Monday, June 26, 2017

Another safe ride in

I had a dentist appointment this morning and when I was leaving and getting my bike, an old guy started a conversation with me.  He looked like it might have been some years since he retired and I'm not sure what he did for work but he told me a story about how he commuted from Medford to Wentworth for school.  He was telling me that he didn't have much money and he and his buddies car pooled to school.  He said that it wasn't just saving money that was important but that they helped each other work out their problems together, that having friends close by was important.  And he said that it's a bummer (my word) that people drive alone and are so isolated as they get themselves to work.  I'd like to think that he kept this up after school and through his career and by the sound of his last comment, I suspect that it's true..

I left Medford Square and headed down Main Street and Medford Street, heading to Somerville and Cambridge.  It felt a little less safe than Arlington and Cambridge and I kept me eyes open and stayed in high alert, which I think one ought to do when riding in an urban environment. So it surprised me when the driver of plumbing company van was honking his horn to catch my attention at a light.  He apologized for cutting me off.  I thanked him for his concern although I didn't exactly recall him getting all that close to me or anything like cutting me off.  Whatever the case, it was nice that he was aware of a cyclist on the road and that it was good to pay attention to cyclists and give them room.

Not far down the road, maybe a block or two, a SUV passed me with  the passenger side window open.  It was an old guy driving alone and as he passed me he said move over.  The way he said it wasn't overtly obnoxious but just telling someone they didn't have the right to be on the road is pretty obnoxious.  Then he continued on his happy way and I was wondering what I did that seemed bother him.  Maybe it was because I was riding a bike.

This all probably isn't news but it's better to tell a story of something nice and something not too terrible.  I, or most anyone who rides a bike in the Boston area, sees some pretty awful behavior on the road on a daily basis and none of this resembles that awful behavior.  So I'm just being hopeful during a time that the country seems to be collapsing into fascism and our climate seems less than reliably stable.

Today's commute: 16 miles.  Miles for the year: about 1,400, a thousand of that commuting to work.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Riding a bike is a habit, right?

Last fall I managed to put a big dent into the front fender of a Prius on a morning commute last September. I also managed to bruise my left knee and thigh and my bike crumpled into a useless mess.  I was off my bike for over a month but I got  back on my 3 speed for commuting in October and I bought a replacement Surly in early November.  I commuted all winter, missing maybe one day a week, sometime because I needed to carry large items for work, and while I did three road rides, I sort of lost the habit of getting on my bike for recreational, especially in inclement and marginal weather and even on decent days.  On days that I would have certainly gone out for 30 or 40 miles last year, I would instead decide that it wasn't just that important to get out, in part because of potential misery but also because it was no longer a habit.  I experienced this with running and kids. I was able to run for the first 4 years with kids, most often with one in a jogging stroller, but by the time they were 2 and 4, time demands made it harder to get out.  The less I got out, the less I was likely to get out and now I don't get out running.  I'm now nursing a sore knee (that I don't notice when I ride) so while I figure out how to get tested I am not trying to run.  But I can be riding and I haven't been, except commuting.

Before yesterday, the last time I rode was a slow ride to Bedford on my road bike in late January.  I can complain about the weather since then but it was really habit, in the same way that I stopped running.  But I am getting on in years (I turn 60 next year, something that just doesn't seem real or even possible) so I can't fall off of the exercise wagon completely.  Yet it was difficult to imagine getting out.  I have been out with my family this year but those are few and far between and never long or fast.  I don't attribute my lack of riding to fear of cars and their inattentive drivers , although there is some of that in my head.  Also I've sort of lost my early bird habits so getting out when it didn't matter to the family is hard.

So late yesterday afternoon, after the rain passed through, with one boy on a play date and the other on a walk with my wife, I texted my wife and suggested I pick up my younger son and take him for a ride.  She thought that I should just go for a ride myself, which I thought was a great idea.  I need to replace my chain on my road bike so I took the Surly commuter and got out of the house.  

It was fabulous.  I had two hours and I found myself getting a fast start - my commuting speed since getting back on my bike is less than 10 MPH so 14 seemed like a good pace.  I decided that maybe I could ride farther than I initially though then I thought I wouldn't go for the flattest ride possible and some hills would be nice to ride.  Then I just had to get home before I was too tired, or late.  I stopped for a bio break just outside of Concord then found a couple of people ahead of me and passed them.  Then I passed another person.  He caught back up with me to complement me on my nice commuter (it is a nice commuter) before slowing down to wait for friends.  I wasn't racing with anyone except myself and I did a great job of it. I pushed myself and remember why I love riding.  I felt like I had a great workout and came back home with a decent amount of energy.  That eventually faded and I'm tired today but it was a great reminder that I should get on my bike more.  I will never be a racer but I have fun riding as fast as I can.  16 mph is hardly a record for me but it felt pretty fast to me.  And one ride doesn't make a habit but it's a start.

Oh, and about the fear I mentioned.  I've always been vigilant about cars on road rides and yesterday was no exception.  I was hyper aware of cars coming in from driveways and side streets and I did have a bit of a panic as I braked when a car almost didn't stop coming into Page Street from a side street in Bedford.  I had room to maneuver and they did come to a stop a bit late.  And it did serve as a reminder that while it's fun, you have to take your safety into your own hands because drivers aren't always of cyclists, daytime running lights or not.

Proof that I did ride yesterday.

My Surly Cross Check, built up by Ride Studio Cafe.  It's an impressive bike for me.  The parts are what I wanted and  there isn't much that I would add.  I am looking into a front rack like a Nitto M12 to carry a front bag  for day trips instead of using a pannier I am now.  I can't use a seat post bag while I have the silver bracket installed for pulling my younger son on a trail-a-bike. The panniers are in use for commuting so I wouldn't get rid of the the rear rack.  Besides, my rear light is mounted on the rack.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Multi Modal Commuting

Back at the end of January, I managed to ride each of my bikes on successive days: my IF road bike on a simple 20 mile loop on a Sunday mostly on the bike path, my new Surly on a 15 mile round trip commute to work, and, finally, a 5 mile multi model commute on my Swobo 3 speed.  That pattern didn't continue.  With the snowy weather I changed my commute from mostly riding on my Surly all of the way to work to exclusively multi modal commutes, riding to Alewife and then taking the train.  For the multi model commute, I ride my Swobo, which has the Schwalbe Marathon Winter 700c x 35 mm studded tires and is a bike that I don't mind suffering some benign neglect.  That seemed to work for a while and it turned into a habit.  I managed to get into work on time and get home on time for dinner.  While anyone who takes the Red Line regularly can tell you, it isn't always uneventful, particularly in bad weather.  Somehow I managed to miss most of the minor, moderate, and severe delays (I get the alerts via email) and actually enjoyed taking the train.  I even had a few interesting conversations about work, one of which led to an interesting opportunity for me.  That said, I'm not quite ready to give up riding all of the way into work right now, particularly since sunset is getting later and I can get most of the way home before civil twilight ends.  Just to give myself a start, I already packed my panniers on my Swobo for the full commute (I use an old BaileyWorks SuperPro when I take the train) so I'll have to unpack if I can't break my Red Line habit.  Wish me luck.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Riding my bike in 2016

I was having a pretty good year of cycling this year and in September I thought I may ride 5,000 miles this year, if nothing changes.  I was commuting regularly and getting in a lot of rides, if not long rides, every week.  Then this happened.  I'm better now and the bike was replaced with a slightly nicer one and I while I didn't make it to 5,000, I rode over 3,832 miles this year, which is more miles more than I rode any other year except for last year.  So this is how the year went:

Road rides

I rode almost 1,500 miles on my road bike this year.  And I hardly rode in September before the crash, what with a wedding that we traveled for and conference in Canada that didn't involve bikes.  And I haven't been on my road bike since the collision.  So I must have been getting out regularly.  I did ride 200 miles over the two weeks we spent in Chatham.  But the rides weren't special, at least any more special than just getting on a bike and riding it is special.  And riding on Ocean View Road in Wellfleet is pretty special, especially heading south.  Besides those Cape rides, I can't say that I did any spectacular rides on the IF this year but any ride on the IF is fun.  The bike is 9 years old and it still feels new and crisp whenever I get on it.


This year I commuted mostly on my old Surly Cross Check until it was no more, a total of 1768 miles.  I rode 230 commuting miles on my Swobo 3 speed, either in the snow or when I was between my Surly Cross Checks or when I was leaving a bike near Harvard Square for the day.  And I commuted 215 miles on the new Surly this year.  I'm not especially spoked commuting (which I was doing when I was involved in that collision) but I did change the roads that I used.  A major change was trying to avoid the Porter Square intersection and trying to stay over Mass Ave as much as possible.

Anything else?

The rest of the miles where short trips with the boys and/or my wife, including some fun rides on the Reformatory Branch Trail and one in Estabrook Woods with one son on a third wheel or trail-a-bike.  I enjoyed what I think is my fourth Diverged Ride from Ride Studio Cafe.  I missed both the D2R2 and Honey Hundred because of scheduling issues.

I wasn't an active coffeeneur this year, mostly because I couldn't ride for the first part of the challenge and later deciding to ride was challenging for a while.  If you have been in a collision you may understand that sentiment.  I did make maps for the challenge this year and I hope to ride and drink coffee for the challenge next year.

Bike changes:

Well, I have a new Surly Cross Check, this one built up by Ride Studio Cafe.  It's largely the same bike with some nice changes:

  • A Chris King headset replaced the Cane Creek S3.
  • The front dynamo hub is a Som 28, an upgrade from the Shimano 3N80.
  • A set of Paul Components Neo Retro brakes replace Tektro (rear) and Avid Shorty 4 (front).
  • Velo Orange fenders replace the Portland Design Works city fender but that's because I wanted to run wider tires than the PDW fenders could accomodate.
  • 38 mm Compass tires vs the 35 mm Compass tires.
  • A narrow Tubus rear rack, replacing the Blackburn rack
While it's not that different from the old one, it feels like a much nicer bike and it is fun to ride.  The build by the Studio is pretty nice.

My 2007 Somerville Independent Fabrication Club Racer is largely unchanged.  I just replaced the tires, going from Clement LGG Strada 25 mm to the 28 mm Continental Grand Prix tires.  I would have tried the Clement in 28 but I couldn't find them locally.  In going to 28 mm, I had to drop the fenders.  Now that the Surly seems faster (and probably is as fast as I want to/can go), I felt that I didn't need fenders on my road bike.  If it's going to rain and I'm still riding then I'll take the new Surly.

My 3 speed Swobo Novak now has a front dynamo wheel, the relatively inexpensive one that Harris Cyclery sells, along with the Busch and Mueller EYC headlight and Toplight taillight.  I needed that after I was well enough to commute and my new bike wasn't yet built up.  I've enjoyed commuting all of the way to work and sometimes just to Alewife on the Swobo.  I already put the 35 mm Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires on it for an early December snow commute.  I'm surprised that I can make the 15 mile round trip commute on the very heavy Schwalbe tires without too much effort.  I've been through a couple of light snow events and am pretty happy that I bought these before last winter.

Next year?

All I can hope for is staying healthy and out of the way of cars.  I still dream of long rides on quiet roads in Western Massachusetts.  For those from Boston, or somewhere else, Western Massachusetts ends somewhere close to the east side of the Quabbin Reservoir.  Maybe I will get to go on a short tour or even a S24O,  Don't worry if you don't know what that means since I may not get the chance to ride one so we'll be about even.  I will continue to commute on my bicycle because it's fun and saves time.  It's not faster for me to ride but at least I get some exercise rather than sitting in a car for about 10 or 15 hours a week,

It's been a hard year in the world and getting some exercise and getting outside is an important strategy for me in coping with stress and uncertainty.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Riding in the snow

I went out for a ride in the snow this morning, just to get outside and play.  I didn't go far, just a couple of miles that brought me up the hill to nearby woods and a quiet neighborhood.  It was great fun and included a short bicycling history lesson.

I'm not sure if I have been on this street before.  Just down the hill is Pleasant Street.
The road surfaces were perfect for my tires, which are studded but not meant for deep snow (the 35 mm Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires with about 240 studs).  I felt pretty safe out there.  I also went through Menotomy Rocks Park, which was both a winter wonderland and a safe haven for dog walkers who are friendly and talkative.

The snow was deeper by the time I got to the park but still easily passable for me.
I met several people in the park.  One woman was impressed that I was riding and and though the studded tires were a great idea.  It turns out she is very closely connected to cycling.  She asked me if I knew about this race, really a ride that a few people did called "Boston Montreal Boston" (yes, I've heard about it although I never even thought of trying it!) that she finished and talked about riding with John Allison and knew Pamela Blalock. Her love of bicyling was passed down to her son: he rides a lot and lives near and climbs Mount Tam frequently.  She said he owns a Firefly and a Moots.  She didn't want the notoriety of having her picture on the web but did want a picture of me to share with her son.

I also met a guy who said he was a racer by telling me that he shaved his legs until he was forty.  That allusion may not have been clear to everyone.  He told me that he was a cat 4 racer and not very fast and that if I looked him up by his last name that I would find his cousin.  She was the real racer in his family.

And, finally, I met a group of women who were interested in how I could ride in the snow.  After checking out my tires they told me stories of cyclists in the neighborhood including a 78 year old guy who rides 300 miles a week.  And they told me about another neighbor, Bob Selker, who worked at the MIT Media Lab and commuted to work in a French speedo bathing suit so people would notice him.

Not bad for a short time on my 3 speed.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Coffeeneuring Finishers 2016

It's that time of the year - coffeeneuring season.  And people are finishing.  And here are the maps of the finishers and the places where we went coffeeneuring this year (and in 2014 and 2015).  Mary of Chasing Mailboxes is updating the map as people let her know that they finished the challenge.  If the first three maps are blank then it means that no one has finished and let Mary know.

First, the map of finishers by state:

And the same map zoomed into the Washington D.C. area:

And the map of finishers by city:

And finally, where coffee (and other eligible beverages) were consumed:

How these maps are made.

And if you want to add your coffeeshops to the map, please check this post on how to do so.  If you need permission, email newenglandbicyclist [at]  Please let me know your gmail account since that is required by Google, not me.  You don't need to do anything if you have added to this map in the past except add more stops.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The first few minutes after a collision

Josh Zisson, of Bike Safe Boston and an attorney specializing in bike law, offers a couple of important thoughts on what to do when you are in an accident.  The first is to collect two pieces of important information.  One piece, the driver's contact information, can be hard to get if the driver doesn't cooperate, but you can get additional information by simply getting their license plate number.  The second piece, the names of witnesses, could be harder.  There may not be any witnesses or they may not have time, or the desire, to get involved.  But if you get both, you should be in good shape.  He second thought was formalized into a card that prompts you for a more complete set of data that will help you out.  I have one of those cards.  I'm a big fan of Josh and sort of memorized what to do in case of a collision, not that I was expecting one.  I'm a pretty careful cyclist and a pretty slow one at that.  And I ride the outside of bike lanes to stay away from the door zone and I don't think anyone will do what the law requires them to.  I also follow traffic laws in all cases.

A few weeks ago I was heading east on Mass Ave, going to work.  I was riding cautiously, as I always do, averaging about 12 MPH when I entered an intersection a second after a car did.  The driver was creating what cyclists refer to as a left cross, which means a car takes a left turn and doesn't yield to oncoming traffic, like me.  I didn't have anytime to slow down.  I believe I hit my brakes but I still slammed into the car and was thrown off my bike onto the hood of the car and slid off onto the pavement, ruining my day.  The crash itself wasn't horrible.  I didn't brake anything although I bruised both knees and my thigh.  I had a couple of cuts on my left arm.  But I didn't hit my head on anything and my face was fine.  I had just gone from 12 MPH to zero in less than a second.  I don't recommend doing this at home.  I'm curious to know how far you would have to fall from to get the same impact speed but I've been kept busy between work and my family to figure that one out.

So, as I said, I didn't hit my head so I was fortunate in being as able as possible in responding to this new, post accident world.  The first thing I did was jump up and assess myself and I felt like I was largely intact.  The second thing I did was pull my bike off the road as the driver, who stuck around, pulled his car off the road.  He was a livery driver and had two passengers in the car, who were asking me if I was alright.  I'm sure it looked worse than it was.  I then noticed that my bike wouldn't roll straight and I thought, "I want to call the police because there is property damage."

The third thing I did was look for a pencil in my pannier but realized Josh's post accident card wasn't in my bag.  I also realized that I had nothing to write on.  I was a bit overcharged at this point and realized I might be in shock although I'm not sure if that is true.  I worked to slow down and consider how to continue.  I realized that I could take pictures of the driver's license and registration using my phone which, surprisingly wasn't broken since I hit my thigh right where I had the phone in my pocket.  I then managed to look up the non emergency police number and called them and asked them to come, which they did quickly.

The first thing that the officer asked me was if I was alright, which I responded in the affirmative.  He asked me if I needed an ambulance and I said no.  He asked me what happened and I told him.  He also asked me if I was wearing a helmet, which I was.  He then asked the driver what had happened and driver told the officer the same thing as what I said.  It didn't take much to describe what happened.

I felt pain in my left thigh but didn't think it was major.  But then I tried to bend my knees and the pain in my thigh was overwhelming so I decided that I would go to the hospital.  Just then the paramedics arrived and started checking me out while I was standing.  They poked and prodded and apparently decided that nothing was broken.  Still, my thigh was clearly a mess and I was more than happy to check it out.

At one point I realized that my GPS was still running and put it on pause.  I almost thought, "I should delete this ride" but then, luckily, I saved the track.  The GPS shows me stopping at all red lights lights and going about 12 MPH when I suddenly stopped.  When the police officer asked, I had estimated my speed at between 12 and 15 MPH.  It turns out I didn't need the GPS backup but it was nice to have.  I have a friend who was called in as an expert witness for a less fortunate person who was killed by a truck driver.  He is using the GPS track, along with data on Strava, to disprove the truck driver's story and prove that the cyclist followed his same safe riding habits (which couldn't account for a driver not paying attention).  I have considered not recording my commutes on the Garmin but I now think I will continue that habit.

I was aware enough to find out what the officer was planning to write in his report (that the driver would be cited and he was) before the paramedics dragged me into the ambulance.  I also watched my bike put in the back of a police SUV.  They wanted me to leave it on the street locked but I wanted the evidence preserved since the bike was clearly a mess (it turned out to be far worse than I initially thought, with the fork, the top tube, and down tube bent, among other damage).

So that's the first 15 minutes or so after the accident.  The insurance issues haven't been bad. The fact that the driver was cited led to the insurance adjuster stating that the driver was 100% at fault and making the process easier for me.

Medically I should be alright and I was very happy that I went to the ER.  When I was in the room waiting for the doctor, I noticed that my left knee was quite swollen, which led to x-rays which determined that nothing was broken.  I have full range of motion and my MD, who I saw in a followup the five days after the collision, thought no ligaments or tendons were damaged.  While I was in some pain for a while, which woke me up in the night when I turned over onto the knee, that's almost cleared up.  I still have pain if I try to kneel on that knee.  At my doctor's advice, I've been driving so I can rest my knee but I hope to be riding three to four weeks after the collision but I won't be bound to that, should I still need time to heal.  The pain in my thigh was diagnosed as a hematoma, which is no longer painful but I have ugly bruising that is just appearing now as the hematoma is breaking down.

While this was unwanted, painful, unpleasant, and a drain in time and other ways, I was indeed lucky.  I would much rather have hit the car than have entered the intersection a second earlier and had the car broadside me.

One further downside to the collision is that a colleague saw me from a bus as I was standing and getting checked out by the paramedics.  He mentioned this in a group meeting and I think it put, or renewed, the fear of cycling into most of the people present at that meeting.  I don't think that the collision alone would make my wife want me to stop commuting to work on my bike but the recent fatal collision in Porter Square has given me new fear of drivers.  I've been cut off by trucks and cars at that same intersection and while I can avoid it with a longer route to work, I can't avoid all dangerous intersections.  But I will be more careful than ever when I ride.