Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Cyclist's Dwelling

Bike in da House
When I talk to cyclists who have recently moved or are looking to move house, most admit that bikes influence the location and layout criteria for their new place. Usually this admission is made sheepishly, with some embarrassment that cycling plays such a prominent role in their lives. Me, I don't bother to be embarrassed anymore. Cycling is not the most important thing in my life, but it is up there. It is also more intertwined with the other important things now than it was before. And it is crucial to my sanity. It follows that any place I live must be bicycling friendly.

As far as location, this can mean different things for different types of cyclists. For some it means being in the middle of a city with good bicycle infrastructure. For others it means being close to good roadcycling - hilly country roads, or networks of dirt roads, or mountain bike trails. For others still the ideal cycling location is climate dependent. And for others, it's dependent on proximity to clubs, races, randonneuring groups, "cycle chic" get-togethers, or other types of cycling-specific communities. Of all these things, for me it is easy access to good back roads and dirt roads that is on top of the list. While I love a city with good infrastructure and loved living in Vienna for that reason, I know that I can also function without it with fairly little stress. And while I appreciate a close-knit cycling community, at heart I am a loner and do just as well on my own. But when it comes to access to open roads, it's more than a matter of liking it or appreciating it, it is a matter of needing it. Living on the edge of town in Boston (rather than deeper in the city) is wonderful, because it allows for easy escape from the congested urban tangle. And living in rural Northern Ireland is a dream, because a network of country roads starts straight out the front door. I would not do well living in an area without easy access to good roadcycling.

As far as the layout of a house or apartment, I am pretty easy: I like a ground floor entrance for dragging my bike out the door. While I joke about having a farm with a bike shed, in reality I am quite content to cram my bikes into a small apartment space. But I do want to be able to roll my bikes out the door with the minimum amount of stairs and narrow hallways. As it is, I am covered in bruises from the narrow hallways in my current place - never failing to hit myself on the shin with a pedal or on the thigh with a brake lever whilst getting my bike out the door. 

For someone who loves bicycles, I am unusually indifferent to "bicycle art" - cycling themed photos, paintings, sculptures, housewares and such. But I do tend to have bike parts and tools lying around in a way that they become integrated into the very fabric of the house. After two weeks in my current place, my roadbike looks wonderfully at home leaning against the book case. And the random bike parts scattered throughout look natural mixed with the household objects and appliances. It's funny, because I only have one bike in the house right now (okay, and one more out on the porch), but somehow the place still has that "bikes live here and they are important" feel to it.

Grabbing Desdemona, I roll her out the door, and - cursing affectionately as I bang my ankle lightly on the derailleur - I pedal away and head for the hills, thankful for the quiet, cloudy Sunday morning, for the emerald green sea, and for the warm tiny place that awaits me and my bike upon our return.

32 comments:

  1. Sigh, a bike shed would be amazing. I have to sleep with my bikes next to me so they don't get stolen, Easily at least

    And Wheel her out on the back wheel, takes both hands but getting round corners is easy :)

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  2. Although generally delighted with my small living space, I do from time to time find myself longing for a 2nd bedroom or office dedicated to bicycle storage and repair.

    That way I would not have to put my bikes up on the rack, could use a permanent rather folding work stand, and lay my tools out on a metal table top (even have my dream table picked out) rather than having to stow them away in a tool case.

    I do fine without it, but such luxury!

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    1. After my divorce in '03, and for six months before I bought my house (which has a nice 2-car garage where the bikes get coddled and the car is accepted if there is room) I rented a nice but small ~500 sq foot 1-bedroom apartment that rather nicely accommodated not only five or six bikes but allowed a very nice little utility closet workshop off the kitchen. The bikes went on wall hooks, alternated bar up/bar down, in the "dining area" with one against the adjacent wall or outside on the covered porch, locked -- this was usually my fixed beater commuter. The louvered-door utility closet, meant for full size washer, dryer, and shelving, very nicely accommodated a large workbench and two utility shelves at either side. With pegboard above the bench it was a cosy little place that you could hide away when company came. Wheels and rims hung from the closet's ceiling. One stood just outside, in the kitchen, to work at the bench.

      The downside was that the only place to really spread out and work was the living room floor, which often had bits of bike spread out from end to end.

      My current garage has held four bikes and two (upright, delta -- the only real kind) tricycles, the car be damned. At one point I scavenged a 10' heavy steel outdoor bike rack from work (cum permissu superiorum) that held more bikes than I owned, but I later bolted a long 2" X 4" to the wall studs in which to screw large hooks; the bikes hang from the hooks vertically by one of their wheels.

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  3. i like how you added the second bike on the porch :P

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  4. I don't like bike sheds, because they tend to be damp. Bike parts will rust just being stored. No, I prefer a humidity controlled basement or garage, if not a section of the house. I have a humidity controlled basement, but the big bottleneck for me is not having outside access. I have to carry my bikes up and down a steep staircase and around a couple of tight bends every time I want to get a bike in or out of the basement.

    Soon I will begin hanging my most ridden bicycle from the ceiling in our hallway near the front entrance, using a pulley hoist setup. That will allow me easier access to it.

    Of course, having a workshop integrated with the bike storage is key; I don't like getting grease or metal shavings from working on bikes cast about my living area. I have this in the basement...

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    1. Agreed, the mud/laundry room is wonderful and has no steps, just wheel the bikes inside. My husband still has not set up a work area, so there are boxes of tools and bike parts all over the mudroom, the outdoor workspace, some in the spare room... the bike stand folded up and not easily accessible.
      I think mentally he'd like yet another dedicated room for that.

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    2. Well, I was talking about a climate-controlled bike shed of course!

      But my ideal bike space would probably be a walkout basement - the kind where the house is on a slope so that the basement's exit is at ground level, with a normal door and no narrow stairs. Nice to have the bikes under the same roof.

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    3. A walkout basement works best, as long as it isn't too damp. A dehumidifier works for me. A shed would need a pretty good lock. I'd probably have all of my bikes locked in the shed - I do lock them in my basement.

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  5. If I put one particular bike away the dog wouldn't have any place to sleep.

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  6. You would love our little house then. Single level with no steps from the ground to the front door. Just the five inch step up onto the large concrete slab that makes up our full, wide covered front porch. Which is where we keep my husbands recumbent trike and my Pashley. From the porch it's just the little 4-5 inch step up into the house and then you are in the living room. No hallways to mess with! I just roll my bike in and lean it against the wall by the door. And since we're in a semi rural area there's endless back country roads to explore. At the same time, it's convenient to both my job and shopping. If we ever move again, I really hope to be able to replicate as much of this arrangement as possible.

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  7. Ideally, I'd have my bicycles out of sight. I don't like having to look at them and constantly move them out of the way even though they're quite attractive. it creates stress and anxiety and makes it awkward when friend pop over or the kids are trying to do their thing with their friends.

    It's odd b/c like you biking has risen towards the top of my list of priorities which keeps me sane and grounded but if they invade my living space I can feel burned out easier and find it hard to sense a balance, which also aids with sanity:)

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  8. One of the main reasons we bought the condo that we did was because of the easy access exterior basement. Our bikes could be stored easily & kept in a happy indoor space. Way better than my prior 3rd floor of ancient building carrying bike up skinny stairs.

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  9. My house has a walkout basement, so my road bike lives down there. Getting out the door is easy, though there is a small stairwell that I have to navigate once outside, but my road bike is so light that it's not a problem.

    My heavy old Trek hybrid, on the other hand, that I use for running errands and short neighborhood trips lives out in the garage, because hauling it up those stairs would probably mean that I'd never ride it. It's still locked, but not nearly as secure as the basement, and since it's basically in the "clunker" category, I don't worry too much about it getting stolen.

    I don't think I'd be comfortable leaving my road bike in any sort of shed or garage. It's worth WAY more than my car at this point (which probably says more about the car than the bike) and I just wouldn't want to take a chance of it getting stolen.

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  10. At first glance I thought your photo came from my neighborhood in New Orleans. Wood floors with a (formerly) coal burning fireplace and bike clearly visible, almost every house in my neighborhood and in much of the city looks exactly like that. Bike use and life without a car is as common here as any city in North America, but no one seems to know that who doesn't live here. Completely flat, very compact and with no significant winter weather, we enjoy some cycling advantages that can't be matched elsewhere as well as a few unique disadvantages. While a bike here is more likely to be a creaking rusty Walmart bike than a lovely bike, its probably sitting in a kitchen or hallway to avoid rain and theft. I have to admit, one of the few very smooth bike designated roads runs by my block as does a new river front park offering another path the one mile distance I am from the French Quarter. It also connects to the brand new bike path on newly repaved Esplanade, the prettiest historic residential street in North America which goes 3+ miles connecting to a new bike path on Bayou St. John and City Park, one of the largest and most astounding urban parks on the face of the earth. I never stopped to think of it, but I have very easy access to most of the newer bicycle infrastructure here. Its more providence than planning. I have only discovered your blog in the past week, but I am so hooked that I have read every post from the past few years in that time.. Lots of lovely female bicyclists here, but only a handful of males cyclists seem to rise above the level of caveman and pirate. Fortunately we have a much higher percentage of female cyclists than anywhere I have seen in this country as well. Ditching my car after Katrina and with public transportation unreliable, I leisurely biked to work daily in jacket and tie. It was the most practical way to travel at least 6 months of the year. I almost never saw anyone else dressed remotely like me. I wish there was another "lovely bike blog" a bit more male oriented, but I love your writing and have learned much from you and your perspective and I eagerly await your next post.

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    1. Never been to New Orleans, but I know I would love the architecture (the heat and humidity not so much). Pictured in the photo is a c.1920s or so beach cottage on the coast of Northern Ireland. The interior can be described as either "very cozy" or "claustrophobic" depending on your preferences - lots of tiny rooms. The fireplace is functional and can burn wood, coal or peat.

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    2. New Orleans rooms can be very cozy, but 13 foot ceilings make them seem much larger. We had our first day since May yesterday where the temperature did not climb above 80 F. It took me most of my life to learn to tolerate our summer (unofficially end of April until the end of October). Now I only really mind if its mid-day or when I have to get off my bike. Like everything else here, our very diverse cycling culture is unique and sometimes hard to understand. Its a weird mix of utilitarianism and whimsy. Different parts of town have very different bike cultures as well. I haven't been able to find anyone doing a New Orleans bike blog. I have been toying with the idea myself and find your example to be inspirational. I'll let you know if I get more serious about it.

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  11. We're currently looking for a new apartment, and I'm happy to say that my wife, all by herself, is taking into consideration "the proximity of mountain bike routes". Just sayin' :)

    (She doesn't ride, due to serious hip injury during her childhood)

    But yes, bike friendliness, both recreation and commuting -wise, is very near to the top of the feature list for our new place; It would simply feel "uncomplete" without it.

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  12. Read your post this morning while a recently acquired vintage bike is "resting" on my wee kitchen island awaiting inspection and a couple other bikes are parked in the same room though I have a garage. Bikes in the house somehow seem to warm this home as does your cozy photo and post this morning this first fall day . Thanks! Jim Duncan

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  13. Hmm, most of the cyclists I know are not in the least bit sheepish about where or how they live or how important it is in their lives. It is more often the case that they boost about it all. They're no different than the boaters who need to be near water for skiing or the rock climbers who choose a state and lifestyle and home decor to make it easier to escape every weekend into the wild. We all have our and being sheepish about it simply slows down the possibilities.

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  14. The mudroom in my house is very big, all the bikes fit, but we only keep the bikes we regularly use there otherwise it becomes a bit daunting and cluttered. It is warm and dry, a nice change from bikes under tarps in the wood shed. I would definitely want to be able to bring bikes indoors, or at least the good bikes. We also have a huge covered space where all the um unwanted old frames, broken wheels and bits live. Once in awhile we have access to a vehicle and take no longer reusable stuff to the recycling centre, but would like to sell or give away the still functional frames. I also have a bike in the spare bedroom,a bike in the dining room on the trainer next to a huge bank of windows, and another frame upstairs next to my bed. ooops.
    I do have bike parts as decor like the beautiful simplex retroshifter that is meant to go a downtube and I cannot reach down to shift anymore, so it's pretty in a window sill until my husband finds a use for it...
    I live in suburban rural sandwiched between ocean and wilderness and would love to live further out, but for practicality sake we live in an area that is a 10-15 minute ride to the nearest town for all amenities, the village is a short ride away for cupcakes and vegan/gluten free cafe so my husband can have a treat sometimes, another grocery store/seaside village is 20-30 minutes away, and a bigger town with hospital is 30/40 minutes away by bike. I live in great mountain biking country, but the terrain is far too technical for my skills and clumsiness level. The downside to where I live is that there is not great road cycling. Others would disagree as the highway stretches up the coastline and the scenery is beautiful. In good weather, especially the summer, many people cycle up the highway for day rides and touring trips. But as someone who rides on the highway year round I am reluctant to go beyond my commuting stretches for good long rides. The highway is too narrow, the shoulder is sketchy to nonexistent, traffic too busy/aggressive/distracted and lots of scary industrial trucks. At my intersection, a cyclist recently got forced off the road by an aggressive truck and crashed, ended up in hospital. The truck had honked for no reason, roared the engine etc and the shoulder has lots of gravel, so the poor guy was likely startled and crashed.
    There are a few backroads, but not enough to make an hour of riding let alone a day, so stick to the same old loops for road riding.
    So, I'd like to live in area with multiple meandering roads aside from only one artery. Something for cyclists to consider when moving to the country. I dream of networks of beautiful quiet country roads!

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  15. Here in Friedrich Heights we have a freestanding 10' x 22' garage turned into a climate-controlled lutherie workshop. Even with the full complement of power tools, it somehow houses 5 bicycles at present.
    Lacking enough respirators, they cough when I mill the more difficult woods.
    (Fear nought; Celeste was given her lead today and passed me going downhill on some good s-curves. She runs with gusto, damn you bet.)

    The house's "back bedroom" off the kitchen that now serves as a refrigerator space, pantry and storage room is going to get the full stable soon. When we do move, there will be a dedicated room and entrance for les bicyclettes. Two and sometimes three of the bikes are used daily, so it has gone from a slight bother to a full blown necessity.

    Our kitchen door frame has pedal scars, so it's not just you, V...

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  16. My shangri la dwelling is not so much a domicile as a place where cyclists (of all kinds), motorists, pedestrians and any other users of road/path/trail infrastructure all coexist in a respectful manner. We have had some high profile deaths here in Maryland in both suburban and semi-suburban/rural areas and the ignorant attitudes displayed primarily by motorists is astounding. There seems to be a severe lack of regard for human life with the risk people take behind the wheel in the name of saving a few seconds. Yes, I probably am biased because I see so much from a cyclists eyes, but I am also a car driver, so I do see that side. It just makes me sad that people can not look past their own needs and wants (on all sides) to prevent lives from being unnecessarily destroyed.

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  17. Ms. Winters, you may already know this trick, but for moving bikes in tight spaces, simply grab the handlebars with both hands as you would when riding and roll the bike up to stand on the rear wheel while standing behind it. No more awkward mechanics of pushing unguided handlebars from behind the bike or trying to squeeze through a tight place next to your bike. The bike leads and you follow. You can also use this to turn a bike around in a tight space by pivoting on the rear wheel.

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  18. I'm curious if anyone has seen developers or property managers marketing to cyclists -- providing amenities in their developments and specifically marketing those or highlighting their bike-friendly location (access to bike lanes/trails etc).

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  19. I definitely took into account where bike lanes are when buying my house. I don't see it as any different than wanting to be by the train. I didn't think of trying to be by the edge of the city/open road, but I feel like the country is 100 miles away in Chicago!

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  20. Bike storage is key. When I bought my house 15 years ago I purchased it, in part, because with a small renovation - enclose the front porch - I'd have the perfect place for 4-5 bikes inside my place and beside the front door.

    It's so handy, although carrying the elBoda Boda up the 6 stairs to the front door can sometimes be a bummer :)

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  21. yes, i've known a few who have placed an activity or job above all else, including relationships, as they've moved forward in life. divorce is a common casualty amongst those friends. bikes are great for the ways in which they open up new experiences. i'm leery about placing them at at the top of my life and home. they're great to enjoy but that's about it.

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  22. This post is spot on. I confess to flying around Google Earth to check for contours between neighborhoods, aimlessly riding other people's neighborhood's to assess future bike-friendliness of other houses, treating bikes as furniture/design objects, and a whole host of other quirks that aren't really quirks to me. Current want: mud room/bike entrance to a home other than the front door.

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  23. I live in a high rise studio condo in Miami with a cat, a husband, and 6 bicycles. And it works. Really. We have a IKEA wardrobe for bike gear, bike luggage, tools, and all that stuff. We haul the bike work stand out on the balcony to work on the bikes. (The neighbors find this endlessly interesting and amusing.) 2 of our bikes are folders, and they just pop into a utility area next to the water heater. Our building is Miami's version of an industrial style loft. When the pipes and ductwork are all in view, why not just throw in a couple of double decker bike stands. And getting in and out of the building is a snap. You just roll the bikes down the hall to the elevator.

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  24. No bike art, indeed-I don't have any in my apartment, either. I'm currently looking for a new city in which to live and one of my requirements is easy access to good road riding. As for my current dwelling, it's about 250 square feet with a rather odd layout, bike storage is in the laundry room which I share with neighbors, but the truly interesting thing is that I build bike frames in this tiny place (brazing is done in the carport). I sometimes get tired of waking up and going to bed to the sight of partially completed frames, but one can do quite a lot with a small space... I once had a darkroom set up in a disused elevator shaft. Still, it will be a pleasure to be in a larger space.

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  25. It gives a great sense of satisfaction, when the things you love lays under your eyesight.....It is rather, an unsecure feeling for me to keep my mountain bike parked in the garden.

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  26. Relieved to know I'm not the only one bruising myself as I haul the bike up and down the basement stairs! Though the bike suffers too - the building's doors are spring-loaded (I think), so they shut very quickly. Good for security, but I often can't get the bike in or out in time and the door shuts on the bike, alas!

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