Perils of an Outside Bike

Pampered, protected Fauntleroy, my trusty and beloved commuting bicycle, has become an Outside Bike. I’m sure there’s some bicycle social hierarchy involved with this, as I am sure being an Outside Bike is a step down from being an Indoor Bike. I feel guilty about Fauntleroy’s demotion but whisper to you, Dear Readers, how nice it is not having a bicycle as the centerpiece of our apartment. Of course, that honor has been assigned to Gaston, our teeny 3lb lionhead rabbit. This pampered spoiled beloved bunny now even has his own IKEA bed, as is popular with rabbits of all sorts.

I can't explain it but even His Fluffiness, who doesn't play with any of his toys, loves this bed

I can’t explain it but even His Fluffiness, who doesn’t play with any of his toys, loves this bed

See? I’ve already started off a post about my bike with info about my rabbit. Poor Fauntleroy.

No, not Fauntleroy's Outside Life, just a quick stop at Whole Foods (thanks Rev Cycles for the rack!)

No, not Fauntleroy’s Outside Life, just a quick stop at Whole Foods (thanks Rev Cycles for the rack!)

The weather here in the DC region has been completely bipolar so far this month – freezing temps earlier with an early touch of snow to fairly warm over Inauguration Weekend. But Fauntleroy has mostly weathered it, well, outside.

Yeah, should have moved him inside for this

Yeah, should have moved him inside for this

So I’ve learned even more things.

  • Bike light batteries do not hold up for long when living in really cold temperatures. I’m not in the habit of taking my lights off my bike because in my apartment, there’s no need, nor is there at my office. And although lights are technically easy to remove, they are just hard enough to be a pain. When I remember. And this is the time of the year when I do actually need functional bike lights!
  • A wet top tube gets my clothes wet. I have a seat cover for the days when I didn’t realize it would rain and get out to find puddles in my saddle, but that doesn’t stop my legs and pants or skirt from getting wet when the top tube is dripping wet. Another argument for a step-through frame.
  • Rust happens faster than I realized.
After only a few days outside. Whoops.

After only a few days outside. Whoops.

I really can’t blame the loss of my bike gloves on the fact that my bike lives outside most of the time now, or in the storage room, but I kind of can. Previously I would just through gloves and things in my front basket then carry all of it up the stairs into the apartment. Now I have to strip everything off and carrying it through the hallways to our apartment. Admittedly – one I lost at the movie theater and one at the gym. But I’ve lost still two different bike gloves, and I’m still blaming it on Fauntleroy’s Outside Life.

Anyone seen a pair of gloves like this, but opposite?

Anyone seen a pair of gloves like this, but opposite?

While out and about recently I passed a brand new apartment building that had a street access bike room. What?!? Although the glass walls would make me nervous about people seeing my bike, being able to roll right in a secured room with staples, right off the sidewalk, would be amazing! Can you imagine? Then Fauntleroy’s problems would ALL be solved – a cozy, secure, inside space that’s easy to access. bike-storage-roomHe’s not a completely neglected bicycle, however. The Mechanic and I are on vacation this week, and Fauntleroy is safely tucked away in our building’s bike storage room. Awkward and not as convenient, but warm and dry. I do still love him, after all.

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Sorting Out Our New Bike Lives

It’s shocking yet luxurious – not a single bike in our new apartment! Not even the folding bikes! You wouldn’t know, unless you looked closely and spotted my bike helmet in a cubby (or saw all the bike parts in The Mechanic’s work space), that here lives people who bike for transportation and for fun. I feel a bit guilty about not having my beloved Fauntleroy here in the cozy apartment where I can watch over him…. but I confess that most of my free time is spent watching over Gaston the Lionhead instead. Oops. Sorry, Fauntleroy. gastonOur new building has a large and secure bike room, accessible by fob, with required registration for each bike therein. A windowless room with motion-sensor lights, it boasts two long, double-stacked bike racks. It’s well-used, too; several bikes clearly get used frequently. Some, not surprisingly, look like they’ve been abandoned, with flat tires and cobwebs. Poor bikes. There is enough open space that we can store all of our bikes in the bike room, with plenty of open racks still available. Yay! It’s nice to live in a new building that was built to accommodate bikes.

The bike room reminds me of a vault

The bike room reminds me of a vault

However….

It’s not 100% rainbows and unicorns, and highlights some ways in which bicycles are still seen, even in bike-friendly Arlington, VA, as recreation and/or toys, and not understood, let alone taken seriously. And although we have some previously only dreamed about amenities, we have still had to opt for a different set up to accommodate our daily bike life.

The vent over these upper racks makes them fairly unusable for any bike but folders!

The vent over these upper racks makes them fairly unusable for any bike but folders!

The challenges are:

  • The lovely bike room is in the basement parking garage.
  • The only way to get a bicycle in and out of the basement parking garage is the elevator.
  • The only way to get to the elevator is through the building. It’s not far from the main entrance and lobby. Which means walking the bike through the lobby, or, the preferred route, the side door.
  • The side door conveniently has an ADA-accessible door switch, so the door will swing open to more easily allow us to roll our bikes in.
  • The next door does not.
  • Then there is a door from the elevator into the actual garage.
  • Then there is the door to the bike room (trust me, I’m good with this one!), once you wheel your bike past a row of cars to get to the bike room.
  • Once you are in the room, the racks themselves are challenging – too close together to fit handlebars easily; hard to “feed” bikes into the wheel channels; and if The Mechanic and I have a hard time getting our bikes on the top rack, what about your average family that wants to bike for fun? Nope, not gonna happen.

It’s not impossible, clearly, just many barriers and steps. It’s obvious that designers and architects are not people who bike often, and (or) have clearly not thought through the steps it would take to get a bike to and from the bike room. It would be so much more convenient if:

  1. The bike room was accessible directly from the outside of the building. No hallways, no passing the concierge, no squeezing in the elevator with strollers…
  2. If the bike room had been built next to the elevator bank, so at least we didn’t have to walk through cars. You know drivers aren’t looking while they are hunting for their parking spot.
  3. The racks were designed to be more user-friendly to more than just the super-fit elite roadies. Yes, there are children’s bikes and trail-a-bike racks in the bike room. Help out those parents!

Because of these challenges, The Mechanic and I have started leaving our bikes outside. I know, I know – what?!?!? Yes, dear Readers, it’s true. They have become (predominately) outside bikes. So this has meant an upgrade in bike locks for me. I broke down and bought the Abus Bordo folding lock. I’m pretty impressed with it so far. It’s super heavy, and I appreciate that. I like that it fits in its case on my down tube, rather than the top tube, and looks more discrete than my U-lock.

Lock in action! See the case?

Lock in action! See the case?

 

It fits snugly in the case, so snugly that I have to work at it to get it out. But that’s preferable to it being too loose!

And this has nothing to do with adapting to our new bike lives, but I had to share anyway – I finally replaced my reflective Lululemon gloves with this swanky glove/mitten set from illumi-nite. They are lightweight, so not deep winter gloves, but something to wear when the mornings are in the 30s or 40s, and afternoons are in the 50s. And they have conductive tips, so I can once again start my Endomondo without having to take off a glove.

illumi-NITE three-in-One Mitten with Glove Liner

illumi-NITE three-in-One Mitten with Glove Liner

Microdots reflecting!

Microdots reflecting!

So in many ways, it feels like a new bike life – even new gloves! I feel like I’m ready for the new year, and we still have December to go!

New Apartment! More Space! Balcony! Bike Storage!

We moved!

A whole half mile from our previous place.

And yet somehow, it seemed to be a longer, more painful move. We did several loads ourselves before and after the moving company moved our furniture, and it took Friday, Saturday AND Sunday. Whew. (We purposefully planned to go back and clean the old place on Election Night. Not enough of a distraction…)

The new place is a fancy new building, opened in 2012, with much more square footage. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bath, with a walk-in closet and a *balcony* plus its shockingly quiet.

Moving Night Dinner

Moving Night Dinner – pizza and champagne!

The office is still a chaotic mess (weep, no sewing for weeks still!!!), but the rest of the place is fairly well set.

Yep, office chaos....

Yep, office chaos….

Check out the walk-in closet!

I can see all my things at once, for the first time ever!

I can see all my things at once, for the first time ever!

How cool is this? All my reflective things reflecting in the walk-in closet. <3 <3 <3

How cool is this? All my reflective things reflecting in the walk-in closet.

Gaston's Tavern, set up in the middle of the living room, with a view of the balcony

Gaston’s Tavern, set up in the middle of the living room, with a view of the balcony

Gaston has a view of the kitchen and dining room - hope he doesn't think he can critique our cooking!

Gaston has a view of the kitchen and dining room – hope he doesn’t think he can critique our cooking!

The view from our new balcony. Not many windows but this makes up for it!

The view from our new balcony. Not many windows but this makes up for it!

Enjoying the balcony from our very low camp chairs. Fun lights and taller chairs are on the list

Enjoying the balcony from our very low camp chairs. Fun lights and taller chairs are on the list…

The apartment building has a bike storage room and lots of staples around the building. The bike storage room will of course be the topic of a blog post soon, I’m sure – once I’ve had some time to properly utilize it. bikes

bike-storage-roomI did order a giant Abus Bordo lock, for the times I want to leave the bike outside. I confess that I’m a bit sad about leaving the bike outside, and won’t do it often, but getting in and out of the bike storage room in the basement of the building isn’t that ideal.

I've wanted one of these for a while, so this was a good excuse to fork out a ton of money for it.

I’ve wanted one of these for a while, so this was a good excuse to fork out a ton of money for it.

We are very happy with our new apartment and can’t wait to get the office set up so we can get back to our hobbies. I have so much sewing to do, and every weekend we are dealing with the apartment is a garment that doesn’t get made. Very sad. But the new place is soooo worth it! bikes-by-the-door

Need for Better Bike Storage in Apartments

Arlington County is doing a great job of encouraging more residents to bike more often. Between the ever-present roadies on expensive bikes wearing expensive kit and the low income people who have few better transportation options grows a population of people in between who are spending more and more time on their bikes.

But while this is great for those who live in dwellings with garages or other storage options, people in apartment buildings, especially in lower income apartment buildings, have considerably fewer options. New bike-friendly apartments are all the rage – if you can afford them. For the rest of us, we have to make do with the little we can scrounge.

A survey of a few blocks in Arlington show how badly needed proper bike storage is:

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

Some of these bikes might get more use, as well as the covered scooter. But I suspect that those kids' toys get used more.

Some of these bikes might get more use, as well as the covered scooter. But I suspect that those kids’ toys get used more.

These bikes look like they are in better shape. And the fact that one has a baby seat suggests that it's used more frequently.

These bikes look like they are in better shape. And the fact that one has a baby seat suggests that it’s used more frequently.

We watched this apartment complex get renovated and these new bike racks installed. I bet the residents were thrilled to have so much space for their bikes. Too bad covered bike storage wasn't installed instead.

We watched this older apartment complex get renovated and these new bike racks installed. I bet the residents were thrilled to have so much space for their bikes. Too bad covered bike racks weren’t installed instead.

Speaking of covered bike storage - they could build fancy fences and covers for the dumpsters but not for the bikes?!?

Speaking of covered bike racks – they could build fancy fences and covers for the dumpsters but not for the bikes?!?

Surrounding a nearby new and "nicer" apartment complex are bike racks labeled "temporary." But who can blame the residents from parking their bikes there?!

Surrounding a nearby new and “nicer” apartment complex are bike racks labeled “temporary.” But who can blame the residents from parking their bikes there?!

"Temp. bike parking - 4hrs max" - yeah right.

“Temp. bike parking – 4hrs max” – yeah right.

Rusty chain at a "temporary" bike rack suggests otherwise...

Rusty chain at a “temporary” bike rack suggests otherwise…

Well, where *do* you store your baby trailer when you aren't using it? For a small apartment, that's a big piece of equipment that can't easily get hauled up stairs. And once in an apartment - it's probably as big as a kitchen table.

Well, where *do* you store your baby trailer when you aren’t using it? For a small apartment, that’s a big piece of equipment that can’t easily get hauled up stairs. And once in an apartment – it’s probably as big as a kitchen table.

No doubt the bike racks next to this bus stop were intended for individuals to bike to the bus stop, to ease commute options. Now, however, it's yet another pile of dead bikes.

No doubt the bike racks next to this bus stop were intended for individuals to bike to the bus stop, a good “first mile/last mile” solution. Now, however, it’s yet another pile of dead bikes of nearby residents.

If the bike rack you are supposed to use is overly crowded, and you don't want to carry your bike upstairs, and don't have a place in your apartment, a sign pole works fine, right?

If the bike rack you are supposed to use is overly crowded, and you don’t want to carry your bike upstairs, and don’t have a place in your apartment, a sign pole is your best bet.

There's always the tree storage method.

There’s always the tree storage method.

Not everyone is as obsessed with dedicated to their bikes as The Mechanic and I, nor as willing to have bicycles as part of their interior design. But as this area becomes more bike-friendly, those who build and manage apartment buildings, especially affordable housing apartments, need to provide better bike storage. Why? I would summarize into two main points: maintenance and vandalism.

  • Maintenance. Unlike cars, which have their gears covered in sheets of metal, the functioning parts of bicycles are predominantly exposed to the elements. Fully enclosed chain cases are the exception here in the US, rather than the norm. Having seen the bike storage scenario in Copenhagen, I understand the popularity of chain cases so much better. But if your bike is left in the rain or snow for any length of time,  you are risking rusty parts, which will make it much less easier (and fun) to jump on your bike and go. If you aren’t a bicycle mechanic and can’t afford one, you are kinda screwed once your bike gets into bad shape. Replacing chains and other metal parts can set you back even at the best of times, and if you are already cash-strapped, well, good luck. You wouldn’t want to get into a car full of snow, would you? So why would you expect someone to get on a bike covered in snow?
  • Vandalism. In some ways, vandalism is worse than outright theft, which of course no one wants at all, and which is why properly locking your bike is important. But vandalism – missing rear wheel, seat stolen, pedals, even lights. Missing small pieces can add up to a very unrideable bike that either your insurance won’t cover or you don’t know how to replace or can’t afford to. Losing lights means possibly riding in the dark. Losing the seat makes for a very uncomfortable ride home or bus ride. Any sort of vandalism probably lead many people to abandoning their bike all together.

I don’t want to get into theft because there is a lot going on with locks and proper locking, but obviously any bike left outside unattended for a period of time is more vulnerable to theft than a car would be. It’s easier to steal a bike – no one notices, and they are easier to hide or throw in the back of a truck or whatever. Homeowner and renters insurance doesn’t cover a bike the way it covers a car, either.

Apartment developers and property managers should really consider installing bike lockers or at least provide covered bike parking, especially if they manage properties that have heavily used bike racks. High end buildings are beginning to offer free bike storage so there is no reason why the lower income apartments, including the historic garden style apartments, can’t provide bike lockers. At minimum, provide more racks – as shown in these photos, a few racks and a pair of staples here and there are not providing enough for the need. You can’t expect me to believe that rows of bike lockers are uglier than these piles of abandoned bikes. Charge a minimal fee, if you must – we pay an extra $10 a month to have a 4×4 storage cube. I bet apartments that can provide better bike parking solutions will have lines of happy prospective tenants.

This poor bike is a friend's - we had biked to dinner together in DC...

A common sight…

 

 

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