Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Buying locally vs. buying online

I visited several local bicycle shops in my area recently and I am becoming more and more frustrated. Once a while I would hear that I should support my local economy and buy everything locally. This includes bike parts and accessories. Well, even if I wanted to, it doesn't work and I end up buying everything online. Let's compare:

Buying locally:
+ I can have in-person conversation with the salesman and often get an advice.
+ I can take stuff I buy home imediatelly.
+ I can get a better feeling of color, form, function of things I buy and in case of clothing, I can try them on.
+ Returns are as easy as a walk to the store.
+/- Price is sometimes a bit higher, but I don't pay shipping charges.
- Often local stores don't carry things I am looking for.
Your local bike store knows best what you need. (Source:

Buying online:
+ Wide selection. I can always find what I need.
+ Usually best price is guaranteed.
+/- I have to pay shipping charges but I can avoid paying a higher tax rate.
- I can't see or feel what I am buying. I can't try things on. I have to rely on what I read about the product online.
- No or very limited help and advice available.
- I have to wait for my order to arrive.
- Returning things may be problematic. Instead of just stopping at my local store I have to repack everything and send it by mail. Often, I have to call first and get a return number, etc.

Four pluses, one minus for buying locally and 2 pluses, 4 minuses for buying online. If buying locally is so good why am I not doing it more often? The answer is that single minus on my "buying locally" list. This is the main problem with local stores. Most of them carry a certain line of products and simply do not offer anything beyond that. Do you want a new bike? Visit a local store and choose from a wide selection from Trek and Specialized. Anything else? Oh yes, we have that one Cervelo as well (Well, it is not usually that bad but you get my point). Want some bike clothes? We have Pearl Izumi and Bontrager. That's all. Want new tires? We have Bontrager and Specialized. And 3 types of Continentals.

I hope you see my point. The main problem with local stores is that they do not have the space to carry all sorts of different products. Which means that if you are looking for some mainstream product from Specialized, Trek or Bontrager, you are well covered. But if you want a Salsa bike on Clement tires and a ShowersPass jacket - tough luck. Better try online.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exploring new paths

Some people ride their bikes just for the ride itself. But for me, that's not enough. I don't see a point in riding for 200km straight just to spend more time in the saddle. For me, riding is just a tool for visiting new places and seeing new things. These things don't have to be huge, like some steep mountains in Karakoram. They can be just new locations in my neighborhood.
With this in mind, I went on a ride Thursday, after work. I was trying to find out some alternative route from my work in Burlington to the Reformatory Branch Trail in Concord. First, I took left from Burlington Rd and after a few more turns a was on Wilson Rd. Once I crossed Page Rd I was supposed to see a trail going around the Old Reservoir. Instead, all I saw was someone's driveway. It turned out that the trail was slightly to the left, well hidden between the trees.
Unfortunately, riding around the reservoir was not a pleasant experience. The trail is very narrow. In places - so narrow that you can't see it between the overgrown bushes. There are some fallen trees, some muddy sections. Worst of it that I got lost a bit and instead of riding toward the Carriage Drive, I ended up on Page Rd. The Old Reservoir trail is just not for my bike. A mountain bike would be more suitable there but even then, I am not sure I would enjoy riding it.
I continued south and at the end of Range Way I found the beginning of Simonds Brook Trail. Unfortunately, after so many rainy days earlier this month, the trail looked more like a dried river bed. Riding there was difficult at first and when it got better eventually, I ended up at a large opening with high-voltage power lines running through it. This is where I had to change my course since the meadow was too wet to ride there and looked more like a bog. I found some alternate route towards Fifer Ln, which eventually led me to the main road - Bedford St. The second of new trails in the neighborhood turned out to be a poor choice as well.
I rode South Rd west, and just north of Hanscom airfield I found well-marked beginning of Hartwell Town Forest Trail. Since the entrance was so inviting I had high hopes for this route, which could connect me to the Reformatory Branch Trail. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a nightmare. Just after a few turns the nice forest path changes into a heavily overgrown, extremely narrow path, with millions of roots everywhere. Had I used a mountain bike, the situation could have been a bit better, but riding 700x35c tires in such a place was no fun but hard work. I wanted to yell after Max Cavalera, "Roots, bloody roots!". Then, after a short ride into the forest, my trip ended. The rest of the trail was a bog and wading nearly ankle-deep in water, I decided to turn around. On my way back, while still in the forest, I could hear the roaring sound of jets taking off at Hanscom and I wondered how people can live so close to the airfield. Anyway, the third trail was a failure as well.
I decided to take South Rd up north toward the Reformatory Branch Trail and ride to Concord. Once there, I stopped at the Old North Bridge and wanted to cross it to merge with Liberty St on the other side. Not a chance. Just after the bridge the entire path was completely flooded by the nearby Concord River. With so much rain we had recently, this is probably not surprisining.
I turned back and head up north the Monument St. There was a tiny Red Coat Ln on my left and there I found the beginning of Estabrook Woods Trail. This is a path that runs through the forest up north, towards Carlisle. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to continue in that direction. It was close to 7pm and I had to head back home, but the trail looked promising. I am sure I will be back there some time later this summer.
I rode back to Concord center and then took the Battle Road Trail towards Lexington. Again, the little bridge at the beginning of the trail at Meriam's Corner was underwater. I had to find my way around it but fortunately, the rest of the trail did not have any further surprises.
Finally, some time around 7:30pm and after 42km (26mi) I was back home.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Crazy spring weather

I have to admit, this spring's weather is driving me nuts. I stopped looking at forecast and simply just assume that it IS going to rain everyday. We probably have had more thunderstorms and downpours this month than the entire year of 2012. One thing is sure - never leave the house for a bike ride without a rain shell and those waterproof pants.
Crazy spring weather (Source:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Connecting the neighborhoods - Middlesex Greenway

I wrote some time ago about the initiative to build a bike and pedestrian greenway circling around Lexington. The goal was to enable easy travel around the town by bike and on foot, far away from car traffic, in relaxing, forested areas.

Apparently, Lexington is not alone. There is another initiative, called Middlesex Greenway, that will build another series of bike paths connecting Minuteman Trail in Lexington with towns of Burlington, Woburn and reaching as far as Middlesex Fells paths in Stoneham. You can learn more about it here and also download a map of the proposed greenway.

For those of you familiar with the area, you will notice that the proposed path runs along some sections that have presently no bicycling infrastructure at all. I am curious to find out how these placed are going to be rebuild. For example, the path runs along Bedford Rd and Willow St in Woburn. Can we expect some bike lanes on those streets?

Overall, this is a very good news. While it is not too difficult to travel through northern Boston's neighborhoods by bike, greenways are always welcomed. They should stimulate citizens to bike more and will give us an option to stay away from many busy streets.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Riding long distance

New Zealand. Route 1 to Wellington.
Many of you will start to laugh if I write that for me, long distance means maximum  of 150km (93mi) a day. That's right. I probably could ride much longer than that, but I see no point in it. Let me explain.

Assuming I start around 6:00AM and finish around 7:00PM, I have 13 hours of daylight to enjoy the ride. There are longer days than that, but even in the summer, in Boston, days are hardly much longer than 13 hours. It usually gets dark around 8:30PM here. But why not ride longer, with the lights on - you may ask. Well, once it gets dark, I can't see the world around me, which means I can't enjoy the scenery. To me, there is no point in riding after sunset.

So how far can I go within those 13 hours? Let's say, I am able to maintain an average speed of about 18km/h (11mph) - which is not always the case, especially on some steep dirt roads. And let's not forget that I want to see the new places on my ride, take stops for food, water and pictures. I assume then, that my stops add up to 30 min. every 2 hrs of riding.  This gives me 10 hours of riding and 3 hours of stops within those 13 hours of daylight. Theoretically, 10 hours at 18km/h means 180km (112mi) in the saddle a day. But realistically, it is much less. I know I would stop more often or ride slower. I also my not feel to spend the entire day riding. I like to be flexible.

Flexibility, some sightseeing, picture taking, relaxing - these are the things I am looking for when riding my bike. That's why 150km is a distance long enough. I feel like riding a longer distance is focused too much on the time limit (sunrise-sunset) and not the ride itself.

But what about the challenge? Sure, if riding longer distances non-stop is something you are looking for, then by all means - do it. How about 325mi on gravel? But why only 325mi? Why limit yourself? Go coast-to-coast! Non-stop. On gravel, if you like. You have a time limit of 2 weeks ;)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Every day is good for a bike ride. Not!

Hardcore cyclists say that there is no such thing like bad weather for bike riding - only bad clothing. And in general, they are right. Even if weather seems to be extremely bad, like a heavy downpour or a freezing snow, you can always find a solution. Wear some heavier clothes, something waterproof and you may find out that all those weather conditions are quite bearable.

But hardcore bikers are wrong. Heavy rain or sub-zero temperatures are not your worst enemy. After all, once you keep moving you produce enough heat to keep you warm. The worst weather to ride your bike is the one that hit us this weekend - humid air with temperatures close to 95F (35C). I know, some of you say "I'd rather be hot than cold" and this statement may be true if you lay down in a hammock, in a shade of some tall trees with a cold beer in your hand. But if you are on your bike, the situation is quite different. There are no clothes that can help you (unless you know about some battery-powered cooling jerseys),  there is no shade, there is no A/C, there is no cold beer either. You are on your own, in the heat of the day and your water supplies tend to last shorter than usual.

Yes, I may be biased. I am not designed to the weather like this. I am from the part of the globe where some say that polar bears walk on the streets. Can't wait for this heat wave to be over. 35C is just too much.