folder gets the drops – the (for me) perfect commuter

(scroll down to see the pic – the ads block it)

I’ve written here before about the awesome Xootr Swift folding bike. It has become my everyday commuter for a variety of reasons, but it always bugged me that I couldn’t lean down to avoid high winds. I tried bar ends, which let you lean forward, but it feels scary because your fingers aren’t on the brakes or shifters.

Of course, if you add drop bars, then you can’t keep the v-brakes. and road brakes don’t fit nicely around the stock 1.5″ wheels. that brings on the skinnier tires and so why not get bigger (451 vs. 406) tires and a Capreo hub designed specifically for bikes with smaller wheels. New tires mean oppty for a new cassette, so why not take the chance to go for a 9-speed cassette built for a small wheel (higher top gear).

It took me about three days to make al the changes…could’ve gone a lot faster if I had any clue what I was doing, but I sure learned a lot in the process. here’s the list of upgrades:

* drop bars
* road brakes
* 451 wheels and 28mm tires
* Tiagra shifters
* Capreo rear hub (seems to yield a higher top gear)
* 105 rear deraileur
* 9-speed cassette

And it still has campus pedals, CrossRack, toolbag mounted on front end, water bottle dangling from riser, and fenders. for me, it is now pretty much the perfect commuter. Foldable for the train on those days I just don’t want to ride 13 miles back home. Studded tires for the icy winter. Carries plenty on the CrossRack (not shown) And should be pretty fast for the temperate days.

( I can see I need to add more text to push the pic below the ads … here goes )

I am hoping that this can become my “everything bike.” I currently have four bikes: a Trek Soho for maintenance-free commuting, and Specialized Roubaix for distance riding in comfort, and backup Giant Cypress. I am intrigued as to whether the Swift will prove a worthy distance machine. With drop bars I could see it being possible.

Among the dumb things I did was buy replacement cables at Wal-Mart. What a mistake. Seemed like a deal at $5 for brake and shifter cables (and housings), but they were sticky and all the housings were for brake cables, not compressionless shifter housings. Well I guess I won’t make that mistake again. With bike parts you really do get what you pay for.

bike shopping

No, no, I’m not in the market for a new set of wheels. But I did try grocery shopping by bike.

To be fair, I had biked to the grocery store before, then loaded the contents of my shopping bags into my panniers. But I figured it was Earth Day, so maybe I could try skipping the plastic bags for once. I was just going to take the pannier off of my rack and into the store, but then I thought I’d be a bit more daring and just wheel the bike into Roche Bros.

I got a few stares from fellow shoppers, but none of the employees said a word. Maybe that’s b/c my folding bike isn’t much larger than a shopping cart.

I’m not normally much into the “eco” side of cycling, but it did feel un-wasteful to avoid grabbing a bunch of plastic bags. Here are some bananas in the pannier:

The only downside was that riding home was a bit of a bear since I switched the pannier from the back to the front. With a laptop, the frontloaded bag actually improves steering by making the folder a bit less “twitchy.” But with so much weight in the front. steering was difficult/awkward. I’ll give it a few days of commuting and then maybe switch it back to the back…hides my hindquarters anyway.

Turn signals and crosswalks

All I ask of Boston drivers…two things:

1) signal before you turn. because so few people signal, those of us on two wheels instead of four live in constant fear that you will suddenly pull in front of us. your turn signal will not wear out from use. do it. hanging up the phone will free your hand

2) stop for crosswalks, but don’t stop IN them. on my ride up the Southwest Corridor I am continually amazed at the number of drivers who would never block cars in an intersection but appear to think nothing of blocking pedestrians and others using the MUP. once when I asked someone to move his vehicle he responded not by apologizing but by yelling at me.

Just these two things would make my commute a lot safer. what a joy it is to ride off-peak when there are far fewer cars about…

Minor milestone!

I started commuting about 18 months ago from the suburbs to Boston. It’s about marathon distance roundtrip. When I started, it took me nearly an hour and a half (one way) door to door, and today I did it in 45 and a half minutes.

The best part was that my previous record was 52 minutes, so this cut off six and a half minutes from my previously fastest time!

What changed?

  • switched from an upright “comfort” bike (Giant Cypress) to a road bike (Specialized Roubaix)
  • lost 30#
  • optimized my route to shave off half a mile to a mile
  • clipless pedals
  • riding in work pants –> “real” biking clothes
  • riding off-peak to avoid traffic
  • got comfortable proceeding through intersections without cross traffic
  • of course, flexibility and strength increased

maybe there were other factors, too. anyway, if at first your commute seems to take too long, don’t panic! it’ll probably get shorter over time.

What’s cool is that if I can keep this up, then biking is actually faster than taking public transportation or driving in rush hour. In fact, driving off-peak is only a 15-minute savings and of course costs $10 in gasoline. Public transit involves

  1. Driving to the Route 128 commuter rail station (5m + 5m buffer so I don’t miss the train)
  2. Riding to South Station (20-30m)
  3. transferring to the Red line and riding to Kendall/MIT (15-30m)
  4. walking from the station to E62 (5m)

All told, it’s at least 50m and can take as long as 75.

So now biking is almost always the fastest way to get to work and definitely the cheapest! Can’t wait for my semester to end so I can ditch the T pass — I get nervous biking to work when I teach early in the morning.

My next milestone is to hit 5,000 miles since I started tracking last Memorial Day. As of today I have 870 miles left, which is challenging but not impossible. Once the semester is over I may take some time off to do a few centuries if necessary!

in our lovely desert


I had a really wonderful time biking in scottsdale arizona for the past week. I went to visit my father, and while I was there I got in about 170 miles. The only mishap was not bringing a pedal wrench, so I barely got my folder to pack in the suitcase for the flight home!

Cruel winter

with apologies to Bananarama, commuting sucked for me this winter. I finally gave up last week despite having dropped lots of money on gear including studded tires, cycling boots, and warm baselayer. I was determined to make it happen, and I did manage to commute through the worst of January and February. But toward the end of last month I had had enough.

My usual 60-minute trip to work had become 75 or 80 given the plowed snow blocking traffic, the need to slow down for ice, added resistance of studded tires, not to mention the time it takes to dress up. moreover, when I arrive I’m not energized but exhausted, and I frequently get headaches that last all day even though I’m hydrating well.

Worse, I find myself ravenously hungry when I bike in the cold. I’m sure I’m burning more calories, but I end up consuming those and then some. I’ve put 10# back on in the last few months, which really sucks. I’ve tried sticking to various eating plans, but I”m just too hungry to follow through.

So I quit last week and pulled the rear studded tire off of my bike in hopes of making it go a bit faster (for rec rides). Then I promptly fell over on a sheet of ice and hurt my knee. Not my season…

The last two days have been blessed however. In today’s 60-degree weather I rode to and from church and then around the neighborhood before the sun went down. Nothing impressive, to be sure, but what a pleasure to get back on clear pavement for the first time in what seems like months.


During the past half year I’ve logged 3,000 miles including trips to Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The only two Mass border states I hadn’t reached were New York and Vermont, and I was hoping to take one of those off the list this weekend with a trip to Brattleboro VT.

The 75-mile trip (from Sudbury) didn’t sound that bad given recent rides, and I had done twice as much climbing as this course would require. I had packed up plenty of food and water and thought I’d be fine.

But the cold got me. In cycling parlance they call it “bonking” when you hit the wall.

Previously I had done 88 miles to Connecticut and back, starting at about 38 degrees but warming up to 50 by the end of the day. Yesterday, 38 was the peak temperature and there was serious wind. Moreover, the ride was mostly uphill with the occasional dip or plateau, whereas CT was mostly flats.

I was actually fine for the first five hours. We weren’t going that fast, as my riding buddy was walking up some of the hills. But after 45 miles and 5 hours I suddenly hit the wall. No energy. It was role-reversal, with my riding buddy leading the way and me following behind.

My BikeForums friends say that I should’ve eaten a lot more for a cold-weather ride and I suspect they’re right.

Have bike, will travel

had my first oppty to take the Swift on a trip to Atlanta. very, very satisfied.

packing instructions on the Xootr website were perfect. took me a couple of hours to pack it for the trip, but I had to remove the rear rack, fenders, and kickstand in addition to the usual steps. here is my packed bike:

and the parts of the bike that had to be removed (pedals, quickrelease skewers and water bottle)

and finally the tools I needed to do it (shouldn’t’ve needed the cone wrench, but my quickrelease pedals were being fidgety)

(I should note that the addition of a front derailleur did not impact packing at all.)

Checking the bag itself was easier than I thought it would be. I just checked my vertical 30″ Samsonite hardshell as luggage, no questions at all from the agents. on the flight down, with the water bottle and seat bag of tools included, it was 47# and 45# on the way home without those things. I had a couple of unnecessary tools so I’m guessing I could get it down to 43#. but is nice to have all the bike stuff in one case.

When I picked the bag up from the flight down to Atlanta, one of the hinges had come loose and the suitcase had opened partially. I figured out this was due to a couple of screws coming out, so I swung by the Home Depot and replaced them.

Reassembling the bike in my hotel room took 15 minutes at the most.

I was thinking it would be too much hassle for an overnight trip, and it was a pain to pack the first time, but based on how easy it was to reassemble and then repack for the trip home, I would not hesitate to do this again! only changes I am considering:

1) replace topeak rack with crossrack so I can take it with
2) get riser with mounts for water bottle
3) figure out a way to pack the bike with a kickstand. couldn’t make it work this time, but there must be a way…

Here was the 20-mile ride I took from Atlanta to Decatur and back:

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

It’d been awhile since I’d gone on a distance ride. Most of my Saturdays in September and October were spent with my Scout troop finishing off the Cycling merit badge — two 10-mile rides, two 15s, two 25s, and a 50. As much as I enjoyed seeing them push through and finish, six weeks on washboard-flat rail trails (Minuteman, Providence, and Cape Cod) was frankly enough.

So we went to Connecticut. I’ve already biked to Rhode Island and New Hampshire but had not yet been to the MA-bordering state to the south. (Yes, there’s NY and VT out west, but there’s no way I could get out there and back in a day.)

To make it a little interesting, though, I wanted to mix in a drive-by of the place with the longest name in the country: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Webster, MA. There’s nothing special about the lake besides the name, but it’s a pretty special name:

I can’t tell you how to pronounce it, but a girl working the counter at Dunkin Donuts rattled it right off. No recording, sorry!

The ride itself was 88 miles roundtrip from Westwood. A friend of mine came along, who had not been on a bike in a couple of months, so he needed to walk up most of the hills & it took a couple hours longer than it should have. Some hard hills, though – 14.7% grade on one of them. Actually going downhill was worse for me – since my crash a couple of months ago I’ve become gunshy about high speeds especially on corners or where I can’t stop easily. So I crawled down the hills, and my buddy crawled up them. But we climbed about a mile of vertical distance, a first for me. Here’s the route:

Wow it felt great to get out there for such a long ride. Wish I could’ve had time to stretch it 12 miles for my second century…

finally got a folder

I really wanted to get a folding bike for commuting so that I could take it on the MBTA when it rains, but I was too heavy until recently. Once I got in range, I looked at BikeFriday (happened to be in Eugene, where the factory is) and also Xootr Swift since I know the co-founder.

I travel a fair amount and have spent upwards of $200 renting bikes this past year in various cities. Pulled the trigger on a Swift after finding a handsome Craigslist deal that came with the travel suitcase and some nifty quick-release pedals.

The great thing about a folder is that you can take it on the MBTA during rush hour without any hassle. Here it is on the commuter rail heading home at the end of the day. It was funny – I was wheeling it down the platform when the conductor stopped me to say “hey buddy no bikes” but then I folded it on the spot and he waved me on. (folding takes only five seconds)

The guy I bought it from was 6’4″, but remarkably the only change I had to make was getting a shorter stem (he had an extended one). Even the extended one isn’t that bad. The only real problem I’ve had is attaching a water bottle holder since the frame has no braze-ons, but the following hack seems to work OK, lashing a standard cage to the riser with zip ties and rubber spacers to keep the zip ties from sliding.

Some people thing that folding bikes are “toys”, but this is not true of the Xootr Swift (or the more-expensive Bike Friday). I have commuted to work on it and also took a ride out to Deer Island (below pic). It has the same number of gears as my everyday commuter (8) and plenty of speed. In fact I have outrun plenty of the spandex crowd on road bikes. A large front chainring compensates for the BMX-size wheels. True, there is some loss of efficiency compared to a “regular” bike (mfgr claims 3%; I’d say a bit more) and so I have thought of throwing a front derailleur on it and some skinnier tires.

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