Thursday, August 30, 2012

Middlesex Fells Reservation

Since all of the summer humidity is finally gone but the warmth is still there it would be a sin not to ride a bike. On my way back from work, I decided to take a long route home and visit the Middlesex Fells Reservation. I have been there before on a jog with Elka, but never on a bike. I left my office in Burlington and rode towards the Horn Pond in Woburn. I wondered why I never visited that part of the Horn Pond park before - it is beautiful here! Just take a look:
Too bad I didn't have my DSLR with me - I couldn't zoom in on those funky heather bushes growing in water.

I rode around the northern side of the pond and then eventually, I reached the reservation. I entered the forest from North Border Rd where a narrow path led me to this trial:
Not your friendliest bike path ever.

Seeing this trial recalled old memories of riding a mountain bike in high mountains with my brother. That time I would be excited seeing these rocks, boulders, roots and difficult terrain. This time however, since I was riding my Lemond Poprad, this path was a bit too much. Unless I was going to carry the bike for most of the time. When I got the intersection of different trials I saw this:
Aha, now I know why that trial was not that bike-friendly. It wasn't meant for biking! Too bad they didn't have these signs at the entrance to the reservation form N Border Rd.

I continued along one of the easier-looking paths. But then it turned into the rocky, MTB-only trial again. I crossed a bridge and... I took some damage.
Right after that bridge the path turns into something much more appropriate for the Curiosity Mars Rover than my bike. I stopped to dismount and walk my bike through that rocky rumble but before I managed to get off my bike the front wheel got trapped between rocks and I fell down hitting my knee. Ouch! My damage was minor but then I noticed that the right brake/shifter on my handlebars is bent. Fortunately, it turned out that it wasn't, but it just rotated on the handlebars. It still works fine. This reminded me an old rule of mountain biking - it is not a good idea to tighten some components on your bike too much. If you fall you can break that brake lever instead of just moving it out of position.

I continued south. The path changed from something appropriate for true cyclocross...
 ...into a mountain bike only trial... finally become a highway (Well, considering the previous road conditions - this IS a highway!).
Sun was setting slowly. Another sign that the long summers days are over. The forest in the late afternoon looked beautiful.
Eventually, I left the reservation at the South Border Rd and got to the Upper Mystic Lake at the Arlington border.
I have to admit that is was lots of fun to ride in the Middlesex Fells Reservation. The trials can be challenging and in general, if you don't have a decent mountain bike, don't try riding there. I was passed multiple times walking my bike by riders on mountain bikes asking if I was all right. My answer was always - yes, just the trial is too much for my bike. Well, it was. A few times I ran out of gears trying to ride uphill. I fell on the bike once - something that hasn't happened to me in over 10 years - essentially, since I stopped mountain biking. But I am still happy that there is such a place close to my house.
Anyway, the entire route was fairly short - about 30km (18 mi) but because of the low speed and multiple stops in the reservation, it took me 2 hours to finish it. If you look a the elevation profile above, the high plateau in the middle is the Fells Reservation. Oh, and as you can tell from the end of the profile, I live on the top of a steep hill (which is a bit frustrating to be honest). When I got home, I opened a bottle of Weihenstephaner. I think I deserved it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's coming!

Feeling the crisp, cool air this morning and seeing some yellow leaves on the ground I finally realized - the fall will be here soon. And... I got excited! I really like fall in Boston. In fact, it is the best season here: winter is usually very cold and white, spring is too short, and summer is long and extremely hot and humid. September and October are clearly the two best months in the year. Trees look gorgeous with dressed in many colors, it is still mild and warm but all of summer's humidity is gone and air becomes crisp - just like today.

In my mind, I also keep going back to the previous years and think again about all the fun things I used to do in the fall like apple picking and hiking. It will finally be the time to make use of the fireplace and get cozy with a glass of malmsey after a long autumn ride.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why do you wear a helmet?

Sometimes I wonder: why I even wear a helmet? I used to wear it every time I went mountain biking with my brother but at that time it seemed logical. We rode on narrow trials, uneven surfaces, slippery, wet, muddy or loose. There was a high chance of falling off the bike in such conditions and it happened occasionally. In fact, I am certain that in one situation the helmet saved my brother's life.

Bicycle helmet - not much protection against heavy vehicles. (Source: unknown)

But why would I wear a helmet in the city? I still do it even though I can't find many logical arguments to wear it:
  • my head sweats more in a helmet, no matter how well-ventilated it would be,
  • it offers protection against those low speed falls, none of which are very likely to happen when I ride on a hard, smooth, dry, paved road,
  • it offers virtually no protection against fast-moving cars - if hit by a car, my chances for survival are low no matter if I wear a helmet or not.
The only positive sides of wearing a helmet I could find, are:
  • it is white, so it stands out better in traffic making me more visible,
  • in winter it keeps my head warmer,
  • it gives me a psychological boost making me feel "protected".
Perhaps the last line answers my question. Still, sometimes I wonder if it is that beneficial (in the city). Fortunately, I can decide on my own as there is no law that would force me to wear it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

On obesity and modal share

I have read some news recently that on average every fifth American is obese. I can't find the link now but I remember that the worse situation was in the southern states (with Missouri in the lead) where nearly 1/4 of all citizens are severely overweight. And while California and the West Coast in general looked the best, it doesn't mean they can be used as an example for the rest of the world.

Riding my bike this morning I was passed by several "overweight" cars (as this is what SUVs are, essentially), with their drivers racing to work, and I started thinking - how is the obesity issue related to daily transportation?
Cars everywhere (Source: Google Images)

If you look at the Wikipedia page for modal share, you may get the right answer (Yes, the data is a few years old, but still relevant). Driving a car is by far the most common way of getting around in United States, ranging from 92% of all commuters in Indianapolis (their butts must be glued to driver seats) to 43% in Washington, D.C. The only exception is of course New York City, where drivers are only 29% of all traffic and most people (55%) choose public transportation. But this is not a surprise in a place like New York.

Bicycling and walking is pretty much non-existent, although here in Boston we like to walk quite a bit (14%) and on the other side of the continent in Portland, they like to bike a bit more than average (6%).

However, the obese southern and Midwestern states prefer to drive.

Now, if we take a look at the situation in Europe, these numbers are even more telling. The highest private car usage is in Italian and Spanish cities and at the same time their citizens do not ride their bicycles. Perhaps, they prefer scooters. While I surely heard several times about overweight Spaniards or Italians, I have never heard about any obesity problems in Denmark or Holland. It must be directly related since citizens of these countries like to move around by bicycles much more often than anywhere else. In Copenhagen more travel happens by bike than by car (36% vs. 26%)! In other places, where population density is very high, people prefer to walk (55% of all travel in Paris and 30% in Berlin).

Surely walking or cycling while running daily errands is not the solution to obesity, but it may be a solution - it definitely helps staying fit. I can think about my mother, who was visiting me in Boston several years ago, and while not obese, not even overweight, she lost weight to her complete surprise (I guess she was expecting to gain some on our "hamburger diet"). The reason for it was that during her month-long stay she did much, much more walking than usual, visiting all interesting places in Boston. Long miles walked daily, combined with a controlled diet made her lose quite a bit of weight and she went back to Poland happier and slimmer.

The less we stay sedentary the better for us. Too bad America gets mobile mainly by car. It became a victim of its vast area and urban development.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And the winner is...

London Olympic Games are over. Athletes are going back home. Some of them, like Michael Phelps, have so many medals that they will have to pay for extra luggage on their flight back. But which country won this year's Olympics? Was it USA, with 104 medals including 46 gold ones? No. Maybe China? Nope, guess again!

The country that has beaten others by a mile and is far ahead in the listing is... Grenada.

(I will give you a few minutes to look up where it is)

And how many medals did Grenadian athletes win? One. A gold one! Kirani James won the 400m run and the first ever Olympic medal for Grenada. But I guess that it came with not much surprise. If you look at Wikipedia's page for Kirani you will realize that winning gold is something he does often.
Kirani James (Source: Wikipedia)

But why Grenada? You see, with all due respect to the hardworking Chinese, if you have over 1.3 billion people to choose from, finding, say, 100 best-of-the-best athletes is pretty easy. You can probably easily find many more than that and put them in every possible Olympic competition out there. Surely, some of them will win something. But if you have only barely over 100,000 citizens available (Yes, this is the population of Grenada), selecting 100 world-class athletes becomes a close-to-impossible task.

This is why Grenada wins gold, Jamaica gets silver and Holland bronze. The complete list would look like this:
Another interesting factor is the effectiveness of national Olympic teams. In other words - how many medals they won compared with the number of athletes from the given country who took part in 2012 Olympic Games. Here, both China and USA look much, much better. In fact, since China sent 380 athletes to London and won 87 medals, their effectiveness is 22.9%. This is a really high number and it means that they selected their truly best-of-the-best. But they are not the winner in this listing either. The winner is... Botswana (Sure, I will wait. Go ahead and check where it is). And how many athletes did Botswana send to London? Four. One of them, Nijel Amos, won silver in 800m run and the first ever Olympic medal for his country.
I guess I was supposed to write about bicycles and cycling. Not much about it this time. Although I have to say that my favorite Olympic sport to watch has always been track cycling. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because of the speed these guys can reach or maybe it was because of unique bicycles and riding style of Graeme Obree.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Carlisle Course

This week's weather behaves better and humidity level is bearable again. That's why I decided to take my other bike for a longer ride again. This time, my destination was Carlisle - a rural town northwest of Boston.
I started in Burlington and rode to Bedford first, where I merged with the Narrow Gauge Trial I rode before. Then, I crossed the Concord River.
And I planned to ride Maple Street towards Bedford Road in Carlisle. However, with my luck, I must have missed my turn and I continued on East St instead. It took me all the way down to Carlisle center and I found Bedford Rd eventually. There was not much for me to do there (Even though Carlisle is an awesome place to live in!) so I continued on Bedford Rd and took turn onto Stearns St. I read that there is a little used trial somewhere at the end of that street. The trial is supposed to connect to Monument St and lead towards Concord. This would be an interesting alternative of getting to Concord without using ordinary roads. At the end of Stearns St I found this:
Which looked like a trial so I decided to try it. However after a few meters it turned into a very narrow path, clearly not designed with bicycles in mind. Since I wasn't sure how safe that path was to ride on and swarms of mosquitos made my life quite miserable there, I decided to turn back and not risk my luck.
I rode on River Rd instead, which eventually got me into Concord. On the way there, it is not uncommon to see signs like these:
Carlisle is a rural town after all, and horses are as common there as bicycles. The town has a rule that no private land can be divided into units smaller than 2 acres. This makes living there expensive (land is not cheap) but it also means that its rural character is maintained and there is no way our neighbors will build their house right next to ours in order to know what we are having for dinner tonight.
Just as I entered Concord, I noticed a park to my right and a statue of a Minuteman militia. It is a part of the historical trial, leading from Concord all the way into Boston. The park is really nice with multiple displays explaining the history of this place and reconstructed Old North Bridge.
Just after I passed the park I found the trial I already have been familiar with - the Reformatory Branch Trial...
with its usual swamps:
Eventually, I got home in Arlington. The entire route took me about 2.5hrs to complete without racing. My bike computer showed me a distance of 50km (32mi). Fortunately, there was a pint of cold beer waiting for me.
Mmm, that's a good beer!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Helmets for everyone?

It looks like this old topic is being discussed again, this time because Bradley Wiggins decided to talk about it.

Bradley is an amazing British cyclist and an Olympic champion. He won his last gold medal just last Wednesday. Too bad that on the same day, Daniel Harris was killed by a city bus while riding his bike on the streets of London. Wiggins decided that was the right time to talk about helmets again - in his opinion, a necessity in the city like London.
Bradley Wiggins in his helmet. This one does not protect from city buses (Photo by Matt Rourke, AP)

It is unknown if Harris was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. Still, Wiggins thinks that forcing cyclists to use helmets would make Britain safer.

If I was Bradley, and was asked what to do to make cycling in the city safer, my answer would be "build more cycle paths and lanes - separate the fast moving vehicles from bicycles the same way pedestrians are separated from car traffic, educate both drivers and cyclists on how to safely move through the city and watch for others". Apparently, Bradley prefers easier and cheaper solutions such as forcing everyone to wear a helmet and perhaps even reflective vests. I just wonder how much protection a helmet really gives you in a collision with a city bus? Something tells me that not much.

The good thing is, that London has no intention of following Australia's example and forcing helmets by law. Since enforced bicycle helmets usually mean a significant drop in the number of cyclists, maybe this will save some of the British from becoming couch potatoes.