Monday, April 9, 2012

Learning to Ride a Bike as an Adult

I learned to ride a bike as a 21 year old with no prior experience. Several friends of mine are looking to learn as well. I'm writing this somewhat targeted to them. Hopefully my experiences will help a bit and make the whole thing a bit less scary.

When I started out, I was pretty intimidated, but determined. It is ok to be a bit intimidated, but its important to have the attitude that you will make it happen. I think the key to learning is to keep pushing yourself slightly out of your comfort zone.

To get started out, it is certainly worth going with a patient friend to an empty (somewhat level) parking lot. I lowered the seat until I could easily touch the ground with my feet. When you get more comfortable, it is important to remember to raise up the seat. It took me a long time to be confident enough to have the seat at an appropriate height.

The goal when starting out should be gaining comfort and finding the point of balance. It is important to remember that the slower you ride, the harder it is to balance. I'd start walking the bike, then slowly trying to get a foot off of the ground and onto the pedal. For me, this was the most difficult task: having the confidence to trust the motion of the bike to carry me forward and onward. It was a great success getting both feet off the ground and onto the pedals. Once you can pedal a few revolutions, I'd recommend trying to bike in big figure 8's. That will help get a feeling for steering. Taking tight turns is frankly not super easy.

It is also more difficult to learn on a road bike, due to the way that they are set up. I found it easier to learn seated in a more upright position, and Francesca, my daily commuter is a comfort bike geared for a very upright riding position. Having beefier tires also makes it easier to learn balance. You also won't be as affected by potholes.

After you learn how to pedal comfortably for a while, and can hold a straight line fairly well, it is a good idea to get more comfortable with distances by riding on smooth quiet streets, but before you do that, read this. It is a really, really good idea to learn how to not get hit before you start riding a lot. My first ride outside of a parking lot was only a couple of miles (from Binghamton to Johnson City on quiet back roads), with my kind, patient friend, Zachary. I made an effort to ride most days after this before going on busier streets. I will post a second post about continuing to learn.

It took me a long time to get good at starting from a standstill. The best way to do this is to raise one pedal (I'm right handed, but start with my left foot, its really a matter of comfort), and push off. Starting from a stop on an upwards incline is one of the most difficult things about riding. The way to get better at this is simply to do it again and again.

This is a video from a gentleman who learned to ride at age 25. Adult learners can probably fall less than he does. Often, rather than simply put a foot down he just falls. His video illustrates the importance of learning location of brakes and controls before riding.

This is a bit more systematic approach to learning to ride. I personally don't like learning on grass, but it may work for some. Taking off the pedals can be a pain as well, as a standard 15mm wrench may or may not work to take them off.

I found both of these instructive as you can see what the process looks like. Physically it is tiring, as you are learning and getting comfortable with a totally foreign sensation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Steve's Mentality

I tend to agree with Steve of Southern Tier Bike project on many of his values. He told me one story that really clicked with me: He was visiting Portland Oregon with and elected to do a ride with a local club. Members were geared up to a ridiculous degree: top of the line bibs and jerseys, and expensive carbon fiber bikes. Steve showed with a ride that he had recovered and fixed up which was old and painted solid silver, including the chain. Steve is also notorious for his ancient ripped up jean shorts.
He had no serious issues keeping up with the group, despite his less impressive gear.

I felt a bit similar on a recent ride. I was on a bike path near my home town, and saw several individuals with $3000 carbon framed bikes, and matching jerseys and shorts. I was wearing bike shorts under ripped up corduroys and a cotton t-shirt, and was riding my immaculately tuned, though not visually gorgeous Schwinn. Yes, I may have had to work a little bit harder than them, but truthfully not much.

Part of the reason I love biking is that it is generally accessible. Southern Tier Bike Project works hard to make it even more so, by giving out rides to anyone who can use them, and also teaching basics. In a community that where a high percentage of people live below the poverty level, offering even a $100 bike for free or donation makes a big difference. Ridiculously high end gear just flies in the face of accessibility.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Purchasing my Touring Bike

Shortly after learning to ride, I knew I wanted to travel distances. Steve, who initially hooked me with my first bike sent me to an initially mysterious character named Augie. All I knew was that this gentleman lived on top of a big hill, and had a magical garage wonderland of gorgeous rides and parts, possibly including a fairly inexpensive touring bike for sale. I went with my friend Sarah who knew him.

Augie was very friendly and suggested several rides, including a gorgeous Schwinn with racks on the front and back. It fit me perfectly and he was asking 125 for it, but I talked him down to 115, for which he may still hold a grunge. Frankly, the bike is worth way more than what I paid for it. A brief Ebay search yielded one in slightly worse shape for $600.

My gorgeous Schwinn spent the next month positioned perpendicular to my bed so I could raise my head just above the pillow to admire it, and imagine the potential for fun and adventure. I was honestly completely intimidated by it. The riding position was totally different than my mountain bike. 

I've done a bit of research to try to date my bike, and have found that there are some fairly obsessive individuals out there. Linked there is a table with all components listed by year of production.

I've since become good friends with Augie, and put 1000's of miles on the Schwinn. I cracked it out recently after a long winter, and forgot how incredibly sweet it is. It is just in magnificent shape and perfectly equipped for my purposes.

I'm also planning a cross country trip a year from this summer. I will be well equipped and good to go, thanks to Augie!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Great Resource for Greater Binghamton Area

There are many great people in local government working on bicycle and pedestrian issues. If you live within the Greater Binghamton area, one person whose work you should know is Scott Reigle, with Binghamton Metropolitan Transportation Study.

One helpful service that BTMS offers is a system to take information from individuals who walk or bike, regarding specific issues. They can bring appropriate parties to the table and feasibly work out a solution. Often times a pedestrian or biking barrier (huge pothole, unplowed path) exists where various parties are responsible. An example is explored below:

One situation in need of better coordination exists over the 201 bridge between Johnson City and Vestal. The bridge is a major artery over the Susquehanna, and is utilized by many pedestrians and cyclists (including me). The roadway itself is a state road, meaning in winter, the New York State Department of Transportation is responsible for plowing snow and salting it. The situation gets interesting when exploring who is responsible for clearing and maintaining the sidewalk: The municipalities of Johnson City and Vestal are each responsible for clearing half of the sidewalk to a point over the middle of the river, which is technically where the municipalities border each other. The problem is that in the process of clearing the roads, the NYS DOT loads the sidewalk with dense snow. Each municipality needs to get out after they have plowed and clean the sidewalks. Given the real complexity of getting special sidewalk plows onto 201, with the sidewalk to be loaded shortly after with snow, and only going half way across, the sidewalk never gets cleared in winter, leaving walkers and bikers trudging through snow.

So in short, if you know of any bad spots for bikers or walkers, please get in touch with Scott. Don't expect immediate results, but having the appropriate parties be aware of situations is a step.

Scott can be reached at He is a great person to work with!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gorgeous Weather

This week has yielded phenomenal weather. I'm happy to see people cruising all around town. The habit I'm trying to get into is taking my road bike to work, then going for nice rides after work. The hills of Vestal are superb to train on.
Remember to inflate your tires well and go for a nice long ride today!!
Isaac out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Learning to Ride

I'm dedicating this post to individuals who don't know how to ride a bike but want to learn. It is possible and it will be a good decision! It will take some pushing out of your comfort zone, but is so amazingly worth it!

I've made it my New Year's resolution for the past 3-4 years (since about age 18 or 20) to learn how to ride a bike, but I finally took action by getting hold of Southern Tier Bike Project, approximately in May of 2011. Gary, who runs the website referred me to Steve. Steve was very friendly when he met me, and offered a 15 speed blue Pacific mountain bike. He saw how poor of a rider I was (I couldn't pedal one revolution without stopping and, and offered to walk to a nearby parking lot to practice and do some figure eights. We spent a solid hour and a half in this lot.

That night, I again lost sleep about how much fun I would be having in the future.

My first commute was with people who were significantly stronger bikers than I was (not that it would have taken much). They were fearless of traffic and were moving what felt very fast. The first week of commuting was very scary. My comfort zone was pushed to its maximum and then some. I had a few close calls with curbs and nearly skidded out while turning. I think that the only way to really get a full appreciation for riding.

One of my fondest memories of learning to ride occurred at 4 am on a weekend morning. I had enjoyed a relaxing evening with friends and elected to go for a ride over to Johnson City (under 4 miles roundtrip). The joy of rushing down hills with minimal traffic in the cool summer breeze was really fantastic!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bike Give Away

I'm going to take this moment to publicize a very special event: A group of individuals partner yearly with Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church to give away bicycles to those in need.  They give away several hundred bikes. They will happily accept any and all donations, no matter the condition (though obviously better condition would be preferable). The group will find useful parts from any bike though. To drop off a bike:
"Bikes can be dropped off in the parking lot of the church between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Tuesdays until 6:30 p.m. and Sunday mornings. "Drop the bike and ring the bell," Cardin said. If a tax receipt is requested, bike donors are asked to wrap their information around the handle bar."
To request a bike: "For more information or sign up forms, contact: Patricia Cardin, (607) 797-3938, Ext. 113, or send an e-mail message to:"
A bike safety clinic is held each year as part of the giveaway. This year’s activity will take place on Saturday, May 12 , from 1 to 4 p.m. in the UHS parking lot adjacent to Sarah Jane Johnson Church.  To receive a bike, a youth must be referred in advance of the giveaway, take part in all safety aspects of the day, and agree to wear a helmet while riding the bike.
I also have no problem accepting bike donations personally. Comment on this post to arrange a pickup!

Update: 3/21 Press Connects article

Friday, March 2, 2012


I'm going to start with someone else's story: Augie of Southern Tier Bike Club. Augie lives in the hills of the Town of Vestal. He moved there in the mid 70's, and at thought that the sheer elevation would be the end of his regular riding. For folks familiar with Vestal, he lives up Murray Hill Road, then up Campus Drive. I biked it earlier this week to enjoy the pleasant weather and get some exercise, and can attest that it would be challenging to end every commute with the elevation.

Augie speaks of a moment of epiphany: He was riding up the hill, cranking away in a low gear, and suddenly realized his reasons for riding: it was not simply for getting from point A to B. It was for the intrinsic joy of riding. Since that point, he's made the long trip up the hill thousands of times over the years. I agree with  him that one really needs to focus and appreciate the intrinsic value of riding!

Earlier this week I realized that the commute had become a bit of a slog- same route every time, on a beefy bike. I varied my route and took a smaller lighter bike. I plowed up some hills, and then cruised down the ensuing downhills with a grin I just couldn't get off of my face. I arrived home with a fantastic emotional and exercise high. Despite the fact that I'm not perfectly dressed for a longer ride today, I'm planning on going for a nice long ride after work: Up the hills of Vestal and into the Town of Binghamton, possibly stopping at a friend's house on the way home. I love the fact that riding opens up possibilities of running into people you may not have seen in a long time. I love the feeling of dodging potholes and feeling really connected to your body and surroundings.

What do you love about riding bikes?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My First Long Ride

The first long trip I took was a day trip from Binghamton up to Ithaca for a conference at the end of June. It is about a 50 mile ride. I jumped into this ride (on my brand new touring bike), not totally knowing what I was getting into. This was my first trip with friction gear shifters that I would have to take my hands off of the unfamiliar drop handlebars to access, and any amount of added weight (change of clothing, tent, and sleeping bag)

Like any real beginner, I made a few errors. If one is carrying added weight on a bike, one needs to be quite aware of how the weight is spread out. I strapped a milk crate on my back rack, because I though it would give me more places to bungee down things. I bungeed a sleeping bag and tent high on the rack. The weight was fairly evenly distributed from right to left, but it gave me an incredibly high center of gravity.

 The toughest part of the ride for me was starting to roll. It took me a while to feel comfortable with the seat as high as it should be, as part of learning to bike is being comfortable with being effectively off of the ground, and trusting that you can't really put your feet on the ground. I also didn't shift gears the entire trip. I was too scared to take my hands off of the handlebars! I believe I was in the highest gear the entire ride, even up some hills.

The Slow Tip

I want to copyright the phrase "slow tip". It is what happens when you are riding rather slowly, but can't really stop or do anything but slowly fall to the ground. A good friend of mine took a slow tip when he purchased brand new clipless pedals which require an extra second to get a foot loose to land. He came to a stop then realized he couldn't get a foot free. He slowly fell on his side and scraped up his knee. One issue with the slow tip is the ensuing embarrassment associated with it.

On this trip, I was victim of a slow tip into a ditch. Fortunate both the bike and me were totally fine. I was having trouble getting started, and rather than stop and regain my bearings, I tried to power through, and wound up falling to my right.

I've learned a lot since this trip! Part of how I've developed a decent set of skills was by being in situations new and unfamiliar. To people who don't ride much, the only way to get better is by doing it and a lot! I remember the sheer terror of my first commute and will write about it later!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Winter Biking

I'm happy to say that I've bicycle commuted through most of the winter, thanks in large part to help from Augie of Southern Tier Bike Club with regards to gear. Augie has accumulated many bits of incredibly helpful gear, including heavy warm leather gloves. My bike itself was well set up for sloppy commutes from the start with its fenders and good chunky enough (but not too chunky!) commuter tires.

Here in Binghamton, in the Southern Tier of New York, the biggest challenges to winter commuting are cold, snow and ice, and short days. These are fairly serious barriers, but there are tactics that can effectively combat them.

 The cold weather and wind are general guaranteed factors you will be fighting if you commute year round via bike regularly. The morning commute tends to be colder then the afternoon one, as the sun has not yet had a chance to warm the ground. In serious cold it is critical to have a wind-breaking layer. I wore wind pants over my dress pants and a rain jacket over a hoody. Warm socks are critical, along with decent boots. One handy tool that I swear by are ankle warmers. I use old socks, with the foot cut off. These perform several functions including keeping my pant legs out of the chain and my feet warm, and adding a walloping dose of fashion. Good gloves are also essential. I really like wearing mittens (as opposed to gloves because they keep your hands warmer.

Riding during daylight was a real challenge for me this winter. I wound up shifting my hours earlier so I could have daylight on both the morning and evening legs of the commute. I rode into work from 8:00 am- 8:30 am, and made an effort to leave work by 4:00 pm. There were cloudy days that left me riding in very little daylight. I also did have the luxury of being able to tweak my hours a little. The temperature also drops off quickly as the sun sets.

This past winter was unusually mild for this region, but there was still some level of fighting snow and ice. Others may feel differently, but fresh snowfall is one condition I won't bike in. You can't see potholes in the road, and are much more likely to slip around. Also, snow and slush gets stuck in the rear derailleur. The more common result of snow is the sides of the roads being slushy. This will push bike riders further into traffic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Night Biking- Stories and Gear

Biking at night presents a totally new set of challenges. Cyclists need to work extra hard to be seen, and extra precautions need to be taken specifically at intersections but really everywhere. Two of my scariest biking stories have occurred at night:

Whilst on tour, outside of Baltimore on Route 40, the Pulaski Highway, we encountered lots of heavy rain and consequentially 4-5 flat tires between the group (you are much more likely to get flats in the rain, due to small particles being able to stick to the tires and work their way into the tube). We were attempting to make it into the city proper to a house we were Couchsurfing at, but the flats and heavy rain brought us to nightfall about 10 miles out. Route 40 is just a miserable road to bike on for long distances, with tons of entrance and exit ramps from I- 95 and other highways.

After night fell, we decided to make it to the closest hotel. We ran into some incredibly friendly folks under a hotel overpass we were trying to plan our next move, who were familiar with the area. They told us that there are hotels up the road not too far. We made the election to bike and not worry about the added expense. It was still rainy, and just a dark and miserable night. None of us were very well geared up for night riding, with very little reflective gear and no lights. The road was busy, and it was evident that cars were simply having trouble seeing the 4 geared down and scared cyclists. Entrance and exit ramps to and from the highway were the absolute worst part of this, and we had to go through several. We stopped at the first hotel we saw and relaxed for the evening.

My second scary night riding story:

Bunn Hill is a tall hill in the Town of Vestal next to the SUNY Binghamton campus. It is steep to the point where a friend of mine was able to draft a car to reduce wind resistance and hit over 50 miles per hour going down.

I attended a meeting at the very top of Bunn Hill after work one night. The ride up is about 1.5- 2 miles long.

The meeting went later than I expected it to and it was a very dark night. I intelligently did not have a front light at the time.  Riding downhill home was an absolutely terrifying sensation. I could barely see 5 feet in front of where I was traveling. Fortunately the pavement has few potholes or cracks. I rode the brake the entire way downhill and arrived home safe, but shaken up considerably. 

Fortunately I did have my reflective shirt on and rear blinky light, which really did save me from cars zipping down the hill. The reflective shirt is visible from quite far away, especially with little light to compete with. I don't know if the blinky red light or the reflective shirt was more valuable. The combination of both was a good choice.

The scariest part of the ride down was seeing several deer munching along the side of the road as I was nearly on top of them.

Safety Tips:
Be safe, be seen is a slogan for many bike safety campaigns. The nighttime makes being seen much more difficult.

Reflective gear is essential. I wear a shirt (similar to this link) with reflective strips on it for my commute, though I am out mostly during the daylight. The shirt has construction grade reflective properties. Front and back lights are immensely helpful for visibility. A friend of mine did a winter tour and planned on some night time riding. He was well equipped with an excellent front light that actually lit his way.

Update 3/23/12:
This is the most comprehensive list of bike rear lights I've seen reviewed. Check it out, and pick one up!

Does anyone have scary night biking stories to share?

Friday, February 17, 2012


I had a serious realization yesterday that bicycles are rapidly becoming a bit of an obsession for me. The trigger for this was my receiving tons of bike related odds and ends from a friend who is moving out of town.

I knew that these parts would be waiting for me as I arrived home from work, and upon entering my house, a sense of ecstasy took hold. I began opening bags and spreading out the contents all over our living room to look for goodies. Among the treats I found were a Kevlar rope spoke replacement kit (useful for touring), a few nice tires (similar to these), nice medium size panniers (which basically makes me good to go for longer tours!), and aerobars for my friend's fast little bike.The entire time, I felt like a spoiled child on Chrismas. I'd say I felt an overwhelming sense of giddiness.

The other thing that clued me in to a brewing obsession is the desire for a 3rd bike. As I've mentioned I have 2 currently: a gorgeous touring bike for longer trips and not around the City of Binghamton (its just too attractive to thieves and the roads are just loaded with potholes), and a heavy commuter for day to day riding. I've been thinking I'd like an inexpensive road bike for fair weather commuting.

I'm not one who values material possessions much, and thus its been a while since physical things (as opposed to experiences) have gotten me pumped up to this extent. In fact the last time this particular variety of joy (I've had many bike and lesser bike related feelings of joy) took hold was with the purchase of my touring bike. I set it up in my bedroom so I could look at it from bed, and couldn't sleep from the thoughts of fun times to be had with it.

At what point does a hobby into an obsession? Discuss!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mental Benefits of Exercise and Bike Commuting

The reasons to get to work via bike are so numerous. I've gained oodles of leg and lung strength since I've started biking regularly (and I wasn't in bad shape before). I can get where I want nearly as quick as any other means of transportation (a little slower than driving, depending on where I go, definitely quicker than busing). I'm also more level headed than ever. I relish biking in rain and lousy weather. How can other every day stressors get to you when you are dodging potholes and have the immediate concern of miserable conditions? Don't get me wrong, long days in the rain get tiring on tour (it rained heavily for 3 days straight, on my trip from NYC to DC), but on a daily commute the feeling is just refreshing.

I show up to work relaxed and focused, though a bit physically tired. My job here at United Way is to answer questions via phone about transportation (For any transportation questions in Broome or Tioga Counties in New York, please call 1-855-373-4040 for completely free individualized transportation assistance!). I help individuals from all walks of life, occasionally in very stressful situations, and my approaching situations calmly is very important. Biking to and from work helps me to be as level headed as possible.

I do occasionally drive to work, due to meetings immediately after work or if I need to haul more stuff than I can carry on the back of a bike (today I elected to drive as I am picking up a printer on my way home though I honestly considered biking and simply bungee-ing it to my back rack). On days that I drive, I feel simply less productive and my head feels numb. There's nothing like getting pounded in the face with rain or frigid air to wake you up!
Have more energy at work, bike commute today!

Here's my question to readers: What are some things that may be stopping you from bike commuting?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


In my short biking career (since May of 2011), I've taken 3 falls to this point, all on different bikes.

My first was really due to lack of experience: I was on my father's bike (a nice hybrid), on a short ride with a friend, and turned too sharply on some gravel. I fell to my left, scraping up my left knee, elbow, and right ankle (still have a chain shaped scar).

My second spill was possibly the most entertaining: Our group of 4 was biking through Philadelphia on tour from NYC to Washington DC. I had been told very clearly that if you get a wheel in the trolley tracks that go all around the city, you will go down hard. A good friend of mine had moved there after attending school at SUNY Binghamton, and had taken a really, really nasty spill, involving broken bones. I don't know details, but I do know that this contributed to her moving out of Philly. I asked her to write up a guest blog here, which she may oblige at some point.
I didn't really fully appreciate this risk of the tracks, and had images of getting a wheel caught and being able to gracefully brake to a stop. The reality was a much uglier. We had gone about 30-40 miles to that point that day, and I was last in the group. I watched my 3 friends cross over a track that was parallel to the road to take a left. I almost took a sharp enough angle over it, but my front wheel got caught. I went down to my left, scraping up my left elbow and knee. It was fairly terrifying, though I was quite lucky: I was really not badly hurt, and the bike was totally fine. The feeling of being totally out of control and moving quickly is really scary! Your body is in essence being thrown up against the laws of physics.

My most recent fall took place on the way to give a press conference at Binghamton's City Hall this past December 2011, whilst on Fransesca. People familiar with biking in Binghamton may know about the wavy pavement on Hawley Street in front of the government building complex. There is a patch of pavement that is very heavily grooved from tires compacting it for years. The worst part is that it blends in to the surrounding road almost seamlessly, and is not cracked at all. I was cruising through a green light and was focused on a pedestrian beginning to cross ahead, when I was simply bucked from the bike. I again fell to my left, scraping up my left knee and elbow. If it hadn't been for my steel toed boots, I would have bruised up my left foot. Fortunately, Francesca was completely fine. I showed to the conference with a ripped up shirt and pants and a little bloodied, but more just annoyed with losing my one pair of dress pants without bike grease on them. My elbow and hip are still a little bruised a month later, but arehealing.

A few common themes here: I've been quite lucky in terms of being completely healthy despite these falls. I am also yet to mess up a bike from falling.
 None of these spills has taken place on a regular commute to or from work. I somewhat attribute this to familiarity: I know nearly all of the potholes and risky areas on my commute.
I'd like to conclude by acknowledging the risk of biking in traffic (or not, as is the case with my 3 spills). You owe it to yourself and those who love you to be as smart as possible when biking: be as visible as possible, recognize that you are the slowest and most vulnerable vehicle on the road, and finally, you may have right of way, but if you are dead or injured it won't matter.

This is an original ad for my my 1982 Schwinn. Mine is in Blue Metal. At some point in the indefinite future, I will include a picture of my actual rig. It's such a gorgeous ride for touring!!

Update: 3/21/12
Today I took my first fall due mostly to my own distraction.  I was coming down the 201 bridge off of the highway and was slowing down. I was a bit distracted by wanting to unbutton my dress shirt to allow more air flow and just veered off the sidewalk and onto a grassy ledge. I fell pretty hard coming back on the road. My left knee feels a bit bruised up and I scraped up my right calf and elbow. 
Francesca was a bit tweaked. I did some cosmetic damage by breaking the plastic housing for the shifters, but the worst of the damage was that the front wheel was not perpendicular to the handlebars. Fortunately I carry a multi tool and was able to straighten out the wheel and tweak the shifters and brake levers. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gearing up for a successful commute

A good friend of mine is looking to start commuting via bike. His first question to me was what he needed in terms of gear. He picked up a nice mountain bike from Southern Tier Bike Project affiliate, Steve. As the middle-man in this transaction, it became my responsibility to try to give him some basics in terms of what he needed to keep himself safe and on the road. Hopefully this will offer a bit of guidance.

  • HELMET: There has been enough written about the importance of protecting your skull. It really is as simple as just putting one on every time you get on your bike. Fortunately, you may be able to get away without picking one up new. I actually found mine in my backyard. It appears to be in fine shape and I haven't had any issues with it (but also haven't been in a crash, fortunately). It is quite comfortable and very adjustable. I like having a visor, as it keeps sun and heavy rain off of your face. The Salvation Army here in Binghamton also does carry helmets. I'd strongly recommend very carefully checking any used helmet for cracks and dents. For twenty dollars or so, you can pick up a helmet new. Or better yet, support your local bike shop and pick one up there! Stats on Helmets 
  • Some sort of chain lubricant and rags: At the start of winter, I went to my car mechanic and asked for a gallon of used motor oil. Given the slushy mess here in upstate NY which characterizes winter, this was an excellent investment. After a ride in the rain or , I clean and lube my chain. Bike shops sell better lube, for more money, but for my purposes, the motor oil works just fine. Its just important to remember to clean excess oil off of the chain, as it can gather dirt and gravel. Any old clothing will function as a rag. 
  • Essentials for fixing a flat: 
    • Extra Tube: Carrying a spare tube will not make it necessary to patch a tube on the side of the road. There are occasionally holes that cannot be patched (ie near the valve stem). I have one "thorn resistant" tube in my front tire. I am yet to have a flat with this bike, but I attribute that more to my big, thick tires. 
    • Patch Kit: These can be picked up at bike shops for a few bucks. If I get a flat, I throw my spare tube in, and at my convenience, patch the punctured tube for the future. 
    • Pump: The one I use is listed here. It gets difficult to pump smaller pumps when pressure goes up, but they will certainly get you to your destination. 
    • Tire Irons: These are used for removing and putting the tire on the rim in case of a flat. I quantified them as free below because you can simply use the back end of old spoons or fork. Plastic is a bit better, as you are less likely to further rip your tube when taking it off. 
  • Fenders: A real luxury in lousy weather. They keep everything, including the rider drier and cleaner. I've spent my fair share of time with mud and water all over my face and back. 
  • Bike specific multi-tool: For people who live in the Binghamton area, there is a little secret with regards to bike tools: At SUNY Binghamton, a gentleman buys multitools and sells them for $10 a piece. Go to the the Office of Outdoor Pursuits and ask! They are not top of the line, as the pedal wrench and chain tool tend to break, but the variety of wrenches and Allen keys are great. My first bike did not have quick release wheels, so I carried an adjustable crescent wrench, available for cheap at your local hardware store. 
  • Lock appropriate for your location: Here in Binghamton, bikes get stolen pretty regularly, but usually because of being left totally unlocked. I picked up this fairly heavy U lock from Amazon, and leave my bike with no fear of it getting stolen. It also has a cable to go around the front wheel, which is a nice luxury. 
  • Backpack: Having a back rack and panniers is a very nice luxury, but not totally necessary. Any backpack will work to carry the items necessary to patch a tire, and your lunch and a change of clothing. I commuted with my laptop in a backpack for 3 months over the summer, and had no issues.  

Hopefully this should get bike commuters on their way!

Update: 2/15/12: I'd like to take a moment to introduce my good friend and partner in crime, Lenny D. Lenny lived here in Binghamton and commuted for years year round. He completed a trip across the US this summer, and has tons of knowledge about cycling. He was kind enough to write up an addendum to this post, but Blogger wouldn't let him post it. Here is what he says:

Hi Isaac! I'm happy to see you doing this blog, helping the community that I now love from afar.

This is a good, practical list, and I like that you keep costs in mind. I want to put in my 2 cents about gear and safety.

I know that this article is about gear, but knowing how to ride in traffic is far more important than a helmet or any other equipment. If I could get every bike commuter to do just one thing, it would be to read the article How to Not Get Hit by Cars at It is a no-nonsense page explaining common types of crashes and how to avoid them.

As for helmets, they are useless for most types of injuries you can get biking (road rash, broken bones, etc), but they protect you from brain injury, so I always wear mine. A bicycle helmet, as opposed to a skate/BMX helmet, works by providing a layer of crushable foam, which is no longer effective after it has been crushed in a crash. I'd strongly recommend picking up a cheap new helmet rather than a used one. Also important is a good tight fit. If you get hit by a car, your head can hit the car first, then the pavement. If your helmet is loose and gets knocked off in the collision, you will have no protection when you hit the ground. You should not be able to slide the helmet off your head when it is buckled. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute at has lots of good information, such as "Cheap vs. Expensive Helmets: Lab tests showed no difference in impact protection."

I think a piece of equipment that is at least as important as a helmet is a front and rear light. How many times have you been driving in the evening only to notice a bicyclist at the last second? Reflectors just don't work very well. You can get a kit with both a front and rear light for around 20 bucks, which will make you much more visible to drivers. A true headlight or headlamp that actually lights your way will be more expensive, but as a minimum, bikers should make themselves visible to others.

In addition to getting a lock, make sure you know how to use it! Here is an article -

Keep up the good work!

A very sincere thanks to Lenny for this added material. He has much more experience at this than I do, and his input is really, really helpful!
I'd like to echo the importance of read How to Not Get Hit by Cars at If someone had suggested this to me when I started riding, I certainly would have been much safer off the bat. I was planning on adding more about lights in the post specific to night riding. I like the strategy of not being hit in the first place. One quote there 
Here are a couple more useful links for locking up bikes effectively:
Hal is a funny character who grades locking jobs in NYC. NYC obviously has a much higher risk for theft than Binghamton, but there are lessons to be learned. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My current rig: Fransesca

Many communities are fortunate enough to have some sort of bicycle cooperative of some sort. The Binghamton area is home to a loosely organized group of mostly retired gentlemen who fix bikes and give them to anyone who will get use from them. They get bikes from a few sources: donations from individuals, police departments, and reclaiming abandoned bikes. They are a truly fantastic resource for this community: Southern Tier Bike Project It is best to reach them via the website.
I contacted them around May this past summer not knowing how to ride at all. I was directed to Steve, who offered me a fairly inexpensive mountain bike. He was then kind enough to teach me how to ride. We did figure eights in a parking lot for a couple of hours. I could not sleep that night in excitement for future adventures on 2 wheels.
Since the start of this past summer, I have gone on a 500 mile tour, and have become a committed bicycle commuter. My commuter bike is pictured above. It was abandoned on the Binghamton University Campus, and recovered by Steve of Southern Tier Bike Project. He cleaned it up significantly and put some new parts on, including cables, and possibly a chain. For my purposes of a 4 mile commute each way, from the City of Binghamton to the Town of Vestal, this bike is perfect. I love having flat pedals, a rack to carry stuff, front and seat suspension, and fenders front and back. I put slicker tires on and have panniers from the 80's to hold lunch, tire irons, a spare tube, handpump, Parktool multi-tool, and occasionally a U lock. I named her Francesca.
My name is Isaac Silberman-Gorn. I am a Mobility Management Associate at Broome Tioga Mobility Management Project in Vestal, NY. I'm creating this blog to write about experiences biking and many other things pertaining to transportation. To give some background, myself and coworker are Americorps members who have just opened a call center to offer free travel assistance to individuals in Broome and Tioga Counties in the Southern Tier of New York. We can be reached at 1-855-373-4040.