Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Farm Food "Fondo"

After a very soggy week the sun returned and it got much, much warmer again. Unfortunately, this means that pollen are back in the air. The strong wind that came early this week made the whole situation even worse. After my Sunday ride my eyes were more red than the Soviet flag. Now I use the trick from the last year to wear safety glasses from my lab. They provide a much better protection from wind and pollen.
After just a few miles on the Minuteman Bikeway my tires turned neon-bright green from all the pollen on the pavement. A new safety feature by mother nature - eco-friendly, high visibility coating!

Anyway, last Sunday morning I headed towards Bedford starting a nearly 45 mile ride visiting local farms. This Farm Food "Fondo" took me through the neighborhoods of Lexington, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord and Lincoln where I could resupply in locally grown produce, ice cream or other farm-to-table goodies. Well, theoretically at least. For me, this ride was more to scout out the area as (1) I was there too early in the day or season and many of those places were still closed, and (2) my road bike does not have any provisions to haul any significant number of veggies. But should you decide to ride this route in the late summer on a different bike, take big panniers with you.

The first major stop comes at the Great Brook Dairy Farm in Carlisle, where you will be welcomed by lots of livestock, including goats, pigs, sheep and cows in all sizes. The farm is a fun place for kids and while you won't be able to buy any vegetables here, you can try their delicious ice cream. Unfortunately, as I was there at 7:30AM, the ice cream stand was closed. No one eats ice cream before breakfast, I suppose.
Great Brook Dairy Farm as seen from N Road.


If you have never been to this area you should quickly fix this mistake. The farm is part of a much larger state park and even if cycling is not your thing, the hiking trails in the forest are fun as well. And if you do arrive by bicycle, the N Rd in Carlisle is one of my favorite places to ride a road bike around. There is almost no car traffic, it's quiet and it's not a straight stretch of asphalt. The road has multiple hills and tighter turns making the ride much more fun.

Bessy, #1042, was watching me curiously.

Ice cream stand at the Great Brook Dairy Farm.

Once the ice cream have been consumed we can keep going the Curve St to the next stop - the Cranberry Bog. It's not really a farm the way other places on this route are, but you should still stop and look around. This place looks very different depending on the season and you may either see it empty, full or red berry bushes or flooded during harvest. Also, if you have wider tires on your bicycle, try exploring trails through the bog area.
Moving on, we approach Carlisle center, which isn't much of a center to be honest. Carlisle is a very rural place without the typical Main St. Once you get closer to its midpoint, you will see a grocery store, a few churches, a school and Clark Farm. On Sunday morning this place was nearly dead silent but later in season you can count on some locally-grown veggies to be offered here.
Once you pass this area and keep moving Bedford Rd south, you will see a sign to the popular Kimball Farm Ice Cream stand. I've seen this place really crowded in summer but at 8:00AM on Sunday it was still closed. People must prefer eating their ice cream later in Carlisle.
Time to keep moving further south on Monument St where you will find several more farms on the way. However, most of them will be places like Water's Edge Farm that would look great to someone who prefers real horse power, instead of the mechanical one.
All horses at the Water's Edge Farm had their eyes covered. Anyone know why?

One exception to this rule is the Hutchins Farm at Monument St. I shopped there a few times and they do have a decent selection of veggies in season. The cool thing is that even if they are closed, they would offer some produce on their self-service bench. Organic asparagus was in season for about $4 a bunch. I would probably get one for dinner but somehow it didn't feel right to ride with a bunch of asparagus sticking out from rear jersey's pockets.
Hutchins Farm - the farm land.

I kept going and quickly passed Concord Center to reach Verrill Farm - my next stop at Sudbury Rd. Compared to the previous places this one looks more like a small supermarket. They offer lots of their own produce and some other locally-grown goodies.
Unlike Verrill Farm, the next place on my list was tiny. Lindentree Farm is a bit hidden, adjacent to the Old Concord Rd. The whole area offers more than just some produce. There are many hiking trails around (Mt Misery area) on the eastern bank of Sudbury River.
It was time to go back home and I moved east towards Lincoln to stop at one more place on my way to Arlington. Wilson Farm is probably well-known to people in this area. It's large, it does look like a supermarket and it offers lots of food, not only their own produce. You have to try their coffee ice cream if you shop there.

It's also one of those places that I like visiting only by bicycle. It's popular, so parking gets very crowded, especially on weekends. You can find yourself stuck in a long line of cars waiting to get a parking spot. But if you ride your bike there, expect your own private spot right at the front door.
Wilson Farms in Lexington

That was it. My "Fondo" was complete. I could get back home, wash out all the pollen from my eyes and refuel with another locally made product:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Vision Zero or zero vision?

Vision Zero - two words that became increasingly popular here on the East Coast within the last couple of years. Everyone likes them as they promise so much. The problem is, everyone seems to understand a bit differently what they're supposed to represent:
  • For cyclists and pedestrians, Vision Zero is a hope that they won't be dying as often under the wheels of city buses, trucks and cars.
  • For drivers, it's a hope that those bloody cyclists will stay away from "their" streets and stop "slowing them down".
  • Finally, for politicians, it's a hope that popularity rankings will go up just by sending out a message: "See? We care!".
Now, what do you think? Which one of these was the original intention of Vision Zero? You would think that safety of those unprotected people, such as pedestrians and cyclists, would be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it seems that American approach to Vision Zero means simply zero vision - a total lack of any serious action that could truly reduce number of fatalities on streets of Boston or New York. Instead, we are getting more and more examples that our Vision Zero program means one thing - pretend to do anything or do it  as long as it doesn't inconvenience drivers. That's right - car is king and let's not forget about it.

These examples are plentiful.

A 29-year old Allison Warmuth was killed last weekend while traveling on a scooter with her friend. This time however, it wasn't a driver of an ordinary car who ran her over with his vehicle, but a Duck Tour operator. Duck Tours are popular in many American cities. These are amphibious vehicles adapted to move tourists on streets and rivers. While such business idea looks great on paper, Duck Tours have a less-than-perfect safety record. Many of these vehicles, Boston's included, are modified WWII-era amphibians that were designed for military use in a battlefield - not on congested city streets. Their drivers have a severely limited visibility from behind the wheel and they may be completely unaware of any foot or bicycle traffic in front of their vehicles. This was exactly the reason of the last weekend's collision.
(Photo by Jonathan Wiggs - Boston Globe)

You would think that such a massive vehicle with poor visibility should not be allowed on city streets. If Boston wanted to truly implement the original Vision Zero program, it should either ban all Duck Tours in the city or at least demand their major redesign, which would limit Duck Tours to operate smaller, street-friendly amphibians. Such solutions have been proposed but whether they are going to be taken seriously remains unknown.

Meanwhile, New York, a city that may not have Duck Tours but it does have NYPD and Woody Allen, works on its own version of Vision Zero. It seems that in NYC these two words have a very similar meaning as here in Boston. Last Thursday their Department of Transportation hosted an event where they were giving away official Vision Zero helmets! It's interesting how helmets are seen as the miracle cure to all traffic-related fatalities. NY's DoT seems to think "Just make them wear helmets and they will be safe". Unfortunately, examples of some countries (Hello, Australia!) where cycling helmets are mandatory show that nothing can be further from the truth. As the article on Brooklyn Spoke put it: "The media and police reflect the public's pro-helmet sentiment by implying that its role in any major crash is highly significant". Sad. Allison was wearing a helmet on her scooter. Did it help her from being crushed by a Duck Tour truck?

And how about Woody Allen? It turns out that he doesn't like bicycle lanes seeing them as "unacceptable" in his neighborhood. He and other citizens criticized the plan to add such infrastructure to several streets in the Upper East Side, despite presented with evidence that bike lanes calm traffic and thus make streets safer in general. This "not in my backyard" approach is often used by those who are afraid of the new. And while Allen is somewhat right that theses streets can't "accommodate a bike lane in a graceful way" (If by graceful he means keeping everything else as is - you would have to give up on something, such as car parking on one side), he's wrong at the same time that "every street has a good argument why it shouldn't have a lane". The only "street" that shouldn't have an adjacent, unprotected bike lane is an interstate highway.
Seems like Vision Zero is failing in New York not only because of some incapable governors or police but also the residents.
E 77 St in New York - one of those considered for bike lanes.

Now back to Boston. Our local radio station here, WBUR, ran a series on traffic congestion in the city. However, they seem to miss the point and fail for the obsolete metrics that answers the wrong question: "How many cars can we move on the street within one hour?", instead of using the correct one that focuses on the number of people an artery can move. 

Media can be an excellent aid of the Vision Zero campaign but when it fails to notice that city streets should be open for all people, not just drivers, it doesn't help reaching the original Vision Zero's goal - to reduce the number of fatalities in city traffic. For that, our streets will have to stop being high-speed highways and become less car-centric. We can't fit everyone's vehicle on Boston's streets but we can try to fit everyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's in your bag? An emergency toolkit for those longer rides

Early this month we got some fresh snow and judging by the weather it was hard to tell if spring was about to arrive. Fortunately, in the last week or so the situation got much better - it got warmer, flowers started popping out, new leaves showed up on trees and pollen got to be really annoying again.
Sherman's Bridge over Sudbury River in Sudbury, MA.

All this means that I started riding my other bike farther and longer again. And every time I pack on such a ride I don't really take much with me except a water bottle, a camera and a toolkit, which, fortunately pretty much never gets used, but always seems like an indispensable item. Let's take a closer look at it.

First of all, you see, if you are doing just a grocery ride to a store 2 miles away, any emergency toolkit makes likely little sense. In a worst case scenario when your bike breaks down, you can simply walk back home.

But if you are 30, 40 or 50 miles away from your house, it's a very good idea to have some kind of a plan B ready for those unforeseen situations. This could include:
  1. Not taking anything except a charged cellphone. If your bike breaks down, you will simply call your spouse or a friend for help. This may work if (1) your friend is available, (2) your cellphone gets a good signal reception, which isn't that obvious in more remote areas in the country and (3) you don't mind waiting for a while.
  2. Same as above but calling for a cab instead. Again, this may work and you may even wait less but it could be an expensive proposition, depending on how far from your house you are. Alternatively, you could ask to be dropped of at a nearest bike store that would fix your bike, if you are aware of such places nearby.
  3. The last option is to simply solve the problem yourself, which means that you would need to carry a simple emergency toolkit.
I don't know about you, but I prefer the last option and after some thinking and tinkering I came up with the following setup:
My emergency toolkit for all long rides.

Mini pump - Lezyne Road Drive (91g). I picked this mini pump a few years ago and since then it became my favorite pump for any longer bike rides. It's made nearly entirely out of aluminum and its build quality is simply fantastic. I have no problem inflating 28-35mm tires to 50+ psi, even though it may take a while. What I also like about Road Drive is the built-in rubber hose, which means much more freedom and better handling when inflating tires. You simply don't need to hold the pump tight against the valve.

Spare tube - Q Superlight 28-32mm (107g). I currently use Q tubes and have no issues with them. You may need a different size, depending on what tires you have on your bike. Even though it adds some bulk, I keep mine in the original box to protect it from any damage in the bag.

Two tire levers - Park Tool (2x13g). For some tires I would need just one, for others I don't actually need any levers at all. I still keep two around and Park Tool levers proved to be pretty much indestructible so far.

Tire boot - Park Tool (8g). After some really bad experience with Schwalbe tires a few years ago, I always keep a tire boot for those bad luck situations when a sidewall gets destroyed by sharp rocks or nails.

Patch kit - Park Tool (17g). With a spare tube, I should technically not need a separate patch kit. But you never know when that day comes when you get two punctures in the same tube in a short time...

Chain tool - Pedros RxM (58g), also comes with a spoke key. I removed this chain tool from Pedros RxM multitool. It's lightweight, small and usable when combined with a separate 5mm hex wrench.

Allen keys - stainless steel 5mm and 4mm, modified with a flat screwdriver (22g). Thanks to the unification of all screws on modern bicycles we don't need large tool sets anymore. I realized that probably 90% of all adjustments and repairs can be done with three simple tools: 5 and 4mm hex keys and a flat screwdriver (for adjusting derailleurs and brakes). These let me pretty much disassemble the entire bike into tiny bits with some exceptions such as removing pedals or the bottom bracket. Should any more serious conditions develop, it's better to take more extreme measures anyway, such as taking your bike to a local shop, rather than trying to fix it yourself, road-side.
To limit the number of tools further, I decided to modify a standard 4mm hex key and put a flat screwdriver on its long end, using a belt sander and some small files. The result is a wrench set that weighs just 22g and works surprisingly well for all small repairs and maintenance in emergency situations.

Latex gloves (20g). It's a good idea to pack two latex gloves unless you don't mind finishing your ride with greasy fingers.

Zip ties (2g). Those could be always useful and weigh almost nothing.

As you can see, my toolkit is relatively minimalistic (377g including a zip lock bag) and I don't use any multitools. The set of tools of my choice (chain tool, hex keys, spoke key and a screwdriver) weighs 90g. Not only this is less than any multitool that I know of but also separate tools are easier to use.

You could certainly go lighter if you switch to CO2 cartridges, use a smaller patch kit, only one tire lever and skip all those boxes and bags. However, I feel that overall those savings are not that significant (maybe about 70g). For now, I'm happy with just a manual pump and I don't have to worry about running out of compressed CO2.

That's what I use. What's in your bag?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The indifference of innovation

I have been taking part recently in an interesting discussion about bicycles offered in the general, popular market. It all started when I learned about a new bicycle manufacturer, trying to get a slice of the crowded space in the business of low-cost, budget bicycles (sub-$700).

While I realize that in such price range, there is not much room for any R&D and it may be difficult to be creative given limited resources, my biggest complain was that all of those bicycles looked pretty much exactly the same as many others, offered in this category. In other words, except of colors, minor differences in components and price, everything else was essentially the same. This makes me think that the company's strategy was to compete mainly on price, as they made no effort to offer anything original or at least, design-wise, a bit different than their competition.

The answer I heard to such argument was that this should come as no surprise, as all popular bicycles sold by leading manufacturers are nearly the same because "that's what people want". Really? Or is it exactly the opposite?

Leading bicycle brands offers are nearly the same because they simply copy each other, not trying to "reinvent the wheel" as this is too resource-intensive. They would rather follow the safe route and react to market demands, rather than trying to create that demand in the first place. This way if Trek makes a new road bike with fatter tires and disc brakes, Specialized will soon have one too, but only after both companies realize that there is enough money in this new niche. This makes me think - who is pushing all the innovation now - leading top-sellers or someone else?
Specialized Fatboy (top) or Trek Farley (bottom)? No matter, they are practically identical.

Some examples immediately come to mind and while they are not in the budget price range, they seem to tell us the story:
  • When Surly built their first fatbike, it looked like an odd, grotesque hobby project. Years later, not only all other smaller manufacturers offer fatbikes but pretty much every single market leader has one, Trek and Specialized included.
  • When Salsa built Bucksaw - their first full-suspension fatbike, it was completely new. Now such things are available from multiple other leading brands. This includes a growing popularity of other plus-sized bicycles (with 26"+, 27.5"+ and 29"+ wheels). These became popular before the largest manufacturers noticed this new business opportunity.
  • When gravel bikes (or now called adventure bikes) first showed up, only a handful of smaller brands offered them. Years later, it turned out that the largest companies love this new trend too, but only after such demand has been already created for them.
  • When wider road tires (for 700C and 650B wheels) gained popularity on the West Coast, thanks to small brands such as Compass Cycles, the main industry initially ignored this new trend. However, last year we have seen a 650Bx47mm tire from WTB - a leading bicycle tire manufacturer. Something tells me this is just the beginning...
Somehow all this makes me think that despite having plenty of resources and money, largest brands often prefer to take a safer R&D route and are afraid to try something new, sometimes seemingly completely insane (think - the first fatbike from Surly). It's the smaller market players who, despite limited resources, try to stand out in this crowd and are less afraid to push through some unconventional ideas. This may not be a general rule, but it certainly seems to be often the case.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Support you local bike store as long as they support you - and not a minute longer

I touched this topic three years ago. You probably have heard it a few times already that you should support your local bike store by buying things locally, even if they have higher prices. Their survival depends on you - the customer, and they are vital to the local economy.

It all sounds great and true until you quickly realize the sad fact that local stores don't often carry things you want to buy. Or actually, they rarely sell stuff you we are looking for, which was the main issue I pointed out in my original post. Surely, you can order things through you local store but... that's not much different than buying them online.

There is, however, that one situation where you should be really happy that you have a nice bike store nearby. It's when your bikes breaks down and you find out you need to replace some parts, you don't have time to wait for the package to arrive. Instead, you would rather take a short walk to a local bike store and buy what you need.

I have a bike store not too far from my house too. I usually don't shop there. After the last weekend, I'm pretty much convinced I will never ever shop there anymore.

I think I have enough of the unfriendly staff and their attitude, always trying to sell me the most expensive components they have, just because they know my bike badly needs a replacement. Once I was looking for a new 10-speed chain for my bike, they "only" had Dura-Ace for $50. The other time it was a piece of housing and a shift cable for my rusty commuter. They wanted $35 for it (when a basic one should cost no more than a third of that). Apparently, they install the best of the best housing even in the oldest and ugliest of bicycles people bring into their shop.

Whatever it is, I made my decision. I'm not supporting my local bike store because they fail to support me. I would rather drive a few miles to a well-known bike store in Belmont to get my emergency parts. At least I'm better served over there. And if I ever decide to buy something locally, please remind me not to with a friendly slap in the face.
Well, no matter. Spring is finally here... (Source: yehudamoon.com)

Friday, April 8, 2016

It's snow everywhere so it must be April

What's going on with this weather?! I have just returned back from Europe, visiting my family and my hometown. It was 65F (18C) back there, but when I landed at Logan, I was welcomed by snow. The next day (Wednesday) it was only 20F (-6C) in the morning and I had to dug up those thicker winter gloves I already put away for the next winter season.

The following day (Thursday) it was supposed to rain a lot and since I had to run some errands during the day that required motorized transport, I decided to drive to work. Or maybe it was because on the day before I ripped the chain on my bike just around the corner from my house. It has never happened to me before. No big loss, to be honest. I have a spare and that chain was scheduled for a replacement anyway.
Never broke a chain is such way. Either I have some superpower in my legs or those cheapest chains are not worth it.

Driving might have been a pretty good idea that day as in the afternoon roads turned into mountain rivers from all that sudden rain. I don't know about you but somehow I don't enjoy cycling in such conditions. No matter what you do, you get wet. Either from falling rain, splashed water or your own sweat under the waterproof clothing.

Speaking of rain gear, I'm thinking about buying new rain pants. The ones I have are pretty worn already and started to leak. It's likely going to be either Endura Tech-Pant overtrousers or Showers Pass Transit. Anyone has any experience with these, please let me know.

So here are my plans for this weekend: finishing unpacking, doing laundry, cleaning the bike after winter and replacing the chain. Fortunately, it's supposed to be sunny.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Local news: "We will never give away our parking spaces!"

The time for a change is now.

Long time ago, I wrote a little bit about major changes coming to my town - the plan to rebuild our main intersection and make it more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. Obviously, as it nearly always happens in such situations, the project faced some strong opposition of "concerned citizens" or those who are so terrified by the loss of a few parking spaces and installation of a bike lane, that they would rather enjoy speeding cars, increased traffic and smell of exhaust fumes.

The construction is supposed to start in April. Right now, the Arlington Center intersection is still a mess. Back in the days this place was designed, the planners clearly had a goal to make it more pleasant for drivers. Pedestrians' experience was an afterthought and bicyclists... well, let's just say they didn't exist.

But it's not 1970's anymore. With more people on bikes traveling through this area and more people on foot, changes were definitely necessary. One of the major problems came with the opening of the now-popular Minuteman Bikeway. This shared path is abruptly cut off on one side of the intersection and then continues several hundred feet later on the other side. This disconnect is troublesome for all cyclists using the Bikeway on their daily commute, towards the Alewife Station.

The plan is now in place. You can download the whole thing here but keep in mind that it's very detailed. It's probably better to just take a peek at the "at glance" version.


Plan for the new Arlington Center.

The things I am most excited about include:

  • Curb extension (shown in red) - more space for people and shorter distance to cross. ("outrageous!")
  • Extension of the Bikeway to the edge of the intersection - no more riding on sidewalk. ("a massive waste!")
  • Bike lanes on both sides of the Massachusetts Ave - finally. ("blasphemy!")
  • Crossing signal for bicycles across the Mass Ave - safer way to cross this busy street. ("ridiculous!")

Things not to write home about:

  • Bike lanes next to high speed traffic and parked cars - cyclists will get doored. ("We will never give away our parking spaces!")
  • Bike lanes do not continue the full length of the Mass Ave. ("Yipee, more space for us!")
  • How will crossing signals be timed? Will crossing the street on a bicycle on or foot require long wait? ("Sure it will. Cars go first!")

As you can see, it seems that a loss of just a few parking spaces is seen as such a drastic economic hit to the well-being of our little town that there is no way we can expect a protected bike lane on Mass Ave any time soon, despite having plenty of space available ("After my dead body!").

Still, I'm glad these changes are coming. They are much needed and maybe they will be an ignition point to a much larger discussion later on. After all, it's not just a single intersection that needs to be rebuilt, but the entire length of Massachusetts Ave.