29 August 2010

A Car When You Need It

Like my predecessor, I'm a Zipster (a.k.a. Zipcar member). I always intended to join a carshare service when I went car-free, but honestly it hasn't been necessary nearly as often as I expected it to. This is primarily due to the limits of the service, though: I've rented a UHaul for errands as often as I've rented a Zipcar, because there are no trucks available through Zipcar in my area! This means that furniture-related errands tend to be done with a UHaul.

In addition to the non-availability of trucks, I'm also a bit bothered by lack of distributed pickup locations. In Los Angeles, you can only pick up Zipcars at either USC or UCLA (or within a couple of blocks of those campuses), which makes me resist using the service for as long as possible. Nevertheless, I have used the service twice and have been pleased with the results both times. So, good when I use it, but I would use it more if it were better (are you reading this, Zipcar??)

Anyway, I wanted to share with you how I make it work: I have to ride my bike up to UCLA, then stuff it in the back of the car and drive it away. I guess I could also park the bike nearby... but I would spend the entire day worried about whether or not it would be there when I got back. So behold, Ruby getting a ride in a Honda Insight:
For the rest of you who are car-free, how often do you find yourself borrowing or renting a car/truck?

26 August 2010

Tips for Beginning Commuters

This post is modified from something I posted on the Treehugger forums, only SEVEN WEEKS into the bike commuting adventure. I recently was re-directed to it and discovered that it (mostly) still holds true, and hope it helps someone out there who is just starting out...

*Helmets aren't required by law in Los Angeles if you're over 18... but it's up to you to determine your own comfort level. For a beginner, I would advise always wearing one, because while you're learning the rules of the road you're simply more likely to get in someone's way and end up in a collision. These days, I wear my helmet for rush hour only, because rush hour drivers are angry and my coworkers worry too much.

*Bike paths are great, but few and far between. While you're riding or driving, start taking note of which streets in your area have bike lanes, sharrows, wider than normal shoulders, or disallow parking during rush hours (which gives the street an extra lane). Once you've noticed which streets have these features, plan your routes to use them when possible.

*You probably shouldn't ride the same route you drive. What you look for in a car (a straight shot to your location, many lanes, high speed limits) are not the same things that you want in a road when you're a bicyclist - (wide shoulders, slow speed limits, even gridlock that you can ride past with ease). I tend to look at google maps in 'hybrid' mode to help plan my routes using smaller streets to get me to my destination. I know google just came out with a bike maps feature, but it usually puts in too many twists and turns for my comfort level. For a beginner it might be great though, since it definitely favors low-traffic roads.

08 August 2010

The Urban Machine: Handlebar Tape

I am ashamed... I have been coveting other bikes lately. Bikes made of sleek, light carbon, or custom painted with colored Deep-V wheels. They're so pretty, so flashy, I can't help but look! And then I feel guilty, because Ruby's been so good to me. She's only ever gotten a flat once, she handles well, she's not too heavy for anything I've ever needed to do, and most importantly she fits me. I had a hard time finding the perfect fit: when the standover height was right, my back felt crunched and cramped. When I had room to stretch out, the top tube would nearly split me in half. So buying Ruby was an easy decision, one ride and I decided I HAD to have this bike, it was THE ONE. Which means that no matter how cute some other bike might be, I'll probably keep Ruby forever. Seriously, I cannot imagine giving her up. So I'm starting a series on making her the best bike she can be.

07 August 2010

Santa Monica Critical Mass

After much consideration, followed by six months of poor timing, I finally attended my first Critical Mass ride last night!
photo by Nicholas Freeman
Critical Mass is a group ride intended to draw the attention of motorists to the growing number of cyclists on the streets. Individually, we are easy to bully, cut off, and run over (as not one but TWO motorists came close to doing yesterday during my commute!), but when we gather together we own the road. The tactics are admittedly controversial—taking up multiple lanes of streets, jamming intersections, and running red lights aren't things I would normally do. And yes, sometimes the entire group is ticketed for doing such things. And sometimes they are ticketed, buzzed, or otherwise harassed for doing nothing but riding peacefully. When I lived in Seattle, there was an incident in which the Seattle Critical Mass got into a physical altercation with a motorist, seriously damaging the relationship between motorists and all cyclists (whether they were involved or not). For these reasons I wasn't completely sure about joining up with a group with that reputation. Apart from anything else, I can't really afford to accrue any moving violations, which for the record (since I get asked about this frequently) can be issued to cyclists for any of the same reasons that they are issued to motorists, like running a stop light, failing to signal, not having proper lights, or being drunk. After what I had read online, I had fully expected that at least some members of the group would be ticketed, and would not have been surprised if we either started with or acquired a police escort.