Our dependence on automobiles (and their dependence on oil) has drawn us into wars, fragmented our communities, and denigrated our health, as well as polluted our living environment. By riding a bicycle for utility - grocery shopping, going to the movies, getting from Point A to Point B - you're getting a whole host of benefits. You'll be more fit. You'll save a wallet-full of cash. You'll meet new people. You'll have fun. You'll be actively, actually, making a difference!
So pick your reason. There's no shortage of them. Gas is expensive, traffic is bad, pollution is worse, it's a nice day out, you don't have far to go, or maybe you just like to ride bicycles. Whatever the reason, using bicycles for utilitarian purposes is always a good thing. But maybe you haven't ridden a bicycle since you were a kid. Or perhaps your experience riding bicycles is confined to sidewalk cruising. It could even be that you're a shaven-leg roadie who logs hundreds of miles per week, but has no idea how to use a bicycle for anything but training or racing. What bike should you ride? What about traffic? What about inclement weather? How do you carry anything of size on a bicycle? Never fear - at Velorution Cycles we love bicycles, and we'll answer all your questions. In fact, should you still have a question after reading through this page, use the email address above to ask it!
Cyclists come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Some look a little kookier than others; i.e., check out the clown on the far LEFT. Seriously, you don't have to don skintight, brightly colored clothing to ride a bicycle, although in some situations it can help (more on this below).
First, let's get rid of some common misconceptions.
Myth: I'm not good enough at bike riding to ride for utility. Truth: The first thing to keep in mind when considering bikes for utility is that, unless you're also a racer, you shouldn't aspire to Tour de France status. Just because that guy with the tan, chiseled legs passed you smugly as you rode up the neighborhood hill, it doesn't mean that you're not meant to ride a bicycle. How many daily drivers on the road are capable of racing in the Indianapolis 500? Does the fact that they're not keep them from driving? So forget the racers and remember that you're out to get some groceries, not rip someone's legs off. You're doing something inherently meaningful when you ride a bicycle for utility; you're helping the planet, helping our culture, and helping yourself too! Sit up, look around, enjoy the breeze in your face and have fun!
Myth: I'm too old to ride, or unable to ride. Truth: No one is too old to ride a bicycle. Riding for utility and transportation is not only for college kids. You, Mr. Corporate CEO; you, Mrs. Senior Citizen; you, Mr. Plumber; you, Mrs. College Professor; you, Mr. and Mrs. Suburbanite; you're all eligible and able. You don't have to be some superhuman to ride a bicycle around town. How do little old ladies in Europe do it? If you're truly not able, then you've quite possibly got a health problem that bicycling could help solve.
Myth: Bicycling takes too long compared to driving. Truth: Bicycling often is faster than driving, especially in urban areas. Seriously, we're not making this up. When traffic, stoplights on main thoroughfares, finding parking spaces, and other such automobile fun and games are factored in, cycling quite often takes the same amount of time or less. If that doesn't hold true for your particular situation, factor in time that you don't have to spend in the gym. Your exercise for the day is taken care of while you're going somewhere you need to be. Lastly, don't compare cycling to driving. Driving everywhere is a practice that has outlived its practicality. Cycling should be compared to walking instead; it is much faster!
Myth: Bicycling is too dangerous. Truth: Nope. Follow traffic laws, wear a helmet just in case, and be aware of your surroundings, and cycling is much safer than, say, driving down any given freeway near LA. Your attitude towards riding is key - most riders who are in danger put themselves there by riding unpredictably and being unaware.
Myth: The weather around here isn't good enough. Truth: How about the Yukon Territory? Great weather up there, right? Well, the WorldWatch Institute found that cycling rates in the Yukon Territory are twice those in Southern California and three times those in Florida, two places with genuinely lovely weather. The problem isn't the weather - it's our attitude.
Besides actually being outside riding, this is quite possibly the most fun part about getting into bicycles for utility. There's nothing like buying a new bike, or rejuvenating an old one that's been lying around, to get you interested in riding again. There are many, many kinds of bikes available out there. Mountain bikes, road bikes, comfort bikes, BMX bikes - the list goes on and on! However, there are a few types that are better for utility use than others. For example, a dual-suspension mountain bike or a racing-type road bike is not that great for hauling stuff around. Below, we'll touch on several types of bikes that work well for utility, and a few that don't. At Velorution Cycles, we can give you more info on any of the types of bikes below.
The Dedicated Commuter Bike
Modeled after European bicycles - but with several upgraded features - this bike is comfortable, relatively light, user-friendly, and very reliable. The many built-in accessories work perfectly as an integrated system, and the bike performs well in all weather conditions. The bike is designed for the majority of riders who like to sit fairly upright. It has fenders and a chainguard to keep the rider clean of road spray and chain lube. The internal gearing is simple to use and requires little maintenance. The very sturdy rack is well-suited for day-to-day errands; the front hub has an internal generator which powers the headlight. You don't buy a car without the utility essentials, and you don't have to buy a bike without them, either. Overall, this bike is a great all-purpose choice for anyone who will be riding around town a lot.
The Touring Bike
Want to carry a bunch of stuff? With a bike like this one, you can. In fact, with a bike like this one, you can pedal across town, across the state, across the country or even around the world, and carry all the necessities with you. Salsa makes this bike, and it has the capability to carry more than you'd probably want to pedal around. It comes complete with fenders, a rack, and disc brakes for certain braking power.
The Townie Bike
This type of bike is for the people who want to get around town and not worry too much about an expensive commuter. This bike is fast and light like a road bike but has upright handlebars so that you can see the traffic you're passing. One gear keeps things light and very simple. Add a rack to this bike and you'll have a capable, quick commuter.
The Car-Replacement Bike
This is the big rig of bicycles. You want to carry a month's worth of groceries? A surfboard? Firewood? Children? No problem. This bike, called the Big Dummy (no, really), is made by Surly. The Big Dummy can handle just about anything at all with surprising ease. Although available as a complete bike, the build above is someone's custom build. If you are serious about doing without an automobile and want maximum utility, this is the bike for you. The little red electric motor pictured is from a company called StokeMonkey.
The Real-Life Utility Bike
Just so that you know we're not poseurs, here's Joey's former daily driver. A 1980-something Schwinn Le Tour III, this baby-blue baby goes anywhere and will haul almost anything. The rear rack has hauled everything from forty pounds of groceries to a box full of tools to a steaming cauldron of just-cooked chili (really). The fenders are indispensable, even in normally-sunny Colorado. The handlebar bag is great for small packages, the green tire was laying around begging to be used, and the air horn has saved this rider from more blind grandma/idiot cell phone/Hummer drivers than we can count.
The Real-Life Utility Bike, Take II
The latest utility bike at Velorution headquarters is a Civia Hyland. This custom build pictured differs from the stock Hyland by only bits and pieces - essentially it is the same bike with a few upgrades. There was one bike - a nice Bianchi - between the blue Schwinn pictured above and this latest ride, and the Civia easily beats them all, hands down. This bike is a purpose-built beauty. It's not exactly cheap, but if you're going to go all out and ride a bike everywhere, this is certainly one you should look at. The frame is full of little details that you don't necessarily notice until you have to: The sliding dropouts are great for keeping chain tension on internal-gear hubs (or single-speed, for that matter). All cables and brake hoses on the bike are secured in cable channels, keeping them safely tucked away and giving the bike a clean look. The fork has a wire channel for lights run on a hub dynamo. Best of all, the ride is stable, solid, and surprisingly quick as long as the bike isn't heavily loaded. It just works! (Update: Unfortunately, Civia discontinued production on the Hyland - apparently, Americans aren't yet ready for a $2000 commuter bike.)
The I-Dug-It-Out-Of-My-Garage Bike
Seems like almost everyone has one of these Wal-Mart specials laying around. If you're just starting out on the path of bicycle utility, this will get you around - but it might also frustrate you enough so that you quit and go back to driving your car. These bikes are heavy, ill-equipped, and virtually impossible to mount accessories to. That said, if it is all you have and it gets you where you're going, more power to you. One more bike out there, one less car, and that's what counts. Our guess, however, is that if you begin riding more, you'll soon upgrade.
So you've come down to Velorution Cycles and checked out the bikes. Maybe you have one picked out that doesn't include any utility-specific accessories. Or maybe you had an old Schwinn, Raleigh, or Trek sitting in your garage and you've decided to fix it up instead of buying a new bike. Whatever the story, you'll need a few things to get the most out of your bike. Racks, bags, fenders, locks, bells/horns, and lights are essentials to check out if you'll be using your bike for various needs in various conditions. Velorution Cycles can help you out with all of this!
Racks: Without a rack, your carrying capacity is limited to whatever you can carry on your back, and that gets old fast. Solve that problem by picking up a rack, which will bolt onto your bike over the rear wheel. These range from really cheap and flimsy to quite reasonably-priced and very sturdy. You can also get racks that mount over the front wheel, although you should only use these to balance a load on the rear, as the handling can get a bit funny with only a full front load.
Bags: Bags that attach to racks come in various shapes and sizes, and are nice to have. Panniers are bags that sit along the side of the rack, like saddlebags on a motorcycle. Panniers are available for front racks as well, although generally you don't need a front rack or front panniers unless you're really hauling a lot of stuff. Trunk bags are bags that attach to the top of a rear rack. These are generally pretty roomy and are often expandable. Handlebar bags are nice as long as they're fairly small, because once you've a bunch of weight slung from the handlebar, steering suffers. Keep them small and you'll have a handy place to stash stuff you want to keep readily accessible, like a lock, map, or BB pistol. Just kidding about the last one, mostly. A messenger bag is nice to have around; even though it sits on your shoulder, it is great for short trips with light loads, and it initiates you into the hip side of cycling culture, if there is such a thing.
Fenders: Ever seen a car that has no way to keep you dry when the road is wet, or if you drive through a puddle? Not if it's practical, you haven't. Fenders not only keep your clothes looking nice through the occasional puddle, but keep you surprisingly dry in all but the heaviest downpours. Most of what soaks you through during rainy rides is road spray from your own tires, not drops from the sky. Fenders come in different shapes, sizes, and with different attachment methods, but they all serve the same purpose. The best ones are not quickly attached or removed - they bolt on sturdily, and sit very close to the tires, therefore keeping stray drops to an absolute minimum. Planet Bike fenders work very well.
Locks: Nothing's worse than coming out of an establishment to find that the bike you parked three minutes ago has disappeared. A good lock can prevent this. U-locks are the most theft-proof, but they are heavy and somewhat difficult to stash. Coiled cable locks are easy to carry and lighter, but easier to destroy. That said, unless you're doing business in a bad part of town after dark, a cable lock will likely work just fine. Both types are available in combination and keyed variations.
Bells/Horns: For riding in traffic, get a horn. A loud horn. Bells are great if you're riding along a multi-use path and you want to signal your approach to a group of walkers or runners. But you can do the same thing with your polite voice. On the other hand, when you're riding along in city traffic and some jerk decides to pull out in front of you, he won't hear you yelling. Be heard with a serious air horn (such as the Air Zound), something that sounds like a semi truck and then some. Driver's attention (and amazement) guaranteed.
Lights: Just about indispensable. Unless you can guarantee that you'll always be home before dark, lights are a wonderful thing to keep on hand. Rear lights are cheap and last forever on small batteries. Headlights range from the small, $15 type that only allow you to be seen by motorists, to rechargeable lights that cost many times as much, blind drivers, and create a small pocket of daylight that moves along with you. It's nice to have something more powerful than the former, and while the latter lights are the most fun, they're somewhat overkill for use on the road. Although it is somewhat gratifying to have a driver flash you to turn off the high beams, only to realize that you're not a car... anyway, you can pick up a decent rechargeable system for less than $300. Generator-powered lights are also an option - although in the past most tended to be cheaply made and not very powerful, there are currently some excellent dynamo-powered lights on the market. At Velorution Cycles we are big fans of Busch and Muller lights out of Germany. They are really, really good - bright, durable, and with a capacitor feature that keeps the lights burning if you're at a stoplight or other short stop.
How To Get Where You're Going & Deal With Traffic
Many people new to riding bikes in the street understandably get a little freaked out about cars. Sure, being approached from behind and passed within feet by large metal objects moving at high rates of speed seems a little sketchy. But hey, just think how sketchy it is to be in one of those large metal objects, moving at an equally high rate of speed towards another object like yours, which you'll pass within feet on a paved surface whose only divider is a dashed yellow paint line. The point is, roads have the capacity for disaster any way you look at it. But there are people behind all those steering wheels, and most of them are awake (most of them), and no one wants to hit a cyclist any more than they want to hit another car, with the possible exception of a few of Durango's probably-compensating-for-something-diesel-monster-truck drivers.
Of course it is nice to have low traffic whenever possible. Most cyclists take a different route to a given location than they would if they were driving. Get a map of your city and check out your haunts - home, work, grocery, bike shop, favorite pub. Look at your normal car route, and then look at roads near it. Often there are parallel streets that see much less car traffic than the main thoroughfares you frequent in your big metal box. String these together with any bike paths you're lucky enough to live near and enjoy! As you get into riding around, you'll find a new route pattern developing in your head, one that is more friendly and often quicker for you as a cyclist. Here in Durango, we have great system of dedicated bike paths, bike lanes, quiet streets and even singletrack links.
Generally, when riding in traffic, it is a great idea to be as predictable as possible. Ride as if you were a car. As such, command your share of the lane. If you stay on the fringes, a motorist may be tempted to squeeze his huge SUV between you, a parked car, and a line of left-lane traffic. But if you ride in the right-hand tire track of the right car lane, there is no room for such risky behavior - a motorist behind you will simply have to wait for an appropriate time to pass in the left lane. Signal your turns emphatically and well in advance. If you need to make a left turn, check for traffic behind you and don't be afraid to take the left lane. You are a legal vehicle and as long as you fully indicate your intention, it is your right and obligation to make a left turn from the leftmost section of the leftmost lane. It is certainly safer to do this than to slow down to a wobbly pace on the right edge of the lane, looking behind you, waiting for a small gap in both lanes to dodge through. Motorists get very confused by this behavior and have a hard time figuring out what exactly you're trying to do. Just signal distinctly, take your place in the lane, and make a left turn when the first opportunity presents itself. You should stop at red lights and stop signs, although if you can see there is no traffic at a stop sign it is acceptable - although still technically illegal - to slow a bit and cruise on through.
One of the most fun things about riding a bike through a city is passing stalled traffic. While motorists sit fuming, stranded in the parking lot of rush hour, you can glide by on your bike, heading for your destination with no worry whatsoever over how slow traffic moves. Indeed, if you live in an urban area, it is often truly faster to ride your bike to a given destination than to drive. THAT is satisfying. There are a few things to look out for when riding down a crowded street, however. Technically, you and your bicycle count as a vehicle, and are thus held to laws regarding lanes and such. Unless you live in California, where it is legal for motorcycles and bicycles to drive between lanes of slow or stopped cars, it is technically illegal to do so. But in the real world - especially in the inner city - it is common practice to pass cars wherever there's space. Just keep your eyes open and use common sense. Whenever possible, pass on the left - that's where drivers are expecting overtaking traffic, and you'll stay out of the right-turn line of fire. It is generally a bad idea to pass cars on the far right side of the road, especially leading up to an intersection, unless there is a bike lane there. Wherever there's a bike lane, you're golden - you have the right to use the lane regardless of what auto traffic is doing. Nevertheless, always stay alert. Ride as if you're invisible, but also ride as predictably as if you were absolutely visible.
Riding In Inclement Weather
We harbor no illusions about the fact that most people interested in using bikes for utility are more than willing to jump in a car should the weather turn foul. This large segment of the population consists of what BikeSnobNYC calls "if it rains take the bus" people. But if you are one of those really cool people that will ride in any weather, read on.
Heat: Although not generally considered inclement weather, extreme heat can be somewhat taxing on a bike. It's pretty much common sense on this one - wear light, breathable clothing, drink lots of water, and remember that it ain't a race. Breeze feels nice when it's hot out, so take time to coast on downhills and recover a bit.
Cold: No problem at all! Simple cold, even down to zero degrees or so, is easy to take care of. Just bundle up! You'd be surprised how easy it is to stay warm on a cold day if you're moving along. It's nice to layer, starting with light, wicking layers next to the skin, adding thin insulation layers in the middle, and ending with a windproof outside layer. Wear a beanie or skullcap, or just a headband over the ears, and put your helmet over that. Glasses keep the cold wind out of your eyes. Heavy gloves are indispensable, and sturdy shoes - or booties over your cycling shoes - will keep your feet toasty. You may feel slightly crazy going out to ride your bike on a 10-degree day, but you should at least try it once to prove to yourself how easy it is to keep warm.
Snow: Not that bad. Unless it is really icy outside, in which case you don't want to be driving, walking, or anything else that doesn't involve crampons, riding a bike in the snow is virtually the same as just riding a bike in the cold. If there is snow on the ground, just stay loose, keep a steady, manageable pace, and try to do a 180 so you can brag to all of your friends! Studded tires work extremely well, even in quite icy conditions. We stock these.
Rain: We won't lie. Rain sucks. But it is possible to ride in the rain on a regular basis and not be perpetually damp - after all, Portland, Oregon, a very rainy city, is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the USA. And in northern Europe - not known for its constant lovely weather - up to 30% of all trips are by bicycle. (Joey's note: Years ago, on a rainy day in Offenberg, Germany, I was amazed to see people in full business attire riding bicycles in the rain, one hand on the bars, one hand holding an umbrella.) How do they do it? Simple. Fenders, good clothing, and a different attitude. Unless it's absolutely pouring outside, the water that really gets you wet comes not from the sky, but from the wet roads. Fenders eliminate this concern altogether. Good weatherproof clothing, preferably cycling-specific, is essential for riding in anything more than a drizzle if you want to stay dry. As with most things, Velorution Cycles can help you on this one. A different attitude - well, you'll have to make that happen yourself. For many Europeans, cycling for transportation isn't just a choice - it's a way of life, and if it is raining when you need to go somewhere, well, you ride in the rain.
Tips From The Experienced
1. Ride in the right-hand car tire track of the right lane. You'll command your lane, be safer, have a smoother ride, and get way fewer flat tires - the shoulder of the road is full of sharp junk, while the traveled portion of the road is swept clean by passing vehicles.
2. Don't ride too close to a line of parallel-parked cars. If someone opens their door at an inopportune moment, you'll be tasting door metal - and then blood.
3. If possible, lock both wheels and the frame to something sturdy. Thieves will steal almost anything in some areas, including wheels, quick-release seats, and easily removable accessories. Don't lock to, say, a parking meter - most locks will slip right over the top of a meter.
4. If you're riding in the cold, don't dress up so that you're perfectly toasty when you step out the door. After 10 minutes on the bike, you'll be stopping to shed layers.
5. Riding to work often? Keep some work clothes there; show up a few minutes early to change and don't worry about carrying clothing around.
6. Use the same route often enough and you'll learn the timing of the stoplights. Observe, learn, and use it to your advantage.
7. Move to the center of the lane when stopping at a red light. This will keep some yahoo from pulling up alongside you, only to turn right when the light turns green.
Things That Newbies Are Embarrassed To Talk About
So you're the newbie, and you have all these nagging questions about things you are a bit embarrassed to talk about. Rather than go over each one in painstaking detail, we're just going to rapid-fire answers to common questions.
Yes, those skintight clothes have their place at times. They are more aerodynamic, wick moisture away from your skin better, and are more comfortable on the bike for many people. Yes, those padded shorts are to make your rear end more comfortable on a bike seat (if, of course, you have an issue in the first place). Yes, you can get them in less exotic colors. Yes, you can get slightly more modest versions - baggy shorts, for example, with padded liners sewn in. No, you shouldn't wear underwear under padded shorts. They will chafe, defeating the purpose altogether. Yes, you will probably sweat a bit. Sweat is natural. Welcome to the human world. No, you won't be socially unacceptably sweaty in public when you get where you're going, unless you're racing along or live in a place where people are uptight and only "perspire".
Finally. If we missed something, or if you have an additional question, or if you just want to say hi, feel free to drop in at the shop!