Friday, May 22, 2015

A Mitch Pryor, Brent Steelman Randonneur project bike in the wild

I saw a great bicycle on my commute into work today, a Mitch Pryor/Brent Steelman Randonneuring bike.  It was signed by the builders.  The bike is of a now classic style with 650b wheels, wide tires, low trail, a very curvy) fork, and front rack, including lowriders.  It's all TIG welded.  John, the owner is a tall guy and the frame is quite large but still aesthetically pleasing.  You can see the pump attached at the left seat stay here.

The bike is equipped with an SP dynamo hub powering a Schmidt headlight and an integrated seat post mounted taillight.

The headlight is mounted on the front rack, which includes a deccaleur.

The bike is signed by both Mitch Pryor and ...

the Brent Steelman.

It's an amazing commuter with longer rides planned for this great machine. I haven't heard of these builders before.  John told me that he found Mitch Pryor through a review of a Mitch Pryor in Bicycle Quarterly.  I've read through several issues of this magazine although I'm not a regular reader.  I did read their most recent comparisons of generator hubs before I started down that road in 2012.

Commuting stories #2

This one is more than a couple of lines.  In Cambridge yesterday on my way home I was passed by a car weaving on Birch Street.  I caught up to the car at the light at Mass Ave and observed the driver and her son furiously texting. I took the corner first and again was passed by the same car and this time I could see that the driver was indeed texting with her left hand on the wheel with her phone propped up on the steering wheel so she could sort of look forward as she texted and drove.  Thanks for being so careful.  I pulled up to the car at the next light and said, through the closed window that texting while driving is illegal.  They didn't roll down their window and feigned not understanding me in any case and that was all I could do.  The car is a newer black full size Mercedes with tinted windows.  Watch yourself around this car.

I saw multiple other cars weaving while the drivers were texting.  I really think all cities and towns should have undercover police on bicycles enforcing the no texting law.  People haven't got the message and current strategies of catching active texters involve stationary police officers at red lights.  What we really need, however, is a no phone use law and a distracted driving law, all three (including texting) with enforcement and significant fines that will discourage doing dumb things in cars.

After I wrote my first commuting story last week, there were some comments in related tweets about how drivers were texting, particularly at red lights.  One of the noticeable results of this activity is the heavy traffic due to less throughput at lights, as people aren't aware of the light changing and other cars around them.  They continue texting until another driver, frustrated by the wait beeps their horn.  I have been watching since I read those texts and, indeed, it seems like texting, or other phone use, is a significant part of our traffic problems.  Car traffic was awful this week and I'm thankful that I was able to ride each day.  And I can't help but wonder how much of that traffic was caused by people who just couldn't wait to check their messages/Twitter/Facebook/email or whatever.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Commuting stories

I've been thinking of compiling these stories, of life on two wheels commuting in traffic, for a few weeks now.  Maybe this will be short or maybe I'll add to it over time.  If I add more stories, I'll add them in here or in other posts.

Today I watched someone behind me, at a light, checking her phone.  She had to take off her glasses to do it.  I saw someone checking her phone in the same spot a couple of days ago.  I had the chance to glance in that car as she passed me (on the right, I was taking a left turn).  Her phone was conveniently located over her speedometer.  That seemed convenient.  Who needs to see your speed in city traffic anyway?

A couple of weeks ago I decided to ride through Belmont.  It's always useful to see that people put up with such horrendous traffic to live in what seems otherwise like a nice town.  Going slow, I watch a car weave at slow speeds.  I passed it on the right cautiously.  The guy driving was doing something on the phone.  I told him that texting while driving is now illegal.  He said he was looking at the map for directions.  Later that same ride, in Cambridge, I saw a women driving and texting in her expensive new Audi on her ancient flip phone.  Really?  Couldn't you get a smart phone and use the voice to text converter rather than a numeric keypad?

That same week, I was waiting for the green at the first light on Somerville Ave.  A guy in a Verizon truck thanks me.  For what?  For stopping at the light.  Right, it's the law.  He said that he'd try to avoid hitting me, which I guess means that he might hit cyclists who don't stop at red lights.

Three weeks ago I was riding on Webster towards Cambridge St at Prospect.  I was riding through the intersection and saw a car that might be gunning for a left turn in front of me.  But I closed the gap with a van in front of me and went through protected.  The car eventually went through nearly cutting off a cyclist behind me.  It turned out that cyclist was someone I talked with on at least a couple of occasions in the past.  I couldn't imagine talking with people in other cars when I'm driving but I get to talk with people while I'm riding.

This morning I stopped for a couple waiting at a crosswalk in Cambridge.  I yelled "STOPPING" since I couldn't brake and signal with my hand with such short notice.  I looked back and apologized for the quick stop to the 4 people behind me.  Almost in unison they all said way go, right thing to do.  Earlier in the commute a woman riding just behind thanked me for my precise signaling, not that I do anything unique.

Today on my way home I had at least two drivers stop for me instead of making me stop to avoid a right hook.  They did the right thing but it didn't stop me from thanking them.

So, there is some good, some bad.  That's life on the road, in a car or on a bike.  Just go slow and make sure you are following the rules, especially if you have 2 tons of metal surrounding you.

One thought for the Arlington police: do your texting enforcement by bicycle, undercover.  You would be amazed what you see from that vantage point.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Diverged 2015 Ride Report

Yesterday I rode in the 2015 version of Diverged, the third version of this ride.  This one was sponsored by Overland Base Camp, which seems to be an extension Rob and Patria from Ride Studio Cafe and their interest in off road riding.  The ride was based at the studio and it was great fun.

First, I think that Rob's email describing the ride was the best ever - if you had any doubts about what you signed up for, Rob covered them, and they were accurate, like this one:

Always be ready for a sudden turn, and ride single file on the road.  Many of the turns into the woods are not readily apparent from the road.

On the way to the studio, I was overtaken by Brad Smith, a Seven/Honey welder, formerly of Geekhouse Bikes.  Brad is a very nice guy who I see occasionally at Union Square Donuts.  We rode in the last 1/4 mile together.  Given the 150 riders who were expected, the studio was less than chaotic and I was able to get to the sign in sheets (mine wasn't out yet, not surprising since I was early) then discovered breakfast.  I talked with some people who I had met on previous studio rides and some new to me.  It was easy to get motivated by the people also getting ready to ride.  And soon Rob announced that it was last call for the ride I signed  up for (it was also the first announcement for my ride).  While I was getting my bike unlocked (there we a lot of nicer bikes there but this is my commuter and I'd be bummed to lose it), I overheard someone say that Mo, a professional racer, was riding.  It's pretty cool that this cycling community includes a lot of very nice people, among them are pro racers, including recently retired ones like Mo Bruno Roy.

I was pleased to hear that Brad would be my group's leader/navigator.  Rob and Brad quickly got us on the road and we soon made a surprising turn that brought us into a parking lot and over a curb into another lot and soon onto smaller side streets in Lexington.  Brad bunny hopped the curb, as did several other people, including one who person who crashed (fortunately with no ill effects).  I chose to walk it.

We were soon on trails and the pattern for the ride was set - riding a side road, or a major road, and seeing (barely) a trail and turning on to the trail.  I missed the first side trail.  This one was part of a previous Diverged ride and I knew it was steep and once I saw people taking the turn, I realized that I needed to downshift before getting on the hill.  My Surly has Shimano 105 shifters and my only major complaint is that a shift on front chain rings to the granny gear is slow, very slow.  So I made the shift and got back in line.  One person in front of me tumbled over from riding to slowly on the steep hill.  She brushed herself off and checked her bike and was soon back riding, as I followed her up.

This ride, all 17 miles of it, was contained within the boundaries of Lexington, as was the part of last year's Diverged ride that I completed.  Not surprisingly, we rode some of the same trails from last year but a fair number of miles was also new.  And they were nice trails and dirt roads.  We enjoyed a number of boardwalks, which fortunately weren't slippery like last year, although one person tumbled off of one.  There were a number of other minor crashes, including one on a paved road - this one because of a deep gash in the pavement.  I also took a tumble, more a controlled fall as I pedaled up a steep hill.  I knew I was losing sufficient momentum to stay upright and made it to a point that left a small distance before I hit dirt and not rocks.  No harm done physically or to my ego.

The post ride time at the studio was great.  I enjoyed a second breakfast (the crew was still cooking!) and chatted with a few people who I rode with and some who I know from following them on Twitter.  I was early enough to enjoy 45 minutes there before heading back home.   Just before I left for the ride my wife asked, in seeming desperation, when I would be back.  I had originally thought I might do the Minuteman to the Reformatory Branch to Battle Road after the ride but duty called and I made it back home by the time I promised her.

All in all it was a great day of riding and socializing.  Overland Basecamp is planning a few more rides but some of these are out of my league and being overnight, out of my 'time away from family' budget.  I do have a few more group rides booked in my calendar: the May 31 Firefly ride (I hear there is a mixed terrain ride and a road ride - I'm undecided on which I will do), the Dunes Dynamo, and the D2R2.  I'd like to try the 250 mile MaNeHa ride but think I would do well with a 50 mile each day version.  125 miles of mixed terrain riding each day is over the top for me right now but it happens that I will be away that weekend so the question is moot.  I'll consider the Dusk to Dawn ride that I was planning on last year.

Some pictures:

We crossed paths with the medium speed 38 mile ride led by Jenny.  She took some pictures of my group but they somehow disappeared.

The trail led through the trees.

And across fields.

There was a decent amount of waiting while regrouping.  Notice the houses in the background.  Sometimes we were barely in the woods for a few minutes and sometimes the patch of woods was much bigger.

Getting started after a break to regroup.

Brad was a great navigator and trip leader.  He made it look easy, made everyone feel welcome, and was very patient.  He is also a mechanic.  One person's chain broke and another rider happened to have a spare.  Brad was happy to change it and get everyone back on the road very quickly.  Brad is part of the Drifters and fellow Drifters Greg and Tony came along.  Tony swept the ride and I barely met him but I had the chance to talk with Greg, who I had previously met at Union Square Donuts (there is a pattern here).

Miles for the day 27 (10 were commuting to and from the ride).  Miles for the year: 450.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Beavers, deer, and some minutemen

I did my second consecutive early Saturday morning ride, getting home a few hours before a GI bug caught me and dragged me to the ground (I've since recovered completely).  I took a familiar route, riding out to the Maple Street Bridge and then south to Sherman Bridge Road.  It was a great day to be out.  I wasn't fast and I stopped a lot, and I stopped for a cup of coffee in Lexington.  When my wife saw the pictures of the beaver and deer and the video (mostly sound) of the wetland, she commented that it was more of a spiritual journey than a bike ride.  I'd agree with her. I set no land speed records and still enjoyed myself immensely.  While I love my family and my job, it is nice to get out on my own with no agenda.

My only complaint of the weekend was that I missed riding with friends on the midnight marathon ride.  They had a great time.  I hope to do it with them, and many others, next year.

I was in Bedford by 6:30 and spotted the folks training for Monday's battle.  They were happy to pose for me.

I spotted a beaver while I was admiring the view from the Maple Street bridge.  It went under and slapped its tail on the way down.  Another one soon surface a decent distance from where the first went under.  This one patrolled the perimeter for a while and was not shy.  Despite a lot of time spent in beaver habitat, I've only seen a few prior to seeing this one. Another cyclists, John from Sudbury, stopped to check out the beaver.  We started out together and parted way soon after but he caught up with me later and road for a couple of miles together.


A few minutes later a couple of deer ran across the road in front of me (not alarmingly close but close enough to remind me to keep an eye out to the sides - I wouldn't want to hit a deer, or be hit by one).

There were less than scenic parts of the trip, passing MCI Concord included.  It's a pretty forbidding place.

Scenic Water Row.  I couldn't resist and took a quick spin down Water Row to the first wetland before heading back to Sherman Bridge.

A video posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on
Another scenic spot on the ride, Sherman Bridge.  It's a great bridge and you get a sense of the breadth of the river near flood stage from here.

I finally spotted pony henge.  I thought this was in a field far from a paved road.  When I stopped here I was certain that this wasn't the pony henge but I have been corrected.

I did the ride on my IF road bike.

The ride wasn't all perfect.  On Concord Road, a quarter mile from the Lincoln, Sudbury School, I saw a deer, clearly struck by a car not so long before.  I called Sudbury Police, who promised to contact the people who would take it away.  It's always unsettling to see death, especially a large mammal.  There wasn't much for me to do, aside from a short prayer.

Miles for the year: about 390.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Commuting, sometimes

Well, the year has restarted.  The snow melted and my tendon is all healed and I started riding my bike to work.  Actually I went out for coffee once while waiting for my car to get fixed.  But that's it.  I had dreams that I would bike more but circumstances and weather conspired to slow me downand recreation rides are still in the future.  Bad weather is part of it but for commuting, I'll ride in the rain.  I am usually a fair weather commuter but riding in the rain seems like fair weather ride after this winter.  I did ride in the rain several times last year but it was less than 10 times, I think.  So I have to enjoy everything when I do ride, even if it's through the city and I won't worry about the rain.

Last Friday I finally did a little recreational riding, through an urban area.  I've seen pictures on Instagram (via Matt Roy and Rob Vandermark) of a walking/riding bridge under the Zakim Bridge.  I was meeting a friend for dinner and he needed more time so I decided to ride to the bridge before I went to my friend's house and it was fabulous.  It was gritty and very noisy but it was great fun and I highly recommend checking it out.  This route on Ride With GPS isn't exactly my route but it gives you and idea of how to get around.  I ended up in East Cambridge at my friend's house so I reversed this route and ended up on roads that looked pretty scary but it wasn't all that bad.

Miles for the year: 200

The bridge from the dam.  You can see the last of the ice from this winter.  The  TD Garden looks small from this perspective.  This was probably the noisiest part of the ride.  I wish I could have measure the sound but I assure you it was overwhelming.

The bridge from below.  It isn't the bright, colorful bridge that you will see on the Wikipedia site but it is cool perspective.

The deck from underneath.  It seems pretty wide when you are underneath it but it doesn't come out in this picture.

One of the four supports for the towers holding the cable stays.  It's not all that big but it seems to do the job.  You can see one of the supports for the entrance ramp in the distance.

You will pass by the tracks for the commuter rail heading north from North Station.  I don't know how often this bascule bridge is raised but I know they are still active.

Past the bridge, I came across the turn around for the Green Line at Lechmere.  It isn't fancy.

At one point during the day I also took a wrong  turn and ended up at the Longfellow Bridge, which is getting a much needed renovation.  Ice is piled up here  as well.

Matt Roy pointed out an owl that he saw on his commute and I stopped there last week. Unfortunately it wasn't there when I came with my son, who has been interested in owls since we saw one when he was four months old.

Finally, people carry many things by bike.  I was particularly impressed by Dan, who was carrying his goalie equipment, after an early morning game.  I played goalie a couple of times and I still have the sense of how massive the equipment is.

Friday, March 13, 2015

N+1 or S-1?

The Velominati have a rule (#12 - this link points to #11 since the #12 link makes you scroll up to #12), which states that the minimum number of bikes you should have is three but that the correct number your should have is N+1 where N is the number of bikes you currently own.  There is a corollary, which states that the optimal number of bikes to own is S-1, where S is the number of bikes which would cause your spouse to leave you.

For a long time (since 2009) I have owned two bikes.  One is a road bike with fenders for occasional rain.  It is also equipped with dynamo powered lighting for early morning rides.  The other is a dedicated commuter with racks, fenders and also has dynamo powered lighting.  It has decent tires for off road recreational rides and also serves as a child hauling bike with a rack compatible with a child bike seat.  In the past I also pulled a trailer with one of my boys on this bike.  Do I need a third bike, which I would find useful but would also help me meet the Velominati minimum and would also help me meet the N+1 imperative and actually help my life?

This all depends on what your perspective is.  Mary from Chasing Mailboxes recently talked about her stable of bikes but her situation is far different from mine, not least because her husband has a large stable of bikes so they they both are on the same page.  It seems like a nice merging of interests in a relationship.  While my wife rode when we met, that sort of fell apart during the years we were trying to and having children.  And she hasn't been on the bike very much since that period.  But she recognizes that I like to ride and we manage to make some time for riding and some room, and money, for bikes.  But space in our small house is at a premium and money is tight so I have to make a strong argument for why I need another bicycle.

It's an easy argument to make at first glance.  I want a bike to ride to Alewife when the weather is bad so I can take public transit the rest of the way to work.  I also might consider taking it all of the way in in less than perfect weather, knowing the bike may be abused some and not perfectly maintained. (Matt Roy calls this willful neglect.)  It would also be nice for short trips around town.  Optimally, this bike would be a simple 3 speed with a steel frame (and I don't mean hi-tensile steel) with platform pedals and good brakes and fenders and eyelets for racks for the future.  I'd carry a backpack with a couple of u-locks (because it is would be an inexpensive bike doesn't mean I want to make it easy for a thief to take it).  To answer the question, "what would it do for the family?", I'd say it would give me some exercise in the middle of the worst weather.

My wife might counter with this, "you always want to add something to your bikes", which is true, especially in this case.  I'd want studded tires (I know some people ride without them, but I'll chose to have the security) and they cost real money.  I wouldn't add dynamo lighting, except by moving a wheel and light from another bike, so it wouldn't be excessive.  Maybe I wouldn't be able to restrain myself but I think I would be able to.

A more complicated problem is this - aren't there other bikes that I might like to have?  And the answer is yes.  I would love to get a long tail with the children's seat that Xtracycle sells.  But before we went that route, we would really need to decide if we want to be an occasional car-free family, which I don't think my wife is ready for (and she agrees with me).  And more importantly, I'm not completely sure my boys would love to get around on bike.  They sometimes enjoy going with me on the bike seat, to some degree.  But an investment in our lifestyle like a long tail, we'd have to do it on marginal weather days and days when they really didn't want to ride.  I think about our trailer, which wasn't all that big of a success.  Our older boy really didn't like it.  He is a talker and would be talking with me but I wouldn't hear him until he was crying inconsolably.  He was fine when he fell asleep in the trailer but he would always wake up before we got home and you can guess what happened then.  The second guy enjoyed the trailer but enjoys the bike seat more.  And both boys are about grown out of the bike seat.  We have used a trail-a-bike, which is pretty hard to ride for me but we will continue to use it.  We are likely to get new bikes for the boys this year but I'm thinking training wheels for now, by their request.  I'd also like to get a Ti randonneuring-ish bike one day and maybe something like the Honey All Roads bike.  But that's for the future since my current bikes do just fine.  At a minimum, they are fabulous for much of the riding I do .  So there isn't any new bikes that I want to have now and commit space and money to.

So we made a decision and an inexpensive 3 speed with decent brakes and a decent frame is on its way.  This mythical 3 speed I am thinking about might be fun to ride with the boys and maybe it will help me to motivate the boys to ride.  I'll share more about this bike when I've had it for a few weeks or a few months.