Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Off road tires for the commuter

When I bought my Surly in 2009, I had the expectation of riding the D2R2 on it but it would be primarily a commuter, a child hauler, an occasional dirt road bike, and maybe a touring bike.  I've done everything on it except tour and it's turned out to be a great, affordable bicycle.  I didn't have a firm idea for tires.  Roy Cervantes of Grace Bicycles, who did the build, suggested the Panaracer Protec commuter tire.  I went with the 700x32c version:

It  turned out to be a great choice.  While it wasn't stellar on the 2009 D2R2, it served well as a commuter and for hauling my boys.  The tires have over 4000 miles without a flat, including a lot of miles crossing Cambridge streets and some dirt road miles as well.  And there is still life in the tires.  I can't say the tires are very supple and getting the inflation right, depending on whether or not I had boys on the child seat, was key and then it still was a somewhat harsh ride.  Last year I rode 3 dirt road rides (as well as a lot of dirt paths here and there along the way): the 2013 Ride Studio Cafe Diverged Ride, the 2013 D2R2 (the Green River Ride), and a solo ride in Estabrook Woods in Concord.  It was these last three rides that I realized that I needed something else on my wheels to get me safely and comfortably over dirt roads and trails.  I've been looking hard and I was settling on either the Clement X'PLOR USH (700x35) and the MSO (700x40).  Both are appealing in that there is a center ridge (on the ISH) and closely spaced nobs (on the MSO) yet have aggressive knobs on the shoulders.  Either of these should be perfect for commuting and those days that I do get off road and one is coming up in 9 or 10 days - the 2014 Ride Studio Cafe Diverged Ride.

It happened that I follow Matt Roy on Twitter, watched the start of his west coast to Colorado trip, and met him at Ride Studio Cafe last August.  I put my money in for a ticket for the MM Racing End of Season Party raffle and got the chance to go to the party.  I'd like to report that I was the winner of the complete Seven but no such luck.  I was, however, the winner of the Clement X'PLOR USH 60 TPI tires that Clement generously donated to help Matt and Mo support the Amy D Foundation.  Needless to say, I was pretty happy going home that night.  This year is pretty hard financially and getting the new tires was a stretch, as was donating to the foundation.  Luckily, I walked away a winner.  So, in anticipation of the Diverged Ride, I put the new tires on the Surly and they look fabulous.  New fenders will have to wait until finances make it feasible.

The old and the new:

I'm sure I look dorky with the lowriders on my bike, mostly unused.  But I appreciate them when I'm taking a boy on the child seat and have to carry spare clothes, food, and maybe a lock.  The USH tire fills in the space between the lowrider struts:

The bike with bags and lights, ready to go to work tomorrow.  My neighbor called my bike a Mack truck the other day.  Could have been the lights or the racks and bags.  The tires won't help my bike look more delicate but I'm excited to try these on the Diverged Ride.  And I can't wait to try them out, including on some dirt trails on my way to work tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Almost an errandonnee

Once again, I figured out how to neglect riding in the face of a very busy schedule.  This time it was the Errandonnee challenge from Chasing Mailboxes.  On the positive side, I didn't even try this in 2013 and wouldn't have come close, but I nearly managed to finish this time.  Here is how it turned out:

First try, I ran 3 or 4 or 5 errands, depending how you count.  You decide and let me know.

The next day, I went for a ride with my youngest boy, who asked to ride with me, and he fell asleep.  I guess I wasn't great company.

Next, I rode to work and stopped on the way for breakfast then stopped at a bike shop for a needed part on a project I am working on.  That makes 8, if you are counting the same way as me.

Then I just rode to store to pick up pictures and a quick trip to Trader Joe's.  That's 9.

Finally, I rode to work one more time.  I actually benefited from getting  to work by bike that day.  Unfortunately you can't edit Instagram posts - a road could be typed as toad and your iphone won't correct you ...

That makes 10, which is two short.  And I needed the snow day (for DC, not here) to get the 10th so I guess that I wasn't all that close.  But the concept is nice - use your bike when it makes sense.  I recall that the rules stated that you should drop out rather than get stressed about it.  I was leaving for a field trip the Friday following the end of the challenge and getting ready and successfully getting out of the house took some time and trying to get two more errands in just wasn't possible.  The field trip went well but leaving home for a week happened but stuff happens when you are gone and I was a 32 hour trip back home, after changing tickets and waiting for the flight.  So, with permission from home, I didn't have to leave early and made it back to home on the day we originally planned.

And now I am riding just because it makes sense.  Maybe the challenge made riding more appealing for me, which I think was the intent.  And that is a good result, #dnf or not.

Monday, March 17, 2014

New infrastructure or new thinking?

A pretty well known artist, who happens to ride her bike everywhere and write fun and enlightening cartoons about cycling in Boston, asked the following question:

Imagine you're in charge and have free reign, no limits: What would you change about roads, rules, infrastructure, cars, enforcement, etc.?

Well, my quick answer is that you have to change everyone's thinking about travel and who has a right to be on the road.  You would also have to add some infrastructure.

My long answer follows.  Don't worry, it isn't that long.

We need to make an environment where our children can conceive of riding their bikes everywhere and be safe while they do it.  That implies changing infrastructure to some degree, large or small, depending on how you wanted to spend the wealth of your kingdom (and you would have to be a monarch to have free reign, with no limits).  The infrastructure might be separated cycle tracks.  And it might include new paths, but only if you want to use eminent domain to take land.  I'm more of a benevolent dictator and would avoid that.  We would have to consider parking.  Most streets, even with bike lanes, leave little room for cyclists when cars are parked, at least if you want to avoid getting doored.  This may mean eliminating parking on one side of streets so that the bike lanes could be widened without losing driving lanes - I drive more than I cycle so I'm trying to speak from two perspectives.  Since we would have less parking, we would need, at least in this climate, better mass transit to get people very close to where they want to go.  That would mean both rail and buses.  Not everyone wants to ride in the winter so we have to consider that getting more people to ride might mean getting more people to ride in 3 seasons and leave room in our infrastructure for that fourth, colder and snowier season.  You might be able to ride in subzero weather but I don't have the vehicle to get my boys to day care and school in extreme cold yet.  (I realize this is my weakness - I saw a present, or former, member of the Somerville bicycle committee riding his son a couple of mornings ago in his box bike with a windscreen for his son, and it was very cold.)

So changing thinking would be the bigger problem and would return the most rewards in safer roads, for cyclists, young or old, and for drivers.  School should include instruction on proper road use, both for the safety of the students and of other people when they start driving.  It's the law in Massachusetts that cars must drive a safe distance from cyclists - the distance isn't defined but if you hit someone, or disrupt their riding (to the point of them swerving or falling) with your proximity, it must not have been safe.  But this is not a well known fact.  Nor is where a cyclist should ride.  Last year I was cut off by a women, who I bet was drunk at the time (before noon), who then yelled at me to ride on the sidewalk, which is illegal where I was riding.  I had my two children with me (one on a bike seat and one in a trailer) and didn't appreciate her cutting me off nor having my children hearing her yell invectives at me.  But it goes both ways. Not a month after that, and a block away, I took a left, with the light, and was nearly cut off by a cyclist who similarly yelled invectives at me and came back at me, aggressively, until he saw I had a child with me. He acknowledged that I had the right of way but that he had three hours to get to Manchester, NH (so leave earlier if you choose to ride 45 miles).  It goes both ways.  We need to educate our drivers and our cyclists to pay attention to laws, at least in Massachusetts.

I'd like to change laws to something like those in the Netherlands, where the driver of the more massive vehicle is at fault, unless can be proven otherwise.  I recall the very sad death of a man, a father and husband and younger than me, in Wellesley, who was struck by a truck and killed last year or the year before. The grand jury let the guy off because he said that he didn't see the cyclist.  As a driver I see every cyclist, not because they are a cyclist like me and I'm aware of them, but because they are a human being like me.  And I can't imagine that you could hit a cyclist unless you weren't paying attention.  Maybe your truck, or car, is hard to drive.  Then don't drive it.  There are other people out there who deserve competent drivers on the road and not someone who can't handle the vehicle they are driving. And if they can't and cause harm, great or small, then they should be liable for it.

I would also change enforcement, so that a cyclist complaining about an aggressive driver would be taken seriously.  Maybe all cyclists should have helmet cams, but that is expensive.  (I have considered it but the cost is prohibitive, at least for a few years.)  And police need to realize that cyclists have the right to be on the road, day or night - with proper lighting and reflectors for night riding.  It's only risky because people aren't following the rules.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A J.P Weigle Single Speed in the wild

Riding home today I was passed by a cyclist on what I thought was a Rawland Nordavinden.  I pulled up to check it out and it was a J.P. Weigle single speed.  I talked with Daniel, the owner, who stopped so I could take pictures of his bike.  Here it is.

Daniel and his J.P. Weigle:

It's a lovely bike.  It was rebuilt by Weigle as a path racer (you tell me what that is).  He made a new fork and spacers so it could accommodate a modern stem.  It has great lines and the fenders are installed perfectly.  The paint shows a couple of chips but the bike is otherwise in pristine condition.  Daniel's usual commuter is in for repairs so he had this one out on a day I would take my Surly but wouldn't take my IF.

Check out the eyelets for the front rack holding the bag.  It's very clean and has great utility.  I love Weigle's pump pegs.  It's old school but that's my aesthetics.

And my Surly.  I can't even match my panniers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Riding off road, by accident

My brother and I were out in western Massachusetts, in Williamstown, after we met at my sister's house in New York for a family gathering.  Both of us thought we might as well bring our bikes along with us.  I was coming from the Cape and my brother was coming from Virginia.  This was in May 1997.  I had my only bike, a 1984 Trek 520.  My brother had his 1995 Trek 520.  His was the 520 that we think of now, a dedicated touring bike, bought at my suggestion for a tour in northern New Hampshire a couple of years before this.  My 520 was more of a  randonneuring bike, although not by the 650b, short trail standards of today's resurrected constructeurs movement.  The 620 was full touring bike of the time, with more eyelets for fenders and a lower rider front rack.  And I was in a state when I thought I needed narrow tires to go fast so I had narrow tires on it in 1997, even though I was still taking it out for an occasional tour.  So this is what we did:

We parked in Williamstown, which is a nice college and prep school town that we both were familiar with from visiting when my sister taught there a couple of decades before then.  I had a map, a state highway map, and we followed it. We took MA 43 south out of town and suddenly I saw this turn, off to Hopper Road, which sort of looked park-like, so we took it.  I wanted to head south and after a short run east, the road did turn south (which I determined by checking out the sun and my watch).  Great.  We followed the road for a while and eventually it stopped.  I was a bit younger then, not yet 40, and I had energy, enthusiasm, and a brother who would go along with me, if he thought that I thought that I was right.  And I was wrong but thought I was right.  The road turned to dirt and then it turned to a trail.  Then it turned to a steep trail.  Then the mosquitoes came out.  Actually they had been out an about but now we weren't going very fast and the woods were really damp from recent rains and we were prime targets for their lunch.   And then the trail got steeper and our tires weren't all that useful for the surface we were trying to ride on (my brother also seemed to think that thinner tires were faster and he had a touring bike which wasn't all that fast to begin with).  But the sun seemed to indicate that we were heading in the right direction so we followed the trail despite the mosquitos and the trail conditions.  I'd like to say road conditions but there was nothing that would make me think that the trail was ever a road or would ever be one.  Eventually we eventually started going downhill and we persevered and found Route 7, which I knew we would.  Or thought we would.  It was a small detour, maybe a mile or so but an adventurous one that took 20 minutes or so.  And one that my brother didn't let me soon forget.

The route, as I remember it.  Use caution and don't assume that the landowners don't mind you  traversing their land.  I did a similar route with my wife in 2003 but we skipped the off road riding.

This is what a 1984 Trek looks like (I have nothing to do with this Flickr page).  But mine was never quite so nice as this one (plastic fenders, blackburn front [low riders] and back, and it never saw a leather seat):

I last toured on my 1984 Trek 520 in 2001.  I lent it to various friends and took it back into my position in 2004 the last borrower left town.   I donated the old 520 to Bikes Not Bombs in 2005.  It had about 6000 touring miles on it in addition to a lot of other miles.  If I had it today, I would be 27x1.5 inch tires on it, if they would fit.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Errandonnee 1-4 and maybe 5

I was enthusiastically involved in the Chasing Mailboxes's 2013 Coffeeneuring Challenge, so much so that I was one of the map makers:

Ultimately I did not finish (6/7 isn't bad with two small children) so while I wanted to try the Errandonnering Challenge, it wasn't clear that I could even get to start it.  This was an exceptionally cold and snowy winter.  Actually the winter hasn't been that cold compared to historic patterns but with climate change we all are a little softer.  Well, maybe I am a little softer these days.  And I've had a rough winter around colds, including a nasty sore throat the last few days.  And the rules!  There are fifteen of them (one requires that I do this on earth and another is to quit if it becomes stressful, so maybe I exaggerate) and you have to carry a control card, like in a real randonnee.  But here I am, 2 days into the errandonnee and I'm involved, to the tune of 5 miles and 4 or 5 legitimate stops.  Here they are:

1) stop to make a bank deposit.  They have outdoor parking but they didn't mind me leaving my bike out of the way in the entrance way.  I could have mailed this in but it was a beautiful day.

2) This is the very questionable one.  I had to check out the damage at Scutra (a driver lost control and hit the restaurant, driver was charged with DUI.  We should get bikes off the road).  Hey, it was better that I ride here and not drive, right?

3) Mail a letter, long deferred, from my son to my aunt.  Again, I could have drove but riding was nicer:

4) Stop by a friend's house for coffee.  Actually,  this wasn't intentional.  I was riding by and he invited me in for coffee.  So I guess this falls under the rules of a coffee shop.  There wasn't anything about visiting friends but it fits the general idea (getting out on your bike) but not the actually running any kind of errand.

5) Beer run.  This wasn't expected but when I called my wife to tell her that I was invited for coffee, she suggested that I buy some beer for my brother-in-law while I was out.  That's a small Performance front pannier from the mid 1990s.  It fit a six pack of Baxter cans and a four pack of Slum Brew bottles, plus my u lock, a locking cable (plus the other cable on the outside), my sunglasses case, and a pair of mittens.  It all made it home safely.

So there it is.  4 and maybe 5 errands.  Or maybe only 3 if the coffee at friend's house doesn't fit within the rules.  I'll have to start filling in my control card.  Shhh ... I didn't fill it in at each stop even though that's required in a randonnee.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Winter vacation

My family joined my sister-in-law's family for a week near San Diego for winter vacation.  That's "winter vacation" defined by a Massachusetts town's school system.  I turned out to be a great week to leave Massachusetts, although the weather threatened to keep us home - those in the Boston area may remember a week ago Saturday's snowfall.  That, and the dead battery I caused by leaving an interior light on in my car for a day.  Roads were smooth - in a car, although I saw many cyclists on the road - and the weather was good enough for swimming and relaxing in a hot tub outside.  I managed three runs and a lot of walking.  One run was at my favorite place in southern California from our last vacation there - Torrey Pines State preserve.  My time wasn't amazing but it is an amazing place.

On our first full evening in California we went to the beach to watch sunset.  The evening turned out well.  We saw the sun hit the horizon and we saw the green flash, only the second time I saw it (the first was heading east on a red eye several years ago).  After sunset we saw a procession of marine mammals (maybe dolphins, possibly fin whales) heading north.  I've seen a lot of whales on the east coast, including watching, from a USCG helicopter, humpbacks feeding, but this was pretty special.  A minute before sunset: