Thursday, July 26, 2012

Difficulty of being nice

This morning some driver rushing to work honked at me. Again. At least that's what I thought momentarily. It turned out that she (yes, it was a woman) was not beeping at me but was trying to persuade another driver, in front of her and directly behind me, to pass me. That driver behind me was just waiting for a convenient moment to do it, since there were some cars approaching from the opposite direction. But in that woman's opinion there must have been enough space for passing me. Maybe there was, but not enough to keep the required 3-feet distance.
Something similar happened to me once when I was driving a car. The road was relatively empty with a car behind me. I noticed another car trying to merge with the traffic from my right and I decided to stop to let him go. Immediately, I got a loud honk from the guy behind me, like he was trying to say "You idiot, why are you stopping?". No, I did not stop violently and that car was not driving too close to me. I was just trying to be nice and let another driver to merge with traffic.

Why are people so aggressive when they drive? Honking is mostly rude and is not going to get you anywhere. Just slow down. Relax. You will get there where you want. This is another advantage of riding a bicycle to work. Ever seen an aggressive cyclist on a way to his office? Me neither.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Speed cameras - your new enemy?

Once a while, I like to read some news from across the Great Pond to find out how much better or worse the life of cyclists is in countries like Holland, Germany, Denmark or Poland.

Recently, I read a story of a Polish cyclist who got caught by a speed camera for exceeding the speed limit. Here it is for your amusement:

Speed camera (Source:

The 18-year old man in northern Poland received a letter from a local Police Department with a 50zl ticket (about $14, but think about it as $50) and a photograph of himself riding his bike. The picture was taken by a speed camera and in the letter the police claimed that his speed was 46km/h (28mi/h), 16km/h above the speed limit.
The cyclist rejected the ticket and decided not to pay it arguing he didn't know what his speed was, since he didn't have a speed computer on his bike. The police response was just plain ridiculous that he should have had a "feeling how fast he was going" and that it should be enough to realize that he was riding above the speed limit. Anyway, his case will be solved in court. I am curious to find out who is going to win, but I have a feeling that police will lose. Here is why:

1. A feeling of speed is not good enough. The cyclist would need a certified speedometer and these are not required on bicycles by law (and those you can buy in your local bike store are not calibrated nor certified).
2. It turned out that the picture he received did not have the measured speed printed on it. Which means that police could not prove that his speed was measured correctly.
3. It is questionable if speed cameras are even designed and configured to correctly measure speed of objects like bicycles.

But the most interesting is - how did they find him? Bicycles have no license plates. Likely someone working at that Police Dept. must have known him. Anyway, it is good we don't really have speed cameras here in US. Who knows, maybe we would get another bicycle law absurd idea and we would be required to install calibrated speedometers on our bikes.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bedford Narrow Gauge Trial

Last Friday, I decided to take a short ride right after work and started in Bedford. My goal was to try the Narrow Gauge Trial that connects Bedford with Billerica. It is a simple recreational path built in place of the former narrow gauge railway.
The trial starts in Bedford at Loomis St. The entrance is well marked with this sign:
First section is paved, and you can find the historical railway to your right. You will not be able to tell from this picture, but the railway is a narrow gauge rail indeed. This little platform car is really tiny.
Once you cross Great Rd the trial's surface changes to light gravel...
and pretty much stays this way for the remainder of the trail. There are some sandy patches in some places, and some nice sections with reddish tree needles.
Eventually, you will reach the Fawn Lake to your right. It looks like it gets overgrown slowly with plants and algae. Some years from now it is going to be a swamp.
After only 15 minutes of riding you reach the end of the trial, which is just off the Springs Rd. Should you enter the trial from this side, be careful not to miss it. Its is not marked at all and hidden a bit between the trees. It is also much narrower than the Bedford's section.
The trial is only 3 mi long (5km) and it really takes barely 15 min. to ride the full length. It is too short to be your cycling destination on its own but if you are planning to reach Billerica by bike, it could be useful.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Around Hanscom AFB

I finally decided to move my muscles a little bit more. Usually, I just ride my bike to work and then back home and unfortunately, I don't have time for much more than that. But since I really missed riding on my other bike, I had to do something about it.

This is how I decided to ride around the Hanscom AFB by visiting three towns on the way: Bedford, Concord and Lexington. The beauty of this route is in its variety. It takes you through the centers of these three small towns, through a wildlife refuge and some historic landmarks. And the best of all - despite the length of over 20 mi (32km) this route is appropriate for novice cyclists as well. There is not much vehicular riding required as most of the route leads through some unpaved, dirt roads and forest paths. This makes the ride much more enjoyable.
I left my work and took Rt 62 towards Bedford. I planned the first stop to be at The Bikeway Source store. I didn't necessary have to stop there but since I noticed earlier that I was very slowly losing air in the rear tire, buying an extra tube was probably a good idea. The air loss was small but I just wanted to be prepared something unexpected should happen, since I was traveling with a patch kit only. Better safe than sorry.
Once I left the bike store, I could leave the street and merge with a forest path - The Reformatory Branch Trial. It is definitely better to ride through the forest than take the street. It is quiet here as all racing guys on their Cervelos and Serottas stay away from dirt roads.
You would think that it is just another simple forest path, boring and uneventful. You would be wrong. It is barely noticeable in the picture below, but many parts of this path are very wavy. There are many small humps in the road so once you ride at considerable speed you feel like being on a roller coaster. Fun!
Then the trial crosses Concord Rd and becomes much narrower.
And eventually, it widens up and you can see the picturesque Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Which is essentially a one huge swamp.
But once you continue a bit further, you will see some really spooky looking marshes on your left and right.
Then, then trial ends and you enter Concord center. From here, some street riding is needed on Lexington St to reach the next car-free section of our route.
Once you get to the historic Nathan Meriam House (the intersection with Old Bedford Rd), look for the path to your right that will take you through the Battle Road Trial. If by now you have emptied your water bottles and your bladder reminds you of its existence, visit the back of Nathan's house where Nathan has restrooms open for public. Thank you Nathan.
The Battle Road Trial starts with a little, cute bridge over this stream. The trial is educational, with multiple historic landmarks, information panels, etc.
It runs through multiple boardwalks over the marsh. You are supposed to dismount here and walk your bike.
 There is even a historic farm. Do I see a grain silo there? Just like in Indiana.
Some of the landmarks are nicely restored XIX century houses like this one of Captain William Smith.
The trail ends at Old Massachusetts Ave where I was supposed to merge with the "new" Massachusetts Ave but I managed to get a bit lost. My printed map was not detailed enough and I took some wrong turns. After a few minutes of riding in circles I finally figured out where the Mass Ave was and I entered Lexington. From there, I took the Minuteman Bikeway home. The whole route took about 2 hours to complete while riding at a very leisure pace and taking too many stops.
As you can see in the photo above, my bike is a slightly modified Lemond Poprad. I will write more about the recent additions later. The main one is the lightweight Tubus Fly rear rack, which lets me carry some more junk as needed. I use a simple stuff bag and a bungee strap instead of panniers. It is lighter this way. The red triangular frame bag is a temporary solution to keep my camera around. I will toss it once I find a decent small handlebar bag but so far I've not been able to find one I would like.

That's it. Time to clean the bike as it got really dusty on those dirt roads.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


It just happened so that I had to travel for business, and I spent a few days in a small town in the middle of Indiana. This rural countryside - obviously very different than the Boston area, is dominated by corn. It grows everywhere. Pretty much every household has its own grain silo, a tractor, and possibly some horses.
When it comes to bicycles, yes, locals use them but nobody here thinks about transportation cycling seriously. For a good reason. Try to haul a ton of corn and a horse on your bike. I didn't see any adults biking with groceries either. However, kids loved to bike for sure as there were many kid bikes everywhere around the town.
As you can see, despite living in the middle of a cornfield these people do bike from time to time. And they don't get discouraged by insufficient bicycling infrastructure. Or a complete lack of it. In fact, in the entire town I noticed only one bike rack.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bicycles are vehicles. Not?!

Our local Arlington newspaper - The Arlington Advocate, published two weeks ago an opinion by Arlington resident, Robert Smith, who complains that bicycles are being treated just as other vehicles. Mr. Smith points out that bicycles are not cars and are not equal to them. He writes:
"At intersections, bicyclists should dismount and walk; in essence, become pedestrians."
which I find very amusing. I could only compare it with every driver getting out of their car, pushing it across the intersection only to resume driving on the other side. Mr. Smith would also like to keep bicyclists off the streets since they
"proclaim to be equal to motor vehicles by standing in front of motor vehicles and at the green light, forcing every motor vehicle in that line to go at their individual mounting and starting up speed".
Hmm, I wonder how would Mr. Smith like us, bicyclists, to "act as pedestrians" and cross most intersections in the town where sidewalks and crosswalks are as rare as pink elephants. Even if cyclists dismount before entering the intersection, they would still have to act like "vehicles" and use the street as most of (nearly all?) Arlington residential areas don't have any sidewalks.

Yes, I do probably block some drivers a bit and slow them down on my way to work. I ride on streets where sidewalks are not available (Even if they were, it wouldn't matter - I don't ride on sidewalks and no one should). But I stay to the right (about 2 feet from the curb), and most (actually, pretty much all) drivers have no problems passing me on my left. At intersection where, according to Bob Smith, they would have to wait for me to mount my bike, I am faster than all drivers. This is not surprising - it takes much less energy to accelerate a bike than a car and cyclist's response time after the light turns green is usually faster than of an average driver.

Bob Smith also repeats the old tune and asks for an additional taxation of bicycle sales, stating:
"Motor vehicle owners pay extra fees and taxes for much repair and use of roadways. Bicyclists do not. It might be wise to consider equalizing the responsibility of road usage as bicyclists claim more and more road space by initiating a small tax on all new bicycle sales."
If he seriously thinks that this is the solution to improve the quality of our roads, he really has no imagination. Yes, every driver pays the extra tax. It is called the excise tax and it is a tax on car ownership, not usage. Roads are not maintained from that tax. Roads are maintained from our income taxes, no matter if they are paid by a driver or a cyclist. Plus, let's be realistic, what kind of road damage can a ~30lbs bike do?

Let's face the facts. Yes, bicycles are vehicles and no, they are not pedestrians. This is why road is supposed to be shared between all vehicles, whether they are a car, a bicycle, or an excavator. Roads were not built for cars.
This also means that a person on a bicycle should simply follow traffic regulations just like any other vehicle and leave sidewalks for pedestrians.