Friday, December 27, 2013

Things I like about winter cycling

There are many cyclists who do not wish to ride their bikes in winter, blaming weather and road conditions as inadequate for bicycles. It's easy to find several good reasons why cycling in winter may be a bad idea, but I still think that winter is a great time to ride a bike. Here is why - form a commuting cyclist's perspective:
1) Drivers become more careful and slow down significantly. If you afraid to ride on some roads in the summer because you feel like all drivers are speeding, try cycling there in winter, after a fresh snowfall. Suddenly, all drivers become very polite, observant, cautious and traffic slows down significantly - all good for us, cyclists.

2) If you still feel uneasy about cycling on a road shared with cars, the Christmas season may be the best time to give it a try. The time from December 25th to January 2nd is a time many companies close and kids have no school. As a result, the road traffic gets significantly lighter. Combined with what I mentioned above, about winter road conditions means that you will see few cars on the road at the end of the year.
3) Roads get narrower. Sometimes this is not a good thing. But since everyday I ride my bike on a busy multilane street with no bike lanes, I noticed that only in winter I can enjoy my own, wide bike lane. Once the first big snowfall comes, plows push the snow away to the side piling it up at the curb. This narrows down the rightmost lane significantly, to the point where there is not enough space for cars to fit in this lane. It's simply too narrow. However, for my bike this is just perfect. Now I have my own lane where cars wouldn't go. Another advantage of winter blizzards.
4) If you are trying to get somewhere but for some reason you can't drive your car, ride your bike. It may be a much better idea than walking. Bikeyface showed us why:
Use roads, not sidewalks (Source:
5) Winter scenery can be beautiful. Well, mostly we get a wet, muddy, slushy winter. But sometimes those winter mornings are full of fresh snow, frosted trees, blue sky and some mild sunshine. It's better to experience this on a bike, than from the inside of a car.

Why do you like to ride your bike in winter?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Who's afraid of the big, bad snow?

Ah, winter is here! We got the usual amount of snow just before Christmas - about 6-10 in (15-25cm), which means that suddenly all drivers in New England became much more polite. Everyone drives slowly. So slowly that if you happen to drive your car it would take you much more time to get anywhere, only because the car in front of you discovered the new snail speed gear - even though the road is pitch black because it got salted just an hour ago with more salt than found in the Dead Sea.
Salty streets (Source:
Anyway, with roads plowed and salted and all drivers being extra careful and driving sloooowly, I would think that this presents a perfect opportunity to ride a bike, instead of driving. Unfortunately, as I found out at the beginning of this week, it's not that simple. There is still a small problem. Literally. The huge banks of snow of both sides of the road mean that our roads shrunk quite a bit. The place that was reserved for bicycles - a nice, wide shoulder that I used daily, is now gone. With less space on the road my bike is no longer faster than cars! Those slow cars in front of me keep blocking me and very often I have no space to their right to pass them. So sometimes if they get stuck in traffic, so do I.
Other than that, I am still thinking that it's often easier to bike in winter than to drive. Especially if you don't have a garage and you have to spend a half an hour every morning on scraping the ice off the windshield.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The season of 10W/30

Not much going on recently. Christmas shopping, sending cards, preparations - the usual. Yesterday we were hit by just a first (miserable, so far) wave of winter. It started snowing a little but because this week temperatures oscillate around 32F, everything turned into a muddy slush pretty quickly. In fact, this is the worst type of winter weather, I think. Well, I don't even call it a winter. If it's not in the negative (degrees Celsius, of course), it isn't winter!
The reason why I dislike the zero degree (or 32F, if you prefer) winter weather is that you don't know what to expect. If the forecast says it's going to snow, it will probably rain instead. The rain may just wet the roads or freeze quickly and black ice is not something I would like to ride my bike on. Plus, riding in mud is not the way I would like to make my commute more interesting.
Nevertheless, the 10W/30 season has just begun and temperature will surely drop pretty quickly. Which means that many bikers will leave their bikes in the basement until March. And there is not much that would ever change this situation. Because "how many non-cycling Americans are going to ride to work on a bicycle in 33 degree temperatures with mist, sleet, and snow blowing in their faces in late February?"
Can't do without it. (Source:

Not many. Fortunately, Boston's winter isn't really that bad for winter cycling. It does get cold sometimes (around 0F or -18C) but this kind of cold doesn't scare me. Right clothing takes care of it. The precipitation is definitely much more unpleasant plus there are those few days when we get a huge blizzard with 3 feet of snow. But these days are rare enough that buying a dedicated snow fat bike probably doesn't make sense. Other than that, the winter streets of Massachusetts are perfectly usable by bike as well. Just use a cheap one. You wouldn't want your custom steel Rivendell to develop a beautiful orange rust all over the place after just one winter season. The winter streets of Boston get salted more than a cod fillet.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The ALB - Black Friday Ride

The last day of November most Americans spend at a table, celebrating a safe beach landing of a bunch of people crazy enough to cross the Atlantic nearly 400 years ago. (I wrote "most Americans" since if you happened to be a Native American, you wouldn't want to celebrate hundreds of years of environmental massacre and cultural rape.)

That day wasn't much different for me. I also spent it at a table although I wasn't sure what I was celebrating. Anyway, the following morning, on a day called for some unknown reason the Black Friday, I decided that it was a time to burn some of those turkey calories and go for a ride.

I left my house at 7:00 a.m. and it was a bit chilly outside with air temperature of -5C (22F). I was debating whether to go for a longer 70km (44mi) ride or settle for a shorter 40km (25mi) one. I was a bit worried that my gloves and cycling shoes are not going to keep my fingers and toes warm enough in this weather and eventually, I decided to take a shorter route. I rode around Arlington, Lexington and Belmont (hence the name - ALB) starting at the Minuteman Bikeway and reaching Lexington center around 7:20. The sun was rising quickly.
Sunrise in sleepy Black Friday's Lexington center.

Next, I went south to find a path through the Hayden Woods. I've visited this area before, or actually, I was trying to visit it but I gave up because it was getting too dark. This time, the path was clearly visible but a bit disappointing after all. This small forest in the southern Lexington is probably more suitable for hiking than cycling. The paths are narrow and difficult to navigate with multiple fallen trees and many rocks around.
I left the woods and took a path across the Dunback Meadows, beginning at Allen St. This was much more fun as this trail is wider, easy to ride and has many wooden boardwalks running above the swampy areas.
At this point, my toes felt like being completely frozen so my suspicion about the cycling shoes was correct. However, to my surprise, my hands were cozy and warm. Apparently, my cheap full-finger gloves with extra liners inside were just good enough at this temperature.

I crossed the Rt.2 and next took a bike path off the Metropolitan Pkwy in Belmont. I have planned to visit this place many months ago yet somehow never had a chance. It turns out that the Western Greenway Trail is a great place to ride a bike. The paths are well-marked, wide, and have just the right number of obstacles like roots, rocks, steeper inclines and downhills. I will definitely have to visit this place again.
The trail ends at Mill St but then continues as the Great Meadow Trail on the other side of the street and goes all the way to Pleasant St in Belmont. Finally, I took a long way back home around the Fresh Pond in Cambridge connecting through greenways to the path around the Mystic Lakes in Arlington.
It was a great ride and something I should try more often as long as I manage to get up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings. One lesson I learned - my shoes are completely inadequate for winter riding (duh!) so I've started looking for some solutions. Seems like Northwave Celsius shoes may be the answer.

Monday, November 25, 2013

One part that tells it all

If you wanted to find out more about a particular bike but you had no idea how it looks and what it is and you could ask only one question, about only one of that bike's component, what would it be?

"What frame is it build on?" - you may ask. But I think that my question would be about tires. Finding out what tires are installed on a bike tells me pretty much everything I need to know: the size of wheels, likely the type of frame, the conditions that bike would be used for, etc.

After I thought about it a bit more, I think that a bicycle tire is that single component that tells the whole story.
Clement X'Plor USH 700x35 on my Lemond Poprad

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being a rebel - disobeying the rules on the road

I am not sure how to write about this issue, but I'm sure it's an issue. An issue with either drivers, cyclists, the urban planning or likely all of those.

Once a while on my ride to/from work I meet some fellow cyclists on the road. Sometimes we share a few words, sometimes we only wave to each other. And while I have no idea what other cyclists think about me, I can tell you that I remember well those who ride against the rules and a common sense. Just like yesterday, when I met a cyclist on a bike without even a single light. At 6pm. Or those who first say hello and then ride away, running the red light, while I wait for my green. How would you call such a behavior? Stupidity?

Obviously, riding in darkness with no lights on is just asking for trouble and I would never tried that. I also have never felt like running the red light is going to help with anything and I have never done it. When I'm on my bike, I'm not in a rush. I don't feel like running reds is going to save me much time. In other words, I thought that the traffic regulations are there for a good reason and never felt like disobeying them. That's what I used to think.

Until I read this:
And as far as obeying the law on your bicycle, here's my approach, and it's based on both respect and common sense:

--When I'm in little fantasy bubble realms like gentrified Brooklyn where there's an actual infrastructure designed to incorporate cars and bicycles and pedestrians, and where it actually makes sense to follow the law because the people who laid out the infrastructure actually realizes that cars and bikes are completely different, I'm more than happy to be a good little boy scout;

--When I'm in Midtown or some other place where I'm "sharing the road" (that's cute) and thousands of two-ton, 350 horsepower motor vehicles are bearing down on me (...), you can be damn well sure I'll do whatever the hell I need to do in order to get a head start on these homicidal mutherf**kers, and that includes running the light if I deem it safer to do so;

--When I'm in the city, I do not ride on the sidewalk. However, if I'm in some suburban or exurban area on one of those heavy traffic routes with no shoulder that feeds into an Interstate, and there's a sidewalk, and nobody has actually walked on that sidewalk since 1963 (...), and I feel like I need to use the sidewalk to cross that Interstate, you're goddamn right I'm going to do it no matter what the law says. I'm going to "obey the letter of the law" in that situation to prove I "deserve respect?" F**k that.

In other words, I'll use bicycle infrastructure responsibly if you give it to me, but screw you if you think I'm going to pretend it's there when it's not.
BikeSnobNYC usually gets straight to the point and throws some f-words frequently to accentuate his opinion but in this case, he's right. While I have never been is such a situation, I can see how not every red light is created equal and in certain conditions it may be wiser to cross an intersection on red in order to avoid close encounters with numerous heavy trucks and speeding cars.
...unfortunately, if you try to run red lights in order to be safer, this is how you will be seen by most drivers (Source unknown)

Of course, this doesn't mean that running reds or riding on sidewalks should now be an acceptable norm anywhere in your area. It still doesn't mean that riding at night with no lights on is something different than just being nominated to the Darwin Prize. But it points out an important issue. Cyclists wouldn't have to run red lights in order to feel safer on the road if "sharing the road" idea worked the way it's supposed to. Yes, cars and bicycles are different and sharing the road will only work if both drivers and cyclists want it. However, too often I see heavy trucks passing too close to me, like trying to tell me "I drive a bigger vehicle - make me some space. Get off the road! I don't care about you". Too often I see some uneven markings painted on the street that are supposed to substitute a real bicycle infrastructure.

If you're a driver, you may think that all cyclists should follow the rules to the letter (even though a vast majority of drivers don't). If you're a cyclist, you may think that traffic regulations were designed for cars (true to some extent) and these rules don't apply to you. No matter who you are, the situation is not as black and white as you may think.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

13 Kickstarter inventions for your bicycle

I have been browsing some bicycle-related projects on Kickstarter recently and while some of them seem pretty smart, others were just plain amusing. Here is what I found:

(All pictures come from Kickstarter project pages).

What is it?
A lightweight, carbon fiber, kickstand for your road bicycle. Attaches to the rear axle and must be removed for storage.

My opinion
I am not buying it. The idea of a lightweight kickstand made of carbon fiber is nice but I don't like that the Upstand has to be removed from bike, folded and stored somewhere off the bike (like your jersey's pockets) or in your saddle bag. When I put a kickstand on my bike I want it to be there all the time. I don't want to search for it every time I stop. Why not just design a lightweight kickstand that attached to the left chainstay and folds along it for storage? It could be then opened using your foot. No need to take it off before the ride.

What is it?
A lightweight saddle with gigantic cutouts that is supposed to take off any pressure from your pelvis bones while still support you well on the bike.

My opinion
It looks freakish, especially with this huge prong in the center that may stick right into my ass. It may work, but I remain skeptical for now. Maybe because I am perfectly happy with my Selle An-Atomica saddle. Maybe because something tells me that a larger support area is better to distribute the load of my butt than those skinny rails (This must be why my Brooks B67 is likely the most comfortable saddle I ever used). Maybe because it's called a "seat", while I always thought that what is bolted to bike is a "saddle".

What is it?
I actually have no freaking idea (and I watched the video). I guess it is a dude in an orange jumpsuit who sits on the roof of your car and warns you when you approach your driveway.

My opinion
In this lousy, blurry video a Vanilla Ice wannabe "sings" about driving back from his road ride (can't he just leave his car in the garage and ride to his ride?). Apparently he crashes his bike while driving into the garage since he felt "kinda numb, kinda dumb" and forgot about the bicycle strapped to the roof rack. Interestingly, he drives a station wagon so he could have just put the bike in the trunk and spare us his "Ice, Ice, Baby" performance.

What is it?
A recoiling bicycle rear mudguard. In other words - a rear fender that can be folded when not used.

My opinion
I have seen similar things before and I guess there is a good reason why you don't see them on bicycles too often - they don't work. There are two problems with Plume and other mudguards of this type: (1) they are positioned too far from the wheel to offer good anti-splash protection, (2) they are removable, which brings the whole point of having fenders on your bike. If you ride in rain or on wet roads, why not just install proper fenders and leave them on bike full time? What is the benefit of removing the fender for those dry weather rides?

What is it?
Just a bicycle bell.

My opinion
Well, it's just a bell. Not much to say about it. It's looks a bit like these guys are trying to re-invent the wheel, although I have to say that their bell looks good and is nicely designed. I could by one - for $10. But it seems to cost at least $35.

What is it?
Handlebars, integrated with a stem, a headlight, GPS, Bluetooth and a whole kitchen sink.

My opinion
It looks nice and clean with no cables hanging around but having an integrated solution isn't really the best option, I think. What about adjusting the vertical headlight tilt? What about other handlebar types? And why everything today has to link to a smartphone? I don't think I ever want to turn my bike lights from my phone (Seriously, why would I?), but since today's Facebook generation can't live without being online 24/7, I am probably a minority anyway.

Sparse Bicycle Lights
What is it?
A set of bike lights, front and rear. These can apparently be permanently attached to the bike and won't get stolen.

My opinion
These are pretty nicely designed and because they mount under the stem (front one) or clamp over the seatpost (rear one) they should indeed be difficult to steal. So, first I thought that they were pretty smart... until I heard when the video mentions that they come with 6ft charging cable. Wait, what? This means that their biggest advantage of not being easily removable is at the same time their biggest flaw. How am I supposed to charge them? Unlike the hipster inventors, I don't keep my bike in my bedroom and don't have a wall outlet nearby. So in the end, these are flawed, I think. Honestly, if you want to have true fool-proof solution, invest in a hub generator and a decent set of lights.

@cme FlatFree Wheelsets
What is it?
Wheels with airless tires. Meaning - they have no tubes and are not inflatable. They use a spongy material to fill the tires instead.

My opinion
The idea isn't new and this solution may work quite well for most folks. The problem is in the limited choice. These tires come in 35mm width only and are offered exclusively as complete wheelsets for a reason - it is difficult to put them on or take off the rim. You're stuck with whatever type of the wheel they offer. Will it fit your bike?

What is it?
A folding bicycle with large wheels.

My opinion
Once upon a time there was a guy living in Finland who decided to visit Stockholm by bike. Unfortunately, his bike got stolen when he was talking to the camera man. Since his apartment was tiny, he thought that a folding bike would work better for him, but he was very embarrassed riding a small-wheeled Brompton. This is how he invented FUBi - a large-wheel bike that folds for storage. In fact, it easily fits in your kitchen cabinet. Well,... almost. The "only" problem with FUBi is that there is no way to fold those large wheels. So while you can compact the whole bicycle into a small hunk of metal, the wheels are going to remain large - no matter what you try. The inventor tried to alleviate this problem by removing the axles from wheels and thus reducing their width. I like how both wheels are identical and how the entire chain drive stays attached to the frame. Nevertheless, the "embarrassment" of walking around with a tennis racket bag and two large bike wheels means that I would prefer to buy a Brompton.

Loud Bicycle
What is it?
It's a bicycle horn.

My opinion
Some people love to use their car's horns and seem not to be able to live without them. I don't like it and I never made it a habit to horn when I drive, even if someone cuts me off. But I can see the point presented in the video - a car horn sound is something drivers subconsciously expect to hear on the road and pay attention to. A bicycle bell sound is not something they usually worry about (Assuming they even hear it). So I guess this approach makes sense. I just wish they made that bike horn look better and be less ugly.

Monkey Light Pro
What is it?
A LED system that attaches to your wheels and displays various graphics.

My opinion
I watched the video and I am trying to figure out what this thing is supposed to be used for. Surely, it displays some cool graphics and makes you more visible on the road. But I think I would rather save my money and spend it elsewhere. Unless you really want to get your bike ready for every occasion, then go ahead - display a Christmas tree in December, red heart on February 14th or an American flag on July 4th. But in the end, it's "kinda numb, kinda dumb", don't you think?

What is it?
An electric kit to convert almost any bike into an e-bike.

My opinion
It looks pretty smart. A bunch of Lithuanian dudes designed this thing to be a fully contained (battery, motor, controller in one box) e-bike kit that attaches to the seatposts and powers the bike by rubbing a small roller against the rear tire (hence the name). I like how it's packaged, I like how it looks and I like how it can be quickly transferred from one bike to another. What I don't like is its limitations. If your bike has a rear fender, like all my bikes - you can't use Rubbee. If it has a rear rack, like my bikes - you can't use Rubbee. And if your bike has some very bulky, knobby tires... well, I don't know how you would use Rubbee with them. So in the end... I don't exactly know what types of bikes this thing is for.

FlyKly Smart Wheel
What is it?
An electric assist system completely contained with the rear wheel.

My opinion
It looks good, it looks simple, and it seems to be pretty smart as well. Installing an electric assist kit usually means running a bunch of wires along the frame of your bicycle and strapping various components all over the place. FlyKly is smarter the way it holds everything in one place. The installation is as easy as replacing the rear wheel. On the other hand all the heavy weight is placed around the rear axle (Fortunately, FlyKly weights only about 4kg) and there are no gears - single speed only. But my main complain is the smartphone throttle. Sorry, but relying on an iPhone to control the throttle will not work for me. I do realize that this way the price can be kept lower, the installation is simpler and there are no wires to run. Still, nothing beats dedicated controls, I think.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Months of grey

Not so much going on recently. The dark part of the year has begun last weekend, which means that from now until the end of February there is no excuse - lights are mandatory on your bike. Don't be a bike ninja!
Are you a bike ninja? (Source:
Even though it gets dark so early now, the weather has been very nice for the last few weeks (I have even seen a guy wearing shorts on his bicycle this morning!) and I wish I could go for some longer neighborhood rides after work on my Poprad. But I can't because... it gets dark so soon. I just don't see any point in riding in darkness. No headlight is going to change that. This means I have to wait for spring and my Poprad will stay grounded for the next 4 months.
Despite the fact that the weather has been very warm and relatively dry recently, November has just begun and this may mean more rainy days ahead. Time to get that rain gear ready and install fenders if you happen not to have any on your bike.
Rain (Source:
The months of grey are coming. Let's get ready.
Months of grey (Source:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tour de France years ago

The beginning of the XX century it was the time when bicycle racing became popular but was still pure - untouched by big money, sponsoring or drugs and doping scandals. Those guys could count only on themselves. There was no EPO to give them some superhuman powers. Let's take a look:
Meanwhile in Holland...
(Not sure about source of all these pictures. I found them somewhere on Internet a long time ago. I someone know where they came from originally, please let me know.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bionx electric assist - first impressions

I had a chance to test ride a bicycle with Bionx electric system. Oh boy, it's fun! But, let me start at the beginning...
I am not planning on adding an electric assist to any of my current bicycles although those hills in my neighborhood are still bothering me. Arlington, MA is a hilly place. The town is located on two large hills with Massachusetts Ave and the town center sitting in a valley between them. Unfortunately, I live on the top of one of those hills. This presents a problem. Any errands I would like to run car-free, involve walking or biking down the hill to the town center and then back uphill, with my son in a stroller and a backpack full of groceries. It just doesn't work. No wonder I never see my neighbors walking.
A bicycle doesn't really solve this problem at all. Riding down the hill on an empty bike with my son on the back seat is obviously not a problem. Riding back uphill on a bike loaded with groceries often seems impossible. Sometimes, in such situations I really wish there was an invisible hand to push me forward. Bionx PL350HT DT L system can work exactly this way.
Bionx PL35HT DT L system (Source:
The bicycle I rode was a fairly typical mountain bike (29er), equipped with a 350W rear wheel Bionx motor, 9-speed freewheel, Bionx downtube battery, a handlebar console and a throttle. The entire systems costs around $1700 and adds nearly 20lbs (9kg) to the weight of your bike. Yes, it's not lightweight, but I don't see it as a problem. It roughly compares to riding with two 1-gal jugs of water attached to the bike. Unless you are racing, you will not notice this much (Not that you would ever want to put Bionx system on a racing bike).
All I could do, was just a short ride around the block so I can't claim to fully test the system, but even that short ride gives me an impression of what Bionx can do. And in terms of performance, the system is simply amazing. There are 4 levels of assistance, adjustable with "+/-" buttons on the throttle. At level 1 and 2 the assist is barely noticeable when riding on a leveled street. Level 3 gives a significant speed boost and level 4 is just plain crazy. It seems to be an equivalent of the "red button mode". Yes, there is a separate red button on the throttle that has to be pressed and held for a quick, strong power boost. I picture this could be very handy when starting at the green light on a heavy, loaded bike or riding up a short, steep hill. But there were no hills in the place where I rode the Bionx bike so after switching to level 4 or pushing the red button, the bike was accelerating so quickly that I had to pull the brake levers in order to maintain control. So, be careful with the red button.
But that's not all. Bionx system comes also with 4 "negative" assist levels, or braking modes. When switched to a braking mode the motor recharges the battery, at a cost of pedal effort. Again, this thing is powerful! On a leveled street, I could tell it was clearly harder to pedal in regenerative modes 1 and 2. Mode 3 slowed me down to a crawl and mode 4... I don't know how to describe it. I think it compares to riding up the hill in a too-high gear while pulling a trailer. Obviously, you wouldn't want to ride your bike in those modes normally. But if you find yourself riding down a steep hill, why not just slow down, let the motor do the braking and recharge the battery at the same time?
One more question I wanted to have answered was how much extra drag the non-powered Bionx motor adds to pedaling effort. In other words, if the battery dies (or the system is simply turned off) would it be much harder to pedal because of the internal resistance of magnets in the Bionx motor? Fortunately, I found out that this is not the case. Riding with the system turned off didn't seem to make a difference. Yes, bike is heavier, but it's not much harder to pedal.
Overall, I am truly impressed with the performance of the Bionx system. It looks like a well-designed complete solution. This was the first time I ever rode an e-bike and the whole time I had a smile on my face. Especially, when I pushed that red button.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cities without cars

Remember "Vanilla Sky"? A 2001 movie with the famous scene where Tom Cruise walks alone through the completely empty Times Square in New York? The Times Square is the heart of New York City. It is the place that never sleeps. There is no way to see this place so empty - with no cars and no people. Creators of "Vanilla Sky" showed us the impossible.
Tom Cruise running through the deserted Times Square in "Vanilla Sky" (Source: Google Images)
We are so used to seeing cars in city centers that we can't picture cities without them anymore. For decades our cities have been designed with cars in mind. Pedestrians and bicyclists have been pushed off the streets - out of cars' way. This is the reason our streets have zebra-striped crosswalks painted on them. You are simply not allowed to cross the street anywhere you want. This is the reason why we have designated bike lanes, often separated from car traffic. You must ride your bike on those narrow paths between the gutter and fast-moving cars.
If we want to see how a large city could look with no cars and a calm pedestrian traffic, we must search for those old pictures from 1890's and early 1900's. Cars basically didn't exist back then. When I look at these pictures I see wide, open streets, calm pedestrian and horse carriage traffic, people walking across the street in any place they find convenient. Essentially, the entire city was one large pedestrian-only zone.
Compared to XXI-century cities, the difference is striking. But it's not the buildings that have changed so much. It's the streets. It seems obvious that once cars entered the city, the change of its landscape was enormous.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Estabrook Trails

The fall is here. Days are getting shorter and there is not much daylight left after 5p.m. to go for a longer ride. Despite all this, I decided to revisit the Estabrook Woods trails on Concord/Carlisle border.
I have found the entrance to this trail before, from the Red Coat Ln in Concord. From there the trail opens up and leads through the Estabrook forest. After passing Estabrook Rd on the left, the trail gets a bit wider.
Eventually, I reach the Mink Pond on my right. Then I continued north where the trail ended at the paved Estabrook Rd. The full length of the trail didn't take me more than 20-30 min. to ride and I was able to go pretty fast in places, maintaining a speed of about 20km/h (12mph). That doesn't mean that the trail is smooth and easy to ride. There are sections much more suitable for a mountain bike or at least a bicycle with much wider tires and perhaps a front suspension. The trail gets rocky in places so staying focused on the road is important.
My plan was to ride across the forest and find exit to Stearns St but once I left Bellows Hill Rd and entered the next section of the trail, I got lost. I must have taken a wrong path and instead of going north, the path took me south through the middle of Estabrook Woods. It was getting dark so I rode slowly, especially that the trail was even more rocky than before:
Finally, I found a path going left (east) and after a while I ended up at North Meadows Rd. It was getting dark quickly so I decided to go back. I took Monument St to the Reformatory Branch Trail and went back to Bedford.

In general, Estabrook Woods trails are fun to ride but the next time I would stay on the main, western trail only (between Red Coat Ln and Estabrook Rd). The other trails in the forest are just too rocky and riding a bike there is a bit difficult.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Phoenix Bike Project - part 2

I am making a pretty good progress with my old/new Frankenbike. I cleaned most of the components and those few missing, finally arrived. I also had the new wheels built.

The more challenging part was to prepare the frame and fork properly. I have worked on removing the old paint from the fork and found out that even the powerful bead blaster I have is not powerful enough. That powder coating seems to be very hard and durable so blasting it off was just too slow. What worked much better was a simple power sanding tool with 180 and 320 grit sandpaper pads and a Scotchbrite pad for final polishing. For those hard to access areas I used some small Dremel tool brushes with steel bristles. The fork is now shiny and clean, ready to be installed.
I have to work on the frame now and once this is done, it will be time to just put all this together. Phoenix bike will be reborn soon.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gravel bikes - a new trend?

I have been reading some Interbike reports recently and apparently, this year the hottest thing is the arrival of gravel bikes. To be honest, gravel bikes did not just came out of nowhere at this year's Interbike. Some companies noticed this newest trend a while ago and introduced dedicated gravel bikes, such as Salsa Vaya.
Salsa Vaya 2 - one of the first dedicated gravel bikes? (Source:
But until now, this "next big thing" was ignored completely by the biggest manufacturers. This Interbike showed that gravel bikes may be the next fixie thing - a trend that is about to stick around for a a while. That's good. While the fixie fashion was in my opinion just plain silly (I would never recommend a brakeless fixie bike for city riding.), gravel bikes are clearly very different animals. Or are they?
I am trying to understand what a gravel bike really is. It seems to be a mix of a cyclocross bike, touring bike, 29er MTB and probably something else. From what I figured out so far, a gravel bike is essentially a cyclocross bike but with a slightly relaxed geometry (longer chainstays, slacker head tube angle), clearance for slightly wider tires on 700c wheels and often - disc brakes. All this makes it very similar to a 29er MTB, but on a bit lighter side. It just seems to me that manufacturers smelled a new, tiny market niche and will try to persuade us that we need just one more bike.
I guess, all this means that we can probably call those bikes we already own, gravel bikes as well. Have a road bike? Put the widest tires your frame can handle and you can likely call it a "gravel bike". Have a 29er? Use skinnier tires, about 40mm wide and swap handlebars to drop bars. Have a touring bike? Just remove all that touring junk (racks, fenders, etc.), put wider tires on and you have a "gravel bike". Have a cyclocross bike? You're pretty much all set, just replace those knobby mud tires with something more suitable for dry conditions.
Interestingly, over the last few years I have been slowly converting my old Lemond Poprad into a gravel bike - not knowing about it! First, I replaced brakes and handlebars, then wheels and tires, and finally the crankset. All these modifications made my bike more off-road friendly and suitable for the conditions I like riding in the most. Now I know how to call them - gravel grinding.
Am I right or am I completely missing the point? Are gravel bikes something entirely new that didn't exist before?

Monday, September 30, 2013

I guess it's official!

When you leave your house in the morning and everything is covered by a thick fog blanket,
when it get's chilly enough that on your morning ride you have to put a light sweater on and when you see those first colorful trees around,
you know it's official. Summer is over and fall is finally here.
Fall is coming (Source: