Sunday, March 13, 2016

Errandonnee Part 2: Going Car-Free (bike build begins)

It doesn't take much for me to get excited about building a new bike. I have a traditional road bike. Thinking that it wasn't quite appropriate for taking on the train or riding around town, I built a single-speed. Steel frame, belt drive, disc brakes but otherwise, it's a normal urban bike. But it's not quite right for many of my errands because the only real cargo capability is my backpack.

Thus begins my next bike build. I started by thinking about what I wanted to carry and how. Pizza, beer, groceries and bulky, heavy stuff from the farmer's market - that's what I need to carry. I decided I would prefer to have a front rack. It seemed better for awkward and heavy cargo. Buying local, I ordered a porteur style rack from Pass Stow ( Recycling (or re-using) an old 26-inch Trek Navigator 200 from 20 years ago seemed appropriate. The rack will work well, so the project gets the green light.

Of course, this is still the middle of the Errandonnee Challenge.

March 11, 2016, Errandonnee #7
Doctor's Appointment (category 1. Personal Care)
I took a vacation day to do a few errands. I probably would have done this even if I wasn't planning to bike to them all. First up was a doctor's appointment for a routine skin cancer check. I didn't have any particular concerns but I'm in my mid-fifties, have fair Scandinavian skin, burned all the time when I was a kid, and spend a fair amount of time outside. So I have risk factors, but no family history. I got a thorough check and everything is fine. 11.5 miles round-trip, including coffee where I happened to meet an old co-worker from 25 years ago. Yet another uncounted "social call" errandonnee.
Observation: Apparently, you can detect skin cancer on your forehead by the roughness - even before you could see anything. I have a large forehead, but fortunately, it's smooth.

March 11, 2016, Errandonnee #8
Powder Coating Facility (category 3. You Carried WHAT on Your Bike)
I didn't want this new cargo bike to simply be my old bike with a rack - which it is - so it needed a fresh coat of paint. But paint that isn't baked at the factory and sealed afterwards tends to chip easily. Powder coating is super tough but it is more of a specialized thing. Fortunately, there is a powder coating place about 12 miles away (23.6 miles, round trip to be exact). As you can see, it's not exactly easy to transport a bike frame on a bike! I used a bungee cord and my backpack, with the fork inside the backpack. It was surprisingly secure and well-balanced. Next time, I'd attach it sideways because it kept bonking me in the head! I got surprisingly little attention or commentary along the way. It probably happens all the time. Meh. Whatever, it's not like I crave the attention.
Observation: It hadn't rained on the way over, but my luck ran out on the way back. It poured and the wind howled. So, the return leg of the trip was much more difficult than the outbound. Second observation: rain pants and waterproof socks - good choice.

March 11, 2016, Errandonnee #9
Pick up new rack (category 5. Non-Store Errand)
Errandonneering encourages you to buy local. When I built my previous bike, I had a custom fork made by a local bike builder in San Francisco. I follow him on Instagram (coffeeandeggs). On one of his photos, I commented about shopping for a rack and he responded with a comment about his friend's company. He's in Oakland, so on that recommendation alone, I ordered a rack and offered to pick it up so I could see his shop. Pass Stow Racks is not a store, for sure. There's no sign, no front door, really. It's just a couple guys in warehouse space a block from the BART station (our rapid transit system). Today, since it continued to rain, I was happy to get on a train! I biked across town to our BART station and got off at his. He met me on the sidewalk and guided me through the labyrinth to where the magic happens. I'm a big fan of metalworking and truly appreciate good welding. We talked about bikes, racks, bags, commuting, fountain pens, to-do lists - you know, guy stuff. He showed me an unfinished rack and then gave me mine. It's gorgeous (if you're in to that sort of thing) and amazingly light. It's 4130 cromoly steel, so you could carry a person on it - but don't.
Actual non-train distance worked out to be 11.9 miles. When I first loaded my ride on Strava, it was 57 miles. But Strava doesn't give you tools to edit out the middle. So I wrote to Strava and within a few hours they had fixed it. Wow! So many observations on this trip, but...
Observation: A lady on the train thought I was funny for taking photos of my rack.

March 12, 2016, Errandonnee #10
Breakfast with Goats (category 9. Wild Card)
A half-mile from my house is an area that hasn't been purchased by developers and converted to suburban housing, thankfully. Along one paved emergency vehicle access road are a couple of little goats. My wife started feeding them carrots on her runs. So I grabbed a few carrots and went to see them. "Wild Card" almost works as a category - if they were wild goats, it would be perfect.
Observation: Goats have really crazy eyes.

March 12, 2016, Errandonnee #11
Future Blog Research (category 2. Personal Business)
I use this blog for many topics, but mostly cycling stories. I also like history and sometimes I write posts about the history of cycling. A surprisingly popular post was about a particular hill that we call "The Wall". And I included a few tidbits about the person for which one of the side-roads was named, Downing. I continue to be intrigued by the pioneer Downing family and know that they lived in my little town of Pleasanton. So I rode over to the Pioneer Cemetery and found their family grave site. Lots of Downings there along with the dates that might help me write a future blog post. Distance: another half-mile.
Observation: Judging by the prominant location and the size of the main headstone, I'd say they were moderately important people back then.

March 12, 2016, Errandonnee #12
Farmer's Market (category 5. Non-Store Errand)
I know these two posts are long, but the trip to the Farmer's Market was key to this whole "Errand Bike" idea. Yes, it undermines my whole rationale if I can take any old bike there and bring fruits and vegetables home. But what if I wanted a watermelon and a dozen funny-colored eggs? That would not work out well with a backpack. Today, of course, it's still late-winter or early-spring so there's not much at the market. I bought oranges, almonds and cauliflower.
Distance: about three-quarters of a mile.
Observation: Fruits and vegetables can get heavy.

That completes the Errandonnee Challenge. As short and simple as many of these errands were, a few of them were difficult. And if the rules committee throws out any of them, I went from the Farmer's Market to a coffee shop. And I commuted all week (an additional 150-some miles). And I went to the LBS to check on my road bike (routine maintenance before a Brevet in Utah, need a new chain and a lot less gravel in the bottom bracket). So I've got several back-up errandonnees. But again, I opted out of riding to the SPCA. This time it was the elements, a tight time schedule and the possibility that I would need to pick up our college student from the train station. Perhaps next week.

In my quest to go car-free, I've proven that living in the suburbs doesn't mean that you need to drive (solo). The bike in combination with mass transit works very well in all kinds of weather. I've proven that most short errands are easier on a bike. I've proven that "'s awkward to carry..." is an excuse that can be eliminated with a little planning (and the right bike). And I've proven that cycling is simply more fun than running errands by car. Well, I've proven these things to myself.

This is where I say "your mileage may vary" with just a touch of irony.

Coffeeneuring / Commuter Bike at the Local Bike Shop, there is not a tandem in my future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Errandonnee Part 1: Going Car-Free (Lite)

Michigan, in the 1960s, was all about the automobile. Gasoline was $0.30 per gallon when I was born. Living in farm country, we actually had a 200-gallon tank on our property and a gas truck would come out periodically and fill it up. No thought was given to burning gasoline - even just for fun! Before I was old enough to drive, I owned five cars. The economy revolved around the automobile. And so I went to General Motors Institute to be an automotive engineer. I only say this to underline how deeply the automobile is ingrained into my being.

After a few years of increasing annual mileage on my bike in the past decade, it dawned on me that it might be possible to eliminate the car from certain aspects of my life. Is it possible to completely eliminate it? Let's examine some of the problems:
  • Commuting - from the suburbs to Silicon Valley, 55 miles round-trip per day
  • Errands - grocery store, dry cleaning, volunteering (the shortest trips, but awkward to carry stuff)
  • Dining Out - ~10 miles, but always with my wife who does not bike
  • Going Places - vacations, day trips, movies (varying degrees of difficulty and luggage)
Enter the Errandonnee Challenge. Mash up "errands" and "randonnee" - meaning long, self-supported bike ride, take a photo and hashtag it. The challenge is 12 errands in 12 days and it's made slightly more challenging by specific categories to enforce some diversity of the errands. Of course, it's possible to do all 12 errands in one day. But what fun would that be‽

March 4, 2016, Errandonnee #1
Multi-Modal Commute (category 7. Work or Volunteering)
Short bike ride to the train station; train ride down to the Valley; five-mile bike ride from the train station to work. Then the opposite back home that afternoon. About 20 miles of actual bike riding.
I've been doing this a couple times a week for a couple years. There are lots of cyclists doing the same thing.
Observation: If it's raining and snails invade the bike path, there will be collateral damage.

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #2
Haircut (category 1. Personal Care)
About two miles downtown. No big deal. I tried to take it easy to keep my head from sweating.
Observation: They open at 8am! Okay seriously, I noticed that it's so much easier to park a bike - right at the front door - than a car.

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #3 (same day)
Coffee (category 6. Social Call)
From the barber shop to the coffee shop was less than a mile. The rules allow this, so I did it.
Observation: Kouign-amann (pastry); resistance is futile. 

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #4 (same day, but I went home first)
Dry cleaning (category 2. Personal Business)
This was a bit of a challenge and has always been a hurdle for going car-free. It's possibly the shortest errand for me, 0.7 miles. How do you transport a few dress shirts on hangers to and from the dry cleaners? I've tried this before. It's rather dangerous to have a shirt on your back. 
Observation: The tip from packing experts is to roll your clothes, so I tried this. I left the shirts on their hangers and precisely rolled them up and put the roll in my backpack. Success!

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #5 (same day, same shopping center)
Groceries (category 8. Store)
The grocery store is two doors down from the dry cleaners in the same shopping center. I rode my bike but probably didn't pedal more than a couple times - slightly more than zero miles.
Observation: Rolled up dry cleaning is useful padding to keep potato chips from getting crushed.

Then the rains came and I opted to drive across town to my volunteering gig at the SPCA. It's not that I won't ride in the rain. But I need to put more thought into packing. Maybe next week. This is something I need to resolve on my car-free quest.

March 6, 2016, Errandonnee #5
Coffee and CycloMonkey Chaperone (category 6. Social Call)
As I am apt to do on Sundays, being a Devout Coffee drinker, I rode down the canyon to Devout Coffee to drink coffee. After that, I visited my friend to drop off a certain stuffed animal. CycloMonkey has been to two corners of the globe and Andrea is going to take him to a third (New Zealand and Australia). The ride home made the whole trip 31.7 miles.
Observation: The short-cut from Andrea's house, through the sports park, leads right to Rusty's house. (True observation: I can barely recognize my cycling friends without their helmets on.)

Clearly, I can eliminate the car for commuting and most errands. Stay tuned for more Errandonnees and more serious changes in my transportation habits.