PDA

View Full Version : 20 questions (Ok, just 10...)


Ante
09-02-2007, 02:59 PM
I'm thinking of getting back on a bike and commuting to work. I have lots of questions.

Some background on me:

I'm in my mid-thirties and your average techie. This means my normal daily exercise is getting print jobs from the office printer. I tend to obsess with details.

The last bike I owned was a GT mountain bike I had in college. I had a tendency to crash it in to large logs, which I don't think was so good for it, generally. I'm willing to spend *some* money on a bike, but I don't want to spend too much, as it will both make my wife frown (especially if it just sits in the garage) and it seems like nice bikes get stolen with some regularity.

I'm not presently much of a morning person, nor do I currently eat breakfast on weekdays. I strongly suspect both of these facts would have to change.

Some background on my potential commute:

I would be going from the Alberta Arts neighborhood in NE Portland to 181st in Gresham. Bycyle.org suggests a fairly direct route that goes along Prescott to the 1-84 bike path and straight on to my destination - that route is 8.5 miles. I can also see going up 33rd to Marine Drive, then on to 181st. Google Maps says this would be about 11 miles.

I'm wondering if it might be best to start out biking to and from the MAX, at least at first. However, I think that, while going to the Hollywood transit station would be a breeze in the morning, it would likely be a bear on my way home, as there is a pretty steep hill I'd have to climb. And the MAX isn't especially close to either my house or work.

I don't work at one of those fancy facilities with a gym and showers. The best I could hope for is some sort of spits bath in the handicapped-accessible men's room.

Questions:

1. What size frame? I'm about 5' 7''. I have no idea how to correctly size a bike.

2. What style? I think that I'd prefer a more street-style bike than a road bike. I like the idea of a more upright stance and they seem less fragile. I also like the concept of a cyclocross-type bike, as it seems to be a good compromise and offers more handlebar positions, but I don't like the price. They seem to be prohibitively expensive. I don't want to race on the thing.

3. Traditional derailleur or internal gears? I was always having trouble shifting the GT and throwing the chain, but, as I say, it probably didn't help that I kept smashing the derailleur into logs, large rocks, the ground, and so on. For this reason, and because I'm a geek, I am strangely attracted to the Shimano Nexus Inter-x series of internal gear hubs. I think that the shaft-drive bikes are cool, too, but maybe that's just *too* geeky (and costly). The internal gear hubs seem easier to maintain and appear to be easier to shift, but are more expensive and don't seem to be available on too many bikes. Traditional derailleurs are commonplace and less expensive, but fiddly and you can't shift while stopped.

4. While we're talking gears, how many gears does a person really need, anyway?

5. New or used? New means more choices but more money, and vice versa. I live pretty close to the Community Cycling Center.

6. What do you think about my various commute options? Both seem to have pros and cons. The 33rd and Columbia overpass cloverleaf looks to be a deathtrap, and I read that the ride along I-84 is unpleasant, but it's more direct. The Marine Drive bike path route is longer, and seems to disappear in several places along the way, forcing you to ride alongside 18 wheelers and in the wind, but it looks like a much nicer ride in terms of scenery.

7. How long do you think a particular route would take to ride, generally? I don't have much concept of what speeds an average person can maintain over a particular distance.

8. Suggestions on packing a laptop? Backpack? Rear carrier thingy?

9. What do people do when they arrive at work drenched in sweat without an opportunity to shower? Just stink and keep a good wrongful termination attorney on retainer?

10. Anything else I should be thinking about?

Thanks in advance for your help!

bonny790
09-02-2007, 06:45 PM
Wow, that's a lot of ground to cover! I won't attempt to cover all, but can give my two cents on some...

1....
2. You're gong to have to try and ride as many different styles as you can to get a feel for what's the most comfortable. My main transport is a road bike with moustache bars. Drop bars never did it for me. The moustaches are not ideal, but better. My backup bike is my old MTB with flat bars which I don't find comfy accept when I use the bar ends. Small changes in wrist position can make a big difference in comfort.

3. I have no experience with internal gears, but I understand they are the way to go for commuting, especially in winter.

4. How many gears? Again, only you can answer that;) Some people only use one, and there are probably people that use all 27. All depends oon your legs and what kind of hills you come across. If you go internal gears, 7-8 should be plenty for damn near anywhere you go.

5. I would try and find used first for numerous reasons from ethics to finances. If you're near CCC, go and check em out!

6. I like marine drive, and you can stay on a multi use path for most of it, but you do have to cross a couple of times. I'd get used to riding in calmer traffic first.

7. You'll have to find that out for yourself. Ride a couple different commute routes on the weekend and see which way is best and how long it takes. I then add a min of half hour to the commute time to give a bit of room for flat tires or mechanical problems. That also gives some time to cool down and dry off after you show up.

8. I used a backpack for a while until I saved enough to get panniers. I'll never ride with backpack again if I can help it! Keep the weight on the bike, not your shoulders and neck.

9. See seven.

10. You never said what your budget is...Also factor in fenders, spare tubes pump helmet, rain gear, etc...etc...etc...Depending on what you already have, the bike is just the begining of cost!

I know I could add more, but dinner's getting cold! ;-) No time for spell check

Toby

Simple Nature
09-02-2007, 06:49 PM
1. visit a bike shop and see what feels right.
2. visit a bike shop and see what feels right
3. learn to shift and stay with common tech... can always be upgraded later
4. 27
5. New is always better from a support perspective... used you will have to learn what to look for.
6. It will take a while to get into shape for an 8-11 mile commute... especially without facilities at your destination. If public transit is your current mode, I'd incorporate it in your plans and ween yourself off of it in time.
7. Time all depends on obstructions. The route you're suggesting should be less than an hour if you can keep moving. Marine drive during business hours? Hmmmm! Post another thread recommending routes for your commute.
8. Backpack is common on bikes... otherwise a good pannier will do the trick.
9. Do the public transit into work and do the sweating on the way home. Keeping a towel at work will help for that "sponge bath" when you get there.
10. The season is closing out fast; maybe an opportunity for some sales coming up soon. Start looking now for what you really want. When a great deal does open up, pounce. That will make Wyfee happy too.

tfahrner
09-02-2007, 08:16 PM
I'm in my mid-thirties and your average techie. This means my normal daily exercise is getting print jobs from the office printer. I tend to obsess with details.
The danger here is that most of your questions have many different reasonable answers, and you could waste months trying to find the one true answer to them, especially as you're budget conscious. So try, try not to obsess. There are many kinds of bikes that will do the job. You can't know much more than that before you take a chance and do it for a while. Chances are, frankly, that the bike that's perfect for you right now will seem (incorrectly :-)) like it's the weakest link a year or two from now.

How much *is* your budget, roughly?

I had a commute of similar length in hillier country, at a similar age, for a number of years. I was fit when I started it. It took 35-45 minutes each way, was the best part of my day, and I did it in casual office attire with no shower at the end. I'd advise you to allow 75 minutes or so starting out, take it real easy. (It's frankly ambitious to start with ~20mi daily, so don't go hard on yourself.) You might do it in 45, but expect burning lungs, wobbly legs, sore butt at the outset. That *will* go away in a matter of months if not weeks if you keep at it. Greg Lemond said something like "It doesn't get easier, you just go faster." That's true only for racers. For daily transportation, for most people in this part of the world lacking major health issues, biking can become painless and just about effortless as long as you don't demand ever-increasing speed and are willing to make equipment adjustments/upgrades along the way.

1. What size frame? I'm about 5' 7''. I have no idea how to correctly size a bike.
Bike sizing designations aren't sufficiently meaningful across geometries and applications to say without more info. How about "medium/18in/55cm"? You should be able to stand over the bike without it crushing your parts and the reach to the bars should feel comfortable. I think it's better to err on the side of too big than too small for your stated purposes. Beyond that, need more info. Get close and you can usually adjust or swap parts to dial in the fit. Don't obsess. You really should find a real human offline who rides a lot, who can see you on a bike, to give you reality checks along the way. Such as a bike shop worker. (disclosure: i work in one. most of our current selection might be a hard sell price-wise for you starting out on this commute, but in a year?... i could fervently recommend to you some *very complete* setups a bit under $1500. if you're resourceful and resilient you could make out reasonably for half that. i also did that commute on an ancient $75 3-speed and had a blast, slowly. don't hold out for the deal of the century or you could find yourself 40, fat, and breathless.)

2. What style? I think that I'd prefer a more street-style bike than a road bike. I like the idea of a more upright stance and they seem less fragile. I also like the concept of a cyclocross-type bike, as it seems to be a good compromise and offers more handlebar positions, but I don't like the price. They seem to be prohibitively expensive. I don't want to race on the thing.
I rode many different bikes, from fixed gear to xtracycle to race to touring to folder (and more) over my commute, enjoying them all. Don't obsess. Bianchi Castro Valley? Breezer Uptown?

3. Traditional derailleur or internal gears? I was always having trouble shifting the GT and throwing the chain, but, as I say, it probably didn't help that I kept smashing the derailleur into logs, large rocks, the ground, and so on. For this reason, and because I'm a geek, I am strangely attracted to the Shimano Nexus Inter-x series of internal gear hubs. I think that the shaft-drive bikes are cool, too, but maybe that's just *too* geeky (and costly). The internal gear hubs seem easier to maintain and appear to be easier to shift, but are more expensive and don't seem to be available on too many bikes. Traditional derailleurs are commonplace and less expensive, but fiddly and you can't shift while stopped.
You will get used to whatever you've got. But I like internal gears, yes. Essential? No. See Breezer Uptown.

4. While we're talking gears, how many gears does a person really need, anyway?
The gear range or difference between highest and lowest, is generally more important than the number of steps between them. Lots of gears are overrated IMO for non-competitive use. Nexus 8 (internal) or wide-range 8/9-sp derailleur cassette seem adequate to me for the application you describe.

5. New or used? New means more choices but more money, and vice versa. I live pretty close to the Community Cycling Center.
Used is better value only if you're really knowledgeable or really lucky. Actually it's probably a better value unless you are particularly un-knowlegeable or un-lucky. But again: what's your budget?

6. What do you think about my various commute options? Both seem to have pros and cons. The 33rd and Columbia overpass cloverleaf looks to be a deathtrap, and I read that the ride along I-84 is unpleasant, but it's more direct. The Marine Drive bike path route is longer, and seems to disappear in several places along the way, forcing you to ride alongside 18 wheelers and in the wind, but it looks like a much nicer ride in terms of scenery.
I defer to others with intimate knowledge of these routes. My experience is that if you have no choice, you can steel yourself rather completely to the stress of riding in close proximity to high-speed traffic. I rode "death traps" (inches from 50 mph on glass-strewn shoulders, crossing 6 lanes, etc) everyday for years without it flapping me a bit. But it would flap me today because I'm totally spoiled here in inner SE.

7. How long do you think a particular route would take to ride, generally? I don't have much concept of what speeds an average person can maintain over a particular distance.
30-75min :-) You will no longer be an "average person" with a 100-mile weekly bike commute, at least in America. Welcome to the lower rungs of the pan-evolutionary calorie expenditure norm for _homo sapiens_.

8. Suggestions on packing a laptop? Backpack? Rear carrier thingy?
I'm strongly of the opinion that carrying stuff on your body instead of on the bike is barbaric. Messenger types disagree, and I can see where it makes sense for some people, some time. But don't get a bike that won't take racks (or full fenders for that matter). Carradice transverse saddlebag off the back of a Brooks B17 was personal favorite for fast-commuter-type loads.

9. What do people do when they arrive at work drenched in sweat without an opportunity to shower? Just stink and keep a good wrongful termination attorney on retainer?
Wear next-to-skin fine wool if you can afford it. Do layers. Alcohol wipes in a pinch. Allow more time. If you eat well and drink plenty, as you get fit your sweat will stink less, too.

10. Anything else I should be thinking about?

don't obsess. unless you screw up so horribly at the outset that you never try again (UNLIKELY!) you'll become committed to working out for yourself the best solutions. your next endorphin fix will depend on it.

bonny790
09-02-2007, 08:41 PM
<<Welcome to the lower rungs of the pan-evolutionary calorie expenditure norm for _homo sapiens_.>>

I like that! he he.
It also reminds me about Ante's comment about not eating breakfast. I normally don't have breakfast weekdays as well. I live in St Johns and during the summer, I took a class at S.E. Center on 82nd and Devision. Almost exactly 15 miles. I was reeeal hungry sitting in class that first week. You Should bring something to eat after arriving. You use a LOT more calories riding than driving. Seems like a no brainer, but you'll probably be surprised how it will affect you!

Toby

lynnef
09-03-2007, 08:25 AM
<<Welcome to the lower rungs of the pan-evolutionary calorie expenditure norm for _homo sapiens_.>>

or as a friend of mine, who commutes from NW 190-something to PSU and back every day (no MAX for him, either) says: "you don't really save anything. What you aren't spending on gas, you are making up on lunch..."

I've got a co-worker who bought himself a Breezer Uptown, and he commutes with it every day, from southern Beaverton to Tektronix. In normal clothing and all. He loves it. All this from another co-worker twisting his arm just over a year ago to join our racewalking team. He's hooked on activity now, and it is great!

So best to you in your effort, and be sure to budget for rack, pannier (I also do not carry stuff on my body), lights and fenders. And a bell. And a decent rainjacket.

toddistic
09-03-2007, 10:01 AM
4. While we're talking gears, how many gears does a person really need, anyway?


one is all you REALLY need.

Ante
09-03-2007, 12:55 PM
This is a lot to take in, but I just wanted to thank everyone for their responses - it's been very helpful.

A lot of you are asking what my budget is, and I have to admit I didn't really have a baseline before I started to shop around. I have hit a few bike shops and I'd say I'm willing to spend up to about $1,000 for something with all the bells and whistles, but I think getting up that high might be a hard sell, as the last thing I spent that much on (a Bajaj Chetak scooter) is sitting in the garage gathering dust.

I'm selling that to cover the bike, by the way, so if anyone wants a scooter with low, low miles just drop me a private message. :)

donnambr
09-03-2007, 01:46 PM
Ante, it sounds like you're in the general vicinity of Revolver Bikes (http://www.revolverbikes.com/). They're a Breezer dealer, and it looks like your budget would allow for one if you find you really like it. Why not head on over there and try one out? (I love mine. :))

cecilanne
09-03-2007, 07:44 PM
And a decent rainjacket.

And by that, Lynne means a Showers Pass :-)

Seriously - there's a reason just about every other cyclist you see these days is wearing SP - and that reason is that the other half simply haven't gotten around to buying their's yet.

As for the number of gears you would need - if all you are looking at is the commute you describe, that is eminently doable on a 3-speed. But soon you will be saying to yourself, "Heck, I have time for some intervals on Rocky Butte before work . . ." and then you'll want a wider range.

As for the commute itself, go for the 33rd/Marine Drive option - you'll enjoy it more.

If you are planning on commuting everyday, rain or shine, get good fenders, a rack, and invest in some waterproof panniers. You can go for the fancy-pantsy Ortleibs, or you can get yourself (or make yourself) some white buckets. That's what I've been using - they are completely waterproof, but not exactly your best friends on a bridge on a windy day. On the other hand, all that resistance really helps to build your leg strength.

As for all your other questions, you really just need to go to your LBS and do some test rides. Everyone has different needs and preferences, and you really need to check out all the options before plunking down the dough.

wyeast
09-04-2007, 07:11 AM
As many have mentioned, there are too many variables that are specific to you to be able to provide a solid single answer to many of your questions... but to at least give a nudge in the right direction...

1 - Frame size will vary widely depending on exactly how you're built. I'm 5' 7" and tend to fall in between a 15.5 - 17.5" MTB type framesize. Most critical is going to be how it feels in terms of reach from where you're sitting to the handlebars (top tube length) as that's the one measurement that is hardest to "adjust" on a bike. I went with a 17.5" because I have a long torso so I needed a larger frame to get a better top tube length even though technically my standover is a little thin.

2 - Totally dependant on you. And don't be surprised if a year from now you decide to switch from one type to another because it turns out to suit you/your commute better. Roadies are faster, tho' you'll need to be more choosy esp. with newer bikes as I find many of the ones you'll run across at the LBS will not be really suitable for racks/fenders.

3,4 - Internals are great for maintenance-free riding. You might want the extra gearing for hills if you're really concerned about the climb up 33rd to Alameda. I'm not really that familiar with the range on gearing for an 8-speed internal, so it might be alright - you'll have to ride and see how it feels on hills.

5 - *IF* you can find a good bike in the right size, going used can be great for saving $$$, esp. on your "first commuter" bike which may or may not get replaced in a short amount of time. But it will be a little bit of hit-or-miss with the selection you can find.

6 - Hard to say. 33rd is a tough cross over Lombard/Columbia, tho' they redid the overpass at Lombard (I don't know if/how that changed lane widths or anything) You could also cross over at MLK, Vancouver, or out at the 205 Path. Bike/Transit options include taking MAX in the morning and riding back in the afternoon - if you're concerned about time (i.e. really can't take time to eat breakfast - you risk bonking on an 8-10mile ride w/o any breakfast and will find yourself shoving food into your face when you get to work) If the hill back is daunting from the Hollywood Station you could also consider taking a bus or looping all the way around and transferring to Yellow line up Interstate. (way longer, but if you just can't ride back for some reason...)

7 - Totally dependent on you. Some people like a leisurely pace, others look to catch a peloton and zip along. Terrain increases/decreases time as well.

8 - Something padded and secure - either panniers or a backpack. (The backpack will be hotter/sweatier being on your back. Messenger bags will probably shift around while you're riding because of the weight.

9 - Varies with how your ride goes. If you can't shower when you get to work, at least have a change of clothes and plenty of wet-wipes. ;)

10 - Figure on spending money for rack, fenders, and lights. Also - a good rain jacket, possibly pants and shoecovers.

Happy riding!

Oldguyonabike
09-04-2007, 07:53 AM
I'd like to chime in on some of the lifestyle questions because all bikes feel about the same in the rain and it seems like the logistics of commuting are what get in the way of good intent.
I think paniers is the only way to go. Especially in the hot summer I can't stand to have weight on my back. A trick to paniers in the Oregon rain (unless you have the $$ for total water tight boat bags) is to roll your clothes and put them in a heavy duty garbage bag used as a liner. You don't need $300 painers; you just need to get to work with dry clothes.
Your question about showering is a good one. I have held 15 jobs over the 25 years I have commuted and have always found a shower somewhere. It sometimes takes exploring the basement and back hallways of your workplace. Asking rarely works because lazy desk jockies have no use of showers and don't notice them. I bet you a donut there's a shower somewhere in your building no one knows about or uses. If not, explore the neighborhood. Gyms? 24HR? Medical clinics? Office parks? Look for congregations of parked bikes and ask where they shower. But, please, shower!

lynnef
09-04-2007, 08:22 AM
Thank you Cecil :-) Seriously, you don't need my collection of almost-but-not-quite rainjackets. Bite the bullet and just buy a Showers Pass. It will cost less in the long run.

And by that, Lynne means a Showers Pass :-)

Seriously - there's a reason just about every other cyclist you see these days is wearing SP - and that reason is that the other half simply haven't gotten around to buying their's yet.

bonny790
09-04-2007, 10:35 AM
6 - Hard to say. 33rd is a tough cross over Lombard/Columbia, tho' they redid the overpass at Lombard (I don't know if/how that changed lane widths or anything)

33rd to Marine is a cinch. From Kennedy School you go down the hill and cross the bridge they put in and follow it to the left then to the right (a giant dog leg). You end up going past the DEQ and along a quiet road to Marine Dr.

toddwaddell
09-04-2007, 03:45 PM
Ante,

While your budget may be $1,000, only a certain percentage of that should go towards the bike.

If you're planning to commute five days a week, you'll want to keep a fair amount for rain gear ($200-300), lights ($200), panniers ($100+), base layers, and everything else.

To best make the case with your wife, start detailing all of the money you'll be saving the family (gas, insurance, oil changes, new tires, maintenance and repairs, gym memberships, parking, &c., &c.) Also helps to find out if there are particular items that your wife is supportive of. For my wife it's safety. She's given me virtually a blank check for anything that makes me safer in the dark/rain/on the streets, etc..

Sorry for the unsolicited marriage advice, but hope it helps!

-t

wyeast
09-04-2007, 04:12 PM
33rd to Marine is a cinch. From Kennedy School you go down the hill and cross the bridge they put in and follow it to the left then to the right (a giant dog leg). You end up going past the DEQ and along a quiet road to Marine Dr.

The route itself is fine, iirc. It's contending with traffic (when there is some, admittedly, that intersection isn't usually too busy) that can get a little dicey with cars shifting from one side to the other without really looking for other cars... let alone a bike.

And if I remember, the old overpass was a little narrow and tough to get aside on a bike... the newer one might be bigger.

Ante
09-04-2007, 08:08 PM
Yes, the problem with the 33rd & Columbia overpass is on my return from Marine Drive. 33rd goes underneath Columbia in a blind, tight curve and then dumps you off on Columbia, where, not only does the bike lane suddenly disappear, but other cars are madly merging in to the lane from the left without looking. There's really no room on the right, just various junk yards and utility poles. It makes me nervous in a car. I think I'd just walk it to the bridge over Lombard, where there's a sidewalk again.

Oh, and I got a used Gary Fisher Alfresco with the Nexus 7 off of Craiglist tonight. It seems to be basically brand new - shifted and stopped well, and it leaves room in the budget for a headlight, helmet, and so on. The nice fellow selling the bike said it belonged to a family member who had barely ridden it. So now I'm officially a fellow cyclist...

Thanks again for taking the time to reply. I'm sure I'll have lots more questions.

fetishridr
09-05-2007, 07:27 AM
try riding the bike blvds east. you can link up the entire route and stay off high flow streets. market/main east of the 205 is an unspoken blvd and i prefer it to marine drive for easy spins on my training rides.
i have a friend who rides halsey out from 100th out east and it doesnt phase him. i do think your best bet is the market/main route. check it out on google maps. the route is low traffic, goes by numerous schools and goes all the way to 181st. marine drive can be busy and the traffic isnt always below 50 mph.

mcubed
09-06-2007, 01:42 AM
I would be going from the Alberta Arts neighborhood in NE Portland to 181st in Gresham. Bycyle.org suggests a fairly direct route that goes along Prescott to the 1-84 bike path and straight on to my destination - that route is 8.5 miles. I can also see going up 33rd to Marine Drive, then on to 181st. Google Maps says this would be about 11 miles.

I'm wondering if it might be best to start out biking to and from the MAX, at least at first. However, I think that, while going to the Hollywood transit station would be a breeze in the morning, it would likely be a bear on my way home, as there is a pretty steep hill I'd have to climb. And the MAX isn't especially close to either my house or work.

Just a word of encouragement on the Hollywood-to-Alberta route, which might come in handy in lousy weather when you want to spend less time out-of-doors. I ride up that way as I live in Hollywood and regularly go north. There's no denying that one way or another, you're in for a climb, but I imagine there are routes that are less steep than others. But I'm 45 and can't possibly be in better shape than you. 1) I think you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll find you can adjust to the climb, provided you have a reasonable bike. I was. 2) There's no harm nor shame in walking up whatever portion you can't ride, especially at first. I didn't make it up NE Wiberg (short but kinda steep) without walking part-way until the third try and now it's no problem.

Personally, I would probably have a harder time with the headwinds on Marine Drive over the long haul, than with a short, steep climb. But I guess you can adjust to that too.