Thursday, May 27, 2010


I found a great new (to me) vintage store,  Raspberry Beret in Cambridge last week.
While I was there, listening to the banter between the employees and the customers, I had an insight, that a vintage clothes shop is the female equivalent of a vintage record shop.  Not that vintage record shops are exclusively male (God knows I've spent enough time in them)  but if you look at the collector's specialty vintage shop, as personified in High Fidelity, it's kind of a male bastion of top 5 lists, and import singles with alternate B sides on vinyl.

The staff of a good vintage shop may have multicolored hair, or be wearing a 1940's suit with matching gloves, or both.  They will offer candid advice about fit and figure and what works and what doesn't that go beyond the fashions of the moment, and speaks more to your personal style and attitude.  They really love clothes and can see value in all kinds and eras of fashion.  Replace the word "clothes" with "bikes" and you could be describing the ideal bicycle shop.

A lot of vintage stuff, you need to be able to do a bit of DIY sewing to make work.  You hem it,  you patch it.  If you're ambitious you take it in or let it out,  you raise the seat, you change the gearing.
Unlike bikes, which are mostly mass produced, many great vintage finds were hand sewn by someone, specifically for someone- they're one of a kind.  At Raspberry Beret, I bought a skirt that someone had sewn their initials and the date in the waistband. However  mass produced, though, bicycles are so simple mechanically,  that it's fairly simple and common for them to be customized- new fenders, different saddle, added basket, dinosour horn, flowers.....
Removing the 17T sprocket from Minerva's hub in a vintage eyelet dress.  I don't normally do bike work in white dresses, but I thought this would just take a moment, and the Scientist caught me.  The dress was a size 14, but I just couldn't resist the 50's silhouette and eyelet  (My weakeness for textural patterns rears its lovely head.).  I took it in an inch in the width of the bodice.  I probably need to take an inch out of the straps too because it's still way too big on top.  

There's something great about taking something old, and giving it a new life, whether it's an old skirt, and old bike,  or an old building.  It's partly nostalgia,  but I'm not really a collector.  For me  it's more about taking useful things that have stood the test of time and extending their lives.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bike Community

On my way in this morning, I spotted my co-worker E on the way up the hill on Cambridge Street.
Actually I was admiring her skirt, and as I got closer, realized that I knew her.  E has the figure and style of a 40's movie star,  and an enviable collection of vintage suits-  We're looking forward to doing the tweed ride together this weekend.

We kind of kept company up the hill.  I'm becoming more and more wedded to my position of not filtering through the space between parked and temporarily stationary vehicles.  I feel like it makes my life a lot more tranquil.
So we played a bit of leapfrog up the hill and into downtown.
About 3 blocks away we were joined by our other bicycling co-worker P.  
We all commiserated about the sudden heat wave (high 80's today?) and when we arrived at work decided that we'd all try to ride up the elevator together!  Good thing we're all friends because it was a tight fit.
Everybody was all smiles though! Biking with co-workers is fun!

Lots of ladies on bikes on the way in this morning.  A woman in an elegant sweater set and pencil skirt with impeccable posture was in front of me for a couple of blocks on Harvard.  I pulled up and we admired each other's bikes.  She was riding a newish city bike that I didn't recognize and asked her if she had imported it herself.  She had,
from Sweden.  Lots of grad students and other academics here in Boston end up doing the same, so sometimes you see bikes from really exotic places around.

Three ladies stopped at the light on the Cambridge side of the longfellow.  Unfortunately they're doing a lot of construction there, and have the bike lane and the right lane blocked off.  Chatted with one lady about it and encouraged her to join me as I took the lane.   Need to remember to follow up with Bond Construction- will have to stop and get the trailer phone number tomorrow.  Although I understand they need access and parking, I think that they could easily leave enough space for bikers to get by.

On the way home I chatted with a lady on a KHS bike that I'd never seen before.  Not the "Green"  which is all black, and which I see a lot of, but a more cruiser-ish one.  She said that she liked the bike but wished that she had more gears (she had a 3 speed).  I suggested that she change out the rear sprocket, and told her how much it improved my ride on Minerva.  She asked me if I stopped at every light (after stopping to chat with me at a couple, and I said, yep, I sure do).  While we were speaking a guy tried to run the light we were waiting at and nearly got left hooked- I told her I wait because I don't want to deal with that kind of stuff.

I find that bikes give you a great way to strike up conversations with strangers- and friends too!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Original Fixie

Was wandering around the South End Saturday when we stumbled across a Victoriana festival.  The South End of Boston is the largest extant collection of Victorian brick rowhouses in the country,  and according to a sign, they had put a reproduction iron fence in at this park and were having a fence dedication and Victorian festival.  There were lots of elegant gentlemen and ladies in period costume,  a small orchestra playing classical music,  and wholesome games and activities.

And, most importantly they had Penny Farthing bikes!  We had been wandering towards the music, but from a block away I saw the penny farthings, and dragged my companions over.  They were actually giving (assisted) rides!!

but alas,  I was wearing a pencil skirt which is fine on my loop frame, but wasn't going to work with these bikes- I tried, and was so so sad that I couldn't try them.

These bikes are really fabulous- unfortunately I didn't have a real camera, and I don't think the iphone camera does them justice.  I had a great conversation with Dave Toppin, who seemed to be running things, and who was a font of knowledge.

His bike is a Rudge (yes, they're that old)

The tires are solid rubber,  and you have to have a special machine to put them on.  All the parts are nickel plated which gives them a lovely golden glow.

The system is direct drive- the original fixed gear- that's why the wheel has to be so big- you don't have any mechanical advantage provided by gears and such.

There were a couple of kids riding them around with great expertise (pulling wheelies) - they looked like they were having a blast.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fred's bikes

In the Bike Week spirit of meeting fun bike people,  I was biking home Friday, and saw the gentleman who built the home brew cargo bike.  He was sitting in the park, eating dinner, and I barged in on him saying- "I've been looking for you!"

More formal introductions followed:  His name is Fred, and he's a AV installer who has a medical condition that doesn't allow him to drive.  Being a real tinkerer,  he started messing around with home-brew copies of the "long john" bakfiets that would allow him to carry the tools of his trade to wherever he needed to go.  He said he regularly carries 100 pounds, either as a grocery getter supreme,  or he says that he has a PA system (amp, car battery, speakers) that he runs on it.  Not surprisingly, he said that it is more stable with more weight

He wasn't actually familiar with the directions that I'd seen posted from a Portland OR fabricator,  but had developed a series of prototypes resulting in this bike.
He offered to let me take it for a spin, and after a bit of uncertainty on the first turn, I rode it around the park.  I wouldn't say I was super comfortable on it,  but it wasn't terribly awkward either- just different.  He took some photos of me going around the park:

He's trying to start a bit of a business building them, and he says that he can build up a unit like this one, from salvaged bikes for about $1,500.

After I finished my test ride, another guy stopped, and enquired about it- he said that he'd been telling his wife they needed to get something like this (the dutch minivan).  Hanging out in the park could be a great sales strategy.  He said that people were really binary in their reactions- they either liked it or hated it,  and he said that people on really fancy bikes tended to hate it.

While $1,500 is nothing to sneeze at,  it's half the cost of the more polished dutch versions,  and it's local instead of being imported first from the netherlands to the west coast, and then back to the east coast, and made with recycled products.   I'd say that the build quality was really tight for a DIY,  but that if it were me, I'd like a couple of things:  generator lighting,  drum or disk brakes, kickstand, an IGH would be ideal,  and I'd like a more finished "box"    Some of these things (box/ cover) I could DIY,  and I'd probably try to get it powder coated for a slightly more finished appearance.  I think it's great that there's someone locally figuring things like this out, and trying to popularlize them.  If you're interested, he said he can be reached at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bike to Work Week day 5

Today was the Swiss consulate sponsored "dress up" ride,  which unfortunately was not very well attended, largely because it wasn't terribly well promoted.
They had fantastic food though,  including Pretzel Buns,  which I may have to figure out how to make myself, and a really neat "Fruit slaw."  The "slaw"  was grated apples,  blueberries and strawberries,  with whole milk yogurt and topped with sunflower seeds.  It was surprisingly great- crunchy, sweet, tart- like Museli without the grains.

I met up with the woman  (Karen?  Carla?- I've got to start writing this down) who had told me about the bike cages at South Station on Wednesday.  Today she was riding this awesome chopper bike, which I belatedly think is this bike.  It's so incredibly cool to meet the people behind the bikes I stop and admire on the street!

Two others that I have run into at events and on the road before:
This elegant lady is  Renata von Tscharner,  an architect, urban planner and the founder of the Charles River Conservancy.  She had a fantastic tweed skirt that would be perfect for the tweed ride, and had a  lovely green and gold jacket, that she folded neatly and put into the milkcrate on her rack.

And this gentleman, who is a lawyer  (Jeff I think?- man I gotta start writing things down) who I see fairly often on my morning commute. 
I unfortunately didn't get a picture of his really cool leather satchel.  He had been to the lecture I missed last night, and we talked about that along the bridge. I'm going to have to find a video of that talk, because it sounded fascinating.

Renata was kind enough to take my picture to show off my black and white dress (someone asked me if I picked the dress to match the bike )

Because we were such a small group, I successfully advocated for us to leave at 8AM instead of 8:15 so that I had about 5 minutes at the bike rally on City Hall Plaza without being completely late to work.
Part of our convoy (and a randomly passing biker with a great pink bike and what I think might have been a dotted swiss dress).

About halfway up Cambridge Street- we met up with Cris- who has an amazing ANT bike, that I know I've drooled over and photographed, but I don't think I've ever posted.  I saw him have a scary crash once on this bike,  and we seem to keep the same hours, because in the winter we see each other a lot on the homeward commute.  He has the coolest cycling knickers,  and is going to miss the tweed ride because he's going bike camping in the Berksheres.  Apologies for the flag appearing to grow out of his head- I was snapshotting, not taking composed pictures.

We were chatting about his dual E6 Ant bike rack.  I wished I had Gilbert so they could have a group portrait.

There was so much going on at the City hall plaza, but I didn't have time to see any of it, unfortunately.
There were lots of people listening to speakers- evidently the inclusion of bike lanes into the long planned redo of Mass Ave was announced there.  WHOO HOO!  That's a major victory that a lot of people have fought a long time for.

There was also another dog in a trailer!  What are the chances that I see two in two weeks!

He was very chill- my dog would be all over the place.  I guess Labs are that way.  He's got a sweet ride.
I guess it's not just in Cambridge after all.
Boy, I was exhausted before I even got to work, but it was sure fun to meet so many people and talk about bikes and how much we love them.

Bike to work week day 4

Thursday I went to the Kendall area bike breakfast,  which is organized by Jim, a very personable fellow who runs  Charles River Transportation Management.  They have a really interesting niche providing shuttles, vanpool, carpool, and largely corporate sponsored "last mile" transportation.  They will take you from the T to your office in East Cambridge, the Cambridgeside mall, etc.  One of the things that they do that I think is neat is that they offer "emergency transportation" plans.  If your employer subscribes, and you have to work too late for regular public transportation, you get sick during the day,  your kid gets sick and has to be picked up from school etc,  they will provide a cab to get you where you're going as a way of encouraging you to bike/ walk/ T  the rest of the time.

Anyway, it was well attended, since it was a lovely day and it's right on the broadway corridor that feeds people over the bridge into Boston.

I met the owner of this lovely Gazelle dutch bike.  I'm so bad with names, but I think his name was Olaf  (apologies if I got that wrong!),  and he works in the Kendall sq area.  He and I had exchanged pleasantries at a light on Monday,  almost missed the light because we were so busy chatting- it was nice to have a chance to talk to him after traffic.  It turns out we both had the same source for 28" tires, although he was telling me about some fantastic Schwalbe tires that have a "slime" layer and are even more puncture resistant than the marathons.

There was a lot of spandex and neon colors,  but I did see a couple of people dressed for work in the crowd.

I did feel a little uncomfortable when I was unlocking minerva and some people pulled up and actually pointed at me and said something about my shoes (my new favorite red heels).  It's a bit awkward to be thought of as strange or odd, when I feel so normal riding like this.  And didn't their mothers teach them that pointing was rude?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gilbert's basket

Given the dismal forecast, I dressed to get wet this morning in a jean skirt, tights, knit shirt and shell.  The skirt only got wet around the edges, and the tights dried really quickly.
The weather varied from heavy mist to honest to God rain,  but despite that there was a good turnout at the Harvard Bike Breakfast, which had been moved inside the crowded vestibule of the AuBonPain in Harvard square.

There were free blinkie lights,  bike maps, and an assortment of bikers,  most, but not all affiliated with Harvard.  I did learn one new tidbit from a woman who commutes via train from Quincy to South Station, where she keeps a bike to get around the city (I wish I'd got her name!).  She says that they're putting in secure bike cages- weather protected, card accessed in at South Station- kind of like the ones at Alewife, another terminal station.  I think this is a great move, and I hope that the T will work on adding these facilities to all the big terminals and commuter rail- subway interfaces.  I rode part of the way in with an acquaintance from previous bike weeks,  but inline in a bike lane is a lousy way to chat.
 No real pictures from today, but this is the same outfit from a week or so ago.

The big news is that Gilbert's basket arrived from the land of Ebay:

  It's an old trout creel,  with pale wicker and leather banding.  It's very shallow, which is great because that means it doesn't hide his lovely eyes.   (please please don't judge the drunken rear rack- it's a work in progress,  and I need some fabrication time to fix the struts so that it's horizontal..)

 It's more capacious than I thought it might be- plenty of room for a jacket and a camera.  

  It needs a little care- I'll probably bleach, and then shellac the wicker, and give the leather a good oiling.  

 These are just approximations of the mounting,  I'll have to spend more time getting it all attached.  Tonight  I rode home, and dropped off my stuff, then took Gilbert to Harris to get a checkup tomorrow.  I'm having a few small issues with the freewheel,  and want someone with a bit more experience to double check the DIY work on the basic systems to make sure I didn't do something massively wrong.   It was really sad to leave him in the rain (covered with a saddle cover and a piece of plastic sheet)  overnight.   He was supposed to go in yesterday night, but given the forecast of rain today, and Minerva's rainy day braking performance, I decided to postpone it so that I could ride her in the hopefully better weather tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bike Week dresses day 2

So, I finally got around to moving the balance of my winter wardrobe up to the attic and bringing down all my summer stuff (it's not dependably summer weather until June in Boston, so I'm pushing it a bit).

In the process I "found" all kinds of dresses I'd forgotten I had!
Like this little dotted swiss sort of shirt dress:
I have a weakness for polka dots, eyelet and dotted swiss.  I'm not big on figurative designs, but textural ones float my boat.  Unfortunately the Scientist didn't get a shot of the front which has a cute button detail all the way along it.
He did get several pictures of the leopard print pumps.  My dental hygenist was enamored of them too.  She couldn't believe I had ridden my bike in them.   Easier than walking, etc. etc.
Good thing he took pictures before work though, because while I was at the dentist this afternoon, the weather turned from threatening rain to actually delivering.  Fortunately Gilbert was parked under a tree because I had forgotten to cover his saddle.  I was nervous about riding that hellish stretch of Harvard Street through Allston, but aside from 2 cars parked in the new bike lanes, it was actually pretty manageable. I took my time, took the lane on the slightest provocation, and got home safely, but soaking wet.  The good thing about biking home in the rain is that you can immediately change into dry clothes,  so getting soaked isn't so bad.  My only concern is for the leopard pumps.  I hope that they will dry OK.


On the way from work to the Dentist's I discovered new bike lanes on Beacon Street!  Thanks Boston! And it wasn't even my birthday!  
There's been a lot of press about the new "non-door zone" lanes on Commonwealth Ave,  but these were a happy surprise.   They even had special high vis- green paint.  I think that there needs to be a bit more umph where Beacon intersects the on and off ramps of Storrow drive. I think a Bike Box at the on-ramp would be appropriate, because 80% of the cars were turning right there.

Also, while I was taking these pictures of the green painted off-ramp/ bike lane, a lot of cars were cutting the corner.  A rumble strip might help more than green paint.    Like Comm Ave, my impression riding Beacon (even at 6-7PM) is that it's much wider than the car traffic necessitates, and it would be a prime candidate for a protected cycletrack someday. 

In any case, I'll take it and be happy about it.  It still makes me nervous to bike into the heart of Brookline and Brighton-Allston,  but it's a TON better than a year ago.  Maybe it just feels like an attitude shift, but again, all things start with little steps, and these are steps in the right direction!  Hooray Nichole Friedman and to the extent he's backed her up- Hizzoner.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bike week dresses day 1

Well, I already feel like I'm falling down on the job of blogging Bike Week.  I forgot that the U-Park breakfast was today, and hence missed Somervillian.  I was going to document my outfits for the week, but didn't get home until after dark,  so I only have bad flash photos.

I wore my new thrifted black linen dress, a light jean jacket (more like a shirt)  and my new favorite red patent sandals.  I got a my annual pedicure, with dark red polish to match Gilbert.

Victory from the Jaws of Defeat/Sunday Cruiser

It was a tough weekend.
We made a special trip Saturday down to a nursery 90 miles away only to find that the tree they thought had arrived had not arrived,  got a flat tire along the way and had a close brush with dangerously low oil pressure.  The good news is that we made it back on the dummy and still had time to go see a movie.

On Sunday the Scientist went on a bike ride with another scientist (they like to time themselves and go fast, so I stayed home and read the paper), then started to work on Minerva.
I'd taken off the 17T sprocket on Saturday and "returned" it to Cambridge Used Bicycles (they "traded" me at 19T for the 17T).  I put the new one on, and started to re-assemble the bike.  That's when things started to go wrong.  I had bought a chain at Harris "asking for a SRAM for a 3 speed" like the one I got for Gilbert.  Unfortunately they must have grabbed the wrong one,  and doubly unfortunately I didn't check it until I'd shortened it and tried to install it, only to realize it was the 3/32" chain used with derailleurs, not the 1/8" chain used on 3 speeds. Sigh.

After some cursing, I took it off, put it back together, and returned it to Harris for an exchange.
I got back and spent the next 2-1/2 hours cursing at chains.  First I got the chain on at the perfect length.
But then I realized that a) the sprocket wasn't on tightly enough (needed an extra shim) and b) because the chain was so damn tight,  I couldn't get it off except by taking off the crank.  Chainbreakers are designed to be used on an "open" section of chain,  and all those parts of chain are concealed in the chain case, and since there was no slack, I couldn't get the link into the chainbreaker.  Cursing.

Then I put in an extra whole link ( two sections)  only to find that that chain was too long, and even with the axle pulled way back in the dropouts, it was noisy and loose.  More cursing, and the verge of tears. At every step of the way it seemed that I'd accidentally push a pin all the way through, or bend a link or something annoying.  Kudos to the Scientist for not only being a third hand,  but also talking me off the ledge more than once.

Finally I found the goldilocks solution- removing the two sections (one "link" ) I had just laboriously spliced in, and putting in a special "half link"  that the nice guy at Yellow Jersey had sent me when I was first having problems with the chainguard.  Success!  Not to loose, not too tight- and when I got it all up and running- it was like a dream-  quiet, smooth!  Hooray.  There would definitely have been tears if it hadn't worked after all that.  (Stopping and eating lunch would have done wonders for my mental health.)

I took it out for a test spin to the grocery store and it's a fabulous ride- like a cruise ship- smooth, stately, stable. The 19T make it SO much easier to start from a stop, and much better up hills.  It's noticeably less peppy in 3rd, but that's OK, especially for this bike that I mainly want as a Sunday Cruiser.

After all that, I needed a margarita, so the Scientist and I bicycled into to Harvard Sq (yes, a whole 7 blocks) and had a bike date at our local approximation of a tex-mex restaurant, followed by coffees and a slow, one handed ride home.
Odd-rackfellows- the Scientist's road bike and Minerva cuddling at the rack.  The Scientist made me carry his size 14 birkenstocks so that he could ride there in his cleats ?!?

 A tough day, but I'm glad I did it-  I was worried a week ago that I'd have no bikes ready for bike week, and now I have two great rides!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Such a GREAT idea- wish it were mine

I'm very excited about the Let's Go Ride a Bike "Summer games"
Just in case you're not a regular follower of that fantastic blog out of Chicago,  you should really go over and check out this great bike promoting activity.

I wish I'd thought of something so cool-  What I particularly like about it is how it challenges even an experienced biker to try something new and different- sampling a different angle of the bike culture as a way to expand our horizons.

I'm already thinking about trying to find a fixie to try riding (maybe even to work) as part of expanding my horizons.  Anyone got a step through fixie I can borrow?

Bike Week!

As you probably know, May is Bike Month,  and next week is Bike Week, and next Friday is Bike to Work Day (aren't they all?)  Although the whole concept is a bit patronizing for people who ride all the time, it is (generally) a glorious time of year to ride a bike,  and it's a chance to interact with the community of other bikers a little more than with a nod at a stoplight or a "on your left"   Boston is really trying to get people involved as an attempt to get people to try 2 wheels.  Even if it doesn't stick,  I'm really appreciative, because I'm convinced  that the core of sharing the road is empathy (seeing the biker as someone just like you).  And if these events get more people to try 2 wheels, even if they don't make the commitment to doing it regularly, they can see what it's like, and hopefully adjust their driving accordingly.

The "traditional" bike event for this time of year is a "Bike Breakfast"  I guess because rush hour is more concntrated in the morning than in the evening?  Or assorted pastries and coffee are easier to arrange than lunch?  In any case, it's often kind of like an awkward cocktail party, sans booze.
Cambridge is pretty good about hosting them,  although not all of them are listed in the massbike calendar: there's a schedule here of the locations for each day.  The Broadway bicycle Pancake breakfast is great, I'm told,  and the Harvard Breakfast on Wednesday has lots of good schwag like maps and lights.

Thursday night there's a really cool sounding talk with bicycle planners from Portland OR, SFO and NYC.  I'm really bummed that I have a meeting that night that I scheduled a while ago, so can't make it.  This kind of event is the kind of thing that I think is a better way to celebrate bikes  than a stale croissant.

Friday however there's an event close to my heart,  the Dress up ride, sponsored by the Swiss Consulate.  It was not well publicized last year, and I spent too much time talking to a kind of creepy guy who fit all the weird bike commuter stereotypes (including neon colors and spandex), but it was still fun, and for me, better than the other caravans that come into downtown.  If you commute downtown, and ride in your work clothes, please consider joining us!

I actually make an extra special effort to ride in dressy clothes this week to set an example (hopefully) of how easy it is.  I'm kind of in the "breaking out the floaty dresses part of the season"  anyway,  so it's pretty much what I'd be wearing anyway.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Truly classic

I was killing time in the Cambridge Antique Mall  (home to Cambridge Used bicycles)  when I saw this fantastic old bicycle for sale in one of the "normal" flea market stalls.

This is, according to the tag, a pre 1900 bicycle.  I only had my phone with me, so excuse the photos, but I had to share.

The thing that's most shocking to me is that it's got wood  rims.  Wood seems like such an unsuitable material because of it's directionality.

Fantastic riveted wood fenders and cool headbadge.

I wish I'd taken more pictures of the drivetrain, the pedals and the braking system.  I think it's kind of incredible how little bicycles have actually changed in 110 years.  I mean, yes, there are all kinds of technical advances,  but the basic form of the "safety bicycle" is the same after all this time.

For $450 and houseroom for an un-ridable but fantastic piece of history, you could make it yours.