Monday, March 31, 2014

The (Wet) Lincoln Loop

I think I really have enough of this crappy weather and the main reason for this is that I just want to ride my Poprad a lot more. Traversing snow, ice, mud and wetlands is just not what brings smile to my face.

Nevertheless, despite the rain on Friday afternoon, roads on Saturday morning didn't look bad at all so I decided to go for a bike ride. The day was supposed to be really warm, which means air temperature of only 10C (or 50F) - that felt almost like a heat wave compared to the earlier days of this crappy month. I started rolling along the Minuteman Bikeway and as I expected, it was actually pretty dry so I was moving forward quickly. Next, I reached the Battle Road Trial in Lexington and unfortunately here is where the fun ended. The trail was just very muddy and had huge patches of ice all over the place making it impossible to ride without studded tires.
The Battle Road Trail in Lexington in this so-called Spring.

I gave up on the trail and took North Great Rd instead, then connected to Sandy Pond Rd. From there I was planning on taking the trails crossing Pine Hill and merge with Concord Rd but again - despite being nearly April this winter is just not gone yet. The trails across Pine Hill had a lot of frozen snow and ice and I ended up carefully walking my bike there.

I finally reached Concord Rd and I promised myself not to take any forest trails until the end of this ride. This means I had to stay on the pavement so I followed Concord Rd all the way to Weston center, crossing the Weston-Wayland Rail Trail.
Tracks along the Weston-Wayland Rail Trail.

From there, I moved towards Waltham and using greenways along the Charles River, I reached Watertown. I got back home on time for a late breakfast after just 50km (31mi), wishing that all this bloody snow melted very soon.
Historic trestle over Charles River in Watertown.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NAHBS and after - 2014+ wish list

This year's NAHBS is long over and while I didn't attend the show, it made me think about a few innovations we have seen during the recent years and share some thoughts on the direction the bicycle industry should, in my opinion, follow in the nearest future:
1) We desperately need a new road groupset(s) from the Big Three (Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo) designed for "normal" road bicycles, that is, those used by "normal" people - not racers. It should offer a 44/28T or 46/30T crankset with a 12-30T or 11-32T, 10-speed cassettes and be paired with standard 2x10 speed integrated shifters. These combinations make just much more sense for everyday use than those 50/34T cranksets and 11-28T cassettes found on today's road bikes.
2) I would also like to see a SRAM XX1 drivetrain designed for a road bike. The XX1 is a unique, fully integrated drivetrain that uses a single 28T or 38T chainring and a very wide range, 11-speed cassette: 10-42T (!). It is designed for mountain bikes only, but a simpler and cheaper version with a 10 or 11-speed cassette could be introduced to road bikes as well. A single 37T chainring paired with a 10-36T cassette offers a very useful range of 100-28 gear inches of development (with 700c wheels) and this would work very well for most "normal" road cyclists. The drivetrain is simplified and lighter - no need for a second shifter, chainring and a front derailleur.

3) But since this is supposed to be a wish list, let's take SRAM's idea a bit further. For decades, bicycles have had 2 derailleurs and SRAM wants us to give up on the front one. But I would really like to see a complete solution where all gearing is placed right where it is supposed to be - in the crankset (or the bottom bracket - the be precise). Picture a bicycle that has a single cog on the rear hub and a single chainring in the crankset and all gears are internal, hidden inside the bottom bracket. Something like a 11-speed Alfine or 14-speed Rohloff hub but moved away from the rear wheel. Sure, this would require a special frame and a crankset and it's not a solution for everyone. But theoretically, we could benefit from a better weight distribution, a stronger, symmetrically-dished rear wheel, a stronger, wider chain or belt and a nearly maintenance-free gearbox.

4) City bicycles (and others too) with fully integrated electric assist motors. I touched this subject here, already.

5) Wide 700c forks. I know this makes you think "huh?" but let me explain. A few things happened in the cycling world during the last few years and two of them were: gravel bikes (1), whatever they really are, and 27.5" or 650B tires (2). The gravel bikes are supposed to be pretty much cyclocross bicycles but perhaps with a little less sporty geometry, disc brakes and even wider, than cyclocross, tires. We routinely see 40mm tires on "dedicated" gravel rigs. What I would like to see is a gravel bicycle that features a frame with enough tire clearance to fit either a 40-45mm 700c tire or a 2.0" one on 27.5" wheel. This can be done even using narrower, 68mm bottom brackets. In worst case the frame would need sliding rear dropouts to increase tire clearance when 27.5" wheels are used. But there is still the unresolved problem with forks. There are virtually no forks designed for cyclocross or gravel bikes with 700c wheels that would clear a wider 2.0" tire on a smaller wheel. Currently the only solution to this problem is to use a rigid 29er as a gravel bike. However, that's more like a mountain bike, not a "road" bicycle. I think it would be nice to have more options.

6) The handlebar of the future -  the crowbar!
Just kidding...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taken for a ride - part two

As a follow up to my post about the demise of public transportation in United States, here is an article about the history of our cities - how we lost the streets for cars and how crossing freely anywhere we wished became illegal jaywalking. Worth reading and worth remembering how
"At some point, we decided that somebody on a bike or on foot is not traffic, but an obstruction to traffic." 
Sixth Ave in 1903, New York City. People ruled the streets and public transport was a dominant way of travel. (Source:

Most countries followed U.S. example and opened their cities for cars, pushing people off the way, onto sidewalks. Few tried to fix the problem. Obviously the best example of one of those few is Holland, where some time in the 70's the Dutch realized that the best way to avoid having their cities plugged permanently with a slow moving car traffic is to take the streets away from the drivers and give them back to pedestrians and cyclists. It worked! Dutch cities are often quoted as the most walkable in the world.

Meanwhile in the U.S. traffic congestion is growing three times as fast as U.S. economy but we are still too afraid to make driving unappealing and stimulate drivers to to switch their cars for other means of transportations. On the other hand, we demolished our streetcar lines back in the 40's so there are few alternatives left. Are we just destined to be car-dependant forever?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spring time?

Looks like the warmer weather has finally arrived. At least for a short while (We had another snowfall today). Snow is melting and somehow more cyclists start to show up on the streets. Many of which will quickly realize that "fender season" is now in full swing.
I generally avoid Minuteman Trail and other bike paths in winter since they are at the opposite end of I-95 when it comes to snow plowing priority. But as Tuesday's weather was just so warm and inviting, I decided to take a longer route back home and try to ride on the bike path instead. Unfortunately, while Minuteman Bikeway looked mostly clear and free of snow, you couldn't tell the same about the Lower Vine Brook Trail:
And this means that I was a bit too quick. Yes, spring is slowly coming but it's not here yet. I will have to wait longer and until the snow is gone for good. For now, I stay on the road, with cars.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Taken for a ride - how Americans ruined their public transportation

This is a story from the beginning of the XX century. A story about the American cities, where driving was a privilege and cars were rarely seen on streets. Highways did not exist and most people were using electric streetcars, running on rails, as their main way of moving around the city. In 1920, 90% of all trips were via rail and only one in 10 Americans owned an automobile.

This is a story from the late 30's. A story when large corporations such as General Motors, met with political power with a goal to sell more cars to Americans. To make this successful, American cities had to be transformed and people had to be convinced that rail transport is the way of the past and cars are the future. The rail companies started to vanish and with them, the streetcars and rails. Buses and cars took over the streets and American cities became noisier and more polluted.

This is a story from the 50's and 60's. A story about the vast network of freeways that started to cut through the American landscape and surround largest cities like giant spider webs. The freeways cut through the neighborhoods, separating people and transformed massive amount of space within the cities. The I-93 highway in Boston required resettlement of 4000 people and relocation of part of the Mystic River. Many cities followed this example.

This is a story from the 70's. A story when people started to realize that urban sprawl and car dependence is not the answer but a problem. The cities were not designed to accommodate a quickly increasing number of vehicles and mile-long backups on highways were an integral part of each day in America. An alternative would be a welcomed option but it was already too late - the damage was done. Streetcars were gone and busses had to share the same roads with cars, making this public transport lacking and inefficient. 

The story continues. Today, America is as car-dependent as it was back in the 70's. The old problem is not solved but more and more people seem to notice the issue. Can America recover from the damage done over the decades? It will take time.


I have to admit that until I found this movie, I haven't thought about this at all. Cars are so well incorporated into American culture that I assumed this was always the case. But the truth is so different. America had an efficient and effective public transportation. A system that was completely dismantled with a decade and replaced with a nightmare we have to deal with until this day. Only a fraction of the old streetcar system survived in some cities and whether GM is to blame or not, Americans ruined their public transportation and what we have left is this:
Streetcar/subway rail system in Boston.

instead of something like this:
Streetcar/subway rail system in Berlin.