Friday, March 23, 2007

The Background

When I first started experimenting with cyclocommuting I had already had some experinces dating back to when I was a boy of 13 to 15 as I had grown up here in Houston. I already knew the conditions of the roads (Rating from pretty good to poor), and the gladitorial, adversarial and sometimes downright ignorant nature of Houston drivers.

The roads have had alot to do with shaping my views on cyclecommuting. Houston as much as I hate to admit it is a automotive town that as the price for gas starts going in line with what the rest (Non-US) cities are paying is starting to learn the tricks that the rest of the world has been using for decades. In the past two years I've seen more Vespas and motorcycles in this city than I have at any other time and of course, bicycle commuters; however, nonmotorized transportation is an area that this city (and American's in general!) are still playing catch up on.

Consequently, things like bikelanes are spotty at best and by nature vary by which traffic engineer designed them and what politican was bought off by what group. For example, the Memorial Villages which I live just outside of which depending on you point of view are citylocked towns or giant suburban neighborhoods has a an "integrated bikeway" that they (the town governments) insist is good enough for daily transport use and demand money if you disprove it to them (Bicycle in Roadways prohibited signs everywhere.) Nevermind the fact that the system is incomplete at there might be a bike path westbound but none going east unless you cross the street and go counter to traffic. Plus, these "Lanes/Paths" were designed with a 1950's view of bicycles.. Set as a 4 foot wide sidewalk it can only handle a speed no faster than a 5 year old can ride a tricycle. You also spend more time in the vertical as you travel over it as Houston's infamous gumbo soil has caused the concrete slabs to shift and buckle . Some of the Villages have done an "Oops! we goofed when we built overgrown sidewalks so well slab in all the way to the shoulder of the road." which amounts to a useless gesture as the the whole mess is on a 45 degree declination from the roadway. Lanes done by the City of Houston proper are far better as they are part of the roadway. The only problem with them is all the trash from collisions and lazy motorists winds up in the lane and nothing comes by to sweep it up and collect it.

As a consquence I've found a mountian bike to work best. Compared to a "Racing/Touring" bike the seating position is more upright and allows a better view of traffic. Also, a 26" wheel has a slightly greater contact patch with the road than a 700c. The main trade off is speed as most mountain bikes are geared lower.

For the gearheads this is an early picture of my commuter. It's a 1989 Alpine Monitor pass with a Deore XT drive train. Tires have been dropped from 26 X 2.0 to Michelin 26 X1.5 "Gatorback" Metro tires. Seat is a Brooks Conquest. Neck was orignally a Tioga T-bone, but I found that my seating position was too spread out for long rides and replaced it with a road "riser" neck. I also have no use for biopace so the front cranks and chaninwheels are later round rings models. Pedals are SRs with clips (Since replaced by Shimano PD-M424s SPDs)

Light system is triply redundant Night Rider. The primary light is a Nightrider Digital Evolution with two batteries and a commuter alkaline system for the last line backup.
Tailight is a cateye blinkie on a handmade clip that
is clipped to the bottom of the rear fender. Fenders are by Planet bike.
Rack is a Blackburn Mountian 3 and panniers are Jannd Mountianeering Mountian Panniers. The brain is a Cateye Enduro 2.

I suppose if I started from scratch I might be inclined to try a flat bar road bike like the new Specialized Sirrus, or a purpose built commuter like a Breezer or a Specilized Globe.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I rode on the path in the Memorial Villages today, just to see how it is. It was slow. Ehhhh...