Why I Shop at My Local Bike Shop

I needed new tires for my commuter bike. After five months of commuting through downtown Seattle, my old tires had in a glass and debris collection displayed in a rubber matrix. Now, I’ve really liked my old tires:

  • They were 32s, wider and comfier and better at handling the extra weight of commuting than 25s or 23s.
  • They had reflective sidewalls, which I liked for winter riding.
  • They resisted punctures magnificently, including one time I ran over a huge chunk of glass, saw it sticking out of my tire, stopped and pulled it out, and kept riding–and never got a flat.

Because I wanted my tires on Sunday, to ride on Monday, I went to my local bike shop, where I know all the guys well already. They were moderately busy, but made time to slap some new tires on my bike.

At first I said I wanted the same tires I already had, for the reasons previously mentioned. We chatted a bit more, and I mentioned my desire to lighten my commuter bike up a bit (without compromising its inherent commuter-y-ness). When I mentioned this, they said, “Are you sure you want the same old tires? We have these other tires you should consider.” They suggested a 32 tire that had a Kevlar bead rather than a steel one, and thinner sidewalls, which make the tires lighter. I decided, what the heck, why not try the new ones? As long as I don’t get more flats, it won’t hurt.

Then, as the put the tires on, I received a veritable dissertation-level discussion of the various factors to consider in tire selection. The factors, apparently, include (but are not limited to):

  • Bead material – Kevlar (lighter, used in high-end tires for bikes wanting to go faster) vs steel (heavier, commonly used on more everyday tires)
  • Sidewall thickness – Thinner (faster but potentially more flats) vs thicker (slower but fewer flats)
  • Width – Thinner vs thicker (there is a huge discussion going on in cycling circles, where in recent history skinny tires have ruled, but wider tires are gaining traction [so to speak–har, har, har])
  • Tire pressure – Very high (common among high-end road bikes; makes sidewalls stiffer which results in faster rolling, but a bumpier ride) vs slightly lower (too low = pinch flats; but with the “right” tire [ie, the ones they were selling me, naturally!], lower pressure plus softer sidewalls can result in an equally fast but much more comfortable ride)

Now, I’m no hipster on a singlespeed, even though I did have a road bike with disc brakes before they were cool. I’m no randonneur in love with my steel bike that includes bespoke metal fenders, integrated dynamo-driven lights, and front and rear rack for full touring or 500-km self-supported rides (on which I would use handmade in the USA panniers, of course).

I love my super-cool bike tech, including the di2 electronic shifting components I bought off a friend for my fast bike. I like carbon fiber and the lightest weight.

But I also like data, and there’s some evidence that slightly fatter tires with lower pressure can, in fact, be both more comfortable and at least equally as fast as skinny, high-pressure tires. Now, the caveat from my bike shop guys was that, for my fast road bike, I’d do well to stay with the 23s or 25s I’m already running; it’s really in the wider tires that changes have occurred lately.

I’m commuting on these new miracle tires starting on Monday; we will see if I notice the difference.

Biking and Working

I haven’t mentioned biking lately. When I started at Tamarac, I worried about fitting biking in with a full time job and time with my family.

Biking helps keep me calm and grounded, as well as healthy and fit; it’s where I have friendships forged by shared (self-inflicted, to be sure) suffering, and I push myself mentally and physically. It brings me a deep satisfaction that I don’t find anywhere else and is one of the foundations of how I think of myself.

In short, biking is very important to me. Before I took the job, Ian and I spent a good amount of time strategizing how to allow me to get in the biking I need while balancing Ian’s mental health time and my family time.

It’s been two and a half months, and I think we’re finding a balance that works for now: During the week, I commute home by bike three days. I follow a training plan I put together to do intervals or other targeted riding, so it’s not just the same slogging along every time. On the weekend, I ride on Saturday, making sure to get home before Benji gets up from nap at 3:30 pm.

When I commute, I normally ride my pink bike. I built it up as a commuter bike almost 10 years ago (disc brakes before it was cool!) and it continues to serve me beautifully in that capacity.
Snowy Pink Bike

Now, some of my biking buddies assert that bike weight doesn’t matter. They say it’s all about the motor (how strong your legs are), and that a slightly lighter bike doesn’t make much difference in how fast you go, especially over flats. I’ve ridden my pink commuter bike 20+ times on this route now, and I set myself a goal of averaging 18 mph on my commute consistently. When I started riding, I averaged 15 to 15.5 mph when riding steadily, a heart rate of in the 150s.

I’ve been following my training plan, including taking rest or cross-training days and riding in heart rate zones that feel pretty easy, and working hard on my Saturday rides.

Last Monday, riding alone on my pink bike with probably a bit of a tailwind, I averaged 16.6 mph.


I had a kind of side-wind that may have at times been a tailwind or other times been more of a headwind. It’s a little hard to say if that helped or hindered me. But that seems pretty indicative of my commuting pace at the moment. On the long, flat Burke Gilman/Sammamish River Trail section, I averaged about 17.2 mph.

But on Friday, I took the fast bike to work (this is my view as I approach the bus stop by my office; that’s my fast bike on the front of the bus).
Fast Bike, Slow Bus
I normally don’t even ride on Fridays, resting my legs for a big Saturday ride. But the weather got to over 55 degrees and not raining — how could I resist? For the first time I tried taking my fast bike on a commute. I left all nonessentials at work, including a set of clothes I now have to bring back home, and carried the essentials in a small backpack.

While I’m sure it’s true that slight differences in weight may not matter, what I can say is that I averaged 18 mph on my fast bike, keeping my heart rate in the same zones as I normally on my steady commuting days. On the flat section, I averaged 19.1 mph, almost 2 mph faster than my regular commuter bike. And that was with some notable wind, most of it not in my favor.

That bike is faster in so many ways, it’s hard to say if weight definitively made a difference. Whatever the case, I’m willing to keep calling my Cannondale “the fast bike.”

I hoped to ride it this weekend, but yet again, nasty weather precluded that. My pink bike has gotten a lot of miles this winter, what with having the rainiest winter ever. On Saturday I had to be home in time to go to a friend’s wedding, so Dad kindly started our ride an hour earlier than usual. With that start time, we spent the first hour riding in rain. My feet soaked through and I couldn’t feel my toes. You’d think I’d be better at this whole thing after all the practice I’ve had this year…

Anyway, despite the rain, three other people besides me and Dad showed up.

I embarrassed myself by being a complete wimp, and I wasn’t able to hold the pace when everyone started riding into the mid-20 mph range. The very things that make that pink bike a wonderful commuter — the weight, the rack, the fenders, the heavy-duty tires and wheels, its very frame durability — all drag me down on a ride like that.

Plus, later that day, I also found out that it’s not my favorite time of month… and that seems to always make it harder to ride. I read in my Bicycling for Women book that blood doesn’t transport oxygen as well at some times of a woman’s cycle. One of the things I struggled with yesterday was just feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, or that I was breathing really hard for my level of effort. Perhaps that’s partly the deal.

Anyway, that’s biking right now. I think it’s going well; we’ll just keep figuring things out as our needs evolve.

I Love Winter Mountains

Here are my 1,000 words for the day.
Norway Chill

A few more words of explanation: I went for a ride today while it was “warm” (above freezing, barely) and light. There aren’t many hours like that this time of year around here.


I’m still slow. It’s life. I consider it a win just getting out at all these days. Too bad Strava doesn’t list “got outside” as an achievement.

I finished the ride by going up my favorite local climb, Norway Hill, and the afternoon light on the mountains was just beautiful. I stopped and took some pictures, but my brand-new, super nice Google Pixel phone with allegedly stupendous camera couldn’t really capture the vividness and beauty of the scene. The mountains looked brilliantly crisp and clear, bright and clean against the cold blue of the sky. The dark green of the trees in the foreground and the cloud ceiling moving in overhead framed the mountains as if to accentuate their gorgeousness.

I love the winter mountains here, with their glittering snowpack and the sharp blue lines, the shadows and the slanting golden light, the cleanness of the air that makes everything look close and clear. Summer in Western Washington brings its own delights, but I feel that winter rewards us for going outside by offering the most breathtaking vistas just around the next corner or over the next rise.

So Many Things

Sleep has eluded me the last few weeks. My brain seems to express anxiety this way — perhaps everyone’s does, I don’t know. But when we built the fireplace, I literally went through a period of almost total insomnia, which at least taught me some strategies for dealing with sleeplessness. These weeks, the anxiety has come out more as waking up obscenely early, or sleeping for only short periods of time between long wake-ups. But I’ve gotten enough sleep to get by, and I’m not stressing about it because I know it’ll pass when everything settles back down.

To be fair, that might be quite a while. I think this transition will rank among our biggest, on par with welcoming Benji into our family. Some of the things we’re adapting:

Benji care

By far our biggest adaptation, and one I’m still not settled on. At this time, we’ve selected an at-home daycare recommended by ORCS. It has two adults and up to nine kids, with Benji as the oldest. A couple others are three, and the remainder are under the age of 2.5 years old. I don’t love that; it means they don’t go out on field trips and the adults are stretched pretty far.

I also don’t love that when we walked in to visit, the TV was on, tuned to the Disney Channel (which is an issue in and of itself — all the research indicates that those kind of shows, with many rapid cuts, actually harm kids’ brains, besides being incomprehensible to them). Ian and I have worked hard to make very careful, deliberate decisions about Benji’s screen time, setting firm boundaries and carefully vetting everything he watches. At the same time, we always watch with him and make sure to discuss what we watched so he understands what was going on. We absolutely, positively never have the TV on for “background noise” (as the daycare provider described it); that means he doesn’t–can’t–ignore a TV.

I talked with the daycare provider about this, and she immediately agreed to have the TV off when Benji was there. I’m not sure that will happen, though, because there’s another kid there who seemed glued to the screen both times I visited. If it’s a choice between that kid having a tantrum and respecting our preference for no TV on, who’s likely to win?

So although we have a place for Benji, I’m not real satisfied with it. I’d prefer to find an in-home daycare with fewer kids and closer to Benji’s age; or, better, have Benji go to a friend’s house (with compensation, of course), or even a nanny (although I find that prospect both daunting and alarmingly expensive). I really wish we could hire a friend with kids to take Benji as an extra kid, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be possible. Otherwise I’d like to find a nanny-share of some sort, but again, I have no idea how to go about finding that. And we must have something in place by January 23, when my job starts.

Biking

I started riding as a slow and steady bike commuter, but after I stopped working, I switched to recreational riding. I’ve really enjoyed riding long distances fast, and I’ve made some good friends along the way. Saturdays have become my day to spend riding with Dad and those biking buddies, my “escape from home” mental health day.

With this new job, I’m going back to that slow, steady commuting. I expect I won’t be seeing 20 mph very often anymore, and those ultra-distance rides are going to be a distant memory. That’s a tough thing to let go of, because I do love those century Saturdays. Then, too, I have to adjust to spending weekends at home again — that’ll be the only time I have to spend with my family. And, with all that, I won’t see those biking buddies as much, if at all. I’m sad that I may not see those friends much, if at all, in the future. But, alas, commuting is usually a solo activity.

I think it’s worth it, and the 20-mile one-way commute from my new work will certainly help me stay in healthy (if not speedy) biking shape. When the 520 bridge bike path opens, I’m going to have a super commute. Until then, it’s slogging through downtown up to the Burke-Gilman, a commute I did ages ago at the Bike Alliance and that I didn’t love. (In fact, it’s salutatory to review that blog post, which reminds me that 5-day-a-week commuting may not be my wisest choice.)

Over time, I trust we’ll find some kind of balance that allows me to have the satisfaction of the occasional long ride, regular commuting, and still spending time with my family. It does feel daunting, though.

Ian

It looks like he’s going to have to take on a lot more Benji care in addition to his regular work, as I’m likely to be gone from about 7:00 am to about 5:30 or 6:00 pm. That means he readies Benji for the day, drops off and picks up from daycare, spends the afternoon with him, and maybe feeds him dinner and puts him to bed, if I get home late. Right now, we split most of those things. I don’t feel comfortable with all that additional burden falling on him, but, again, we’ll just have to see how everything shakes out.

Our finances

On the bright side, my salary means that Ian no longer carries the burden of sole breadwinner, which frees him up to look for other jobs he might like better. Also, the risk of his losing his job or other major financial crisis does go down substantially. We have talked about this financial easing, which I hope will help remove the burdensome sense of duty and responsibility.

Plus, while money’s not been tight, per se, we certainly haven’t had much wiggle room in finances lately. Depending on how much childcare ends up costing, my additional income will allow us to save for financial goals much more effectively. Of course, we’ll also adjust our giving appropriately, too.

Those are just a few of the areas dramatically changing. Some of them do keep me up at night more than others. It doesn’t help that most of my peers and both my family and my in-laws chose to have Mom stay at home with the kids. While our families support this decision, I can tell it seems kind of incomprehensible to them. I don’t have any role-models or support from moms who’ve done it for how to do this full-time working and being a mom thing, and that makes it tough, too.

Whew! I guess this is my honesty post about things worrying me. As Benji would say, though, “Don’t worry!” –I do have lots of excitement and enthusiasm about this new job. It’s going to be amazing and worth all this upheaval. Just… lots of both anxiety and excitement.

2016 Bike Statistics

Here’s a nifty infographic/dashboard-style summary of my biking activity for the last year, as documented on Strava.

It was a good year for recreational riding. I really hoped to get to 8,000 miles, but although pneumonia intervened (ha! Look at that entire row representing most of December that’s practically blank!), I’m pretty happy with my total riding. I got to do Mt. Haleakala, RAMROD and P2P, plus 7 Hills of Kirkland Century, Flying Wheels Summer Century (memorable thanks to finishing the last half as a singlespeed), and some great rides with Dad, including Mt. St. Helens (two words: chip seal) and Orcas Island/Mt. Constitution. What a great year!

I have Ian to thank for all of those hundreds of hours I spent away riding. Without his consistent and sacrificial support, my graph wouldn’t have nearly so many data points. I’m so grateful that, even though he thinks I’m nuts, he still actively supports my riding.

Next year I’m guessing will look very different as we reach a new equilibrium with my working full-time downtown. No training for RAMROD, no mini-rides commuting to preschool, no Wednesday night hills. It’s going to be all steady commuting with hopefully longer Saturday rides thrown in — maybe, depending. Time to break out the lights and panniers and put that commuting helmet back on. It’s going to be interesting.

Meanwhile, here are some photo highlights.
Top of Mt Haleakala, Feb 2016

Ready to ride to preschool!

Singlespeed for Flying Wheels

Katie & Joe RAMROD 2016

Mt. St. Helens

Top of Mt. Constitution

Odds and Ends

The temperatures have dipped the last few days, and Benji and I haven’t been able to ride our bike to school all week. If I was commuting alone, I’d probably give it a shot (except Tuesday, when there was definitely ice and black ice), but with Benji, trying to ride to school in 20-degree weather, it’s just too difficult to keep him warm. I know lots of hardy parents in Scandinavian countries and colder parts of our country take their kids out in the 20s, but… we’re Washingtonians. We trust that waiting a few days will bring us more temperate temperatures and comfier riding.

Meanwhile, Benji had another Special Day at school, and he got to bring home the (presumably extremely germy — excuse me while I go wash my hands for a moment) class stuffed animal, Mr. Moose. Benji taught him about Advent Calendars and “shared” some of his morning chocolate.

Benji and Mr Moose and Advent Calendar

Every morning when he wakes up — remember, this happens some time between 5:30 and 6:00 — Benji leaps out of bed and yells, “YUM!” and then, dashing downstairs, yells, “YUM, YUM, YUMMY YUM YUM!” Blessed quiet follows, then, as he concentrates on opening the little Advent Calendar door and extracting and unwrapping the chocolate.

I’ve certainly enjoyed pie for breakfast, and I’ll never say no to a good chocolate croissant; but eating straight chocolate first thing? Even my sweet tooth quails at the prospect. And nobody could ever accuse me of turning down chocolate.

I love desserts, and generally consume too much sugar, a weakness combated entirely by the fact that I ride my bike a fair bit. Although, as previously noted, not so much when it’s very cold out. I actually did ride my trainer yesterday, but it was a really halfhearted attempt, and my toes never warmed up even though I never left the garage.

I may have to switch to running (these workouts don’t sound too bad), or at least get my mind back back in the game for some trainer intervals. It’s a bummer time of year for cycling, even for someone as willing to ride in the rain as I can be. Call me crazy, but I’m not willing to ride in potentially icy or slushy conditions, nor am I willing to incur permanent nerve damage by riding in 36-degree rain for hours at a time.

In Unrelated News

I applied for a new job at a software company called Tamarac, located in downtown Seattle. I’ve worked closely with and really like one of the support people there, and she said she’ll put in a good word for me. I’ve got my fingers crossed — although if I did get an offer, that’d have its own challenges (namely: What the heck do we do with our child while I’m working?!). I’m going to just give it a shot and see what happens, and trust that God has a plan one way or another.

And, um, if you’re a stay-at-home mom who’d like to earn a few extra bucks by watching my darling son while I’m working… let me know. 🙂