A Little Bike Commuting Math

Today, for the first time all week, I didn’t get soaked by rain on my commute home! I’m not complaining about the rain; not really. We’ve had an exceptionally dry November, with an unparalleled number of beautiful Saturdays that let us keep riding our fast bikes far later than usual. I expect to commute home in the rain most days between November and April, so I’ve just enjoyed all these bonus dry days.

Of course, that all changed this week, which we kicked off with 1.4 inches of rain on Monday. I had forgotten how difficult it is to see in the pitch dark in the rain, with raindrops on my glasses and car lights refracting and my glasses fogging up every time I stop.

On rainy days I wear my Gore jacket, which is phenomenal (although I think the colored sleeve patches are soaking through…). But it’s very light, and the directions specifically say “Use with backpack not recommended” — I assume because it wears through too quickly. So on rainy days I take my pannier and go just a little slower. Meh, I’m so slow anyway in these conditions, it honestly doesn’t matter much.

BUT! Today, as aforementioned, it didn’t rain. Plus, I’m working from home tomorrow and have to carry my laptop. For this, I use my Timbuk2 backpack, which has a perfect cozy padded laptop pocket. Okay, honestly I’m not sure if it’s cozy; I’ve never actually cozied up into the pocket, but I imagine my laptop would say it’s cozy, based on how fuzzy and soft it feels inside.

Anyway… I don’t use the backpack most of the time because, frankly, it’s enormous and I don’t need that much volume most of the time. Long story short, today not only did I need to carry my laptop, but I had some extra cargo that required the larger bag.

If only it wasn’t so darn heavy when it’s fully loaded like that. By the time I’m three or four miles from home, my back has started sending out semaphores, flares, etc., to alert me to the level of discomfort I’m feeling. It’s not fun. 

I wondered, as I waited at a stoplight and tried to take the bag weight off my poor, long-suffering shoulders and upper back, how much all this hoo-hah weights. I estimated about 10 lbs for the bag, fully loaded.

One of the things about having my brain is that you immediately decide to quantify stuff if you can. So when I got home, I got out the scale and did some quick measurements. A few little calculations later, and I got my answers:

Fully loaded bag, including laptop: 7.4 lbs
All the gear I’m wearing*: 8.2 lbs
Commuter bike with rack, fenders, pedals, lights, bike computer, the works: 22.4 lbs

By far the most surprising thing to me was the weight of all the clothes and gear. It never occurred to me that I’d be carrying that much extra in layers. Maybe that’s part of why it feels so much harder to ride in inclement weather… And, also, my bike was lighter than I expected: I thought previously it weighed in at 27 lbs. Must’ve lost some water weight since then.

In any case, if I’m looking for reasons I’m so much slower commuting now than in June, I probably need look no farther than these:

  • It’s dark and I slow down for safety.
  • It’s wet and I slow down for safety.
  • I’m carrying a lot of extra weight in winter gear.
  • I’m riding my heavier bike all the time now.
  • I ate some extra donuts once I finished that Gran Fondo.

Cyclists are so good at excuses!

*All the gear I’m wearing includes counts the weight of all the extra wintertime gear: helmet with light, shoes, booties, and jacket. It doesn’t count the regular base layer of shorts, jersey, etc. that I wear all the time. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have included shoes, since I have to wear those no matter what. Oh well.

Poem to the Rain

I’ve been more wet —
showering.

I’ve cycled to the sun and under the harvest moon
The hum of tires, the shussssh of the wind 
singing counterpoint to my joyful heart-tune.

I’ve been more wet —
swimming.

I’ve fought, dug deep, eyes on a wheel
Discovering strength through pain, 
a core of ever-forging steel.

I’ve been more wet —
bubble-bathing.

I’ve ridden the miles that build
A firm friendship foundation,
reward of valuable time fulfilled.

I’ve been more wet —
But I’ve never been more happy.

Bike Update

Let’s see, what’s happened since I last updated about this mess?

I filed a claim with FedEx. They wrote me a check, and I was briefly really excited… Until I learned it was only $100, again, the full extent of their liability since I didn’t buy extra insurance.

All I need is another 48 payments like that and I’ve got the frame replacement covered!

So, that finishes off any possible claims with people who did the shipping. They agree that I have a legitimate claim, but they just don’t have to pay fully to make it right.

Meanwhile, our homeowners insurance has rejected the claim unless I can prove somehow it was one of the 16 perils listed in our policy. Which is impossible. I can’t imagine how I, or anyone, would determine exactly whether something was dropped on to the box, or whether the box fell off a truck, or what.

I have contacted John Duggan, a lawyer specializing in bike issues, to get some advice. But lawyers are expensive, so I don’t want to waste a lot of time and resources going down that road. I suspect all the parties involved–BikeFlights, FedEx, and USAA–all are thoroughly covered with impenetrable armor of legal language absolving them of any responsibility.

It’s so frustrating. I made one possibly wrong choice–to not get shipping insurance–and now even though I did nothing wrong, my family suffers the consequences. The insurance was super expensive (relatively) and I thought my box would protect it. I guess I feel like I’m not the one who crushed the frame. Why am I the one who gets punished? Why do we pay for homeowners insurance if they can just weasel out of paying for personal property damage?

I’m just disgusted with the whole system, and resigning myself to not replacing the bike. I have my old Cannondale. I can’t justify spending that much again on what is ultimately a toy.

Acceptance

A little over a week since I learned my S-Works was destroyed, and I’m starting to be able to think about it more calmly. I guess I’m slowly accepting this reality, where I spend my free time trying to submit claims to different faceless, soulless corporations, and they find reasons not to cover the expenses. I’m also coming to accept that it’s very likely we will end up eating the full cost of replacement.

At the same time, I’m finally starting to believe that there are things to be thankful for.

  • I wasn’t riding my bike when it got damaged. Nobody was hurt.
  • It got damaged on the way home, not on the way to the Gran Fondo. I got to do all that lovely California riding on the S-Works! (I set one of the pictures from that weekend as my desktop at work, and it feels very bittersweet to look at it and see my beautiful bike that is, for now, ruined.)
  • It’s only the frame. Everything else seems fine, which makes fixing it that much more manageable. Frames still run $4500, but there are crash replacements and some hope I won’t have to pay full price. Time will tell there.
  • It wasn’t my pink bike. The S-Works was phenomenal, and a joy to ride, but it was all new stock parts that are easy to get replacements for. I’ve customized my pink bike so much, I don’t think it’s possible to get all the parts if something were to happen to it. Plus I ride the pink bike every day. I’d miss it more, I think.
  • I have my Cannondale. I couldn’t bring myself to part with my old bike, and now I’m glad I didn’t. That reluctance means I now have something faster to ride than my commuter bike on Saturdays.
  • I have a hope of replacing it some day. Financially that’s nothing to sneeze at.

So I get to be thankful. There’s so much to be thankful for. I see it more every day.

Bike Frame Damage Update

I’ve been following up on remuneration for the destruction of my bike frame. It looks pretty grim. Here are all the parties involved and why they won’t pay.

BikeFlights

This is the third party I used to make the label. I created the label long before I bought the S-Works, so the manifest lists my Cannondale SuperSix Evo, and I didn’t bother with shipping insurance. That was an older bike, and what are the odds anything would happen when it’s so protectively boxed? When I bought the S-Works, I didn’t even think of updating the BikeFlights manifest or extra insurance coverage. I just put the S-Works in the box and blithely went on my way.

Now, to their credit, BikeFlights did right by me, to an extent: They paid the full amount they were liable for without much of a fuss. Unfortunately, because I hadn’t purchased any extra insurance, their full liability was $100.

FedEx

They are the actual shippers, and they’re the ones who caused the actual damage. Some FedEx employee dropped the box from a high height, or dropped something heavy on it, or stood on it, or stacked 10 pianos on top of it. I don’t know what they did, but somewhere between Santa Rosa and Kirkland, they crushed my frame.

I have not yet talked directly with FedEx, because I suspect they will point to and hide behind their contract with BikeFlights to dodge any liability. And, again, I opted out of shipping insurance, so it’s really my fault.

I am planning on contacting them, but I’m not at all sanguine about my chances.

USAA

These fine folks provide our homeowners insurance. They cover personal property damage, even when away from home, so I had some hope we might get recompense there.

I filed a claim with them, and yesterday spoke with an adjuster. She just asked for my statement, during which I honestly described exactly what happened. At the end of my long, woeful tale, the adjuster asked me exactly what had caused the damage.

I told her, again honestly, I didn’t know. Have you ever gotten a package shipped to you that was crunched somewhere along the line? How can you determine what caused the damage?

But our policy only covers damage caused by certain things: fire, water, earthquake, theft, vandalism, vehicle, and a few other disasters I forget. They don’t cover vague “damage in shipping” unless I can somehow prove it was, say, a FedEx truck running into my box.

Similarly, they cover falling damage, but only if something falls onto my stuff, not if my stuff itself falls. So if my bike box fell off a truck, I’m out of luck. But if another heavy package fell onto it, and I can prove that, I might get paid.

All that is pure speculation, though. Even if I call FedEx, how could they possibly tell me exactly what happened? Those guys toss boxes all day long. It’s darn near impossible to tell what exactly caused the damage.

Clues:

  • The box is massively scratched up along one edge, and it wasn’t before. But otherwise it is totally intact – no holes, no dents, no nothing to indicate massive trauma.
  • The frame was crushed where the handlebars were packed around it, but the handlebars, wheels, and everything else in the box is fine.

What do those tell us? They tell us that the insurance company will slither through that little crack so fast you can barely see its tail flick out of sight.

So Who Pays?

Bottom line… Probably us. Because I didn’t do the BikeFlights manifest and insurance correctly. Even though I did everything else right – paid hundreds of dollars to have it packed professionally, used a box that could practically survive a nuclear blast, burned candles to my ancestors, you get the idea – we end up on the hook.

I’m feeling discouraged, bitter, depressed, angry, defeated, hopeless. Because of course it’s the people who are most powerless, who can least afford to absorb this financial setback, who end up suffering the most. We’re not exactly in low income bracket, clearly, but my S-Works was a huge splurge in the first place. It wasn’t a drop in the bucket, it was like half a bucket. We did it, but doing it again?

Replacing my S-Works, even just the frame, is hard to justify and afford when we also have an ageing furnace and hot water heater and who knows what other unexpected expenses.

I sure hope the shareholders of those companies are happy, cuz I can tell you right now, I certainly am not.

And I can tell you right now: I’ll think twice about shipping my bike again.

Crushed

On the shipping trip back, my beautiful S-Works frame was crushed.

I don’t even know how that’s possible; it was professionally packed by NorCal Bike Sport in my hard-sided Thule bike box. That box is like tank armor. It has Kevlar bands to keep it from being crushed.

And yet, my frame is totally destroyed. I don’t know yet about the handlebars or wheels or any of the other components.

What I do know is that my beautiful purple-blue-red glitter frame, so fast, so responsive, so comfortable, so expensive… Is gone. There’s no fixing it. It’s totaled.

To make matters worse, I made the original BikeFlights label for my Cannondale long before I even bought the S-Works, and I didn’t buy any extra insurance. What were the odds that something could hurt my bike inside that bullet-proof box?

Apparently 100%.

I’ve contacted BikeFlights, but their website makes it clear that they won’t cover damage if you didn’t buy their insurance. Plus I shipped a different bike from what was on the manifest. So I’m not sanguine about getting any traction there.

Our homeowners insurance may cover part or all of the damage, too, since it covers high-value “personal property” that usually resides at our home. I’m waiting to determine the full extent of the damage, and then I will file a claim with them.

I’ve also opened negotiations with the bike shop that sold me the bike to see how much a frame replacement or a full replacement will cost. Short answer: not as much as the original, but a lot. Also, no more beautiful glitter purple frames are available this year.

So that’s where I’m at. Mostly waiting to figure out if anything else is broken and trying to hold myself together.

Honestly, it feels like my heart was crushed along with my frame. I’ll be okay… Eventually.

Marin County Alpine Dam Ride

I finished Levi’s Gran Fondo on Saturday and didn’t think I’d be riding much the rest of my trip. 

Wrong!

My original Sunday plans didn’t work out, so I had the entire day until my 6:30 pm flight to find something to do. I had my fast bike, an extra change of clean clothes, a ride buddy, and a route with promised spectacular views. Why not?!



It took some figuring out — would the timing work so I could still return my bike for boxing and shipping? Could I do it and not miss my flight? Could my legs do another ride after Levi’s the day before??

Yes, yes, and YES!

And oh man, I’m so glad I did it. That ride ranks up there among the most beautiful rides I’ve done so far, especially the first 20 or so miles. Holy cow. Here are some of the pictures I got along the way.

Levi's Gran Fondo 2018
Click the bike picture to see a full album of all the pictures I took.

Marin Ride: Alpine Dam
Alpine Dam and an alpine dame.

Marin Ride: This Is Great
Partway to the top.

Marin Ride: The View
Dang, I was hoping for a view. (!!!)

Shooting Meteor 3
Rare action shot… John got so far ahead on the descent that he took a nap, woke up, and then got this picture as I went by.

Marin Ride: San Francisco and a Blue Angel
It was Fleet Week in San Francisco, so we got to see Blue Angels doing tricks.

Once we got about 15 miles from the end, I was really ready to just head back, honestly. Plus it got substantially less picturesque and substantially more suburban. So no more pictures. 

Oh, on that ride I also met a gal named Lexi Miller (very fast and fit-looking, like every other woman I saw on the road that morning. I felt very humbled. I used to feel fast; this ride reminded me that there are a zillion women faster than me. Get out and work harder, girl!)… anyway, this gal Lexi Miller designs women’s bike clothes! She was wearing this design and now I want one. So cool.

We finished riding right about 2:00 pm, leaving me plenty of time to get back to Santa Rosa, drop my bike off, take a shower (my fellow airline passengers probably really appreciated that touch, or would’ve if they’d known the alternative), gas up the rental car (holy crap, gas is expensive! And I had a Prius!), get a Subway sandwich, and arrive at the airport with tons of extra time.

I was on a turboprop. It was loud and uncomfortable, but when I took a picture of the props with my phone…

What the Propeller
What?!!!!1 and also, WHY?!

In any case, to summarize, I really can’t overstate how great it was to spend Sunday on a low-key and super-scenic ride with a friend who wasn’t trying to crush it. Just to ride for fun. Levi’s Gran Fondo was great, but I had so many hopes and anxiety about it. Sunday’s ride washed all that stuff away. It really took the trip from an 10 to an 11.