Portland by Train

Took the train down to Portland for a quick day trip last Friday. I travel to Oregon about 6-8 times a year, usually with the whole family in tow for a trip to the beach or the mountains. So a little Amtrak down to P-town is a helluva nice break from the monotony that is the Seattle-Portland drive on I-5.

Anyway, this time I took my bike.

It worked out great. Amtrak charges a reasonable $5 each way to stow a bike (in the baggage car), and I was even able to get an extra 45 minutes of riding through downtown and the Pearl District in while waiting for the return train after my meeting. Plus, I lucked into one of those ever-so-rare sunny January days here in the NW!

Train + bike to Portland? Highly recommended.

Top Speed on a Fixed Gear?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review at Commute by Bike on the Wahoo wireless bike computer, noting that tracking by GPS was less-than-useful for speed stats. Why? Because I’m pretty confident I’m not hitting the 408 MPH top speed the GPS showed for my evening commute.

But it raises the question – how fast could one go on a fixed-gear bike?

I’ve hit speeds as high as 29 MPH, but it hardly feels safe. Going down a steep hill on a fixed gear is nothing like the smooth aerodynamic tuck of a road bike. On a fixie, your legs have to churn more and more furiously, adding wobble and increasing the danger of losing control in an eggbeater flameout.

A co-worker says a riding partner claims he’s gone as fast as 38. Sounds like an urban myth to me. But maybe someone out there can spin their pedals faster while still staying under control?

Maximum Commutes Per Year – Crunching the Numbers

I’ve been tracking my riding stats for a few years now. In 2010, I commuted by bike 202 times, but in 2011 I only made it 193 days (my first full year of commuting – 2009 – I rode 180 times). It got me wondering if 200 days per year is my ceiling, so I decided to dig deeper into the data.

In 2011 I had 254 non-holiday weekdays. That means I didn’t ride 61 days where I theoretically could have.

What makes me miss these rides? After all, I not only LIKE to ride, but thanks to having a short commute in an urban environment, biking to work is the single fastest way for me to get there and back. I don’t ever skip commutes based on convenience or because I’m running late.

Fortunately, being the data geek that I am, I started last year to track not only the number of days I rode, but also the reasons I didn’t ride. Here’s where the “missing” 61 days went:

28 days: Business travel and events.
18 days: Vacation. Damn, thought I hit a full four weeks. Maybe this year.
10 days: Health (most due to the wife and I both having LASIK surgery in 2011)
4 days: Social events. Sometimes the overnight Zipcar rental is a better option than riding.
1 day: Weather.

Yes, only one day missed for weather. I’ve gotten much better about not letting weather slow me down. As the saying goes, there’s no bad weather, just bad gear. And after a few years of daily riding, I’ve accumulated more than adequate gear. But I draw the line at ice or heavy snow. The best gear in the world won’t protect you from the inability of Seattle’s drivers to operate their gear in the stuff. 2011 only threw one such weekday at us, but years past haven’t been so kind.

So the absolute ceiling? As business travel and vacation time aren’t going away for me, it’s probably 210 commutes. While I’ve commuted every day to kick off the year, I’ve got lots of travel planned already. And I’m looking outside at about 4 inches of snow, which may remain (and bring friends) through the middle of the week.

My 2010 record of 202 commutes may be safe for another year.

Damn You, Urban Velo!

Just when I had a clean streak going of not thinking I needed another bike, Urban Velo had to go and run this list of Single speed commuter bikes for 2012.

Lots to like here, but this Rivendell is particularly drool-worthy.

If you read the (detailed) description of this bike, you will be treated to an eloquent riff on the appeal of riding single speed. Here’s a taste:

It’s not just harder, it’s different. You give up a lot by not being able to shift, but you get some things in return for that sacrifice:

Having no options means having no pressure to shift, or be in the right gear. You see the hill ahead, and you know the gears are in your legs, so you just go. You grunt more, yes, but it is mentally relaxing to not even have a shift option.

So true. Go read the whole thing.

Riding Offensively in the New Year

Reading this piece from Bike Hugger about a road rage incident in Maui (Maui!  Who’s got the mojo for rage in Maui??), a line near the end stood out to me:

“I do insist that we ride offensively with a keen awareness of the surroundings. There is no defensive cycling on the roads of the States and most places I travel.”

Not only do I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment, it also cuts to the core ambivalence I have whenever I see more riders on my commute.  This was never more true than yesterday, when the first work day of the year brought out commute-to-work-resolution takers throughout Seattle.  The default mode of these newbie riders seems to be defensive riding.  And defensive riding is dangerous riding.

It’s time for a reminder about my annoying-but-dead-on 10 Rules for Urban Commuting.  And instead of preaching about “following traffic laws” or “staying far to the right,” let’s push the wisdom of Taking The Lane.