the rear 650B rim. I had been using this particular set-up on my Bakfiets for the last few years, and loved the maintenance-free aspect so much that I used it on my Kogswell. Since the chain never moves on it's single track, it needs negligible cleaning and oiling. I do it out of habit about 3-4 times a year, but I'll bet I could limit that to once or twice a year without issue. The rotary shifter is my personal preference, but I imagine the rapid-fire shifter would work equally well. I'll also give a nod to the Paul cantilevered breaks. If you're going to travel with heavy loads, it makes sense to spend a little extra for good breaks. Pauls are amazing. I have these same breaks on my cyclocross bike. Properly adjusted, they can stop anything.

About a year after building up the Kogswell, I broke down and bought a Nitto manufactured Big Back Rack for panniers. I have, for the last three years, taken a bi-monthly trip to Seattle on the train, and I always bring the bike up. Hauling two days of clothes, books, paperwork, toiletries and computer equipment was starting to be too much for my back. So I retired my messenger bag (for in-city riding anyway) and opted for a pair of Ortlieb panniers. The bike frame barely noticed. I've loaded those panniers up with an amazing amount of weight, and the frame has never so much as squeaked in response (once even a trip to the liquor store for a party - 3 half gallons and 2 fifths... fun on the hills, I'll tell you).

I have no issues with this bike, but I can point out some aspects that others might find objectionable. Like that it's slow. It's not slow compared to tradition Dutch bikes, townies or cruisers; but if you're coming from a road bike (like I did) than you'll be unimpressed with the rolling resistance of the 50 psi 650B tires, which will feel sluggish in comparison. It's a simple equation really: 120 psi = fast; 50 psi = ain't so fast. The highest psi 650B tires I could find are 70 psi. I haven't ordered those particular tires because I like the indestructible nature of the Panaracers I have on there now. But they, and most 650B tires, are max 50 psi - which means they're slower.

Also, this kind of bike set-up is not light. If you're a weight-weenie, and style means little to you, you could head down to your LBS and take home a similar, more modern touring set-up with racks and everything that weighs in at less than 25 lbs. My Kogswell, with both of it's classically styled steel racks and a filled canvas tool bag weighs in at around 37 lbs. Just a bit more. For me, the style is worth the weight - I've never found it acceptable to look like I just stepped out of an REI catalog.

Kogswell has created a winner. This is about the nicest bike I've ever owned - certainly the favorite bike in my garage. When I set about building this bike, aesthetic was the most important factor. I had planed to build a show-piece, and had hoped that it would turn out to be practical as well. In the end, it has become the most practical bike in my stable, and sees more days of action than any of the other bikes there. It's beautiful, tough, and, as I said, incredibly practical. If you like this style, have the funds, and possess the patience to collect all the parts, I couldn't recommend a bike more.


By the way - if you want to see more (or better quality) pictures of this build, check them out here on Flickr.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wenatchee Boy Outsprints Cavendish in T-A

Wenatchee native Tyler Farrar outsprinted Columbia-High Road's Mark Cavendish in the third stage of Tirreno-Adriatico

Said Alessandro Petacchi: "I though Cavendish was going to get it, but then this Farrar worked around him."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ride Safely: Rule #1 Build a safe route

A couple of years ago, I wrote a stream of thoughts on riding safely. At the time, I was motivated mainly by the growing group of people at work that were starting to ride their bikes in to work. Our peer pressure was really working! Unfortunately, some of them were having some serious challenges. In just a couple of months, we had stories of fist fights, collisions with cars and dangerous mechanical failures.

I sent this stream of thoughts out to everyone I knew who was riding or considering riding. The feedback I got was really unexpected - most of them read it, and I got loads of suggestions of feedback. Shortly after that, Ted started this blog and suggested that I blog a bit about safety. This entry is the first of a set I'm planning. Please add your own experiences, comments and corrections.

Why listen to me?
In 1999 I told the sales guys at the .COM I was working at that I was going to ride my bike in to work every day until they closed one of the deals in their "pipeline". OK, so they never got the deal done, and I'm still riding! Since I began riding every day, I have had my share of accidents, close calls and altercations as you can imagine. I use all these incidents as tools to manage my safety. So you should listen because I managed to simply live through 10 years of riding every day in one of the most hostile cycling environments anywhere: riding in Seattle.

Rule #1: Build a safe route
On February 4, Kevin Black was killed on 24th Ave NW near NW 65th st. I knew Kevin pretty well. Our children go to the same school and we encountered each other for years as we dropped the kids off at school on bikes. Kevin and I shared similar commutes - we were both commuting from Ballard to the University of Washington. Kevin worked there, and I was catching a bus there that took me to Bellevue where I worked for about 4 years.

Kevin and I didn't actually use the same routes though. At that time, I generally flew down 24th ave to NW 55th then to Ballard Ave. Kevin's regular route was to take NW 75th to 8th Ave and take that to Leary. He told me that he stayed off of 24th ave NW unless he was in a real hurry because 24th was so "bloody dangerous". I took his advice and changed my route to use 32nd ave NW to get south instead.

Commuting routes are all about statistics. You simply cannot predict and defend yourself against all random sorts of chaos on the streets. You have to reduce the chaos by picking safer route. Here are some things to guide you in choosing a safe route:

Reduce the number of cars that pass you
Take a stretch of your route, and for 1 week, count the number of cars that pass you on that stretch. Find a route that minimizes this number even if it takes you an extra 5 minutes to get to work. I have 2 basic routes to work, and 2 coming home - a safe one and a fast one. On my fast route to work, I have counted a weekly average of 86 cars passing me. On my safe route to work, I have counted a weekly average of 12 cars passing me. Going home, my fast route has an average of 136 cars passing while my safe route has an average of 5.

I am not suggesting that cars passing you is always dangerous, this is just a variable of your commute that relates to safety. Reduce it and your commute will be statistically safer.

Time is not that important
I mentioned this above, but it is so important that it merits repeating. You are riding to work on a bicycle. It is not going to be the fastest way you can get to work. A car or bus will almost always be faster. Put things into perspective when you choose your route. Adding an extra 5 minutes for a dramatically safer route is statistically going to improve the quality of your life.

Ask other cyclists
Don't just hop on a bike and start heading to work for the first time using your normal car route. Find people who ride in your area, at your job, or at the local bike shop and ask them about safe routes. Drill into details like where have accidents occurred, and how are routes different at different times of the day. Get a street map and pencil the route on it or add it to veloroutes.

Different routes for different situations
Your morning commute will very likely be different than your afternoon one. Also, commutes in low visibility situations (dark, foggy or rainy) may be different than your normal one.

Constantly retool your route
Each day, you will encounter new incidents. Use these as feedback to alter your route if you can.

Use your safe route
I do not suggest that you have a safe route and a fast route like me. That is playing with the odds. If you need to get home or to work fast, think about other options like a ride with a friend, or on the bus. Riding your safe route more often increases your odds of safety. On the flip side, the more frequently you use your fast route, the more likely it is that you will have incidents.