Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Honda: Bring Back the Element

So after driving my red Jeep Wrangler (1995-2006) as close to the ground as I safely could, I bought a 2006 Honda Element. 

My reasoning was this: I liked the height of the Wrangler. I felt that I needed something with cargo space to carry bikes around. I wanted something with short overall length so I could parallel park in Stamford easily. The two rear seats remove for a lot of cargo space, as you can see below.

Now I must explain something here: This is of course the red Peugeot I used in my National Bike Month Challenge. I rode it more than 112 miles (on trips I would have used to take the car, so this $20 garage sale bike paid for itself). As you can see I removed the DIYBIKING.COM cargo box and put better tires on it. It's making a final journey I will write about later - and for the NSA employees who are reading my blog - or my drafts, for that matter: I am not giving this bicycle to Edward Snowden. 

But back to the Element: It has waterproof floors which shrug off the mud after mountain biking. Four-wheel drive so I could go anywhere in the snow. And fairly fuel efficient for a four cylinder engine. And it looks different. My cycling friends may abhor SUVs, but this one is about as less evil as it gets.

But Honda has let me down by discontinuing the Element. 

Yes, the Honda Element is the Google Reader of cars…or the Arrested Development of SUVs: loved by few. Misunderstood by many. 

Honda, what are you thinking? I'm not going to buy one of those dull-looking CRVs or the Pilot when the reaper comes to collect my Element. Look: it was a good car. A great one, in fact. But you really messed up the marketing. 

Here's what I'm talking about: the commercials featured things like fun-looking Gen-Y people throwing frisbees through the open doors and so forth. Nobody does that. Nobody. Besides, with so many less-expensive choices and with kids carrying so much college debt and so forth, the Element was out of their price range. Now Honda could have had a commercial that featured, for instance, a triathlete from a Pacific Swim Bike Run spin class stowing their price carbon-fiber bike and their wetsuit in the back (remember: waterproof floor!) as they have their adventure. Hey, tri-shops could have sold these things on the side. 

So I'm hoping Honda will consider bringing the Element back and market it to cyclists. I know cars and the car culture does more harm than good, but if you must have a car, it should be an Element. That sounds like a good pull-quote for the brochure, doesn't it. 

Now if Honda moves forward and rights this wrong, they should consider borrowing my interior bike rack design and pay me royalties. They also need to address one other area of design fault I've found in the Element: the center console cup holder.

Here it is on my basement floor, but you know what a center console looks like sitting between the two front seats. The gross-looking spills are caused by either me or my passenger setting drinks in the holders, which are too low to reach easily when keeping one's eye on the road.  It also has a random cup holder in the back. You'd think it was for the rear seat passengers but the two 45 pound rear seats (which I almost never carry in the car) each have their own cup holders anyway. 

Honda: here's what you do:  A center console that is configurable in ways that cyclists would enjoy and appreciate. Here is a prototype of what I am offering, so get your royalty checkbook ready.

This is what I made: A durable piece of plywood covered by…as you can obviously see…surplus interlocking garage floor tiles. The crowning touch is that the opening for the parking brake handle is lined with a piece of scrap bicycle tube. Honda: you will have absolutely no trouble finding scrap bicycle tubes with which you can make this. All those crunchy-granola, Subaru-driving, meat-avoiding people should love that you're using actual recycled material in your (my) design. 

I also have raised the cup holders with the aid of a cheap one from Target (this is just a prototype, remember). The apparatus used in the raising were a few metal bits for a 1980s cell phone mount. I must have spent a half hour sitting in the driver's seat figuring out the optimal distance my arm could travel with a drink so I could lower it into the cup holder without looking to see where it was. It also features additional holders for drinks or bottles that can be moved wherever they are needed. 

It took a small eternity to make the bottom work in such a way the console would sit in the opening without moving around. But with a strategically placed hidden bungee cord, it fits in the spot well. 

Now this is a good configuration if you have a passenger who needs to step between the seats for whatever reason, since it's a nice solid surface to put your foot. 

However, there is also, among other configurations, a road trip configuration:

Here we go! It's a Green Guru insulated handlebar bag. It is attached to the passenger side seatbelt and a small aluminum strip keeps it in place if the driver or the passenger opens it up to get a cool drink. Yes, Honda: try for a partnership with Green Guru, which makes a number of cool bike bags and other accessories out of recycled material. It will go a long way towards better bicycle owner/automobile owner-relations.

So in conjunction with the bike rack design, I am hoping that putting these ideas forward will convince Honda executives to put down whatever it was they were smoking and bring the Element back. If you can find a more attractive actor to portray me, I'll even allow my likeness to appear in the commercials. I'll await your call to negotiate royalties. In the meantime, thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Conclusion of the $20 Garage Sale Bike Challenge

As regular DIYBIKING.COM readers know, I gave myself a challenge for National Bike Month (which was, um, last month): ride a $20 bike bought at a garage sale a minimum of 112 miles on trips that I would only normally use the car. The 112 miles was calculated based on the fact my Honda Element costs about $0.18 per mile to run and there would be no pleasure rides involved at all. I even found a $1 bill in the street while riding the bike to the hardware store and, after careful consideration, did not apply that dollar (which wouldn't have been seen, let alone found, if I drove the car) to the $20 goal. 

Thanks to riding to and from work, the hardware store, and to Exhale Spa in Stamford so I could pleasantly torture my non-flexible joints in a yoga class, I managed to rack up a good number of miles. 

Now a week ago today, I wanted to use the bike for practical purposes but a certain annoying tropical storm named Andrea - we're 1/26th of the way through the alphabet in storm season and already having problems - kept me off the bike. 

So when it rains, I'm indoors a lot. And since the rain kept me indoors, I blame it for making me begin the excruciating process of reorganizing my workshop. I know I had done a few things around the edges not long ago, but after finally getting rid of the diner booth I just couldn't stop everything in the man cave/workshop combo from moving about and trying to adjust to this new environment. Projects I never would have considered doing before now seem possible because I think to myself: "Well, as long as the shop is a total disaster I'll just (fill in the blank." One of those 'blanks' was as follows:

This is the door in that leads into the landing that leads out of the garage. It's little more than a several rotting planks of wood with some insulation stapled on it. I decided to replace it, which meant the stuff stored in the landing had to move out into the rest of the basement. 

I know, it's pretty bad: pepper a couple of forgotten dead pets around and it could be a season finale of 'Hoarders' in the making. 

So that Friday was spent in the shop. By Saturday, it was beautiful out, but I had to go to Cranford, New Jersey as my artist wife was participating in the quick draw portion of the Paint the Town event there. I could have cheated and brought the Peugeot, but this was a pleasure ride, and that meant a pleasure bike: I took the Bike Friday and managed a 12 mile trip (and an unexpected stop at the very nice Jay's Cycle Center in Westfield) before returning to town in time to see my wife's painting on display with more than 70 others. 

The following day (this past Sunday) I woke up and realized that lousy weather forecast for the week meant I wouldn't be able to bike to work as often as I'd like, which meant there'd be at least one more weekend to go before reaching my 112 mile goal.

I didn't feel like taking a pleasure ride - especially since the shop was still an awful mess and I had a long Home Depot shopping list. Among the things I needed were door trim pieces for the new basement door, so I decided I couldn't take the bike for this trip.

But then I changed my mind.

Yes, I hitched the trailer - last seen promoting Person-to-Person's Stamford Take Off Your Clothes clothing drive - to the Peugeot and set off. It was a good eight miles to get to Home Depot in Norwalk. On the way there, the bike's odometer hit 100 miles. Because I reset the trip every time I use my Garmin (prior to the challenge) it was the first time I had seen that happen since I did a century in 2007.

After I arrived and locked the bike up, I pushed the shopping trolley around the store and was fortunately able to find what I needed quickly. The first find was the 4' metal thresholds I needed.  The 80" long door trim pieces came in a convenient, shrink-wrapped kit and I had to steady it as I headed to the register. As I was checking out, it was a little fun to see the clerk look from the bike helmet I was holding to the shopping trolley and back again.

Helmet. Trolley. Helmet. Trolley. Like he was watching a tennis match. 

"Did you bike here?"

I told him yes, and answered his follow up question ('How are you gonna balance all this stuff?') by telling him I had a trailer. 

I didn't just bring a trailer, mind you: I had duct tape and several bungee cords to secure my cargo, plus a big blue IKEA bag to put all of my small goods in. Several people in Ford Econoline vans and Chevy Suburbans stared as they rolled past. Probably mad they didn't think of this first. 

Once I had everything secured, I realized something was missing: when I was little and my dad and I would return from a lumberyard with stuff sticking out the back of the van, he'd attach a little flag to the end as a warning to other motorists. I didn't have a flag, but I did have a little red piece of Velcro that I use to keep the chain from staining my trouser cuff. Since I was wearing bike shorts that day, I didn't need it. 

Wary of the potential for embarrassment, I continuously looked over my shoulder as I headed back from Norwalk. I could feel the weight of the cargo on each uphill, but the bungee cords and duct tape held it all in place. Each mile fell away and I was glad I didn't take the car. 

Before I knew it I was pedaling up my street. When I stopped in front of my house I looked at the GPS.

I paid for the Peugeot! 112.5 miles with no signs of real wear. An average speed of 10.3 miles an hour (not ideal for the Pacific Swim Bike Run rides, but fine for practical trips) and more than 6,000 calories burned. 

Later that same day, I installed and painted the trim pieces, and I now officially had a useable exterior door in the basement. It opens at the turn of a knob. It closes as well. 

I was satisfied that the Peugeot finished the challenge in a blaze of glory. But the exercise got me to thinking that there are a lot more possibilities, a lot more chances, a lot more travel that can be done with a bike instead of a car.  This Peugeot challenge got my brain to think about it more, and whether you have a $20 garage sale bike or not, please try to train your brain to think about using the bike more often and the car less often. You'll be glad you did. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

So...How Did That National Bike Month Challenge Go?

So for National Bike Month 2013 - sponsored by The League of American Bicyclists - I gave myself a challenge: Ride a $20 garage sale bike 112 miles - which was the minimum distance it could pay for itself. After all, the whole point was to use the $20 bike (a red Peugeot) on every trip I would normally use the car. There would be no usage of the bike on pleasure trips and no excuses. No excuses at all. 

I failed miserably. But hear me out. 

First off, I didn't give myself the challenge until bike month was almost a third of the way over. That severely cut into my clock. There are only so many trips I can make that are practical and not padding. 

Secondly, there was a lot of crummy weather in May, and I tend not to ride in crummy weather. And due to a busy month at Grown-Up Land, I often had to take the slightly faster way to the office.

Too often, a forecast kept me in the car on the way to work but I'd simply mutter curses on the way home because rain never materialized. As I soon learned, I couldn't even trust the forecasts: the picture below is real, and I am really interested in knowing why an inquiry for 06902 came out different on an iPad versus my Droid Incredible 2.

But I rode the bike to work several times (7 miles round trip, and in downtown Stamford it is only about five minutes more to get to work to bike and a few minutes less time to get back home) and to Fairway Market grocery store. One day I pedaled to Dinosaur BBQ for a take-out order. It was one of the many times I wished Dinosaur BBQ and their addictive chipotle garlic wings were further from my house. 

Last week, as it was clear National Bike Month was coming to an end, I realized I had an easy way out: I needed to go to New York City (which I did and was excited to see the CitiBikeNYC plan in use) planned to ride to the Stamford train station instead of drive, which would have automatically meant I would have saved $8 by not parking - which would have gone a long way to pay for the Peugeot. But unfortunately, actual rain (not a questionable forecast, but large drops of water falling from the sky) kept me off the bike.

But on Friday, the last day of National Bike Month, I left the house early, wearing padded bike shorts, a loose jersey, No. 30 sunscreen, and a filled water bottle in the cage. My plan was to ride to Rowayton and pick up 16 screws and 16 washers from the Rowayton hardware store. It was to be the longest ride taken on the Peugeot, and if the mood struck I'd try for an errandpalooza to make up the miles. 

I learned something early on this ride. The $20 Peugeot is a pretty nice way to get around. 

The one piece of equipment I didn't like on this non-suspension bike is the seat, which is quite anvil-like. If I wanted to cheat on this challenge I would have put on the Cane Creek Thudbuster seat post or any seat that felt more comfortable. But for that day, the padded shorts really made a difference.

In fact, I moved rather gracefully the eight or so miles to the Rowayton Hardware store. 

Unfortunately, it was still closed. Unsure when it would open, I reached for my phone…and then realized I had left it on my desk at home. 

So I was on an old bike with no tools without any means of contact. But the risk was limited since I was in Rowayton, which has a lot of friendly people.  After all, the Rowayton Arts Center, located just across the street, was the gallery that had accepted my 'No Words' sculpture for the Expressions exhibit back in January. 

A few paces away is the Rowayton Market, which has outdoor seating in front that is reserved for cyclists smart enough to bring plenty of water and their own cell phones.

Wanting to be away from the sun, I bought a coffee at the little bar in the rear of the store and sat outside on the back porch, where the shade of the building kept me reasonably cool as I looked out onto Five Mile River. I had nothing else to do since I didn't have my phone.

After getting an answer from a friendly woman as to when the hardware store was to open, I returned to the front to stake it out. Looking around, I noticed a sign for the Rowayton Farmer's Market, which was to begin that afternoon.

The store opened promptly at nine, and I entered to get my 16 screws and 16 washers. Packed in the bike box, I swung up the street to check out a tag sale. Realizing that not having a phone would not be a good thing for errandpalooza, I returned home and checked the final milage. Ignore the elevation number: I wasn't in my underground lair and the aging Garmin must have been a bit confused. 

Inside my home, my wife playfully reprimanded me for forgetting my phone, but was happy to know the Rowayton Farmer's Market was open since, as it turns out, we needed to go to Rowayton to drop off two of her paintings for a Rowayton Arts Center show (through this Friday they are having their Paint Rowayton Plein Air Show at the Portside Gallery - and two of my wife's paintings are on display there).

Even though we were forced to use the car for that trip, the blow was cushioned by some really sweet desserts we bought at the With Love From the Cupboard tent. 

Before I knew it, the day was caught up in Automotive Errand Creep, and I was forced to call it a National Bike Month with 66.21 miles traveled. 

It was a bit disappointing that I couldn't make this a successful challenge, but as the weekend wore on, I realized I was quite happy with the rides I had taken (and just happier in general when I didn't take the car) and I knew this needed to go into overtime. So, today, in order to run another errand I had to put on the DIYBIKING.COM tow package.

Yes, Person-to-Person is having another clothing drive on June 8, and I just had to decorate the trailer with that important info before setting off.

This errand came in two phases: first I had to run a load of stuff to Goodwill - some of it from an Ugly Shop Reorg (more on that later) but most from the kitchen renovation nightmare. 

This afternoon I set off eyeing the sky warily. I could hear thunder in the distance and my neighborhood did get approximately 0.00004 inches of rain in a two-minute period earlier in the day, which made me nervous. Turned out, I was worried about nothing because I stayed dry all the way to Goodwill.

I also felt quite smug when I got there: the tiny lot was packed full and there were two cars just sitting there, blocking the entrance, waiting for a parking space to open up. The Stamford Goodwill, my readers, is never a problem if you bring your bike and tow package.

The second phase of the errand was a stop at Fairway, which, to my great annoyance, still hasn't replaced the bike rack in the spot next to the wine store. Still, with nothing in the trailer I arrived in record time.

In the past I have found that one can, in fact, carry an entire Thanksgiving dinner on a bike. But this time I only needed a few things. I even bought eggs. I wasn't even sure if I needed eggs. I just wanted to see if I could get them all back unbroken.

I did. And so can you. 

So the moral of the story is that, once again, I failed to go 112 practical miles in National Bike Month. But I picked up a lot of good habits along the way and am finding myself thinking even harder about ways to use the car less the other eleven months out of the year. Remember: if I can bring a dozen eggs back from the grocery store unbroken and bring a load of plates and glass bowls to Goodwill intact - you can too.   Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.