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!