Car Free OKC: Recap

So today was my first day back to driving.  I drove primarily just for the contrast and to mark and end to the experiment.  Boy, was the irony suddenly laid on thick. I climbed in my car, turned the key and nothing happened, just a clicking noise as the starter motor tried to turn over.  My battery had died.  I had to get a neighbor to come over and give me a jump-start.  I guess the heat combined with the lack of use had drained it dry.  I had noticed that it had a hard time starting on Tuesday for my short trip to work after my tires were punctured and apparently my short commute hadn’t been enough to top off the battery.  So the great irony of the experiment is that after all of my worry about being without a car for a month, the time when I really needed help was when I returned to driving.

The fact is that the experiment really wasn’t much of anything.  None of the challenges that I expected ever materialized, at least not to the level that prevented me from living my day-to-day life.  There were a few hurdles such as my battles with flat tires and a couple of rides in the rain.  However, the fact is that I made it to work every day, saw friends, bought groceries, ran errands and generally lived my life with no real disruptions.  The amazing truth is that I really could sell my car tomorrow and things would be just fine.

However, I’m not going to go entirely car free.  There are still some things that are still difficult to do without a car in this area.  For example, a lot of my cultural experiences take place in Tulsa and driving really is a must to get there.  Also, my parents live about 30 miles away out in Jones and while that it a great ride, there are times when it wouldn’t just be practical.

That being said, I do think that my day-to-day travels though are going to remain “bike-centric”.  For most of my trips, there really isn’t a need to use the car and the bike trip is always more enjoyable.  That is my big “take away” from the experience, most of the time I will be happier biking and so that’s what I plan to do.  Hope to see you out on the road . . .


Car Free OKC: On Feeling Vulnerable

So I started the day furious and frustrated. The car free experiment for this month fell apart today and it fell apart for completely unnecessary reasons. When I left work last night, I found that both of my tires were deflated. I assumed this was some moron’s idea of a “harmless” prank. I filled the tires and successfully made my way home.  However, this morning as I prepared to head to work, I found both tires flat again which means that this pathetic excuse for a human being actually punctured both tires with something that created a slow leak, probably a thumb tack.  It was too late for me to have time to replace the tubes and make it to work on time.  After swearing and fruitlessly shaking my fist I climbed in my car and with heavy heart, drove to work.  I was sooooo close . . .  One day left and I would have done it.   Instead of a feeling of triumph and because of some small-minded imbecile with delusions of adequacy, here I am fighting with stop and go traffic and I can feel my blood pressure is rising.  “DON’T YOU KNOW HOW TO MERGE????” A headache is coming on.  I can feel that throbbing starting at the back of my head.  This is just awful . . . And just like that I had an epiphany . . .

We as cyclists often feel vulnerable on our bikes.  When we are honked at or buzzed, we are faced with a dangerous situation over which we have very little control.  The same goes when our machines are vandalized.  We can feel like they are all out to get us.  That our lives are forfeit and that everyone has a blood lust.  I know several people who just gave up cycling after last year’s deaths of Clyde Riggs and Alan Spencer.  For some, the roads have become a place of fear.

Of course, the stats don’t really bear this out.  By most calculations, bicycling is safer than driving (http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm).  Additionally, while there are many drivers who hate cyclists (just read the comments second on the next online newspaper article about bicycles), are they really a majority of the population?  Of course not.  Most of  the population (even if they don’t ride regularly) owns a bicycle and self-loathing is not a majority opinion.

Even if all the stats were true and cycling was a dangerous activity would I still ride?  Absolutely!  Does the fact that there are people out there who hate that I ride a bicycle and have enough malice in their hearts to attack my bike in a cowardly and rodent-like fashion make me fear to ride?  Well, what is the alternative?  Go back to the driving rat race and pouring the contents of my wallet into my gas tank?   Heck no!  I just won’t do it.

The fact is that I feel vulnerable in a car, not on my bike.  I feel impotent and frustrated when I drive through the city.  A trip down May Avenue on a Saturday afternoon is enough to cause my stomach to turn over.  I hate spending money on gas.  I would rather spend it on a nice dinner with Grace. I hate the time wasted sitting in a car just to go someplace else.

Contrast that to the unbelievable power I feel when I get a perfect cadence going and I can watch road lines fly by.  Contrast that to the feeling of accomplishment when I see a great expanse of land open up as I push to the summit of a tall hill, my legs full of lactic acid and my brow soaked with sweat.  Contrast that to the joy of the self-powered journey and you just don’t have an argument.

So to you, the deplorable, sad, miserable lump of protoplasm, if you thought your little stunt sent me a message that I should quit riding, you are sorely mistaken.  You have only opened my eyes a little more to how much I love to ride!  While I would still love to meet you in a dark alley, in some ways, I also owe you some thanks.  Love is best measured when contrasted with absence.  The best part of this car-free experiment has been to experience what not riding does, even for one day.  With your thumb tack, you have helped me to see what an accomplishment this last month truly was.


Car Free OKC: Grocery Shopping

When I lived in Chicago, grocery shopping was never really an issue.  For example, at my last apartment, my grocery story was literally 25 yards away from my back door.  Thanks to the re-opening of my local grocery store by El Mariachi, this is still true for me.  However, this isn’t the situation for most people in OKC and there are times when I need to get stuff that my local store doesn’t carry, so I thought it would be great to talk about grocery shopping by bicycle.

This is actually a really simple thing to do and it only really requires only two things: a set of good panniers and a slightly increased number of trips to the store.  Firstly, I know people who swear by their front baskets or their rear cages for carrying groceries and if you have a permanently attached system, I’m sure they are great and extremely durable.  Because I’ve only have the one really working bicycle, it has to serve all of my purposes: fitness, transportation, etc, the rack and pannier system has always been a must for carrying stuff on my bike.  However, anyone who does use a permanent basket arrangement, such as those made by Wald, please add your two cents in the comments section.

When it came to groceries, for years I went with the cheapest possible store-bought option which was and still is the Nashbar Townie Basket.  Usually these go for $20 a piece year round which means you don’t have to make a huge investment to get started making grocery store runs.  They fit nicely and fold out-of-the-way when you aren’t carrying a load.  However, they aren’t particularly sturdy and I never had a pair that lasted much more than a year or so.  Additionally, they can’t support an enormous load so you have to limit how much to pack into them.  However, if you aren’t sure you want to go shopping via bike, they are a great place to start.

A little over a year ago I finally got fed up with replacing my grocery panniers every year.  I decided to make a more substantial investment and purchased a pair of Jandd’s Grocery Bag Panniers and I’ve never looked back.  These are extremely well made bags with a metal bar support system that can really support some pretty substantial loads.  I can easily pack a full reusable shopping bag (which generally carry more than a paper grocery sack and can support 20+ lbs a piece) in them and never worry.  However, just like the Nashbar Townie Basket, they fold up nicely out-of-the-way (see photo below) .  They also come with a great shoulder strap that is perfect if you want to go to a farmer’s market and browse the various stands.  At $55 a piece, they certainly aren’t a starter set, but for me they are well worth the money.  You can count on many years of dependable service.

A third option which I’ve never tried but comes highly recommended by people I trust is the DIY bucket pannier (see instructions).  Usually made out of kitty litter buckets, these waterproof sturdy panniers can take almost any load in any sort of weather.  I won’t say they are the prettiest option, but fashion and cycling often don’t mix  and sometimes pure practicality must win out:

Now I won’t tell you that you can do a whole week’s worth of shopping for an entire family in a single trip by bicycle.  However, you can carry more than you think you can.  For example, here is my load from last Saturday (there were some juicing experiments going on which is explains the large variety of fruit):

  • 1/2 gallon of milk.
  • 1.75 liters of orange juice.
  • Box of cereal
  • 1 lb of sandwich meat
  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 1/2 lb of breakfast sausage
  • 2 onions
  • 3 bulbs of garlic
  • 5 limes
  • 3 kiwis
  • 6 oranges
  • 6 apples
  • 3 peaches
  • 4 mangos
  • 1 coconut
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • Bag salad

All of that I had still had some extra room left over.  However, even though you can’t stock up on everything at once, this also means that you will have less stuff go bad in your refrigerator.  Those impulse purchases just aren’t as appealing when you have to find space to squeeze them in.  When I shop by bicycle, the amount of food I have to throw out drops dramatically which is a definite help to the pocket-book.  However, if you do need to buy more, this is also a perfect opportunity to go shopping with your significant other or even with the whole family.

Below are two pictures of my bicycle carrying a full load:


Car Free OKC: Shower Alternatives

I’m often asked by non-cyclists about how I clean up after my daily commute. After looking over the comments from my recent post about the contents of my commuter bag, this subject is of great interest to cyclists as well. Up until just a few months I had the best possible option, an actual shower. I’ve now tried a number of products and as you might expect, nothing lives up to the real thing. However, just because you don’t have an access to a shower doesn’t mean you have to give up riding to work.

The first option is the simplest, don’t pedal so hard. The fact is that under many circumstances it is possible to make decent length trips without the need for any substantial cleanup if you just make your ride as leisurely as possible. Any sweat that you do build up can be cleaned up with  a quick trip to the restroom and some paper towels. However, this is Oklahoma and we all know what the heat can be like. I tried the leisurely approach before a meeting earlier this week and given the high heat and humidity, the results were pretty disastrous.  Additionally, many people, including myself, enjoy getting a workout as part of our commute.  Therefore, other alternatives are needed . . .

The usual alternative is the baby wipe. The most important thing to getting yourself cleaned up after a ride is to not only remove the sweat but to kill the bacteria that feed on that sweat which really produces the unpleasant odor. Baby wipes are an excellent way to fulfill both of these goals. However, they have a few draw backs that keeps me away from them. First of all, I’m not a big fan of the scent. So unless the smell is something you like, I highly recommend finding some scent free wipes. Secondly, the wipes, no matter what the scent, contain mostly alcohol which I find makes for dry skin. Thirdly, the fact that you generally go through more than one in a session and then throw them away makes them a bit wasteful in my view, though a box can certainly go along way.

Because of these reasons I sought out some alternatives to the baby wipe and I came across a couple of promising options. The first is something called Action Wipes. These are essentially an over sized and very thick baby wipe (about the size of a normal wash cloth, see picture above). These use a water based formula containing coconut oil, frankincense, eucalyptus and tea tree oil. The scent is pleasing but it does linger a bit longer than I would like.  However, they do an excellent job of cleaning the skin of sweat and grime.  Additionally, unlike a normal baby wipe, these are made of a sturdy material that can be put through the washing machine which can then be re-purposed as a shop rag or for washing dishes. Of course, this leaves you with probably more rags than you know what to do with, so the waste is still a bit too high for me since I would use one every day.  While I don’t use these for my daily commute, I do keep these around though for my weekend rides and longer trips.  They fit nicely into your seat bag and are perfect when you finish a ride and don’t have access to shower facilities.   Additionally, they can be recharged with more of the Action Wipe compound but this seems a little cumbersome.

The product I ended up settling on is something called Rocket Shower (yeah, I don’t like the name either). This is a spray bottle product that uses witch hazel, alcohol, grapefruit peel oil, peppermint oil and vitamin E. You can buy a kit that comes with a microfiber wash cloth, a 8.5 oz spray bottle and a mesh carry bag.  You just spray the product on your body, let it set a bit as it will cool you off as the product evaporates and then wipe off with the wash cloth. The cooling effect is great and the scent quickly dissipates after application. Additionally, while the product does contain alcohol, the vitamin E does a great job of keeping your skin from drying out. A single bottle lasts for 40-50 applications and you can buy refill bottles. I’ve used the Rocket Shower for the last three months throughout an extremely hot summer and it has worked great.

The important thing to note is that there are a variety of workable options (any of the ones above will work well) and while none of them are as good as a real shower, they all will serve you extremely well for daily use. Hope that this will allow some of you to get out there and find the joys of a bicycle commute . . .


Car Free OKC: Rain? Don't Sweat It!


Though many of us believed that it would never happen again, over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen some decent rain storms make their way through the city. Not nearly enough to make up for the drought, but it is a start. Normally, I must admit, I am a complete wimp when it comes to riding in the rain. I will usually avoid it at all costs. Which is funny because I don’t have any particularly bad experiences, but it just doesn’t strike me as the thing to do. When you decide to go car free, you don’t really have a choice and last week I had to make a couple of trips in the rain.

In doing so I learned a couple of really important things: first that riding in the rain can not only be refreshing, it is a lot of fun and secondly that there is nothing to it. I own a decently expensive rain suit made of some not-to-be-named breathable fabric that I purchased when I lived in Chicago. In Chicago during the spring and fall you can get these really chilly rains that can make a damp ride down right miserable. For those kind of rains a nice rain suit or poncho is critical to save you from just hating every second of your ride.

For some reason, probably because of the price tag, I feel the need to don my full set of rain clothing to face a summer Oklahoma rain storm. However, as much as modern breathable waterproof fabrics are a great improvement from the rain gear of the past, the fact is that they still suck if it is warm out. The amount you end up sweating when all geared up is just as bad as the moisture you would have gotten from being exposed to the rain (and it smells worse). If your ride is reasonably short and you plan on changing clothes at your destination, just get rid of the gear and let the rain fall. A warm summer rain just feels fantastic especially after the heat we have just been through.

For longer rides, I know that rain can lead to some chaffing issues that should be avoided and in those cases I would recommend getting a riding poncho versus a full rain suit. At least with the poncho you can get some air flow and they make some really nice special built ones like this. However, on Freewheel I have frequently used the large garbage bag to great effect and you can’t beat that price.

The only other tip to keep in mind is that even with an aluminum or carbon fiber bike, you will still have steel components on your bicycle. It is important dry out the crevices and nooks and crannies when you finish your ride if possible. At the very least, give it a nice rub down when you get home. Additionally, you will need to add some fresh oil to your chain and generally you should schedule your chain and gearing for a nice cleaning after some riding in the rain.

But I think the important lesson to take away is that you should just really enjoy the ride and not be afraid of a little damp. The world looks really neat on a bike in the rain . . .


Car Free OKC: Week 1 & 2 Recap

I was planning on writing a recap of my car free in Oklahoma City experiment every week, but last week was extremely busy so a two-week summary will have to do.  To be perfectly honest, this makes it easier because it has really been an uneventful transition to being car free.  I had planned on feeling some sort of anxiety or experiencing some real difficulties, but really it has been smooth sailing.  Some of this has been due to the heavy work load which has kept me mostly at home or at work.  But really, as much as you can come up with the need for a car, you can also just as easily allot a bit more travel time and make your way by bike.  I can certainly say the trip will be more enjoyable.

Now there have been a few challenges.  First and foremost of these has been the weather.  Many people have questioned my sanity in going car free during one of the hottest summers on record.  However, I’ve quickly discovered that with a bit of planning the heat is really not all that bad.  The great thing about cycling that we all know is that we can generate our own cooling breeze.  Even with a strong tailwind, if you just pedal a bit harder you can generate a nice evaporative wind.  The most important thing in this heat is to stay hydrated, especially when the humidity is particularly low as it was at the beginning of August.  During the height of the heat when it was 110°+ it was not uncommon for me to empty my 70 oz. Camelbak and need to refill it at Lake Hefner during my 23 mile commute.  When it is that dry, you can easily become deceived about how much you are sweating because it evaporates so quickly.  I use a simple rule to take a good-sized drink when ever I feel dry and every ten minutes whether I feel thirsty or not.  With that as a plan I have so far avoided any of the serious heat problems that I’ve seen others experiencing this month.

My other “heat” related problems has been with my tires.  In all my years of cycling, I have never had as many flats as I have had this season.  Three of these were caused by that vile goat weed (also known as *#@*$&# stickers) which grows so prominently along Oklahoma roadsides.  In the high heat and with no rain, the stickers from these little buggers have dried to the point that they are as sharp as nails and as sturdy as hardened steel.  However, I’ve also had three tube failures, one at the stem and two at a seam.  I’ve never had such problems before and I’ve come up with a theory that I’m currently testing.  For those of you who haven’t met me in person, I am not the daintiest of riders which necessitates me riding with higher air pressure levels than that many other riders. The manufacturers recommend that I air to the maximum air pressure level.  Well I’ve noticed that all of these failures have happened during the height of the daytime heat and towards the end of my rides. I’m starting to wonder if maybe the constant unending heat beating down on our streets hasn’t raised the concrete temperatures to levels not necessarily considered by road bike tire manufactures.   This all may be fantasy, but I’ve lowered my air pressure by a few pounds and so far so good.  We’ll see if I notice any difference.

Of course all of this changed this last week with the dramatic drop in the high temps and with some (though not enough) much-needed rain.  On Thursday my commute necessitated a ride through the rain, for which I over-prepared (more on that in a later post) which despite being damp was a wonderful experience in that I got to feel what it’s like to be a bit cool in Oklahoma.  I had almost forgotten about what that was like.  For some reason I’ve always hated riding in the rain, but when faced with no other choice, I actually found myself enjoying it.  Maybe I’ll start doing it more often, if it ever chooses to rain ever again. :)

This weekend was my first “cheat” from the experiment.  I signed myself up for my first century ride since I was a teenager at this year’s Spin Your Wheels ride.  I’m actually feeling a bit guilty about getting a car ride to and from the ride since the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect and I finished up with enough energy to have permitted me to ride to the start and back.  However, if hadn’t “cheated”, then I might not have had the absolutely wonderful cheering section from my girlfriend Grace and her daughter Gwen and friend Mercedez:

Now that’s the way to finish a ride!

To make up for the cheating, I made an over-sized grocery store run today (which will also make for a post later on this week) and glad I was to get out in this beautiful weather which I hope will continue for a  little while longer.  Of course it is a little laughable to be excited about the relative comfort of 97-99° highs, but that’s what several weeks of 104°+ highs will do for you.

So all in all, while there have been a few challenges, the overall experience has been really wonderful so far.  I’m still hoping to get out for some different types of trips including a date night with my sweetie so stay tuned . . .


Car Free OKC: Commuting Bag

So far in my little experiment, I’ve really only been bicycling between home and work, which isn’t really a big change for me except that it’s my only option now.  However, because I’m now completely reliant on the bicycle to get me around, I have been attempting to make myself absolutely prepared for as many problems as possible.  I’m glad I did, since yesterday I had a nasty multiple puncture flat which thanks to equipment and planning was easily handled.  In light of this and because for some reason I’m personally always fascinated by “what’s in my bag” posts, here are my commuting bag contents:

 

From left to right:

  • Kryptonite U-Lock and Cable
  • Cateye  Strada Cadence Cycling Computer
  • Sunglasses
  • Niterider MiNewt 600 Cordless Headlight
  • PlanetBike Superflash Taillight
  • Tool bag
  • Topeak Road Morph Pump
  • Two spare tubes
  • Park Tool Multi-Tool
  • Tire Levers
  • IPad (excellent light weight replacement to hauling around a laptop)
  • Rocket Shower and washcloth
  • Deodorant
  • Lunch and Dinner carried in a ice cooled lunch bag.
  • Work clothing
  • All of this goes is my excellent and highly recommended Arkel Commuter pannier.

Car Free in OKC

Bicycle Shop

Photo By: Pioneer Library System

For the past year, I have participated in a few 30 Days of Biking events.  I truly love participating in these events and it reminds me of how much I love cycling.  Lately, I have thought about my days in Chicago.  My bicycle was my only means of transportation and it was incredibly liberating.  I began to wonder how that experience would work in Oklahoma City, where car is king.  I know car-free people who get around Oklahoma City just fine, but they have a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday schedules and are near bus routes.  I neither work a 9 to 5 schedule nor have bus routes available.  After I first returned to Oklahoma City after years in Chicago, I thought going car-free would be impossible.  Now that I feel more comfortable cycling in Oklahoma City, I feel like it might just be possible and enjoyable to be car-free.  So, I thought a fun experiment would be to attempt a month of car-free living right here in the Wild West.

During the month of August, I will put down my car keys and gear up my bicycle.  I may use some public transportation to see how multi-modal trips work.  But, if you know anything about Oklahoma City bus transportation, this could be a challenge.  I do have to make two car-ride exceptions to this grand scheme in August.  Both exceptions will require that I ride in a car to attend but I think the spirit of my experiment will remain intact.  The first is that I need a car ride to participate in my first century ride in over a decade.  The second is a concert in Tulsa (and my girlfriend would kill me if I missed it).

So, during the month of August, I will be blogging and tweeting about the experience and what I learn along the way.   You can follow my tweets about my experiment @okcbicyclist under #carfreeokc.  Please let me know if you have any tips or questions about this little endeavor.  I hope to see you out on the road …