Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A loop around Groton and revisit to Haystack

The weather seems to be a bit more bearable recently. Quite pleasant, actually. Too bad we had to wait the whole summer until its end to enjoy it, but at least we weren't flooded (Louisiana) or burnt (California). Just experienced extreme drought, heat and humidity.

Anyway, last weekend I decided to explore area around Groton, MA a bit more and revisit some old places, such as the MIT Haystack Observatory.

A convenient place to start is the Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, which is a place on its own worth visiting, but that's another story. From there, I made my way towards Westford, eventually reaching Haystack. Once again, I ignored the main gate and climbed uphill to the Death Star Superlaser installation, I mean... the Millstone Hill Radar.
From there, it's just a short ride to the main Haystack Radio Telescope and Observatory. Unlike my last visit to this place, this time it was actually quite enjoyable - cooler and cloudy, despite very humid morning.
Except seeing the giant inflatable golf ball, there isn't much you could do up there and I promptly rolled back downhill to find the hidden and gated access to Hoyt St. From there, I decided to loop around Groton a bit and take Dan Parker Rd through the forested area (Harrison Ripley Forest) north of town. Now, Dan Parker Rd is not a road actually. More like a hidden forest trail that sometimes looks like a fire road that you can ride somewhat comfortably on a bit wider road tires,
and in some places looking like a pretty rough MTB trail that will make you wish you were on your mountain bike.
There is pretty much a bit of everything on Dan Parker Rd - smooth hardpack, grassy spots, sharp and rocky sections and sandy patches.

The road ends at a clear cut in the forest just under the high voltage power lines. From there I turned south towards the center of Groton. Should you get hungry for lunch, stop at Salt & Light Cafe Bistro on Main Street.

I followed Rt 225 back to Carlisle and unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any better, alternative way of reaching Great Brook Farm State Park from Groton. I wish I could stick to some local dirt roads instead one of the main routes in the area, but they are sadly non-existent. It also seems like the best way to cross I-495. Once in Carlisle, I followed Curve St, passing by the Cranberry Bog, eventually getting back to my car.
It's a quick 60km (37mi) ride that would take you over local roads mostly, avoiding most of car traffic. The rougher gravel sections are best accessible on wider tires. Thinking more about it, something like my Clement X'Plor USH 35mm tires seems perfect for this kind of riding. They are plenty fast on pavement and roll very nicely off-road. If you can fit anything this wide on your road bike, I recommend giving it a try. It opens new possibilities and many new roads for you.

Friday, August 19, 2016

"Cyclists are the worst thing to happen to Boston streets"

Apparently, this discussion is far from being over and it's time to beat the dead horse again (a zombie horse?).

How many times have you heard the "brilliant" ideas that all bicyclists should be registered, licensed, pay "road tax" and obviously - wear a helmet?

I'm getting tired of explaining it yet again and countless pages have been written in rebuttal of such nonsense. Unfortunately, it has resurfaced. First, in a form of editorial by Joel Engardio for San Francisco Examiner. Joel wrote that all cyclists should be registered and have mandatory insurance. This would be their way to "put skin in game" and pay for the use of roads. I was going to write something smart to counter this fallacy but then I found out that Carlton Reid has already done it. And he did it well.
In defense of Joel, he later wrote his response to all the backlash he faced and it seems that he understood at least a little bit what was wrong about his original idea.

Now that we have visited West Coast, let's get back home to Boston. Things got really heated here this week. Drivers killed cyclists in Lincoln and Waltham, three pedestrians were struck in Dorchester, a driver crashed into a teenager in South Boston, an 8-year old girl was struck by car (and killed) in Mattapan, then 3 pedestrians were injured by a driver in the busy Downtown Crossing (The driver tried to flee the scene):
Do you see what's going on here? Do you see who's in fault?

It's obviously cyclists:
If only they were wearing helmets and riding in bike lanes! Unfortunately, they love to "practice anarchy". At least that's what Jaclyn Cashman thinks. She seems to believe that mandatory helmets and strict laws for cyclists would solve many problems with road collisions in Boston, despite statistics showing that it's the drivers who kill people, not bicyclists.

According to Cashman, the problem we face is that cyclists don't want to be "forced to wear helmets or observe traffic laws" and that's why we "should change the laws for bikers — require them to stay in the bike lanes, 
observe red lights, wear helmets". Yet she fails to notice that cyclists are required to obey traffic laws - just like anyone else using the street. Regarding the bike lanes - sorry Jaclyn, but if a bike lane is just a strip of paint squeezed in between the parked cars on the right and speeding trucks on the left, I would rather take the full traffic lane than being either doored by a parked car or clipped by a semi.

Cashman is a journalist and a radio host for Boston Herald. Engardio is a candidate for San Francisco Board of Supervisors. You would think that such people should be well-informed about things they want to talk about. Sadly, it's not the case.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Apidura handlebar bags - mini review

Disclaimer - Because we currently "enjoy" 4 days of  95F (35C) weather with 80% humidity all pictures are taken in my basement because there is no bloody way I'm going outside.

Some time ago I've been searching for a perfect handlebar bag for those little longer rides when you need to take more stuff with you than usual. I'm not a fan of those boxy rando bags such as Ortlieb Ultimate or Berthoud. They excel in ease of packing and accessing your items but they are also heavy and bulky.

For this reason, I was looking more into the bikepacking world of bags and decided to give Apidura a try. I ordered their Handlebar Pack in compact (smaller) size together with the Accessory Pocket and had a chance to try this combo for the first time during my Mount Kearsarge ride.
Both bags strapped to my bike. The Pocket wears now a "patch of shame" because of tire rub.

Both bags are made out of Dimension Polyant VX21 fabric (whatever it means) and seem to be very well constructed. I can't speak of their long-term durability yet but I wouldn't expect any problems there. Fortunately, tough fabrics don't have to be heavy as I weighed these bags at 223 and 125 grams for the Handlebar Pack and the Accessory Pocket respectively. That put together is certainly lighter than a bulky box bag (that often requires a mini rack for support as well) and still lets you pack quite a bit. In fact, I was positively surprised that I can easily fit my ultralight sleeping bag and a rain jacket inside the small Handlebar Pack with some space to spare. This means the bags should work pretty well for bike touring as well, but keep in mind that they are not 100% waterproof. For those requiring maximum protection from water, Apidura makes the same bags in "dry" option, using heavier but less permeable materials.
The mounting straps are pretty typical. Two to secure the Pack to bars and one across to strap it to the headtube. Pocket has very short straps and has to be clipped into the Pack.

The Pack & Pocket combo is clearly a unified system. There are many similar bags on market but unlike those (e.g. from Revelate Designs), the smaller Pocket can't be used as a standalone bag. It must be clipped into the Pack, as it doesn't have any other mounting provisions that would work on their own. That led to my initial confusion. I packed my bags, clipped them in together, then attached to the bars on my bike. As a result, the heavy-loaded pocket started sagging quickly and rubbing on the front tire. I tried readjusting it with no success at all.

This annoyed me so much that after the first few miles on unpaved roads around Mount Kearsarge I announced the bags to be unworkable and decided to not use the Pocket at all. I simply loaded everything into the Pack instead, including the Pocket bag.
This is how not to do it. Here the straps from Pocket run under the bars resulting in a heavy sag over the front wheel.
 Correct installation: Pocket is strapped to the Pack over the bars.

Just a moment later I had this eureka moment and nearly slapped myself in the forehead. "You bloody idiot" - I thought, "This is not how it's supposed be installed!". I realized that I should've put the larger Pack on the bars first, then clip the Pocket onto it, placing it OVER the bars. This way there is no chance the small bag would sag, even under heavy load. By binding the bags together before putting them on the bike I messed it up big time.

Glad to had this figured out I continued my ride and both bags performed flawlessly, even on some very rough roads.

Having said that, after a few rides I was missing one more thing. I like taking pictures, but I don't like using my phone for it. This means, I ride with a dedicated camera - currently, a Panasonic GX1 with 1-3 small lenses. This made me want a solution to keep my camera ready at all times, ideally in a small side pocket, where I can pull it out from and take pictures quickly. The Pocket bag sort of works for this purpose but every time I want to use the camera I need to unzip/zip the bag. This is why I decided to try the Apidura Food Pouch - a tiny bag that attaches to the handlebars and allows me to slide in the camera vertically, having it always ready to shoot. Because there are no zippers on the Pouch, just a draw string I can leave open, it works great as a quick access bag. In fact, I can even use the camera one-handed this way.
Food Pouch - or a camera pouch in my case. Instead of the bars, I decided to attach it to frame.

The Pouch is so small and lightweight (65g) that it almost disappears on the bike. The only complain I would have is that I would actually prefer it to be just an inch wider. This way my camera with a telephoto lens attached would fit as well.

Overall, I'm very happy with those bags. It's a nice system that seems well thought-out, designed and made.