the collected jwz bicycle wisdom

I posted most of this as a comment in someone else's LJ who was thinking of buying a bike, but perhaps it is of more general interest.

I've been using a bike as my exclusive transportation in SF for about ten years. I've always ridden, but that's when I stopped driving a car except under extreme duress.

Here's how to begin your adventure as a commuter-bicyclist in San Francisco:

  1. Never take bike advice from anyone who owns bike shorts, clip shoes, a messenger bag, or a fixie. That's like taking car advice from someone who enjoys rebuilding carburetors.

    (Update: If you are this person, you need not reply with your indignant "corrections". You are not the person to whom this advice is addressed.)

  2. "City bikes" and "road bikes" are designed for some Jetsons-slick hypothetical future city that I've never seen. Or maybe for the bike paths in Los Altos or something. Here in real cities, roads are shit, and if you want your wheels and tires to survive curbs and potholes, you need a hybrid. They're a little heavier and a little slower. Are you racing? No? Then you don't care.

  3. So, get the cheapest hybrid you can stand. Shocks are a waste of money. You should be able to get a pretty nice brand new hybrid for $370 or so. You can probably get a used one for a hundred bucks.

  4. If you feel like you want a lighter bike so that it's easier to carry up stairs: don't bother. That's optimizing the wrong thing. You'll get used to it (by which I mean: become stronger).

  5. Get a bike that's the right size for you, and has properly adjusted handlebars and seat. The shop will adjust it for you. If they won't, or if they tell you it doesn't matter, go to a different shop.

  6. Get a u-lock. Lock through the frame and the back wheel. Your bike will be stolen, so don't get too attached to it. This also means, don't waste your money on junk like baskets and lights. Just get a backpack.

    It doesn't matter how crappy your bike looks: any bike is worth stealing for $2 worth of crack. Your bike is temporary. Accept this and move on.

  7. I always replace my front wheel and seat quick-releases with $2 worth of hardware store bolts, and then bend the ends over. This might have some negligible effect on theft. I refuse to be one of those people who lugs around 3 chains and disassembles their bike every time they park, so that's the trade-off I make.

  8. The bike-nerd at the bike shop will try to give you smooth, high-pressure (110psi+) tires, because they are more efficient. But if you don't air them up weekly or more often, you'll get pinch-flats every time you hit a pothole, which is always. Also, the gas station air pumps often only go up to 60psi anyway. Get knobby low-pressure (60-80psi) tires and they'll last a lot longer. (If you do end up with stupid tires, you might want to get one of these.)

  9. Likewise, make sure the tubes you get have the kind of connectors that the gas station air pumps take. Bike shop nerds like to fuck you with goofy connectors sometimes, out of sheer mean-spiritedness.

  10. Bike maintenance: don't do it, ever. It's not worth your time. Just take it to the shop. Getting them to replace a flat for you costs $20 and takes 10 minutes, including the tube, and you don't get dirty.

    It's a good idea to know how to change a flat, but why do it yourself when you can pay someone else almost-nothing to get greasy on your behalf?

  11. Safety: I follow the Zodiac approach: always assume the cars can see you perfectly, and are trying to kill you. If an intersection seems iffy, use the sidewalk and crosswalks. If big streets like Market and Van Ness freak you out, there are always less traficky ways to go, or just stay on the sidewalks.

    Do whatever you need to do to feel safe. You have nobody to impress.

  12. Grocery shopping: yes, you really can do it with a single backpack. The trick is, shop small once a week instead of big once a month.

  13. If you try to dangle bags on your handlebars, you will die.

  14. Cross train and trolley tracks at a 45° angle or more, or you will die.

  15. You really do need to tuck in or roll up your right leg. (You probably won't die, but you'll shred your pants.)

  16. You don't need to ride up Haight. Take Fell or Fulton and then go through the Panhandle.

  17. The City is only 7 miles across. Nothing is as far away as you think it is.

Update 2: Oh great, here comes the peanut gallery. Thanks, Cory Rob, srsly. I'd recommend against reading the comments here unless you're the type who reads comments on Youtube. Or maybe you just want to hear a bunch of fixie-hipsters with sand in their vaginas tell me how wrong I am and how you should spend a fortune and do all your repairs yourself.

Update 3: After getting 200ish comments on day one, I went through and deleted most of the redundant ones, and most of the ones from butt-hurt bike-nerds and mechanics. I've also turned on comment screening, and won't be approving new comments here unless you really have something new to say.

I'm a little (just a little!) surprised at the level of vitriol this one provoked. It's like I farted in bike-church. You'd think I was making fun of Linux or something.

Tags: , ,

145 Responses:

  1. ivorjawa says:

    Flatter-ish, and with less traffic.

    And I can't believe you said "air up".


    • mooflyfoof says:

      I live on McAllister. Indeed, while it is flatter, it is still pretty damn painful! But maybe that's because I only just started riding it.

      And yeah, I wouldn't recommend taking Fell just because traffic is always fast and heavy. Plus I know that when I'm driving on Fell and a bike is taking up a lane, it drives me bonkers. Fell's supposed to be one of those fast streets for cars, with it's timed lights and multiple wide lanes.

      There's also the wiggle, if you're trying to avoid the hill. I've never gotten around to trying it out though.

      Thanks for posting this jwz. I'm in the market for a new bike and while my friends aren't hardcore racers or anything, they are the type to tell me I can't do better than a $500 road bike. So we'll see. $370 sounds a lot better to me and I've always been wary of the narrow tires because of potholes and stuff. I've got fat tire slicks on my current hybrid, which is nice because they're faster than knobby tires but I've never had a blowout (well except that one time when my roommate overinflated one and it exploded in our living room).

      Do you have any specific bike recommendations?

      • jwz says:

        Fell has a bike lane on the left side that merges into the Panhandle bike path.

        I don't have any specific brand recommendations, because when my bike gets stolen, I just go into the closest bike shop to my home (the one on 4th next to Whole Foods) and say, literally, "give me your cheapest hybrid". I've had a few different brands. They're all the same.

        • mooflyfoof says:

          For some reason I never noticed that. I guess I always stick to the right because I live north of the Panhandle. Oh, I do remember that lane now, right near that cheap gas station on the corner of Fell and Divis. Cars are always lining up for it out into the lefthand lane of fell, which pisses bikers the fuck off. Once I saw a cyclist hauling ass up Fell in the right lane, though. He was pacing with traffic. I was impressed.

          Anyway, sound advice. Thanks again!

        • Around how often do your bikes get stolen?

  2. mackys says:

    I keep a $3 velcro leg band in my cycling backpack. Works great. Just remember to make the fold in the fabric on the outside of your leg, not the inside.

  3. All good sound advice, even here on the other side of the planet - substituting directions for analogous ones, of course.

    Point 1 also reminds me of the bad old days of asking Linux geeks for software recommendations for use in a small project...

  4. rapier1 says:

    3) Shocks are a waste of money. Unfortunately getting a fixed fork can actually set you back *more* than the shocks can on the lower end bikes. Its feature creep and rolling back can be a special order.

    5) It always drives me crazy when I see people on bikes where the seat is pretty much all the way down and their knees are on the verge of smacking them in the face.

    8) You can get mostly smooth tire for MTBs. I'm a fan of the continental town and country tires. They're a lot quieter than knobbies and I feel they give you better traction on asphalt. This maybe kind of a little puts me on the nerd side but the difference between these and knobbies is noticeable and they only run $25 a wheel.

    9) Those are called schraders. The annoying kind are called prestas. Its useful to knwo if you are ever staring at a stack of tubes and need to know which one to get.

    10) Being able to fix a flat will often save you a lot of bullshit. You aren't always going to be within reasonable distance of a bike shop. Don't get a hand pump for that though - one of those small CO2 cartridge fillers works well enough and is super small.

    12) You can even shop big if you have the right bag. You used to be able to get messenger bags (back when it was really just messengers using them) that were actually big and functional. I've carried upwards of 40 pounds worth of turkey potatoes, onions, and sausage home in them in the past.

    • 12) You can even shop big if you have the right bag. You used to be able to get messenger bags (back when it was really just messengers using them)

      You, uh, still can. And they're a lot more durable now than the bags being made back when only bike messengers used them.

      • rapier1 says:

        I'm sure you can. Mine cost $5 from I Goldberg in Philly. Just a big neon yellow bag made from rubberized fabric. No pockets, no way to tie the main flap down. Just a bag and a shoulder strap. They called them "British Messenger Bags" but that was probably as much of a bullshit name as the 'Israeli Combat Boots' they had (basically just canvas sneakers with lug soles - really good for messing). So anyway, I bought that back in 1993 when I was a messenger. 15 years later its still working pretty damn well. Ugly as hell but damn functional.

    • ding_0_ says:

      5) It always drives me crazy when I see people on bikes where the seat is pretty much all the way down and their knees are on the verge of smacking them in the face.

      That is a pet peeve of mine too. Also people who wear a helmet but have it sitting so far back it won't protect the frontal lobe at all if they smack it into something.

  5. nidea says:

    well said!

    My only extra equipment is a metal rack thing over the back tire, with a clip-on sort of basket that attaches neatly to it. The rack is not an expensive item and thus isn't worth stealing, and the basket comes off so easily I take it with me whenever I park the bike. It fits a paper grocery bag very well.

    Oh, and do wear a helmet and use lights. I know at least 2 people whose lives were saved because they wore helmets. I have a back light that attaches right on the helmet, so I never forget it.

  6. phreddiva says:

    I love this.
    I bought a ridiculous beach cruiser (that I *loooove*) when I moved to Alameda (because it is flat, and people are slow, and there's actually a beach, and I like it). Unfortunately, most of my (unsolicited) bicycle advice comes from my brother, who is preparing for a triathalon & gets his jollies doing centuries on the weekend, so I haven't known what to get next. It's nice to have a take on this from someone who doesn't plan to change clothing & shoes when they arrive at their destination (a key factor for me).

  7. What is a fixie?


    • mooflyfoof says:

      Typically ridden by hipsters living in the Mission.

    • gkra says:

      A fixie is a fixed-gear bike, i.e., a one-speed. Commonly, they're set up to not free-wheel, too, which means that if the back wheel is turning, so is the crank. It gives the experienced cyclist a lot of low-speed control without having to rely on brakes, but generally freaks most people right the fuck out.

    • alana_ash says:

      Just a single fixed gear, no shifting.

      Pedal forward, you go forward. Pedal backwards, you brake and/or go backwards. Fixie riders often eschew braking systems on their bikes as well.

      They're popular with people who bike for a living (messengers) because they require less maintenance and less will break during the course of riding all day long.

      In turn, bike enthusiasts love them, as do bicycle hipsters.

  8. stu_hacking says:

    #13: TRUE, TRUE, TRUE!

    Worse is trying to dangle 4 litres of Coca-Cola from one handlebar. Don't do it.

    • nidea says:

      Don't bother trying to attach a 30-pound bag of dry cat food to the back rack either...

      • gfish says:

        A good rack should be able to handle 30 pounds. That's about what my full bike-packing kit was.

        • nidea says:

          Ah, but cat food is a lot less dense. Or maybe it was 40 pounds? In any case, it made the center of gravity of the bike just way too high... Humorous for a bit but ultimately not cooperative!

    • cruft says:

      Lies! You can totally bike with a case of beer dangling from one hand, if you have drop bars.

  9. nojay says:

    A friend of mine does bike rebuilds (not repairs). He does a lot of courier bike frames (mostly fixies), and his recommendation for a Joe Blow street bike is a cheap mountain bike with suspension front and back. It's not the personal comfort of susp that's the attraction, it's the way some stretch prevents pothole impacts fracturing the frame joints that makes it a good idea.

    Another suggestion -- two cheap bikes are better than one. As you say, bikes WILL get stolen or break. The second bike keeps you going when that happens until you can fix the problem. BTW I think you can get padlockable front wheel QR spindles if you ask around.

    • jwz says:

      I think that spending $40 on fancy locking spindles would be an example of "don't waste your money on junk that's just going to get stolen anyway." Especially when the alternative -- bolts -- are $2.

      • gytterberg says:

        I'm genuinely curious what you're talking about with replacing the quick releases with bolts - it doesn't sound like you mean replacing the hollow axle with a solid bolt-on one. Do you just replace the ends of the quick release (the lever and the "acorn nut" on the other side) with nuts on the original spindle? I can't imagine a nut of that size being easy to find.

        • I think he means he replaces the bolt, the lever and the acorn nut with a bolt and two hex nuts (or something equivalent) and bends the ends down so you can no longer unscrew the thing. As for being able to find a nut that size, just go hang out at a good hardware store sometime. You'd be amazed by what you can find there. I didn't even know they made some of that stuff.

  10. pygmalion says:

    Since I moved next to the park, I have bought a bicycle and am quite enjoying it, but I just started this bike riding thing. I am on a fat beach cruiser and am out of shape, so I am quite slow. I stick to the sidewalks as much as I can, and man it pisses people off all over the place. I have been informed riding on the sidewalk is illegal (especially where there are signs saying "No Skateboards/Bicycles), but it also appears to be immoral around where I live.

    Anybody know anyone who has ever gotten a citation for riding on a sidewalk in SF?

    • jwz says:

      If you feel less likely to die on the sidewalk than on the road, then that's what you should do, regardless of the legality of it. If your feeling is correct, then you will enjoy the ticket more than the death. Having some bike nerd tell you what a pussy you are is not a good reason for doing something that you don't feel safe doing.

      • pygmalion says:

        Having some bike nerd tell you what a pussy you are is not a good reason for doing something that you don't feel safe doing.

        Amen to that. I have been (un)fortunate enough to see the squished bodies of bicyclists in SF spread over 20 feet, and all the anger in the world at a driver of the motor vehicle for not respecting the rights of the biker to use the road equally does not make the rider any less dead.

        Better an alive lame-ass pussy than a dead, righteous, bad-ass biker.

      • graydon says:

        I'm very disappointed that you're saying this, because it's counter-factual. You ride on a sidewalk, you're putting yourself at higher risk of a fatality with a car when you exit into the roadway, which you have to do on every block. They don't see you coming and are very likely to turn through you or run the light and collide with you. You're much more visible and safer on the road.

        Numerically speaking, not "bike nerd superiority complex" speaking. You may "feel" safer on the sidewalk, but it's the same way people "feel" safe driving drunk or without a seat-belt: the people who scrape up the bodies will tell you a story that differs from your feeling. The sidewalk riding is dozens of times more likely to get you killed. You're doing your readers a disservice here.

        If you want to be safer, plot a course on small, low-traffic side roads that you know well, at low-traffic times. Get a map from the city and take the routes they've signed, marked and put traffic calming efforts on. Avoid big roads with lots of traffic, avoid sidewalk riding, and be extremely well-lit.

    • eqe says:

      I have gotten a ticket for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk -- a totally deserted, very wide sidewalk in a place where the street was one very narrow lane in each direction with parallel parking on both sides, and I was riding slowly trying to figure out a confusing set of directions -- in Redwood City. In SF the cops generally have something better to do.

    • wfaulk says:

      Speaking of biking legalities:

      I don't know what it's like in San Francisco, but around here, not may people bike to commute, errand, etc. The bikers that do exist are constantly complaining about cars not giving them enough room, that it's illegal, and so forth. Yet they all run red lights with impunity. It's really irritating.

      (Yeah, I know: "Good story, grampa.")

  11. buckminster says:

    This is around 50% bad advice. I'm sure it works for your riding style, but here's where I think you go wrong:

    -I like hybrid bikes too. But get one with 700c wheels and hybrid tires, 26" knobbies suck it for the city.
    -Don't replace the quick release with a bent bolt. Just carry a thin cable wrapped around your U-lock. You'll want to take your front tire off someday.
    -You need lights. Seriously.
    -Riding on sidewalks is rude and illegal
    -Don't fill your tires at gas stations. If you have room for a bike, you have room for a floor pump.
    -The reason some pump connectors are thinner than car valves is that it increases the structural integrity of the wheel. Sometimes that's important.
    -Lighter bikes are kind of nice, and will make you want to ride more. It's worth paying money for, up to a point.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      I agree that riding on side walks is illegal, and may be rude if people are coming. (When that happens, I either hop back onto the roadway or pass them in the other direction, on grass or whatnot.) But (at least here in Texas) I shudder and shiver when I have to rely on someone to not rear end me in their SUV.

      • mooflyfoof says:

        Here in SF it's pretty much impossible to ride on the sidewalks without running into someone--at least that's the case on streets with enough traffic to make you nervous enough to want to ride on the sidewalk. And when I'm a pedestrian, I get really pissed off when people are riding their bikes on the sidewalk. That said I do use the crosswalks when I'm feeling nervous (like turning left on Market from Grove/Hyde).

      • buckminster says:

        In SF it's way faster to ride in traffic. The sidewalks tend to be more crowded, and if all bikes used them it would be a mess. Defensive riding is a skill set you can learn. It starts with being visible, taking the space you need, and picking the right route. Still, there are usually 1-2 bicycle deaths per year in this city.

  12. mc_kingfish says:

    I know nothing about bikes and bike-riding, and yet I love every bit of this list.

  13. jennaxide says:

    Great list, Mister! Mind if I repost it to the SeattleBikes community with proper creds and stuff?

    • jwz says:

      Gee, that sounds a lot like "hey, would you like me to send a bunch of fixie bike-hipsters over here to tell you how wrong you are".

      I suspect I'll be turning off comments on this post soon.

      • jennaxide says:

        Well I won't post without your go-ahead, of course, and if you prefer I'll take the heat and leave you anonymous but appreciated. I'm wanting to speak up for the not-a-maniac cyclists up here, since we're often drowned out.

        It's just that...that... dammit, I ride my beater Trek that I got as a gift on it's way to Goodwill every damn day in a skirt with these bicycle freaks either in their REI full neoprene fetish gear and toe clips or their day-glo fixie and "Rainer Beer" caps. And they stare at me like I'm the freak.

      • jennaxide says:

        Also, it looks like you're getting plenty of heat without my help :/

  14. gwynjudd says:

    If your bike is sufficiently crappy, you don't need a lock.

    I used to be a bike mechanic, so I take issue with some of the stuff you are saying. Changing a flat tire is so easy, the bike shops are literally stealing from you when they charge you $20 for a new tube. It takes them 5 minutes to change, the cost of the tube to them is $2.

    Also, I have a family of three, even if I shopped twice a week, I couldn't fit it all in a backpack.

    • ammonoid says:

      If your bike is sufficiently crappy, you don't need a lock.

      You must not live in the bay area. Even a crappy bike is worth stealing for $2 of crack.

    • janviere says:

      I shop for three grown-ups with a backpack. I've also shopped for dinner parties for 30 people with a backpack. It's easier if you pick up the random vegetables you need for dinner that night on the way home every day. Also easier if you moderate consumption of watermelons and large bottles of soda.

    • semiclever says:

      it doesn't matter how much it costs them, it matters how much it costs you.

  15. gnat23 says:

    Ok, caveat that I *am* one of the nerds with the funny valve stems, but my main beef is with #11.

    Don't ride on the sidewalks. Not only are there oodles of slow-ass people walking there, but cars don't expect/don't look there before turning. It's also illegal most places. There are poles and cafe tables and people walking four-abreast who ignore you when you're yelling ON YOUR LEFT YOUR LEFT HELLO COMIN' UP BEHIND YOU HEY MOVE and sometimes no ramp and it's basically an obstacle course holding your brakes the whole way.

    It is legal, however, "to take the lane when appropriate." If you're at risk of getting a door prize from a parked car, or if you're wanting to turn left, or if cars are simply getting too close when they pass: Either take the lane and flip off anybody that honks at you or find a better street.

    (Highly recommend which has the best SF map for cyclists, showing hills, bike lanes, and preferred routes.)

    • pygmalion says:

      Thats good advice for someone who rides more than 6 miles an hour all the time. Sometimes, pedestrians pass me. I can pedal behind a couple walking hand in hand quite comfortably.

    • damiancugley says:

      When I use the footpath (meaning the same as pavement or sidewalk if you are British or American) I do it on foot, that is, I walk with my bike until I can get back on the road. I do this on a couple of places on my commute where the alternative is to take two right turns (corresponding to LEFT turns in countries that drive on the right) or whatever.

      It is also true that it can be more dangerous to ride on the footpath at speed than on the road, because every time you cross the traffic at an intersection you will be suddenly appearing just where motorists will NOT be looking. This is why some segregated cycle facilities are actually more dangerous than cycling in with the motor traffic.

      Having said all that, there are plenty of places in the suburbs where pavements are empty of pedestrians (because they all drive!) and the roads are full of speeding cars, and the law should be changed to permit cycling on the pavement.

      • mooflyfoof says:

        Oh! It's totally legal and kosher here to take your bike on the sidewalk if you're walking it. I'll often do this, if I'm trying to get down a one-way street and don't want to ride the extra 3 blocks out of the way. I can totally get behind recommending that people walk their bikes on the sidewalk if the roadway feels too dangerous.

    • dagbrown says:

      Cars, as far as I can tell, don't look ANYWHERE befere turning. Car drivers, in general, can't see anything which isn't at least the size of a car. You ride your bike as if you're invisible, and if they do see you, assume they're trying to kill you: see point #11.

      Me, I won't ride on sidewalks because, similar to the way that all cars are driven by evil people, all pedestrians are drunk. They lurch around erratically and just generally get in the way. At least cars will continue going in vaguely the same direction they were going a moment ago.

  16. elevatordown says:

    That was a good read. And aside from just being entertaining, actually useful.

  17. cryptomail says:

    Mr. Zawinski,
    I found this post useful, entertaining, and true on all accounts. Thank you for posting this. :D

    I feel compelled to comment regarding your suggestion that someone who is getting a city bike, get a hybrid:

    I have always found that obtaining an old moutain bike (yeah no bullsh1t shocks requried), and then simply changing into slick tires, will also suffice the sturdiness and toughness requirements of being in the city.
    I have personally found that the hybrid handlebar setup is less than optimal for those really hard hill digs in SFBA, and thus, a mountain bike with "bullhorn" handle bars with slick tires really does it for me. It allows for some really good ass-off-the-seat-cuz-it's-a-28%-grade hill climbing, that sometimes you simply can't avoid.

    Again, thanks for the post.

  18. edlang says:

    Those of you talking about lights: put them on your backpack and /or get a backpack made of highly reflective material.

  19. rezendi says:

    Bike rental shops such as Blazing Saddles often sell quality used hybrid bikes for very reasonable prices. I'm a satisfied previous customer of BS, who, if memory serves, also throw in a free tune-up after six months.

  20. tiger0range says:

    1. Absolute truth. Add to that the fact that most of them are grade A elitist assholes who don't realize they are chasing after the latest fashion like a Long Island Teenager. Been mountain biking for years, and have been yelled out of bike stores for commenting certain tech is stupid... and lo and behold a few years later all the bikes are junk because (surprise!) the tech does turn out to be stupid.
    2. So called road bikes are for races or long hauls only. Mountain bikes are like SUVs in urban settings. I have friends and acquaintances constantly blowing their load on either a carbon forked road monstrosity or a dual suspension mountain bike because all the elitists look down on hybrids as the "compromised" bikes or the commuter beaters.
    3. The more you spend, the less you'll ride it (for normal people).
    4. Heck, with some practice you can even roll a bike up the stairs by standing it on it's back wheel.
    5. Proper adjustment is one of the biggest factors. You can literally take away 90% of the hurt from an improperly adjusted bike IMHO.
    6. Absolutely true. I used to have a PDA/GPS mount, computer mount, lights, etc. until I figured out none of that stuff helps make a commute any better. Now I have the lights on my helmet (so much better than bar mounts) and blinkers on the backpack.
    7. I usually carry two locks, one for the front and one for the back when I go into urban areas. I also have an old hybrid with the component names scratched out. Most people can't tell they are looking at Shimano XT unless it's written out for them.
    8. Depends on your taste.
    9. Prestas bite the big one. Does not help rim intergrity unless you are looking at superlight aero rims, and even then only marginally.
    10. I disagree about this. One of the easiest ways to build your confidence about your mechanical aptitude. It's not as hard as you think.
    11. Don't know how it is in the west, but when I was in Baltimore, I heard the cars actually rev up as they tried to run you off the road. Glad I live in Kansas, aside from the drunks, most people are awesome about bikes.
    12-14. True enough.
    15. For me, tucks don't hold, and those velcro things die and fall off in inopportune times. Mostly because my cadence is at around 90 a lot of the time...going up to 120 in bursts. :(

    • ding_0_ says:

      Man, getting run off the road in Baltimore is a pretty universal experience. Things are getting better as there are now bike lanes around some parts and Velosoped bike collective makes getting a serviceable beater bike super easy.

      I have permission to bring my bike into work because someone stole the bike rack from out front.

      Love biking falls road though, it's like going around the corner into some other past city.

  21. pdx6 says:

    The dark secret among the transit advocates in this town is that they all secretly bike on the sidewalk when they don't feel safe, and even bike on the sidewalk the wrong way when they can take a shortcut on a 1-way street. It's bike nerd hypocrisy, and I've had some community members fess up to it while under the influence of alcohol.

    • bifrosty2k says:

      They're also the same people who blow through stopsigns and redlights because they are too special to obey traffic signs.
      I've watched several of them bite it...

      • pdx6 says:

        I've only seen 1 cyclist bite it, and he was on Market Street going the *wrong way* in the bike lane near 5th.

        I must say the crash did make a spectacular sound.

  22. emtel says:

    This is the dumbest post you've ever written.

    1. I'll also make sure never to take programming advice from someone who owns a copy of K&R.

    2. Please stfw for Paris-Roubaix.

    8. Ever heard of a fucking bike pump?

    9. Those bike pump things I mentioned? They work with presta valves.

    10. Fixing flats is worth your time because it takes *less* time to do it yourself than it takes to walk your flat-tired bike to the shop.

    11. Riding on sidewalks is statistically more likely to get you killed for a number of reasons you can learn all about on your own if you are so inclined.

    14. Addendum: cross *wet* train tracks at an 90-epsilon degree angle or you will die.

  23. ivan_ghandhi says:

    Some of these suggestions are wrong. I rode my road bike in St.Petersburg, Russia, for many years, through all the shit one can encounter there, as well as through the suburban forests, with their dirt roads or just no roads. A road bike is the best because you save your precious muscular energy. Smooth tires with high pressure help you a lot. If the pressure is high, potholes and rocks are not a problem. In Russia, getting a spare tire was a real problem (they sold them only to war veterans).

    A small pump attached to the frame works pretty efficiently on small tires.

    Also, the front wheel should be detachable, just for the comfort of pushing your bike on the back seat of your car when you go somewhere.

    I agree with not riding up Haight or any other such place.

    • Is precious muscular energy up there with precious bodily fluids?

      • ivan_ghandhi says:

        Good question. Probably, after 60 miles, yes.

        Oh, and I have more advice... regarding the precious liquid. If you are taking a really long bike trip, take a thermos with hot tea. Makes a lot of difference.

        • mooflyfoof says:

          I think the kind of biking jwz is referring to is more the "getting from point A to point B within your city" type biking than the 60-mile endurance trips. For the most part in city riding you don't need to preserve your precious muscular energy-- SF is only 7x7 miles.

        • dagbrown says:

          If you think 60 miles is a reasonable bike ride, you JUST MIGHT be a hipster bike nerd. You know, one of those people to whom this posting is explicitly Not For.

  24. strspn says:

    I've been almost exclusively on a bike except for a brief period when my kid was an infant and toddler. Now mom gets the car and I bike all over the greater Mountain View and Sunnyvale municipal areas.

    My advice: If you ride regularly in a city, put the Traffic Engineer's number on speed dial. They actually enjoy hearing about obscure hazards. Just remember to get your N-E-S-W bearings and the cross-street before you call (which also gives you an opportunity to take deep breaths and calm down from said hazards.)

    My google-fu is weak this afternoon. All I can tell is you need to talk to some lady named Jessica at telephone 3-1-1 or email potholes at sfdpw dot org

    On which cell phone carriers does 3-1-1 work?

    • strspn says:

      Also, my bike is a mountain/dirt-style with one of those crazy Chinese models shocks built in to the frame. I bought it from a visiting Stanford Psych. Prof. who roomed in the house I was in when she was returning home. My previous was, in fact, a cheap hybrid, before it was stolen from Hillsdale Caltrain Station.

  25. perligata says:

    Maybe I don't want a bike after all. These people are scary.

  26. gnat23 says:

    1. Don't be a target:
    - of high-pressure salesfolks
    - of thieves
    - of cars and drivers

    2. Get something you're comfortable riding

    3. Ride it lots

    4. Take care of it (optional)

    5. Always be aware of your surroundings

    (In the spirit of Bike to Work Day rapidly approaching, can we stop making fun of subcategories of cyclists, regardless if they're a hipster on a fixie or a roadie on a $4k roadbike? I'm just happy folks are out there on BIKES: one of us, one of us.)

    • jwz says:

      That's a fine summary.

      But I was only making fun of a certain subcategory so far as those people behave as an impediment to getting normal folks onto bikes!

  27. fnoo says:

    Holy fucking shit they've come out of the wood work.

    Disagree with #3 - I have a bike with a front fork with suspension that you can switch off. It's kept off 90% of the time except for when I'm not in any particular hurry to get somewhere or I'm about to ride down a section of Victoria St in Melbourne that's like a jackhammer. On your balls.

    And strongly agree with #10 - they'll do a better job, they'll get the wheel back on properly (something I always have trouble with), and $10 is worth 30 minutes of my time.

  28. You know who loved bicycles, don't you?

  29. hexapod says:

    (not that you needed to hear this or anything, but you are pretty much dead-on).

  30. mercuryglare says:

    80 comments dude.


    all I have to say is, my bike has a BELL and I live in LA.

  31. vsgoliath says:

    No. 18. Join the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

    It's only $35. You'll be joining 8,500 folks who are supporting bicycling for everyday transportation. You'll also be getting 10-15% off parts and service at most bike shops in the City. That way, when you drag your bike 10 blocks to get a flat fixed at a shop, rather than carrying a tube, pump and levers, you'll save a few bucks.

    The City is only 7 miles across. But nothing is as close as you think it is until you have to push your bike to a shop.

  32. cow says:

    Not that my opinion means anything, but the advice jwz gives is really good even in other cities. I live in Vancouver, don't own a car, and bike or walk almost everywhere. (I haven't given up my transit pass yet, but.)

    One thing I would add (with filler around it; the meat is in bold):

    If you're a new urban cyclist, odds are your city has some kind of bicycle club/alliance/league or something that offers free or low-cost urban safety classes. If they're good, it includes going out and riding with experienced people. I highly recommend this, just as a confidence-builder.

    I took a bunch of classes on bike maintenance when I first got the thing, and immediately realized that I really don't care. However, if you're going to be biking farther than you want to carry your bike, learning how to patch a road flat until you can get it to a shop isn't a bad idea.

  33. OMG, 107 comments. Well, I'll toss this one into the fray for nobody to notice.

    Mr. Tuffies. They're heavy and they add weight just where you want it least, but they will let you ride over broken glass without getting a flat. I used to ride year-around in Pittsburgh (where assholes throw beer *bottles* at you [or at least me]). I was getting bi-weekly flats on my knobby tires. Got the Mr. Tuffies, and never got a flat again. For like a year.

  34. latemodel says:

    Jesus christ, I disagree with you. And I haven't even owned a bike since I moved here.

    Biking one mile into a headwind on a hybrid will make you want a bike with drop bars. Never mind 7. And if you bike on the sidewalk, I will kill you. You haven't seen my militant pedestrian rant.

    But yeah, fuck fixies.

    • palmir says:

      Hybrids are vastly more suited to city riding than are road bikes (or anything that comes stock with drop bars). With a headwind, lean forward to get a bit more power and present a smaller area to the wind. All other conditions in the city, a hybrid beats a road bike. Straight (or riser) bars give more control for avoiding errant pedestrians and potholes (grammatical weirdness left because it amuses me). More upright position allows you to be more aware of the drivers who are trying to kill you. Wider tires are more comfy and also give more grip if you hit gravel or a pothole, so you have a better chance of staying up instead of eating pavement.

      I agree with the sidewalk riding and fixie sentiments, though.

  35. palmir says:

    As someone who A) wears bike shorts (so much comfier for long rides, no real difference for around town) and shoes, and B) has worked in shops for a few years and knows entirely too much about the topic: I agree wholeheartedly with almost all of this, though I feel a couple points could be expanded.

    My mini points:
    2) Hybrids are made for exactly what you're talking about, so why would you want something else? There might be some argument about which *type* of hybrid you should get, but you should be in that category. And yes, shocks are a waste of money. Yes, I still sell hybrids with shocks. I am a bad, bad man (but I do point out both of these things if customers ask).

    7) A couple companies make skewers for exactly this purpose. They'll be $10-20 for a set, and will be easier to install than some weird custom thing from the hardware store (and if you don't want to get dirty, ask nice and the shop should install 'em - it'll take <30 seconds).

    8) It saddens me that this is even a point on your list. Though wide slick tires are better than knobbies on pavement, which is why European tire companies make such a large selection of them. They even export a few versions into the US.

    10) Bike shop employees are happy when people bring in bikes that we get to keep in good working order instead of having to fix the screwups that home mechanics insist on bringing us. Seriously, if you don't know what you're doing and you don't want to waste your time, bring us the bike before you mess it up.

  36. lohphat says:

    Everyone has an opinion and most of those opinions are by people with too much free time on their hands and aren't responsible for the long-term consequences of their advice.

    • strspn says:

      Like "don't bike on the sidewalk" -- wow. I just realized that I instinctively felt like everyone knew that you can always take the first and last blocks on the sidewalk.

      But there are people who apparently want bikes to be mounted only on roads. To those people I offer my single-fingered walk -- with clasped helmet dangling from the left handlebars and a wheat-turkey-lettuce-tomato-and-pepper 6" proudly dangling from the other, down flights of stairs in the rain.

      When I was in bike safety training, they said that you can still walk it mounted. But those Caltrain jerks think it's funny to close doors on bikes and call them for not walking when mounted, even when the gears aren't cranked. What the hell?

      However, I have to agree with the low-center of gravity back-wheel baskets people. I should try those.

  37. I'm always amused at the crossover between bicycles and manual wheelchairs. At least half of this advice works for either.

    The San Francisco Bike Map is a useful thing to have even for non-riders, as it has grades marked. Best way to dodge the hills., or ask your bike shop, or download it, or order it.

    Folks may wish to bear in mind that it's illegal to bike on the sidewalks. Not that this stops anybody, but I may put my cane through your spokes if you fuck with me, so if you're gonna do it, be polite and don't hog space or the damn ramps. They aren't there for your benefit.

    • fruitylips says:

      "I'm always amused at the crossover between bicycles and manual wheelchairs."

      My brother is a paraplegic(car wreck back in '86) and teaches new crips on how to get around with their chair. The number one thing he tells people is that if there is any part on your chair that can't be repaired by a bicycle shop, you should rethink having that part on your chair.

      Back in 1990, he and I were roaming around Europe. The climb up the cobblestone road up to Edinburgh broke about 30 spokes on his chair. 2 days later, we found a nice bike shop in Amsterdam and they replaced all the spokes for about $5.

      Until right before we left, he'd those light weight solid wheels on his chair, because all the occupation therapy people thought they were the bee's knees. Had we had to track down one of those, it would have been way more annoying than popping into a random bike shop.

    • cranaic says:

      I wish my city had graded bike maps. Losers.

      Knobbies suck for street riding and tire you out. Get some crossover tires or ones with knobs on the side and a central ridge.

  38. pozorvlak says:

    I went for the "buy a bike so crappy that nobody would want to steal it" approach, and it's worked fairly well - I've had it for over eight years, despite spending four of those years in Oxford, Bike Theft Capital of the UK.

    Your maintenance approach is pretty much what I practice - other than changing tyres, I leave it to the professionals - but I took the bike in recently with some derailleur problems and was quoted a repair bill higher than the cost of the bike. Apparently I should have been oiling the chain more than, like, never.

  39. remonstrare says:

    As a huge fan of cycling and all cyclists obeying the fucking traffic laws, I recommend disregarding jwz's advice where it clashes with local protocol (e.g. not using lights and/or cycling on the pavement)

    • strspn says:

      I wear three lights -- a cylon (also has steady and all-blink modes) 5-LED 2-AA red "belt clip" thing that stays just under my shoulder on my laptop bag strap, an LED arm-band band facing back on my left upper arm, and a helmet light, which I use on blink or steady if there are no streetlights.

      Pavement, sidewalk, grass, footpath, cemetery -- riding on or in every single one of those is obeying the fucking traffic laws, so exactly what are you trying to say about pavement? What's illegal is going the wrong way in the bike lane. What's not illegal is going as damn slow as I very well please in the "car lane" if there is even one whit of a chance of a car door opening into the bike lane. Safety first. Capiche?

  40. Thanks for the advice; I've never been thoughtful about my biking decisions but I think it would really help me to smarten up.

  41. lanikei says:

    i don't drive, and it would be nice to make my commute a bit quicker with a bike, but the idea of biking on the roads in baltimore and DC makes me queasy. not really sure how to find somewhere i can gain confidence before i risk getting flattened.

    i have not been on a bike for 10+ years, mostly because handbrakes and gears were frustrating at the time. i've been threatening to buy a kids bike for years simply because i can brake by pedalling backwards. (and i am short enough that this is almost a feasible option. ALMOST.) now i find out that apparently i am a hipster for eschewing gears. lame. does it count if i buy it from the kids section at walmart?

    • Fixies mostly have no brakes (that said you could certainly fit some).

      They have a single gear and no free wheel so if the wheel is turning forwards, your legs are turning forwards and if the wheels are turning backwards, you are back-pedaling.

      You break by putting back pressure on the pedals and slowing down the rate the pedals are turning.

      I'm fairly sure your confidence is not going to be boosted by riding a fixie.

      • notmyrealid says:

        I think the "back pedal brake" referred to was a coaster break, not a fixie. They seem to be overwhelmingly preferred by bike users (as opposed to bike enthusiasts) around here.

    • jes5199 says:

      "brake by pedalling backwards" those are coaster brakes, and you can get them on full-size bikes.

    • pmb says:

      If you are near DC, there are lots of great bike paths to gain confidence on - look for "Rails to Trails" style bike paths. I especially loved the W&OD bike trail from Arlington out to Purcellville. It's a park that is 100 feet wide and 45 miles long :)

      Also, the kind of bike it sounds like you are looking for is called a "dutch bike", and is becoming one of the cool things to have as more and more people join the "I hate all this handlebar crap" backlash. Backwards-pedaling-type brakes, chain guards, fenders, and comfy seats.

    • freiheit says:

      A fixie is a different animal than the "kids bike" you refer to.

      Kids bikes tend to have "coaster brakes". Pedal forward and you go faster, pedal backwards and you stop, don't pedal and you coast. Fixies don't have the coast.

      There's options out there with automatic transmissions and coaster brakes. What that means is you make an adjustment once for how hard/fast you like to pedal and the bike does all the shifting for you, and you just pedal backwards to stop. The one I've heard of is the "Trek Lime", but that's probably about $100-$200 more than jwz's sweet spot for bike pricing. You can probably get something less colorful for less.

  42. ywwg says:

    I'd prefer the bike shed to be BLUE!

  43. parkrrrr says:

    Jamie, can you clarify something? I read #11 as saying "get off the bike, get on the sidewalk, and walk across like any pedestrian if you're concerned about trying to ride across some particular intersection." Everyone else seems to have read it as "go ahead and ride on the sidewalk all the time, and why not kill a few puppies while you're at it." I suspect what you're actually suggesting is somewhere in the middle (except for the killing puppies; that's never bad advice.)

    So what exactly is your advice for iffy intersections?

  44. fantasygoat says:

    I'm sad about Update 3. That's half the fun!

    • mooflyfoof says:

      I agree. I loaded up the thread this morning in the hopes that I'd have some good entertainment to waste my afternoon on! :D

    • lionsphil says:

      Ditto! What's the point of the Internet without stupid people to laugh at?

      Yes, I am counting myself as a potential member of the set of stupid people.

  45. valacosa says:

    I enjoyed reading this post (as I enjoyed reading this.) I wish the peanut gallery wouldn't discourage you from posting common sense.

  46. cattycritic says:

    I'm going to ring in here because I'm not a "bike nerd," but I've been a bicycle commuter for the vast majority of 20 years, and I've done a little "serious" riding. Jamie's is some really practical advice, and as with all advice, it's just advice - nobody's making you take it and YMMV.

    Keep in mind that much of what he's talking about applies to relatively short, everyday bicycling trips in big cities. I'll tell you that most of it even applies in places like Amsterdam (I bicycled exclusively during the week I visited there), particularly with respect to getting your bike stolen.

    After years of skunk stripes when it rained and getting my pants ripped and grease-streaked, even with the pant leg tuck and velcro strap, I finally gave in and bought a real commuter bike for about $500. The gears are inside the back hub, it has fenders and a chain guard, and it was worth every dime to me. If I were in SF, I'd have spray painted it a hideous flat gray/black already.

    In a big city and around universities you have to expect professional thieves. So it's your choice whether you want to gamble on trusting your lock(s) and spend the money on a sturdy new bike, or give up and get two or more possibly crappy cheap ones. But you need to keep this in mind: when I was in college, there was a gang of thieves that would drive a pickup truck around and load entire bike racks into their truck, to unload in their shop where they had the tools and the time to break open any type of lock there was. To this day I always check whether the bike rack is attached to the ground.

    My money's on the thick 65psi street tires. It hurts my ass less, and tires are less likely to get caught between train/trolley tracks. I've ridden with knobby tires on the street a lot though; it's noisy, but I don't think much more of a disadvantage.

    Headwinds: Look, this isn't a race, as jwz pointed out. I have ridden in some nasty, nasty headwinds, and believe me, I know how irritating it is, but if it's bad enough it doesn't matter much where your handlebars are. If it's not that bad, in SF you're only going a few miles, and IMO you don't want to risk getting smacked by a MUNI bus you missed because your head was down. Even a little tuck makes it harder to see the traffic, and it's hard on my neck. That's my experience. I just live with it.

    I change my own tires, but if you're lazy and you can afford to pay someone to do it, why shouldn't you? Tuning your own bike can be fraught with peril if you aren't mechanically inclined, and even so, you still need tools which you may not want to buy or keep up with. I've managed for two decades with basic tools and a chain tool and turning my bike upside down, but that's pretty ghetto. So it's your call.

    Backpacks hurt my back - I have some horrid red canvas Cannondale panniers that were used when I bought them back in 1992. I can pull them off and carry them with me. They have some now that will strap together and make a backpack themselves. Backpacks and messenger bags were a distraction to me, and too often I've wanted to go grocery shopping on the way home from work. If you need toilet paper it's hard to put much more than that in a backpack, and I keep bungee cords for strapping stuff on top of the rack and panniers.

    Lights and reflectors really are essential, but all the lights you really need you can wear now. So if you're worried about getting lights stolen, get a headlamp, a flasher or two for your back(pack) and a bunch of reflecting velcro straps.

  47. kabballer says:

    I'm a computer programmer who commutes and ride bikes for fun too. I ride drop-bar road bikes, though my daily riders are set up for comfort and not racing, with higher handlebars and thicker tires. I don't wear spandex or jerseys unless I'm going to ride over 50 miles, though I do wear wool pants and shirts from REI that wick sweat and don't look too "bikey."

    I applaud the fact that you are able to ride bikes without seeming to have much love for bikes or bike culture. You're right, too many people get obsessed with the gear and fashion. However, I think there is a world that balances how you feel and how the race- and extreme sports-oriented bike industry wants you to feel.

    One last thing: I don't think you should be discouraging people from learning how to fix and maintain their bikes. Many people don't live in a compact, bike friendly city with lots of shops around and aren't able to ride when shops are open. Fixing your own bike is not time consuming at all and very easy, and almost free if you go to one of the many co-ops in the city. Bikes are simple, elegant machines, really, much simpler than computers and software!

    • jwz says:

      But see, my post was not addressed to people who don't live in compact bike friendly cities. It was addressed to people who live in SF and who are not currently riders. In my experience, a common reason for not being a rider is being intimidated by the whole process. I was trying to point out that it only has to be as complicated, scary, expensive and dirty as you choose to make it.

      That aside, I find fixing my bike to be a waste of time. Yes, I know how to do it. No, I do not enjoy doing it. It's well worth getting someone else to do it, especially given how cheap that is!

  48. Bunch of very good advice, but then, I have bike shorts, clip shoes, a messenger bag, a fixie, and a garage full of road bikes, so my opinion is suspect. I'd argue that it's worth it to learn to fix your own flats -- it's easy -- but I get the guy's argument. Hybrids -- yes. Smart. And rubber pedals, definitely rubber pedals. Friendly to sneakers and dress shoes, alike.

  49. jtidwell says:

    Well, that was fun reading. The post and the comments both.

    I've had an old beater hybrid for... um, 19 years now. It was my commuting vehicle for many years, and I ended up discovering mostly the same things you did. Before I bothered to buy a car, I even did my grocery shopping with a big old nerdy backpack. Fun times!

    Then I tried to commute to a new suburban workplace that was 20 miles from home.

    That kind of distance changes everything.

    Within three weeks of the first bike-commute attempt, I was in the shop getting a super-lightweight road bike. With a carbon fiber fork. And Presta tires (horrors! Seriously, I do hate them). I discovered the need for bike shorts (ouch). And I gave up on the backpack, too -- I just brought fresh clothes to work with me in advance and left them there. Basically, efficiency became the primary concern, and no hybrid in the world beats a good well-tuned road bike for efficiency.

    Everyone knows it, but I'll say it anyway: use the right tools for the job! For short-haul urban commuting, your post is great advice. But when your needs change, a road bike may be the right tool. There's no need to put down us nerds in the bike shorts!

  50. inkblot14 says:

    Great article, wonderful suggestions. I'm out in Texas myself, where the 'culture' is much more sharply divided between the casual cyclist, and the die-hard Armstrong disciples sweating their hearts (and several other major organs) out every ride.

    #7 surprised me. QR handles on front tires are the exception more than the rule in the shops I visit here. Common on seats, but I've never had one stolen before.

    I also have my own suggestion, call it:

    10a. If you feel the need to do your own maintenance, really don't. But if you must, get a spare tube, and a bottle of three-in-one oil. Funky wrenches to extract the inner tube from tires aren't any more technologically advanced than a flat-head screwdriver.

    The three-in-one oil keeps your chain working smoothly. Only use if your chain actually gets old enough/dirty enough to kink up. Do not use WD-40. Maybe it's a Texan thing to think WD-40 is the be all for making machinery go, but while it might make the most stubborn chain losen up for awhile - it leaves a residue which will gunk you right back up again before you can make it 4 blocks. Use the oil instead, or better yet - take it to the shop!

    My local shop offers a $40 tune-up, which includes tire changes if necessary. They also check and adjust gears, brakes, align the tires, and tweak any other fiddly bits on your bike. If you bike isn't stolen once a year, it's not a bad investment for the next.

  51. malokai says:

    18) Always wear a helmet. Yes, always.
    19) Don't have your headphones in on your $400 ipod. Sell the ipod and buy a backup bike. It's illegal to have your hearing impaired like that, and for very good reason.
    20) learn to bandage yourself if you're not willing to do the first.

  52. loosechanj says:

    The City is only 7 miles across. Nothing is as far away as you think it is.

    If you don't believe this, Google Earth has a really nifty "path" feature now.

  53. bingomanatee says:

    Good article; I would add some notes on avoiding and enduring a tumble.

    Odds are you'll take one; however most bike wrecks are easy to walk away from.

    Avoid the instinct to hug the edge of the parked cars. you are very likely to clip either a newly opened door or a pedestrian squeezing from between cars, and it makes you less prominent to cars. Its better for them to see you. If you are in traffic that is so dangerous you feel like hugging the parked cars, get out of the road.

    Stay far away from buses -- either far in front or one block over. They have a pattern of driving that resembles someone trying to crush you against the sidewalk, and they tend to travel at about the same speed as you do.

    Bike shorts are awesome til you take your first spill and leave your thigh on the tarmac. Sometime, lean down and rub your hands fast against the pavement. Hurt? you bet! Thats why smart people where pants and jackets while biking. Consider gloves too if you want to keep all your skin after a wipeout. Along this line, there is no such thing as a minor accident if you have a toeclip, and they make start and stop pretty ungainly as well. There is a qualitative difference between bruising and oozing.

    Take advantage of the bike rack on MUNI busses if you need to go somewhere that is severely uphill. If you do this, stay close to the front on the off chance someone decides to make a run for your bike.

    Flat out

    On the subject of flats -- most taxi drivers will stow your bike if you ask nice. I'd much rather chuck it into a cab and let the bike flunkies fix my flat than mess with kids and roadside stuff. It also helps to get a bike with knobby tires that rise the piercable surface from the road.

    Realistic post purchases

    I agree overloading a bike is a sign of spendaholism. however there are a few minor tweaks that can make a difference in some very realistic situations.

    • I always get plastic inserts between the wheel and the tube when you get your bike; usually they will throw the labor in free and they are about as expensive as mentioned cab ride.
    • Have the seller remove any toe guards (see above) so you don't smash with / beneath your bike in an accident -- being able to kick off a leg to steady yourself can block many accidents too.
    • while the bolt thing works to gaurd your tires, it doesn't protect your seat at all. You can purchase a set of tire and seat locks to prevent your seat or tire from being hostilely removed; they are quite efficient (but don't lose the key!) and people often forget how easily stealable their seat is. (who would steal your seat? someone who had their bike seat stolen!) Again, this is a modification far less costly than the parts it protects, and in the city, component theft is really common. And while they may not be completely fullproof, count on the bike next to you to make for a much easier target.
    • freiheit says:

      I just want to say: hell yes on the flats thing!

      Roadside repairs equal cursing and possibly also bleeding. And that's bleeding with nasty grease and grime getting into your wounds.

      A twenty or two and some taxi company numbers in your cell is the best "flat kit". More compact than tools or a spare tube. Even better, it works for all possible repairs, not just the ones you happen to have tools for and the skills to fix. Figure out cab fare for your worst-case scenario (wrong corner of town) and add at least 50% for the worst-case actually being worse than you imagined and for a good tip for the driver who's probably gonna have to clean up a little grease later on. Throwing in an extra $5-$10 is cab driver for "asking nice".

      And yes, I've totally taken my bicycle in a cab before. Not in SF. Probably had to wait twice as long because I asked dispatch for a cab that could take a bicycle.

      If you've ignored #7 and instead have multiple cables/chains and a front wheel that comes off easy, you can probably cram your bike into the trunk of the crown victoria that most taxi companies seem to use. Otherwise you can call the taxi company on the phone and request a cab capable of taking a bike. Roughly twenty seconds with google revealed to me that a company claiming to have the largest fleet of cabs in SF includes some smallish SUVs and wheelchair-accessible vans in their fleet, either of which would work great for emergency bicycle transportation.

      If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, lock the bike up, take the first cab you can get, and deal with the broken bicycle something later within the next 24 hours.

  54. belgand says:

    Thanks. I'd been thinking about getting a bike here in the city and really appreciate decent advice from someone who actually rides here, but isn't one of the hardcore bike-obsessed or a hipster with a fixie just so they can park it outside of Ritual.

    I do believe that lights are now mandatory within city limits after dark as of last year.

    Any suggestions on bikes and Muni or have you completely given up on Muni? I'd like to think that nothing is too far, but living in Oceanview it really looks like just about everything is too far on a bike alone. I've completely given up on BART since, while they have their reasons, they apparently don't give a shit if you have to commute to the East Bay for work and then have a two mile walk from the station.

    Finally, any suggestions on decent bike shops? Pedal Revolution seems like a decent place to pick up a cheap, used bike.

    • jwz says:

      I've never taken my bike on Muni, and only very rarely on BART, so I dunno. I don't really have shop recommendations; I haven't really shopped around or anything. I usually go to the bike shop next to the Whole Foods on 4th St., because it's near home.

  55. You did fart in bike church.
    I wonder why it smells like shit to so many?
    Is it orthodox backlash, or just lots of people who also have experiences counter to yours?

    I'm mostly dismayed by your attitude which seems to indicate everybody is out go get you. If you are like this to other people, I suspect they have very little desire to be nice to you at all. I sure don't and you see what happened? I'm treating you poorly and being a jerk.

    But WTF, you're entitled to your opinion.
    My experience says your wisdom is half-assed, but still, half an ass is better than none. So keep on riding as you so see fit and if people heed your advice, I hope they listen to others' very soon.

  56. shmooth says:

    The 'rolling of the pant leg' is a major hassle. I suggest a an SE Draft (the 2008's are supposed to come with a chain guard - make sure it is installed before you buy) as a starter bike. The 'Draft' is a single speed - not a fixie. List price is $250 or less.

    Once you ride for a few months, you'll know what you really want.

    For the passionate folks in the crowd, use it here:

  57. wire_on_fire says:

    So I live down in Los Altos and a hybrid is STILL useful.

    Dirty secret is that with fat tires (no tread needed, actually) and a hybrid bike, you can handle most "rational" trails (meaning, nice bike trails made of gravel or dirt with uphill and downhill segments, as opposed to muddy trails with jumping and stuntwork and stuff). And there's plenty of neat trails within a few miles from where I live where you can bike that a road bike with 110psi tires is just not going to work nearly as well as a hybrid.

    In theory, a planetary internal gearing (meaning a set of gears that's not hanging out the side) and fenders like you see on a "city" bike would work better for urban cycling largely because it would last longer. But, as you said, what's the point when it's going to get stolen? Even in Los Altos, we've got tons of bike thieves.

  58. girlvinyl says:

    I haven't read the comments, and probably won't, consider this a personal note. All of these tips are just as appropriate for Chicago riders as well. In Chicago we are spoiled by our luxurious grid system and can choose alternate routes easily. We also have a ton of bike lanes and the city is completely flat. My only addition to these tips would be an underlining of "do anything to be safe". I am generally a friendly, nice person but riding my bike I become a vigilant screamer and bang on taxi trunks with abandon.

  59. k3ninho says:

    Please excuse the gushing that follows -- while I'm a hobby rider, I can't imagine riding without my cleated shoes now that I've got used to them, simply because there's so much more power available from my legs. I still marvel at the smoother pedal stroke (lift up, kick forward, step down and draw back). But I know that the cleated pedals will mark out my bike to thieves and I need to carry my (magic) shoes if I'm going to make use of them. JWZ, have you tried SPD's or other cleated shoes? Anyone else experience the difference between flat pedals or clips and cleared shoes and so have sympathy for my fanboyish gushing?

    Take care.

  60. agentcooper says:

    I'd been procrastinating on buying a city bike, so your post was fortuitous for me. Extremely helpful, all of it; thanks.

    Just brought home a bike I'm super-happy with. Counting the months until it gets jacked (Seattle).

  61. matt13 says:

    I like what you say (I don't agree with all of it -- but I live 6000 miles away, so the differences are at least partly cultural).

    But an improvement to 12:
    Get a rear rack and some panniers. Then you can carry groceries without using a rucksack. Rucksacks make my back sweaty.
    (Best to get some panniers that are easy to detach, so you can take them into places and not have them stolen.)