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: