Thursday, June 26, 2014

Estabrook Woods revisited

I revisited Estabrook Woods recently and a few more unpaved trails around Carlisle, MA. I was hoping to find a new way across Carlisle, south to Concord, but unfortunately, it seems that nearly all trails through Estabrook forest are more suitable for mountain bikes or even fat bikes, and not bikes like my Poprad. Many of these paths are walkable but can't be easily traversed by bike. They are too narrow, too overgrown, too rocky and too bumpy in places. The only one that is definitely accessible is the trail connecting both paved ends of Estabrook Rd, on the western side of the forest (see the map below). But even there I wouldn't approach it without at least 35mm-wide tires.

Estabrook Woods Trail in Carlisle, MA.

I added some comments on the map below so you can decide for yourself, which way to go, should you be in this area. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sudbury Loop Ride - a visit to Assabet River Rail Trail

I visited Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. Again. This time however, in order to stay away from the swarms of mosquitoes, I didn't even try to ride through the reservation. Instead, I took a path around it and entered the Assabet River Rail Trail. The trail starts at Winter St in Maynard and runs along Assabet River. The first few miles are a bit rough and bumpy but on 35mm-wide tires you can roll at 12mph with no problem.
Once you get closer to Hudson, the path is fully paved and turns out to be a bit boring this way. I mean, it's a nice path but nothing more than just a strip of asphalt running through a forest. On the other hand, I wish my usual Minuteman Trail closer to Boston had this paving quality.
Continuing along the path you will finally reach the center of Marlborough. I was there around 7:30 (on Saturday morning) and it still looked a bit sleepy - not much traffic, no pedestrians.
From Marlborough I found my way to Parmenter St in order to take a path south, along the bank of Sudbury Reservoir. The path turned out to be a bit challenging in places. It runs through the deep forest and is partially overgrown. Large roots, rocks and pits definitely don't make bike riding easy over there. Interestingly, this deep forest is also home to New England Regional Primate Research Center but I didn't see any freely running chimps anywhere around.
Next target was the Callahan State Park and the trails there started great but once I entered the forest they turned into the usual mountain biker's paradise. Too tough for my bike, unfortunately. I didn't spend much time there. I followed the Pipeline Trail north, took Nixon Rd, then Dutton Rd and arrived back at the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge.
Historic Grist Mill at Wayside Inn Rd in Sudbury...

...and a church across the street.

It wasn't a long ride - about 48km (30mi) but I have to say that the land around Sudbury is beautiful. It's very rural, with lots of narrow, winding roads running through the forest or farmland. Feels like a perfect place to ride a bike.

There is also some interesting history connected to this place. If you happened to be on Old Marlboro Rd in Maynard, look at the dome-shaped building, covered with soil with lots of antennas on the top. Does it look like and entrance to an underground structure? It is! It's the FEMA Regional Center and it's a relict of the Cold War. In case of the risk of a nearby nuclear blast several hundred people could find shelter inside up to 30 days. Government officials, of course. I don't think we would qualify.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A short test ride - Salsa Beargrease XX1

It was the Father's Day yesterday. Not that I was celebrating in any special way. In fact, I wasn't. My father lives 4000mi away and even though I'm a father myself, my kids are at that age that the best gift they can give me is go to sleep. Or at least stay quiet.

Nevertheless, I managed to had some fun yesterday - about 30 minutes of fun with Salsa Beargrease XX1. Wheelworks in Belmont together with Salsa Cycles were organizing a Demo Day - a good opportunity to try out some of the most recent Salsa's offerings in their natural habitat. To tell the truth, the models I was particularly interested in test riding were either Vaya or Fargo, but these were unfortunately unavailable. Mukluk would be my next choice but that one was out as well. So that's how I ended up with the Beargrease - the top XX1 model with a hefty price tag of $5500. Yikes!
Now I must explain that my quick and dirty ride with Beargrease was in fact the first ride on a mountain bike in... 12 years! That's right. I had a loooong break. Twelve years ago I was riding in Austrian Alps with my brother and haven't used a mountain bike since (I moved to cross/touring/road/city/utility bikes). Surely, a lot has changed in the MTB world in that time.
Just by looking at Beargrease, I was expecting a heavy, sluggish mountain bike. I was wrong. Very wrong. This thing is absolutely fantastic. The ride quality is amazing. The bike feels incredibly light (~26lbs or 12kg) despite the monstrous 4"-wide tires. The XX1 rolls over obstacles with such ease and lightness that after a while I nearly stopped paying attention to the path. That high curb in front of me? No problem. Those large rocks? What rocks?! These tires swallow everything you throw under them. Riding downhill was easier and more comfortable than ever, but the real surprise came with going uphill. Thanks to the large contact area, fat bike tires exert very little pressure on the ground and provide excellent grip. Climbing on Beargrease was probably easier than on a regular 26"-wheeled mountain bike. I would go even further and claim that I much rather have these tires on a mountain bike than a full suspension.
Obviously, a major part of that lightness is possible thanks to components bolted to the carbon frame and carbon fork. The top-of-the-line Beargrease comes with 1x11 SRAM XX1 drivetrain, which is a very costly offering. This is why I would rather be looking at more budget-friendly Mukluk 2 (even though it's not exactly cheap either). Well, "I would be", even though until yesterday, I wasn't even considering a fat bike at all. I kept telling myself that it's not worth spending money on something I would use very occasionally. But after riding Beargrease, I am not so sure anymore...


Monday, June 9, 2014

MUPs - dangerous by design?

Another helmet debate. Jan Heine published on his blog, "Off the beaten path", this post about his views on bicycle helmets use.
He's right on many points, but his opinion on helmet use on multi-user paths surprised me a bit. When I commented:
While I 100% agree that it is good to wear a helmet during any sport cycling activity, when risk of falling is higher, I do not think that riding on a greenway, 12mph, away from any car traffic, justifies helmet use,
he replied:
(...) “multi-use trails” that mix pedestrians, cyclists and dogs on a 12-foot-wide strip of pavement with no markings, then that is probably the most dangerous place to cycle on a busy weekend, and best avoided.
So I started to wonder - are multi-user paths (MUPs) such as the Minuteman Bikeway in my area really THE most dangerous places to ride your bicycle in the city? I mean, if they were, we would see carnage on every summer Sunday when these paths fill up with bikers, dog walkers, children and walkers very quickly. But this, fortunately, doesn't happen.
 Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington on quiet Monday afternoon.

It all comes down to simple physics: speed and mass - energy. When riding on a MUP, I anticipate that others may behave erratically: kids may suddenly run across the path, dogs may walk over to the other side in front of my bike, someone may suddenly stop. Knowing this, I adjust my speed and I never ride too fast to lose control, hence 12mph (20km/h) is absolute maximum speed I would ride with, even though on average it is much closer to 8mph (especially when path gets crowded on weekends). Other users of this MUP travel at similar speed except a few Armstrong-wannabes who think Minuteman Bikeway is a race track and ride well over 20mph. They are potentially endangering themselves and others. Maybe they know about it, that's why they always wear helmets

Riding my bike on a busy city street looks very different. I automatically anticipate that all drivers follow the same rules (leaving enough space for doubt in case they don't) - in this case drivers may actually be more predictable than those kids and dogs on Minuteman Bikeway. However, the speed I travel with is significantly lower than all other vehicles around me. Results of potential collision could be devastating (for me, obviously). On the top of that, drivers always seem to be in rush. Passing a bicycle is something they just can't wait with, so 90% of time they try to squeeze in, even if I don't leave them enough space by riding closer to the centerline. Truck drivers are definitely the worst here. They are well-aware of the mass of their vehicles and in general present "I own the road" personality by passing by much too close. Compared to those busy city streets, riding on a busy MUP is like a walk in a park.

But in the end, everyone should be aware that probably the most dangerous places to ride a bike in the city are those within the door zone of parked cars... or porta-pottys.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Nauset Light Ride

My family landed at the Cape last weekend, which means that yesterday I had a rare opportunity to explore some new places around (If you, like me, happen to have two little, busy kids at home, you would know that finding some time for a longer ride is a rare opportunity indeed).
The last ride of this kind took me all the way to Chatham. This time, my goal was to reach Nauset Light - a small lighthouse overlooking the ocean, just north of Eastham. But because this time I wanted to be back home for breakfast, I left the house at around 5:00 and drove to the beginning of Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT) in West Harwich. This saved me a lot of time by avoiding all the traffic on the way from Osterville to CCRT. I hopped on my bike at 5:30 and started moving along the trail towards center of Harwich.
The trail was completely empty at that time. All the cyclists and dog walkers must have been still sleeping. The sun has just started to peek out above the trees. The air was fresh and a bit chilly.
I passed by a few cranberry bogs on the way and reached the rotary, where the bike trail splits up. The eastern path leads towards Chatham - the way I rode before. I took the northern path instead, which leads to Orleans. I also noticed that this cycle rotary is now being monitored by video cameras. Apparently, a rotary for cyclists is such a unique feature in United States that someone would attempt to steal it.
The rest of the trail was equally easy to ride as the beginning section. Maybe even a bit boring in places. CCRT passes by multiple lakes, cranberry bogs and Nickerson State Park, running in the shade of trees 90% of the time. And even though it is clearly aimed more towards the less-experienced cyclists (or Sunday riders, if you prefer), it's nice to be able to ride for 50mi+ away from the heavy car traffic - something not so obvious here, in eastern Massachusetts.

After about an hour and a half of riding I reached Eastham, where I had to cut across Route 6 and then climb across the dunes to finally reach the lighthouse.
It was still early, around 7:00am and I saw only a very few people there. The ocean was in it's full swing with pretty decent waves hitting the shore. It was windy.
I stayed there for a short while and read some history about this place from the information boards around. I have never been here before and it was a beautiful place - although I imagine it must get super crowded in the summer.
Having spend over 10 years in Boston, I still have to explore the northern end of the Cape - north of Wellfleet. I may have a chance this summer.