Monday, June 19, 2017

It's already mid June and I can't do anything about it

It's almost summer. Pollen season has pretty much ended and I could open all windows at home again. Not for long. Those hot humid summer days have just arrived and I don't even feel like riding my bike anymore. Unless my destination comes with a shower.

I've been pretty busy recently with some house projects. Meanwhile, a number of things happened in the outside world.

SRAM showed their budget 1x12 drivetrain offering - GX Eagle. With its arrival, SRAM claims front derailleurs are finally dead. I wouldn't be so quick to call that. While Eagle offers a very wide range of gearing, it still suffers from the same problem (albeit less so) as the previous 1x11 system - large jumps between gears. SRAM Eagle would be interesting if it came with a few different cassettes, not just the 10-50T but also something tightly-spaced such as 10-44T. By my calculations, a 1x13 system could be a true replacement for 2x10 so Eagle still falls short of that.

Apart the pond, London has been hit twice with terror attacks recently, one of them involved running people over with a car - you know, kind of like the things we see pretty much everyday here in America. The answer was to quickly set up some protective barriers to prevent cars from entering sidewalks. Unfortunately, they were placed in the bike lane doing potentially more harm on daily basis than preventing occasional terror attacks.

It would be much better to place them between the traffic lane and the bike lane. At least that way they would provide protection for not only pedestrians but also cyclists. But I'm guessing that would be too close to comfort for many drivers. They would rather drive fast next to a soft, squishy cyclist than a rigid, concrete wall.

Bike lanes have tough life anyway. They often face strong NIMBYsm, the extreme case of which happened in Baltimore when residents were willing to remove a newly-built protected bike lane because it "made the street less scenic". As a result, the city was blocked from removing the lane by a restraining order. At least temporarily.

On the other side of the continent, Elon Musk pushes his idea of building underground tunnels as the ultimate solution to traffic problems. He had some early discussion with Mayor of LA:

I wrote earlier what I think about his idea but now I'm thinking we should let him do it. Seriously, let him build tunnels and put cars underground but under one condition - when you drive your car into the tunnel somewhere in Pomona, you won't be allowed to resurface in the downtown of LA. Your car will have to stay there in an underground parking lot and you can take an elevator to the surface. This could be revolutionary - creating more space for people, bicycles, public transport by eliminating private vehicles from city streets. Although, I doubt that's what Musk had on mind.

Local news. My town of Arlington is considering implementing Bus Rapid Transit along Massachusetts Ave. because "Arlington officials think more people would take the bus if they could speed up commute times." Duh! It doesn't take a college degree to figure out that the only public transport - buses, get completely stuck in all car traffic especially during the morning and evening rush hours. In fact, this was the reason why my wife quickly gave up the idea of commuting by bus to Harvard Square and decided to drive instead, just like many other people on the same route. Buses have to share lanes with cars on Mass Ave. but also have to stop at bus stops frequently. Hence, they are far slower than cars.

This brings me to the point - the idea of rapid transit is sound, but would only make sense if Cambridge does the same on their section of Mass Ave. The rapid transit should extend on the full route length of bus 77 and that means dedicating one lane to buses only (at least during the morning/evening rush). Something tells me hundreds of drivers would be pissed about that.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Harold Parker State Forest revisited

I can't believe it's already June. Spring is nearly gone, which I like because (quite literally) I'm sick of pollen. Unfortunately, this means that summer is coming - with humid weather and swarms of mosquitoes.

At least for now mornings are still mild and cool, which is why yesterday I rode my bike from Arlington to take another look at the Harold Parker State Forest (HPSF) in Andover.

The forest covers a hefty chunk of southern Andover and North Reading with many, many trails crossing it. It's a favorite hang out place of local mosquitoes and mountain bikers so if you don't mind meeting them on trail, head out and have fun.
I started, as usual, by entering the network of trails near the parking lot at Jenkins Road, then followed Harold Parker Road and Bradford Pond Road towards Salem Pond. Now, keep in mind that those "roads" aren't really roads but barely wide paths. As long as you stay on the wider trails you can move quickly and won't get lost.
After crossing Middleton Street, I followed Stearns Pond Road around Steve's Pond. This trail feels almost like a highway compared to the many smaller paths in the forest - it's wide and relatively even.

After crossing Turnpike Street (a very busy road), I continued on Berry Street and then found the entrance to a tiny foot path at the end of Windsor Lane. This route is called Old Farnum Street on the map but you would have to be very, very drunk to call it a street at all. It's barely accessible, heavily overgrown, narrow and blocked by many fallen tree trunks. I had to walk my bike and portage it across logs nearly the entire length of this section.

However, the end was quite rewarding because then I found this:
There is a well-hidden and completely abandoned old lumber mill right at the Boston Brook. The mill is in poor condition but once you peek inside, you will find that a lot of its original equipment is still in place.
Once I passed the mill, I followed the path towards Farnum Street, which ends at a farm. In fact, if you want to take a peek at the mill, it's much easier to access it from Farnum Street as long as you ignore the farm gate.

The next place on my list was Mary French Reservation best accessed when you ride Grey Road towards Korinthian Way.

This place is fun both for joggers and bikers. It has probably the longest and narrowest boardwalks I've ever found in Boston area, installed just a few feet over the swamp. Riding a bicycle there is fun and a bit of challenge.
The boardwalks end with a very narrow trail that runs between closely-spaced trees. In fact, some of them are so close to each other that I could barely fit my bike in-between.
The 44cm-wide drop bars on my bike were a tight fit between those trees. Now that's what you call a singletrack!

My last section of the extensive trail network in HPSF ran along Phillips Road and Walker Road. Again, these aren't your typical roads but they are wide enough to move fast. No mountain bike needed here, just bring you widest tires (over 35mm preferably).

HPSF is a great place for recreational cycling but just like any other large forested areas nearby it would be best enjoyed in the fall when mosquitoes and flies are gone and foliage season is in full swing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You are a terrorist and you don't even know about it

It's the Bike To Work Day today and I somehow managed to do it for the first time in years. For some reason, in the past several years I always missed this event, but it didn't bother me much, as I ride on the other 364 days of the year anyway.

It's been an eventful week. The spring is in full swing, which means that trees just erupted producing tons of pollen leading to my sneezing, itching and aching for the last few days. 

Then it got worse. It's 75F (24C) early in the morning only to get much, much hotter (over 90F) later in the day. At this point I'm close to park my bike and hide in a fridge. Knock on the door when September is here.

What else happened this week? Oh yes, several new scandals in the White House, but that's nothing new. Our president is busy doing the right thing - fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, the focus is in a wrong place. There is a real terror happening on our streets and no one gives a damn about it. In fact, you (or someone you know) are likely a terrorist. You just don't think about it.
Just an accident, "not terrorism" so nothing to worry about. (CBS News)

Yesterday a driver (with multiple earlier DUIs) mowed the crowd in Times Square, killing 1 and injuring 22 pedestrians. Press quickly reported it wasn't an "act of terrorism" so everything is fine. Just a normal day in America, right? A cost of our way of life.

On the same day an 8-year old boy was ran over by an inattentive driver in Wellesley's school parking lot and taken to hospital with severe injuries. Seems like the parent was rushing to drop kids off and get to work. Yet another example of "not terrorism" that happens every day.

School zones are "a total madhouse" anyway. It's a problem we created with bad road design, lack of public transport and no bike lanes. My solution was simple - large "no car zone" around every elementary school in the country. Kids (and parents) have legs - they can walk.

So there you go. People drive, people die. Unfortunately, the dead ones are mostly the least protected ones - pedestrians and cyclists. They're being killed daily by terrorists in cars. 

Nothing will change until we recognize the problem and our politicians fail to do so. Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston, said recently that pedestrians and cyclists share the blame of accidents. According to him,
"You’ve got to understand, cars are going to hit you."
You see, it's that simple. Either you can join the terrorists in cars or be stupid and try to walk or bike. Just don't complain when you get hit by a car. Oops, it happens.

That was yesterday. Today, since it's the Bike To Work Day and after a huge public outrage, our Mayor decided to fix the damage slightly and "announced a commitment to increase Boston's Vision Zero investment by $1 million" in 2018. Sounds good but I don't believe it until I see it working. You see, Vision Zero has been a great talking point for most politicians - it's a great idea that can win them many supporters without doing nothing (but talking).

Implementing it, however, is a completely different animal and no one says it's going to be easy. Take protected bike lanes, for example. In New York, they are a source of chaos. Apparently, in eyes of terrorists, err... I mean, drivers, bike lanes lead to traffic headaches. I think that's probably because it hurts them to see cyclists just riding by, when they are stuck in their own traffic.

With over 30,000 Americans dying each year on roads, traffic collisions are much deadlier than terrorism. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A boring solution

"musking" - the depositing of musk for scent marking by badgers and similar animals. (Oxford Dictionary)
Elon Musk, who is aspiring to become a visionary, technological leader Steve Jobs once was, is leaving his "musk" all over the place.

First, he manufactured some nice, electric Tesla cars and attempted to solve home power issues with Powerwall, then focused on electrification of other means of transport such as trucks and buses, only to finish with The Boring Company that would bring us underground tunnels as the ultimate solution to our traffic problems.

But it worries me that he's exerting his energy in wrong places. As much as cool-looking and technologically-advanced Tesla cars may be, electric cars won't solve any congestion problems because of this:
What Musk fails to notice is that any new solution he envisions still supports to the old "one person per car" policy and as such, requires far too much of precious road space than available. It doesn't matter if his car is electric, autonomous, or travels underground on a 124mph "skate". As long as it only transports one person per vehicle, it's wasteful, pointless and far worse than the old XIX century invention - rail.

Sorry Elon, but space for cars in our cities is severely limited and drilling tunnels underground is not going to change it. It would be far more efficient to build a real high-speed rail between Boston and Washington D.C. that could carry millions of passengers a year, connecting all major cities on the way, than building tunnels for high-speed electric cars.

The only thing I truly like about his idea of tunnels is that they put cars underground. That's a great way of giving streets back to people. And when we already bury our metal boxes deep under, let's just keep them there. At least within the city limits.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sorry, I'm late to complain about the same thing yet again

Last Sunday, there was an important event in the downtown Boston that I obviously missed. Hundreds of cyclists rode through the city to demand safe streets, namely - more safe bicycling infrastructure like real, protected bike lanes, not just those with painted lines.

Boston is one of the oldest American cities and was built long before the car era started, which means that there are plenty of narrow streets with limited space for large vehicles -perfect locations for pedestrian (or ped+bike) zones. Despite that, cars dominate the downtown. You would think that in XIX century, following excellent examples around the world, the City of Boston would want to change this obsolete design and open its streets to people. I'm guessing it's not going to happen anytime soon. Citizens of Boston may want it, tourists may want it, even daily commuters may want it, but the city doesn't give a damn. There is simply no political will to change things, despite deaths of numerous cyclists in recent years.

But then I'm thinking that maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe the City doesn't want to change anything because most people are perfectly happy with status quo. The same people think that it's not drivers' fault that people are dying on Boston streets. No. They think that "cyclists are the worst thing that happened to this city" and they have solutions to it.

First, of course, as a cyclist you have no right to demand safe infrastructure if you don't wear a helmet:
Next, know that you are a parasite who uses roads for free, because you don't pay "road tax":
Then, clearly, if you want to ride in the city, you have to be licensed and registered:
Finally, you certainly don't deserve any respect and place on road because it's so obvious that you never obey the rules:
I think it becomes perfectly clear now that our city does the right thing. No stupid protected bike lanes are necessary. Citizens don't want them. Instead, they want all cyclists to be helmeted, taxed, licensed, registered, identified, painted red, beaten up and kicked out of the city.

Then, we'll finally find our peace.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sorry, I got distracted but at least I didn't kill anyone

Sorry, I got so distracted by my life that I didn't realize a half of this month is already gone. I'm trying to ride my other bike a bit more recently but it turns out to be difficult sometimes, since lots of local trails are still flooded and inaccessible.
Soggy spring has arrived and everything started blooming slowly. Still no leaves on trees but at least we know they are coming soon.
My distraction is meaningless, but in general, cell phone distraction is now one of the most common collision causes on road. It turns out that 88% of smartphone owners use them while they drive. You can easily imagine what may happen when you look at the screen of your smartphone and not the road. If you can't, take a look at the pictures of this head-on collision, when a Texas driver killed 13 people because he was texting while driving 80mph. He was allowed to text and drive as Texas is one of only four states that doesn't ban it.

It's pretty clear we have a huge problem and you would think media should notice that. Unfortunately, they prefer blaming victims (duh!), which leads to some ridiculous situations when The Today Show blamed pedestrians for collisions because of "distracted walking", which "they illustrated by showing a video clip of a person being struck by a driver while standing on the sidewalk"! Clearly, whether you are distracted or not by your cell phone's screen, cars or trucks should never be a threat for you when you're on a sidewalk.

It seems that we've got a new technology and this tech is now killing us, because of our strong dependence on both smartphone and cars. Interestingly though, we already have a solution that would essentially turn smartphone into "dumb" phones when driving. It was developed a decade ago but no cell phone provider is interested in implementing it, fearing lost profits.

So don't text, tweet, instagram, email or whatever else, when you drive. Remember that you are operating a heavy and powerful vehicle that can easily kill someone. Be like Spiderman - with great power comes great responsibility.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Winter, spring or summer?

Last weekend I decided it was finally time to start this year's "cycling season" and explore some surroundings a bit further from home.

I drove to Leominster, then rode around the Wachusett Mountain. Or at least I tried to, since spring hasn't arrived there yet and snow was everywhere. In fact, the summit was not even accessible with the main gate being blocked by a huge pile of snow.
I had to skip the ride to the summit and try my luck elsewhere. It was still pretty cold early in the morning but later on as temperature raised, you could feel that warmer days were coming. I actually enjoyed riding along Parmenter St in Leominster State Forest despite all the frozen snow on the ground.
To be fair, this place would be way easier to ride once snow melts completely, but even then make sure you bring wider tires. Parmenter St is not really a street at all but more like a very rocky forest road. I guess that's what makes it a place fun to ride.
Now this was two days ago and situation has changed dramatically since then. Snow is pretty much gone and now we enjoy... summer with air temperature reaching 80F (27C) today. It's a strange kind of summer though, with no leaves on trees (yet).

This warmer weather also means that suddenly everyone recalled those two-wheel machines stored in basement and as such, bike paths are now full of seasonal cyclists.

The season is officially open. Cyclists are here. I'm just waiting for pollen to arrive.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's the end of March so it must be... winter

This morning the weather was simply "perfect" for this time of the year. Rainy, cloudy, dark, cold and ugly, with lots of snow still piling up everywhere and refusing to melt. Everything was telling me to stay in bed late - ideally the whole day. Despite that, I felt like I really needed a bike ride.
I did a 2-hour loop around Harvard, MA desperately looking for any signs of spring. Tough luck - it seems that we will "enjoy" this winter a bit longer. I already wrote why I think March is by far the worst month in the year (if you live in New England) and I sill stay by it. March just sucks here, especially when you compare with Europe, where spring is in full swing. Not to mention Southern California where they pretty much enjoy summer.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What communists got right

If you have ever tried to drop off your first grader at American school, you know that feeling very well. Inching forward slowly in a long line of cars, checking your watch and wondering whether you are going to make it to that morning meeting on time. Unless, of course, you are one of the brave ones (or the lucky ones - if you live close to school) who walk with their kids - then you're really screwed. No one expects you to walk to school here. Driving up to the front door is considered normal. And your kid riding a bike to school? Give me a break! What normal parent would ever allow that!?

This general approach creates a giant morning mess when hundreds of cars line up and clog roads. Ideally, I would love to see cities introducing a "no car zone" policy around all elementary schools, with a car-free zone of at least 500ft radius. This way no one (except the school buses) would be allowed to drive up to the front door. A short morning walk should be good for any parent and child.

Otherwise, what you get is this:

Believe it or not, such pictures have been completely foreign to me (at least until recently). It's no secret that I grew up behind the Iron Curtain - in communist Poland. And while communists got most things completely wrong, there is one they got right, not even knowing about it. Confused?

Let me explain.

American cities are huge because everyone's dream is to own a house and a piece of meticulously maintained piece of grass called the yard. And as I mentioned in my previous post, they are willing to spend long hours in car, driving to work, just to be able to live in places where they can actually afford their own piece of land. That's how the wasteful urban sprawl is made.

On the other hand, many European cities are much smaller (area-wise) yet still hold the same number of citizens. On average, people tend to live closer to each other in apartment buildings, not single-family houses. In 1960's-80's in Poland, the government built a fair number of such buildings all across the country. Because of their inherent "beauty" and shoddy construction, I wouldn't dare to call them apartment buildings, but maybe... housing blocks. Yes, that sounds communist enough.
A typical housing block in Poland. The fancy bright colors can't brighten your life enough in this concrete bunker (Source: Wikimedia).

One single block of this type may typically have about 40 apartments (depending on building's length) and those are usually small: ~2 bedrooms and 500-800 sq. ft. That's a third of an average American house.

The place where I grew up had a large number of these blocks scattered on a 1km x 1km plot of land. I made a simple sketch (please forgive me for my crude drawing abilities) to illustrate my point.

Such housing community can still be found in every major Polish city. Mine housed about 4,000-4,500 people and was somewhat self-sufficient. As you can see in the drawing, we had some basic amenities such as schools and kindergartens, grocery stores and other usual commercial buildings, a clinic, a church and a number of sports facilities.

What is also pretty clear that major roads were placed on the outskirts of this land and parking lots we located away from the front doors. Compare it with this section of Arlington, MA - roughly the same area of a fairly typical, suburban development - many more roads and a much lower population density:
This high-density design had some major consequences. In order to run your daily errands you didn't need a car to:
  • drop off kids at school, kindergarten or daycare,
  • get groceries,
  • see a doctor,
  • take kids to the soccer practice,
  • visit the church,
  • get a haircut,
  • do many, many other things.
In fact, you would only use your car if you want to drive to another city. Going to work in the 70's happened mainly thanks to the public transportation as few people could actually afford a car. Public transport was available (even though wasn't of particularly top quality) - a nearby streetcar line and multiple bus lines took care of the problem. If you wanted to go somewhere by bike, you could easily ride on wide footpaths or merge with the cycling "highway" that would take you to the downtown.

For my fellow Americans such place may sound like a slum. No one had their own driveway, own yard and own swimming pool after all. But for us, kids, it was like a large playround. Wherever we wanted to go, we never had to cross a busy street. We walked everywhere. Walked to school and to see our friends or to the field to play ball. If we were tired of walking, we rode bicycles instead. There were no cars around so playing outside was easy and safe. We ventured out for the entire day coming back home late for dinner.

Despite all the ugliness of housing blocks and compact size of apartments our community was a safe and fun place to live.

Of course, communists didn't build it that way because they had a visionary development plan. They did it because that was all they could do at the time - place lots of people in one location and provide them with cheap housing (I know it's hard to believe but the state was providing basic, i.e. lousy, housing for everyone).

Don't get me wrong. Even though it may sound nice there were just too many things wrong elsewhere in the system and at one point in 1989 we just showed our government the middle finger and ended the whole stupid experiment.

The housing blocks, however, survived. They still stand today and after numerous renovations still perform their function. And while many single-family dwellings started to pop-out around cities later in the 90's, the block communities are the ones to remain the most people-friendly. Yes, the apartments are still small, but are well-located and well-connected to the rest of the city tissue.

I see similar developments in the U.S. but at a much smaller scale. American apartment neighborhoods in the suburbs can't even compare to the old communist solution. Not only they are smaller but they also place large parking lots right in front of the buildings. Due to the local zoning laws, they don't include any commercial or educational institutions within the complex. And any public transportation is severely limited, which means you still have to drive everywhere to take care of the simplest needs.

I wonder, will it change or will we still prefer to own a yard instead of owning more time?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It's the transportation, stupid!

Big news recently was the ranking of U.S. States, and the first place for Massachusetts - apparently, the best state in America! We might be #1 in education and #2 in health care but our infrastructure was rated much, much lower (#19).

No matter. Our president gave a speech a few days ago emphasizing that rebuilding infrastructure is going to be the key issue during his term, which means that America will get up from its knees and be great again. Soon. Ugh... maybe.
It's important that while rebuilding those crumbling roads and bridges he should remember about cyclists. Not that I have particularly high hopes it's going to happen. People are still given a lower priority than cars in American cities even though we should admit that "the car century was a mistake and it's time to move on". Something tells me it's just wishful thinking, given this government focus on fossil fuels and actions such as this one, when automakers petitioned the EPA to lower emission standards. Not pretty.

That dependence on cars is going to kill us (Or was it the smartphones?). And it's not getting any better. In fact, an average commute in America keeps getting longer. You would think it doesn't make sense - surely, people would not prefer to waste time in traffic everyday, instead of spending it with family. Apparently, not so, because:
"People don't want a longer commute, but faced with a choice people will choose that lawn."
So there you go - it's not that Americans love to spend hours in a car. They just want to live close to the city (where land is expensive) and have a large house with a backyard - eat a cake and have it too. Obviously, if everyone drives to work two issues immediately pop up - road capacity and parking space. Since space for new roads is limited in the city, we have to give up something (like driving, duh). In Seattle they decided it's time to ditch the bike lanes. Apparently, they are the culprit of all morning traffic.

Here in Boston, we are focused on the second issue and are planning a new, subsidized parking lot with 2,100 spaces. You would think a free (or discounted) parking in the downtown is something we already tried decades ago and it didn't go well - there is just never enough of it. Seems like it's still 1980's in Boston.

Don't despair though - things are supposed to change soon. The City of Boston has prepared a comprehensive transportation plan for future called "Go Boston 2030". It includes lots of nice, bold words and plenty of "aspirational goals" but something tells me it lacks enough political vision and power to make these changes happen. Maybe they should've called it "Crawl Boston 2060" just to be safe?

No matter what they do, you can be sure they will keep the car traffic flowing. Unless, of course, they will blow all the money on those new fancy parking garages and have no dough left to even fix the potholes. In such case, it's back to gravel surface - like they did in Omaha. Let's keep those gravel bikes ready!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bicycle touring and family matters

It's only March but if you, like me, are already thinking where your cycling adventures will take you once it gets a bit warmer, you may be thinking about giving bicycle touring a try.

Many people believe that you need a lot of money to travel by bicycle. You don't. At least not as much as you may think. But because bicycle is a relatively slow mode of transportation, you certainly need plenty of time. For me, finding time is by far the most difficult thing about bicycle touring (or bikepacking, whatever you like to call it).

I'm a family man. I have a lovely wife and two little buggers plus a 9-to-5 job. This means that should I plan to take more time off to ride my bike, keeping my family and my boss happy could be quite difficult. I can't picture myself saying "Honey, I'll be gone for some time. Take care!" simply because I know that those short weekends is the only time I can help out by taking care of kids, so that she can do her own stuff too. It's also not feasible to take a full month off at work (without quitting my job) and abandoning my family to tour some remote country by bicycle. Unfortunately, my wife is not much of a cycling person and my kids are too little to be involved into any serious escapades. Yet.

All this means that I had to come up with some smart strategy that would still let me travel by bicycle at least once a while. Of course, traversing Sahara or riding across Alaska is out of question. I had to start small... and likely stick to it. Here are some tips for those who want to go bike touring but have no time:

1. Travel light on a fast bike.

This applies in general to pretty much any type of bike touring. You don't want to take too much with you as this means more items to pack and unpack, more to haul, more stuff that can break or get stolen. You would also want a relatively quick bike - lightweight and fast-rolling. It doesn't mean that you should buy a race bike. While some people are perfectly happy to travel on vintage 3-speed roadsters, in our case, because of limited time we need to keep moving and a heavy bike without proper gears would slow us down.
My "touring" bike loaded with everything I need for a 2-3 day trip.

2. Increase your mileage.

You want to get to places and see more, but you have limited time - what do you do? Travel faster (hence a fast bike and a light load) and further. This means - more riding in one day. While most touring cyclists don't ride more than 50-60mi (80-100km) a day, it's perfectly possible for an average cyclist to ride much more without exertion and still save time to stop for pictures, food and rest. I usually ride 75-100mi (120-160km) a day during my mini bike tours, which means riding for 11-12 hours (including all stops). Obviously, in difficult terrain these numbers are lower, but in general, it's just a good idea to use all available daylight as much as possible. You will be getting up just after sunrise. It may sound harsh but if you want to get to places in limited time, it's the best what you can do.

3. Plan well but be flexible.

There are many bicycle tourists (or bikepackers) who claim that the true way of traveling by bike is to point direction and go - without any plan. Unfortunately, this kind of ultimate freedom is good for those who have unlimited time. While I'd love to travel like that, not knowing where I end up on a given day and where I would sleep, I can't. Therefore, careful and detailed planning is critical. However, at the same time you have to be flexible. First, you should have plan B in case something doesn't go as originally planned. Second, grab any opportunity. There are places you would likely want to visit on a certain time in the year. For example, New Hampshire would be great to tour in the end of September when all foliage is at its peak. But you may not have time in September. Maybe your kids will be going to school and you have to be around? Whenever an opportunity comes up, when you can take time off and your spouse with kids will be entertained for a few days - use it. The next one may not show up for a while.
New Hampshire can be beautiful in the peak of foliage season.

4. Stay local.

This one is self-explanatory. Forget about visiting places that require 2 days of airline travel. You don't have time for that. Best is to stay local. Trips from your doorsteps can be fun but if you feel like you know your neighborhood too well and want to explore further...

5. Use your car.

Put the bike in your car and leave early morning to reach a remote location where you can start your tour. This way you can quickly get to places even a couple of hundred miles away from your home. Combined with a 2-3 day weekend bike tour, this gives you an opportunity to see more. One problem you may face is where to leave your car overnight for a few days. Long-term airport parking is generally a good choice even though it's not going to be free. However, many states have designated park-and-ride locations, where you can leave your car for free for a few days. This is what I did in Vermont recently. New Hampshire and Maine have similar facilities.

6Use public transport.

If driving your car to a bike tour is not something you can or want to do, try the train. Unfortunately, trains in the U.S. are generally slower than driving and the number of Amtrak trains that allow bicycles on-board is very limited, but you may be lucky to have one in your area. Buses are an option too but depending on the company, taking unboxed bicycles on-board may not be not allowed. You may however, try to combine different modes of transport or even do a one-way tour, where you would start from your home on your bicycle, eventually reaching a place where you can catch a train or bus back.

7Overnighter is your best friend.

The quickest, shortest and easiest way to start is simply to ride somewhere from your doorsteps for the whole day, stay overnight and return the next day. This "overnighter" (Is that a word?) is your best friend, simply because it can be done on weekends. No need to take time off at work.

8. Afternoon overnighter - if you really have no time.

But what do you do when you can't find time for two full days of cycling but still want to go for a quick tour? Try the afternoon overnighter, which is basically a shortened version of the 2-day tour. Start from your home on Saturday afternoon and ride to the location worth visiting, not too far from your house - some place you can comfortably reach before sunset. Stay overnight, then return on Sunday morning. This type of micro-adventure still lets you stay over in an interesting location and get there by bike, even though you could actually get there and return in just one day. It's like a 1-day long ride divided into two.

9. A (holiday) weekend tour.

If you feel ready for a bit longer mini-tours, a 2-day weekend trip is probably the easiest one to execute. You may leave your work early on Friday, spend touring over the weekend to return on Sunday evening. There are many variations possible. For example, since many national holidays are conveniently placed on Mondays in U.S. calendar, use it to your advantage (This is what I did visiting Vermont last year). Just keep in mind that campgrounds may be full, especially in high season.
10Saturday to Sunday is the most you can get.

Once you figure out how to send your wife and kids away to visit your in-laws, friends or relatives, it's time to take a week off at work and squeeze in the longest bike tour you will be likely ever able to do. Starting on Saturday morning and returning on the next Sunday afternoon means a 9 days and 8 nights long "expedition". This is where all the fun begins, just don't expect to be able to do it frequently.

That's it. I hope it was helpful for some of you. I'm planning my next short cycling adventure this summer but still need to work out some details. For now, I will stay quiet. I don't want to jinx anything.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It's only as good as you want it to be

Bicycling infrastructure. We get so little of it even though we deserve more. It gets rationed over the years. It gets the lowest priority in urban development. And then, when winter comes, it's completely neglected.

Last week's examples from Boston show magnitude of the problem. Just take a look:

The truth is - it's not enough to build it. It has to be maintained too. Unfortunately, it seems that Boston has some serious problems understanding that once the infrastructure is in place, it can't be simply left alone. And especially, not in winter.
It's not just Boston. Our suburban Minuteman Bikeway got neglected as well.

Sometimes I think that protected bike lanes were built to provide extra storage for snow in winter months because, you know, "no one rides bicycles in winter anyway." Our New England winters are likely also the reason why Boston's government was so reluctant to install any kind of real protection (in form of bollards, curbs, etc.) along those new bike lanes. Why do it if it gets damaged later by snow banks and snowplows, right?

Of course, this is not a problem anymore. The issue is gone, since nature solved it right away starting last weekend. Most of the snow melted, winter is nearly over and now we can pretend that the problem never existed. Until the next year...

Unfinished projects bother me a lot. It's not just a statement that you didn't really put much effort to solve the problem. It also shows that you just don't care.

For those of you who don't understand what I'm bitching about, here is everyone's favorite car analogy:
Imagine you had to drive from Boston to New York but the nice 3-lane highway was cleared off all snow only up to Hartford, CT. The other half of the way would not be plowed at all. Would you be happy with it?