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.

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.