Presto-Chango Bike Outfits

Dressing for bike commuting is a spectrum. On one side, the commuter wears full race-ready apparel on the ride with a full change upon arrival at work. On the other, the dogmatically street-clothes-wearing cyclist wears full jewelry and any shoes that fit her sense of fashion. Every commute distance/weather/work dress-code is different, so go with whatever works for you. However, most of the people I know fall somewhere in between these poles, sometimes called a hybrid approach. I like to think of my bike style as Presto-Chango.

Case in point: an art opening at the gallery where I work, requiring snazzier-than-normal attire. Fall is definitely here in Minneapolis, with many days still fairly nice but chilly mornings and nights. As I headed to work mid-afternoon for an evening event, I knew that it was warm then and would be hot in the packed gallery, but would be cool when I biked home at night. I tucked my earrings in a bag, along with a few items for the ride home, and headed to work.

ImageAs an experiment, I decided to try biking in my high heels. I nearly sprained my ankle wearing them while carrying my bike down the stairs of my apartment, but luckily cycling in heels is easier than walking in them. Once on the bike, the heels were pretty OK, though they offered slightly reduced contact area (vs. flats) with my Ergon pedals. I noticed pretty quickly how true it is that stiff soles transfer power better. The only real problem was that by mile 3.5 of a 5 mile ride, my toes were going numb. I attribute this to the fact that this pair of shoes is a tiny bit too small for me.

Besides the shoes, I wore black cotton capris and a polyester blouse (doesn’t breathe great, but I’ve worn worse). My favorite turquoise earrings and make-up applied at work completed the party look.

By the time I finished working, the temps had dropped and I was pretty tired of the heels. I slipped them off and dug into my pannier for my presto-chango secrets: knee-high wool socks, tennis shoes, and a windproof jacket. Taking off my dangly earrings, I thought, “chic to bike geek in a minute flat.”

ImageBlack capris are one of my favorite clothing items that does double-duty well. Leather boots and sweat-wicking T-shirts that don’t look sporty are others. I consider my 10-mile round-trip commute to be mid-distance: not so long I need to wear full performance gear but not so short that I don’t have to think about it at all. I generally don’t feel comfortable biking in my full work attire or working in my favorite biking attire, but with a little imagination, I’ve been able to figure out ways to maximize the stuff that does double-duty and minimize the stuff that goes in the bag.

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Babes in Bikeland 7 is next Saturday!

One week from today, I will be reviewing my Twin Cities bike map, putting the finishing touches on my costume, and getting ready to ride bikes with the coolest women in Minneapolis at Babes in Bikeland 7.

Babes in Bikeland is the largest women-and-trans-only alleycat race in the country. It’s also a whole lot of fun. If you have a bike and are in the Twin Cities next weekend, you should do this race (read about my rookie experience last year right here). Personally, I have my sights set on the best costume category, but I welcome competition. There are also prize categories for fastest overall and fastest rookie, and everyone who finishes will be entered in a drawing to win a new bike courtesy of Penn Cycle and Big Shot Bikes.

A lot of people ride with friends, and a lot of people make new friends through this race. If you don’t know who to ride with, show up on Friday for the Pre-Babes Wanderabout Ride hosted by Grease Rag Ride and Wrench. This friendly, no-drop ride has a history of introducing people to their new riding partners and besties. Grease Rag riders will also be sharing tips for the race the next day.

Want to know more? Check out Tips from a Former Rookie or this great ArtCrank Interview with a few of the organizers. And then go register!

P.S. The list of sponsors looks pretty awesome. I would love this race even if there was no chance of me winning a sweet messenger bag, but it sure doesn’t hurt.


Women’s Biking Jeans for Under $100 (!)

After at least a year of female cyclists complaining about how rad Levi’s commuter line is and how pissed off we are that it’s not being made for us, someone listened and made a bike jean for women for under $100: REI.

Novara's bike jeans on a model - from the REI website

If you’re an REI regular, you already know that Novara is code for REI’s in-house bike brand. Novara has answered the call of hundreds of female cyclists with their Carrboro denim bike pants. I hope to take a look at these in person (and in the dressing room) in the near future, but wanted to alert everyone to their presence, since my comments and google hits indicate that you all have been as frustrated as I with the lack of women’s specific bike commuter wear.

First, does denim really count as commuter wear? For some of us, it does. I’m lucky in my informal work dress code and can wear reasonably nice jeans to work. For many people, this is not work wear, and I respect that. But lots of people have wanted bike-specific jeans for women, so let’s take a closer look.

The features echo those on lots of men’s lines, specifically the Levi’s commuter line. There are lots of hidden reflective patches. I could do without the very obvious one on the pocket. The fabric is stretch cotton, but the crotch is reinforced with Schoeller drifit fabric. I’ll have to try these on to know how I feel about that.

There’s a place in the waistband to put a U-lock, similar to men’s bike-specific pants. I think this is pretty interesting. I know very few women who carry their U-locks on their belt, but see more men doing it. Is it preference or just a lack of somewhere to put it that has kept U-locks off women’s waists? Admittedly, I don’t see that many men riding around Minneapolis with U-locks at the ready, either. Might be regional. Personally, my U-lock is too big to ride comfortably on my hip, but it would be appealing to have a place to put it if mine was smaller and I rode a rack-less bike.

The fit doesn’t look that great on the model, but I’m hopeful that REI designed bike pants for women with bigger glutes and quads than their average model. Again, I’ll let you know after I get these in the dressing room.

Welcome to fall and a new era in bike commuter clothing – a women’s line!

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Bike Touring: Minneapolis to Winona

My custom Long Haul Trucker admiring the view.

My custom Long Haul Trucker admiring the view.

I just got back from a two day, one night bike trip from Minneapolis to Winona, Minnesota. The story of this trip really started on the bike camping trip I did last year. That trip planted the seed both for the touring bike I built this winter and for the idea of biking to Winona, where my brother and a good friend live. Once the custom build Long Haul Trucker neared completion, the reality of what I had done set in. I built myself a bike with 27 gears, the capability of carrying massive loads without flinching, and slots on the chain stays for keeping extra spokes. This bike could cross Mongolia. I figured I’d better at least get it out of the Twin Cities this year if I hoped to justify owning such a machine.

The trip was fantastic. I think that touring, in general, is fantastic. I’ve long loved camping, but until last summer, the experience has always been mediated by between 30 minutes to 4 hours in a car. Having to drive somewhere in order to have a natural experience creates an artificial wall between “nature” and my every day life.

Biking is different. I am on the trip as soon as I am out of my front door. There are a handful of state parks within 30 – 40 miles of my front door, and the best routes to them often pass through city parks or other green, preserved areas. By biking, I experience the urban and the natural as overlapping continuums, not as mutually exclusive places.

This trip was particularly great, though. The ride was challenging but still fun. The weather was cooperative, the company wonderful, the scenery good. We rode 71 miles the first day and camped at a friend’s farm just west of Lake City, which led us to some of the best scenery and the quietest road we saw the entire ride. We ate good food, slept hard, and got up the next day to ride 56 more (somewhat less hilly) miles to Winona. My buddy who lives in Winona took the train up to Minneapolis to meet me and another riding partner. At the end of the trip, the two of us took the train back to the Twin Cities.

I plan to write more in the near future, about the route I chose, the experience of getting bikes on Amtrak for the return trip, and the Trucker’s handling on her first real trip. In the meanwhile, I leave you with the numbers:
3 people
2 wheels each
127 miles
2 days
1 night
7 (!) Mississippi River Crossings (I’m counting Prescott, WI as the Mississippi and not the St. Croix. I could be wrong on that one, but it’s ambiguous).
1 train back to Minneapolis




The Other Kind of Drinking Game

A recent one mile bike ride to the store left me soaked in sweat. It has taken until mid-July, but the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have finally hit that point where it is consistently, uncomfortably, hot outside.

This is not a huge deal, nor is it a commute killer, but it does necessitate common sense. I play psychological games with myself to help make sure I don’t overdo it. I click my gears lower and force myself to resist the faster! urge. Today, I filled two water bottles and turned my downtown commute into a drinking game.

Like a college party, summer cycling requires you to drink before you really want to. Not alcohol – I’m talking about water. Waiting at a red light? DRINK! Quarter-mile straightaway on the bike path? DRINK! Cute dog being walked through the neighborhood? DRINK! Or just drink every time you see another bike, whether on bike path signage or a real one.

You can make your own rules, just keep yourself hydrated. Water + electrolytes is even better. Longer rides mean that you had better be replacing ALL of what you sweat out, which is a lot more than water. Devotees of the whole foods movement should check out Lovely Bicycle’s recipe for salty lemonade. Personally, I’m downing powdered Gatorade mix – it’s cheap, easy, and it got me through high school swim meets and college ultimate frisbee tournaments. It also tastes like a guilty pleasure (aka Kool-aid), so I want to drink it. Perfect. 


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Tax Breaks for Bike Commuters

Everyone knows that biking to work instead of driving or using public transit can save you money. What I didn’t know until recently is that it can get you tax breaks, too!

For Employees
There’s this thing called the Federal Bike Commuter Benefit that allows employers to offer a tax free benefit of up to $20 per month for expenses such as “the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage.” You have to ride your bike a certain percentage of days, and it is an optional benefit, not one that employers are required to provide (unless you work in San Francisco). The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has a nice summary of the tax break, but again, this is not mandatory nationwide, only in San Fran. The Bike-Sharing Blog reports that there is a bill in the House of Representatives (HR  2288 or the Commuter Parity Act of 2013) that would increase the deduction to $35/month.

Wish my employer offered this as a benefit! I easily spend $35 per month on bicycle maintenance and improvement. Alas, I work for a teeny tiny firm that is unlikely to sign up. If there are a couple of bike commuters in your office, rally the troops and ask HR!

For Independent Contractors
OK, this one I did know about, and put into effect when I filed my 2012 taxes.

Many people I know (myself included!) make all or some of their living as independent contractors. For tax purposes, this means that qualified expenses can be deducted against your income. Transportation is part of that. Do you use a bike to run errands related to your business? To go to meetings? To get to your studio/office? Is your business bike-related? Talk to your accountant about what qualifies.

The Bottom Line
None of this is likely to add up to huge money, but little things do add up – a bell here, a new chain there, a saddle that you can love. Stretch your budget further by maximizing tax benefits – on top of the gas and bus pass savings!


The Custom Long Haul Trucker is (Basically) Done

Here’s a photo of the custom Surly Long Haul Trucker I’ve been working on. I don’t really consider it to be finished (lacking fenders & a bell and I am probably going to change the stem) but it’s rideable and I have been riding it for several weeks now.

I chose a touring bike for bicycle number 3 (see my other bikes here and here) because I want to do more bike camping and because I don’t care about being the fastest kid on the bike path. I also tend to haul a lot of stuff around with me. All of my purses are big enough to fit my large U-lock, which has been the case since before I biked everywhere and carried said U-lock in them. A bike that doesn’t squirm under 35 lbs of groceries/camping gear/potluck libations makes a lot of sense for me.

I decided that I wanted to buy a steel frame and build it myself, which I did with the help of Sunrise Cyclery and Grease Rag Ride and Wrench. The original idea was to find used parts and build this thing inexpensively. However, I’ve been working long hours for a while now, and it turned out that I didn’t have time to dig through used parts bins. It took me a long time just to decide what I wanted and to install all the parts.  In the end the handlebars are used and the tires were a swap, but everything else is new.

After test-riding a stock build LHT at Sunrise, I found a like-new frame in my size on Craig’s List that had previously been an REI test ride bike. Even better, it’s Surly’s blue velvet color, which was discontinued after 2010. Blue is my favorite color. It was meant to be.


I have mixed feelings about doing the custom build. Almost everything on this bike is a completely different system than my vintage Schwinn. This means that I learned a lot of new bike mechanic stuff, which will make me a more effective volunteer for Grease Rag. It also means that the build itself was painfully slow because I needed lots of help and redid a few things. Many thanks to those who patiently coached me through this process.

There was no true “new bike day,” but there was a day when I gave up trying to install the fenders I had ordered, wrapped the bars quickly, and rode it home (I managed to order fenders too fat for the “fatties fit fine” fork. Dang. They will fit on my mountain bike, though, and it needs them.)

I mostly followed the lead of the stock components, with a few deviations. I’ll be writing more about individual components as I get a chance to really try them out. Picking things out for a new build was an interesting process. I’ve replaced and upgraded plenty of bike parts before, but with a familiar bike there’s a point for comparison. Still so much to learn about bike components.

A partial parts list, for those who care about such things:
– Handbuilt (by moi, with coaching by Jamie at Sunrise) 26″ wheels with Suntour rims and Shimano Deore hubs
– Cane Creek SCR-5C brake levers (compact version for smaller hands)
– Tektro Oryx cantilever breaks (at the recommendation of my LBS)
– my old Selle Royal saddle from the Schwinn (I ordered a different women’s specific touring saddle, but it was not a good fit for my body and was returned)
– Ergon PC2 platform pedals

I topped off a utilitarian ride with a little bit of pretty – celeste (aqua) bar tape capped with blue and yellow electrical tape and matching cable housing and water bottle cages.

For now, my most exciting rides have been taking the long way to the grocery store. These photos were taken during a pit stop at Theodore Wirth Park en route to Trader Joe’s. I just finished a big project at work, though, and am hoping to do more riding (and blogging) in the near future.

I still can’t quite think of this thing as “done,” but then again, once one starts tinkering, when is a bike ever done?