Art

Bicycles can be art… Fine art actually. Some because of their own pure beauty, other because of their owners’ hard work and creativity. But what I also love about cycling is the chance to (re)discover your city from a different perspective. Cycling has just the right speed to take a thoughtful look at what’s surrounding us.

Bicicletas son arte…  Algunas incluso obras de arte. Algunas debido a su propia belleza, otras se han convertido en piezas de arte a través del trabajo duro y la creatividad de sus dueños. Pero no solamente es la biciclete en sí, sino también la posibilidad que nos brinda  de (re)descubrir nuestro entorno urbano desde una perspectiva diferente y a una la velocidad ideal para observar detenidamente lo que nos rodea.

Cycling allows us to get really close to urban art. It is surprising what you can find. Banksy is a great example. But even if you’re not discovering a hidden Banksy signature on your way to work, you might add some mindfulness by taking a closer look. Or even modifying your commuting route. Or just crossing the park to get closer to that awesome graffiti and take some pictures, like these impressions of the 3rd Urban FAB (Ciudad Real – Spain):

Ir en bici nos permite acercarnos directamente al arte urbano. Y es sorprendente todo lo que podemos descubrir. Los trabajos de Banksy son un gran ejemplo. Pero incluso si no descubrimos una firma de este artista oculta en nuestro camino al trabajo, podemos enriquecer nuestra trayectoria enormennte, lo que se puede convertir en un ejercicio de meditación casí meditativo. O tal vez incluso modificamos nuestra ruta habital de viaje para descubrir. O simplemente cruzamos el parque para acercarsnos a ese impresionante graffiti que hemos visto de lejos y tomar algunas fotos, como estas impresiones del 3º Urban FAB (Ciudad Real – España):

 

 

 

We love cycling and photography. The pictures above have been shot with a phone. But I also love to experiment. Here are some first analogic photos:

Nos encanto el ciclismo y la fotografía. Las imágenes de arriba han sido tomadas con un teléfono móvil. Pero también los experimentos analógicos. Aquí hay algunas primeras fotos experimentales:

 

 

 

Self Defense Hacks For Cyclists

At Urban Bike Ninja, we take the Ninja part quite serious. In this part we would like to share some basic self defense techniques for cyclist. But first some words of caution. One of the most important principles of self defense is to protect your own physical integrity as well as the physical integrity of your opponent. So please, don’t put yourself or anyone in danger… We want you to read our stuff for a long time.

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A Shuriken – maybe NOT suitable for commuting backpacks

Riding a bike allows you to get away fast of dangerous situations. This is usually the best and most effective self defense technique. The content of this section has been developed with Shihan Gabriel Garcia, a master of various disciplines of martial arts, both traditional and contemporary. While a trained professional like Gabriel is capable to defend himself with almost anything at hand… Or even with his bare hands, people with no or more basic skills in martial arts -like me- would would probably have no idea what you can do with all the bike stuff at hand.

I’ve learned a lot about self defense… And as you will see, yes it did hurt.

So, let’s center on what bike accessories we can use to escape or defend ourselves, for example:

  • Helmet
  • Backpack
  • Bike lights
  • Locks
  • Airpump

Backpacks can be used for an effective protection against knive attacks: 

But also other equipment can be highly useful. Bike lights can be used to glare opponents and allow to escape dangerous situations. Security forces use this technique as well. 

Sigma Sportster
Sigma Sportster bike light

We have also seen (and suffered) some more specific defense techniques with Shihan Gabriel García. We will post some detailed information soon. 

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Shihan Gabriel García 

A big thank you to Shihan Gabriel Garcia and his team!!

Pedals for Urban Rides

“Oh, lovely… A pair of tibia crushers”, was what my friend and colleague Franjo told me when he saw these vintage pedales that I’ve bought coincidentally at a bike store at the beach. They look nice, stylish, and are working perfectly. But, be careful! They might not have the best grip… This is the reason, why my friend gave them this charming nick name.

Vintage Pedals.jpg

The “tibia crushers“, restored vintage pedals

Personally I still use the original MTB padels, that came with my bike. They’re doing a decent job, and yes… They have developed a pretty nice patina.

Macro Pedals
My MTB pedals – shot with a MI Note 3 and a macro lens 

So what kind of pedals are the best for fast and dirty city rides? 

Having good pedals – and corresponding footwear – is one of the most important thing for fast and fulfilling rides. Your pedals will have to have to fulfill the following needs:

  • Give you a good grip in all condition
  • Preferably not destroying your shoes
  • Look nice
  • Have a good visibility

Searching for the best alternatives for urban bike rides, I’ve found the Moto Urban Pedals. They are really nice, made of one piece, flat and stylish.

These pedals have a premium wood version (maybe not suitable for commuting areas with a high theft risk) and a lower priced plastic version.

If you want an extragrip, MTB flat pedals proved to be a good choice…

Enjoy the ride!!

Axel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycling & Shoes: Five Ways to Look Sharp and Move Fast

Most office jobs require, at least to some degree, decent footwear, epsecially  leather shoes. While these shoes look pretty good, they might not be the best fit for cycling. Leather soles don’t get good grip on bike pedals. And yes, if the bike pedal gets a good grip on your soles, they can get destroyed in a few in rides. So what to do?

1. Adapt your shoes

 Just in case you can’t change your shoes and want to protect your leather soles, your local shoemaker will gladly help you to protect your leather soles with extra protection, for example a thin rubber sole.

2. Keep a second pair of shoes at the office

If you have the necessary space at the office, an acceptable solution is to change your shoes when you arrive. Just leave your nice leather loafers or high heels at the office  closet and you’re ready for the ride.

3. Changes your pedals

But what to do, when you can’t (or don’t want) to change your shoes? Many pedals are equipped with sharp teeth, which provide great grip for downhill rides, put bite ugly holes in even the best leather soles. We discuss some interesting options in this post.

Changing bike pedals is also easy to do. We will include a Tech and Maintenance section in our page, so stay tuned 😉

4. Business shoes with rubber soles

A few years ago, I made a discovery that would greatly increase my well-being. During the lunch break of a rainy day I went for a walk. My leather were still wet from my morning commute and I had cold feet. Coincidentally I’ve entered a shoe store to check out their sales.

This day I’ve got my first pair of Barratas 1890 shoes with XL Extralight® soles, like these. These shoes proved not only highly comfortable for long days at the office, but also a great choice when you have to sprint to catch a train or are out for a bike ride.

The best part? You won’t distinguish them at first sight from genuine leathersoles. This is true mastery of invisibilty.

The art of invisibility is a key principle of Ninjutus and allows us to remain “true to ourselvs but blending so effectively with the prevailing ways of society that we remain almost unseen, leaving no footprints in the sand, while still achieving our purporse”, as Ross Haven (The Spiritual Practices of the Ninja) points out.

Barratas 1890
Barrats 1890 – Great for cycling 

5. Cycling shoes

Modern cycling shoes can also be a great option, when you don’t have to hide your cycling self. These ones are the favorites of a good friend of mine: The Five Ten Freerider Pro. 

Five Ten
Five Ten shoes – A comfortable choice for tough rides

What’s your favorite choice for a good ride? Please leave your comments!

 

Cycling & Thinking

A few time ago, I’ve slept really bad. I usually sleep like a baby, but this night it was different… I woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares and anxiety. In the morning I’ve felt still dizzy… The anxiety still was present and the lack restful sleep was aweful. A good cup of coffee helped at least to get up and (somehow) running.

I brought my son to school by bike. He really likes that… And it felt felt good. So good, that I decide to go for a quick ride. Sun was shining and the countryside was beautiful. The smell of fresh lawned grass was in the air. Sunlight, fresh air and physical activity was the best recipe for me in this moment.

After a few minutes I forgot my anxiety and the lack of sleep. I’ve had to stop to record a few thoughts. I took out my phone and recorded an audio note for myself in Evernote. Wow – how could I just have those great ideas and make the best of such a lazy morning?

Dense leafage
Dense leafage – Retiro Park Madrid

We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” Later on I’ve read this quote from Seneca (On Tranquility of Mind, 17.8) in Ryan Holiday’s and Stephen Hanselman’s book The Daily Stoic Journal.

Sunny Morning Retiro Park
A sunny morning commute in winter – Retiro Park Madrid

Even if I don’t know, if Seneca would have been an avid cyclist today, the benefits of taking a bike ride and some deep breathing are quite similar. Cycling is one of the most effective ways to to (re)connect with your deep thoughts and get a rush of oxygen. I am currently working on different techniques to improve my focus and concentration. I’ll share my thoughts in a different post.

 

I really love Stoicism… it is a great approach to stay focused and relaxed. As a Ninjutsu-practitioner I’ve found also many coincidences between stoicism and martial arts. Acceptance and tranquility of mind are key concepts in both disciplines. I’ve found many intersting ways to integrate these concepts in my daily routines. A morning commute by bike can be as inspiring as practicing katas – ritualized patterns of movements in martial arts. 

Ryan Holiday - The Daily Stoic Journal
My own copy of The Daily Stoic Journal

Journaling is also a great way to calm down your mind. Ryan Holidays’s and Stephen Hanselman’s book The Daily Stoic Journal is a great fit for commuters. It holds outstanding Stoic wisdom and  thoughts for each day. There is space for your own morning and evening relections, which makes this book a great choice for commuters.

Please leave your comment and let me know what you think!

How to Choose: Finding the Perfect Commuting Backpack

You’ll soon find out that a professional backpack is the best choice for bike commuting.

But wait… Yes, the amount of options seems endless. But here are some key features to find the best fit for you.

Basically you have two options on the market. Backpacks made for cycling purposes and these made for office work. Both have their advantages. So the first step is do define closely the purpose of your backpack. 

Ninjas hide their equipment… They don’t carry their swords at sight, as the Samurai do. They carry it on the back.

When I first started to bike commuting, my needs were basically centered on cycling stuff and food. I started with a basic hiking rucksack…It didn’t work bad. But it didn’t fit my commuting needs completely. While it had enough space and was light, It wasn’t designed to carry working equipments or documents. It wasn’t made either for carrying cycling equipment like a bike helmet. And its bright colors didn’t fit too much in a office environment.

I soon changed to a slim, black cycling backpack. This one had a pretty nice feature: The helmet could be stored in special outside pocket.

Cycling backpack I
One of my commuting backpacks – This one has a pocket for bike helmets 

This backpack was pretty nice, but over time one of the zippers got broken. I also was a bit worried about traffic safety, so I started to research about intersting alternatives.

My choice?

A Proviz Reflect360 Cycling Backpack…

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My cycling and commuting backpack – Proviz Reflect360 Cycling Backpack 

It material is incredibly reflective in the darkness, but a decent fit for formal meetings!  And it adds some pretty nice features for commuting ninjas: 

  • Lightweight
  • Water tight zippers
  • Washable
  • Posibility to put extra leds on it
  • Comfortable
  • Pockets for the small stuff
  • Compartments for PC / documents

The fabric works perfectly fine… Just a few bruises and scratches due to heavy duty use. The strap for the led light broke of when I got stuck with the led light on a door…So if you want to fix an additional LED light just use the second handle of the backpack. The LED light won’t stick out.

I use one of two small extra LED-lights. They are small, rechargeable vía USB, and have a powerful light that does not glare.

The backpack has a huge packing capacity, that I’ve fully used One afternoon I’ve had to transport spray cans…

Proviz content
This is not what I carry usually 😉

Yes! Urban Bike Ninja loves urban art. It is great to explore and enjoy urban art on bike commutes. 

Spray can
Rufo Milfuegos at work

The backpack surprised me once more… A carry capacity of … spray cans is awesome and way big enough for most demanding office days. And yes, your gym stuff also fits in. The backpack also has external pockets to store your wet shirts…

And it was comfortable to ride with the backpack even at full load.

A great choice!

 

  

How To Find Your Commuting Route

Congratulations! You have decided to change your mind-crushing commute for cycling. This is awesome!

Next step: Finding the best commuting route.

This can be sometimes a tricky task, especially when you move in environments not prepared for cycling. Fortunately help is available: Google Maps offers now routes for cycling. This allows you to have a basic idea about time and the route in general. But the great thing about cycling is that you have a vast range of shortcuts and hidden sideways available.

But let’s see. Here are some criteria for optimizing  your route:

  • Fastest connection
  • Safety
  • Fun
  • Interesting sites
  • Transport connectivity (access to subway / bus)
  • Coffee / breakfast / lunch / dinner supply

These criteria are just an orientation. You probably will find over time variations of your commuting route. For example, it might be well worth to invest a few minutes to take a longer route and crossing a beautiful park. Other days you might be in a hurry and just get at your destination in no time.

But before starting out, just take some time to try out your new route your cycling equipment. Everything ok? Seat position comfortable? Great.

Here’s one of my favourite commuting routes in Madrid (Spain). Guess what? This route is also a great way to see the city center on your next visit.

Starting point: Atocha central station.

Atocha Train Station
Atocha Central Station – On a late evening commute 

Endpoint: La Paz Market.

You can pick-up a bike at the Bici-Mad post close to Atocha central station. You can even make the registration with a credit card at the bikestation. But I higly recommend you to check the bike before picking it up. There is nothing more annoying than to find out that the bike is broken when you just want start your ride. 

bike check
Checking a bike at Atocha Central Station

Usually I check all relevant details: Seat, brakes, air pressure, motor , lights, battery power…. In order to check if the motor is working, you turn the bike switch on. Then you lift up the back-wheel and push the pedal. The front wheel (where the bike is propelled) will immediately respond if the bike is ok… And if you find a bike with a seat turned around, this means that it is broken. It is a commmon way to indicate any defects to fellow cyclists. 

Bici-Mad checklist
Check-list for Bici-Madrid 

After a short ride over Calle Alfonso XII you arrive at the Retiro Park, at the Puerta del Ángel Caído. On the right hand you’ll find the Royal Observatory. Near the entrance is the bicycle station 69. 

Bike station 69, Retiro Park Madrid
Sign of bike station #69 near the Retiro Park 

Riding up the hill (Paseo Fernán Gómez) you will find the statue of the fallen angel.

Continuing Paseo de Cuba you will arrive to the large pond.

Lago grande Retiro
The large pond on a beautiful morning commute 

When you want to get to the city center, you have different choices. You can take get to Puerta de Alcalá and ride the bike lane at Calle de Serrano.

Quiosco
A bandstand at the Retiro Park

Or you can take one of my favorite shortcuts. Behind the Quiosco de Música el Buen Retiro you’ll find an pedestrian access to the metro station “Retiro”. This is tunel that gets you safely on the other side of Calle de Alcalá. Both sides of the tunnel are accessible for bikes, but make sure you get of your bike.

 

On the other side, you’ll see the church of San Manuel and San Benito. Nearby you can take Calle Claudio Coello up north. At the height of Calle Claudio Coello, Nº 42 you’ll find bike station 92. You can park your bike here and keep walking to the La Paz market. And if you are hungry, I highly recommend you La Bodega de Casanova, especially for breakfast. Their tomato toast is delicious!!

Bar Casanova
Since 1952 – Sign of La Bodega de Casanova

You can access the La Paz Market just behind the La Bodega de Casanova.

At the La Paz Market you’ll find Casa Dani. One of my favorite places to taste a Spanish tortilla. From the La Paz Market you can take a walk to the Santa Barbara district, where you find nice bars and lovely stores.

Enjoy this beautiful route crossing Madrid!

Want to share your commuting route? – Awesome, just write a comment! Thank you

Mobile office setup

You’re much already have experience that commuting can be your most soul-crushing experience at today you lose all of and productive time just to get from one point to the other. At Urban Bike Ninja it is our mission to help you to make the best out of your commute and turn commuting time in something beautiful and useful.
Cycling can help you to gain a lot of time if you have to move inside your city…
But what to do, if your commuting route — like mine — includes public transport?
On my own journey I have found my favorite productivity setup for commuting. I not only a cycling junkie, but also a Getting Things Done® — GTD® for short — and productivity addict. I’ll soon share my GTD® hacks for avid travelers… but let’s take a look at my basic mobile office:

Basic mobile office setup
A basic setup for a mobile office

A basic setup for a mobile office: Phone, Bluetooth keyboard, small notepad, pens, pencil case…

Being productive & cycling requires to pay special attention and size . I’ve downsized my stuff to the bare minimum, making sure I can stay highly productive almost anywhere. So what’s in my backpack?

Let’s start with one of the key ingredients for high productivity… COFFEE!! Nothing fuels you up like having a nice cup of coffee on your commuting ride. The combination of the fresh endorphins from an early morning ride and the magic power of roasted beans is a clear winner. I use a steel coffee mug that closes tight and proved highly resistent to impacts. Believe me, the last thing you want is a “coffee incident” on your way to work…

Next step — Get your work done… I’ve been testing different setups. A laptop is usually too heavy and takes too much time to boot. Sometimes it might be necessary, but in any other cases my phone and a nice Bluetooth keyboard allows me to respond emails or work on Evernote or Google Docs.

I always take a small notebook with me just to jot down some ideas make drawings or whatever. Mobile applications allow to scan and upload things directly to Evernote, for exemple business cards.

A battery pack, charging cables, earphones and your tech equipment complete any commuting equipment. Just make sure to review your backpack regularly in order to avoid unnecessary weight.

Enjoy the ride,

Yours,

Axel

GTDⓇ on the go

This post is about David Allen’s Getting Things DoneⓇ (GTDⓇ) methodology adopted to cycling & commuting. I am a huge GTDⓇ-enthusiast… Actually, Urban Bike Ninja wouldn’t be alive without GTDⓇ.

Kathryn & David Allen, Axel Blumenberg
From left: David Allen, Kathryn Allen, Axel Blumenberg at a GTD workshop in Amsterdam 

For those of you, who never have heard about GTDⓇ, is a productivity system based that helps you to stay organized and relaxed. GTDⓇ is based on five key elements:

  • Capture
  • Clarify
  • Organize
  • Reflect
  • Engage

Getting clear and current through an in depth weekly review is an awesome sensation. But I have to admit it…

It is sometimes tough to keep following through. When you work highly mobile like me, sitting down two hours, for example on Friday, to review all your stuff might be complicated. But skipping your weekly review for too long isn’t a choice either. So what to do?

I’ve set up my GTDⓇ-system that way, that I can review my stuff almost anywhere, at any time. A physical in-tray at home, but I use mostly my phone as my digital inbox and take a small notepad with me. In some occasions I also a carry a voice recorder with me.  

Mobile office 1
One of my mobile office setups 

My personal productivity system runs on Evernote. It is my secret weapon to stay on my productive edge. So even if I shouldn’t be able to find some time for a weekly review, there are always time frames that can be used. For example commuting rides by train, waiting for the next meeting…

Even if you can’t review all of yours stuff, you’ll be way ahead just doing some part of it. Cycling and mobile office setups allow you also to give a different flavor to your weekly review. So hey, why don’t get your bike and take a ride to a sunny park, get yourself a nice coffee and do your weekly review there.

Keep riding,

Best

Axel