Friday, April 26, 2013

Biking at Work

As I mentionioned, I spent Thursday on my bike, taking photos of houses as part of my job. This was to be an experiment in the effeciancy of a bike versus a car.

I'm pleased to report that the experiment was a resounding success. Using the bike allowed my more maneuverability in some of the odd corners of town, and I covered about the same distance that I would have by car.

One fear I had was how suitable my office clothing would be for a day in the saddle. I did need to maintain the same level of dress as I would on any other day. Many bloggers(LGRAB most notably) have written extensively on biking in ordinary clothes for women. For guys, you really only need to be careful that none of your pants seams run in unfortunate areas. My only modification was to wear padded shorts under the khakis that I usually wear. My "photo bike" also has a pretty  padded seat, so spending a full day in the saddle never became painful. (However, I will admit that I'm glad today is a rest day off the bike because my legs are shot.)

Unlike Lovely Bicycle's speedy lightweight Rawland, my photo bike is a Schwinn Suburban, one of the heaviest bikes known to man. After adding the solid steel front rack, it became the heaviest. Mercifully, the hills in my corner of Iowa are pretty short in both height and duration.

In any event, my setup worked pretty good. The upright seating made being in the saddle all day comfortable, it was also easy to ride one handed and manage the camera. I strapped a clipboard with the maps onto the porteur rack, which made things very easy to see. The board did want to rattle, but some foam tubes from the new bikes at the LBS zip tied to the racks silenced that annoyance nicely. Spare batteries for the camera were carried in the small saddlebag that usually holds tire levers and multi-tools. My camera is pretty lightweight, so I carried in slung over my shoulder messenger bag style.

The big concern with this experiment was productivity compared to a car. I estimate I took photos of about 350-400 homes, which is right about what I would have done in a car. The increased maneuverability  coupled with ease of shooting from any angle (as opposed to out the window of a car) more than made up for time lost due to slower speed. In addition, being out in the open kept me more alert throughout the day, both in regards to my job, and to traffic and pedestrians around me. Instead of feeling lazy and lethargic as usual after a day in the car, I felt the comfortable, alert tired of a good long day of work.

Over the last year, I've undergone a revelation concerning bikes. I'm beginning to understand that they are a blank canvas that can be melded to a dizzying array of tasks if we're just willing to use some imagination and dare to try something a bit different. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Biking For Work

For many people, using a bike to get to work is a normal part of their daily experiance. Some commute by bike out of prefernce, others from neccesity. Much as I would love to get to my job by bike, I simply cannot find a way to make it work.  However, I may have found a way to use my bike AT work.

I work as a real estate appraiser, and part of my job involves driving around the various towns in the county, following up on new construction, and maintaining an up to date photo file on each property. Generally I do this by car. That works pretty well, but not without some problems.

One is that I've had multiple problems with the car cooling systems, the stop and go nature of my work means that the car I use is always running very hot. The second problem is that I taking a photo of a house on the passenger side of the vehicle is awkward, so I have to route my work through the city to always be on my left so I can take photos through the driver's side window. Getting out of the car is simple, but too time consuming. Safety is also an issue along the main highway. Certain sections have no on street parking, making

With my boss' approval (remarkably easy) I've decided to use my bike for an upcoming photo update project. Here is a section of one of the towns, with stops I need to make marked by black dots. The lines on this map denote property boundaries, large open spaces are mostly crop fields.

As you can see, I need to stop at more than half the homes. In a car, this would mean a day of continuous stop and go trapped in my car. By bike, my hope is that I can move just as quickly through the town, while saving fuel expense and wear and tear on a vehicle. Since I won't be claiming mileage, I cost my employer less, and get some exercise while I'm at it. 

The chief problem is transporting the things I need on the bike. I navigate by using aerial photos of the towns, like this:
I believe that by strapping a clipboard to the porteur rack, I can keep the maps neat and where I can see them at all times. Given that this town will require about 800 stops, I need to have my routes right where I can easily see them. I'll wear the camera by the strap, and extra batteries will go in the saddlebag. In theory, this should all work. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bike Shop: 3/19/13


Task: Complete repairs and tune up of Schwinn MTB
Problem: I failed to "set" new chain. No damage, but a good lesson.
Solution: Most new chains come with a splicing link (aka PowerLink). After installing that link, you need to apply pressure to set it. The easiest way is to put the splice on the top run of chain (not below between the rear derailleur and the chain wheel)  and give the pedals a few good raps while holding the rear wheel. The goal is to put the chain under enough tension to set the link. My accidental method was to simply ride the bike. That works fine, but only if the chain doesn't slip off instead of setting.

Bike Shop: 4/10/13

As many of you in the Northern Plains, Lakes Region and New England have noticed, this winter has been more than usually reluctant to yield to spring. My town is currently a mess, a midweek ice storm followed by three inches of very wet snow
Prior to this, the bike shop was humming, every time I came in there would be new bikes to put together. Now things have ground to a halt. I'm not complaining about the slow work since I have trees of m own that need to be cleaned up.  I've continued to participate in #30daysofbiking, despite (or to spite) the weather. I'm thankful that I've been able to keep that up, and also very thankful that we had no significant damage to my house. 

I'll keep riding, and keep writing, and I hope you do as well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bike Shop: 4/3/13

The cold weather that had been holding back the flood of spring work has finally burst. After a few weeks where I was gone, or there was not work, I returned to find the shop a changed place.

I failed to get  a photo, so just picture a detached 2 story garage with about 15 bikes strewn across the driveway, laying on the lawn, leaning against the side of the building. Inside I find both arms of the stand occupied, a stack of unassembled bike boxes, and bikes snugged tight in every open space. There is enough room to get to the accessories on the walls, and that's it. It's my first spring rush, and I love it. It reminds me of the best times at the cabinet shop that I used to work at-get every inch out of the space you've got, and pare down your process until not a second is wasted.

Bear in mind, this bike shop is tiny, and an influx of 20 new bikes seriously overloads the floor space. After 30 some odd years, Dave has a pretty good idea of what people in the area are interested in buying, but some bikes just don't move, and we have a hard time unloading them.

Anyhow, to business:

Task: Assemble new bikes. 4 cypresses (cypressi?). I get the parts on the bike, do inventory. He tunes and double checks my work. Still about a half hour per bike between us. I am not satisfied with that.

Problem: Still not satisfied with my system, it's too easy to miss steps between inventory and assembly.

Solution: Do NOT rush. Do NOT make work of what you love. Not profound, but it's a fight for me to take my time when there is so much that needs to be done.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

30DOB: Day 1

If there is a habit of cyclists that I want to avoid, it's the need to tell everyone about my biking exploits. I want what I put up here to be useful or enjoyable to read. I don't want this blog to be a venue for bragging.

So why the 30 Days of Biking?

It may sound trite, but one of the greatest strengths that we have as cyclists is each other. Think of it: when you flat, someone with a pump and a tube is an angel in lycra, when you have questions about equipment or clothing, a LBS is an endless source of advice and experience. Then we have the online community, which is a massive resource for information. 30 Days of Biking is an expression of that community, an encouragement for us when we feel like freaks for abandoning our cars.

There is only one rule for the 30 Days: Ride every day, and share your adventures.

I only found out about this yesterday, so today was my first ride. I'll get two in today, which should make up for it, right?

Day 2: 7:00 am. Deliver muffins to Fruited Plain cafe. 20F. No wind. Heard a mourning dove for the first time this spring. Robins have been appearing and disappearing for weeks as the weather has veered from spring to winter and back again.