Not much mountain biking in Chicago. So when our family trip took us to the Smoky Mountains this year, Chris left home his recumbent, and brought along the Slingshot. Technically, mountain bikes are not allowed inside the National Park, but they are permitted on automobile roads within park boundaries. Not all automobile roads are heavily traveled or even paved, so that was all right with Chris. What was not all right, was getting him to the point where he could begin his ride, and keep it to a length and duration that he could manageably do during daylight hours.
We loaded his bike, gear and provisions in a car, and followed the Foothills Parkway around the western edge of the park until it met up with Route 129. We were looking for a seasonal car trail called Parson's Branch, hoping that it would be somehow designated and recognizable when we got there. The road is closed in winter, and we weren't even sure if technically it wasn't still winter...
"How far from here?" I asked as we turned south onto 129, and proceeded along the bottom of a sheer rock face.
"Dunno. Maybe four miles? It should be a gravel road."
We started along a road that had a posted speed limit of 20mph, and looked like this:
In reality, it was probably not much further than a few miles. But the turns, dips and switchbacks made the trip seem interminable, especially with stunt motorcyclists making their appearances on curves at speeds decidedly higher than the posted limit, often seeming to take curves lying sideways along the pavement.
We came across a couple of iffy looking service or fire roads, but there was no sign of a marked trail. We were almost ready to give up, as we were now approaching the North Carolina border, when a small gated road appeared on the left. The gate was open, and the sign proclaimed it to be a one-way road heading the wrong way. This matched the description of the trail. The presence of a small creek was also consistent with the map. However, there was no official sign or marker indicating the name of the trail or it's probable terminus on the other end. It could be going anywhere...
We walked a little ways down the trail, and we did find something that looked like a mileage marker, so Chris decided to chance it. I had no choice but to take the hour-long twisty-turny trip back to the National Park visitor center. We had no cell phone connection, and no Plan B in case this trail did not turn out to be what we had hoped.
So there goes Chris, armed with a tool kit, spare tube and pump, two fat sandwiches, Girl Scout cookies, an apple, an orange, extra layers and a Camelbak full of water. Will he ever come back?
A reader of this blog recently complained about the President Bush Days Left in Office counter displayed in the margin. She pointed out that not all cyclists are Democrats, and that we should not mix politics with business. Here is my response:
Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts about my blog,
and the President Bush counter that you found objectionable.
It is not our intent to alienate anyone. If you enjoyed reading my blog, you may also enjoy a visit to our bike shop. Although you may or may not find any overt political messages there, you will probably have no trouble deciphering where our and our staff's political affiliations lie. We are not a big, corporate, homogeneous outfit. We are a small, family-owned neighborhood store, and, like it or not, we have both personality and opinions.
However, your remarks bring up an important point. We cannot always count on our customers' views being consistent with our own. Our customers often voice or display their political opinions either verbally, or on their bikes and clothes. It's easy enough to treat them fairly when those opinions coincide with ours. We believe we try to be fair and courteous to those individuals whose views differ from ours, but it certainly bears reminding ourselves and our staff that people are entitled to their own views and opinions, and still deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. I would like to assure you, that whatever political beliefs set you and me apart from each other, both my staff and I would do our best to serve your cycling needs should you decide to become a customer.
As a liberal living in a city like Chicago, it is pretty easy to think that the whole world thinks alike. This week, I happen to be traveling in a part of the country where most people probably disagree with my political, social and religious views. Small businesses display their views proudly, and I patronize them, if I find that they offer courteous service. The cabin we rented for a week (from a business, not a private individual) is proudly displaying crucifixes, and an open Bible greeted us when we arrived. The business owners had not asked us if we welcomed these images, or even if we were Christians at all. The cabin is immaculate and the service spectacular. We can embrace or ignore the religious symbols as we choose.
Let me say that I absolutely realize that people from all political parties, religious denominations, nationalities, etc, etc, ride bikes. The counter on my blog says nothing about Republicans in general; only about President Bush. I intend to keep it on my blog, since I strongly disapprove of his government and politics. I personally found the counter to be more a humorous political commentary than a deep political statement. For a more complete view of my beliefs, you may want to click here.
Whether or not you ultimately decide you can patronize our store, I thank you for your comments, and wish you continued success in your cycling pursuits.
With best regards,
Rapid Transit Cycleshop
I was going to be done with the images of winter, as I sure hope winter is done with us.
But then, Ronnie LoBello sent me this photo. And how could I not post it?
Rise up, little bike! Shake off the weight of the snow, set your handlebar straight and plant your tires on the pavement.
Carry your rider safely and swiftly to her* destination. Let her feel the exhilaration of getting there through her own strength and determination. Let her push the pedals, make the wheels roll, and smell the sweet sweat of her own effort. Let her mind be alert to dangers, and attuned to the opportunities. Let her hair spill out from under the helmet and blow in the wind, and let her cheeks be brushed with the rays of early sunshine. Let her lift her thumb up to her face, and place it firmly on the tip of her nose, pressing it up slightly, as she rolls past the line of cars waiting for the light. Let her feel free.
And let spring come.
*Why her? It looks like a mixte frame.
I was going to remove the link to our Winter Cycling Guide the other day. It's a good thing I didn't. Enjoy, and, remember, we will miss all this fluffy, gorgeous cold stuff in August.
My point isn't to dissuade anyone from buying the things you might need. But I think some people get discouraged from riding, feeling that they need too many fancy, complicated and expensive accessories. Here are quality bike commuting essentials you should buy (preferably from your friendly local bike shop, such as our own). These well-designed add-ons will make your commute more pleasant and efficient, and help keep you and your bike safe.
Nice to have:
These accessories can also add up to a lot of money. Some things can be improvised:
And some things you may be able to dispense with altogether:
If you're just starting out, all you need is some clothes you can move in, comfortable shoes, the four accessories listed at the top, and, of course, your bike. Start simple, and build on what you think you will need.
I know some people out there like birds. This one was being loud on a branch outside my window yesterday. I don't know what it is. It was smallish; between a jay and a crow. Sharp-shinned hawk? Cooper's hawk? Anyone?...
Anyway, back to bikes.
And motivation. Commute By Bike posted about motivation a few days ago. I was feeling too unmotivated to respond. It was gray and cold. And then, it suddenly got really nice for a few days, and I was motivated to do other things; things that have nothing to do with bicycles; like looking at hawks!
Motivation is a funny thing. I fully realize and dutifully preach the many benefits of urban cycling:
Yet, I can't say that any of these really and truly motivate me. To be perfectly honest, I consider myself a rather reluctant cyclist. I hate being told I should bike. The fastest way to discourage me from using my bike is to invoke any and all of the practical reasons to do so.
If you want to get me on my bike, just tell me, or imply, that I can't.
Although I don't consider myself an adventurer, when I really and honestly think about it, what gets me really excited about riding my bike is the challenge of doing the opposite of what everyone says. If it is a beautiful, sunny day, I might choose to hang out on my front stoop and point my camera zoom at a hawk.
However, when it is drizzly and cold, I may just decide to ride my bike over to that educational supply store in Skokie that always seems too far out of the way. I may take the long way to avoid major streets. And, as long as I'm going there, why not pop into the second hand bookstore on the way back? I might take major streets this time just to prove it can be done. I may stray off course to pick up some provisions for dinner, too.
I enter these establishments without bothering to remove my helmet, not too worried about my red, rain-spattered cheeks, or the mud streak on the back of my jacket, or my soaked boots (although I do make some effort to wipe my nose, just in case). Sometimes I feel like there is an aura around me as I shop among the mere mortals who arrived in their SUV, and who never get to experience the glory of the elements.
So, pardon me, if I sometimes preach. It's a professional habit. It's part of my job of getting more people on more bikes more often. If, like me, you are a contrarian, feel free to tell me to shut up. And ride when you want to.
I was so busy hibernating, I almost overlooked the fact that it's finally starting to get warm.
If you've stayed off your bike during the winter months, here are some tips for getting ready for the spring season of cycling, from our archives:
When you purchase a new bike from Rapid Transit Cycleshop, we give you a number of free services to go along with it. Here is what we will do for you and why:
NEW BIKE CHECKOVER.
During the first 30 days of riding your bike (not necessarily 30 days from the date of purchase), we want you to bring it in for free adjustments. It is important that you ride you bike during that time. If weather, or other factors prevent you from doing so, wait until you have ridden it enough before you bring it in for service. Although we pre-stress cables and spokes on any new bike, it is very common for those and other components to loosen slightly or "wear in" when you begin riding. This service will give us a chance to address these issues before they turn into problems. If you notice anything out of the ordinary before the first 30 days, by all means, bring the bike in.
You will receive free labor on anything related to the normal maintenance of the bike during your first year of ownership. For example, if you are a commuter, and need to adjust your brakes or replace the pads, you will only be charged for any parts that are needed for the repair, and none of the labor. We regret that we cannot extend this policy to any damage sustained in crashes or accidents, but we promise that in such cases we will work with you on getting you a fair price.
INSTALLATION OF PARTS AND ACCESSORIES
Any time you purchase new parts or accessories at Rapid Transit for your new bike within the first year of ownership, you will receive free labor on their installation. This can ad up to substantial savings, especially on labor-intensive items such as tires, racks and fenders.
That's right: we will repair all your flats for free for one year from the date of purchase. This includes a free tube and labor any time you get a flat for any reason. Why do we do this? We think flats are one of the most frustratingly annoying occurrences, especially on a new bike. We find that manufacturers often use inadequate rim strips on new bikes, and, unfortunately, it is not practical for us to inspect them on every new bike we sell. The free flat service allows us to address this problem for you. Of course, not all flats happen that way. When you bring your bike in for your free flat repair, we may be able to forestall any problems that might cause recurring flats, and also give you tips on how to repair or prevent flats yourself.
Within your first year of ownership, you will be entitled to one free Deluxe Tune-Up service on your new bike. As with the above repairs, we will perform the labor for free. Most people use this toward the end of their first riding season, or to get their bike ready for the next riding season.
Well, first of all, what is a basic hybrid?
To some, it may be the bike that's advertised in the paper for $199 with a free helmet and lock thrown in.
To us here at Rapid Transit, a basic hybrid is a bike that will carry you and your gear around Chicago 365 days a year (366 this year).
When we evaluate our vendors' offerings each year, we look for a minimum of features before we decide if the bike is appropriate to carry in our store:
Some of our favorite basic hybrids are Jamis Coda (one of the rare chromoly steel city bikes) and Marin Larkspur (a worthy aluminum competitor). They sell around the mid-$400's. Not a bad deal, all things considered.