Friday, March 28, 2014

Carry a Rotisserie Chicken With Your Bike

As most of you already know, I'm a big fan of bike boxes, which are small storage compartments you can put on the back of a rear rack. They're secure, roomy, look different and weatherproof. Best of all: it shows the world you are not a 'serious' cyclist. 

But what's serious to me is getting a Whole Foods rotisserie chicken home while it is still hot. Not every bike box (or bike bag, for that matter) can do that, so if transporting the heroin of poultry is serious business for you too, only a large bike box will do. 

This is course is my even better bike box which was made with an old Perry Scott motorcycle trunk box I found in the Metal Only bin. After stripping out the rusty metal rack and replacing the lock I had myself a beautiful trunk box that could hold two chickens and a variety of produce (and of course bike tools). For the moment it's on my $8 'winter only' bike as I've found the cargo space useful for bake good runs to Lorca

(By the way: if you haven't been to Lorca yet, you need to go: not only is my bike themed art still displayed there, but their alfajore cookies are the opposite of an 'enhanced interrogation technique' if you get my meaning). 

Regular readers are also familiar with the first, non-chicken carrying bike box I made as well as a cargo trailer I built using the hardware for a Bike Friday suitcase. The trailer is great but I know not everybody can afford or have space in their homes for one - you may be interested in getting a bike box on a budget. 

If you don't want to go the box route, you can get a trunk bag like this one, which has panniers that fold out of the side compartments and fold back in when not in use.

You can also buy bulky saddlebags, and if you are so inclined you can add plastic inserts to the inside so they keep their shape.

A local bike shop will help you out with both options - and a few may even carry a bike box or be willing to order one for you. However, I have found a loophole in bike box shopping that I will share with you here.

First, go to eBay.

Second, type in a search for: "hard scooter motorcycle luggage box."

Third, feast your eyes on the magnificent search results. 

I will cut to the end of the page here: I have bought one of these black things that resemble a space alien's head.  While the prices vary, I can tell you that most of them are less than $40 - and are shipped free. 

Now these may not be not super high-quality boxes but they're fairly light, and if they're good enough for a motorcycle or a scooter, they're good enough for bikes too. They also come with the hardware to allow them to be attached easily to your rear rack. Here's a bottom view:

And the one I got has a backrest built it. So if you own a recumbent and your shoulders rise above your seat, a strategically mounted 'Made in China' trunk box will fit perfectly on the back.

Inside there is room for all the tools you'll need and a rotisserie chicken. Because the lid opens forward, this won't work on most normal bikes because the seatpost would get in the way of the hinge. 

I mentioned the boxes aren't the greatest quality; when I rode I found an annoying rattle but I dealt with it swiftly by covering the latch with a piece of black electrical tape.

Best of all: because it is a hard surface I can put my site name on the box.

So there you have it. Like I said, your local bike shop will help you out if you're looking for cargo space for your ride (and that is the first place you should go) but if you need a slightly wacky but practical cargo box that can carry a rotisserie chicken - and aren't inclined to make a bike box on your own -  eBay is waiting. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

DIYBIKING.COM's Top 10 Ways to Celebrate Spring

We've finally settled on the safe word with winter - or it is just March 21, the first day of spring. 

I don't know what the weather is like where you are right now, but this is indeed the day to celebrate the season where bikes break out of their basement cocoons and morph into road butterflies. 

That was a better sounding metaphor when it was in my head.

Anyway, if you are looking for ways to celebrate this long-awaited day, I've got you covered: 

10) Clean the road salt off your bike with a cheap rotary tool

This is important if you've been riding your bike while the snow is melting and leaving your bike looking like the non-chocolate Hostess mini donut (it was a big problem for me when I returned from Washington D.C. a few weeks ago). You can buy a rotary tool and a bunch of bits for $8 at Harbor Freight Tools in New Haven. A tiny brush attachment can be used to gently remove the salt. I recommend you sweep up all the salt and put it in baggies to sell back to Connecticut for the next winter. Trust me on this one. Or Not. 

9) Spring Cleaning and a Bike-Based Donation to Goodwill

Obviously, you can donate a bike to Goodwill, but I'm really talking about suitcases, shirts, shoes, electric fans, indoor/outdoor thermometers, coatracks and other things you don't use anymore and bringing them to Goodwill. You may not need your gently used stuff but someone else might. Now it is very important to use a bike to deliver stuff to Goodwill - especially the Stamford location - because it's better for your health and the environment (and it's fun to watch clueless people try to park a Prius when a Chevy Tahoe has already decided it's getting that space). 

8) Sign Up For a Class at Silvermine Arts Center 

My thoughtful wife gave me a class at the Silvermine Arts Center as an early birthday present - and to help me cope with a then-recent layoff. I learned how to use an acetylene torch and a plasma cutter but, even more importantly, learned some patience and technique from Bob the Instructor. They offer a lot more than metal sculpting and one-day sessions for those who can't take the time for a long class. Registration for the spring semester started two days ago. Click here to learn more. Wait. I put the link at 'learn' instead of 'here.' I'll let it go. 

7) Go to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center 

Few things say spring than a visit to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. It's really a kids-of-all-ages kind of thing. Walking around to see the animals is very soothing, and because the animals are outdoors, that means you will be too, which is always a good thing in spring. 

6) Break Bad Builds

This is a close relative to the Goodwill thing. Look, we've all been there. Hey, I'm usually there nine times a day before breakfast. But everyone has something that they made that they thought they would use but don't. Let go of whatever twisted attachment you have and break the thing down. Whether it is a ridiculous rolling tool stand (pictured) or a portable laptop desk (not pictured) or something else - get rid of it. The parts will be useful for something later.  

5) Visit Your Local Bike Shop

I hope there are great shops like Pacific Swim Bike Run near where you live. Visit to replace that hardened bottle of vulcanizer at the very least, but feel free to wander around until something strikes you. Also: you may be a DIY'er, but it is important to know when you are out of your depth or just want more time at home for yourself. Bring your bike to get it tuned up or get something fixed. After this ridiculous winter, you don't want to miss a single minute of riding because your bike wasn't fixed. 

4) Make Things

Fairly explanatory. 

3) Ride to a Coffee Shop (Preferably Lorca) 

I had a great fondness for Lorca long before they allowed me to display some of my bike art during March. The owner, Leyla, is very nice and exceptionally talented. Everything I've eaten there is delicious, and if not for gravity and spoilage, the little swirls she and her staff puts on the tops of their cappuccinos would be hung on the wall. But since they can't do that, they settled - for now, anyway - on some of my bike-themed art. Ride out and visit them. 

2) Pedal on a Road You've Never Been On Before

We all have routes we know and love, but there comes a time to take hold of that sense of adventure you had as a kid and go somewhere you haven't been before. Some of the best rides I've been on are ones where I am not 100% sure what state I'm in. I've found (and later returned) lost cell phones, discovered new shops, and met new people on a lot of off-the-map rides. Try one. Chances are excellent you'll have fun or experience something worth Tweeting about. 

1) Park Your Bike…and Ask for More Bike Parking

Not every community has the best bike parking options, but all shops and restaurants want people to come to them. When you lock your bike to a lamppost, parking meter or something non-bike rack related and shop somewhere, tell the owner or manager you'd appreciate and use a bike rack in front of their place of business. Then if the next person comes in and ask for the same thing, that business owner will call it a 'trend.' And if it keeps on happening, the needle will move. 

So please do one or all of those things frequently - starting today. After all, it's spring. Everything is awesome. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, March 14, 2014

On the (Six Foot) Fence About The Merritt Parkway Trail

So on Monday night  I took my little folding bike to the Stamford train station, bought a ticket to Westport and then rode from their Metro North station to the Westport Town Hall.

Representatives from the Connecticut Department of Transportation were there waiting to make a public presentation showing the results of the $1 million-plus feasibility study on a proposed Merritt Parkway trail. You can see more details of the study here but the upshot is a trail would be built along the south side of the Merritt around 70 feet or so from the parkway itself. The trail would span the entire 37.5 mile length and the estimated cost was pegged at $200 to $250 million - and about 20% of that ($50 million on the high end) would come from Connecticut. A six-foot fence would separate the trail from the properties that share the right-of-way section with the parkway.

I'm not against this project, but I'm not feeling the love for it, either. I'll follow the Buzzfeed-inspired trend of listing my reasons:

1) I'm more in favor of projects that spend as little money as possible that help as many people as possible before moving to the big stuff. For instance, on-street bike lanes and 'lane dieting' initiatives are cheaper per mile than the Merritt Parkway Trail would be. As it stands, the trail's estimated cost is about $6.6 million a mile (roughly $1.3 million coming from Connecticut).  According to the presentation I attended: this money would be for a trail that won't have lights, that won't be plowed in the winter, that will have a fence on both sides, and (in Westport, anyway) have a lot of road crossings (also, as good as the CT DOT presentation was, I didn't care for nor believe the estimate that it would take a cyclist, moving at 15 miles an hour, a little over five minutes to cross the town, since it did not appear to take into account the time it would take a cyclist to dismount and cross a road safely before mounting up and starting again).

2) If the Connecticut Department of Transportation were aggressively implementing a Complete Streets policy - as recommended by the annual report from the Connecticut Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Board - and were putting in bike lanes by the mile on as many roads as possible, I'd probably be a huge cheerleader of the Merritt Parkway Trail since people could get to the trailheads safely by bike. This makes the 'a lot of road crossings' point I made a moment ago important, because I don't see a great reason, in the words of some Merritt Parkway Trail supporters, to "link communities together" when the communities themselves aren't very hospitable to cyclists to begin with.

3) A lot of the dialogue about the usage of this trail seems to imply recreational use on weekends, with a point being made that the Park and Ride parking lots peppered along the Merritt Parkway would be useful places for people to leave their cars when they visit and want to use the trail. That's an argument that may have made a lot more sense ten-plus years ago, when the trail was first proposed, but now we're living in a state growing more notorious by the day for its automotive congestion. We don't just want to encourage weekend use, but day-to-day boring stuff like going to the grocery store or to the office.  Solutions like Complete Streets and passing a Vulnerable User law need to be done so people are incentivized not to use their cars to begin with.

All of these issues are real: as I said, the night of the meeting I rode my bike to the Stamford Train station (thereby leaving a parking space for someone who really needed it), folded it to bring on Metro North, and in the two-plus miles I pedaled from the Westport station to the town hall on Myrtle Avenue, I didn't see a solitary bike lane, Share the Road sign or even a sharrow. 

If I had, I might have entered the meeting with an East Coast Greenway hat and made a full-throated endorsement of the trail.

So if momentum is really moving toward building a Merritt Parkway Trail, that momentum has to be extended to less sexy things that, at the end of the day, should take priority.  When the state starts aggressively implementing Complete Streets, when legislators pass a Vulnerable User Law, when I don't have to lock my bike to an ashtray at the bank, when we commit to a future that makes it easier for people to choose the bike to get around on the very same streets cars drive on now, then you can hand me an ornamental shovel and a oversize pair of scissors for the Merritt Parkway Trail ribbon cutting. Until that progress is made, I'll be rooted in my indifference. When you're a passionate cyclist, it's not a fun place to be.

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cyclists Taking Action Today on Capitol Hill - Here's How to Join Them

Less than 36 hours after my art opening at Lorca in Stamford - visit this month and see my artwork; visit any month and be in one of the best coffee shops anywhere - I was on an early morning Amtrak train going to Washington D.C. My early birthday present to myself this year was my first trip to the League of American Bicyclists 2014 National Bike Summit called 'United Spokes: Moving Beyond Gridlock.'

While I had planned for months to take South Norwalk on the trip, Mother Nature, apparently unamused by my dig at her in my recent 'surviving in winter' post, saw fit to target Washington with a winter storm so bad they gave it a name. I decided to take South Norwalk anyway and rode it from Union Station to the Renaissance Hotel - the location of the 2014 National Bike Summit - over about an inch of flattened snow while even more was coming down.

As it turns out, South Norwalk, with its 14" tires, has the soul of a polar bear.

It looked like this all the way up Massachusetts Avenue on Monday morning. I had snowbike-like traction and made good time. I didn't fall, but if I had I probably would have been okay since the closing of federal offices the day before meant there weren't many cars on the roads that could hit me anyway.

Only having the ability to stay in D.C. for a day and a half, I tried to get as much out of the conference as possible. And they do pack a lot in. Even though I didn't attend the 2014 Women's Bicycling Forum I did get to mingle with the crowd at the exhibitor's area. My travel budget allowed for the purpose of a $1 bumper sticker from Taking the Lane that spells out what I've been saying for ages.

I wasn't, however, crazy about the free Timbuktu messenger bags they were hanging out. For bags with a hook-and-look fastener they look nice, but because I was packing insanely light (and had to carry a change of clothes, a toothbrush and other things around with me each day) I elected to take the materia inside - including a copy of Bicycle Times and Momentum magazine - and give back the bag and the water bottle at the front desk.

I attended the first timer's meeting that day, where I met several others from my home state - most from Bike/Walk Connecticut - so we could listen to The League president Andy Clarke give us some pointers for talking to Congress and their staffers - which a lot of attendees are doing today on Capitol Hill (and if you are not attending, you can contact your congressman by using the great tool on

The free bag did have - which I also kept - a handy little booklet showing details of each state's leadership. Connecticut, being a small state, can be viewed in one spread that unfortunately shares a page with Delaware.

Here's Connecticut's leadership: Governor Dan Malloy, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Representatives John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauroJim Himes and Elizabeth Esty.

I've met two-thirds of this group. I even had breakfast with the Congressman from my district (the 'fightin' forth!' as Stephen Colbert might call it), Jim Himes a couple of years ago.

Now this conference absolutely has a fun factor. I learned about cool electric bikes like Biike and Pedego, about TIGER grants, about Dero bike racks, and at lunch yesterday we heard from the new U.S. DOT Commissioner Anthony Foxx (which was really cool, by the way).

I also got to put faces to people I follow on Twitter like Lillian Karabaic and even got to see the director of Bike Cleveland, who I met a couple of Cleveland trips ago. He told me they moved offices, added a staffer, and there would be even more bike infrastructure in Cleveland if I visit this fall.

Of course there would be.

So the conference is fun, but the big part is trying to convince congress to get on board with bills The League supports, which, at this time, are the following:

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act (HR 3494); Senate version is called S 1708.

Safe Streets Act (HR 2468); a similar bill in the Senate is S 2004.

New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act (it too is an important bill, but a Democrat must have named it. I have no idea why Democrats are so bad at naming things. This one is often abbreviated the 'New Opportunities' Act and is HR 3978)

Thanks to public record (and useful fact sheets handed out to each state represented at the Summit) I quickly discovered none of Connecticut's representatives are co-sponsors on any of those three House bills, and the meetings The League scheduled today for Connecticut and nearly every other state are meant to hopefully change all that - or at least get the reps/staffers to think about cycling differently.

Each state delegation has their instructions as they go to the Capitol today to talk about cycling. Some of the rules include 'Don't Wear Lycra' (I'm sure The League wouldn't have added it unless someone had actually done that), be professional, follow up, and come up with a way to invite a rep to your district to meet on the issue in such a way (preferably one that invites a good photo-op or chance to talk with other constituents) they want to go.

(Yes: anyone attending the 2014 National Bike Summit can feel free to borrow a page from my Cycling with Candidates project I did with the Democrat and Republican mayoral candidates last summer. There's a lot in these bills for both parties to like so don't let a little 'D' or 'R' next to the name of your representative throw you…no matter what letter follows your own name).

Now if you are a cyclist and you are not attending the 2014 National Bike Summit, I recommend you visit and and send a friendly e-mail to your representatives expressing your support for these bills. But like The League said: it can't stop there. A recurring theme in a lot of the break-out sessions I attended yesterday is that a cyclist needs time, patience and grit to get things done. A Tweet won't do it - you have to follow up with everything that you do when you reach out to a representative.

Since I'm back home in Connecticut today suffering from a late-Amtrak train hangover (more funding for Amtrak is another conversation) I shall do that and also extend an invitation to my congressman, Jim Himes - who is doing the first leg of the Sandy Hook to Washington Ride, by the way - to meet me in Lorca to talk over churros or the quiche-of-the-day about why cyclists and walkers need to be safe (there are going to be a lot more of them whether any of these bills become law or not) and take a little bike ride in Stamford. Just as I did with the mayoral candidates, congressman, I'll provide the bike if he likes.

I do wish everyone in D.C. luck today as the meetings begin. You will do fine as long as you stay professional and recognize it could take years to change a person overnight. And no matter what state you live in, if you're not in D.C. please reach out to your own representative and tell them how you feel about these bills, and seriously consider attending the 2015 National Bike Summit, which will hopefully bring better weather. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.