Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Going Grassroots

The panel plus Cassandra Habel at the first Choose to Commute workshop at Redamte

There is something quite exciting happening in the Madison bike community.  In the past five years, a bunch of grassroots organizations have popped up trying to improve biking for everyone.  No longer are citizens sitting around waiting for government funds--as we all know, they are almost impossible to obtain unless it's for a highway project.  People now, form all different backgrounds, are coming together to not only celebrate the bicycle, but also educate and motivate others in hopes that they too, will find joy on two wheels.

One of these new groups has been pulled together by Cassandra Habel from Saris Cycling.  Her focus is advocacy and education.  She recently formed a Facebook page called Spoke Haven and along with Tom Klein, from Redamte coffeehouse, she started putting on Choose to Commute workshops.

Fliers set out about upcoming events.  Photo by Cassandra Habel
Monday night, a group of more than thirty gathered at Redamte to hear a panel speak on topics pertaining to bike commuting.  The panel was well chosen and diverse which led to discussions ranging from safety for winter cyclists to dollars saved by commuting by bike to environmental impacts.  Many of the facts were taken from studies done right here in Madison by the great folks at the Nelson Institute.  For some of this information, please see my previous post on Maggie Grabow.

I have to admit, I was a bit concerned this gathering would be like preaching to the choir.  Too often, only avid cyclists show up to these types of events.  I was pleasantly surprised several participants were just beginning to bike commute and needed information.  I'm hoping their questions got answered and they feel a bit more comfortable out there on the roads.

Monday's discussion was only the first in a four part series.  With upcoming group rides and gear discussions, newbies can get a jump on bike commuting before the warm weather season starts.  This series made me really think about what we could do if all of the grassroots groups came together in the near future so that we, as cyclists, could gain strength in numbers.  The only way we can improve the infrastructure and behavior of drivers is to work together.

Thank you to Tom Klein and Cassandra Habel for putting this together.  Thanks also to Kathyrne Auerback, Jessie Lerner, Jim Lorman, Aaron Crandall, Zacarias Barnes and Allison Reitter for taking time to contribute by being on the panel!

Friday, February 22, 2013

A winter poem

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turning a frown upside down

Mechanical Steed
Traversing life's adventures
Happiness is found
-haiku by Nathan Vergin

My feet are ice blocks
My torso is drenched in sweat
Ah, winter biking!
-haiku by me

Wednesday morning I decided to stop sulking and feeling sorry for myself.  Yep, it's cold, icy and windy.  What did I expect?  I live in Wisconsin.  Each winter I hit a point when I'm fed up with riding indoors and become willing to venture outside on longer rides, other than my commutes.  This year, that point came a mere eight sessions on the indoor trainer season.  Let me be clear.  I understand the benefits of riding inside, but I HATE it.  When I can no longer rally myself, even with the best music, I know it's time to layer up and roll out.  I am aware I do have two--make that three choices.  I could a) sit around eating and drinking all winter until I'm so round I don't need a bike to roll  b) actually get back into running, cross country skiing or speed skating or c) say "fuck it" and just ride outside no matter what the conditions are.  I chose "c".

My previous post was on Wednesdays ride.  If you're really bored, you can read it.  I must say, however, the Wednesday ride set me straight.  Several sections of the road were horrible, but I still had fun, and at no point did I want to hold a gun to my head--the way I often feel while riding inside.  Go figure.

The Cat Whisperer, Erin Shenanigans and Cabby at One Barrel
Thursday brought a "love your bike ride" for Valentine's day.  It was supposed to be a large ride for Madison Bike Winter's bike-to-work-week, however, we joked that only the "cool kids" came out--me and three of my riding friends.  A quick loop around lake Monona brought us to Glass Nickel for pizza and then One Barrel for beer.  The four of us sat around listening to a loop of Tom Jones, Neil Diamond and Barry White, trying to drown the music out with more beer.

This is what happens when you drink
on Valentine's day.  

I woke Friday early, almost giddy, since I had the time to spin down to my riding group's coffee clutch gathering.  A beautiful sunrise over Monona bay greeted me and a leisurely ride back with a good friend was the icing on the cake.
Church Coffee Clutch

Friday evening was round two.  Another beautiful ride to Cronometro for the winter-bike-to-week party. Thanks to Scott, we had a nice open space with pretty bikes all around and Bike Benefits supplied us with beer from Great Dane.  I always like these gatherings since it's a time to chat with friends and make new ones.  Come late winter, planning for upcoming rides always sparks me to keep going.

End of the week party at Cronometro

Thumbs up to Fyxation for being a prize sponsor

Saturday found me riding to the East side once again to meet a friend for lunch and a trip to Olbrich Botanical Gardens.  Being a chilly eight degrees for my morning commute made both well deserved.  With my insides warm from good food and an 80 degree room, I had a smile on my face the entire ride home.

All in all, I logged about 115 miles on my knobbies in four days.  Not huge miles but all enjoyable.  Each time I considered driving someplace, the thought was fleeting.  I thank all my friends for providing me with great destinations to ride to this week.  Now if you can just keep that carrot out in front of me, I may become a winter biking convert.

Friday, February 15, 2013

One perfect day

This is, of course, how my nickname came to be

Call me Sandy Bottom Bracket.  Actually, please don't.  Although I find my new nickname--given to me by a female cycling friend--fabulous, I'm not sure if I want it to stick.  This name was chosen for me on one of the messiest rides of the year.  And I loved almost every minute of it.

One of the prints I got to see
Really, the entire day was quite perfect.  After work, I hustled home so I could ride down to the Ellsworth Kelly print exhibit at MMOCA. I've never been a big fan of abstract field art, but with two weeks of clouds weighing heavy on my psyche, I needed a bit of color.  The vivid colored shapes lifted me out of my stupor--but it was his line botanical line drawings and his black and white lithographs that really drew me in.

This is one of my favorites
Needing to spend a bit of time outside, my husband and I then rolled over to one of our favorite bike shops and proceeded to harass a riding friend until she agreed to come out and play--really, no arm twisting was required.  What was supposed to be a quick ride around lake Monona turned into a fit of laughter as we tried to navigate our way through roads covered in 2-3 inches of slush/ice/potholes/puddles.  There were no good lines and I'm sure a snail could have passed us.  A few miles down the road, conditions finally improved.  As I picked up my cadence above five rpms, crunchy, grinding noises started to sing from my bottom bracket--now covered thick with sand, salt and road grime.  And that my friend, is how I got my new name.  The stripe of sand covering my entire backside didn't help.

A lovely road ride

On the way back, I was treated to a high five by another cycling friend coming home from work.  A perfect end to a perfect day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A few of my favorite things

Our group outside of Lakefront Brewery.  Photo by Stephen Wasmund

There are few things in life I love more than bikes, exploring cool cities, and hanging out with amazing friends--this includes my husband.  Throw in some great food, beer and whiskey and I'm like a kid in a candy store which is also a toy and pet store.

Lunch at Cassablanca
This past weekend started off perfectly with a whiskey tasting at my house.  Cycling friends gathered to help warm the cold winter night.  My thoughts may have been a bit fuzzy, however, when I planned a brewery tour for the following day.  In my defense, we were supposed to do the brewery tour the previous week but a ice/snow storm foiled our plans.

The "morning after" found the six of us jacked up on caffeine, making our way to the lovely city of Milwaukee for a field trip.  You've all heard me gush about my love for MKE--I'm not shy about it.  And although a couple people in the group had spent some time there, we were all on a mission for fun.  This mission included not only beer and food, but also the much needed bicycle (would I post this if it didn't include the beloved bicycle).

Nick working his magic.  Photo by Nathan Vergin
Our first stop provided us with sustenance of a different kind.  Call it eye candy.  The intersection of 36th and Pierce is now the new home for Fyxation--one of the coolest urban bike companies I've ever been exposed to.  Nick Ginster, and his brother, Ben started this company just four years ago.  They made their mark in the cycling community by designing a tire--that some of my fixie riding friends wouldn't trade for anything--called the Session 700.  Jump to the present and they are putting out pedals which have grips-- perfect for riding with street shoes or winter riding, track straps, stems, several types of handlebars--Nick is using one on his Ducati, bar tape, saddles, and oh yeah...they are now putting out frames and complete bikes.  Three gorgeous bikes with names like the Eastside, Riverwest and Quiver.  A cross bike is in the works.  These bikes are an urban riders dream.  Simple and elegant with thoughtful geometry and extras such as low profile fender mounts.  They have just enough bling to make you stand out in a crowd (check out the dropouts and color choices).  It's hard to believe they've only been selling frames for two months.  The word must have gotten out since several of them are already sold out.  But don't fret, Nick has got some sweet connections in Taiwan--he worked in the bike industry there for five years--and more will be rolling in soon.

Take a look at these frog--"qing wa" in Mandarin--dropouts

Fyxation's pedal and strap.
Photo by Nathan Vergin

I first met Nick at the Midwest Handbuilt Bike Show a couple years ago.  His products caught my eye as did his company t-shirt (he used a picture he took of a cyclist in Taiwan and the front simply states "bikes are better").  Nick was such an approachable guy we hit it off right away.  I was so impressed to hear he volunteers at several bike events, including wrenching at RW24 each year.  He has also sponsored my all-female alleycat, Madtown Maidens, for two years.  He lives what he preaches and he's even married to one of the staff members of the Wisconsin Bike Fed!

As with every interview I do, I sent Nick some questions.  Here's your chance to get to know one hell of a industry leader.  Oh, and if you're in Milwaukee, give him a ring, he might just give you a tour too.

Q: What's in your personal stable right now?

A:  So many bikes, so little time. I spend the most time on a prototype Quiver lately. It's gone back and forth between a CX build and city build with fenders a couple times. But as far as the rest of stable there's an Eastside single speed, Milwaukee Bruiser, mid '40s Schwinn cruiser, Kona Chute, Giant AC-1, and Ducati Monster (since it's got two wheels, it counts for the stable, right?).

Q:  What is one of your fondest bike memories?

A:  I have had a lot of great memories riding, but I always feel the best rides are ones you don't expect. While riding out at a ski resort in Colorado with my long time riding cohort Chris and another buddy we had one of those rides. The whole thing started with innocently borrowing his ex-girlfriend's car to spend a few days riding the trails at Breck. On the second day we decided to drive up to Estes park, but while climbing a steep pass the car died, big time. With a ride back to town on a flatbed truck we had a few options. The one that came to Chris' mind first was leaving the car in the mountains and riding a trail "he had heard some guys talk about" across the continental divide and back to Boulder. This was at least a six hour endeavor that would take us above tree line and over the divide, and given the time of day, a bit of a race against dusk. That was enough for the third member of our group to opt out. We promptly got some food and fueled up, headed to the local bike shop for a map and energy bars and left out of town up a steep dirt road. Needless to say it was one of the hardest and most beautiful rides I've ever done. We rode amazing single track above tree line, past mountain lakes and over at least a few unmarked trails. Somehow, we managed to roll back into Boulder at dusk, grab a cold Pacifico and plate of tacos, and settle in to let our sore legs rest.

Q:  What got you into the bike industry?

A:  I've been infatuated with bicycles and motorcycles as far back as I can remember. I rode BMX as a kid, switched to Enduro motorcycles and then to mountain bikes; all the while it had been a dream of mine to put my love for two wheeled travel together with my work. While studying mechanical engineering at UWM I landed an intern position at Hayes Brake in their test lab. That grew from the lab, to product design and eventually I ended up in Taiwan as their Chief Engineer for Asia.

Q:  You run Fyxation with your brother, and your wife works at the WI bike fed, do you ever deal with bike industry overload and what do you like doing when you just don't want to think about bikes?

Nick's Ducati...his other passion
A:  Bicycle overload, what's that? Actually, I love my work and I ride often, but I do have other past times which keeps things balanced. I'm an avid fisherman and we're fortunate to have loads of great fishing within Milwaukee. If you ride the Hank Aaron trail or along the Milwaukee River parkway this summer you're bound to see me fly fishing with my bike locked up nearby. I also have never lost my passion for motorcycles, and currently my motorcycle in the Fyxation shop getting all dialed in for Spring.

Q:  MKE has quite a bike scene and yet it isn't celebrated the way Minneapolis or Portland are. What changes would you like to see MKE make, if any? Are there any cities on your "must ride" list?

Admiring a model of the Hank Aaron trail
A:  The scene in MKE is strong, and I agree it's not as well celebrated as some of the other "biking" cities. Maybe it's our Midwestern tendency not to brag, but Miltown has a lot to offer cyclists. Our bike lanes are expanding, we have a terrific network of inter-urban bike paths, Rays MTB park is here and the rides along Lake Michigan are gorgeous and accessible. A constant challenge for cyclists is dealing with other vehicles that share the road with us. Our auto culture is tuned into looking out for other cars, and often cyclists are seen as secondary road users. The more people that are our there on their bikes, the more cyclists are seen as equal road users. I believe that cities that focus on getting more people riding by building safe corridors for cycling increases the safety of cyclists, not only by giving us designated riding lanes, but also by drawing more cyclists to the streets and thereby increasing drivers awareness of riders. As Wisconsinites we're fortunate to have an organization like the Bike Fed advocating for us. If you're not a member, I would encourage you to join. They're doing great things us every day.

Q:  You've spent quite a bit of time in Asia, how does the urban bike culture differ there?

A:  The urban cycling culture in Asia has undergone a big transformation in many cities over the past decade. For ages bicycles were seen as utilitarian vehicles only. With financial success families would ditch the bike for a scooter or motorcycle, and eventually a car. In many places this created a stigma around cycling and ones prosperity. That has changed a lot recently. I saw this first hand living in Taiwan. When I first started travelling there you would never see people out riding for pleasure or exercise; however, during the time I spent there the number of people riding bicycles exploded. Bike shops popped up everywhere, with companies like Giant and Merida opening concept stores packed with the latest carbon bikes. Urban cycling culture popped up in cities like Taipei, Jakarta and Bangkok--fueled by young riders first looking towards Western trends, but eventually carving out their own culture--and is still going strong. I've had the good fortune of participating in urban riding and fixed gear events in Asia, and I can tell you there an infectious enthusiasm there now.

Q:  What, in the bike industry, has you in awe at the moment?

A:  After more than 15 years in the industry it's hard for me to be awestruck, but I do enjoy how the cycling industry continues to evolve. Fat bikes and 650b are two categories that didn't exist a few years ago, but are seeing explosive growth. Hydraulic brakes for road bikes stand at the edge of becoming a reality. I am also encouraged by the number of people turning towards cycling for transportation. There are a lot of great companies really looking at urban cycling and saying "what makes sense for people that ride for transportation".  In large part this has driven our new road/commuter platform, the Quiver.

Q:  You've done so well in the urban bike accessory business in the past few years, why now did you decide to break into the frame/complete bike business?

The Quiver with the tires that started it all--Session 700
Photo by Nathan Vergin

A:  We have been busy rounding out our component line over the past four years and have gone from two guys and a tire, to an established brand with over 30 components and as you mentioned we're moving into complete bikes. Although bicycle manufacturing is new to Fyxation it's not new for us. I've been involved in design and manufacture of bicycles for other companies for years, so this is a natural evolution for Fyxation. Bringing affordable, quality components to riders has always been our focus and our Eastside single speed and Quiver road/commuter bike fit that mission perfectly. The Eastside combines clean styling and quality components in an affordable package, and the Quiver is loaded with innovative features that make it a perfect commuter platform. My wheels never stop turning and there are a lot of exciting projects in the works at Fyxation, so be sure and stay tuned!

Ending our tour of Fyxation with a mini tour of the Wisconsin Bike Fed office
Photo by Nathan Vergin
Had to end the day with the swings under the Holton bridge
Photo by Stephen Wasmund