Monday, October 31, 2011

Commuter's cyclocross

I have just experienced something I would call a commuter's cyclocross. Last Saturday night we had a severe snow fall in New England. While Boston was hit with just a few centimeters of snow, a bit further north in New Hampshire it was already close to 40cm. But this amount of snow is not unusual here. We New Englanders know to expect it and know how to deal with it (i.e. we either shovel or go lazy way with a snow blower). Still, it came quite early this year, in October. This means that most leaves were still on trees. It also means that it is still relatively warm out here (above zero degrees), which makes snow wet and heavy.

It turned out that this combination was quite deadly for many trees around. Falling trees pulled power lines so many people were left with no electricity and, even worse, no TV ;) I also lost a half of a tree on my front yard.

Today's weather was supposed to be pretty nice so I decided to bike to work. Usually, in the morning I take the road, but in the afternoon, I like to take a longer forest path that goes a bit around through Lexington and then merges with Minuteman Bikeway. This way is longer but nicer and I can stay 100% away from cars. Today, it turned out to be a mistake. I regret I did not take my camera to take better pictures and I had to rely on a cell phone.
I quickly realized that my way back home would mean mostly carrying my bike over fallen trees turning it into a "fully-loaded cyclocross". Not much fun, I have to say, since my bike with panniers must weigh close to 17kg. A bit further down the path, the situation was even worse:
If you are not sure where actually the path is, in these pictures, don't worry. I couldn't find it either. I found out that many small trees around were nearly wiped out by the heavy snow, while larger ones collapsed completely blocking my way.
I eventually got the the Minuteman Bikeway, which was a bit cleaner, but still a true obstacle course.
What worries me that my usual shortcut through the forest is not used by bikers at all. I haven't seen there a single biker so far. It is just a narrow path, which means that it may not be cleaned quickly from all those fallen branches, and who knows, I may even have to wait till the next year. In the meantime, I would have to find another route. I guess this means back to vehicular cycling for now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

First snow

It snowed last night for the first time this season. It was warm enough during the day for all of that snow to melt completely. But this is what I found in the morning:

Looks like winter will be here pretty soon. I had some errands to run today and it would be actually easier and faster to do it driving. But then I saw the iced windshield of my car and instead of scraping it, I decided to bike to work. It was a pleasant ride despite a fairly low temperature.

Critical Mass done wrong

This happened a while ago but I still would like to comment on Boston Critical Mass that took place in June. First, take a look:

Maybe for these cyclists blocking a major intersection seemed like a good idea, but it was nothing else but showing that cyclists in Boston are just a bunch of egoistic a**holes. It is essentially like going on war with drivers. Is this what we really want?

I cycle as much as I drive and I can't understand the point of this action. I always thought that the purpose of a Critical Mass is to show how many cyclists are there in the city and that these people also deserve certain facilities like bike paths, parking racks, etc. Is this how we want to raise awareness? Through aggression? We keep doing it and Boston drivers would definitely hate us more.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I am glad I decided NOT to bike to work today. This waterfall pouring from the sky would definitely not make cycling fun. Some people don't mind it. I do. Since I bike-commute mainly for fun, I still have a hard time finding it when riding in rain. It is not about the bike, as bikes can be pretty well protected from atmospheric precipitation by fenders, internal gearing hubs, full case chainguards, disc or drum brakes, etc. It is not even about clothing as you can use waterproof pants, jackets, rubber shoes, etc. It is mostly about... the glasses. I wear glasses and in rain they quickly get foggy and wet. I can't see a damn thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Commuter races

I have just looked at EcoVelo and they write about yet another commuter race, this time in Bristol, UK (Original text here). The outcome was exactly as expected: cycling is the fastest option. But... (there are many "buts" here):
- the test was done during rush hour in heavy traffic,
- it was in the city center,
- the distance was only 5.5km (3.5mi).
No wonder that the cyclist won (17min.) and the runner finished second (28min.). Third was the bus (39min.) and then the car (53min.). It took the driver 53 minutes to drive 5.5km!

This is exactly why all these commuter races stop making sense at some point. They all show the obvious that could be figured out without the race happening at all. No wonder that in such a heavy traffic and short distance cycling is the best option.
Comic strip from

But what if we try something different? Let's see:

- test done in the suburbs,
- distance of 10.5km (6.5mi),
- very light car traffic, even during rush hours,
- almost no public transportation.
Yes, this is how my work commute looks like, as I described it before. In the morning it takes 15min. to cover this distance by car and 25min. by bike. There is a bus line, but it goes around other towns and takes 19min. between the closest bus stops. I would have to walk 42min. from/to the bus stops. The total travel time by bus would be over 1hr. I haven't tried running, but it is not going to be faster than driving or cycling.

This is my point here: of course, bike is faster in a heavy car traffic. But I would love to see more commuter races done in different scenarios when results are not always that obvious.

Bikes around the world - part 2

New York, USA

Dublin, Ireland

Cape Cod, USA


New York, USA

Berlin, Germany

Monday, October 24, 2011

My commute

Why do I bike to work? I have a 10.5 km (one-way) commute, but it is a reverse-commute. I live closer to center of the town and commute out of town. When I drive, it takes me only 15 min. in the morning and 25 min. in the afternoon to get to/from work. There is no traffic in the morning and in the afternoon a 2 km long part of the road gets a bit congested. I don't have to look for parking spots. I just get in the car in my driveway and then park in front of my office. No problems and delays here. So why do I bike to work at all?

I guess it is just for fun, plus I really don't enjoy sitting in the car too often. And I like to stretch my legs after spending a day in the office. And I can take some nice country paths like these:

On the downside, it takes me 25-35 min. to get to work in the morning by bike (Depends on which bike I take), and 25-45 min. to go back home (Depending on the route). So you see that saving time is not my motivation. When it rains, there is no fun to bike so I usually bike in good weather only. Biking is supposed to be fun and since this is the only motivation that keeps me doing it, so far I refuse to bike in rain.
On the positive side, the part of the road I have to share with cars has a wide shoulder, which works like a bike lane. The road is mostly flat, with only a few hills and I found out that even my 3 speed Schwinn can handle it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The funniest bike touring story ever?

Here is the video from Bicycle Touring Pro, an excellent bike blog about fully-loaded bike touring. The author presents what the 7 most common mistakes are, that people do while going for a tour.

The video is a bit lengthy, but there is a part worth watching. Skip to 27:38 and watch until 33:40 to hear the funniest touring story ever. I guess the mistake #8 should be: lack of imagination.

My brother

My brother has always been a much more aggressive biker than me. He proved it early, when he was only a few years old. My aunt got a bike for my cousins - a kid's tricycle (Or was it a quad?). The bike had two small rear wheels with a long axle in between and a fixed chain ring welded to it. The bottom bracket with a single-piece crankset was welded to the bottom of the bottom tube. The first thing my brother did was to jump on pedals so that the entire crankset and bottom bracket fell of. Now, keep in mind that in 80's in Poland you couldn't just go the store and buy any bike you wanted. The supply was very limited so you were happy to find just anything. My father couldn't just get a new one, so he had to find a welder to fix that bike for my cousins.

Much later my brother got his first more serious bike - a small-frame road bike (similar to mine but with a proper diamond frame). He then crashed it into a car and the bike was scrapped. He survived.

A few years had passed and my brother got a shiny mountain bike. He broke the frame several weeks later.

Then he started trying some trial tricks (high jumps, rear wheel stands, etc.). He broke another frame.

Then, when we were mountain biking in Austria he had an OTB accident. The first thing he did once he got up from the ground was to check if his beloved Marzocchi Bomber survived. It did. The helmet did not (It broke into tiny bits.) but it saved his skull. He ended up with some skin torn on his face, arms, and legs. I can't even count how many frames and rear derailleurs he ruined.

He has a new shiny mountain bike now. So I guess we are waiting for more action.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some history

I don't even remember when I started biking. I must have been a few years old. One of the first bikes I had, was a children-sized road bike I got from my parents for my First Communion (Kind of a tradition in Poland to give kids "expensive" gifts for this occasion). It was a cheap, crap bike, all steel, with steel rims, poor brakes, etc. But it still was a big deal for me, being only 8 years old. The odd thing was its step-through frame. A step-through frame in a road bike for a boy? WTH? The only explanation I have is that in 80's in my country it was hard to find a nice bike so people were buying whatever was available.
Romet Universal. As green as my old one. (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Another one I had later was a simple folding bike (Romet Universal) with 20" wheels and a coaster brake. I liked the coaster brake so much that I used it all the time, locking the rear wheel. I never really cared about the tires at that time and after some time they were nearly bald (no tread) and I ripped the rear tire while braking.
Romet Jubilat. Mine was red. (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

The next one was a 26"-wheel steel commuter, which was short-lived as someone broke into our basement and stole it.
Romet Laura. I had a blue one with white chain guard. (Picture from Imageshack)

Then I had a way too big, another steel commuter with 28" wheels and 5 gears called Laura. It had a step-through frame, which was a real saver as I was too short to mount a diamond frame at that time. The problem with those cheap step-through frames is that they are not stiff enough and much later as I grew up, I rode that bike off a steep curb (Well, actually I jumped.) and the frame nearly folded. Simply, I noticed that handlebars are suddenly too close to the saddle and it was clear that frame was bent. That bike was scrapped.

At that point I basically stopped buying factory-made bikes and started building my own ones. One of my projects was a triathlon bike, with an aluminum frame and some decent Shimano 105/Ultegra components. I am not into triathlon at all but I liked riding alone on the road and I liked the forward-leaning position on the aero bars. The bike was fun and fast to ride but since this was more like my weekend bike I did not find enough time to ride it. I still have it, but I think I just use its components to build something else in the future.

Another one was much more useful and it was my first mountain bike. Aluminum frame, RST suspension fork, Alivio components. That bike did well, was fun to ride, and a couple of times I had a chance to take it to its nature habitat - the mountains. It performed well, although its v-breaks were overheating easily on some long downhill rides. This is the bike that I rode up to the highest altitude so far (around 2000m, in Austria) and the first one to hold my speed record (71 km/h on a long downhill paved road in Poland). I still have it, but I replaced the fork with a regular one and put some city slicks on it. My mom rides it now.
Romet Wagant. Mine was silver and had a bit different components.

Then I started my college so I made an exception and bought a factory-built steel commuter to ride to my classes. It was a simple, cheap, steel bike with poor caliper brakes and flimsy fenders (Romet Wagant). I only added a rear rack to it. It served me well and once I even spent my vacation on Bornholm Island (Denmark) with it. I rode around the island in one day (100km). It became my light touring bike at some point although I had a chance to use it only twice for that purpose.

There were couple of other bikes as well. One was really weird that started as a spontaneous project when me and my brother decided to build something from all the bike parts we had scattered everywhere in the house. It had an old steel diamond frame, 28" wheels and tires from my grandfather's 30 year old commuter, some caliper brakes, 5 speed rear cassette with a derailleur, and some heavy 2-chainring front crankset. We did not have any front derailleur around so my brother built a crazy device to switch between front chainrings. It was an old brake lever, modified with a screw to give it enough compression on its pivot point so it had lots of friction when handle was pressed. It was mounted on the seat tube, so in order to switch gears one had to reach to the bottom of the seat tube and press the "brake" lever. It worked! I sold that bike to a friend looking for a cheap commuter.

After I moved to the U.S. I bought a 2008 Lemond Poprad. I wasn't thinking about building a bike since I had to leave my entire toolbox in Poland so it was easier to buy one. This is easily my most expensive and probably the best bike so far and I really like it. It rides very well and being a cyclocross bike it is very versatile. I can ride it off-road and with some road slicks on it, I can ride on road as well. I will write a better review soon, but so far the bike has been working really well for me. Well, maybe except the stock saddle.

Recently I added another one. I was looking for an inexpensive light commuting bike, and I had two goals in mind: commuting to work in regular clothes (My Poprad is a great commuter but it requires clipless shoes, etc.), and something with a relaxed geometry so I can use it on bike paths and put a child seat in the back of it in the future. I picked Schwinn Coffee since price was right, bike was comfortable (Except, you guessed it, the saddle.), and it is so much fun to ride. A full review of my Schwinn coming soon.

About this blog

It's called Boston By Bike, even though, technically we don't live in Boston.

We live in Arlington, MA (So it's close enough). By "we" I mean, me, Dr.J. and Elka.
We moved here a few years ago.

In 2003 I moved across The Wide Water. Earlier, I spent much time in Poland and Germany.