Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, May 14, 2001

Bikefactory manager Carl Brooks shows a Trek 7300
that is on sale for $439 (regular $489). The hybrid bike
has the upright seating of a mountain bike, but with
larger wheels, delivering more speed for hitting the streets.

spoke-n here

Bike to Work Week
beckons as a chance
to go clean and green

More than just two wheels
Parking no joy
'We ARE traffic'

By Scott Vogel

YOU dwell in one of the most attractive cities on Earth, a metropolis blessed with both a unique cultural mosaic and abundant natural beauty, all of which are best appreciated from behind the windshield of a gas-guzzling vehicle. Ah, the good life, no?

Well of course it isn't. Hawaii doesn't exist so you can savor mountain vistas while waiting for the light to turn green. Catching a view of turquoise seas even as you negotiate a left-hand turn is not why you call this place home. But if you are starting to prefer air of the conditioned variety, if your idea of botanical appreciation is hibiscus-print seat covers, if your only exposure to local culture is a hula girl on the dashboard -- well, obviously you are overdue for a bicycle makeover.

At which point you remember that today just happens to be the start of Bike to Work week, the city's annual push for two-wheel commuting, sponsored by, among others, the humble newspaper you see before you. But then you realize that the last bike you owned had a banana seat and a bell, and has long since rusted its way into oblivion. In search of guidance, you take the car out -- one last time -- for a trip to some area bike shops. Brook Ellis, an employee at the Bike Shop on South King Street, allays a great deal of your Honolulu bicycling fears.

Bikefactory manager Carl Brooks shows a Trek
Navigator 200 ($329), with mountain bike-style
frame and comfort features.

"The distances aren't too great, the weather's always good," he says, "and we also don't have as many angry drivers here." On the other hand, "it can be kind of hard to commute because we have a problem here with bike lanes that exist and then end. If you go down McCully, all of a sudden you get to the bridge and there's no more bike lane. If you come down Young Street, there's a bike lane, and then all of a sudden there's no more bike lane."

You hear the same thing from Carl Brooks, who manages Bikefactory on Ala Moana Boulevard. "We need to complete the network of trails that should have been completed a long time ago, making it a safer area and also cleaner. I mean, we are giving the city and county $15 per bike that's supposed to go to the bike paths" -- there's a one-time registration fee assessed on each bicycle in the city and county of Honolulu -- "so it's not that they shouldn't have the money to maintain and keep them clean. If they had bike paths that were clean and rideable, more people would use them."

And if more people used them, one imagines, then something of a cycling lobby group might coalesce, one capable of further promoting the rights and needs of bikers. You make a mental note to involve yourself with the Hawaii Bicycling League, one such coalition. But that's in the future, once you get started. And how do you do that? Oh yeah, first you have to get a bike.

Until a few years ago, novice cyclists had only two options, neither of which was ideal for the bike commuter. There was, of course, the mountain bike, which has the advantage of an upright seating position, dual suspension and all-terrain capabilities, but disadvantages such as heaviness and a slower steering response. Road bikes, with their thin tires and sporty look, are far more maneuverable (they're perfect for racing), but the lean-over position would not be very comfortable for the commuter, who presumably is less interested in wind resistance than your average Tour de France type.

An intriguing best-of-both-worlds solution is provided by the "hybrid" bike, which, although it has been around for a few years and become overwhelmingly popular on the mainland, is just now catching on in Hawaii.

Dials on a Trek Navigator 200 ($329).

"They're sort of a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike," says Ellis, "with the upright position of a mountain bike, straight handlebars, slower steering and also the gearing of a mountain bike. But hybrids have high-pressure, narrower tires, so they have much less rolling resistance than those bikes." They are also not recommended for anything but asphalt or concrete riding (no trailblazing allowed) and tend to start at a higher price than mountain bikes ($300 to $400).

As examples of good-quality commuter hybrid cycles, Bikefactory's owner Wally Parcels recommends the GT Jetstream ($399), while Ellis at the Bike Shop mentioned the Specialized Crossroads ($329).

True, these prices are a far cry from those at, say, Kmart, where $100 buys a bike that, at least on the surface, is rather similar to the fare found in specialty bike shops. The folks at the latter, however, strongly recommend that you resist the urge to be parsimonious. Of course, what would you expect a bike store to say? Then again, while he is certainly not a disinterested party, Ellis contends that a cheap cycle could end up costing you far more in the long run.

"They wear out very quickly," he said. "We have people coming in all the time saying they need a new wheel, because they break rather easily. A wheel is $60, so now you have to decide to put out $60 for a $100 bike."

Parcels has a similar beef. "First of all, they're not assembled correctly. Second, at that price range, the components, even if they look good from a distance, are pretty poor."

ALL RIGHT, so you've taken the plunge, got the bike and purchased a few accessories that are really necessities. These include a headlight and taillight, a Kryptonite lock to guard against theft ("It's a big problem," says Ellis), and the all-important safety helmet. You're reluctant to put that bucket on your head, we know. But remember, you are bicycling in the 10th-largest city in America.

"I've got a friend who's got a titanium plate in his head because he didn't wear a helmet," says Brooks, who also was injured in a serious accident just two weeks ago. ("I've got a big piece of my rear end missing.")

Not only are helmets sleeker and lighter than ever, they also keep you cooler, shading your head from the sun but utilizing vents to pull the wind through. And if you are ever tempted to go helmetless, think of Carl Brooks, who has smashed many a helmet during his years battling the streets of Honolulu. "And if you've cracked helmets on your head, what would it have done to your head if you hadn't had a helmet?"

Gliding to work the following morning, the salt spray in your nose and the wind whipping through your, uh, helmet, you quickly realize how misplaced one's priorities can be. Aboard what Scientific American has called "the most efficient machine ever created by man," you marvel at the ingenuity beneath you, even as you cruise guilt-free past all the gasoline engines. A car-free city would be cleaner, quieter, safer and more humane -- not to mention more, well, aloha. You make a mental note to commute via bicycle tomorrow, and the day after, and perhaps every day.

Bike to Work

When: Today through Friday. The week ends with a downtown rally Friday morning near Starbucks at Bishop and South King streets. Free coffee and pastries will be served, 7 to 8 a.m.

Info: Entry forms, which entitle participants to free bike evaluations, are available at many bike shops.

No motor to worry about,
but biking to work takes
more than just two wheels

By Charlene Anne Rico

You're in morning rush hour traffic. With no air conditioning to save you, the sun shines with an intensity through the open windows that leave your clothes a sweaty, wrinkly mess. Exhaust fumes from other idle cars assault your nose and lungs.

Enough is enough. You've finally made the decision to bike to work. But once you've made that decision, you need to start thinking about peripherals -- what kind of gear will it take to get to work in style and comfort, with all the stuff you need to do your job.

It's officially Bike to Work Week and time to consider all the new options available that can make it easier to commute on two wheels.

"I would bike to work," said McCully Bicycle store clerk Atwood Trapnell, even though he can't since he moved to the North Shore. "I would say if anyone works within five to 10 miles of their home, they should ride a bike to work to avoid the traffic and for the exercise."

The first essential purchase, he said, are head and tail lights; it is the law, after all. VistaLite makes both head and rear lights that cost between $11.98 and $19.98 apiece.

Another necessity is a helmet. Helmets by Bell run from $19.98 to about $50.

The last essential is a small pouch that fits under the seat of the bicycle, which should contain tools to fix a flat tire; just as with a car, you want to be able to fix a flat quickly and move on.

Small air pumps, like the ones made by Blackburn, can cost as little as $8.98 to as much as $28.98. Carbon dioxide can also be used to pump you up. It inflates the tire in a matter of seconds, but its main drawback is it lasts only a few days. CO2 by Genuine Innovations is $17.98 (hence its nickname, "expensive air").

Another necessity is a bike lock. There's no worse feeling than coming out of your office after a long day, only to find yourself having to catch a ride on "the yellow limousine."

The best lock on the market now is the U-lock ($20 to $30). It's recommended that you remove the bike's front tire and lock everything to the back tire, leaving as little space as possible between tires, bike and lock to make it difficult for a thief to break the lock.

Also available are shoes that can secure your feet into the pedals and that can be worn to work, depending on your company's dress code. Shimeno makes shoes with detachable cleats from about $64.98 to $119.98.

Serfas RX now makes a seat for men, which retails for $41.98 and is cut out in the center to discourage, um, impotence. But for people of either gender who ride 20 miles or more a week, this kind of seat is highly recommended. Body Geometry also makes a similar seat for $45.98.

Gloves are essential if you really start to get into biking. Not only do they protect your hands from injury if you fall, but they absorb the vibrations of the handlebars while you're riding. Cannondale makes gloves for every type of biker, starting at $23.98.

Bar ends are another popular feature (Profile Design, $13.98 to $18.98). You attach them to the ends of your handlebars and allow you to change positions when you're riding so your hands don't go numb.

There are also bike racks that you can attach to the sides of your bike ($17.98 to $39.98), as well as bike baskets to carry your purse or backpack in. Another useful thing is a fender for the back tire ($7.98 to $18.98). If it's raining while you're biking, you don't want to end up walking into work with a nice line of mud trailing up your back!

Finally, the coolest of the cool is the cycle computer by Astrale ($29.98). You can time the distance it takes you to get to work, as well as how far you've gone. It can also help you track distances if you're planning on a longer ride.

Wind Cycle and Euroduro2 also make cycle computers.

This bike rack is $369 at the Bikefactory Sportshop.
A lack of public racks is a common complaint
among bike riders.

Just as with a car,
parking is no joy

Star-Bulletin staff

Once people start biking to work, there is one last dilemma: Where do you park?

Most people ended up locking their bikes to parking meters, only to find themselves with a parking ticket.

In putting up racks, which cost about $200 to $400, Bikefactory President Wally Parcels says businesses may see immediate returns.

"If you poll or survey a dozen bicycle riders, their No. 1 complaint will be, Where do you park once you get to where you're going?"

He said cyclists would naturally gravitate to places most accessible.

Although the city has been trying to put up sculptural racks like that at right, he said that is good from an aesthetic standpoint but offers only a limited solution.

"It's a good first step, but if there were four or five times the racks currently available, that would still only be scratching the surface."

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