Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Don't Ask Me, I'm Just Improvising

First off, let me apologize for disappearing for a while. Not only was it President's Day weekend, with all that extra kid-off-school time, but I was also working as Entertainment Director for this weird Scifi/Steampunk//Rennie/Goth/Alternative festival we do here in NJ, which meant lots of running around and being away from home for several days on end.

This year's festival was unusual in that we were holding it at two hotels which were about a half-mile apart. Because parking is always a challenge, and the shuttle bus service was packed, I brought my folding bicycle with me to run between the two buildings. While the wait between shuttle buses was anywhere from 15-30 minutes, I clocked the bike ride at about three minutes. It was pretty efficient, and ferrying various cables, microphones and last-minute info between the two buildings by bike was probably about as close as I'm ever going to get to being a bicycle messenger (I even had a walkie-talkie clipped to the strap of my messenger bag!).

I did run into some trouble on Friday night, though, when it started to rain. I have mentioned before just how useful fenders can be in those situations, but my folding bike has none. So of course, riding about in the rain resulted in an unflattering muddy streak on the seat of my trousers as well as an uncomfortable dampness in my nether regions.

The next morning, determined not to fall into the same soggy trap, I did what any Broke Bicyclist would do in that situation, I grabbed the duct tape and improvised. I happened to have a sheet of cardboard which was reinforced with some Styrofoam padding, and a roll of bright orange duct tape that I'd been using to mark cables and gear so nobody tripped over it. I cut the cardboard into a paddle shape, wrapped it in tape to make it waterproof, and taped the whole thing to my seatpost.

The rest of the weekend, in spite of damp streets, a bit more rain and snow flurries, my derriere was safe from sogginess. It had the added benefit of making me ever more visible to passing cars (many of which were driven by hungover convention-goers running on way too little sleep).

One of the beautiful things about a bicycle is that you can actually get away with stuff like this. I've made fenders with duct tape, fixed touring racks with zip ties, booted gashes in tires with candy bar wrappers and bent parts back into shape on the side of the road with my bare hands. Bicycles are simple enough that you can often come up for quick fixes for small problems, and even some major ones, with nothing more than simple tools, found objects, and a few seasons of MacGuyver reruns. As someone who thinks the hood of an automobile conceals a box full of black magic and alien technology, I'm often amazed at how easy hacking stuff together on a bicycle can be.

For many commuters and recreational riders, the biggest hurdle is getting used to the idea that it's OK to change things around. Not everybody is born to tinker, and some folks think that if it's not factory standard, it necessarily has to be inferior (to be fair, a nice set of plastic fenders would have done the job better than my cardboard creation, but my butt was dry, so it was good enough), but the best tool is the one that does the job you need it to do, and if that means modifying things with some zip ties and creativity, go for it.

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