20100603

Car-Free Month Post-Mortem

[in the CD player: Curve, Doppelganger]

Sorry, folks -- I should know better than to promise that I'll do something involving discretionary time...

So here's the (anxiously awaited!) postmortem of the Car-Free Month (CFM).

Let's start with the good stuff.

Of the 20 available workdays in May, the Missus and I rode to/from work 19 times. That's 95% -- and better than we'd expected! We took a vehicle to work on the 12th due to icy roads in the neighborhood. Of the five Sundays (grocery days) in May, we hauled groceries by human power four times. We drove a vehicle on the 16th because we were on a wicked-tight schedule that day and every second counted. We took a vehicle to the gun club every Saturday (twice on two days) because we were hauling match equipment that would have been impractical (impossible?) by bicycle. On those days, we twice took advantage of access to the vehicle for "side trips" to Home Depot. I took my motorcycle to a meeting on the 4th that was across town and notorious for finishing well after dark. Looking at the mileage:

Bicycle:

Work: 14 miles round trip (R/T) x 19 days x 2 bicycles = 532 miles
Groceries: 2 miles R/T x 4 weekends x 2 bicycles = 16 miles
Country Spin: 30 miles x 2 bicycles = 60 miles

Total = 608 miles


Vehicle:

Meeting: 18 miles R/T x 1 day x 1 vehicle = 18 miles
Work: 14 miles R/T x 1 day x 1 vehicle = 14 miles
Club: 40 miles R/T x 7 days x 1 vehicle = 280 miles
Side trips: 6 miles x 5 days x 1 vehicle = 30 miles
Groceries: 2 miles R/T x 1 day x 1 vehicle = 2 miles

Total = 344 miles


So we put in almost twice the mileage on the bicycles than on the vehicles. Woo-Hoo!!

Commuting to/from work, we mostly stuck to the roads, taking the Front Range Trail for the entire commute only once. When we were both on bicycles -- as opposed to me being on the TerraTrike Tour (TTT) tadpole recumbent -- we tended to return home by way of downtown. It saves almost ten minutes, a acceptable ROI for having to deal with "city traffic" for a mere four blocks. I only took the trike thru downtown once, trying to outrun the rain. The TTT is definitely not at home in that environment!

I alternated between the Cannondale and the TTT, splitting the miles pretty evenly between the two. The Missus has only her road-tired mountain bike so all her miles were put onto it. On Mondays, we always bring to work our week's breakfasts and lunches. For the CFM, we employed the BOB trailer for this task and it handled the 20 meals just fine. Other than 15 minutes spent re-aligning the rear derailleur on the Cannondale, there were no mechanical issues.

The weather was (mostly) cooperative. The morning temps are still pretty nippy in May 'round these parts. More than half the mornings were below 40 and only three were 50 or above. A handful of the afternoon rides home were done in 80+ temps. We got rained on three times: both trips to/from work on one day and an afternoon of heavy dizzle / light rain last week. This isn't bad, especially since the (every afternoon!) 15-minute thunderstorms start in June and run thru August.

Now that I have 200 or so miles on the TerraTrike Tour, I can make some (reasonably) intelligent comments about it.

TTT Cons:

It's just too low to the ground for mingling with congested traffic. I'm OK with it on lightly-vehicled side streets or roads with Lots O'Shoulder but I get the wiggins in heavy traffic. I do plan to do some week-long (+) tours on it at some point so I'll have to be double careful when I pedal thru any towns. The biggest problem I've faced is people backing their cars out of driveways. They simply cannot see me -- and so I'm continuously in condition red when I'm pedaling thru the 'burbs.

You can't "muscle" the trike like you can a bicycle and it's very unforgiving of being stuck in too high a gear. I find myself doing a lot of shifting to keep my pedal cadence "reasonable" (80 RPM, +/-). Stopping at a traffic light while three gears too high is a real experience! Fortunately, in the the worst cases of "duh...", I can just grab the wheels with my hands (wheelchair-style) and get rolling enough to downshift without grinding metal.

The Trike takes steep climbs very slowly. We have an ugly (but short) climb on the way to work and it's One Steep 'Muther. On the Trike, I'm in lowest gear in no time and grinding-out the climb, rookie-style. I'm sure this is a combination of higher weight and higher rolling resistance compared to a bicycle. Since it's hard to "muscle" the Trike up a steep climb, you really do need to keep the gears low and just crawl. After a half-dozen trips on the TTT and returning to the Cannondale, I was quickly reminded how much of a mountain goat the T2000 really is. The Cannondale's climbing speeds were 50% higher than the TTT's on the hard stuff. That said, the TTT is fine on "normal" hills and I didn't feel all that disadvantaged. I spent a good part of the month grumbling about its climbing abilities and not until we did the 30-mile "country ride" did I discover that it can handle eastern Colorado rollers just fine.

The TTT's high-speed stability leaves a bit to be desired. Above 25 MPH, the steering starts to get a little twitchy. I've found I can calm things down considerably by letting the bars free-float in my hands on these high-speed descents. This technique doesn't completely eliminate the "unpredictability" and as speeds increase upwards of 30 MPH, things get .................. interesting.

I used to own a Polaris ATV. It was a lot of fun until I started developing some confidence and mustered the courage to tackle more difficult terrain. One of the things I noticed about the problems I repeatedly found myself getting into was "picking a line". See, I grew up riding dirt bikes -- so picking a line thru a difficult stretch was just that: picking a line. One line. Once I got the ATV, I was faced with finding two lines thru whatever mess I was about to get into. And I invariably found one good line and one bad line. But the second track of tires still had to go somewhere. And usually "somewhere" was trouble.

What does an ATV have to do with this post? Well, the TTT has three lines. Granted I don't ride the TTT off-road but that doesn't mean that street surfaces are perfect. Some of those potholes are downright vicious. So when I'm on the Trike, I spend a lot of time focusing on the road surface because I gotta' get three tires thru whatever mess I'm about to tangle with. More than once I've had to make the split-second decision: which of the three tires am I gonna' run into that pothole. Kinda' distracting sometimes...

This is a minor nitpick but there's no speedometer mount. There's some sort of bracket on the left (front) that tracks with the wheel which I employed to hold the speedo pickup but it's a poor solution. I tried tie-wrapping some small-diameter PVC to the bracket but the solution didn't really take. I was forever plucking the pickup out of the track of the magnet after some major jarring caused the mount to shift. I'm sure if I really, really thought about the problem, the solution would be obvious. I haven't, so it's not. TerraTrike would do well to solve that for its customers. Maybe they have and I just haven't looked hard enough.

One of the things a bicycle rider learns once he crosses the threshold from recreational (bike path) riding to hard-core (obsessive racing) riding is that seat height is very important. I'm surprised how small the window is between my bicycle seat being too high or too low. For me that window is about 1/4" and getting it wrong results in a couple mighty angry knees. In fact, I went thru quite the gyrations to make sure my SPD-equipped mountain bike (and T2000) had the exact same seat height as my Look-equipped Litespeed. The TTT doesn't have "seat height" as a bicyclist might understand. It does, however, have an adjustment to move the cyclist back-n-forth in relation to the pedals. The difficulty of this adjustment is compounded by the fact that the back-rest angle can be changed, which ultimately changes the (effective) "seat height". So there was a lot of trial-n-error getting it right. Ultimately the adjustments are kinda' coarse but, fortunately, I found a spot that worked very nicely.

The trick was staying in that spot. See, the nylon seat is really slippery. For folks that pedal their trikes around in shorts or jeans [hack, spit], it's probably not an issue. But I ride in Spandex (B&PBUI) and sliding around on the TTT's seat was totally screwing with my "seat height". I tweaked a knee on the second ride and it was a couple days before it worked itself out. But I found a rather brilliant solution: anti-slip matting. This is the stuff you can buy to put under throw rugs to keep them from sliding around on tile/wood floors. It also shows up as "bottom liner" in the produce bins at supermarkets. I had some that I'd bought to protect the plastic surfaces of my motorcycle from my saddlebags. The stuff is "perforated" so it breathes (sorta') and it's cheap enough to replace regularly. It keeps me parked in the seat and it works great.

Lastly, there's no way to wear a backpack/Camelbak or messenger bag. This is obvious and I knew it going into this deal -- but I miss having that flexibility. It's not fatal, of course.


TTT Pros:

No review of the TerraTrike would be complete without a discussion of just how comfortable this machine really is. I'm amazed that the Missus and I pedaled a 30-mile loop and nothing -- NOTHING!! -- hurt. Usually, I'm fighting to keep my hands (or balls) from going numb or my seat bones from getting sore. I know what you're thinking: "Dude, your bicycle ergos are all wrong!" That'd be a true statement if I didn't have a huge box full of saddles, seat posts, and head sets -- all remnants of the Fruitless Search for Bicycle Comfort. Sure, some days are better than others and after 100s of combinations-and-permutations, I've gotten really, really close on the bicycles. Just not perfect. But nuthin' wears so little on the body as the TTT. Think of it as a Lay-Z-Boy with pedals. With all I've mentioned above concerning the TTT's cons, the comfort level of this trike trumps all that. Period.

And while I stated that the TTT can't be muscled, don't confuse that with it being sluggish. It's a surprisingly sprightly machine when handled properly (correct gearing, anticipating "obstacles", avoiding unnecessary weight, correct ergos, etc). While it can't come close to the acceleration potential of the Litespeed, the TTT is pretty much on par with the T2000, when the latter is ridden as it was designed. The turning radius is rarely a hindrance and can be ............... abbreviated with brake-steering. I'm sure that regular heavy doses of that could lead to the premature wear of various hard parts but I wouldn't expect a little "brake English" now-n-again to cause many problems.

Another overlooked advantage is what I'll call "foot-free stopping". At first, it's kinda' weird to pull up to a stoplight and not have to put a foot down. You just, well......................., stop. No cleats slipping on oily roads and no fighting to get re-cleated upon starting. Depending on your ride, you can probably lock-in in the garage and unlock when you return two hours later. I once test rode a Piaggio MP3 for a friend that had no motorcycle license. These scooters -- like the TTT -- have two wheels up front and one in the rear. The MP3 has a complicated (to me) front end suspension system that allows the scooter to be leaned thru a curve. However, it also has a "suspension locking" feature that locks the tilting hardware at speeds below (something like) 5 MPH, which means the rider can stop at a light w/o putting a foot down. This allows Miss DMA (Dainty Management Assistant) to wear her high heels to work and not have to get them mucky at a stoplight. I always thought it was a silly feature but riding the TTT has changed my mind. So, to Piaggio, I apologize. Well done!!

There's one more indirect advantage to the TTT: bar ends shifters. The TTT comes with them and they're The Tool For The Job. I'm pretty much a Luddite when it comes to mechanical doo-hickeys but I'd long-ago grown quite fond of the Shimano STI shifter/brake setup that came with the Litespeed. When I completed the cross-country trip in 1998, I thought it might be cool to have the T2000's (perfectly reliable) bar-ends replaced with an STI system. So I did and it was. For about a week. For the next 12 years I regretted that decision. After the first half-dozen rides on the TTT, I said, "That's it, dammit -- the T2000 gets its bar-ends back!" I dug out the old parts and cashed-in on a local bike shop's pre-season tune-up special to get them re-installed. And I couldn't be happier! (Part of me -- the Luddite part of me -- briefly considered having down-tube shifters installed but that's a bit too retro for even TCM...)


So that's pretty much the summary. I had a great time riding thru May and look forward to falling back on those good habits in the future. The Missus was uncertain about not only the CFM but the 30-miler as well. But she dug deep and completed both with grace and aplomb. She now has the confidence and the fitness base to go father and faster. Hell, there may even be a bike trip in our future!! Who knows??

So thanx for checking back. Sorry it look so long...

TCM


[Editor's note: The other day, the hardware engineering manager -- the Missus' boss and fellow cyclist -- asked me where he might find some old-style thumb shifters. Not the early RapidFire-style shifters, but older than that even. The only place I figger'ed might have them was Rivendell. (And I was right...) Which reminded me that I always thought that Rivendell's moustache handlebar was really cool and would work well on a commuter bike. So I spent the next 1/2-hour or so employing Google-fu to find pictures of the moustache bars installed on various bikes. Unfortunately, during my net wanderings, I stumbled across this and this:

O. M. G.

I'm sorry folks but that is quite possibly the most attractive bicycle TCM has ever laid eyes upon. ("Sorry, Litespeed, my dear, I'm not taking it back...") It's a Rivendell "Sam Hillborne" and I suspect it's wearing custom paint and fenders. That bike right there would make me wish I had my driver's license revoked and a 40-mile R/T commute to work!! That's one damned fine lookin' ride, sir, and I am terminally jealous...]

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