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, for much of the riding I do they are fabulous.  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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Generator lighting, my history

In the winter of 2012/2013 I moved from battery powered lighting to generator powered lighting and I did it slowly.  I made the move because I was doing early AM rides (have kids, get up early or don't ride, for the most part) and some times the batteries didn't last and sometimes they weren't charged in the first place, which meant I didn't ride. I remember one late night/early AM when I woke up quite early but couldn't leave for an hour since my fully charged light wouldn't make it to sunrise.  Yes, I could have bought more battery powered lights that lasted longer but I didn't want the worry.  And I wanted lights that didn't blind people riding, walking or driving towards me.  Patria from Ride Studio Cafe once told me that it looked like a train was coming towards her when it was me with my light on low. The first time she told the story she said that she thought I was a car so maybe there's some exaggeration here.  In any case, that's reason enough for me to change to generator lighting.

So I had Harris Cyclery build up a wheel with a Shimano 3N80 hub laced to a Mavic Open Pro rim, matching the rear rim.  I also bought a last generation Busch and Mueller IQ CYO headlight and a Spannigo Pixeo taillight.  I mounted all of this on my commuter/dirt road bike.  This has been a great combination for both commuting and recreational night rides.  I did a number of late rides last spring and a few in 2014 and the lights worked well for fun and certainly great for commuting.  It isn't quite enough light for rough dirt roads but my small battery powered light fills in enough to feel safe.

My only complaint was that I didn't want to use the same wheel on my road bike, which I thought was possible.  But that meant that every time I wanted to ride my road bike at night I needed to unmount the tires from both bikes and remount the road tire on the commuter dyno wheel.  I soon bought a second set of lights (same headlight, BM Secula Plus for the road bike's tail light) because switching lights could happen only once before you wanted a second set of lights.  But the time for moving tires between the wheels was eating into my riding time.

The next step, in the summer of 2014, was to get a new wheel.  I wanted a hub to match my custom built road bike and the current rear hub and I wanted to minimize weight and friction when the lights weren't on so I went with the Schmidt SON Deluxe, mounted to the a matching rim.  This setup works quite well.  I now always ride with lights on for safetly, with one exception: I was barely making it up the east side of Hurricane Mountain Road, near North Conway, NH (the road tops out at a 17% grade).  I have no regrets about this.  The Deluxe shouldn't be able to charge a device (like a Garmin) while running the lights but I'm on the very low probability for riding a 600 KM brevet so that won't be a big concern.

If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing with both bikes.  The Shimano hub has been a workhorse, with about 4000 miles on it without any complaint.  I know that Brad, then from Geekhouse and now with Seven, put a Shimano Alfine hub on his beautiful bRad  touring bike.  I got to ride with him on the 2013 Diverged ride and he still had it on the bike for off road use.  I saw him in the late fall and he still has it on the bike, which is now built up as a commuter (and it's still a beautiful bike).  If I were to put a generator hub on an inexpensive commuter, that I might leave at Alewife, then I would look at the stock generator wheel sold by Harris Cyclery and the BM EYC, which Peter White recommends as a great commuter light.  I'd worry about the lights but I've been parking my commuter at work for a couple of years with the slightly more expensive lights so I don't think I'd worry that much more at Alewife.

(added 3/5) One potential significant difference between the Shimano and Schmidt hubs is the Schmidt's claimed resistance to internal rusting.  The potential circumstance - taking a warm bike into cold rain.  The temperature difference would draw moisture into the hub, ultimately causing corrosion.  Schmidt claims to have solved this. The solution for Shimano hubs is to get the bike outside, under cover, before the ride to allow the temperature of the hub to cool.  I'm not sure if this is still the case but it's worth researching if you can't leave your bike outside to allow the hub to cool to the ambient temperature.

Having said that I prefer generator lighting, I do continue  to carry and use battery powered lights for front and rear (USB charged in a couple of cases) and set the dimmer front light to blink when the traffic doesn't seem to notice cyclists (which could be most of the time in urban areas).  In total, I use up to 3 lights in the front and rear.  No sense in not doing everything reasonable to be seen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

More winter dreaming - D2R2 2015

It's still winter and more snow is expected tonight.  The great melt started already but it's been slow and will come in fits and starts.  We expect rain and temps in the 40s on Wednesday but I'll be shoveling snow tomorrow morning.  It's not great fun at this point in this long, heavy, cold snow season and it impacts travel a lot.  And that means, for me, very limited opportunities to commute to work for bike, let alone recreational riding.  So, I continue to dream of summer rides, and that includes the D2R2.

I've done the D2R2 in various forms for the last two years and also in 2009.  I rode the 100K version in 2009 and loved it, in a way.  The roads were crowded, especially the narrow dirt and gravel sections and the more experienced dirt road cyclists barreled past me in ways that made me feel uncomfortable.  You can read my thoughts that I wrote right after the ride here.

I had a second child the next year and it was impossible to even consider doing the ride and it remained out of mind until 2013 when a colleague. Alex,  and his now wife were interested in riding it.  Carla's family runs a Franklin County farm and she has long been aware of the Franklin Land Trust, which benefits from the D2R2.  So I looked at the ride again and did the Green River Ride, which worked.  Another friend, Carl, joined us and we all loved the ride, which was pretty easy compared to the 2009 100K version.  You can read about that ride here.

Alex and Carla were interested in going beyond the Green River Ride in 2014.  There had been an extra loop for people like them, people who could do the dirt road ride and maybe wanted to see what the rest of the D2R2 looked like.  Unfortunately the covered bridge at the lunch spot was closed so the extra loop that the ride organizer, Sandy, planned on was not feasible, unless we wanted to cross the Green River on foot, which we didn't.  Very fortunately, Sandy emailed us instructions on how to extend the ride in a different direction, giving us 4 loops that we could take and see if we still wanted to do more.  His instructions were impeccable and I used these to make a GPX file for my Garmin.  As it turned out, Alex and Carla did the first loop but, with social activities planned for the early evening, bailed on doing more.  I decided that I should go through with at least one or two more of Sandy's extensions, which brought me onto the 100K route, some roads not on any route, and later to the 115K leaving lunch (which made more than a few people questioning their route finding skills, not mine).  I loved this ride and really enjoyed the quieter dirt roads and the busier roads, and I got to ride the last 15 miles with Mike Flanigan, which was a pleasure.  You can read more about it here.  Carl came with me to take pictures with his large format camera and hung out at the cornfield.  You can see his picture of Josie and Tyler here and his picture of Alex and Carla here.  I'm still waiting to see the picture he took of me.

So now people are planning on riding the 2015 D2R2, with a deadline of less expensive registrations fees expiring yesterday.  Alex and Carla already registered for the 100K.  I'm a fair weather dirt road rider and will pass on it and may pay the higher fee the week of the ride.  Or maybe I might just be happier taking the road less traveled while still participating in the big event.  I compiled all of Sandy's route extensions here and it looks like a fabulous ride for late summer, especially from this snowy vantage point.  Maybe Carl will join me for the ride or maybe I'll just do it on my own, joining other riders when I'm on the official route.

Friday, February 20, 2015

While the winter keeps me off the road

I've been thinking of fun rides to do this year, which is how I am spending my cycling time since I'm not actually cycling right now.  Eventually this winter will end, the ice dams will melt, and the water will drain of the basement.  And when that happens I'll be outside and, hopefully, on my bike.  It's not like I don't get outside now but it's never relaxing, especially watching your kids tumble down a steep sledding hill or helping them up a steep snow covered incline on snowshoes (all of us, usually).  So I dream of the summer, or at least the spring.

One ride that I'm thinking of is the Portland Dart, the short version.  This ride is part of the New England Randonneurs' Fleche weekend.  The fleche is over the top for me this year, seeing how this year is going.  The fleche is a 24 hour 360+ kilometer ride.  Besides not being in shape, I don't think I can get approval at home for this one.  The long dart is a 200+ kilometer ride, which might just be too long for me, even I get a lot of miles in this spring.  The Dart Populaire is more my speed, though it will still be a stretch at 120 kilometers.  All of these rides end in Portland, ME, which I can get a train back from Boston but the starting point and the routes are all what you choose.  And that choice is a team choice.  The fleche and both darts have to be completed by a team of 3 to 5 riders.  That is a problem unto itself - how to find 2-4 people who are interested in this kind of ride and can commit to it.  The ride itself could be fun - a train ride to Newburyport then the coast route as much as is feasible.  I'll take advice on reasonable cycling routes.  Knowing Cape Elizabeth, I'd pass by that section of coast, which isn't all that busy in May.  The train to Newburyport is a bit dicey - it gets you to Newburyport at 10:40AM, and the short dart should be done in 8 hours, and there is 80-90 miles between Newburyport and Portland.  Maybe that's my winter legs being a little afraid.  Or maybe it will be easy to do then. But if you want to go for a long ride in May, let me know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Excuses, excuses

I had a good run of cycling days at the end of last year, ending up with about 120 cycle commuting days since the beginning of April, which isn't bad considering that I need to do two day care drop offs and sometimes two pick ups, which I can't do by bike, yet (a long tail is a desirable thing right now). But the year ended and right when I was washing dishes, ready to pack my panniers for my January 5 ride in, I broke a bowl, cutting up my hands.  That required a total of eight stitches and included two deep cuts and a substantial avulsion and one of the cuts hit a tendon. (I can't describe how I managed to do this to myself - I simply felt the bowl slip through my hands and I tried to catch it before it hit the porcelain.  I didn't make it.)  So I didn't ride to work that next day, since I couldn't fit my gloves over the bandages and because I needed, and still need to not bend the finger with the problem tendon. The hand surgeon I was referred to was a long distance cyclist and didn't recommend riding until the tendon is healed.  So what am I to do, ignore the doctor?  I see the surgeon on Friday and maybe he'll say go ahead and ride and don't worry.  I hope so.  But in the meantime, we have seen snowzilla or whatever people are calling the last two storms that dumped somewhere around 40 inches of snow inside of a week in the Boston area.  The roads are narrow and very messy. I want to at least ride to Alewife, although the trains have been seriously misbehaving, so there might not be any percentage in that.  And my wife has needed me to pick up the boys or be on call to pick up the boys and, again, I can't do that by bike.  So here I am, a slacker winter cyclist.  I don't mind the dark and am pretty well equipped with lights but my wife doesn't think it's very safe.  I disagreed in November and December and rode, although slower than I did before daylight savings time ended.  But with this snow I'm sort of agreeing with her, for now.  Come next week and some snow melting, I might be out there.  Or maybe the next 24 inches of snow, which is predicted as possible this weekend, will push my return to cycle commuting further off.  Whatever happens, I'll be back riding once I'm healed and the roads aren't too narrow.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bike accidents in Cambridge, hard to say anything about intersections

Being a somewhat frequent bike commuter and a geo geek, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Open Data Discourse contest on designing better intersections.  I made a couple of maps using Google Fusion tables and then used QGIS, an open sources geo tool, to look at a specific intersection that I encounter on my commute home.  I usually avoid this intersection on the way in, mostly because Beacon Street in Somerville is a mess now, at least while they fix it up for a hopefully brighter bicycle commuting future.  By the way, Somerville Ave to Webster is now a fine route, especially since the city painted the bike lane not so long ago.

The intersection in question, Hampshire and Cambridge, is quite the intersection - a lot of cars use it and the length of exposure (at least on a bicycle)  from beginning to end is substantial.  I rarely have come into the intersection from Cambridge St so I can't speak to what a cyclist faces there but I do have strong opinions on heading into the intersection from the east on Hampshire.  First, you face a long column of cars in stop and go traffic, frequently leaning towards much more stopping than going.  This section is protected by a bike lane but there is active parking on the side, so there really isn't much room if someone opens their door without looking first.  I approach this section very cautiously, especially after sunset.  Once I get to the intersection,  I am stopped by the light.  I seem to rarely make this light and with the quick yellow light here I approach it slowly.  Once the light changes, everyone, car drivers and cyclists, have to be patient with the long line of cars heading E (or NE) on Cambridge St to run the red light.  This is likely a significant cause of the back up on Hampshire, since a good 5-10 seconds of the light is always wasted on the lawbreakers on Cambridge.

So my original assumption, of a narrow bicycle lane bounded on one side by frustrated drivers is clogged lane and on the other by parked cars, is a decent cause of car/bicycle accidents for a significant distance, commonly as far east as Windsor St, and bad behavior at the Hampshire/Cambridge intersection.  I made a map here, with only the car/bicycle accidents (object1 and object2 columns in the original data) and only for what I consider the heaviest commuting times (4-7PM, Monday through Friday) and here is what I see (the background is the Open Street Map layer available in QGIS):

Right click and open this is in a new window to enlarge the image.

The majority of accidents are where I would expect them to be but I don't know much more than they were car/bicycle accidents.  For instance, I fear dooring in the narrow corridor with stopped traffic but I also have experienced near right hooks many, many times.  All of these right hooks were avoided because I assume people won't stop (and they don't) but others may not be so lucky and less cautious.  I also don't know if the accidents at intersections in this area are east or west bound so they may be irrelevant to proving my hypothesis.  Finally, I know of accidents that don't appear in the data set and wonder how this affects the map.

I have only one suggestion, Cambridge should continue to make driving a less desirable option and make other options more viable.  Having as many cars on the streets as Cambridge has leads to slow driving which often leads to stress and bad decisions.  I don't know how of these play into the issue of this single intersection but I can say that none of those car/bicycle accidents had to happen and the intersection is over utilized.  Cambridge limits the amount of parking for newly developed workplaces but this still adds to the total number of people coming into Cambridge to work.  They somehow need to reduce the total number and that can be done only if there are viable options to driving.  That's something to work on with the MBTA and others.

Finally, I wish that a more complete data set was available.  Check out the NYC data available here:

This isn't a perfect data set but it does give contributing factors for one or more vehicles involved for many of the accidents.  This data set, and the Cambridge data set, could be vastly improved by a simple statement of what happened: a dooring, right hook, impact, or whatever.  Trying to improve an intersection without knowing how it doesn't work doesn't seem altogether possible to me.

You can download my version of the Cambridge data, with sunrise and sunset times, here:

The contest is over but it remains an interesting data set.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Closing up the year, goals for next year

It looks pretty likely that if I get to ride my bike one more time before the end of  the year it will be a short early morning or late night ride so it's pretty safe to say that I know how my cycling year went in 2014 now.

First, by the numbers ...

It was a very good year.  I rode 2982 miles so far and that could easily be 3000 miles in a couple of days.  This is the second highest total for me, ever. I rode my bike to work about 120 times, that's about 1,800 miles, or 60% of the all of my riding this year.  I rode almost 900 miles on my IF, all of that being pure recreation and usually faster than riding my Surly Cross Check.  I also rode my Cross Check for fun about 300 miles or so.  Much of that involved dirt road rides of one sort or another.  Not bad for a busy guy.

Bike Commuting

If you remember, it was a cold winter in Boston in early 2014.  Because of that I didn't ride to work until a couple of trips in March.  Both of those rides were inspired by the errandonnee challenge.  After returning from a 10 day work trip that month, I started commuting somewhat regularly in April and kept it up through December.  I pushed my limits of fair weather commuting to light rain and cold temperatures and urban night riding.

At the end of daylight savings time in November, I promised myself that I would ride at least the first day, to see how I felt riding in the city in the dark.  I have some experience riding for recreational at night but commuting at night seemed a bit daunting.  It was fine, as it turned out, although I did get a flat that first Monday night.  The part of my commute that concerns me the most is the dark bike path, both because not everyone is lit or has reflectors on and security issues (there have been thefts in this section late in the evening).  A lot of T riders do have lights and that does help.  In any case, I found that I enjoyed the night ride although I am even slower commuting at night.  I'll quit bike commuting for the season once the roads are salted, unless I can get a bike that I am willing to either leave at Alewife or riding on the slushy and/or icy streets of Cambridge.  I'll miss it when it's gone - riding is much more pleasant than driving and it has to be pretty cold for me to not want to ride.

Road Riding

 This year wasn't as good as last year, when I was prepping for the Mount Greylock ride with Ride Studio Cafe.  I had a good start, until I had a major tummy ache in June, which slowed me down substantially.  I really enjoy riding my IF, which is, for me, a very fast bike.  I equipped it with a dyno hub so I could use it for road rides late in the season and I enjoyed a few early morning rides on it - hopefully there will be more next year.  The 900 miles of road riding I did this year pales in comparison to my only other 3,000+ year (in 2000) when all of my miles were recreational road rides.  But those days are gone for now with kids taking up a lot of my time.


I was again the Northeast Regional Office for the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  The chief coffeeneur and I added one new map to the set, which showed the shops where many coffeeneurs drank coffee or other allowed drinks.  I, of course, managed to not finish this year but it was fun trying.


I did my best but didn't finish since I was getting ready for a significant work trip.  But it is a great idea which got me on my bike earlier in the year than I otherwise would have.


Coffee and bikes?  I guess it is more than just my taste.  Thanks to Russ and Mike for advice on alternatives to a pump espresso machine and thanks to Grimbeur Bros for some great coffee.  And thanks to all of the shops I visited on the Coffeeneuring Challenge.

Special Events

I did several fun special event rides: the Diverged Ride, the Ride Studio Cafe Pioneers Ride, the  Honey Hundred, and the D2R2.  The Pioneers Ride was my longest ride of the year (and maybe of the last 7 years) and was a great test of riding in a group as well as navigating with a Garmin GPS unit.  The other 3 rides were largely dirt road rides on my Surly.  I replaced the commuter tires on my Surly with Clement USH tires, which was a great change.

While the following two rides weren't special event like in that they were solo rides, they do deserve special mention.  While on  the family vacation in North Conway, I did my favorite New England road ride, Bear Notch.  I also rode over Hurricane Mountain Road for the second time.  The first ride is easy, with one short by very doable hill followed by a long largely downhill run back to North Conway.  On the other hand, the Hurricane Mountain ride was very easy for most of the miles, followed by one of the hardest climbs I have ever done.  It wasn't made easier by not being in very good shape but it was fun to try and see a sign at the top telling me that I just rode up a 17% grade.

Bike changes

I didn't replace or add bikes this year but I did make a couple of significant changes.  I changed out the rear wheel on the Surly after persistent issues with the 105 hub, which couldn't be fixed with a hard to find free hub body.  It now has a White Industries MI5 MTB hub laced to a Mavic 719 rim with 36 spokes.  I also went for a full time dynamo hub on my IF, a Schmidt Son Deluxe 32 hub laced to a Mavic Open Pro rim with 32 spokes.  It's great fun having easy lighting on the IF.

And thanks

Overall it was a great year of riding and commuting and I thank everyone who I rode with, even if for just a few miles.  For a guy who leaves the house alone, I tend to ride with people for a few miles or longer when I can and I appreciate the lift and the camaraderie.  I also thank Ride Studio Cafe and Honey, and the volunteers) for organizing rides as well as Sandy Whittlesey (and all of the volunteers) for organizing the D2R2 and giving me additional route options.  And thanks to Hub Bicycle and Ride Studio Cafe for keeping my bikes running.

I get inspiration to ride from a lot of people who I either don't know or just met a few times, like Shoji, Matt Roy, Chip Baker, and Pamela Blalock.  It's nice to know that there are people much more focused on bikes than me.

With two young boys, my life is pretty constrained right now.  Getting out riding, even on a commute through the city, provides some measure of sanity and I'm pretty grateful for that.

Goals for 2015

I'd love to continue bike commuting as much as I did in 2014.  It really is the best way to get to work.  Last year I  started late and then had a decent number of days that I had to do two preschool/school/day camp drop offs and pick ups.  I don't have the bike for that although I can dream about a Surly Big Dummy or Xtracycle Edgerunner.  Maybe I'll get one a long tail in 2015 but that is hardly certain.  If I do, I'll be picking up the boys by bike when I need to.  Otherwise I will commute by bike that many less days.

I'm hoping for my long rides on my IF.  I may have to get back into my habit of 50 or 60 miles by 8:30 and it will be worth it if I do.  I'm hoping to get something like a Dill Pickle bag to extend my riding in marginal weather.   I'd love to be able to add or drop a layer and be able to comfortably add to carry it when not in use.  I imagine longer rides in the Berkshires.

I'm not all that into group rides but I'd love to do the Diverged, D2R2, and Honey 100 again this year.  I loved doing the highly modified D2R2 and heard from Sandy that I was hardly the first to mix up routes.  I really appreciated Sandy taking the time to help me modify the Green River Ride to include significant climbing and get away from the crowds on the main routes.

I would like to try a populaire or two but they would have to be later in the year than the April NER event.  I can't see myself having time to get in shape for a 200K or longer brevet, although the idea is appealing.