Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Steampunk or Hipster?

Steampunks and Hipsters both share an affinity for vintage clothing, obscure music and epic facial hair. I realize that many laypeople may find the distinction between the two subcultures somewhat muddied, and have prepared a brief, scientific quiz to help differentiate the two. Simply pose the following questions to your subject.

Steampunk or Hipster: The Quiz

1. You wear your muttonchops
a) Ironically
b) Sincerely

2. Your air of smug superiority is
a) a natural manifestation of my superior taste
b) something I affect in order to live up to my top hat

3. Bicycle that doesn't coast?
a) fixie
b) penny-farthing

4. What are you drinking?
a) PBR
b) Earl Grey

5. why won't I hear your favorite song on the radio?
a) the artist who wrote it has never recorded it and only plays locally
b) the artist who wrote it died in 1896

6. best thrift store find?
a) vintage denim
b) vintage tweed

7. don't you think your outfit looks a bit silly?
a) you wouldn't understand
b) why, is my cravat askew?

8. bow ties?
a) cool
b) cool

Add up the total number of "a" or "b" answers.
Mostly "a"s indicated that the subject is a member of the Hipster culture.
Mostly "b"s indicates that the subject is a member of the Steampunk culture
An even mix of "a" and "b" answers indicates that the person before you is an unholy mix of Hipster and Steampunk, and may be somewhat dangerous. Run.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bike Commuting: The Problems of the Ride Home

I have lived car-free at various points in my adult life, sometimes by choice, but often because of practical considerations. During those times I've tried very hard not to be the "Bum a Ride" guy, who is always asking his friends and family members if he can "bum a ride" here and there. The rare occasions when I do ask for a lift I try to pay for gas and parking at least, and make sure I don't inconvenience the person driving me any more than absolutely necessary (especially having been on the other end of that transaction, when a car-less coworker relied on me for transport to work, and was late almost every day, it was infuriating).
My current job requires me to work evening hours, which means I have to bicycle home in the dark. Because of this, and the usual misconceptions about how dangerous bicycling is, I occasionally have friends and coworkers offer to drive me home.
Most of the time I'm not even tempted, it's only about a half-hour bike ride, and during most weather conditions it's a fairly pleasant way to unwind from a less-than-wonderful job. Even when it's a bit chilly and/or rainy I'd still rather bike.
However, there are some conditions which make getting home by bike a bit more unpleasant and dangerous than I'd like, most notably thunderstorms. While I feel reasonable secure among downtown buildings and trees, there are some exposed hills and bridges on my ride home that I'd rather avoid those times.
Unfortunately, my bike is pretty big (I'm tall, and too heavy for most of the folding bikes out there) and doesn't fit in most cars without extensive disassembly, so accepting a ride most of the time would mean leaving my bicycle behind, which in turn would leave me stranded without transportation in the morning, as well as cause an extremely high risk of my bike being stolen.
I've lucked out on the most recent occasion by having a co-worker with a pickup truck, however there are times when I may not be as lucky.
Some of you may have a spouse or significant other who can pick you up, but what about those of you who don't? How would you handle the leave-your-bike-or-ride-dangerous conundrum? Also, are there those of you out there who are car-free for ethical reasons who wouldn't accept a ride under any circumstances?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Clothing for the Transportation Cyclist?

I'm on a roll with the bicycle-related posts lately. Possibly it's because it's springtime and the car is falling apart, so I'm riding more, possibly it's because I think with rising gas prices, unrest in the Middle East and environmental catastrophe looming over our shoulders daily, I think it's important to explore alternate transportation method, or possibly it's because I know way too much about bicycles.

In any case, now that cycling has once again become my primary means of transportation, clothing choice becomes an issue. For just spinning around town, whatever I happen to be wearing is fine, and for long rides dedicated cycling wear makes sense, but for a seven-mile commute, meeting friends for dinner or other occasions that are far enough away that cycling comfort matters, but I when I also want to look like a human being at the end of the ride it takes a little bit more planning.

I think there are four things to keep in mind with transportation bicycling clothing:
1. Comfort on the bike - This is especially important with pants. Pants or shorts that restrict movement, have uncomfortable waistbands or badly-places seams are bad. Also they shouldn't get caught in the chain, which means baggy pants bottoms are out. I use a chainguard on my commuter bike, which means I don't have to roll up long pants, but on the other hand, dress pants with sewn-in cuffs still get caught on the chainguard itself.
2. Sweat management - This is especially a big deal during hot weather, but can be a problem in cold weather with layers as well. Cotton is particularly bad for this, because it tends to hold moisture in, but some synthetics, while they dry quickly, tend to smell funny when they're damp.
3. Weather - You should be able to adapt to a reasonable range of weather conditions without too much trouble.
4. Looks off the bike - Obviously, you want to look presentable once the bike is locked up and you have to interact with non-cycling people Wrinkle and stain resistance helps this a lot, as does a smart choice of color and style

I'm still searching for the perfect bike-to-work pants (there are companies that are trying to make stylish dedicated cycling wear, but not only does it not come in big-and-tall sized, it's pretty darn expensive, usually over $100 for a pair of pants). But have had some luck in finding the perfect bike-commuting shirts from an unexpected direction: golf. It seems modern golf wear has evolved away from tartan knickers and excessively loud sweater-vests to a more understated khaki-and-polo-shirt look. And since golfers are social creatures who occasionally spend their time out in the hot sun, they look for fabrics that shed sweat and wrinkles. Golf shirts might be pricey to begin with, but are often readily available at discount retailers, even in 2X sizes (golf may be a sport, but not everyone who plays is built like a 5k runner). So reasonably fashionable, quick-dry, wrinkle-resistant collared shirts are the easy part.

Aside from looking for the perfect pants (I'm envisioning something along the lines of Dickies 874 work pants, but with a gusseted crotch) I'm still searching for the perfect bike-to-work underwear. Without going into the gory details, moisture management and seam placement is key to avoid discomfort, and if you're going to ride to your destination and then spend the rest of the day on your feet, padded cycling shorts tend to have an uncomfortable "diaper" feel to them. So far my favorite has been a pair of briefs from EMS, but they're very expensive. I've also been looking into quick-dry Champion boxer-briefs from Target, but find they bind a bit around the leg holes, making them less than ideal. They do breathe fairly well though, and are comfortable in an upright, walking-around position, so they might work well for some folks.

Oddly enough, in the vast array of internet cycling lore, you can find billions of threads debating about carbon vs. steel frames, millions about whether you should ride Shimano, Sram or Campagnolo but very few discussion what to wear to ride your bike to work. There are some excellent bicycle-fashion-related blogs, but they're geared more towards the city cyclist who travels relatively short distances, and Velouria over at Lovely Bicycle has some good advice to offer for sporty womenss cyling wear for the non-Lycra set, but I'm looking for a bit more masculine approach. I'll keep working on it and share any profound revelations that I come across.