Monday, December 29, 2014

Is it winter yet?

I got used to the fact that December is still pretty mild here in Boston but 55F (13C) is still unusual for this time of year. Right after Christmas I visited Cape Cod for 2 days with my family and because I didn't want to leave my bike behind, I could enjoy spring weather biking in winter, at the waterfront.
What's really nice about cycling at the Cape in winter season is that road traffic is very light. Summer crowds are long gone and those residents who stay here for most of the year move out for winter months anyway. At 6 a.m. you can barely find a single car on the road.

Friday, December 19, 2014

When is the best time to start riding your bike to work and why is it the Christmas season?

If you ever wanted to try riding your bike to work but were still hesitating - don't. Now it's the best time of the year to try it! You may think it's crazy - why start now, in winter when weather is cold and days are short? Wouldn't summer be a better time? Don't get fooled. There are several good reasons why Christmas season is the best time of the year to try your new bike commute. Here is why:
  1. It's a slow season. Many companies close between December 24th and January 2nd and kids have no school. This means that road traffic is significantly lighter and that's important for those of us who have to share roads with cars on the way to work for at least a part of our commute (which means most of Americans).
  2. It's a busy season. The last week before Christmas the road traffic may be actually quite the opposite - heavy to the point of standstill. Roads get loaded with cars because everyone rushes to malls for holiday shopping. I absolutely hate visiting malls this time of the year but if I have to do it, I do it by bike. This way I don't have to circle 10 times around the parking lot hunting for space. And a very heavy and slow road traffic makes it much easier to ride a bike too - when cars get stuck, you are still moving.
  3. Good weather. This will sound crazy but weather in December in Boston is actually nice. It's pretty mild, around 32F (0C) and it rarely snows. At least in our area January to March is very cold with lots of snow, April to June is warmer but often very rainy, July and August are way too hot and humid, September and October are the best but traffic gets heavy as the school starts and November is rainy. So there you go - the dry, mild winter of December looks actually quite attractive for bike commuting.
  4. Cars slow down. If snowfall happens, drivers become more careful and slow down significantly. If you're 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 and cautious.
  5. Your own bike lane. If a heavy snowfall happens, the huge snow banks on the side of the road block often a good chunk of the rightmost lane making it too narrow for cars, but perfect for bikes. Suddenly that scary 4-lane road becomes a slow 2-lane one with dedicated bike lanes in both directions!
  6. Grab the bull by its horns. If you try bike commuting now, you will be ready for the worst - low temperatures, darkness, poor traction. You will have a chance to figure out what lights work best on your bike, how to ride on snow and what to wear. After that, there will be no situations that would surprise you.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Cover your light!"

I mentioned a while ago that my company moved to the new building. It's only a mile away from the old location but now it's more convenient for me to ride on Minuteman Bikeway to work every morning. I usually avoid this popular bike path in winter months for two reasons: 1) lacking any street lights, it's very dark in places and 2) it doesn't get plowed often enough so once the first winter blizzard comes, the paths becomes unusable until spring.
But we still didn't get any major snow storm so I decided to continue biking on the Minuteman. This lets me experience something new this season. The first time it happened I didn't know what the fellow cyclist was talking about. If you pass someone at high speed and that person is talking to you, all you hear is some mumbling. Then I realized that he was telling me to cover my light, the same way some other cyclists were doing when they were passing me. "Cover my light?", I thought: "Why? Is my light really blinding everyone?" Just to be sure that wasn't the case, I pointed it a bit further down, even though it was already positioned that way. Yes, my headlight is mounted on the handlebars, the same way most cyclists lights were mounted. But what if I had a proper generator light installed just above the front fender? Would you expect me to reach over the handlebars to cover it as well every time I was passing someone?
My Planet Bike Blaze headlight. The 2-Watt version.
Now keep in mind that the headlight I'm using is not a 800 lumen death ray that would turn night into a day. It's just a very basic and inexpensive 2-Watt version of Planet Bike's Blaze lamp. I find it perfectly adequate for urban cycling and I noticed that it's far from being the brightest light on the Minuteman path. So when I heard another passing cyclist yell it again, I thought: "Dude, your light is brighter than mine anyway. What you want me to do? Point my headlight to shine on my front tire?".
That makes me wonder:
         a) Are bicycle lights too bright?
         b) Do cyclists know how to position their head lights properly?
         c) Are cyclists oversensitive about being blinded?
         d) Other (please specify): _______________
         e) All of the above.