Three epic sites, one no bikes in sight

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We have visited 9 historical sites and found 2 that are awesome for casual bike rides and one that has the potential but fails miserably.

1.  If Paris is your destination, you must pay a visit to Palace of Versailles. It’s only 13 miles/31 km train ride (or bike ride!) that costs about 3.5 euros. The Chateau de Versailles is an UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years and it is one of the most marvelous achievements of French architecture and art. 3 kings from Louis XIII, XIV and the XVI with Marie Antoinette had lived there until the French Revolution.

Looking out to the Gardens and Park of Versailles

Looking out to the Gardens and Park of Versailles. This was taken in Oct. 2009 when we were last there (see clouds).

Adjacent to it, are the Gardens and Park of Versailles where you can ride your bike for miles (~6 miles/10 km). It is heavenly and breathtaking! And it’s free for admission. If you don’t have a bike, there’s a bike rental. And if you want a different angle of the park, they have boats for rental too. The downside to the bike paths is that some parts are not paved, but quickly you forget about it due to the immense beauty of the park.

No bikes allowed to the right of the red line, however, it is free for admission to the left of the line.

No bikes allowed to the right of the red line, however, it is free for admission to the left of the line.

This is where I want my ashes to be spread at.

This is where I want my ashes to be spread at.

Beautiful!

Beautiful! French signature of parks – Groomed trees that are aligned with each other in rows.

You can rent these boats.

Boats for hire!

Image of the lake in the shape of a cross.

Image of the lake in the shape of a cross.

Yes, there are sheeps grazing there too.

Yes, there are sheep grazing there too. A wonderful experience to see on a bike.


2. Another epic casual bike ride is to Mont St. Michel, another UNESCO site. It is situated in between Normandy, France on a island when high tides occur. Mont St. Michel started off as a monastery during the 8th century and over hundreds of years became a fortified city. The city of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson used this castle. It is majestic and godly.

Majestic, isn't!

It’s like a mirage.

Photo above is a new path to Mont St. Michel. From the car parking, it’s 1.6 mile/2.5 km of bliss riding to the place. As I was riding on this path, I felt as I was on a horse galloping from the danger behind me to safe haven like in Lord of the Rings. It also hosts night events and the place is lit up after dusk. A bike ride to it at night must be amazing!

Majestic, Isn't it!

Majestic, magical and magnificent, isn’t it!

I am glad they are tearing the parking lot next to Mont St. Michel and place distance away.

New path includes tearing down the parking lot which enhances the island effect.

Once the new path is completed, I hope they let bikes in and to include bike racks at the foothill. For now, bikes are allowed. Moreover, it would be wonderful to have a bike/ped path that wraps around the island commune, too.

A Brompton lover from Barcelona.

We met a Brompton lover from Barcelona.

The abbey is really high up and it's worth the 9 euros admission.

The abbey is really high up and it’s worth the 9 euros admission.

Even during the ancient times, people still know how to appreciate greenery.

Even during the ancient times, people still know how to appreciate greenery.

Inside Mont St. Michel.

Inside Mont St. Michel.

Currently, there are 40 some residents living inside while the site get 3 million visitors, the most outside of Paris. It is pretty packed at the bottom of the castle, but the crowd thins out at the top where cost of admission is applied.

The architecture is beautiful.

The architecture is beautiful.


3. The last but not least epic site to check out is Chateau de Chenonceau in Loire Valley. It’s most visited chateau in France after the Palace of Versailles. Chenonceau was built during the early 1500s and overseen by 2 different queens, a rich heiress and a mistress, all women.

A view of Chateau de Chenonceau from Catherine's Garden.

A view of Chateau de Chenonceau from Catherine’s Garden.

Again, we brought our folding bikes expecting to ride throughout the vast garden of the chateau, but it was a huge disappointment! I understand that some parts of the chateau should only be designated for pedestrians, like Catherine’s Garden, Diane’s Garden and the Maze. These are crowded places with lots of details to appreciate, so you would most likely want to walk anyway. What they did with the Palace of Versailles is a great example. The Palace and the nearby Gardens are off limits, while the Park is opened to all.

A map of Chateau de Chenonceau - there are many paths potential for a epic casual bike ride.

A map of Chateau de Chenonceau – there are many paths potential for an epic bike ride.

A huge and beautiful place like this, does the organization of the place expect people to walk throughout the whole area? As anyone knows, biking is quiet and covers large distance, which won’t degrade the emotions and the appearances at all.

Bikes are banned from entering and must be parked at the entrance. You can see in the next few photos that most of the paths away from the chateau and the gardens are all empty of visitors. It’s a great shame!

All these bikes are parked outside the Chateau - it's such a shame!

All these bikes are parked outside the Chateau – it’s such a shame!

A empty path because no on would walk that much!

A empty path because no on would walk that much!

Another empty path because no bikes are banned.

Another empty path to the right because bikes are banned.

Again, another empty path.

Again, another empty path over the Le Cher river.

Diane's Garden.

A view of Diane’s Garden from the chateau.

To conclude, France is a beautiful country with many huge spaces dedicated to historical monuments and buildings and if bikes are allowed and regulated properly, the enjoyment of these sites would be even more enjoyable.

Vélo Paris

Courtesy of Velib

Courtesy of Vélib

We just got back from France and would like to report on what we observed about bicycling in Paris.

We decided to ride from our hotel in Versailles all the way to Paris. It was about 13 miles /21 km and when we got to Paris, the first thing we noticed were huge bike share stations called Vélib (short for bike and freedom in French). Everywhere you go, there’s a bike share station. The program is comprised of a whopping 20,000 bike shares in 1,800 stations, located 300 meters apart which explains what we saw. That’s about 1 bike per 100 Parisians, the largest bike share scheme per capita.

One of the many Velib bike share stations.

One of the many Vélib bike share stations.

It’s no wonder that every 10 bicyclists we saw, about 8 of them are on a Vélib. And it’s so popular that Paris also has a kids’ version called P’tit Velib.

No helmet and upright on a Velib!

Normal folks on Vélib bike shares!

That's one cycle chic!

That’s one cycle chic! (Sorry about the the blurriness of the photo.)

Although Paris has such a great bike share scheme and I do appreciate that the bridges over Seine River have separated bike paths, but their bike infrastructure on regular streets remains lackluster. You can pretty much tell that wherever there’s space, they just slap on some bike signs and say, “voila!”

I didn’t feel comfortable riding around. Many big streets don’t even have striped bike lanes and you’d probably want to avoid riding on them as much as possible. Cars are going pretty fast. In addition, the turnabouts are frightening to go into. Cars are always coming into the roundabout without slowing down, and drivers are always making right turns (I wouldn’t be surprised that right-hooks would make up most of the accidents there) in roundabouts. Moreover, the abundant exhaust fumes from the diesel engine cars was repulsive. There were so many scooters too and their emissions are not regulated.

Another comfortable looking cyclist in Paris.

Another comfortable looking “Saddle Warmer” in Paris.

I have to give a hats off to Parisian bicyclists. They don’t wear any head protection, no hi-vis outfits, and ride in fast and congested traffic.

I don't understand why bikes and buses have to be mixed. They are the most opposites.

Like in America, buses and bikes are grouped on the same part of the road.

However, there were some good ideas like what is shown in the photo below. It shows that bikes can go in the opposite direction of a one way street.

I noticed that all the bike signage were painted in a simple white color. I find this to be interesting because I think French design tends to be more artistic and elaborate. Also, the bike stencils are pretty crude.

Many narrow one-way streets have contra-flow bike lanes.

Many narrow one-way streets have contra-flow bike lanes.

Cross-bikes on streets of Paris.

Cross-bikes on one of the large streets of Paris.

Another good idea is having cross-bikes through wide intersections. That is sorely needed in the States, particularly at freeway passes and boulevards.

This is what we need on the Embarcadero in San Francisco or anywhere where there's a bike lane.

This is what we need on the Embarcadero in San Francisco or anywhere where there’s a bike lane. Tow away if park on bike lane.

Notice the wide street above doesn’t have demarcation for cars. It has been shown to calm car speeds.

No car entry except bikes. Yay!

No car entry except bikes. Yay!

In conclusion, riding in Paris seems pretty dangerous but the city averages about 2 fatalities per year between 2007 – 2012, a fairly low rate for a city this big with 2.2 million residents. The French (at least the Parisians) have the bicycling spirit. They are a country of Tour de France, inventors of Velocipedes and derailleurs that made what modern bikes are today. Paris has a flat topography, density and beauty, and more would jump on bikes if they had the proper infrastructure.

Thank you for choosing to bike!

It wasn’t Thanksgiving Day yet, but we felt we wanted to do something to show our appreciation to fellow bicyclists- those who choose a bicycle over a car to get to work. Therefore, we got an idea to pass out some treats to people who were passing by with their bikes.

First, Nellie made a prototype of the kind of treat we would be giving out.

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Then she made a whole bunch more.

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Last Friday evening, August 22nd, we handed them out to bike commuters coming off the Jack London Square ferries. Here are some photos of some of the folks we met.

Christian

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Kelly

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Nice Guy

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Nice Gal

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Curious Commuter

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Another happy commuter

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Thank you to all of you who choose to go from point A to point B by bicycle!

Happy pedaling!

 

Product Review – Ryder Rug

Have you ever wondered where all those punctured or patched-up bicycle inner tubes go? Where would you like to have them end up at? As an eco-conscious person, it just feels wasteful and wrong to throw out a perfectly fine tube with a couple of small holes. With cracked pavements, potholes, and broken glass from car windows on city streets, it is hard to avoid eventually getting a punctured tube.

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Ryder rug by RewindLab

Well, I want to introduce you the Ryder rug from RewindLab which is made out of used tire tubes. I thought this was such a creative idea to reuse bike inner tubes! The tubes are reclaimed from local bike shops, and the New Zealand wool blend is rescued from production. The wool is nicely weaved to hold the tubes together, and it’s a solid piece of a rug with the tubes giving it a bouncy and soft feel. I never would have thought a rug made out of tire tubes would look anything presentable, but this Ryder rug does. It brings out the coziness and warmth to any room.

Moreover, the rug can be used on either side and comes with eco anti-slip pad. They also come in different color combinations. With even more eco-consciousness in mind, it’s made locally in the SF Bay Area!

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The rug can be used on either side.

They currently have two sizes, 26″ x 19″ (66 cm x 48.3 cm) and 50″ x 20″ (127 cm x 50.8 cm). The smaller size is priced at $87 USD while the large size costs $158 on Etsy.com.

The front doorway of my unit is pretty wide, so neither of these sizes fit. It would be nice to have a size that’s 20% wider than the current small size they have. Also, I’ve only had this rug for a couple of weeks, so I don’t really know how well it can hold up to dirt and debris over time.

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Reclaimed New Zealand wool.

But if you ever cringe when tossing out used tubes or if you want a nice collection item to show that you are an eco-bicyclist, Ryder rug fits the bill nicely.

Courtesy of RewindLab.com

Courtesy of RewindLab.com

Cycle Chic – Outfit of the Day

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Who: Nellie
What: H&M stretch dress in purple, Express cargo jacket in gray, Fjallraven Kanken backpack, Brooks Addiction sneakers (recommended by my podiatrist for foot problems =p), silver hoop earrings
Where: Oakland Chinatown
When: Friday evening, August 15th
Why: Riding to meet Chris at the Jack London Square ferry station, then dinner in Chinatown at Shooting Star Cafe
Featured Bicycle: Biria mini velo

Bike Lift & Carry

Hey bicyclists!

There is this product that I want to share with you. I just think it is a pretty creative accessory in how simple and easy to operate. We all bike because it is convenient and easy, and that is how I perceive this product.

It’s called Bike Lift and Carry, created and designed in Ukraine (as you all know, Ukraine is in a civil war with Putin’s pro-Russian separatists) and founded by Henry Teterin, a great guy by the way. It’s a retractable strap that attaches at the seat post and stretches to attach at the handlebar which acts like a shoulder strap. And when you are done, just detach it from the handlebar and it coils back. There’s also a great review written by TreeHuggers. The kickstarter for this project just began a few days ago!

Courtesy of TreeHugger.com

Courtesy of TreeHugger.com

If you live in a home that have stairs or you’re a frequent BART commuter, this item should simplify your life. Maybe now, you don’t have to leave your poor bike outside. Or maybe you can now take your bike onto BART or MUNI metro. You don’t have to deal with slow and smelly elevators, and many stations don’t even have them. Many escalators only go up, but not down.

The shoulder strap can lift up to 70 lbs or 32 kg, which pretty much can work on any bike. This is great because more and more people are buying heavy urban bikes from makers like PUBLIC and Linus, and electric bikes are gaining popularity, as well. I wonder if this would work on long-tailed cargo bikes though, such as the Yuba and Xtracycle.

Courtesy of BikeLift&Carry.com

Courtesy of BikeLift&Carry.com

They come in many colors and should complement SF’s hip bike style! The kickstarter price starts at $45.

 

Product Review: Biria’s mini velo

Biria Mini-20

Biria Mini-20

About a year ago, I wrote a post on how a mini velo style bike is a great bike for urban living. Well, I changed my mind…it’s not just great- it’s actually the perfect urban city bike!

After moving to Oakland, we were confronted with a new set of conditions. First of all, the streets in downtown have way too many traffic lights for bicyclists. The stop and go momentum makes it harder to ride a full-sized bike. This is where mini velo excels. Its small 20 inch wheels with a lower rotational mass overcomes this problem. It makes it easier to start and stop.

2012 model

2012 model

Very often living in a city, the weight of what you ride/carry to run multiple errands affects your overall experience. Picture yourself locking up your bike several times to different bike racks and also having to lift up the bike from the street level onto the sidewalk. It can get pretty cumbersome. What about those times that you forget to bring your u-lock (or u-lock key). Well, with the mini velo, it is small enough to just bring with you into the shop.

Tektro Tenera brakes and SRAM-X5 shifters.

Tektro Tenera brakes and SRAM-X5 shifters.

BART is a great public transit option in Oakland. There are 8 stations and it covers the city pretty well, but the few elevators they have are tiny and escalators (bikes supposedly are not allowed on them) are super narrow. Many times, carrying your bike down the stairs is the only the option. So, carrying a smaller bike down the stairs and maneuvering a compact bike into a crowded area helps a great deal.

Pro Wheel Chariot crankset, standard 53/39T chainring.

Prowheel Chariot crankset, standard 53/39T chainring.

Moreover, the bike infrastructure in Oakland is relatively bad. You have bike lanes disappearing and even bike sharrows that disappear suddenly. Sometimes, the bike sharrows are in the door zone. And one way streets are common. As you know, it is an obstacle course for cyclists. Sidewalks clearly are not the place for bikes; but when it’s a one way street or you feel your life is on the line, I have to admit I do sometimes ride on the sidewalks (certainly at a very slow speed and where pedestrians are almost absent). Riding on a smaller bike such as the mini velo feels like you are not intruding as much into the pedestrian space.

SRAM X7 rear derailleur

SRAM X7 rear derailleur

Nellie and I moved into another place that doesn’t have nearly enough indoor bike racks in the garage and keeping your bike indoors makes a huge difference to how long your bike stays in good condition (and clean). Thus, we have to store our bikes in our unit. Size does matter. Also, I used to have an office space that a full-sized bike wouldn’t fit, but with a mini velo, of course!

This is my office at work. The Mini-20 easily fits in there.

This is my office at work. The Mini-20 easily fits in there.

In addition to riding in the city, she wants a bike that she can go for a long distance ride sometimes. None of her current bikes meet all of these criteria in one bike. So, Nellie decided to give the mini velo a try on a long ride. We just did a 30 miles/48 km ride, and Nellie wasn’t a bit tired. She said it’s the best bike she’s ever had.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Here are the specs and comments for the Biria Mini-20:

- Aluminum alloy frame and fork. After a long 20 miles/32 km ride, it can be harsh on your wrists because shock is not as well absorbed. But going just around town, you won’t notice it.  Remember, city streets in America are poorly maintained so this is not a factor if you live in the suburbs or on foreign soil where there is good infrastructure.  The good thing about aluminum is that it’s pretty light at 22 lbs (under 10 kg).

- 51 cm (c-t) frame, one size only. Nellie’s 5 ft 3 in/160 cm tall and there’s only 5mm to go at the minimum at the seat post.  I’m 5 ft 8 in/173 cm and I can still fit, however, I need a longer stem. The great thing about mini velo is that it really can be ridden by a male or a female.

- Two choices of colors for the Biria:  matte black or nickel silver. Nellie had the black one and it’s a nice color in person. Very chic and stylish.

- Tektro Tenera brakes and calipers. Good, solid and soft brakes.

- 20 x 1 1/8 CST tires. They are heavy and cheap, and prone to punctures. We immediately changed them out. The narrow size of tires helps reduce the high rolling resistance from small wheels.

- SRAM X-7 rear derailleur and SRAM X-5 shifters. The shifters are easy to shift with just your thumbs, but it’s a bit slow (not a problem if you’re not racing). Nellie’s bike is 2012 and the current model comes with Shimano 105 rear derailleur, and with 27 speeds (18 speeds for the 2012 model).

- Prowheel Chariot crankset (53/39T). Other than it’s made in China and provides a standard range, I don’t have any comment here.

- Saddle, grips and pedals. The saddle is very narrow at 35 cm wide , and it was immediately replaced with a woman’s saddle. The pedals are horrendously small and one sided only, and was also immediately changed. The grips are fine.

- Joy Tech hubs with Joy Tech quick releases. The quick release wheels and seat post makes it a good storage bike. Surprisingly, it really can fit into our Scion IQ with both wheels removed.

The current model retails at $900, which is not a bad price. Overall, the bike feels solid, more solid than any bike I have ridden. It is zippy and stops on a dime. I could see why these type of bikes are so popular in cities in Asia. I may have to get one for myself in the future.

Nellie and her mini velo.

Nellie and her mini velo.