Thursday, December 31, 2009

In the snow

Looks like I'm going to get a chance to ride in the snow, finally.
I debated if I should ride in today given the nearly 100% chance of snow.  Perhaps I wasn't thinking terribly clearly as I had awful insomnia last night.

They were saying 1" and I figured that would probably be doable.  I thought I'd try biking home on the Charles River paths too as some extra insurance (plus I need to stop at Trader Joe's for New Year's supplies).  Reading all the descriptions about how much fun people had in the Portland OR storm this week inspired me to give it a try.  I wore a trenchcoat to help keep my legs dry-and I also figured if I get damp, it'll be on the way home, so no biggie.

It's really coming down though, and the weather report is now forecasting 3" of snow which is a little more intimidating.  If I can get to Kendall and it's grim, I can always bail, park my bike under the Scientist's building and either T or catch a ride with him.  Heck, if necessary I can always walk the bike home, although I hope not to resort to that.


I saw my first bike accident last night.

It was a lot warmer on the way home- I was actually hot in all my gear from the morning.
I got passed on the Longfellow bridge by someone who I first thought was a woman wearing a skirt and opaque tights.  I was thinking that would have been super cold in the morning!

When I pulled up at the light, I realized that it was a guy wearing wool cycling knickers and wool kneesocks.  He was running a double Schmidt  E6 lighting system and we chatted about it briefly.

A couple of blocks later, I had just looked over my shoulder before moving further over into the lane.  When I looked back ahead,  the guy was hitting the pavement ahead of me.  By the time I caught up to him he was getting up.  I tried to shine my lights to help him pick up pieces of one of his E6s.   He thought he had hit a pothole and although he thought his tire had blown, it seemed to be OK.  A very nice driver (with a dual roof rack) stopped to ask if he was OK and if he needed a ride, which he declined.

This guy was doing everything right-  riding conservatively, stopping at lights, running a good lighting system.  It just shows that anyone could do it- and to me it's sure a good argument for wearing a helmet, which he was.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Wind Today!

But boy it was chilly!
When the radio said 8 degrees out,  I mentally rolled over and decided to take the T.
But then when I got outside, it realized it was dead calm, and the traffic was light, and just decided to do it.
I had to go in for my helmet, and changed out of my puffy down jacket and into a softshell, and I went up to the attic and dug out my ski gloves.
It WAS chilly, and I was the only biker I saw,  but thanks to the holiday week, traffic was light and I just cruised in to work- much better than taking the Red line, which has been having plagues of biblical proportions (my ride home yesterday took twice as long as it should, due to "switching problems.")

What I wore to bike in this weather:
Poly-cotton white dress shirt,  red cashmere sweater from Anne Taylor,  my favorite wool flannel pants from JCrew,  Wool socks (one of them said smartwool- the other is an REI knockoff)  and La-Canadienne lined leather boots.  My Marmot softshell,  a wool hat under the Bern helmet (still haven't found the liner that came with the helmet)  and the wonderful big red scarf.
This is more detail than you might want to know (and more than I normally give) about what I wear, but the point is that normal clothes work so well on the bike no matter what the weather

I was actually warm by the time I hit the Longfellow, but decided against stripping off a layer.  I'm in my dress shirt now, but I'm about ready to put on my sweater again.

Hope you had a warm ride today!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I feel justified...

rode to Harvard sq to pick up a zipcar this morning, and it was pretty brutal.  Instead of riding into work when I got back from the site, I decided to chicken out and take the T.  The temp had dropped 4 degrees from 8am to noon,  and it is supposed to get down to 12 this afternoon.  
What really made the difference was the crazy gusty wind that was just too much to tackle.  It was knocking me around even as a pedestrian,  and signs and trees were whipping back and forth.

How hard was it blowing? It blew a light pole down on the highway here- reducing it to one lane....

I feel more justified in being a wimp!

grrr- why does the text keep changing sizes-  I keep editing it, and for some reason it's half large and half small-  if this edit doesn't fix it I apologize and offer the explanation that I never was a very talented graphic designer...

No Mojo Monday

So we got back from a Christmas trip to Springfeld Missouri late Sunday afternoon. I pretty much crashed out immediately and still hadn't completely recovered Monday morning( I HATE to fly and air travel stresses and exhausts me).  But it was reasonably warm (30 ish) and clear, so I climbed on newly repared Robert and took him commuting.

 It sure is  nice to have acceleration again, although some of my strong summer leg muscles have atrophied while I was spinning around the last month or so.  I finally had to get  him fixed because riding this time of year with ice and snow, you have to be more aggressive in taking the lane and it was getting unsafe not to be able to haul a$$.  However, between sluggish legs and icy roads it was a pretty slow slog in.  Almost all the way in I saw this- almost looks like this bike has its own tree.  

Although actually it's kind of sad-  Christmas is over for 36 hours and already the tree is in the trash.

I found someone's keys in the bike lane on my way and at lunch I took them to the gym that one of the key fobs was from.   It was sprinkling lightly when I set out.  But by the time I got back it was coming down and my jacket and the thighs of my pants were soaked, so it was a chilly afternoon at my desk.

By the time I left for home, it was dry fortunately, but cold and really windy. I normally stop at lights with one toe down, but after nearly getting blown over twice, I  had to put a foot firmly down. Coming around the corner at Charles Circle I hit both an icy spot and a serious gust of crosswind that pushed me sideways. Iceskating on a bike!! Fortunately I had enough momentum to carry me through it and the rest  of my  ride was  cold and windy but uneventful.

It was nice to settle in with the Scientist who was at home all day sick with what we hope is not the flu.  We hooked up our new Roku video streaming and watched All the President's Men, which was a great way to end a long day.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

snowed in

The big storm that had been moving up the east coast arrived here last night and there's now 9"  of snow covering the back yard.  We have an unusually big back yard for Harvard Square and it's an oasis of unbroken snow in the very dense urban neighborhood.  You can barely see the sunken circle and stone wall, and my garden is completely buried.

Since we knew it was coming yesterday was a flurry of activity.  We finished shopping and wrapping and mailing for everyone in the Scientist's family, and got a few last things for my family who we're going to visit over the holiday.

I went to go pick up Robert who was at Harris Cyclery getting his "braking under acceleration" problem fixed.  Turned out that the brake grease port cap had gone missing and that grime had been getting in,  and some of that grit was triggering braking action under hard pedaling.   Glad to get it fixed,  and although it was $45 to completely replace the roller brake assembly,   think about how much it would cost to get the braking system replaced on a car.  (actually I know very well, because I was too cheap to pay to have it done when I sold my car last year- Ended up doing it myself -new pads, rotors and a new caliper.  Cost less than $75 in parts, but would have been $400 to do it all at a shop).  In comparison, bikes are easy and cheap to fix!

Anyway, I was glad to have Robert back and working well and celebrated by biking downtown to Newbury street. 
There's a real correlation between how difficult it is to park somewhere and how attractive it is to bike there.  
I hit some shops on Newbury street and the Trader Joe's in Cambridge-  both places where parking is a blood sport,  and I was so glad that all I had to do was pull up on the sidewalk and find a stationary object to lock to.

The good side of all the activity yesterday was that today was spent reading with a cup of tea and watching the snowplows go by and huge white flakes fall.  It's incredibly cozy to sit and read and watch it fall when you don't have to go out in it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

obligatory winter sucks post

It was 15 degrees this morning with gusty wind that the web tells me meant 6F windchill.  Of course I didn't check that until I got to work.
I thought about wearing a warmer jacket than normal, but my silver trenchcoat has been working pretty well,  so I just layered a wool cardigan over my dress shirt to bulk up the jacket,  and added an extra layer of liner gloves.  I thought about adding a ear warmer band, but decided not to worry with it, and just wrapped my big red scarf around my face a couple of times.  A really long scarf is a thing of beauty-  short scarves just don't tuck in properly and are always coming loose.

And you know,  despite the title of the post,  it wasn't too bad.  Was kind of annoying because I got passed too close a couple of times.  My toes were kind of chilly, and I'm going to wear wool socks home.  My fingers were pretty cold though- I'm going to have to break out the ski gloves.  I actually think that the liners were counterproductive, because they just compressed the insulation.
As my other biking co-worker said-  I was definitely warmer than the pedestrians!

Sun's out,  nice day for a ride!

at the ready

I've been seeing this bike for weeks if not months, always parked on the street in the morning near my commute- always ready and waiting for its owner to get on and go.  It has a distinctive shape and  grey teal color that always catches my eye.
I finally stopped and took some pictures.

It's an "Aura" not a brand I recognize- I'm guessing that it's an off brand dutch bike that a dutch student brought with them when they came to Boston for school.  Somervillian- any ideas?

It has lovely lines and interesting accessories (squarish front light, crazy ergo handgrips)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A little Vehicular Cycling

Took one of my least favorite routes home last night- through Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway and over the BU bridge- it’s a tough route and I had to do a lot of ballsy riding, taking lanes in moderate traffic and holding my ground when people get impatient to pass.

The first part is easy- I bike up Franklin street through downtown crossing and then across the Boston Common.  Got a lot more smiles and comments on the bike Christmas lights which are up and running again after TAGS graciously replaced them. 

At the end of the common, I cut over on Charles to Beacon.  This is one of the worst parts- I have to get across 3 lanes of a 4 lane wide road- people want to go too fast through the park.  Then I have to merge right across three lanes on Beacon.  You also have to be careful not to get too far in the right because that’s a big right turn lane to get on Storrow Drive.

Once I get a little bit further past the entrances on Storrow,  Beacon is surprisingly calm and the lights are well timed for bikes.  Because there are three big lanes and traffic was light I felt comfortable taking the whole lane,  and only once had a problem, when I was passing a double parked UPS  truck and someone decided they had to get through right at that moment and buzzed me a bit.  Not too bad through. 
I’ve learned to cross over to the left and take THAT lane as I pass under the overpass at the Storrow off ramp so that I’m positioned to get towards the fens.  I’ve also learned that there’s a funny little extension of Newbury street right along the pike that is a great way to avoid Kenmore square and its crazy traffic dynamic.

That got me basically to my destination (REI).
From there I had to get back to Cambridge, and that meant the BU bridge (shudder).
This  is not the most bike friendly route in the best of times with chaotic traffic areas on both ends, and a choice between too narrow lanes and the sidewalk.  But it’s been under construction for what seems like forever, and the sidewalk is closed.    I was too chicken to brave the multi-directional intersection at Comm ave, and decided to cross that ugly intersection in two legs as a pedestrian.  I feel nervous negotiating this intersection in  a car,and decided discretion was the better part of valor.    But then I decided that traffic was light enough to take the lane and go over the bridge.  I counted the seconds to see how long it would take me and it only took me 30 seconds to get over it- but in that time one person passed me, and another person thought about it, but then decided to hold off-  A little annoying that they couldn’t wait less than 30 seconds….

Finally rode back via the path along the city side of Memorial drive, which they’ve been repaving which was really nice- it was awful before.   They also trimmed up the low growing branches which made it a lot more pleasant not to have to duck branches in the dark.  It’s a real change to ride on the sidewalk- have to really remember to watch and be super cautious at the intersections to make sure no one is turning in or out.

And that was it.  It’s tough and it would have been really hard for someone who was just starting biking- it was hard for me and I’m a pretty experienced and confident biker.  I really hope that as part of the BU bridge renovation they’ll build in a better bike route between Brookline and Cambridge- it’s a real weak spot in the area’s bicycle infrastructure.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Where do YOU park your bike?

Interesting article on the new bicycle parking regulations in NYC
Unfortunately this doesn't help a lot of people who are in buildings too small to have freight elevators.
I thought they made an interesting link between creative industries and desire for bike parking.
In our building (too small to have a freight elevator, but I just come up the regular elevator)  there are two companies with several bike commuters,  my office (architects and industrial designers)  and an office of landscape architects upstairs.
I don't think that people in creative industries are inherently more likely to bike (my Dad, who introduced me to commuting is an engineer) but there's just a more relaxed, and maybe more progressive corporate culture that supports bicycling.  Doesn't hurt that my boss races mountain bikes and does cyclecross.

Evidently the official building management company doesn't want us to bring our bikes in.  One of my co-workers was told they couldn't bring their bike in one day by an offsite manager who happened to be in the lobby one day. But since we don't have a security desk, and the day to day staff don't seem to care- so far so good.

Although I see a lot of bikes parked in the same spots every day,  I'd be nervous if I had to park my bike outside every day.
I'm curious where other people who read this park their bikes at work?
Have you had your bike damaged or stolen?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hear Hear!

From the blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray La Hood- a defense of MUP building in Minneapolis, which is being attacked by Sen. Tom Coburn as "stimulus waste"

"I guess a better bike connection to Minneapolis's central business district doesn't count as infrastructure to some folks."

"Yes, some of those projects include bike paths, a key ingredient in our livability initiative to allow people to live, work, and get around without a car.
We don't call that waste; we call it progress"
If you read that without attribution the sarcasm of the first sentence and the call to arms clarity of the last sentence would sound like a independent bicycle advocate.

I think it's really great to hear that kind of ringing support of bicycling infrastructure from a federal agency, not just from bike centric blogs and urban planners.  What has come out of it, and what will come out of it is more complicated (and unfortunately has to filter through many levels of state and regional planning authorities) but it's a big change in attitude at the top and it's got to be a positive development for all kinds of bicycle planning.

Hat Tip to Washcycle

new pumps at MIT

Was visiting the Scientist, and saw this new pump/ Rack combo in the basement garage of his building.  Seems that MIT is making an effort to put in more bike infrastructure like this and the tool station at the Stata Center.

I think that a fair number of the bikes in the basement get stored there for long periods over the winter, so it's nice that there's a way to pump up flattened tires when they get taken out of storage.  Wouldn't it be great to have these stationed throughout the city for public use?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Plumber..... Candygram.....

Oh No, it's the LAND SHARK!

barely visible in this 2nd photo is the really cool U lock that looked like it had been sanded down to bare steel and waxed to keep it in rust free bare metal glory.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Cheer

Let me start by saying that I'm not one of those people who go overboard on holiday decorations. I have no ceramic christmas villages,  and no flashing lights or inflatable characters in my yard.
However, Boston got its first real snow of the season this weekend, and it got me in the holiday mood.
I was at Tags hardware and saw these battery powered LED lights,  perfect for adding a bit of holiday cheer to my ride for $4.99

They even have a strobe function , so I could technically call them a safety feature, but let's be realistic- they're just for fun!

Later in the day I saw a incandescent "regular Xmas lights"  version of this at the dollar tree store, if you wanted a real bargain.
Riding around I got a lot of looks and smiles,  so they seem to be a big hit.  The view without a flash:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Progress on the DL-1

I've been kind of turning over names for the DL-1 in the back of my head.
Robert was kind of obvious because he was wearing a name badge!
But nothing I thought up was really sticking until I finally hit on it:


One part eccentric aunt,  one part classical goddess,  dignified,  brainy,  a bit reserved...

I haven't been riding her much yet- I did a lot of work scrubbing at the chrome and disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the brakes.  I replaced the tires with new Schwalbe marathons.  I did keep the original tires (deep in the storage under the stairs) in case anyone ever wants a "mint" bike.

Storage has been a problem.  I need a lot of carrying capacity on my bikes in general and I knew that a saddlebag alone wasn't going to cut it.  For starters, I put a basket on.  This was a basket that I had tried and rejected for Robert-  I really like the basket's color and shape with this bike- its pale color works especially works well with the cream grips, which before I wasn't completely sold on.

It isn't recommended to hang a basket from the handlebars of a rod brake bike, because it has the tendency to interfere with the mechanism.   A "basket support"  is a common item in countries where rod brake bikes are common, and they cost about $15.  I couldn't find anything domestically, so I made my own out of a bar of aluminum from Home Depot,  bent and cut to size, with holes for the axle to pass through.

 Now that I know it works, I need to fine tune it aesthetically.  I might actually get a smaller bar,  or might paint this one black.  I also definitely need to trim and round off the ends.   Or maybe I'll get the Scientist to try to find one next time he speaks in Europe (He just told me he's going to Switzerland in January.)

The main thing that's outstanding on the DL is the chain guard and the front fender.
There was enough rust on the front fender that I decided to sand it down and repaint it.  Unfortunately I sanded first and researched painting techniques later.  After reading the bike forums, I decided that I should use professional automotive paint instead of regular spray paint.  And when I went to the auto body supply, they told me that it would be cheaper and better to just get it powder coated.  So I went home and made sure that it was completely sanded down to bare metal and very smooth, and took it back to the paint shop, where they promised to hand it off to a powder coater who I met last time I was there.  He thought that if I was willing to wait until the next time he did a batch of black, it would be $20.  Not bad.

While I was at it, I decided to get the chain guard powder coated too.
I got this chain guard from Yellow Jersey Cycles in Madison,  It's supposed to fit a 28" wheel roadster, although I'm going to have to do some futzing to make it fit, I'm afraid.  On their web site they say that "quality ranges from acceptable to poor-  great was not an option" , and while it was definitely acceptable, I was worried that the paint job wouldn't survive very well.   So I sanded it down to bare metal,  hopefully well enough that the finish will be OK once it's powder coated.

I actually did a lot of the "sanding" with a brass wire brush attachment that fits into my drill.  I got a good tip that if the bristles of the wire brush (or the metal of the brillo pad) are softer than the metal you are trying to clean up, they won't scratch the harder metal.  I'm sure you could push it to extremes, but I've found that the brass wire brush does a great job of stripping paint off steel without doing too much damage to the steel itself.

So,  I'm hoping to get the pieces back in a couple of weeks, and then reassemble  Minerva and have her completely ready to go, well before nice biking weather in the spring.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sad realization

I was packing up ready to go home and thinking about how nice it would be to saddle up and ride home, when I remembered I wussed out this morning and didn't brave the rain (although it was such a tease- the buckets of rain and gusts of wind that woke me up at 6 this morning had abated almost completely by the time I got to work!).
Now I have to go home via T instead of enjoying the freakishly warm weather.

the senses of cycling

One of the things that I like about bicycling that I think you miss in a car is the scents that surround you.
Too often it's stinky car exhaust,  but sometimes it's like a secret window into the workings of the city around you.

Around MIT I often get to smell the candy factory.  Cambridge MA used to be "the Candy Capitol of the Country"  with Squirrel Nut Brands,  Necco,  DeHaviland and other candy brands which are or are on their way to being defunct.  One remnant is the factory between Main and Mass Ave.  The building sign says Tootsie Rolls, but it often smells like peppermint patties to me.

At the corner of Trowbridge and Broadway there's a little pizza place with a house above it. I don't know if it's pizza prep or breakfast but it always smells like bacon when I bike by in the morning.

This evening on the way to the grocery store, I could smell the coffee roastery at Whole Foods from probably 6 blocks away.  Coffee roasting is such an odd smell,  only distantly related to the comforting smell of a pot brewing.
I have two very different memories associated with that smell.  One is the seedy part of town down near the Port of Houston where I used to go for industrial scrap dumpster diving, good mexican food, and photography projects.   The port of Houston, if you aren't familiar with it, is 70 miles inland.  When Galveston got completely flattened in the Hurricane of 1900, the City Fathers of Houston decided that if they could create a hurricane proof port inland, it would be great for business.  It was a massive undertaking to dredge such a deep channel so far,  and it's really odd to see these HUGE ships so far inland.  Anyway, there is or used to be a Hills Bros coffee roastery there and the whole area reeks of it.

The other memory associated with this is when I lived in Italy and the high class coffee places would advertise "torrefazione nel propria"   roasted in our own.

More often the smells are commonplace- dinner being made,  fresh mown lawn,  sometimes something less savory.    Not only are there no windows between you and the smells, but you move through space more slowly so that you can appreciate (or suffer) them longer and more immediately.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Being bright

I seem to have a lot of posts frozen in mid-project- I have a couple of things in the works and haven't gotten to a good point to post any of them.  Hopefully this weekend.

In the meantime- I've been thinking about light and being bright.  I've actually been pretty impressed recently at how few ninjas I've seen out and about recently.  The fall has been relatively mild and dry and I'm seeing a lot of bikers, and most of them seem to have lights YEAH!

I thought I'd expound a bit more on my lighting strategy.
My main offense is my LED dynamo driven light, the Schmidt Edeluxe.   I posted on it right after I got it, but after a couple months of heavy use, I'm happy to say that I still love it.

I had a bit of a debacle with the fancy special order security screws that I installed to keep my light safe from thieves with allen wrenches.
While I was locking up, I  readjusted the angle on the light, and in forcing it, loosened it just enough that it kept slipping down.   I was out running errands and had to stop every 300yards to raise it back up before it hit the fender.  Sigh.  So I went to go get the driver from where I’d put it in the baggie with the rest of the security screws I bought.  Not to be found.   Frantic search ensues,  followed by tearful meltdown, followed by the Scientist going out to buy me flowers.  It had been a long day.
Anyway, $12 and a couple of days brought me a new driver, and so far so good.

All of that is a long preamble to two things I’ve noticed after living with it for a couple of months.
First-  This sucker is really really bright.  I notice a lot of pedestrians turning around to look at me as I come up behind them,  seeing the light and wondering what it is.
Secondly, and somewhat surprisingly, I’m really liking the lower light position below the basket.  With my old light position, I had to be really careful when I had stuff in the basket to keep it tamped down so that it didn’t obscure the beam.  Now I can pile it high without blocking the beam.

So that's the front.
Rear lights are tough because it's hard to see them when you're moving- so it's hard to tell how visible you are.  I recommend that people get someone else to either watch them bike away or have someone ride the bike for you, so that you can be sure that your lights are visible.  So often people have a helmet light or backpack light, that when they're crouched over becomes almost invisible.  I'm also not a fan of seatpost lights because they're easily covered by a coat tail or backpack.
I have two rear lights.  One is fender mounted- which is fairly low, but it does nicely avoid the problem of being covered with packages or my coat.  It runs off my generator, and has a nice bright standlight for several minutes after I stop.  In addition I run a battery powered LED that bolts onto the back of my rack.  I wanted a light a bit higher,  and this one is also protected from concealing clothing, although it could potentially be covered by something I'm carrying.

None of these lights are flashing.  I know that flashing lights are noticeable, but I think that it's hard to determine how fast they're coming, or going away from you, especially quickly.  Also, most of the dynamo operated stuff comes from Germany where it's illegal to have flashing lights.

I do however have flashing pedals which not only flash, but they provide a nice bit of lighting for cars approaching from the side.  They have a white light that is supposed to face forward, an amber light to the side, and a red light to the back, and they cycle with an eyecatchingly bright strobe effect- visible even during the day.   They have a little generator that is part of the pedal axle,  and a capacitor to create a stand light for several minutes after I stop.  They're really really bright, and although I'm sure there's some drag, I don't notice it. The bottom has a bit of a bump for the generator, and it mostly hangs down as its supposed to, but it's not the end of the world to pedal on it for a few revolutions. 
 The top has a nice little double row of blunt metal studs that provide a bit of extra traction.

I couldn't figure out how to post video so to see the pedals in action click here

One of the things that people forget is side visibility.  The reflective stripe on Marathon tires is really bright, and it has the added advantage of instantly identifying you as a bike.

OK,  Now that I've finished that post, I'm going to hop back on, and ride to the store for milk.  Riding the bike at night is much more appealing knowing I'm bright and visible.