Tuesday, August 30, 2011

quick notes from vacation

Irene left us unscathed, save for a sleepless night where every wind gust threatened a tree coming down on the house.

On the joys of having a distinctive bike:  I parked my bike at City Hall Monday night at the same staple as Renata von Tscharner from Charles River Conservancy.  I didn't actually see her, but her pale yellow cruiser with the milkcrate lashed on the back is unmistakable.  She was gone by the time I got back, but I imagine she saw Gilbert and thought, ah,  Cycler is parked here.
Unless you had a friend with an art car, you'd almost never know if you were parked next to them in a public parking lot.  I love how bikes lend themselves so easily to distinctive customization.

Walking into the square, I saw a gentleman coming along with a real live bakfiets.   They're not very common here- I see more cargo trikes, longtails and trailer setups,  largely I think because there isn't a dealer of them around here.   I test rode one when I visited Portland a couple of years ago,  but I'd like to ride one again before making a purchase,  and as of now, you have to go to NYC (or know someone with one)  to try the various options out.

Anyway, long story short, I detained him for a couple of cycles of the light chatting about bikes, and when he introduced himself, it turns out that he's Aaron Naparstek,  a real live transpo-geek celebrity,  founding editor of Streetsblog.   He's in town from NYC on a Loeb fellowship at Harvard,  so I look forward to seeing him and his bakfiets riding around the square this fall!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pedaling off...

I'm headed out for a little R&R and planning a little family get together, so I'll be mostly unable to post through the next week.
Hope everyone stays safe during the upcoming storm*, and I'll be back after labor day with all kinds of bike fun!

* and yes, I'm just going to pull the damn toilet out and put in a real test plug for the duration of the storm :)
It's less work to remove and reinstall it than it is to clean up the mess in the basement if the toilet becomes

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gilbert goes to Grainger

After the great basement flood of '10  and the largely forestalled mini flood two weeks ago,  and with Hurricane Irene possibly coming to call, we decided we needed to come up with at least a slightly better plan in the event of another sewer backup.

We're going to try  inflatable test plugs- basically a heavy rubber balloon that you put into a pipe (or toilet U bend) and then inflate.  They're typically used in new construction when the plumbing on a house is tested to make certain there are no leaks.   They put these in every drain, and then pressurize the system, and it has to hold pressure for 24 hours.

I do think that the warning tag is a bit extreme!   For the record, I'm going to risk life and limb and NOT wear a safety helmet while I put it in.   The bright orange tag might be a good clue to others that the toilet should not be used however! Note that it takes a Schrader valve, so I can use a bike pump to inflate it.  Although perhaps I need a dedicated pump since I'll be sticking it in the toilet bowl. hmmm.

The most convenient place for me to get one locally turned out to be Grainger,   which is one of those Mega-industrial supply places,  like Home Depot on Steroids.   Need a continuity tester?  Check.
Need a conveyor belt?  Check,   Need a mop and janitor's supplies?  Check.

I'm mostly familiar with their telephone-book sized catalog,  which I like to peruse when I can't get to a hardware store, but have a practical products jones that needs to be scratched.  But it turns out that they have a store about a mile away from my office, which is convenient.   There's an old warehouse/ industrial district with a working waterfront, with a lot of industrial truck traffic and a distinct smell of fish.  But they've converted the closer-in part of the area to fancy restaurants and shops,  the new Institute for Contemporary art, and a giant convention center.    So it's an odd experience-  there's a bike lane,  lots of streetlife, and then boom, you're tossed in amoung the semi-trailers.   Fortunately I didn't have to ride far through that district, but these photos give you an idea of the feel of the place:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hard hitting journalism

A london TV stations takes on bike theft- complete with COPS style takedowns of thieves:

Unfortunately I can't imagine either the police or the press taking this much interest in the topic.
It was somewhat disheartening that the "king of the bike thieves"  gets only 5 months of suspended sentence.  The trackers under the bike seat seem like a great idea.  I would pay $100 for something like that, but I think that the technology isn't quite there.

I was locked up yesterday next to a bike that appeared to be held to the rack with a piece of wire- thinner than a pencil.  It always makes me feel a bit safer to park next to something so poorly secured :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Maybe it WASNT a once in a lifetime thing!

There was a state trooper  on the Longfellow again this morning- pulling over speeders.    I asked the Statie how fast I was going (downhill)  and he just laughed and said "not fast enough.  Maybe they've figured out that this is a big revenue source,  which would be awesome, because speeding is so rampant on the bridge.

The Livable Streets mailing list that I participate in had a discussion of it last time they were ticketing,  and one of the members co-workers got a ticket and was told that they were cracking down "because of the bike share"   I told Nicole Freedman about it,  and she said that it was a surprise to her,  and she hadn't asked for enforcement,  but thought it was great that they were doing it.   I'm a little concerned that people will "blame" bikes for getting a ticket, instead of their lead feet,  so I wish that the troopers just said "it's because of safety"

In any case, I hope to see this trooper regularly in the next couple of months, and hope that cars begin to expect him too!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Unique bike coatings

What seems like a long time ago now, I spotted a cute couple riding along together,  and eyed them curiously as they parked outside the business I was inside.  They went into another store, and I took the opportunity to admire their bikes.

The mixtie has fixie styling (V rims, electric color scheme) but gears and brakes.  I don't remember the  brake manufacturer but at the time I noticed that it was nothing that I'd seen before was a germanic name,  and both bikes had the same brand of brakes.  Somehow the pink seems less shocking with the gray frame than it would with a white frame I think.  It's playful instead of saccharine.

The black bike had a really unusual coating- matte black and a little bit bumpy,  with a nice shiny asymmetric silver pinstripe, and silver-outlined lugs.

While I was admiring it, the owners came back out and "caught me" which is always a bit embarrassing, but meant that I got a chance to ask the owner what the coating was on the black bike,  and it turns out it's spray on bedliner, designed to protect truck beds from scratching and rusting.

He said that he had already painted the bike once, and that it didn't hold up.  Then he did research into powdercoating it (at Geekhouse) and decided it was more money than he wanted to spend.  He did the coating himself, and it sounded like it had been pretty simple and straightforward.  It's a marvelous texture, and should be a practical and long lasting one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

So Simple, so effective

Sorry for the delays in posting folks,  too much going on to get the posts written- have some cool bike photos to share, but they need to get off my camera and onto my computer first.

Didn't help that last night at 1AM we had a mini repeat of last year's sewage backup.  Fortunately the rain wasn't as heavy, and we were able to contain it in the tiled bathroom, and keep it out of the new cork floor and furnished areas of the basement.   So much for it being a 10 year flood...

Anyway,  I've been meaning to post on an incredibly simple but effective tip to reduce doorings:  train drivers to open their door with their right hand.

Evidently this is standard practice taught in driver's ed in the Netherlands (according to this nice little piece about livable streets).   It forces you to twist your body around, making you much more likely to look around and see a biker before you open the door.    I am going to start making this a habit,  because I worry that even though I think about bikes so much that I can't watch where I'm going, someday I'm going to have a lapse in attention and door someone.

Obviously it's not a panacea, (you can twist your body without twisting your head) but it seems like a great habit to adopt.   I think a good extension of it would be to put your parcels and packages in the back seat or trunk, so that instead of focusing on gathering your stuff while you're opening up your door, you open the door, exit the vehicle, and then collect your stuff.

What tricks and tips would you incorporate into your routines, or even better into drivers ed to improve bike safety?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Multi-Modal Day

Through several accidents of fate, I found myself bikeless several days last week, so I decided it was a good time to try out the Hubway bikes.   In their initial weekend, I saw several groups of them in Harvard square- which was particularly interesting, given that there aren't any Cambridge stations yet.  I decided a  to get an annual membership, taking advantage of the $60 teaser rate  (goes to $85 at some point). Partly I think it's a good cause, but I also think it will be useful if I'm bikeless,  have a guest without a bike, or just don't feel like taking my bike down the elevator to run an errand at lunch.

Since there aren't any Cambridge stations yet, I walked to Harvard square,  and took the T into South Station.   Once there I fumbled around trying to find the kisok (I came up on the wrong side of a massive intersection and had to navigate it first on foot and then with a bike).

 There were plenty of bikes,  as promised by the handy-so-far application "spotcycle"  and checking one out took only a moment.  If you have an annual membership, they mail you a hard "key" (about like a thumb drive)  which you insert into the dock, wait a second for the green light, and then pull.

 Unfortunately I had a giant package with me,  one that would actually have been a bit tricky on Gilbert-  bulky, and somewhat crushable.  It was in a giant plastic bag with handles, and I resolved to just carry it in my hand, or looped over the handlebars.  I strapped on the helmet I had brought from home, and started to take off.

Unfortunately I had neglected to adjust the seat,  and immediately had to pull off to raise, and straighten it.  I found that this was a problem each time I rode the bikes this week- it's just not something you ever think to check when you hop on your own bike!

Starting off again, I rode a couple of blocks along the "shoulder"  of Atlantic Ave.   When I normally ride on this road, I am pretty aggressive and take one of the 3 lanes each way.  However, burdened as I was with an unwieldy package, on an unfamiliar bike, in heavy rush hour traffic, I soon decided that this was not possible.  I pulled up on the sidewalk, crossed at the crosswalk, and rode the rest of the 8 blocks or so on the greenway sidewalks, in technical violation of the greenway rules, but behaving courteously to the few pedestrians I encountered.

A three minute ride later, I pulled up to a docking station at Rowes wharf,  immediately across the greenway from my office- a successful first ride!

My ride home that evening was very smooth, mostly because I no longer had a big package, so I could concentrate more on the bike itself.   It's no heavier than Gilbert, but it's geared much lower,  so it's hard to go very fast,  which would be a problem for vehicular cycling.   The front rack with bungee cord was useful, but with a heavy bag on the front, handling was not ideal.

There are nicely integrated "be seen" lights on the front and back, driven by a generator hub.   I think that they're "senso" style, coming on only in darker conditions, but I didn't really test it.  

The construction is not exactly a thing of beauty (avert your eyes Velouria)  but they seemed like sturdy and reasonably comfortable city bikes.
Ugly welds aside, I think that it's a better bike than the one I rented in NYC last summer when the Scientist and I went to visit.

I rode it one other day, and to a meeting that I attended during the middle of a day.   I found that I had a choice of convenient stations near both my starting point and my destination.  Interestingly another of the attendees,   David Watson from Massbike also rode one.  I don't know if he's just trying it out and promoting it, or if he was bikeless that dat too?

Several people in my office seemed potentially interested in joining.   They take commuter rail in from the suburbs, and then have a 10-20 minute walk from the terminal station to our office- a trip that would be made much faster on a bike.  I also heard a lot of people talking about it as I rode by, and I think that every time I was checking in or out, there was someone looking at the setup, or asking me questions about the system. Maybe I'm just looking for it, but it felt like I saw a lot of people on the train with bike helmets in hand,  and I've seen a lot of them around, so I'm hopeful that it's taking off (or is at least an interesting novelty)

The whole experience made me so angry that the state didn't build any sort of bicycle facilities in the big dig "greenway" project.  No on street bike lanes,  no MUP on the greenway, nothing.   I feel relatively comfortable biking there as an advanced cyclist,  but there's no way that my Aunt and Uncle visiting from Des Moines are going to hop on a three lane each way arterial, full of trucks and tour busses,  which in several places is the on and off ramp to a freeway.    They had all the room in the world, and it's criminal that there was no thought at all for bicycle traffic.     I know that Nicole Freeman has said that they're "working on"  developing something there,  and I hope it's soon, because I think that it would be critical to solving the "last mile" transportation problems of the North station- South Station connection.