I have received lots of feedback on my choice to try out clips on my new bike.  As I said in my previous post, I would not have chosen them, but since they are on the bike I thought I should give them a try.  I have had many people tell me that once I get used to them I will LOVE them.  I will say that most of the people with that view are people that bike longer distances or use them in triathalons or other races.  Some bikers feel the cons outweigh the benefits for my purposes since I have to make so many stops riding through neighborhoods and city traffic.  Having to wear special shoes with the metal clip on them is somewhat bothersome –  it requires bringing another pair of shoes to change into whether you are taking a quick trip to the store or going to work.  For work, I always change into dress shoes anyway – I ride a long enough distance that I can’t wear my work clothes on my bike – especially in this heat.    So, thus far, that hasn’t been a real problem.  No, the real problem has been just getting used to using them and remembering that I have them.   So far, 3 falls in 3 days.  On the bright side, I now know that my bones are not yet thin and brittle, as I would surely have broken a bone in my hand this morning if they were.  Luckily my bike has also been protected each time by my body.   I am not sold on them yet – but each time my falls have been caused by me doing something stupid or just not paying attention.  This morning I was concentrating on hitting the scored line in the road coming out of my neighborhood so that I could make the traffic light change – I hit it just right as I came to a stop… yay!, then fell right over.  Yesterday, I was coming up to a 4 way stop and there was a car stopped on the cross road, I thought the car would go and I wouldn’t have to stop long enough to put my foot down, but the car didn’t move (Kudos to the car who was probably being extra careful because of me on my bike – that or he was on his cell phone), and so I had to stop completely, my foot didn’t come right out, and down I went.  I should have taken it out in anticipation that I might have to stop.  I’ll get better at this, hopefully.

A New Bike!!

It’s been about 2 ½ months now since I first started to bike to work and I am ready to upgrade my bike. I have stuck it out in temperatures that have reached 100 degrees and have withstood many many comments from friends and family that think I am crazy or that I’m going to get myself killed. I can’t do anything about the weather – except maybe leave before the sun is up in the morning and after it goes down in the evening – but riding in the dark or at dusk would be more dangerous and would mean more time at work and less time at home with my family. So, I’m not willing to change my leave times enough to make any significant difference in temperature. I have found that afternoon rain storms make for a delightful ride home. Although others have called me crazy, I rather enjoy riding in the rain – it cools off the temperature considerably and I’d rather arrive dripping with rain water than with sweat. Don’t knock it till you try it – talk about anti-aging, I promise you will feel like a kid when you get caught in the rain on your bike. As for risking my life, I am extra careful and take mostly low traffic neighborhood streets during daylight hours. When the days start getting shorter I may have to start riding in the dark – but I will be certain to use enough lights and reflectors to blind everyone that comes near me. Driving a car is certainly not a risk free mode of transportaiton either – I have read that auto crashes are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 6-27. And the health benefits of cycling is said to outweigh the risks by a factor of 20 to 1 (measured in years of life expectancy lost from collisions to years of life expectancy gained by biking).
So, now that I am confident that I can stick with my plan to bike to work, I am ready to step it up and buy a new bike. The question is what bike? I have paid great attention to what others ride down the road on and listened intently to bike enthusiasts’ comments about bike brands, styles and features, but I was still a little overwhelmed with the vast variety of bikes that are available as well as the vast differences in prices. You can spend a small fortune on a bike! Luckily, I have met several bikers of late with a great wealth of knowledge about bikes and who are very generous in offering to help those with low bike IQs like me. I have found that the biking community is like an open club that wants, more than anything else, to increase their membership. If you ride a bike, you are immediately a member and welcomed with open arms. So, I asked a biker friend on facebook for help and immediately got helpful suggestions and several others I didn’t even know chimed in with their 2 cents. One of my new biker friends, Rudy, suggested I try out one of his bikes that he would let me have at a good price – a Trek hybrid bike he said. Hmmm, I’ve heard the brand Trek mentioned before and understood that the brand got considerably high marks from my biker friends, but I figured the price would also be considerably high. But, I figured it won’t hurt to try it out, I don’t think I’ve ever ridden anything other than a mountain bike. So, try it out I did and I loved it right away! He offered it to me at a great price– a real steal! After testing it out on my normal route to work and back I decided to buy it – a Trek 7.3 FX.
It has 700 x 37c tires (which I have learned are much faster than my smaller, wider, mountain bike tires), it has an extender added to the handlebars so that I ride more upright to alleviate the crick in my neck, it is MUCH lighter (I think he told me 26 lbs), it shifts MUCH smoother, the seat is very comfortable, it is already decked out with a headlight, a small bag, a little computer, and a water bottle holder, AND it is GATOR blue with orangish reflective tires with a flame like design on them (yes, I am a Florida Gator fan). I think this bike was made for me!!

It does have one feature though that is taking some getting used to – clips. I had never tried clips before and didn’t think I wanted them. They require you to wear special shoes with a metal piece on the bottom that clips into the pedal. Using the clips keeps your foot from slipping off and allows you to more efficiently pedal – using the full rotation by pulling up on the pedal as well as pushing down. However, when you are making frequent stops they can be a pain, especially when you are not used to them and forget you have them. Yes, I fell over yesterday morning into my neighbors raised planter when I stupidly took a short cut and came upon some boards that had been laid out across the path because of some construction they had going on. I went to stop, forgetting about the clips and when my feet did not come off the pedals as expected, I ended up leaning over and laying in their planter. Thankfully, I was going VERY slow since I was on a narrow off-road pedestrian path between houses and I knew there was construction ahead (yes, I knew this and I still took the path – attempting to save maybe a whole 30 sec. on my trip since I left late). I managed to just bruise my right shin, (which now matches the bruise on my left shin). The bicycle was unharmed (thank God!!) and I was thankful that no one was around to see my fall. If you’ve read my accounts of my first couple weeks riding, then you know this is par for the course as I am somewhat prone to minor bike mishaps. (See my earlier blog entries at: https://bikingmobile.wordpress.com/). Another lesson learned, shaving 30 seconds is not worth risking my shins or my bike (especially my NEW bike!)

Bubbles and Biking

When I started biking to work about six weeks ago, I had no idea the adventure I was in for. Although I have always been very active, I had not been on a bike in over a year, and had not done any real biking since I was in Junior High.  I have learned much from my experience that has allowed me to tweak my rides for the better and I expect there will be more adjustments in the future.   Though the temperature has been rising, I have enjoyed my rides and hope to continue indefinitely.

My first rides resulted in a very sore rear end and padded bike shorts didn’t help much. But, I seem to have broken in my derriere and now suffer no repercussions even when the ride gets bumpy.  The  bicycle I am riding is probably not the optimal style for my rides. I am using my daughter’s Walmart-special mountain bike since mine was stolen last year when three hoodlums broke into our house and decided to take off with their loot (my jewelry and cash) on our three bikes. We replaced both of my daughters’ bikes, but have yet to replace mine. I initially had trouble with her bike which was apparently not put together well, but after several disastrous trips where my pedal fell off, my handlebars twisted around or my tire popped halfway to work, all the parts on the bike have been tightened down and seem to be working fine. I am also short on equipment for the bike – I did not want to spend a lot of money on this project before I had even tried it and determined whether I could keep it up. I have a helmet and back pack, but baskets and other accessories would come in handy.

I am careful with any traffic and try not to give cars the chance to make a mistake. Some cars don’t seem to see me or  stop signs at intersections, while others stop to let me cross even when they don’t have a stop sign. I am cognizant that no matter who is at fault, I will surely be the loser in any collision.

I have also learned that the best route is not always a straight one. Mobile doesn’t seem to know what a bike lane is and I don’t expect they will be adding any anytime soon. After reading some of the “soundoffs” in the paper about bikes, I guess I know why – many Mobilians simply don’t see any advantages to encouraging biking over their gas guzzling ways. Yet, if people would stop relying on their cars as much and sit their butt on a bike occasionally, Mobile would be a quieter, cleaner and greener city with fewer obese residents. Unfortunately, although Mobile has many wonderful attributes, it has never been known for being green. 


So, since there are no bike lanes, the safest and best routefor my 5 mile trek to work is to stay off as many busy streets as possible and instead wind through neighborhood streets all the way to downtown. This route has the added benefit that I get to see many beautiful historic houses and neighborhood scenery.

My favorite day to bike is Friday. Every Friday afternoon there are residents on each side of Brown Street that put out bubble machines facing the road. I never imagined that bubbles could be so uplifting! I’m not completely sure why, but I have found it impossible to ride through a cloud of bubbles without smiling. No matter how sweaty and tired I am, the first sight of floating bubbles always brightens my afternoon.

So, to anyone that is unsure about attempting to bike to work or just around the block, I strongly encourage you to, as Nike would say, just do it! I’m not suggesting you give up your car – heavens no! I still burn up the gas in mine when I have places to go that are too far to bike or when I can’t arrive dripping in sweat. It may not be easy at first, but I expect the adventure will be worth the trouble. Who knows, you might discover your own neighborhood bubbles.

Well, my last few rides to work and back have gone much smoother.  My tush has still not fully recovered,  so I still do most of my pedaling standing up (cushioned bike shorts don’t have near enough cushioning!)  And I have learned that sunscreens that claim they are “sweat proof” and “won’t run into eyes”, LIE!   But I have had very few equipment failures since Monday.

Two bike racks or poles suddenly appeared in my parking garage (not sure what prompted them to put them up – they had to have been in the works before I started biking).  So, I now lock my bike up to a bright red pole.  And low and behold…. there is someone else biking to work that locks their bike up there too and their bike doesn’t look any fancier than mine!  Except it does have a snazzy light in front and fenders over the tires – which would be nice to keep mud from slinging up all over me.  But that hasn’t been a problem yet, so I’m not too green with envy.   I don’t know of anyone in our courthouse (that’s where I work) that bikes, so it must be someone in the Federal building.   I have seen a few bikers on my way to & from work – all decked out with side mirrors and slim baskets on the back and riding fast in traffic, using perfect hand-signals.  I think I’ll stick to my slow neighborhood jaunts for now.  

Tuesday morning was warm, but I had no equipment problems.  After making it to work, I was feeling really adventurous and tried out the shower at my office.  Off of a small locker room at one end of the parking garage, there is a shower room with two showers stalls open on a first come first serve basis to anyone that works there.  It is actually well equipped with a bench and lots of hooks to hang your stuff on and you simply lock the door when you go in and the “in use” sign pops up like on a port-o-let. Not sure how two people could actually use the 2 showers at the same time since it is coed and you lock the door to the room when you go in. (Hopefully that won’t  provide material for future stories – please don’t let me ever forget to lock the door!)  It was empty when I got there, so after locking the door I jumped in and rinsed off.  I didn’t even wait for the water to warm up – the cold water was very refreshing after my bike ride. 

Tuesdays’ trek home was also uneventful.

Wednesday it was supposed to be stormy so I drove to work.  As it turned out, Mobile was lucky and barely even got any rain.  Though we could have used a little more rain, I’m so glad we did not have to deal with the weather that North Alabama received.  It is heartbreaking to see the pictures of the houses, cars and trees that were torn up and leveled by tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and other parts of the state.

Thursday was much cooler and pleasant and I had no problems in the morning.  On the way home, my handlebar had again twisted around, but that is so old hat, I didn’t even slow down this time.  (So much for not having any more problems once it had been tightened down.)  Carl fixed it again when I got home.

This morning it was also nice and cool.  And again no troubles on the way to work.

So, except for Monday, my rides went very smoothly this week.  Murphy must have been busy with someone else.  

My Monday morning ride started off well.  My husband and daughters gave me a backpack filled with candy and a pair of bike shorts for Easter.  So, I started out with a fresh backside, looking more like a real biker chick with my new gear.  After about 2 miles, I had started to relax and take in the fresh air and beautiful midtown scenery.  When not worrying about your equipment, it really is a pleasant ride through all the historic homes and beautiful old oaks (okay, I might go by a couple crack houses closer to town, but those just add to the variety).  However, what happened next gives new meaning to the phrase “waiting for the other foot to drop.”  About 3 miles in, there seemed to be something wrong with one of my pedals.  My right pedal was kind of wobbly and unstable.  I looked down at it and it looked like the pedal itself was coming out.  Without having looked at it up close before, and being the mechanical genius that I am, I thought maybe the hard rubber looking piece was sliding off the metal part and I tried to push it inward with my foot – but that didn’t seem to help.  The pedal was getting worse by the second so I pulled over to stop & look at it.  But before I came to a complete stop, the entire pedal dropped to the ground!  Great!  I knew I should have stuck to running – no equipment, just me and the road.  But I’m here with my one pedaled bike now…. so, I pick up the pedal and try to put it back on.  The threads on the pedal are messed up and try as I might I finally decide there is no way I’m getting it back on without a wrench.  Mental note: not only do I need some sort of portable pump and tire kit to carry with me on my rides, I guess I need a small tool set too.  Well, either I walk it or try to ride it with one pedal.  I have about 2 miles left, so I better see if I can ride it.  When the right, non-pedal side would come up I used the tip of my foot to help push the bar around a little and then I pedaled hard with my left foot.  It actually went surprisingly well once I got going and I don’t think anyone I rode by even noticed. (I could just coast on by when necessary.)  I could not make it up the incline in my parking garage, but that was close enough to get off and walk.  One of the maintenance guys in our building, Dave, was nice enough to take a look at my pedal.  Dave said the threads were really messed up and that there was no way I could have gotten it back on myself  (yea, I already figured that out).  He said it looked like it had not been put on right to begin with – that whoever screwed it on got it cross threaded and then didn’t get it on all the way.  (Well, at least it wasn’t something stupid I did.) Dave cleaned up the threads as best he could, got it back on, and says it should stay on now –  should?? ….hmmm, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this little adventure, it’s that whatever CAN go wrong, WILL.  

 On the way home, the pedal seemed to be working fine.  But shortly after I started, my handlebar felt kind of wobbly.  Then I realized the handle bar had twisted around so that the brake handles were sticking straight up instead of out in front of the bars.  I stopped and tried to work the bar back into place, wobbling it back and forth and twisting, but I couldn’t budge it.  So, I got back on and rode very slowly all the way home, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stop quickly if I had to and praying that my now wobbly bar wouldn’t loosen further. Although I have discovered biking is still possible without a pedal, I don’t think I’d be as successful at biking without the handlebar.  Luckily, I didn’t have anything I had to be home for right away and I didn’t have any additional problems.  When I got home, Carl straightened the handlebar back out and tightened it back so that it won’t move again, hopefully.  He says I shouldn’t need to bring a tool kit with me – that once everything is all tightened up I won’t have any  problems.  Yea, there’s that word again – “should.”  I’m somewhat less confident, as I said: whatever can go wrong will.  Murphy and I are very well acquainted, I don’t know what he did to come up with his law, but I’m thinking it probably involved a bike.

Carl put a new tube in my tire and tried to work on the gear shift, but was having no luck.  He rode it around testing it out and popped the new tube he just put in.   He finally decided to take it back to the store we purchased it from several months ago and they gave us a new bike. Yay!  Of course we forgot to take the lock off the old bike or to bring the keys to the lock, so he bought me a new bike lock too.  Okay, ready to go, new bike, new bike lock!

 I sat on the bike Tuesday morning – oh my gosh my butt hurt!  I didn’t know if I could sit on the bike at all – even when it wasn’t moving!  But I had to go that morning – I can’t bike the rest of the week because we are leaving to go out of town for a few days.  I couldn’t give up only one day into this!!

 I got an old towel doubled it over and tied it around the seat thinking that would give me a little cushioning.  Well, not much, but I didn’t know what else to do.  So, I started off, mostly standing, shifting way over to one side when I did sit.  Other than that, the morning ride started off well, but the cool dry weather was gone (I do live in the humidity capital of the world after all!)  I again had no trouble getting out of the neighborhood and across Airport Blvd. and I made my way through the Midtown neighborhoods with my helmet on and the straps of my canvas bag on both shoulders.  My only real stumbling block was getting stopped by a train.  I thought I was going to avoid all the traffic on the neighborhood streets, but cars were lining up to wait on the train – all staring at this funny lady with a pink canvas bag on her back (oh yea, did I forget to mention it was pink?) and with sweat dripping down her face.  Thank goodness no one yelled out, “Hey Lynn.”  I would have been mortified!  Finally the train passed, and I started on my way.  I got as far over to the side as I could so that the cars could pass me… then I realized the towel I tied on my seat was gone, it must have just fallen off.   Ughh, in front of all these cars.  Oh well, it wasn’t doing much good anyway, it can stay whereever it landed.  The rest of the trip was uneventful, It still took me 30 min. to get to work & my hair was wet with sweat and mashed down on my head from the helmet, but not much I can do to alleviate that – except maybe move to Arizona.

The ride home was uneventful.  No flat tires, nothing.  Just a sore butt and lots of sweating.  Hopefully my derriere will heal while we are out of town and over the weekend and I can try again on Monday with a fresh backside.  Nothing I can do about the heat & humidity – that’s just Mobile – either go inside or sweat.  Can’t wait for July & August!

When I moved closer to work, I told myself that one of the pluses would be that it would give me a chance to start running or biking to work.  I mean, it’s only 5 miles.  It would be an easy trek, a very green choice and would be a great opportunity for me to put exercise into my everyday schedule.  But alas, 3 years later, I had yet to attempt that trek.  Until now.  Reports of gas prices going up to $5 this summer spurred me to thinking about doing what I had planned on doing the last three years. 

 So, I started thinking about the logistics of getting to work with all my stuff and being dressed and presentable when I got there.  I would be way too sweaty, smelly and tired if I tried to run 5 miles to work.  I don’t have a bike, but I could use one of my daughters’ bikes, they hardly ever use them and they certainly wouldn’t need them while they were at school.  Biking it is!  

 So, my husband Carl found an old bike lock for me to use and Monday morning I began packing a bag of stuff to take with me.  I don’t have a bike basket or even a back pack.  So, I packed a canvas bag with my office clothes and shoes and bag lunch.  It’s just a short trip by bike, I can carry the bag over my shoulder.     It’s only five miles, I’m thinking I won’t have to worry about traffic and stop lights so much, heck I might even get there faster than when I drive.  So, I head off to work, bike helmet on (safety first right!).  It is a cool dry morning and I enjoy the half mile ride to the exit out of my neighborhood where I have to cross a busy street, when I realize I have forgotten my cell phone.  Do I go back….hmmm, I guess I shouldn’t go off on my first bike ride to work without it …. so, back to the house to retreive my phone.  And then back out to Airport Blvd. where the cars are wizzing by very fast.  Luckily, someone in my neighborhood is leaving and makes the light turn which gives me the chance to dash down Airport Blvd. several blocks to where there is a sidewalk, before the oncoming cars catch up to me.   YES! – the most difficult part of my trek is over!

 I cut through the neighborhoods in Midtown and head up to another busy street, Dauphin, that has sidewalks running along side it all the way to downtown.  This should be a breeze!   But, it wasn’t.  For starters, my bag would not stay on my shoulder.  I thought about trying to fit the straps over my head & over one shoulder, but they certainly won’t fit over my helmet & I don’t want to stop.  The worst part was the huge curbs at every street – no nice ramps to glide down – just big huge slabs of cement and I have to stop and put my feet on the ground in order to get up on each one.  And of course there were always cars stopped at each cross road for me to go around. (And all I can think is please don’t let any of these people know me – I must look like a total nerd biking to work!).  The curbs aren’t the only bumps in the road, the big oak tree roots have ravaged the sidewalks, they are all broken up and have drop offs higher than the curb.   I finally manage to get into downtown and though it has taken me much much longer than I expected, I feel a sense of accomplishment.  I finally did it!

Next is the trek home.  I leave work a little early since the ride to work took so long and I have to get home in time to take my daughter & some of her friends to soccer.  I know it will be a little hotter on the ride home, but who cares if I’m all sweaty when I get there.   I put on my helmet & start to get on my bike, when I see something shining on the pavement below – oh, someone has lost an earring.  I pick it up… wait a minute, that’s MY mangled earring.  It must have come off when I put on my helmet.  I bend it back into shape the best I can and put it back in my ear, I will have to remember to be more careful about that.   I have mapped out my ride to avoid the main roads this time – it’s slightly longer, but using all neighborhood streets on the way back will avoid all the heavy traffic and evil sidewalks & curbs.  I will just ride in the street through the Midtown neighborhoods.  It should go a lot easier & faster, right?!  Wrong.   First off, my butt is KILLING me!  Who knew 5 bumpy miles in the morning would bruise my buttocks sooo bad.  I can’t stand to sit (Ha! an oxymoron) on the bike & so I spent most of the time standing up while I pedaled.  When I do sit, every bump feels like someone is whacking me with a baseball bat.  The bag constantly sliding off my shoulder is driving me crazy, I try holding it all different ways but nothing works until I finally figure out that I can put one strap on each arm and wear it like a back pack – great now I really look like a nerd.   At least that is better.  But, the bike is not going so well.  I had a lot of problems with it going in and out of gear this morning, which it is continuing to do, but now it seems harder to pedal and something just isn’t right.  I think my tires are low.  I go on for awhile and then my back tire starts making a loud squeeking noise — it’s not just low, it is COMPLETELY FLAT! Well, I’m about 3  1/2 to 4 miles into my 5 mile trek home, I’m totally drenched with sweat (I look like I just climbed out of a swimming pool – oh don’t I wish), and I am walking my bike towards home, looking at my watch, thinking I’m not going to make it in time for soccer car-pool ….when my phone rings and it’s my daughter Casey asking me where I am and giving me the run down on who we need to pick up for soccer.  I tell her I’m having to walk her sister’s bike – to which she replies “you should have taken mine, hers has problems.”   Then Carl got on the phone, aahhh YES! he’s home!  He offers to come pick me up, I think about saying no – I mean the whole purpose of me doing this was to get the exercise and NOT use my car.  But, looking at my watch, and thinking about the mile or so I have left, I say “Yes, I guess I need you to!”  Thank God I brought my phone!