Thursday, December 30, 2010

Almost a Cliche'

I had a looooong day today.
I started the day at 6:30am  getting into a zipcar and driving out to site meetings in the burbs.  A  tough site meeting is like running a gauntlet of people beating you with sticks.  A good site meeting is like running a gauntlet of people beating you with Nerf Noodles.  Had one of each today.  One is debilitating, the other is just tiring.

Got back to Harvard around 11, stopped at home just long enough to eat some breakfast (!)
and rode into work. I took a run at riding the Charles River path, but it was too snowy and "mashed potato-ey" to ride comfortably, so I portaged over a giant snowbank, and got back onto the mostly clear streets.

By 8pm when my day was over (lots of processing things from the site meetings, plus getting caught up from my extra day traveling back from vacation)  I was so tired I didn't think I could make it down to the lobby, let alone ride home.  The Scientist offered to pick me up, but I wanted my bike for errands over the long weekend.

But (here's the truism part)- I got on my bike, and I started to ride,  and before long,  I felt better: more relaxed,  happier, less tired.  How many drivers finish their commute and say "I feel so refreshed?"

It's a founding mythology of bicycle commuting, that a good ride home cures all ills- it's so oft repeated that it's almost a cliche'.  But you know what?  Just because it's a cliche' doesn't mean it isn't true.

I think that a lot of people who see me riding on a snowy day think I'm crazy or masochistic or maybe I have a DUI or can't afford a car.  But they just don't get it.  It's just not something you can understand until you've experienced the endorphins of a good ride home

Snowed In

It's a sad sight to see so many bikes stored outside buried in snow:

Gilbert and Minerva are so glad that they have a nice dry space under the stairs to live,
Although I will say, digging out a bike is a LOT easier than a car!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in warmer climes

Sorry for the lapse, have been spending the holidays with the Scientist's family in Dallas where they think 37F is a cold front. At least theoretically will be back tomorrow if our flight isn't cancelled in the wake of the blizzard that is currently dumping a foot of snow on home. Something to look forward to-shoveling out!
Hope everyone of y'all had a wonderful Christmas with people you love!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Somehow I don't think he drives an Escalade

 'Evidently,  Cliff Lee, the lefty ace that the Phillies just snatched from the Yankees, was lured out of Texas by the.....Public Transit options!

No word on whether he bikes in the off season,  but he and his family just prefer to take the train places rather than be trapped in their cars....Imagine!

On a related note, the red line was delayed this morning as I T'd in.  Was wishing I could ride my bike  instead, since the roads were largely cleared, although sloppy

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chickening out

The prediction was for "flurries' and "no accumulation" when I biked to work this morning.
Around 6, when I was ready to leave, there was about 1 1/2" on the ground, and big flakes coming hard sideways, and no sign of a plow.   If I'd had a protected cycle track or even MUP all the way home, I think I would have been happy to go, but the news was full of stories about fender benders and snarled traffic.
The street outside my office: (can you see the biker in the far distance (next to the 2nd car on the right?)

It seems like every first snow drivers have to remember what they learned last year about a) everything, including braking, happening slower in fresh snow  and b) just because you can go (4WD) doesn't mean you can stop.   A fender bender is one thing if you're in a steel cage, but I just wasn't brave enough to risk playing bumper cars.   The bike lane outside my house:

I felt like a bit of a wimp though when I saw three bikes within 5 minutes of leaving my office, and a total of 10 bikes out and about in the snowy night.  Still coming down as I write this:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wheelbarrow Load, and a Silent Night

Remember the trashpicked wheelbarrow?
I sanded it down, painted it, and now it's off to it's yuletide recipient- my 2 year old nephew.

I wanted to send it via UPS ground through my office, so I strapped it on the back of Gilbert, pushing the limits of my luggage straps.

It was so sunny and relatively warm  that I ended up stripping down to just my cords, a very thick wool sweater, gloves and scarf,  and still being too warm.  I know that Uggs are considered a fashion crime by many, but I have the smooth leather footed version that looks a little better, and boy are they toasty warm!

In the evening, I had a very calm and quiet ride home, thanks largely to off street paths.  I rode the Vassar street cycletrack all the way down to the "secret" shortcut through Ft. Washington park,  and thence through quiet residential streets in Cambridgeport to Trader Joe's, and then along the river path home to Harvard Sq.

View Larger Map

With very few cars, and on a crisp cold night, the city seems so quiet-  all I can hear are the soft noises of my bike- the whirr of the wheels, the click of the freewheel,  the small noises of chain and axle.

I've made some tweaks to my saddle position and am feeling unusually connected and tuned into the bike.  Everything just feels so natural, like the bike is an extension of my body that I use to get places simply and quickly.  What a pleasant and calm ride- the best kind of silent night.

Oh, and Somervillain really wants me to remind people of the Illuminations ride in Somerville,  and say that Bloc 11 closes at 8 on Saturdays, so we will probably go to 1369 instead.   For best results, meet us at the ride, and we'll all decide where to go from there!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Infectious Holiday Cheer (Bike Meetup)

My co-worker P.  was inspired by Gilbert's basket lights to do his own bicycle holiday decorations:

His are much more cool and modern than my goofy lights- they suit his nicely updated city bike.

Holiday Cheer!
In the Spirit of holiday cheer, please join me, Somervillain from Boston Retro Wheelmen,  and hopefully Charlotte from Chic Cyclists  at the Somerville Illuminations Holiday Tour.  Tour leaves City hall at 7:15 sharp.  Afterwards, please join us for a warming beverage and bike chatting, almost certainly at Bloc 11 coffeeshop in nearby Union Sq.  Bicycle decoration is fabulous but not required.

The dirty little secret

The dirty little secret of advocacy is that a handwritten letter to an official is worth 10, maybe 50 petition signatures.  The reason?    Signing a petition is easy, takes a second,  they'll probably even hand you a pen.
Writing a letter is harder- you have to pick out a card, you have to find a pen, and an envelope and a stamp- more importantly you have to have to figure out what to say.

i've written and re-written this post many times- I don't want to be preachy,  but I feel so strongly about this, and I long to spur any of you from the Boston area into action.

So I'm going to just publish the letter I wrote to the Mass DOT administrator on the subject of the Longfellow bridge.  I urge you to find the time to write your own.  I feel strongly that option B (see here or here for explanations is the best long term.  It gives us the most options and avoids a lousy "pinch point" situation for pedestrians at the Boston side.

I know it's a busy time of year, but please, consider taking the 15 minutes to write:

Luisa Paiewonsky
Administrator, MassDOT Highway Division

Ten Park Plaza, Suite 3170
Boston, MA 02116

To "sweeten" the deal, if you're in Boston: send me photos of your stamped addressed letter, and contact me offline at, and I'll throw in a prize.  It will involve chocolate.  Never say I'm above a little bribery in the service of a good cause.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I'm not sure I'd want to carry MY infant this way,  but it does show some ingenuity!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gilbert returns, with a gift

Went to Harris to pick up Gilbert this afternoon,  where I ran into Velouria of Lovely Bicycle, and her Co-Habitant scheming away on her next fabulous project.  While Minerva's front wheel was being made as true as a steel, Indian made Westwood rim can be, the Co-Habitant and I got a look at the "new" Radbot, rear bike light  that I'd heard about, but never seen on a bike.  It IS very bright, and had a nice "slow" pulse flash that I found less annoying than the super strobe.  While I was waiting, I also drooled over a fabulous  "Hetchins" bike with these amazing copper enameled lugs, evidently one of Elton's amazing collection of meticulously restored bikes.  unfortunately I only had my phone, but hopefully even these mediocre photos capture the details of this bike!

When I went to collect Gilbert,  I found that he had acquired a "present".  Evidently Elton had a "Fishing"  themed Christmas wreath,  and he thought that this miniature rod and reel just belonged on Gilbert's creel basket.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What to wear

So Gilbert is all better- they replaced the shifter cable and housing (hmm, wonder if they had some of the special silver housing that I hunted down from Velo Orange), but I can't get out to Newton till tomorrow, so rode Minerva again.

I had a hard time figuring out what to wear today.  It's Friday, but I had a client meeting so wanted to look a little more formal.  I was going to a jobsite too,  and then tonight am rushing to a friend's house after work for takeout chinese and christmas cookies.    Oh, and it was 13 degrees outside.

I decided to go with pants,  wool felt ones with a poly lining, and wool ski socks in my la Canadienne ankle boots.   On top, a thin-ish cashmere sweater,  a down vest, and a somewhat lightweight red wool coat. On my ears a polar fleece earband,  and a long thin but fluffy scarf to put over my face if necessary.
For gloves I wore a pair of "liner" gloves-  the $1 a pair expandable type from Target,  and a pair of insulated  gloves over them.

On the way there, I had a nice chat with a fellow in full winter commuter kit (lycra leggings,  neon yellow coat)  They say that "nobody" rides in the winter-  I counted 7 bikers on my way into work!

This is me shivering at my meeting because I arrived 10 minutes early and had to wait on the sidewalk. Actually just my toes were cold.  I need to see if I can get insoles in these boots.

A toasty tip

As the weather cools, I've been looking for wool tights,  and have found that it's hard to find ones that are more than 40% wool.
While I understand the need for some nylon and spandex to keep them from bagging and ending up in a puddle around my ankles,  most I've seen have a lot of acrylic "filler".
A hot tip I saw in a comment on a LGRAB post, that I'll pass along:  Smartwool tights are on sale at Orvis (yes the fishing place).  They're 70% wool, nylon and spandex, without any acrylic.
I was cold in the office this afternoon, so I put them on under my pants,  and they're nice and cozy and so far itch free!  I bought a dark chocolate colored pair at the store, then bought a black pair online.  They seem true to size (I got a medium) and have a nice stretchy weave.  Given Smartwool's record, I am optimistic about their durabilty.

Edited- I'm nice and toasty warm after wearing them in the office for 2 hours-  even got to unzip the down vest I was wearing (yes it's cold in our office)  no itchies yet!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Minerva gets a turn

Gilbert is at the shop today after suffering a sudden failure of index shifting.   I was riding Wed morning,  stopped and got off for a couple of minutes, and when I got back on, it wouldn't shift out of 5th.
This being a fairly stiff gear for crossing bridges, starting up hills etc, I biked to a good locking place near the nearest T stop,  and then went into work and home via T.   When I rode back from the T stop to home in the evening,  again it shifted once, then stopped.
I'm hopeful that it's a cable issue and that either replacing or lubricating and adjusting the cable will solve the problem, but this time of year I don't have much time to mess with the bike.
Luckily I happened to be driving out to a job site in Newton and would be passing Harris, albeit well before they opened, so I changed my zipcar to a ziptruck and dropped it off on the way.

Arriving back home from the jobsite around 10, I considered just walking to the T.  But it was so so cold that I thought I'd actually be colder in the 10 minutes on each end I would end up walking than I would be in the 30 minutes it would take to bike.  So Minerva got a turn to go to work.

I don't know if it's just faulty memory, or the cold weather, but I actually think that the front brake was more aggressive than I remember,  but I still think it would be nice to have it be a little more aggressive.
If anyone had been biking behind me on the path this morning they would have thought I was disturbed because I kept accelerating, then slamming on the brakes- trying different combos (front only,  rear only,  both).

I stopped to take some pictures of Minerva and the skeletal trees (and their shadows).  By that point I'd warmed up enough to unzip my shell (was wearing a cotton T shirt and a very heavy wool sweater,  cords, wool ski socks and la Canadienne boots. And puffy insulated gloves (warmer than leather gloves, not as warm as ski gloves).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas parcels and a new gizmo

I mailed out a big batch of Christmas cookies and treats today.  Every year for many years now, I've made cookies and toffee for people who I'd like to remember this time of year, but who don't really need any stuff from me.  This year it's a bit smaller than usual, partly because I'll see more people in person this year.
Anyway, once everything was all packed up, I loaded some of the boxes on Gilbert's rack, and carried a pair in a bag slung over my shoulder (not ideal, but I wasn't going far).  It was quite a stack behind me- I had to employ an auxiliary bungee.

This evening, I was remarking on a gizmo that I installed recently- it's a spring tension wheel stabilizer,  which keeps the wheel mostly straight forward when you've got it up on a double legged kickstand like so:
(look ma, no hands!)

I had one of these on Robert that I tracked down in Barcelona when I was visiting, but the attachment to the downtube wasn't great.   This one came from Velo Orange, and it is much easier to attach and adjust.
There's a bracket which fits on the back of the crown brake bolt (I had to drill it out so that the "Sheldon's fender nut" would fit through it)
This isn't for everyone, but if you have a double legged kickstand, and often have a heavily laden bike,  it's extra insurance against dreaded front wheel flop that can take the whole bike down.

Oh. My. God.

This "dialog" between an engineer and a resident  is both fantastic and stomach clenching in its kafka-esqe premise:

The cartooning is a little lame (it's some kind of automated text to cartoon program I think?)
but this just drives home the absurd logic and ridiculous premises behind the last 50 years of urban transportation planning.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chilly Cheer

A guy stopped next to me at a light this morning, rolled down his window to ask "Aren't you freezing?"

I said, no, I'm exercising, so I'm pretty warm, except my toes.  I think it may be time to switch to boots, or at least wool socks!  I wasn't really thinking about it, but I was wearing lined wool pants which helped, a cashmere sweater and a light weight windproof trenchcoat and a big fluffy scarf.  

Tonight it was maybe 30  with a nasty gusty wind flecked with snow flurries (the TV says it's 27 in Foxboro with a WC of 17),  and when I came around the corner to the top of Beacon Hill, the wind practically stopped me in my tracks.  I'm trying out a new route to avoid the hostility of Broadway, and while it's promising, the lights are not well timed, and the ball of my "down" foot got cold from being in contact with the pavement (plus sitting still gets chilly).

Fortunately I have some holiday cheer to keep me warm inside:  Behold the return of Christmas lights!

I bought these battery powered LED lights last year,  and just pulled them down from the attic with a lot of other Christmas decorations this weekend,  Gilbert's basket is smaller, so they go around twice. 
Just in one ride I've already heard a couple of comments- people seem to really love them.
They're a bit too silly for all year round, but lots of fun this time of year!  Do you decorate your bike for the holidays?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Letter to a driver

I don't normally like to post about bad biking experiences, because in general I love biking, and the bad moments are overwhelming outweighed by the good ones.
However, tonight's commute left me shaking and wanting to cry after some guy tried to run me off the road and called me a F'ning- B-  because I dared to ride far enough in the lane that he had to wait to pass me. Panting from the effort of trying to go "traffic speed" I gasped a few weak things about door zone, and legal vehicle blah blah, wheeze, but it obviously made no impression.

This is what I would say if I weren't alone on my bike on a cold night being honked and and yelled at by angry drivers.

Dear Angry Driver
My name is C__,

I have a dog, and a boyfriend, and a Mom, a Dad and a Brother who I love and who love me.
I like to cook and read and listen to music and lie in bed on a lazy Sunday drinking coffee and reading the paper.  I like my job, although not so much on Monday mornings.
I might not be so different from you,  or your sister or your mom.

You were angry because I was riding out in the "Middle of the Road".  You wanted me to ride over to the side so that you could get where you were going (in this case the red light) a little faster.
You might not know why a biker might ride so far into the middle of the road, so let me try to explain.  Unfortunately this street is lined with parked cars, and people aren't very careful about opening them and might hit me,  possibly throwing me under your wheels.  So I ride about a foot inside the fog line so that I'm out of their range.  Most of the time drivers scootch out into the other lane about 2 feet in order to give me plenty of space.  Tonight, for whatever reason (the phase of the moon?)  several people in a row buzzed me way too close, because they were too lazy to wait for a gap in the oncoming traffic to give me even that much space.

Now maybe I'm crazy, but I don't like a 2 ton mass passing by so close I can touch it at speeds of 35 MPH. (or about 15 MPH faster than I'm going and 5mph over the speed limit).
This particular road we're on is a two lane,  quasi-residential street that has been pressed into service as an E-W Arterial.  Per Massachussets General Code Chapter 89, Section Two  "If it is not possible to overtake a bicycle or other vehicle at a safe distance in the same lane, the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake. "  )  Because people weren't doing that,  I moved out into the middle of the lane (actually about 1/3 in)  in order to make it clear to drivers that  it is not safe to pass me in the same lane, and that they need to cross the centerline,  and pass me safely.
This angered you because you had to take your foot off the accelerator, and maybe even had to hit the brake.  The thing that you might not know about this particular street, is that the lights are timed at almost exactly the speed of a bicyclist (about 18- 20Mph).  I almost never have to wait for a light once I get synched up,  and if you pass me,  you're almost certainly going to be waiting at the next red light until I catch up with you.

Unlike most bikers,  I choose not to pass you while you are stopped,  I wait my turn at the light, or even in backed up traffic.  All I ask in return is that people pass me carefully-  if they have to wait a bit to do so safely,  I don't want them to have to do it again and again along the same stretch of road.  I drive sometimes too, and I know how aggravating that can be.

Believe me,  I wholeheartedly wish that there was a bike lane or a cycle track, or something that defined safely separated spaces for both of us on this (and every other) road.  It would let me ride a little slower on my way home,  relaxed because no one was honking and gunning their engine right behind me.  It would let you get to the red light a little quicker.  We'd both probably be happier.   Unfortunately there's not enough space in this old town's old streets for that.
So for now, I hope you'll consider why I might be riding the way I am before you fly into a rage.
I hope you'll consider sharing the road, even if that means that you might have to wait for 90 seconds to pass, or might get to the light a little slower.
And please, think of your sister or mother or coworker before you call a human being who just happens to be on the same streets names and yell at her for slowing you down.


Peppermint Bars

I've been saving these for a while, not wanting to push the Christmas season,  but now that it's officially December, I'll post this bar tape that looks like Candy Canes

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thank You

To the anonymous motorist who patiently drove a safe and extra courteous distance behind me all the way down Cambridge Street as I rode home tonight in the rain,  not itching to pass or breathing down my neck.

I can normally keep pace with traffic speed down this hill, but heavy rain made me both reluctant to build up too much speed for fear of not being able to stop suddenly, and fanatical about aggressive lane positioning.  This driver (what's the opposite of Masshole?)  realized that perhaps on a rainy night we all need to go a little slower, be a little more careful of the safety of our fellow road users.

Thanks- I wish they were all like you!