Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Muddy mess at the year end

Looks like winter finally arrived. This morning commute was quite a mess. The snowfall started at night and continued through the morning and most of the day. Unfortunately, it's just too warm outside and what we've got was not a fresh blanket of white, fluffy snow we all (?) like, but a muddy mess, heavy and wet.

Despite all that, I decided to ride my bike to work and leave the car behind. Too bad I quickly had to abandon safety of the Minuteman Bikeway as it wasn't cleared of snow at all and riding through the sticky slush on my Schwinn proved to be too difficult. If only I had a fatbike... well, that's another story.

Because main roads were plowed and relatively snow free, this meant going back to vehicular cycling, i.e. "sharing" road with cars. Usually, this "sharing" in the weather like today looks like this - you ride as close to the curb as you feel is safe and try not to skid on any patches of black ice, while motorists pass too close to you splashing you all the time with muddy slush from the road.
I felt a bit like Yehuda this morning. It's not fun to get splashed by passing cars every minute of your commute. (Source: yehudamoon.com)

Enough complaining. Time for the year end summary. The passing 2015 was a pretty interesting year, from bicycling standpoint, at least.

It all started with sub-zero temperatures and a big "Snowmageddon". It was supposed to be a big snowfall but happened to be a regular one. Regular, in Boston terms, means something like 2 feet of snow overnight, of course. Nevertheless, the last winter season was truly record breaking with combined 2.8m (or 9 feet) of snowfall. I remember digging a tunnel in snow to my front door and some cyclists did the same in order to access the bike path in Medford.
The mountains of snow we had last winter created a completely new problem for me - with a place to park my bike. It was actually easier to park a car (requiring more space) than a much smaller bicycle. All because parking lots get plowed in winter here, but bike racks don't.

All that was in January and February. Then came March... and the situation got even worse. But no matter. Spring finally arrived and I celebrated it with the purchase of a new bag - Racktime ShoulderIt.
In May, I finally completed rebuilding my Xtracycle Edgerunner into "Big Eddie" - or what I call the electric version of it. Electric bicycles have probably the same number of fans as opponents. If you don't like them, I'm just going to nod my head and admit - yes, it's like cheating, yes - they are a bit like motorcycles. But if you were trying to haul two kids and 4 bags of groceries up a 10% grade, believe me - you would WANT that electric motor on you bike.
In June, the new Copenhagenize Index was published and we have even seen some American cities on the list as well. Sign of changes? Not in Boston though. We would likely be classified around place 200.

In the same month, thinking about my kids, I put together a list of better-than-Wallmart-junk children bicycles. If you happen to think about a new bike for your little buggers, take a peek.

With the arrival of warmer weather, I started riding my bike more and discovered some new places around Boston - MIT Haystack Observatory and Fruitlands. Then I finally found some time for a little longer ride - a 2-day "mini tour" to York in Maine and back. To complete that busy cycling week, I rode my bike to Cape Cod, but from the other end, making a landing by ferry.
Early fall, here in Boston we were reintroduced to the concept of tactical urbanism thanks to the hard work of Johathan and other folks, who decided not to wait until city governors finally do something about bicycling infrastructure and took the matter in their own hands - by planting hundreds of cones to separate bike lanes from a fast-moving car traffic. Even if not all cones stayed in place for too long, results were important and eye-opening.

Towards the end of the year, I swapped the lightweight road tires on my bike back to wider cross ones and went back to the roots - exploring dirt roads and trails in my area, such as the Western Greenway. Not having enough, I managed to test ride the newest Salsa Mukluk as well.
FInally, it was the Christmas time and while my wishlist is, well... just wishful thinking at this point, I will try my best to make some of these wishes come true. In 2016 or later.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa is coming, if only he can fit through the chimney

The third year in a row we get some really warm weather at Christmas. In 2013, two days before Christmas I was visiting my family in NYC and I remember wearing just a t-shirt on that day. Last year, we had a 60F weather a few days after Christmas, which I spent on beach with my kids. Today, the temperature hit nearly 70F and with added high humidity, it felt more like the 4th of July than 24th of December.

I had to do some last minute grocery shopping and because all stores are totally mobbed on Christmas Eve, it was certainly a smart decision not to drive anywhere, but take a bike. My daughter enjoyed it too, playing with some stickers and observing the surroundings.
She loves riding on the "Big Eddie" - our Xtracycle. Whenever I get close to my bikes she thinks we are going on a ride and grabs her helmet and tries to climb up to her seat. I noticed that she's very calm on the bike. She carefully studies everything around and gets very excited when she sees dogs on the Minuteman Bikeway. This is in contrast to moving her around by car. She's still too young to have her car seat face the windshield, which means that she can't really see anything from inside of the car. She gets bored and annoyed quickly. Bicycles are such a great vehicles for transportation of children. They are like strollers but faster and more fun.

My kids get very excited this year for Santa to arrive with presents. And I'm glad I somehow avoided all the usual craziness that we need to deal with in the end of December. First, it's just weeks of shopping, hunting for gifts. Then, cooking all the special Christmas treats (unless you do it the American way and just order some catering). Next, come multiple family visits where you either lucky and have fun or you are listening to the same stories again, hear various complains or just end up chasing your kids around someone's house. Finally, you overeat and you promise yourself that in the new year you are going on a diet, which we all know never happens (or happens for a few days only).

I'm glad I'm avoiding it. I'm spending this Christmas with my closest family and I'm trying to limit my part in the usual mad rush. I'm taking it easy and might even find some time for a bike ride. Which is what I wish you all.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I'm not done with my wishlist so let's postpone Christmas

It's mid December and technically Christmas is just around the corner. This year however, I feel like I would need to postpone it.

First, my work situation is super busy in the end of this year. You know that feeling when everything has to be done for yesterday and all 5 of your projects compete for any scarce resources you have left? Yup, it's Christmas time!

Second, you would expect snow everywhere, which is not the case now. Instead, we are supposed to get 65F (18C) on Christmas Eve here in Boston. In fact, it looks like we may not see snow and decent sub (metric) zero (or sub-32F) temperatures until February. What a change from the previous season. Anyway, it doesn't feel like Christmas.

Third, I can't have Christmas because I don't have all gifts ready yet, even though this year I was smarter and bought most of this useless stuff online. Saves me several trips to the mall, which is a nightmare this time of the year, even if you don't drive but ride your bike instead.

Last but not least, my wishlist is not exactly complete yet. Nevertheless, I may have to settle on what I have so far and realize it's highly unlikely I get anything from this list for Christmas. Well, they don't call it a wishlist for nothing, I guess. Dear Santa, here is what I would really like to get:

Clement MSO 36mm tubeless tires
Clement's new X'Plor MSO 36mm, tubeless (Source: ridinggravel.com)

I got super excited when I read that Clement announced their new tire several months ago. I'm very happy with my USH 35mm tires but I really wanted to try something designed for paths less traveled. The MSO was always on my list but so far it was offered only in 40mm and 32mm widths. The former one won't clear my frame and the latter one feels a bit narrowish for true off-road use.

To me, Clement hit a jackpot with the new 36mm MSO, especially that now it's tubeless. Unfortunately, it's not being sold yet so I will have to wait till spring to get my Christmas gift.

Surly Wednesday
Surly Wednesday (Source: Surly Bikes)

Another exciting news this year was the introduction of Wednesday - a new fatbike by Surly. In 2015 nearly every bicycle manufacturer out there offers a fatbike in their fleet but if you want to be true to its origins, you would look at either Surly or Salsa. Salsa's fatbikes used to be great. The newest ones, unfortunately, not only turned into fat-tire mountain bikes, but also are offered in some wacky colors. Their designers must have taken too much LSD.

Surly, on the other hand, hit all the boxes on my list with their Wednesday design. Symmetrical rear triangle, thru axles, 4.6" max. tire width, which means no crazy-wide 132mm bottom bracket is necessary and a whole bunch of braze-ons (rear and front racks, fenders, bottle cages, etc) - all this just makes sense. Not to mention the normal (blueish) frame color and a very affordable price.

Infrastructure
It's a wishlist and this one is just wishful thinking. Because, let's be realistic, what is the chance that I will soon see more well-designed, protected and well-connected bike lanes and intersections in Boston and surrounding towns? If our politicians don't have guts to make changes, maybe Santa will.

Patient drivers
Overall, drivers I meet on roads in my neighborhood are actually not that bad. Most of them seems to be quite respectful of cyclists, not counting a few usual a**holes. But everyone behind the wheel needs simply more patience. The road is narrow and a cyclist is "slowing you down"? Wait a moment. There is going to be a better place to pass him/her safely in just a while. No need to try to squeeze by, inches away. Especially if you drive a large truck.

Along Maine Coast bike tour
Here I'm going to reveal some of my plans for 2016. I just need to find some time in the summer to ride a week-long tour of Maine coast, all the way to the Canadian border. The route is set. The bike is ready. I just have to decide when. Please Santa, help me make this happen.

Two month bike tour around New Zealand
This one is in a "distant dream" category. But who knows, maybe one day I will be able to return to places I visited 10 years ago. This time - by bicycle.

What's in your letter to Santa?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Electronics on your bike

For all of us bike commuters, this topic pretty much doesn't exist. If you ride to work, you don't need any electronic gadgets on your bicycle. But the other side of us - recreational cyclists, installs various electronic devices on our bicycles we find indispensable on a ride.
I guess you could be really creative here and text on your phone (which may be dangerous in some situations so stay careful), listen to music and record your ride with GoPro all at the same time. But if most of us have a single electronic device installed on our bikes, it would likely be a cyclocomputer. These little gadgets don't cost much and provide us (if properly calibrated) with some useful information such as speed, distance, etc.
But how useful this data really is? Unless you are trying to break some records you shouldn't really bother with checking your speed, distance or cadence at all. After owning a cycling computer for many years, I realized that recently I use it mostly to... check time. No, not my riding time. I mean - the clock, so that I know when I should finally head back home. And because I don't own a wrist watch, cyclocomputer is my only clock on most rides. This doesn't mean that I don't like to keep a record of my ride somehow. I usually do it on RideWithGPS - manually, as I don't own a GPS device. This electronic log takes care of tracking distance and all my exploration data, if I ever want to review it. During the ride however, current time is all the information I need.

Some of you would say that I ride my bike like it was still 1995 and you will probably be right. But times change and electronics enters bicycle world aggressively. Right now, if you are a wealthy amateur with a very thick wallet you can outfit your bicycle with so much electronics, you could easily get lost in it: power meters, GPS trackers, electronic derailleurs, etc. The question is whether you really need it?

You can answer it yourself but I'm not getting too excited about these gadgets. I don't race nor train for any race so power meter remains an useless option for me. Same with wireless electronic shifting. While not having running cables along the frame to operate derailleurs seems attractive, recharging all of those batteries frequently, isn't.

And it will get worse (or better - you choose). Soon you won't carry a key for your bike lock anymore. You will have to use your smartphone to unlock it. Or you won't be wearing regular sunglasses but Strava-connected ones. You will probably be wearing a smart helmet as well. That's right, from now on everything about your bicycle has to be smart, connected and social.
 The future? (Source: 4iiiik Innovations)

I read this somewhere - you know you live in XXI century if you have to recharge your book and your cigarette once a while. It seems unavoidable but it's coming to bicycles as well. Before you hit the road, you will soon have to recharge your derailleurs, GPS tracker, unlock the bike from your smartphone, connect to Strava and put your HUD glasses and a smart helmet on.

But will you? Fortunately, ordinary, mechanical bicycles won't become useless or illegal overnight. You can still ride your old-fashioned bike like you did in the past. No one will force you to add all those battery-powered gizmos to your two wheels. That's the freedom to love and keep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The landing strip on your Main Street - the width problem

Massive Turkey Slaughterfest, aka Thanksgiving, starts tomorrow, which also signifies beginning of the annual mad shopping season. First comes the Black Friday, then a mad rush to malls on all weekends until Christmas. From the transportation point of view this means one thing - more traffic than you can imagine.

To cope with this challenge cities introduce new measures, such as free parking offered by my town or the neighboring Boston. I'm sure this will help people glued to their car seats keeping their butts happy. But free parking spots are an invitation to drive more and drive everywhere. This simply means more traffic. Yet another reason to do all your holiday shopping by bicycle (if you can).

That's not surprising. Our cities were designed for cars (unfortunately) and great examples how bad this design was can be found everywhere. Recently, when I walked to a grocery store with my son and had to cross the main street in my town - Massachusetts Ave in Arlington, I started thinking how ugly and obsolete it is. Take a look:
Google Street View of Mass Ave close to the Arlington Center.

And an aerial view close to the intersection with Mill St.

One thing that you immediately notice is that our main street here is just ridiculously wide and it seems to have only one lane in each direction. That's a massive waste of space! No wonder such design stimulates driving and discourages any alternative means of transportation. In reality, these lanes aren't actually this wide because people of Arlington learned to create their own "virtual" lanes and as such, Mass Ave has in fact two "lanes" running in each direction. Nevertheless, it's still as wide as a runway you could likely land a small plane here.

To be honest, these Google images are not exactly up to date because no too long ago our main street got some painted bike lanes on both sides. Unfortunately, they were painted on the wrong side of parked cars and do not continue along the full length of Mass Ave. The section I present here still doesn't have any bike lanes, just sharrows, which seems unbelievable considering the available space.

I wanted to look at possible scenarios for Mass Ave in a hypothetical situation - what if we could update this important avenue to 2015 standards and make it multimodal? I used StreetMix to create a few sketches. Try the same with your street!
Current state of Mass Ave next to Mill St.

This is what we have right now. Narrow sidewalks, parking lanes on both sides and super wide traffic lanes. No bike lanes (just sharrows in some places) and no other transportation infrastructure. City buses must share road space with cars.
Option 1 - protected bike lanes and center turning lane.

First, I would like to turn Mass Ave into a residential street, not a super highway. The first option adds protected bike lanes on both sides of the street, leaves plenty of on-street parking spaces and adds a center turning lane to facilitate left turns. If you need dedicated right turn lanes at intersections you can remove parking spaces there. One traffic lane in each direction gets removed but that makes the street fit better in our commercial and residential neighborhood and much easier to cross for pedestrians.
Option 2a - dedicated bus lanes.

Just two years ago my wife used to take bus to her workplace in Cambridge every day but she quickly gave up and drove instead. The reason - buses were actually slower than cars. Not only they were stuck in the same traffic as the rest of vehicles but they had to stop frequently at their dedicated stops. Driving was faster, despite all the traffic.
 Option 2b - when you need space for a bus stop just remove the parking spaces.

In order to change it, option 2 places dedicated bus lanes (for buses ONLY) on both sides of the street. Such lanes would make daily commute much, much faster for hundreds of people and could be a real incentive to leave the car at home. On Sundays, holidays, etc. these lanes could be shared between all vehicles.
Option 3a - what if we put the tracks back on Mass Ave?

 
Option 3b - again, when a tram stop is needed, parking gets removed.


I won't hide the fact that my favorite solution to Mass Ave problem would be the extension of our "T" - the streetcar, from Porter Square in Cambridge to Arlington Center. As you can tell in Option 3, it could be done. It would be likely the fastest way to Cambridge but at the same time, the most expensive and most unlikely one to be built.

Whatever the future brings, please don't turn my town center into a concrete desert. Driving everywhere is really not the answer. Our cities are not made out of rubber and won't fit ever growing number of private vehicles.
Happy turkey dinner everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fatbiking with Salsa Mukluk SUS GX1

Last weekend Wheelworks in Belmont together with Salsa Cycles organized another a Demo Day - the annual event where you can ride a Salsa bike of your choice, for free. Last time I tried it, I rode Salsa Beargrease XX1, which was the first time ever I had a chance to ride a fatbike. This year's Demo Day was also dedicated to fatbikes and I was equally excited about it since Salsa's offerings in this market have changed substantially this season.

I'm not sure how to describe what fatbikes used to be. They originated as rugged, non-suspended mountain bikes with a bit of touring heritage. For example, they featured longer chainstays for better stability, steeper head tube angles for more agile steering and rack mounts. Not anymore. Today's fatbikes are essentially mountain bike's replacements. They look and feel more like trail bikes with their slack head tube angles, short, agile chainstains and suspension forks. Gone are the rack mounts (a mistake, in my opinion).

Anyway, the choice of this year's Salsa bicycles was limited to Blackborrow SUS GX1, Beargrease Carbon SUS X01, Bucksaw X01, Mukluk SUS GX1 and El Mariachi GX 2x10 - they only non-fat bike in the group. Because I rode Beargrease last year and Blackborrow looked a bit too extreme for my taste, I picked the Mukluk as my steed for the ride.
The first impression of the new Muk' was certainly positive. The machine feels solid and looks like it would be fun to ride. Mukluk SUS GX1 comes with a 100mm RockShox Bluto fork, 1x11 SRAM drivetrain, Guide hydraulic brakes and some pretty (and quality) Thomson components. These are built around a new aluminum frame with trail bike-like geometry. A big change this year are also the new wheels, featuring Mulefut SL tubeless-ready rims. The bike wasn't set up tubeless but such conversion should be trivial, having all components prepared.
First, using a luggage scale I weighed the bike at exactly 15kg (33lbs) for a 20" frame I used. This wasn't surprising. I was expecting it and it's not low weight by modern standards. Surprisingly though, I didn't feel this weight at all on my ride. Mukluk rolls over rocks and roots with ease, climbs effortlessly and except those situations where you would have to shoulder your bike and carry it for an extended time, you shouldn't be bothered by its weight. Which doesn't mean that it wouldn't hurt if it was lighter.
I wasn't too excited about the addition of a suspension fork to new Salsa's fatbikes. Last year when riding Beargrease I never felt like I needed it and this year my feelings were essentially the same. It's probably nice to have those 100mm of travel available and it's certainly useful in some situations. But honestly, with 4" wide tires I could skip the Bluto fork and ride rigid. It may be due to my riding style. I'm likely not challenging this bike enough, given my limited mountain biking experience.
I would have to try the Blackborrow next time, or another bike with 4.8" tires, to tell whether my feelings are correct, but so far I think that 3.8" tires on Mukluk or Beargrease are a perfect balance between something really, really wide that provides much more grip and flotation over rough terrain than regular MTB tires, and something ridiculously wide and heavy. Wider, 4.8" tires are likely going to be very useful only in certain conditions such as very loose sand or powder snow. That's only my speculation, of course.
Regarding the gearing, there is not much to say here except that SRAM 1x11 works very well (no surprise). It was the second time I rode a bicycle with such configuration and I liked it on Muk' as much as earlier on Beargrease. The MTB SRAM shifters are clearly different than Shimano Rapidfire I'm used to but they seem to be equally comfortable. However, I can't say the same about SRAM's road DoubleTap shifters, which I find unintuitive and inferior to Shimano's STIs.

Overall, the new Mukluk is a very nice bicycle and it clearly fits well into Salsa's fatbike lineup for 2016. There are a few things I find puzzling though. From now, all Salsa's fatbikes are essentially mountain bikes. They lost their touring, or bikepacking heritage. There are no rack mounts anymore (even though rear rack installation is still possible with some gimmicks). Also, I have a hard time telling the difference between Mukluk X7 and Beargrease X5. They are relatively minor - some components are different but both bikes have now the same frame geometry. In fact, while Beargrease used to be a sports/racing/performance fatbike, Mukluk was always the choice for bikepackers and travelers. But now these two bicycle lines got so close to each other than we may see them blend into one, in 2017. We will see.

No matter what, you will always have fun riding one.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Illegal pedestrianism

Long, long time ago, city streets used to be full of people walking everywhere. The streets belonged to them (and streetcars, horse carriages or bicycles). Cars, however, were as rare as pink elephants and as such, things like crosswalks, street lights or speed limits didn't exist.
Cities before times of Ford Model T and its siblings used to look like this.

But then thanks to guys like Benz, Diesel, Dunlop and Ford things got really screwed up. Well, no, no. To be fair, cars play an important role in modern economy so we can't blame Benz or Ford for the technological progress they enabled. Nevertheless, things did get screwed up. Adam will tell you how that happened:
Why jaywalking is a crime - by Adam. You can also watch the full episode here.

There you go - cars needed space, so people got pushed off the streets onto sidewalks and they wanted speed, so crossing the street in any place and at any time you want became no longer possible. Not to mention that arrival of (many and always more) cars in U.S. cities meant death of well-developed streetcar networks. We could blame car manufacturers (and we should) for this situation, we could blame government for the lack of oversight, and urban planners for no vision.

But being limited to walk on the sidewalk and crossing the street in designated places only, is just a part of the problem. The other, and a worse one, is that jaywalking is (still) a crime. Apparently, it can be such a serious crime in this country that it requires 12 police officers to pacify the situation:
But wait, there is more! As you can learn from this article, those guys who got brutally pacified were crossing "a street that had been barricaded and closed to car traffic". Yep. In this country you can be arrested for crossing an empty street with no traffic at all! But only if you are either Hispanic or Black "because two of the five people crossing the street in the group, presumably lighter-skinned, were not detained". Shame on you Austin police. I thought that in 2015 such obvious racist behavior would be a thing of the past.

Unfortunately here, closer to Boston, things don't look any better. In New York cops just love to ticket jaywalkers. No wonder - fighting such petty "crimes" is by far the easiest and fastest way to improve statistics. Are the streets getting safer that way? No, but it doesn't matter. It looks nice on their monthly report though.

Sometimes, things get way out of control. Just like when Kang Chun Wong, 84, was beaten up by the police to submission, when he was stopped for jaywalking. Now, he's suing their asses for 5 million bucksI hope he gets it. I know it's New Yorker's (taxpayer's) money and NYPD won't likely pay a dime. But maybe a few more actions like this one and people will wake up asking who's actually being "protected and served" here?
 
There is one more good reason why strict enforcement against jaywalking (let's start calling it "freecrossing") is a very bad idea. I will give you an example from Poland - the country I visit once a while. Things look as bad there as they are here in the U.S. Police simply loves ticketing pedestrians crossing streets "illegally".

Why is it bad? Over the years of such police action, it simply made people less aware. People stopped to think. "Hey, the green light is on! Let's cross the street. But what if there is a motorist running a red light approaching? Never mind, we need to cross. It's green!". I've seen it multiple times. The green light comes up and people rush across the street not looking for any cross traffic. Why? Because they were taught so. They were "educated" by police that crossing an empty street where there are no cars approaching is bad, if the light is red. But crossing it when the light is green is good. So, trusting the lights, they cross in rush, not checking for any cars on the road. You may not see it as a serious problem but I would rather live in a city with thinking and aware citizens and not those controlled by street lights.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The best thing that happens to cars is their absence

Cars. I mean their absence. That's what I like where I'm going.

This is the Big Corn Country. Or actually the Pumpkin And Turkey Country this time of the year. Anyway, today we are celebrating (?) Halloween, which means that you are supposed to dress up in a goofy outfit, yell "boo" and beg your neighbors for candy. Even if you are 45.

This also means that I should probably write about something scary. And what can be more scary to millions of Americans than a thought they could take your car away? Boo!

Cars are an extension of our lives that we seemingly can't eliminate. Why would we? They take us to places we want to go, they are comfortable, safe and the least expensive way to travel. At least that's what we want to think.

Sure, there are a few minor problems like 33,000 dead annually and the high national cost of driving everywhere. That's right. Cars may seem like an inexpensive way to travel because driving is highly subsidized so you pay extra for this privilege from your taxes, whether you like it or not.

Alright, let's say that driving everywhere is not as cheap as we would think. But no matter what, cars are here to stay, right? Modern economy needs them. If we can't eliminate all cars, maybe we could at least do something to reduce the number of road collisions? Except increased law enforcement, better road design, and reduced speed, apparently, we can soon benefit from self-driving vehicles.
Google cars drive like your grandma - they're never the first off the line at a stop light, they don't accelerate quickly, they don't speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).
Those who love their 5 liter V8s won't be super happy with a self-driving grandma car. But in the dense city center a driving grandma may be what we need (As long as grandma is not deaf, blind, and pays attention to the road). At least an overly cautious self-driving car won't likely run over pedestrians.

Or will it? "Many people think driverless cars could be the best thing to happen to human transportation since the internal combustion engine." And they may keep thinking that as long as those driveless cars aren't programmed to kill people.

Self-driving cars may look like a second coming in the world of transportation until we realize that they won't solve the congestion problem in city centers anyway. A driverless car is still a car and whether it carries a driver or not, it still takes the same space on the road and still requires a parking spot.

This, and the fact that city center are not made out of rubber and won't just stretch to make space for more cars, lead some city officials to opt for a drastic change - ban all private cars from the downtown. The first large city that will try that is Oslo. By 2019 the city center is supposed to be car-free despite 90,000 people going to work there every day. Instead, Oslo will offer "more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) of new bicycle lanes and a massive expansion in public transportation services". Imagine something on that scale in any large US city and you will have a national outrage: "They are taking our cars away!"
After the self-driving cars arrive, our roads will likely look like this. Better?

But if you think that Oslo is far away enough to treat this news as a curiosity only, think again. Things are changing on this side of the Great Pond as well. For starters, one of the Chicago suburbs is trying to kill the car as well.

Scary? It shouldn't be. Those of you in rural America can still keep your V8s. But for those living in dense urban centers the change is real. Face it - there simply isn't enough space on roads for all your vehicles. Living car-free may not become a lifestyle choice but a necessity. Which may not be that bad actually, considering the hassle of buying one.

Boo!
Now out to get some candy...

Friday, October 23, 2015

What to eat on a 100 mile bike ride?

In my previous post I wrote about a popular video that lists all the things every cyclists "needs" on a ride. It gets better! There are more videos from the same author who this time is trying to teach us on what to eat on a ride. Now I know that all those times when I went for a 60-100mi ride, I ate wrong things.
The video is rich in advice: "wake up at least 2 hrs before your ride", "eat soy or whey protein before the ride", "have some caffeine before you start", "don't forget your vitamins, just like you take them every single day", put "ice in your water bottles to cool down your body", etc.

That's all great. For an athlete who is getting ready for Tour de France. But for all others, us - mortals, that advice is questionable at the very least. I did a few 100mi rides and a bunch of 60mi ones. I never followed a rule to wake up 2hrs before the start, never ate protein before the ride, never had coffee (don't like it - weird, I know), never put ice in my water bottles, not to mention using any vitamin pills. You don't need them, provided that you eat healthy. I never did all those things and I managed to not only survive my rides but actually truly enjoy them.

But that's OK. Maybe some people like to use a whole bunch of chems, pills and supplements. My main problem with the approach presented in the video is simply stated by one question (to quote one of the comments under the video): "Where is the food?!"

Seriously, where is it? Maybe I'm weird, but I actually like to stop for lunch. You know, a real lunch, like a panini, burger or something else delicious. If I was forced to eat gels, tabs and some powdered stuff exclusively on my rides, I would start hating cycling very quickly.
The second video covers nutrition "problems" on short distances - about 20 miles. My favorite part is when we are told to drink the content of one water bottle for every hour of the ride. First I thought that in the peak of summer heat this may make sense, only to realize that 20mi is only 32km (I'm a metric guy). It would take me about 1.5hrs to ride that distance and I have done it many times.

Usually I don't take any food with me on such a short ride. Just eat something before it and take 1 water bottle with you. You're all set. Drinking so much water within 1.5hrs would likely give me a heavy stomach feeling. Even in summer.

If you are about to become a pro athlete then by all means, use all those special food products. But if you, like me, just want to ride 100mi for fun, then better stop for a grilled Reuben sandwich, freshly-squeezed juice or a delicious burger. Why give up on real, good food if you don't have to?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gear every cyclist needs

It's 2015 (still) and apparently, riding a bicycle is not as simple anymore as we used to do it when we were kids. You can't just hop on your bike and start riding (or can you?). Now you need a whole bunch of stuff you have to carry with you. According to this video, here is the list of gear every cyclist needs:
Sunglasses - I almost never wear them on bike. In fact, the first time I wore them some nasty bug (a bee?) hit me in the face at high speed and got stuck somehow between my face and the glasses frame. Then it panicked and stung me. The part of my face next to the right eye was terribly swollen for the next 3 days. I would've done better without any glasses at that time.
Because I wear my normal prescription glasses on daily basis, I find it inconvenient to carry 2 sets of eyewear on a bike ride. Hence, sunglasses get some use only in the summer, on longer day rides. Oh, and they are certainly not aerodynamic as the video suggests. I'm not in Tour de France anyway.
 
Water bottle - Good advice but I found out that an ordinary plastic bottle with a pull-out cap you can buy in most grocery stores works very well. It's also lighter and you can always trash it after the ride if you don't need it anymore. You don't need a cycling-specific bottle at all. Having said that, I do use them sometimes but I don't find them necessary. 

Floor pump - This is actually really useful. Makes inflating tires a trivial task. However, you don't have to check your tire pressure with a gauge "every time you ride". In fact, if all you do is ride to work or to run some errands, why would you bother to know whether you have 30 or 40psi in your tires? As long as they roll well and don't get punctures, you are likely fine.
 
Shoes with stiff soles - "Always wear them on bike"? - it's a myth, I say. Stiff soles are absolutely necessary with tiny clipless pedals for the simple reason that there is very little area available to transfer force from your legs onto the cranks. But once you switch to large platform pedals and leave SPDs at home, you will quickly find out that stiff sole shoes are not necessary at all. Years ago I used to go mountain biking wearing... Converse sneakers with very soft soles. Now I use Five Ten shoes with moderately stiff soles, still much softer than any SPD shoes have. Not to mention that if you do a fair amount of walking during your cycling escapades, stiff sole shoes are a pain. Literally.
 
Helmet - The one I use on my ride to work is awesome. It's called AirHelmet, is completely transparent, invisible, fully ventilated and weighs zero grams. Ok, but joking aside, I wouldn't go serious mountain biking without one. 

Full finger gloves - This applies to mountain bikers, not so much on a road bike. However, even on my daily commute in winter I use such gloves (duh!). But they are not cycling-specific at all. 

Padded shorts with chamois cream - On a 50-100mi ride? Sure, why not. But I really don't need them on a 10mi ride to work. 

Jersey - I stopped wearing these years ago. Maybe at some point I will go back. For now, I'm really happy with thin, wool, fitted t-shirts. I don't know if every cyclist needs a jersey, but probably every cyclist should at least try to avoid cotton. Regarding the back pockets for storage - that's what on-bike bags are for. 

Saddle - By all means yes. A good saddle is God-given. Unfortunately, most bikes sold in stores come with really shitty saddles so it will likely be the first thing you are going to replace on your new bike. I always go with either Brooks or Selle An-Atomica. 

Extra tube - For long(er) distance rides it's definitely a good idea. Add two tire levers, a tire boot and a mini pump as well. But if you ride to a supermarket five blocks away, don't bother. 

Cash - For a person who never carries any cash this is a good idea. Having some spare cash with you on a longer ride may be live-saving sometimes.

That's what I think about the video's list. For any long ride I would also add a phone. It can be a lifesaver in some situations.
In general though, there isn't much you should need to ride a bike. Unless you plan on riding 100mi in one day, just your bicycle should be all you would need.

What's on your list?

Friday, October 16, 2015

9 more Kickstarter inventions for your bicycle

Looks like it may be time for another Kickstarter cycling inventions review, Vol. 3 (See also Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Kickstarter is a tremendous resource for someone with a bright idea who seeks funding to turn his/her concept into reality. However, as with all ideas, not many of them are actually bright.
"Gi FlyBike is an electric, smart, maintenance-free, folding bicycle with full size, 26” wheels that we created for the future of urban commuting." At least that's what inventors say. 

Because we live in 2015, as most "novel" bike concepts, it's smart, which means it requires a smartphone to operate. I won't comment on that or other FlyBike's features except one (OK, two) - this bike folds in half to save space in storage. The folding mechanism seems simple to operate but unfortunately, if you were looking for an electric Brompton, look elsewhere. Flybike's seatpost nor handlebars don't fold and it doesn't look like it would stand upright on its own when folded.

Also, I'm not super excited about "airless, solid tires". Yes, they may be puncture-resistant but usually, ride quality on such things suffers a lot. Maybe that's why FlyBike needs a shock-absorbing seatpost.

My verdict: Perhaps some people will get excited about this thing (120 backers bought it!) but I'm not. It looks like an over-engineered vehicle. If I wanted puncture-resistant tires, I would go tubeless. If I want to share my bike with a friend, why do I need a smartphone app for it? If I wanted a folding bike, I would likely buy a Brompton.

Parkis is "a unique mechanical bicycle lift for parking bicycles in small spaces". The idea is sound - for those of us who don't own a large house with even larger basement, storing (many) bicycles may be tricky sometimes. Unless you are fine with your bicycle living outside year-round, you would need to come up with some designated space where you can keep it safe and out of your way.

Parkis is supposed to help with it. It grabs a bike by its front wheel and automatically lifts it up into upright position. My biggest problem with Parkis is that... it doesn't really solve the problem! Yes, it frees up a bit of space on the floor but it's far from the space you could gain by simply hanging your bike on two wall hooks.

Also, if you wanted to store more than one bicycle with Parkis your space savings look even less exciting - you can't install two Parkis close to each other because those wide handlebars will get in the way.

My verdict: Wall hooks are way cheaper and don't need electric power.

The two first inventions could actually be useful for some people but this one seems just plain stupid. It's a pedal that has a built-in locking cable, auto-retractable and with a combination lock. Oh, and an alarm. Because we all know that alarms are extremely effective in deterring thieves. Right.

There is so much wrong with this thing that I don't even know where to start. First of all, it has a thin cable, easy to cut. But let's say it's supposed to be used to lock your bike in places where thieves don't use cable cutters (in deep woods of Montana, maybe?). Then, you are limited to these crappy pedals with lousy grip surfaces. Then, there is an alarm, which usually has only a psychological effect of you feeling more secure. Not to mention that putting a lock in a pedal seems a bit strange. Pedals get dirty, either from mud or even some dog shit.

Having said that, I understand where inventors are coming from. They designed it to be used on beach cruisers. Their pedals may have to be used barefoot (hence the design) to occasionally lock your bike when you stop to refill your Pina Colada. There must be a lot of Pina Colada fans out there as inventors managed to get over $27,000 already for their pedals.

My verdict: A retractable cable lock in a pedal? Come on, seriously?! If I wanted to design something like it I would put it into a small housing that can be frame-mounted and leave my pedals alone.

These are simply bar ends like the ones you had on your mountain bike in the early 90's, but they can be quickly rotated on handlebars for different riding positions.

Inventor claims that his Revolver Bar Ends are "finally a way to change hand/riding positions WHILE you ride". Apparently, he has never heard of anything like road drop bars or multi-position touring bars. Seriously, if I had a problem with aching wrists, neck, back, etc. I would rather look into a different bicycle/handlebars/stem length/etc. first, instead of developing something that is a solution to a non-existent problem.

My verdict: If you need these, you are probably simply riding on a wrong size bicycle, with wrong handlebars or other components. Go to a local bike store and get help. You won't need any revolving gizmos.

Geez, what the hell is that thing? It's a "bicycle specifically designed for runners" (Can you still call it a bicycle?). It suspends your body to create an effect of "weightless running". You see, in order to run in XXI century you can't just use a pair of sport shoes anymore. Now you need a complex exoskeleton too!

But if GlideCycle is supposed to reduce your fatigue during your morning jogging, why go jogging at all? Isn't getting a good workout and getting sweaty the whole point of running? If you wanted to make sure you won't get too tired, why not just ride a regular bicycle instead?

My verdict: Unless you are handicapped and have some kind of back trauma that prevents you from normal running, stay away from this thing. A pair of sneakers is all you should ever need.

Now onto something I could actually like. Stellight is a simple bicycle light with powerful LEDs that can be configured as front (white) or rear (red) light. It comes with a handful of features: is nicely packaged into a small housing, uses large knob to control light output, communicates with a second Stellight through Bluetooth so you can remotely control your rear light from the front one, and is easily adjustable/removable.

However, the main selling point of this light seems to be the ability to use hundreds of different light patterns - a way you can "express yourself". I honestly think there are better ways to show the world how cool you are than spending hours with a smartphone, fine-tuning your light patterns. But kids will probably like it.

My verdict: The design is nice. Many light patterns are not. Instead of them, I would rather have the inventors to add a good beam reflector to the front light. Powerful lights are great as long as they don't illuminate tree tops, blinding everyone around.

Another bike light. Unfortunately, this one is pretty dumb even though it's "smart". FAST Tail Light is supposed to be your guardian angel. It will call home (send message to your wife's phone) when you place your bike flat on the ground. This way she can call you back and remind you that you may damage rear derailleur by doing that. Smart!

FAST will also let you create many rainbow-like color patterns. Now you can confuse the hell out of drivers and other cyclists who universally understand that rear lights are red, not purple-yellow-green. Or give them epilepsy. Smart!

My verdict: I don't really see much point in this thing but if you are an 8-grader, you may like it on your BMX.

This thing is awesome! But it should be larger so that when you stick out your middle finger towards an aggressive driver, it would display a welcoming, well-visible F-message.

TurnCycle is a display panel that shows to drivers behind you (using LEDs) your hand gestures (turn signals). It recognizes your arm position using a wristband-mounted accelerometer.

I understand the idea and motivation behind it but honestly, there are several problems with TurnCycle. One, it's too small to be well-visible. Two, drivers don't expect to see any flashing turn signals on bicycles and are likely not going to pay attention to them. Three, a simple flashing arrow on a small screen in the middle of the seatpost won't be very effective. There is a good reason why turn signals in cars are installed as off-center as possible. This way they can be easily understood as right/left signals. But a bicycle is too narrow to do that, hence hand gestures are used. If you want to use flashing turn signals, put them on your wrists.

My verdict: Nice try but no. At least not in this form. Actually, $10 reflective wrist bands would likely be more effective than TurnCycle.

This little gadget is a micro trailer with a complete electric motor kit. It's supposed to turn any bicycle into an e-bike.

Clearly, Wheezy has several advantages. You can use it on many of your bikes, moving it between them as needed. You can also use it with any bicycle - your kid's bike with 24" wheels or your large city bike.

However, some of inventor's claims are certainly inflated. I don't know how Wheezy is supposed to solve problem with storage of an electric bicycle. An e-bike would take less space than a regular bike plus this trailer.

My verdict: It's very difficult to tell how effective Wheezy is without testing it so I am not going to call it a hit or miss. It may work well in urban environment, on well-paved and snow-free bike paths.