Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Keeping feet warm in chilly weather

I often have trouble with cold toes when it's really freezing out. Instead of muddling through or asking for partisan advice at a bike shop, I've put the question out to the local experts of the Charles River Wheelmen, and here are some of the many wonderful responses I've had:
  • Neoprene socks + a thin polypropylene sock underneath.
  • Try toe warmers! Available at REI as well as many bike shops.
  • My current solution is to wear cycling sandals with two medium thick layers of wool socks. Covering the sandals is a not-so-tight waterproof cover I got from a Canadian store. This cover keeps in much of the heat but prevents my feet from getting soaking wet with sweat. I still get cold feet from time to time but I do much better then I used to with normal SPD shoes and tight fitting covers. Here is a link to the covers I'm talking about. I've seen these in Europe and Canada but not in the US yet:
  • I was having similar issues. I have found the following works well for me in weather in the 30s: Thick wool socks (I use wool hiking socks), cycling shoes, Pearlizumi Amfib booties (a bit thicker and warmer). If the temps drop into the 20s, I may add my Pearlizumi toe booties underneath the full booties. However, after about an hour and 45 minutes my feet get cold no matter what I am wearing.
  • I tend to ride cheapo or flat pedals and will wear sneakers down to around 35F, but when it's really cold, say below 15F, then I want Sorel type boots or mouse boots. I can go for an hour below 5F or so, but then it gets tough. In between, some other variation, maybe work boots. Perhaps I should say I could go, because it's been a while since I've been nutty enough.
  • My friend recently solved his cold feet problem inadvertantly throught the wonders of pharmaceuticals... He has some old, minor foot frostbite from years of winter hiking. Those spots bother him, swell and get irritated in the winter. This year one toe became infected so a visit to the MD was necessitated. Beside an antibiotic, he got an "alpha blocker" (brand name of Cardura) that dilates the peripheral vessels and allows blood to circualate and work it's healing powers. Within a day his foot was almost normal and the side benefit was that he now has toasty warm feet when he rides! The drug can cause some lower blood pressure so we bought a BP cuff at CVS to keep on eye on it.
  • After years of freezing feet with booties and multiple socks, I switched to a cycling boot. It works like a charm. I don't even wear wool socks. Mine are Lakes with road cleats. My only grief with them is that they let water trickle in during the rain--I just waterproofed them; so, hopefully that's fixed.
And this typically comprehensive response from John Allen (see

I wear two pairs of wool socks. That suffices in all but the coldest weather.

Chemical foot warmers are available, and work for three or four hours. You break a packet inside to start the chemical reaction, and put them inside your shoes. Bruce Ingle, I think, gave me a pair on one particularly cold day, his annual birthday ride. I think he bought them at Home Depot.

The late Sheldon Brown rode the 2004 New Year's Day ride in Shimano SPD sandals -- see this page -- and surprised me with his observation that a major cause of cold feet is constriction of the feet by the shoes, cutting off blood circulation. Sandals don't constrict the feet, and so, counter-intuitively, are much warmer than you would expect. I bought a pair and have had warm feet on days when ice was forming in puddles in the road. (with two pairs of wool socks).

You don't want to get the socks wet, but then wetness isn't usually a problem if the temperature is much below freezing.

I'd suspect that two pairs of wool socks inside Gore-Tex or other breathable but windproof booties inside sandals would be good to even lower temperatures. Aha, now I know what to do with those booties that have been sitting around in my closet, unused because I would have to cut holes in them for the cleats.

The Shimano sandals don't have any materials that soak up water, so they also are good in a warm rain -- wear them without socks and let your feet get wet. Carry socks with you and when you go inside, shake water off the sandals, put on the socks and put the sandals back on.

If not wearing sandals, have a pair of bike shoes a half-size larger than usual, to accommodate the two pairs of socks without constricting your feet.

For really messy conditions, some people go to work boots and flat pedals.

Keeping your legs warm also helps keep the feet warm. I also pull the socks up over my trouser cuffs, if wearing street clothes -- better than any ankle bands to keep the cuffs clear of the bike, and also keeps cold air from getting iside the trouser legs. Today I wore a thick pair of corduroy trousers, and long johns underneath, for the 9 miles each way to and from an appointment. I was comfortable.

Thanks to everyone who replied! I'll post my results here, and to the CRW List.

Happy New Year!

The new year is nigh, and I'm hoping for the bikiest year yet! My new job at Ciclismo Classico should help make that a reality, though my drastically shorter commute has meant that the last three months have been pretty shy on miles... 

I was hoping to do a good ride on New Year's Day tomorrow, but with upwards of 8 inches of snow and single-digit temps expected, that's not gonna happen. Instead, I'm going to go for a snow shoe jaunt - I just need to figure out where to go. If I'm ambitious, it'll be Great Brook Farm State Park (with lots of dedicated trails for XC skiing and - I assume - shoeing), if not, I'll hit Menotomy Rocks park. I know that the Fells has tons of trails, but I'm not that keen on it for some reason.

In the meantime, I've discovered that my ICEBIKE project has been stalled because the studded tires I bought from Peter White Cycles are 650b size, not 26-in! A bit of a shock, especially considering what I paid for them. They've got a good rep, though, and shouldn't have any problem with an exchange.

Kim and the girls are off to sunny Florida next week, and (unlike the last time they went away) I vow to refrain entirely from car use, come what may!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Ridiculous or super clever?

A San Francisco company called Cordarounds makes khakis for biking to work with reflective bands on pocket flaps and reflecty bits on the insides of the cuffs. Interesting! Maybe I'll order a pair.

Andrew, Gemma, & Elsa in a new book!

British blogger and journalist Carlton Reid has published a 50-page online sampler for his Bike to Work Book. Looks like a wonderful work so far - it will ultimately be available free online as well as in a bound format from Amazon.

The work in progress is looking great - especially page 39, where a nice pic of me and the girls is featured!

See ebook here: .

Sherman's Bridge Ride

I think I managed to burn off at least a few of my Thanksgiving calories on my ride yesterday. I set off around 7 under overcast skies and mid-20s temp to do the Pocket Maps Sherman's Bridge Ride. Same areas as usual... Lexington, Bedford, Sudbury, etc. The title of the ride refers to a plank bridge over the Sudbury River in Wayland. Despite the often-familiar territory, the extra little loop around Sudbury & Wayland turned out to be a real gem, with beautiful conservation land and very quiet roads.

The route is 32 miles, which makes an even 50 when added to my 18-mile round trip to the starting point at the Bedford end of the Minuteman trail.

My toes managed to stay a little warmer today owing to my fleece socks, but they were still pretty chilly by the end of the ride, and my water froze again... I must figure out a solution to that one!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Coldest ride yet this fall

Another nice Sunday morning ride today. It was about 22 degrees when I left home at 7:00, and I did the same 30-mile loop as last week, including the little off-road bit. I probably saw fewer than half a dozen other cyclists during the whole ride - not even any in Concord center!

The cold didn't bother me so much since I bundled up well. I had a buff and my nice wool hat; four layers on top: a base layer, a nice wool jersey under a light fleece top, and my Gore Tex jacket. On the bottom, I wore my Endura winter tights under my wool Kucharik tights. I also wore light wool glove liners under my heavy gloves. All that worked just fine. My toes even stayed warm for a while, but got to be pretty uncomfortable after an hour or so. I decided to give my cleats a miss today and wore wool socks with my Sambas and my overshoes on top - but still not warm enough. I'll have to figure out something better for next time.

The off-road bit is really nice - I'm thinking about trying to organize a group ride that takes in this one and the other off-road trail from the end of the bike path up to Billerica. Just better do it before the first snow, and I suspect I won't have much time before that happens.

Also saw lots of wild turkeys today, brazenly running around less than a week before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A nice ride, and my faith in mankind restored

It was great to get out on Thorny again today after 2 weeks of riding the Christiania exclusively! I got a new set of Pocket Maps last week, and today I tried a new route. Nothing revolutionary (nice pun if you know the area), just my usual ride to Bedford via the bike path, up 225, and down River Rd to Monument St into Concord.

The revelation was the return to Bedford from Concord. I started on Rd 62 which was nice enough, but then I followed the off-road option on Reformatory Branch Rail-Trail that parallels that road almost all the way back to the start of the Minuteman. The surface was a lot like the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail that extends from Bedford to Billerica - hard packed dirt/gravel, covered with wet leaves now. I really like the Billerica route and I've done it a bunch of times but never managed to do the Concord one.

I also had a nice chat with an Englishman I met by chance in Concord center today while having my usual breakfast sandwich.

So not too long after I'd arrived at home, I noticed a message on my phone. It was from AAA, calling to say that the Concord Police had called them because someone had found my wallet on Bedford Road! Then, just as I was hanging up, Citibank called to tell me exactly the same thing. I called the Concord Police and they gave me the address of the station, and we drove over a little later to pick it up.

Remarkable! I don't know what's more amazing: that some good samaritan picked up my wallet on the street and took it straight to the police; or that the dispatcher at the station had nothing better to do than call all the numbers he could find in my wallet (plus the Arlington police, he told me)!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Commuting on the Christiania

I've been commuting to work for a couple weeks on the Christiania. I started riding it more regularly when I was taking the girls to school, then it just seemed more convenient with all the cargo space and ease of locking up. I don't even mind the ride home up the hill so much any more!

It was sort of scary riding home in the dark until I got my act together a bit... I found the strange Danish light that slides onto a mount in on the front of the box, started wearing my reflecty vest with my Cateye flasher on my collar, and I just got a nice Planet Bike headlight for my helmet.

The helmet light is the big revelation. It was only $30 or so, but it's wonderfully bright. It's also amazing to be able to see wherever I'm pointing my noggin!

Last night, I needed to decompress a bit and the weather was nice, so I rode all the way up the bike path to Arlington Heights before riding up Park Ave. (I usually go up Highland and Gray, which saves a couple miles.) Because it was only about 6 but still pitch black, the path had lots of bike traffic, and everyone was all bedecked in lights and visi-wear. It was really fun seeing the reflecty patches go by and seeing how all the light combos worked. Unsurprisingly, the lycra-clad riders on $5k racing bikes all have VERY bright rechargeable lights to match. Most seem to have more modest arrangements like me. The surface was completely leaf-covered in most parts, and I definitely felt safer on three wheels.

Better make the most of it while the weather cooperates!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Rice Road Ride

It's another cold one! The clocks changed last night, so it was easier than usual to get out of the house early. Of course, it was pitch black for the first 90 mins or so, but no big deal.

Very cold, though. My bottles are very icy and my toes aren't too far off. I'm dressed more or less appropriately today, but my neoprene booties aren't sufficient. What did I do last year?

In any case, i'm doing the Pocket Maps Rice Road ride. About 40 miles around the northwest suburbs. Very pretty riding, but a bit toooo suburban, maybe. Great time of year despite the cold - the leaves are gorgeous and the air smells wonderful.
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Man, it's cold today!

For the first time in far too long, I've ventured out on a good ride this Saturday morning. It, my usual loop up to Great Brook Farm and home via Concord. And MAN it, cold! It's really just my hands and toes, but pretty bad. I'm at the cafe in concord getting a snack and coffee, and there are over 20 ither cyclists all complaining of numbness and pain here and there. Beautiful fall day out, though!
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Inclement Weather Garb

I got a nice note from JPTwins last week asking me about how I dress for cycling when it's cold and wet, so here's a response. (Incidentally, I'm happy to correspond off-line about bikey stuff - my email address is in the image on the left!)

In any case, this topic was at top of mind yesterday, since it poured all day long, and I was out on the Christiania with the girls. I took them to school, then rode to Alewife, then the CC office, then pickup and home - all in the most torrential rain.

For the ride, I wore my nice bikey 3/4-length shorts, Smartwool mid-layer long-sleeve shirt, and Patagonia base layer. This was all moderately presentable in a bikey sort of way so I wouldn't attract too much attention on the T or at the office. Nice and comfortable too, with Andiamo bike underwear. None of that is waterproof, of course. So on top, I wore Gore-tex overtrousers and my Gore-tex cycling jacket. Both by Freestyle, a now-defunct British company. (Which is a shame - I love their stuff, and the customer service was great.) 

Those are good basics, and they keep me dry in most drizzly conditions. Yesterday I was wet round the neck and forearms because it was raining so hard. I brought my Tevas to change into but rode in LL Bean hunting boots, which are wonderful as long as I tuck my overtrousers over the tops to prevent them filling with water. 

My head was kept reasonably dry thanks to a Gore-tex helmet cover, and I wore a cycling cap underneath so that the bill would keep water out of my eyes. 

When it gets really cold, I stick to the same sort of arrangement with a couple crucial additions. I wear nice wool socks and my hiking boots, which keep my feet warm and dry. I wear balaclava and sometimes a scarf depending on how cold it is, and a nice wool cap. I also wear a long-sleeve wool jersey or mid-weight fleece under the Gore-tex jacket. On the bottom, I have Endura winter tights, and depending on the temperature, I often wear long wool tights over them. And if it's wet, I'll also do the overtrousers. Finally, I have some heavy Pearl Izumi gloves that I wear on their own or with lightweight wool liners.

If you open up a high-end bike catalog these days, there are all sorts of Logan's Run-inspired outfits that can easily cost more than $500. In the winter, I'm not trying to set any speed records, so I'm usually happy with my layering approach. It only gets a little tricky when I strip off and have to find a place for all my stuff to dry.

(The most important point here that may have been lost among my rambling is that the best stuff is either Gore-tex for waterproofness or good quality wool for breathability and warmth. My fave wool stuff is from Kucharik (hats, gloves, tights) and Earth Wind and Rider (jerseys - made right here in Boston!))

Friday, September 26, 2008

New "secure" bike parking at Alewife

On this rainy rainy day, I took the girls to school in the Christiania, then parked at Alewife and took the T into town. I parked in the brand new "secure" bike parking cage. It's very nicely designed and spacious inside. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to fit through the door with my doublewide trike, but the door was more than wide enough. There was also nice spot at the back that was just right for me.

But just how secure it is, I'm not really sure. Access can only be gained with a special Bike Charlie Card. Good, right? But it turns out that they'll give them out to anybody, and they don't keep track in any way. So after I got my card today, I could just as well have pillaged all the bikes in there instead of leaving my own.

It does actually seem more secure, though. Maybe its the sense of enclosure, the video cameras and signs, or maybe it's just the newness of it all. One way or the other, I felt pretty good about leaving the trike in there, and I've never left it at Alewife before. I also left my drippy waterproof trousers there to dry.

It was interesting to see that there were still far more bikes parked at the regular exposed racks than inside the enclosure, though maybe that will change as the word spreads.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Exciting new job for me

On October 1st, I join the team at Ciclismo Classico, a leader in adventure travel.

I’m as excited as I could be about this opportunity. It will allow me to combine two of my great passions – cycling and travel – into my career, and who could ask for more than that? And on top of that, I’ll be working with two of my oldest friends (Lauren and Mauro), who I’ve known for almost 20 years.

I met them way back in 1988 when I was looking for a place to live. When I spotted a flyer with drawings of bikes and Italian scenes about a room for rent in a Somerville house, I knew it was for me. That’s how I ended as house-mates with Lauren and Mauro, but my fascination with cycling and Italy really came to be a couple years before that.

I was not very organized at all when I was in college. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Thanksgiving arrived during my junior year and I still hadn’t applied for a program abroad for the spring semester. I was studying German, and I really wanted to go to Germany or Austria – but I missed the deadlines for every one of the programs. Fortunately, though, my college ran a program in Rome, and I made it in with days to spare. Of course, I didn’t know anything about Italy and spoke no Italian, but I wasn’t deterred – it was bound to be an improvement over Hartford!

Despite my lack of knowledge going in, I had a perfectly wonderful time in Rome. Sure, I enjoyed my classes and my buddies and I had a nice time drinking wine in the Forum. But the best times were on my bike. While most of my classmates spent their time surrounded by other Americans and speaking English, a couple of us had brought our bikes along and ventured further afield. We headed out of town most weekends and had all manner of adventures. We eventually met someone who invited us to join his racing team, and we had lots of fun riding with him (though we never actually managed to compete in a race, somehow). The really wonderful thing was that it forced us to start speaking Italian and become comfortable in a foreign culture – something many of our classmates never managed to do.

That was really the start of it all for me. And that’s why I begged Lauren to let me work with her and Mauro leading tours for Ciclismo Classico during the first year of the company. That summer was another great adventure. I drove the big red Fiat van (I did get to ride my bike a bit, though). Lauren, Mauro and I spent days before each tour planning and marking routes, then I would shuttle clients’ luggage from one destination to the next. Even from behind the wheel of the furgone rosso, I could recognize the power of the experience Ciclismo was providing, and I was sure that the company would ultimately succeed.

A few years later, I was able to experience Ciclismo Classico from another vantage point: as a client. I was living in London, and a week on a bike in Italy was a perfect getaway for me (and an easy one, with flights many Italian destinations lasting only a couple hours!). By 1994, the company had been transformed: everything was much smoother and more professional than I’d remembered, and the trips I did (Elba and Sardegna) were completely blissful. I met delightful, interesting people that I’m still in touch with almost 15 years later, and my memories of those trips are still as clear as the waters surrounding L’Isola d’Elba.

When the draw of family led us back to the US in 2006, Lauren was the first person I called for advice on where to live. We dropped in for a visit, and Lauren felt compelled to make her case for us moving to Arlington by putting me on a bike and riding a ways up the Minuteman Bikeway with me. That’s a trait that she and I most definitely have in common: when we’re passionate about something, we can’t keep it to ourselves – we have to share it. That’s part of what’s made Ciclismo Classico the success that it is, and that’s also why I’m so excited about this role: I can’t wait to share my passions with others and enable them to experience the personal transformation that cycle touring can create.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hub on Wheels 2008

H.O.W 012
Originally uploaded by fonchik
A delightful ride yesterday! I rode with Team Ciclismo Classico. There were about a half dozen non-staff members of the team, all amiable as could be. One of the riders and I did the 50-mile loop, the others did the 30-miler.

The day was gorgeous - low 60s in the morning to low 80s in the afternoon. Perfect! Nice and sunny, too. The route was beautiful for the most part. The first bit seems to be a major selling point: riding car-free on Storrow Drive. For me, that wasn't that big a deal at all - I mean, I ride on the Esplanade right there most days anyway, and Storrow's views aren't even as nice as that.

More impressive were the parts of the route I don't normally experience, notably the bike path around the JFK Library, Arnold Arboretum, and Forest Hills Cemetary. The paths along the water really reminded me of the paths around London's Docklands - especially the haphazard way in which they pamper you one minute and dump you out into a brownfield warehouse disrict the next!

The ride was generally well organized and executed, particularly considering the number of people who turned up. It was very well marked, with arrows all along the route (not just at turns), and the route splits clearly indicated as well. The marshalls at each major turn were also very good.

The one notable problem was the food. The ride purports to be "fully supported" which, to me, means that you don't really need to bring anything along, including sustainance. Each stop had plenty of oranges and little food bars, but only the later stops had any bagels or bananas, which were just what I needed early on. The first rest stop had bags of dinner rolls, but nothing to put on them. If I hadn't brought my own snacks, I would have been in big trouble. A little energy drink would have been nice too, considering how hot it got to be.

My final niggly comment is about the promotion of the ride. It isn't ever really clear who's organizing it, and who the proceeds benefit. Sure, that info is there if you look hard, but it's confusing that the city promotes it so heavily and yet the least you can get away spending if you want to ride is $45. If it's really a charity ride pure & simple, it ought to be billed as one - not as an event designed to get people out biking in Boston.

D2R2 Ride video

I've been a little lax in posting for a while... I'm just now managing to catch up a bit. Here's the YouTube video of the D2R2 ride. I've had tons of views and lots of nice feedback on it! Again, what a wonderful ride! I mean, when can you do a ride with such variety - rocky climbs and descents, covered bridges, a bagpipe, and even a 50mph downhill!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lots of bikes out today!

I'm walking to Alewife down Gray Street today and there are many, many bikes out - at least 5 so far and I'm not even at Pleasant Street yet. It's a good sign. listen

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Heading home at last

The ride is over and I did very well. Jott didn't do so well but I'll work on that too. Heading home now. listen

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Worst ascent of the day

Worst ascent of the day, most difficult stage, but doing okay. listen

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Good food

Got to the first check in, nice snacks, including watermelon, Fig Newtons, Gorp, very good.

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Bagpipe seranade

Almost to the first rest stop. Just passed a lovely bagpipe serenade. Very pretty rough ride though. listen

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Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee today!

I'm in Deerfield Mass now, getting ready to start a 100km timed ride through the countryside of Western Mass. It's mostly on unpaved roads, with some ungodly climbs.....

Looking round, most people have their racing bikes with slightly wider tires. Thorny should fare well.

I'll be missing the big Pine Ridge Rd yard sale unfortunately.....

I hope to blog via Jott - we'll see how it goes!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Boston Bike Friday Again

Today was the 2nd Bike Friday thing. Again, I started in Lexington and rode into Boston with the group. Last time was lots of fun, but definitely room for improvement. And I have to admit, that just about everything I suggested to the organizers was improved upon this time!

Here are my suggestions from last time, and the improvements:
  • Get escorts who know the route and the area: Same police escorts as last time, so, while they still aren't local area experts, they clearly learned a lot last time
  • Plan a better route thru Harvard Square: Or avoid it entirely! Which is what we did this time. We followed my usual commuting route over the bridge from Somerville Ave to Beacon Street
  • Have a plan for keeping the group together: The escorts were much better at stopping traffic at lights and making sure everyone was going in the right direction
  • Train escorts in leading rides: I think there was some coaching there, without a doubt. They also got many more ride leaders, many of whom are very experienced in this sort of thing (though they clearly came from a bit of a activist/advocacy perspective, telling riders to "take the lane" - the police escorts were more concerned with keeping us all to the side and keeping traffic moving). The policemen were also very explicit about each rider's responsibility to shout out obstacles and that sort of thing.
  • Publicize the ride better: Perhaps the least improvement here. There was a nice piece in the Globe last night, but that's a bit late to really get the word out for most newbies. It seemed like most riders were regular commuters, like last time. The Globe article was pretty good, though, and I'm in the picture that came with it!
  • Communicate the ride better in advance: Again little improvement here. The emails were still a little convoluted, though the Google map with start times made more sense this time.

The festa at the end also seemed livelier than last time, with more interesting bikey stuff to see. Had a nice bagel, and got a free T-shirt.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Here is my first post...

Here is my first post from jott, this will be very exciting, because I will soon be able to send posts to my blog without having to tap into my cell phone which is really not that safe while driving, I should be able to make good use of. listen

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Family Ride to Bedford Swimmin' Hole

I don't know how I neglected to blog this when it happened, but there you are. A few weeks ago, the family did a bike excursion that I'd been wanting to do for ages. Last year, we discovered a wonderful swimming spot in Bedford in Springs Brook Park. Complete surrounded by woods and fed by a natural stream (apparently), it's an odd combination of pond and pool, with a mostly sandy bottom and a cement zero-entry bit on one side. There's also a great spray park right there, which is easily as good as our usual spray parks in Belmont or Brighton.

It later occurred to me that it's not too far from the Bedford end of the Minuteman Path, so I started thinking that we could bike there as a family. By that time, it autumn last year and we had to postpone that ambition to this year. And in the meantime, I also started riding the Narrow-Gauge Rail-Trail that starts just across the street from Bedford Depot and goes all the way to Billerica. It's mostly unpaved, but the surface is fine a commuting bike or our Christiania.

So, if you follow that after the Minuteman path and turn off at Springs Rd, just follow Springs Rd for less than a mile and you're at the swimmin' hole! It's about 9 miles from Arlington Heights to Springs Brook, almost entirely traffic-free! Fantastic.

The girls did great on the ride, and Elsie slept for most of the ride home.

It's getting a bit late in the season now, but I really hope we can do the ride again this year and get some more swimmin' in!

Buon Giorno, Madonna!

I was up early today so I did an extra ride to the end of the Minuteman Trail before my usual scenic route to work. Amounted to about 25 miles in full - not bad before 9:00! It was a bit chilly today, around 55 in Arlington when I left. The bike path was blissful, though. Lots of riders and runners out early.

It also occurred to me to take a photo of the Virgin Mary, who appeared on the path not too long ago, near the Bedford end. Lauren says she's moved a couple times, but she's still where she was when I first noticed her.

And incidentally, I had my bike serviced yesterday at Broadway Bicycle School and it was riding noticeably better today! (Unfortunately, though, it looks like I need a new cog in the back, which they've ordered for me.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Kennebec River Valley Video

Still experimenting with our Flip video thing... It seems to be much happier producing simple videos from the PC version of the software than manipulating on a Mac. This YouTube video is cobbled together from the video I captured on the ride, and is only mediocre quality because of the various conversions it's had to go through. I edited it in iMovie HD.

Kennebec River Valley Ride

Way back in May, I found a book of Maine bike tours at a shop in Kittery (and wrote about it here). It was exciting because we have relatives up in Skowhegan and a couple of the rides are in that precise area.

So when we went up for our August vacation this year, I was sure to bring my bike to try one of the rides.

Of course, I forgot to bring the book along with me, but fortunately, the route is described in detail on the State of Maine website here. I opted to do the 41-mile loop, which starts from the Rite Aid in Skowhegan, only a couple miles from Auntie Lynne's house.

It was a gorgeous ride, though some of the middle bits were on major roads and heavily trafficked. There are few errors in the instructions which I only managed to work out with the help of Google maps on my phone, but otherwise very smooth.

Instead of taking the camera along or trying to capture the mountain splendor with my miserable phone cam, I brought our little Flip video camera and did a video, which I hope to cobble into something to post later today.

2008 Mount Washington Century

I rode the Mount Washington Century on August 2nd. Fantastic! My good friend Lauren asked me to lead a group on behalf of her company Ciclismo Classico. But because the Pan Mass Challenge was the same weekend, and because of the late notice about the group ride, I only got one taker.

Nevertheless, he and I had a fine time for the first ten miles or so, until he rocketed to the front of the pack. Still, it was a record time for me, and I think I have him in part to thank for getting me on a good pace from the start.

The ride was EXCEPTIONALLY well organized, with numbers for each rider, ham radio support throughout (in the absence of a cell signal), and great food stops every 20 miles or so. I found that I never had to tap my second water bottle, let alone my stash of snacks.

I blogged at each rest stop from my phone - real-time updates follow in reverse order.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

107 miles done!

Phew! Super ride. Didn't get toooo wet. Then dried out and resoaked with sweat. 7 hours 54 mins, over 2 hours faster than my last century!

Almost there!

Just 11 miles to go, but the rain has caught up with us.

Home stretch!

Almost 80 miles now, now feeling pretty beat. Hoping for lots of downhills. Menacing clouds looming. Bring it on! The end is in sight!

Only a third to go!

Since Bretton Woods, the roads have been more trafficked, and the scenery not quite so dramatic. Nevertheless, still feeling good, but glad to have only about 35 miles left. Which is what I ride on some commuting days.

Bretton Woods at 40 miles

And feeling good! After a long steep ascent and fast downhill, the Bretton Woods Hotel was quite a welcome sight! Rest stop now and really great food. Very happy I didn't cop out and only do the 50 miler!

15 miles in!

And nary a downhill to be found. I expect to reach the summit eventually. Feeling good so far. Rode with the CC person until a mile or so back, nice time. Only 85 miles to go!

Mount Washington Century today!

My friend Lauren brought this ride to my attention and suggested that I might like to do it with other Ciclismo Classico folks.... But since no one else from CC is doing it, she asked me to lead it on behalf of CC. I'm just having breakfast now on my way to the ride. I don't expect more than a couple people to turn out in my group, though.

The trouble is that this is also the weekend of the Pan Mass Challenge ride, and Ciclismo always has a sizeable contingent there.

It's a little chilly this morning, and cloudy. Weather reports call for rain here and there.

I left Gem, Elsie, and Kim sleeping at the North Conway Grand, where they'll spend the day. Shouldn't be hard for them to keep busy, since the hotel has 3 very nice pools, and it's right in the middle of a great outlet mall!

I'm going to try to do blog updates during the ride today. Now to pay for my oatmeal and hit the road!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bike Friday ride to Boston

Today was the first of Bike Friday rides into the center of Boston from various points north, south, and west. I rode up to Lexington to the start of one of the rides (sure, it passed right through Arlington anyway, but why not do a longer ride?)

After days of crazy thunderstorms and a persistent downpour that soaked me to the bone yesterday, today was perfect. Whew!

There were probably almost 20 riders in Lexington, but we picked up more in Arlington, Davis Square, Porter Square, and Harvard Square, and by the time we crossed the Longfellow Bridge, our group was probably almost 100 strong.

The ride was delightful, and I had some nice chats with people along the way.

When we converged upon Government Center, there was little fanfare, but lots of bikers, free breakfast, and some tents set up by sponsoring vendors - nothing exciting, by any means.

All in all, a really nice morning!

For next year, though, here are a few things they could improve:

  • Get police escorts who know the route, and the neighborhood. As friendly as they were, our two escorts were clearly based in Boston, and didn't know anything about Cambridge, let alone the route we were riding.
  • Plan a better route through Harvard Square. The route our guide took us on was circuitous, going round the bottom of Cambridge Common, and eventually heading back across Mass Ave before finally eeking over to Broadway.
  • Have a plan for what happens at red lights. Our escort stopped traffic for the first dozen or so riders, and the rest were left to their own devices. The group was split several times, and following groups went the wrong way. Made me wonder if these guys had ever escorted a big city ride before. Which leads me to my next point:
  • Train escorts and guides in how to lead a big city ride. It's not enough to go out and ride the route, shouting encouragement and directions here and there. Particularly with a group like this, when everyone thinks they're better qualified and persistently shouts tips to the leaders (I somehow resisted that urge!)
  • Publicize the ride better. From the lot that showed up, it seemed to me that at least 80 percent of the participating riders are regular riders, if not regular commuters. That tells me that they all heard about it the same way I did - through bike advocacy channels. Next time, let's get more novices! A police escort should be a nice way to get a nervous rider out and riding.
  • Be more clear in communications. I was thoroughly confused by the information provided about this ride. It took me several emails just to confirm where my branch started, and where. Turns out that all the essential info was embedded into the Google Map.

Despite these little areas for improvement, it seemed that the ride was a great success, and I'm looking forward to doing the next one in August!

Here's a little Youtube video I shot this morning.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Redline d460 29er

The bike I rented in Portland recently was really fun. It was a Redline d460 29er. I'd expected a standard hybrid like the one I'd rented in St. Louis, but it was a real treat to try a new sort of bike.

What's different about a 29er? A 29er is a bike with 29-inch wheels. A bit of an odd size, I'm not exactly sure when this trend started, but it's definitely growing in popularity. The guy at the bike shop said it was a little new to him, but people like 29ers because they roll easier through holes and other small obstacles, and they have a different feel from 26-inch wheels. It also seems that most 29ers have other quirky traits - the one I rented had wide knobby tires like a full-fledged mountain bike, but no suspension (standard on MTBs these days) and a single chainring in front with a seven-speed cluster in back.

Despite having only a third of the gears you'd expect on a modern MTB, I found it very easy to ride, both on road and off. The tires were pumped up for easy pedaling on the road, but they still had plenty of grip on the gravelly trail surface. There were lots of switchbacks and I was riding cautiously, but I never had any problems at all. I also found the hills to be easy to ride in the bottom two gears. Lacking any suspension made the ride a bit of a bone-shaker, but the steel frame softened that a bit.

It's great to see a quirky bike like this from a mainstream maker like Redline! This isn't even the most avant garde of their offerings, which include various single-speeds for use on-road and off.

I still consider myself a roadie, but this bike definitely made me want to invest in something a little trail-worthy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Portland Oregon Ride

My business trip to Portland is almost at an end. Work went well, and we managed to have a couple very nice dinners to boot.

Of course, I was very excited about experiencing some of the cycling scene while I was here, and I had a chance to do that on Sunday morning. My hotel (the Doubletree near the Convention Center) is nothing to rave about, and the surrounding area is also unremarkable, but it's a very easy walk over the Steel Bridge (that is, the dedicated foot & bike bridge underneath), or a quick ride on the tram to Old Town.

So on Sunday, I was up early and walked over for a nice breakfast at Cafe Bijou, then went to Waterfront Bicycles to hire a bike for the morning. I was lucky to be as early as I was, since there was already a queue at 15 mins past opening, and I got one of the last rentals they had on hand. I was allocated a hybrid of some sort, but then I spied a Redline 29er and got that instead! The staff there handled the fracas admirably and fairly, and I was all kitted out in less than 15 mins or so. The person who set me up recommended that I ride up to Forest Park and do the Lief Erikson trail, a wide hardpack gravel road up along a beautiful forested mountain ridge north of town. He marked a good route on a free Portland Bike Map and I was off!

The route through town took me through some delightful neighborhoods and up a reasonably steep hill to the entrance to the park. The grid system was very easy to navigate, and it certainly helps that the streets in that area are numbered going one way and alphabetical the other! At some point, I also picked up a series of signs pointing to the park.

When I reached the entrance to the park, I was glad to find a water fountain, since I hadn't brought any water with me. Trail continued uphill, and the surface was a hardpacked gravel, with some really rocky, bumpy bits. Beautiful trail, though, with glimpses of the river down below through the thick forest. It continues about 11 miles from one end to the other. I opted to turn around at the halfway point and head back downtown, where I tooled around for another hour or so before returning the bike.

I took the wonderful Max tram back to the hotel to prepare for an afternoon meeting after a mediocre burrito from a stand in the Saturday Market.

It was a really wonderful ride, and a great surprise to be able to spend time on an offroad trail, not just around town. I'd wanted to be immersed in the famous Portland bike culture, and I guess I did that - to the degree that such a thing is possible in a few hours. I had a great chat with the guy at the bike shop, and experienced lots of marked bike paths and dedicated infrastructure, and also headed out of town to share one of the city's greatest assets. The tram was also a high point, and apparently a boon for cyclists, since every ride I took had at least one cyclist onboard with his or her bike.

Note: I had hoped to do a guided tour by bike, and I was referred to Evan Ross of Portland Bicycle Tours. I didn't contact him until the night before, so by the time I heard back from him, I was already on my way back to the shop to return my rental bike. Once we had established contact, though, he seemed very responsive and friendly. Definitely worth a try next time!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Family bike ride to Lexington

We managed to dodge the thunderstorms today and have a really nice extended family bike ride to Lexington. Amy brought her bike up from NY and rode on her own, with Gem & Ginny with me and Elsie on the Bobike Mini with Kim. I wasn't sure Elsie was still going to fit on the Mini at 2 years old and about 28 lbs, but it was a perfect fit with the footrests on their bottom hole.

Because of the thunderstorms that were forecast, we thought it best to take the car to the Park Ave access to the Minuteman path so there would be an easy retreat if we needed it (for those on 2 wheels, anyway). The plan worked great! We had a delightful ride out to Lexington, and by the time we arrived, there were big black clouds overhead. We played on the grass next to the Depot for a bit, then we had dinner at Bertucci's while rain came down.

By the time we were done with dinner, the rain had stopped, and we had a very nice ride back to the bikes, and Amy rode back up the hill with me and the older girls!

Great day for all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bike tour of St. Louis

I was in St Louis last weekend for the long-anticipated reunion of the University City High School Jazz Band from 1983 - that's 25 years since we went on our grand tour of Europe, playing in Paris and Montreux.

The reunion was a pure delight, and it was wonderful to see everyone who turned up. It was like the realization of a dream I've had many, many times in which I'm playing with the band again, even improvising when my turn comes around! I may not have the chops I once did, but I think all (especially me!) were suprised to find that my improvisational skills are no better and no worse than they were back then.

I also took the opportunity to spend a full day exploring all my old haunts by bike. I arranged in advance to hire a bike from City Cycling Tours, recommended to me by someone on the St. Louis Bike Federation's Yahoo Group. Even though the company primarily runs guided tours of Forest Park, the proprietor, Chris, was all too willing to drop off a nice, well-maintained Giant city bike at my hotel and pick it up at the end of the day. He's a great St. Louis cycling advocate, and he recommended lots of routes for me. (I'll have to return for most of it, though... I'd love to do the Katy Trail, and even the Riverfront trail I was going to try was underwater that day!)

Even though I last biked through St Louis over a decade ago, everything came back to me quite easily. Apart from visiting my old High School stomping ground, I also really wanted to experience the routes put in place by the Bike St. Louis program and the new infrastructure around Forest Park.

I started in Forest Park, and found the trails to be extremely well maintained and marked. While I believe most (if not all) of the paths existed when I last rode them over a decade ago, the signs and markings are all quite new. They're shared-use paths, of course, but there's a network of running paths that also seem quite good. City Cycling Tours is based out of the park's Visitor Center, and while I didn't stop in, there seemed to be a lot of bikes available there, and lots bikers were stopping by to fill up water bottles and whatever else.

Riding around the park was pure bliss. There were lots of people out (it was Fathers' Day, and a beautiful one at that), but at no point did it seem crowded. I did at least two circuits around the periphery of the park, and criss-crossed the interior several times to visit the Art Museum, see the Muny, etc.

It did seem to me that there could have been more bike parking facilities, and better access to drinking fountains. When I stopped at the Zoo, the one standard bike rack was completely full, the one at the Art Museum was the same size and also quite full when I arrived.

The free Forest Park map was quite good, with clear indications of all the "wheel" and "heel" paths in addition to roads and landmarks. The one shortcoming, which Forest Park shares with the Bike St. Louis program, is that there's no obvious link between the two. The routes and markings in the park seem to be maintained by the park, and there was no clear link-up with the routes outside the park that I could see. In particular, it was a little tough to figure out how to navigate from the Forest Park path to the Bike St. Louis route at the northeast corner of the park. Maybe I missed it, but it would be nice to have signs inside the park that point to the external routes.

Generally, though, I was really impressed with the Bike St. Louis routes as well. I followed them through the Loop and down to the Arch and back through the Central West End, and they were very easy to find, understand, and follow. It was particularly nice to have the combination of street markings and signs pointing to various landmarks. One thing I found to be a bit odd was that many of the routes seem to be along main roads where the traffic would undoubtedly be really heavy on weekdays, and it seems like there could be better alternatives in more residential areas here and there.

When I was last in the area about ten years back, I distinctly remember thinking things had taken a turn for the worse since I last lived there in the 80s. This time, though, it's exactly the opposite! Especially around U. City and the Central West End, everything seemd to be thriving, clean, and beautiful!

I really look forward to returning with the family, and hopefully, it won't take another ten years to make that happen.

Here's a comprehensive photo set of my day out.

And here's a subset of shots of bike infrastructure.

And here's a more-or-less accurate account of my journey:

  • Started at my hotel, the bizarre Cheshire Lodge
  • Around Forest Park on new marked bike paths
  • To the Arch via Bike St. Louis route
  • Back via Central West End, where I had brunch at Companion (verygood, nice outside table, unfortunate Tropicana OJ - why not fresh?)
  • Through the Loop
  • To Delmar Harvard & Library
  • All around University City Heights
  • Took break in Lewis Park
  • To U City High School
  • To Jackson Park and Wash U
  • Back to Forest Park
  • To Art Museum, browsed impressionists
  • To the Zoo, browsed animals
  • After that, I finally returned the bike and took the rental car to alate lunch at White Castle and dessert at Ted Drewes!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Arlington hand-built cargo bike

Kim spied this cargo bike outside the Fox Library in Arlington and snapped this photo. Interesting! I hope I can run across it myself and find out more!

Beating the traffic sensor

On my usual route to work, there's an intersection (the corner of Pleasant Street & Gray Street in Arlington), where I often get stuck at the light because it's triggered by a traffic sensor. I have two options: run the light when cross traffic allows, or press the pedestrian signal button, which stops traffic in all directions.

But this weekend, Kim and I rode down to Harvard Square along the same route and discovered that the Christiania trike and her Fahrrad Manufaktur bike combined will trigger the light! My Chrisitiania alone might do it, but I'll have to try that another time.

You have to celebrate the small triumphs.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ricola Race

Ricola Race Peloton
Originally uploaded by ahconway
An otherwise dull business trip turned interesting for a couple hours last week, when it turned out that there was a pro cycle race in Basking Ridge, the very town where I was working! I had a few extra minutes to grab dinner, and it just so happened that the peloton was lining up for the Ricola Race at that very minute. Perhaps not the most exciting race, but it was a lovely evening, and it was a very well-run little criterium. Lots of small-town interest, with people watching from porches and dining on TV tables on their lawns. I had to leave halfway through to get back to work, but it was still lots of fun!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My sister on a bike!

Hooray! After I don't know how many years of encouraging my sister to get on a bike for fun and exercise, she's finally at it. She's had a nice bike for over a year now (a great first step!), and now she's actually hit the road. Go Amy go!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cycling postman in Miami Beach

We spotted a few cycling postmen in Miami Beach last week. Interesting steel utility bikes with smaller front wheels. No helmets on the postmen, but I also didn't see any of them actually riding!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Book of Bicycle Tours in Maine

Because we have family in Maine and travel to the region several times a year, I've been on the lookout for a compendium of good Maine bike routes.

I've scoured the internet, looked a few books, but came up pretty much dry. I was sure there would be marked trails, like ones I've seen in Vermont, but I wasn't able to find anything at all.

I started thinking about this because of relatives in Skowhegan, with the ambitious goal of cycling the 300-odd miles from Boston later this summer. But a recommended route? I was left high and dry.

So I was delighted to come across a spiral bound book "Explore Maine by Bike - 25 Bicycle Tours" at a mediocre bike shop in Kittery. It's a full-color, 8.5 x 11 inch book, including 25 detailed maps and nice detailed fold-outs of the routes. It's publisehd by the Maine Department of Transportation. I was ready to buy it on the spot, but I could find neither a price nor a sales stooge, so it was mine. (I'm reasonably certain that it wasn't meant to be charged for, but it probably cost the state at least $15 to produce.)

The routes are primarily along the coast, with a high concentration in the southern end of the state. Perfect for me!

It didn't make any sense that they would have produced this and kept it a complete secret, so I set about searching the web again, and finally came to Explore Maine - By Bike on the state's official website. It seems to have all the same content in downloadable PDF format, though it's really hard to find and substantially less than straightforward to navigate.

The two tours I have high hopes of completing before the end of the year are both a stone's throw from Skowhegan:
Kennebec River: This hilly and scenic gem winds through the historically important Kennebec River Valley and features a mix of agricultural and rugged mountainous terrain.

Waterville-China Lakes: Challenging hills and excellent views make this tour a 3-season pleaser as it traverses the China Lakes region with its ridge views and charming villages.

How exciting! I just can't believe how poorly Maine has publicized all this!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It is a glorious day!

A little hay fever notwithstanding, today is certainly the nicest of the year so far. I have a meeting at Babson, so t've biked from home and will change beforehand. I made very good time on this lovely day, so I've got about an hour to spare. Which i'm spending in the park and doing emails. Ah!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Big week, mileage-wise

Last week I set out to ride 100 miles. It turned out to be a less-than-ambitious goal, since I topped 110 after just 4 days riding in to work. It was nice having a goal, though, and I ended up making extra time in the morning to do an extra loop here and there. I also added an extra mile or so on the way home by coming up the bike path to Park Ave instead of the direct route.

Then on Sunday, I did another 55 in a gorgeous early morning ride. I followed a Rubel map out to Shelbourn and back. It was particularly tiring for some reason (maybe because I'd already done 110 miles that week?), but also the most beautiful ride I've done recently. Wild turkey count: 1. Giant coyote count: 1.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Close call on Park Ave

I was cruising down Park Ave this morning at a little after 6, and a large van from "Eddy's Bakery Products" started to cross in front of me. I'm sure the guy saw me (I was a reasonable distance away from that intersection when he pulled out), and I did my best to catch his eye. He pulled out anyway, of course, and slowly crossed in front of me, causing me to slam on the brakes to avoid running right into the side of the van at 25mph. I was in control the whole time, but it was very annoying nevertheless. So this morning at 9:30, I called and left a message at the Arlington company with my name and phone number, and details of the almost-incident.

Update: The owner (I believe) left me a message toward the end of the day with a sincere apology, letting me know that he'd speak to the driver.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Christiania all fit for Spring

As mechanically disinclined as I am, i'm all the more clueless when it comes to the inner workings of my Christiania trike. Not that it's so terribly complex, but I haven't had disc brakes before, and what goes on underneath is a bit of a mystery.

And since when just about every journey I do with it involves riding up and down hugely steep hills with all of my children inside, I figure it's a good idea to keep it in good shape.

I agreed with Dave at Broadway Bike that I should bring it in for a quick once-over to see if we needed to order any parts, so yesterday, that's just what I did.

I dropped Gem off at school on the way, which is always fun. Then I rode on to Cambridge . I wanted to avoid the rough pacing around Porter Square but largely failed at that, then I ended up in a giant traffic jam on Oxford Street, approaching Harvard. Turns out there was a chemical spill of some sort so there was a huge turnout of emergency vehicles in every direction. And what I sometimes forget about the trike is that its width essentially relegates me to waiting with the queues of cars since I can't squeeze between.

Still, the 10 mile journey to work took only about an hour, not bad considering the various delays.

On my way home, I stopped at the Broadway Bicycle School and spent about 20 mins and 10 dollars with Dave. He declared the Christiania to be in great shape and only ended up adjusting the disc brakes so they're a more even.

The next service will be in a 3 months or so, when the chain might need replacing or tensioninh, and the brake pads might need to be replaced. To that end, I've emailed Andrea at Velorution in London to see who makes the brakes, and how I can get replacement pads.

In the meantime, it's about time we started enjoying the Springtime, and the Christiania will play a big part in that.

Update: I've heard back from Velorution that the brakes are made by Winzip - . A terrible brand name, but it's apparently popular as an OEM component.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Bobike Kudos

When I took Elsie out on the Bobike Mini last weekend, I was approached by a guy who badly wants something similar for his own bike and his small daughter. Of course, I told him all about it and suggested that he Google for a US supplier. (I really do need to carry cards with me when I go out with the Bobike or the Christiania!).

And coincidentally, I got another nice message about my Bobike article today, with a question tacked on to the end:
You have a fantastic page on the Bobike and your daughter looks so sweet! I remember when we went out the first time with our youngest on the front in the Bobike Mini and our middle daughter was behind me! I could barely squeeze in between them! Our youngest has now sadly grown out of the Mini and is in a Hamax behind me; the middle one goes behind my husband and our eldest proudly whizzes around on her Princess bike!

I wonder if you can help me with a silly thing – I still have the mounting bracket on my handlebar for the Bobike mini as we cannot remember how we put it on! I’ve lost the little box with the instruction leaflet and we just cannot work it out.
And my reply:

Removing the bracket is pretty straightforward, but it's awkward without the tool that comes with the seat. There are two hex nuts that need to be unscrewed to release the two halves of the mounting bracket. The bolts are more or less perpendicular to the stem. The best thing to use to get them off is the barrel-shaped wrench that comes with the seat; otherwise, use a standard wrench, but be prepared to turn in tiny increments. That's all there is to it!

The Boston Globe: Good News & Bad News

There were two articles in the Sunday Globe about cycling in Boston - one good, one perfectly atrocious.

The first was part of what appears to be a regular column (though I couldn't find it last week) called Shifting Gears. Based on the couple columns they've published so far, I'm enthusiastic. It's well-written and reasonably insightful, focusing on local policy and advocacy issues while still managing to appeal to a non-cycling (or, in many cases in this town anti-cycling) readership. This Sunday's column focused on Nicole Freedman, who is heading up the bike program for the City of Boston. It also mentions one of her first initiatives, the mapping program that uses Google Maps, which I contributed to when it was launched.

On the other hand, there was the piece in the Business section called On the trail of a good recreational bike. This was an insipid bit of fluff that really did nothing more than state that there are many choices for a recreational bike. It's unfocused and confused, a real hodgepodge of the quotes that the correspondent collected from his interviews. It starts by saying that you can spend as little as $100 on a new bike, and ends with a recommendation that a prospective buyer consider the appearance of a new bike. What really amazed me about this article was the 2 inches of white space after the last column. When is the last time anybody saw white space in a newspaper? This tells me that the corresponedent couldn't dredge up anything else to say, which is all the more surprising considering the paucity of actual information conveyed in what was published.

Nevertheless, I'm bolstered by the new Shifting Gears column and I eagerly look forward to the next one, whenever it might appear.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

First really lovely day

Despite forecasts of incessant rain all day, it got to be very nice this afternoon, sunny and in the 50s! Elsie and I went for a nice ride down to the playground at Spy Pond, then all the way back up the bike path to Arlington Heights. It's only the second time she's been on the Bobike Mini, and she really loved it! She held the handlebars right next to my hands when she wasn't ringing her bell. Very sweet!

The other interesting development today was a couple free second-hand bikes I picked up, thanks to a posting on the Arlington List and Kim's keen eye. I got a strange early-80s Diamond Back mountain bike. It has a chunky steel frame, high handlebars, and 12 speeds with friction (not indexed) thumb shifters. I pumped up the tires and it seems to be in pretty good shape! What'll I do with it? Who knows, but it's free! Also got a little Gary Fisher bike for Gem (I guess) with training wheels, which will have to come off: I don't want her learning on a bike with them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Almost April and still freezing!

I picked up Thorny from Harris Cyclery yesterday after a tune-up and hub oil change (I know, I should be doing all this myself, but who's got the time?). So today, I got up at an ungodly hour and did 50 miles before breakfast (left around 6, returned around 9:30).

It was a beautiful route, courtesy Rubel's Pocket Maps once again. The route picked up at the Bedford end of the Minuteman path and took me through Lexington, Carlisle, Bedford, Acton, Concord, etc. The destination of sorts was Nagog Pond, a public water supply lake in Acton with no public access. Very pretty, though.

But man it was cold! It was dark and about 22 degrees when I left the house, and it only eeked up to about 33 by the time I arrived back home. Because it was pitch black until around 6:30, I opted to avoid the bike path until Lexington. And in that first half hour, both of my water bottles had already frozen up substantially - an hour later they were completely frozen! At least I was dressed warmly enough, except for my toes, which were pretty cold all morning.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Which commuting bike?

When I rode to work or to the train station in London, I would always use the Fahrrad - my German city bike with fenders, rack, 7 speed hub gear, dynamo-powered lights, chain guard, and upright bars. I used this bike for most utility trips, actually (as opposed to exercise or distance).

It was the perfect bike for this sort of thing. Very upright, so I could see everywhere and all could see me. It was easy to ride and very stable with or without a load. I had the child seat on that bike, and it was also very easy to take Gemma wherever.

When I first started riding it, the biggest revelation was that I felt like I was really part of the world during my journeys - I was really in touch with my surroundings, and I could stop quite easily, lock up, and investigate a shop, take a break, or whatever. I almost always dressed in normal street clothes, so I didn't have to worry about being dressed inappropriately or bringing a change of clothes.

So when I started riding to work here in Boston, I started with the Fahrrad once again. I didn't quite know how to pack proper work attire, and I was afraid my Thorn would get stolen, so I assumed that I'd just use the Fahrrad like before. I wouldn't have to change clothes, and the bike is pretty unappealling to thieves.

After my first couple tries, it was apparent that this wasn't the ideal solution. For all of its stability and smoothness on the flat, the bike really isn't designed for big hills - it's heavy, upright, and the gearing is pretty high. Which was a problem because I live on top of one of the biggest hills around. And since I wasn't in particularly good shape at that point, this was especially daunting. Also, my commute in London was usually 4 or 5 miles, and here, it's 9 or 10, depending on my route. So the ride rally tired me out, especially on returning home. This also meant that I got sweatier than expected, so I started wishing for a shower and change of clothes.

Then I started riding in on my Thorn, and that's worked really well. It's much more comfortable than the Fahrrad (owing to a better long-distance position, a more forgiving frame and more voluminous tires, I think). I've also attached a hard-shell box on top of the rear rack, which works great for bringing a change of clothes. I've also largely stopped worrying about theft, thanks to a variety of locks and judicious choice of lockup spots. But I really do feel like I need to ride in proper cycling clothes because there's grease to contend with, I do get the odd bit of water splashing up, and my Brooks saddle could potentially discolor light-colored trousers.

So when I had a meeting in Allston yesterday, I dusted off the Fahrrad and rode it in all my business finery. It worked just fine, of course, but I was really surprised at the unforgiving ride, especially over the very poor road conditions. On the way home, I managed to cruise up our hill without too much trouble, though I must admit that I did think about walking at a couple of the steeper points.

This got me thinking about whether there's a better bike for me to commute on. Maybe something a little lighter than both, with drop bars and a rack, a regular transmission (not a hub gear like both of my other bikes), and fenders. Maybe a Surley? Not too sexy, though. I saw a beautiful refurbed Vitus in black and polished aluminium at Alewife today. I'm going to keep my eyes peeled.

Monday, March 03, 2008

New-old saddle bag

New-old saddle bag
Originally uploaded by ahconway
Very nice 26-mile ride yesterday (Sunday). Did the easy loop up to Carlisle, to Concord, and home. Lots more work than I'd expected, though, due to strong, cold headwinds for much of the ride.

As usual before a short-ish ride like this, I struggled with choosing the right bag to bring. I didn't want a pannier or even my Carradice Barley (both too big, and the Barley is a pain to attach).

So then it occurred to me that the early 80s Schwinn I found at a yard sale last hear had this Cannondale bag on it. I dug my way into the bike garage and found it - perfect! Just the right size for a cable lock, some snacks, tube & patch kit, and a little camera.

It's a nice glimpse into the early days of Cannondale, when it subsisted on bike luggage, all products had train-themed names, and the logo depcited a little train station (I believe the company was named after the Metro North station in CT that served its original HQ).

Good natured motorcycle cop

On Charles Street this morning, was spinning along after a very pleasant ride along the Esplanade and came to a red light. It's a light that I sometimes slow and go through if there's no one around. But today, there was a motorcycle cop coming in from the right, and I was all the way to the right on Charles Street, so he was quite close.

He said to me "I'm goin right theah," indicating that he intended to park his motorbike where I was waiting. So I said "So you won't arrest me for running this light, then?"

"No way!" he said, smiling. So I cruised on through and he pulled into my spot.

It's not the first time I've been encouraged to run a light by a Boston cop, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Snowy commute today

Snowy commute on Boston Common
Originally uploaded by ahconway
It was snowing and low-20s when I left the house this morning, which made the commute a little treacherous! I used main roads for the best surface possible, but that also meant that there was lots of slush to contend with, which ended up freezing on the bike. Not ideal to have icy rims and brakes, but I just had to pump the brakes regularly to keep them clear.
I was going to do the bike path, but it was completely covered with snow!
The only trouble was when I got to work and found that both my locks had frozen! I used my emergency lock while I ran upstairs to fill a jug with hot water, which did the trick. Of course, if it stays below freezing all day, I'll probably have to do the same at the end of the day. I ran into the building super on the way in, and he recommended that I get a spray can of de-icer. Probably not the most sustainable solution, but that may be preferable to having no locks!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why do I commute by bike?

There's a nice little (unscientific) survey about commuting to work on Kent's blog. I've replied... nothing groundbreaking, though.


Second thoughts about tires

My Finnish tires turned up sure enough, and they seem very nice indeed. I can see how they'd be very useful for lots of riding over lots of consistently grisly, frozen terrain.

But as rough as Somerville Ave is these days, I don't think that warrants switching to studded snow tires.

So I blew $100 for nuthin... wouldn't be the first time.

I rode to work this morning, and despite a temperature in the teens and remnants of 10 inches of snow from a few days ago, I was still fine with my Panaracers. A little extra vigilance is the important thing.

Yesterday I brought the bike inside and spent an hour or so cleaning the drivetrain. I did a pretty thorough job on the chain, chainring, and rear sprocket, using various Pedro's cleaning supplies and a couple Clorox wipes. Ran very smoothly today.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New winter tires on the way!

After a couple scary moments on the road and hearing some VERY scary tales on various bikey lists, I've decided to get some proper winter tires.

I based my decision on 3 sources:, the Charles River Wheelmen list, and Peter White Cycles in New Hampshire, which seems to be the top source for winter biking stuff.

Icebike and Peter White's website both have a lot of info about studded tires, and consensus seems to be that Finnish Nokian is the best.  They do some very robust and quite spendy models that are designed for cross country riding in arctic conditions - clearly not what I need.

I first wanted to go with the Winter version of the venerable Schwalbe Marathon, but White's shop was sold out. Instead, I ordered a pair of Nokian A10s. Like the Marathons, they're designed for commuting, with intermittent ice and snow.

Of course, this will also be a good incentive for me to clean my drivetrain and rims when I do the switch!

I'll post again once I've got them fitted and logged a few miles.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bad bike parking

Bad bike parking
Originally uploaded by ahconway
The locks I leave near the office were frozen solid today (drat!), so I locked up at a nearby office building. It's the HQ of one of Boston's most succesful companies. It's recently been refurbished resplendently. But despite the hundreds and hundreds of people who work there, bike parking has been relegated to a couple racks at the edge of the loading dock.

Bike path plowing works!

Bike path in the snow
Originally uploaded by ahconway
I rode in to work today, after yesterday's 12-ish inches of snow. I was going to ride the bike path, but then it occurred to me that there really wouldn't be anywhere for me to go after I got to Alewife...

But I did want to have a look at how the path looked after having been plowed. Here it is, just at Carberry's (now Java Somethingorother), and it looks pretty good! Just a fine dusting since it was plowed, but entirely rideable.

As was, it turned out, the rest of my usual route to work. Just required a little extra caution.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy New Year

I managed to ride exactly zero miles during the holidays owing to bad weather (tons of snow - bad for biking, anyway) and persistent mild sickness. But now it's the new year, and after a bout of single digits last week, things have milded up and it's quite nice for biking!

I got back in the saddle yesterday (Sunday) for a ride up to Carlisle. I just wanted to do a loop up around Great Brook Farm and back via Concord. Mission accomplished, but it was a tough one! The weather was nice, high 30s, and most of the snow was gone on the main roads, so riding was smooth. Surprisingly little traffic too, especially in the first couple hours before 10.

Once I got to Carlisle and turned off the main road to head through the State Park, though, it was a different story. The woodsy farmy scenery was beautiful, but the road surface was atrocious! It started a little slushy (causing me to have two near falls, putting a foot down each time), but after not too long, the entire surface was covered with varying thicknesses of packed snow and ice. To add to the treacherousness, the road was narrow and pretty hilly. Fine on the way up, scary on the way down. I finally got the hang of it, sticking to the bits where the sand was embedded in the surface, and managed to stay upright. It was slow going, though! Fortunately, almost no traffic for that bit.

I had another little hardship on the way home. As I left Concord, my energy was sapped. I wasn't going fast at all, but the lactic acid hit my thighs with a vengeance. I stopped and took out a rock-solid energy bar, which I muched on for a half hour or so. That helped for sure, but I never got back up to snuff; my ride up Park Ave to the water tower was just about the slowest I can remember - I usually even manage a better pace with the Christiania!

Nevertheless, I got 35 miles under my belt, and I added another 20 with my commute today. Now that the Charles River Wheelmen has an online mileage tracking tool, I'll be logging my miles every month, and I'm off to a pretty good start!