Thursday, November 17, 2011

The 5km challenge

You have heard it many times already. According to the 1995 National Personal Transportation Survey approx. 50% of all trips are made within 3 miles (4.8km) from home. This report is quite old but numbers haven't changed that much in the consecutive years. Plus, a kilometer more or less does not change the general conclusion - we really shouldn't have to drive everywhere.

Of course, we can easily blame it on our car-centric urban development. Downtowns of large U.S. cities start to change and bike lanes finally start to show up there. However, the situation is much, much worse in suburbs. In my area, there are no bike lanes at all, except the Minuteman Bikeway, which is basically a recreational, not a commuter path. Despite that, I would like to bike more to local destinations like, e.g. grocery stores. Let's ask Uncle Google how far they are from my home:

Stop and Shop: 1.5km
Really close, but the way back would be a problem. I live on the top of a steep hill and I would have to push my bike, loaded with all the groceries, uphill. This side of the hill is really bad. I can ride it up on my 20-speed cyclocross bike but even then my knees hurt. There is no way I could make it on my 3-speed commuter bike.

Whole Foods, Medford: 5km
A bit better, since I can use Minuteman partially, but in the end I have to ride on Mystic Valley Pkwy. Anyone who drove that road would know that it is not a place you would want to be on a bike. Two, very narrow lanes in each direction, no shoulder, lots of fast moving cars. Also, the same problem with uphill battle on the way back although maybe I could approach it from the north and go around the steepest part somehow.

Whole Foods, Woburn: 5km
Not better. Most of the ride would be on Rt3. It is a busy street, lots of fast-moving vehicles, no shoulders. No wonder bikers stay away from it. The only plus side is the more relaxed ride on the way back as this side of the hill is longer but less steep.

Whole Foods, Alewife: 5.5km
A bit further away than planned 5km, but it is a really pleasant ride. Probably 90% of it is on the Minuteman Bikeway, away from all the traffic. And of course the same hill challenge on the way back.

Trader Joe's: 2.5km
Much better choice: very close and easy to ride (Minuteman Bikeway mostly). Again, pretty long climb up on the way back, which means pushing the bike up for good 300 meters.

Wilson's Farm: 4km
A bit further than Trader Joe's, on the same route. Pleasant ride on the Minuteman Bikeway towards Lexington. Same problem with the hill on the way back.

Considering all this, no wonder that I don't ride my bike to local grocery stores as much as I should. I could skip those that are not easily accessible due to a heavy car traffic, but what to do about that hill?
The flatter side of the hill: 16.7% grade. The other side is much steeper.

This hill is likely the first reason why I don't use my city bike more. I am thinking that a strong electric assist motor is the answer. I would have to research this more. So far I found out that StokeMonkey assist motor can candle even 31.5% grades but it looks like its production was stopped. Can someone recommend a good product?

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you've got a hill much like the one I live on. Like your's, steeper on one end than the other. I don't know the percentage of the grade, but I essentially live at the top of a small ridge. Right now I ride a Pashley and an old 10 speed. The 10 speed isn't too bad going up the hill on the flatter side, and on a good day I can sometimes ride the Pashley up it. But most days I ride up until I can't and then hop off and walk. The other end of the road, with the steeper side, I can't ride either bike all the way up. So I get to have a nice little hike. No shame in that!