Wednesday, May 27, 2015

News: The League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly States Rankings

Image courtesy of the League
of American Bicyclists

As May and Bike Month draws to a close, the League of American Bicyclists has released its latest ranking of all 50 states by how bike friendly they are. The ranking takes into consideration multiple areas that contribute to bike friendliness, including everything from legislation to infrastructure to education. It should be no surprise that the states containing highly bike friendly cities such as Portland, Minneapolis, and my own Long Beach would easily rank into the top 10 states. Most of these states, such as Washington, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Oregon, exhibit excellent policies, education, and enforcement of legislation, while even the best states still only get middling marks for infrastructure. Those states at the bottom are, unsurprisingly, those that are least densely populated and thus least likely to attract cyclists and their ever-present drumbeat for greater infrastructure and education.

There are a few surprising results, such as how high Delaware scores, even though it is not often recognized as being particularly bike friendly, or how poorly New York State did, even though New York City is considered among the most bike friendly cities in the US. Of course, having biked now in numerous cities across the cities, albeit for rather short periods of time in some cities, it is encouraging to see not only how much infrastructure is being built, but also how cycling is continuing to be adopted by those in urban environments as more than just recreation, but as a means of transit on a regular basis.

Check out how your state did by going to the League of American Bicyclists website and make sure to view the details of your own particular state. Then, take a moment to consider signing up for your local bicycling advocacy organization to help support making cycling safer and more more accessible to everyone!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Long Term Test: 1984 Shogun 600 Introduction

This bike is long overdue for an introduction. I had been debating whether to even include it, but because it is to me a "forever" bike, one that I will keep as long as I possibly can, it seems like it would be unfair of me to exclude it from the Garage.

My blue Shogun 600 was actually the first bike I purchased as an adult over a decade ago when I took my first job in Washington, DC. At the time, my motivations were two-fold:

1. I wanted to get myself conditioned to the riding position so that I would be comfortable riding motorcycles.
2. The Tour de France had just finished and I had been watching it on TV, inspiring me to get off my ass and get out to see my surroundings.

Purchased for a pittance from a local seller on Craigslist, the bike felt fantastic to me from the first moment I hopped on it, despite it being about two sizes too large for me. With a bit of adjustment and some acclimation, I was still able to ride it in comfort.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Editorial: Advancements continue to make cycling more accessible to everyone

Cycling continues to grow in popularity throughout the US, with many major cities seeing a boom to the number of people who are interested in biking not just for recreation, but to use it as a means of daily transit as well. This growth has been in part spurred by major advancements in cycling technology that have made cycling more accessible to a broader audience. Whether it is bikes that make traveling by bike more convenient or systems designed to help cyclists propel themselves more easily over greater distances or even technology that simply makes it easier to protect your bike, they are all making a difference in getting more people to ride. The growth has also been driven by advancing legislation that has swelled the number of miles of bike lanes and dedicated bike paths to provide safer, less frightening conditions for cyclists and rules that are intended to create buffers between cars and cyclists when they interact on the road. All of this adds up to greatly boosting the number of cyclists on America's roads today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bike Month: Some of our favorite cycling related posts

With May being Bike Month and this week, in particular, being Bike to Work Week, I thought I would take a moment to reflect upon some of our favorite cycling related posts from the past couple of years.

To start, I want to go back to one of our earliest posts and one of only bike reviews at the moment. West Brother had just acquired a brand new K2 Astral 1.0, an uncomplicated and yet quite capable hybrid bike that would replace a wrongly size Walmart special. Since that review, the K2 has not seen a ton of usage, but recently, West Brother has acquired from me my old Ascent Fluid trainer, which he has been diligently using to get into shape for what should hopefully be a fruitful riding season.

One of my personal favorite pieces and one that was popular with our regular follower was when I talked about how riding a motorcycle actually helped to make me a better cyclist. It is funny that I first took up cycling in large part because I wanted to be in better shape to ride a motorcycle, figuring the similar posture of riding a road bike would help me cope with long hours in the seat of a motorcycle. Of course, the unexpected, but delightfully pleasant, consequence was that once I spent more time on the motorcycle, it also improved my cycling as well since there are many translatable skills that apply to all modes of two-wheeled transportation.

A more recent post detailed the trip that my wife and I took with some friends to the city of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. They French speaking city offered quite the experience and was one of the most bike friendly places I had ever visited with an extensive network of protected bike lanes that allowed one to get just about anywhere in the city on two wheels. Add to that the presence of the ubiquitous Bixi bike share and even as visitors, we were able to trek all over Montreal relying on nothing but two-wheels. Best of all, it gave us a chance to work off those calories from all of the poutine we were eating.

Finally, during our cross country road trip last summer, my wife and I had brought our bikes along to ride in the cities we visited as a way to avoid using the car more than necessary. However, when we got to Moab, Utah, we took the opportunity to put the road bikes away for the day and rented a pair of serious mountain bikes to ride the trails near beautiful Arches National Park. This was the first time that either of us had done any mountain biking and we instantly fell in love with it. The skill required to stay upright through the technical terrain and the rush from bounding down a rocky slope are things that are unique to this kind of riding, but carry with it learned skills that will help me in all of my two-wheeled adventures. It was so much fun, we have decided to commit to acquiring our own mountain bikes in the future so that we can go biking in some of the amazing trails around Southern California.

We hope everyone will take the opportunity this week to bike to work at least one time to experience the freedom that comes with getting away from the car sitting in traffic. Also, do not forget to follow me on Strava to keep tabs on my progress as I try to reach me goal of hitting 2,000 miles ridden before the end of the year. Only a few weeks in and I am already past the 10% mark.

Happy Bike Month!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Event: First ever group ride with Lightning Velo

As a cyclist, when I am pushing hard, I generally ride solo. It is not that I do not enjoy the company, but that I have typically not found the right group of people to ride with. Either my style is too intense for those seeking a casual ride or I am not quite fast enough for those really serious riders. Now that I am back in Southern California, I have decided that I want to try to find a group that I can ride with consistently in order to build up my skills riding in a pace line as well as improve my general riding skills so that I can continue to get faster. Of course, I cracked open my web browser and pointed it to Google to try to find a group that would suit my needs. As it turns out, in the Long Beach area, there are essentially two groups: the more intensely competitively Velo Allegro and the more casual rider friendly Lightning Velo. When I reached out, Lightning Velo was first to respond so I decided to join them early on a Saturday for my first go at a group ride.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Comparison: Mid-Size Luxury Mayhem

Over the past few weeks, we have looked at a total of seven different mid-size luxury sedans. Our criteria for these sedans were that they needed to be two-wheel drive (primarily for fuel economy purposes), have no more than 250 horsepower, and should have equipment similar to a Honda Accord Touring (leather, navigation, LED or HID headlights, back-up camera, etc.). Pretty much every luxury car manufacturer has a mid-size vehicle that fits this criteria, but we chose these seven as they are often considered to be the most popular in this segment. Seven enter, but only one will emerge the victor.

Click below to read each vehicle's individual review:

Acura TLX 2.4 Tech
Audi A4 2.0T FWD Multitronic
BMW 328i
Cadillac ATS 2.5
Lexus IS250
Mercedes Benz C300
Volvo S60 T5 Drive-E

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Celebrate National Bike Month with us!

It is May again and, for many cyclists who do not live where it is warm year-round, it is the start of the cycling season. May is also National Bike Month and an opportunity to celebrate everything that cycling brings into our lives and community. Last year, for National Bike Month, we looked at a number of bike friendly wagons as a way of bridging the cycling and automotive worlds. This year, we want to focus on more cycling specific content so beginning next week we will be taking a look back at some of our two-wheeled, pedal powered adventures and adding some new adventures along the way.

Since returning to Southern California, cycling has grown to be an even bigger part of my life, becoming my primary mode of transit around town. With most days being warm and sunny, there are few excuses for not taking the bicycle instead of the car. As a show of my commitment, I have decided to set a goal to ride 2,000 miles this year on my bikes. Progress will be tracked via Strava, using my phone and my Galaxy Gear Live. The distance is about four to five times what I have ridden in past years, but that was living in places where I was not necessarily able to ride year-round. Since the tracking did not start until this April, I will have to ride an average of 50 miles a week to make the goal. I will post regular updates here on East-West Brothers Garage and you can always follow me on Strava to help me stay on track and motivated.




Hope all my fellow cyclists have a wonderful May and we wish everyone a great National Bike Month.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Editorial: These Auto Manufacturers Wants to Make It Illegal to Work On Your Car

Image courtesy of Eric Peters Autos
For most gear heads, one of the best parts about owning an automobile is the satisfaction you get from working on it with your own two hands. Whether it is doing something as simple as changing the oil, or something far more complicated like an engine swap, nothing beats the feeling you get once you have completed working on a project on your car. As cars get more and more advanced technologies though, working on them has proven increasingly difficult. More and more, cars are controlled by complex networks of computers, managing every aspect of the vehicle including how the engine performs. Even the level of sophistication continues to increase for even the most amateur of mechanics, it does not mean gear heads cannot learn to adapt and find ways to modify the car's computer.

Image courtesy of  Tricks Guide
Unfortunately, there is a group of auto manufacturers that do not want gear heads to be able to work on their own vehicles anymore, and to make tampering or modifying your vehicle a punishable offense. How do they plan to do this? Because cars are so computer dependent now, this group of manufacturers want to declare modern cars as "mobile computing devices." So these manufacturers want to basically call cars rolling computers, but how does that prevent us gear heads from working on our own cars? By using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA for short. Sounds insane, right? This group of manufacturers wants to declare modifying a car's computer software or anything that could have an effect on the car's computer a violation of the DMCA. I understand that there are safety issues involved in working on a car, but as the owner of the vehicle, should not that be owner's problem to worry about?

It gets worse though.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Acura TLX 2.4 Tech

MSRP: $31,445
As tested price: $36,420

It has been exactly eight months since we last looked at Acura's TLX, the replacement for both the TL and TSX sedans. In our first review, we looked at the base model equipped with the 2.4 liter "Earth Dreams" inline-four. We probably could have just mostly ignored the driving experience and focused on the additional tech goodies this Tech Package equipped model we are looking at now has, but that would not be much of a review, now would it?

In order to fill the void left by the TSX and TL, Acura, for the first time ever, chose to make two engines available in the TLX: a direct injected 2.4 liter inline-four, and a direct injected 3.5 liter V6 with active cylinder management. What we have here is the TLX equipped with the 2.4 liter engine and the tech package, which includes such additional items like navigation, a premium radio system, premium leather, and a host of additional safety features. Acura's goal with the TLX was to make a car that could, once again, truly compete with mid-size luxury heavy weights BMW and Mercedes Benz. Have they succeeded in building a proper successor to the much loved third-generation Acura TL?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Audi A4 2.0T FWD Multitronic

MSRP: $35,500
As tested price: $39,900

My experience with the Audi A4 in the past has been relatively positive. Thanks to the car rental company, Silvercar, I have gotten to spend extended time with the A4. However, all of the A4s in Silvercar's fleet are equipped with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system. Seeing as how every other mid-size luxury car we have tested thus far have been two wheel drive, it would seem unfair to find a Quattro equipped A4. Besides, testing a front-wheel drive model will help not with just the car's fuel economy, but with its price as the A4 is not exactly the most cost efficient mid-size luxury car.

And thus we run into a problem. Either Audi sells a ton of front-drive only cars, leaving only Quattro models in their inventory, or people only want Quattro cars, thus forcing Audi dealers to minimize the number of front-drive cars in their inventory. The Audi dealer we selected to visit was one of the largest in Southern California, yet they did not have a front-wheel drive A4 equipped as we were expecting. Instead, we had to settle for something close, which did mean the car was missing a few key pieces of equipment we were hoping it would have. Lack of equipment notwithstanding, would the front-wheel drive A4 drive as well as its all-wheel drive counterpart?