Monday, September 25, 2017

The New England Builders Ball

The New England Builders Ball, a showcase for the best framebuilders (and other manufacturers) in New England came to town and I managed to get there  It was a very fun afternoon, including a multimodal commute, some beautiful bikes, and meeting some cool people.  I had planned on going with my friend Carl, who I had rode the D2R2 with last month.  I lost him to family demands but I wanted to go anyway.  I had a hall pass so I made my plans.  I also touched base with TenMetersFromTheHut and FlakyTartDough, who I follow on Instagram and happened to be ending a tour in Boston.  It was fun meeting them.  They happen to know the chief Coffeeneur and Felkerino in real life.  I collaborate on the maps for the challenge but I've yet to meet Mary in person.  Now I'm only one degree of separation from them in real life.

I thought about riding into the seaport with Carl but I was loath to do so alone - I really am not a city rider.  I do fine in Cambridge but Boston seems a bit too crowded for me.  Not that I never cross the river but I don't do it often and it always seems a big deal.  So I decided that I would make it a multi-modal commute, taking my Swobo 3 speed to Alewife and then taking the Red Line to South Station to the Silver Line, not very far from the venue.  When I rode to Alewife, I changed my mind, thinking that I would rather have my bike for the last bit on the Silver Line, and took my bike on the train.  Fortunately the train was rather empty and there was no issue.  I took elevators to the surface and got on my bike.  It was significantly cooler by the harbor, which added to the novelty of biking there.  I made it to District Hall, which I incorrectly conflated with the Innovation and Design Building, which turned out to be a mile away (and close to a different Silver Line stop than the one I planned on).  No big deal.  I made it there and found that Massbike had an unannounced valet service.  That saved a couple of minutes locking up my bike (here locked at work):

My ride, the Swobo 3 speed.
Inside the show I saw some fabulous bikes, which didn't convince me that I needed a new bikes (I certainly don't need one and my wife thinks I can't possibly need one now).  I stopped at five booths, Firefly, J.P. Weigle, Royal H, Chapman Cycles, and Dill Pickle Gear.  Jerry (TenMetersFromTheHut) managed to find me and I had a chance to talk with him and Carolyn before they left (they managed to get there by the start of the show - I was two hours late). 

Let's see, what did I learn and see?  At the Firefly booth I saw Jamie Meideros beaming about his new gravel bike experiment.  It has a left front suspension fork and noticeably narrow seat stays.  The latter should make take the harshness out of the ride.  I've heard that Jamie likes to experiment and I hope he loves this bike.  I first met Jamie in 2007 before my IF was built and I've run into him several times since.  It's always fun to see him.

J.P. Weigle - I got to see the bike he built for Jan Heine and the Concours de Machines and it was fabulous.  It didn't look especially light excepty for the many cut outs (see the cranks and the brake mounts) but it was elegant.  I've see several Weigles over the years and they are all pretty spectacular, if you like steel bikes.  I got to her Peter talk about working with Jan and his chance, at this point in his career, to only take the projects that interest him, and those revolve around 650b randonneuring bikes.  He was a great person to talk with about the process and I wish I could get one of his bikes but that won't be happening anytime soon.

Royal H - I met Brian in the past, most notably at the first of the Ride Studio Cafe Diverged rides and also at the Firefly opening party (at the new shop).  I had a great conversation with him about how he takes an idea from a customer and works with them to see if he can make it a reality.  I also checked out his new Ti Carbon bike, which is part of a collaboration with Seven.

Chapman Cycles - I've known about Brian from his work at Circle A and watched his work at Chapman Cycles since them.  He has my aesthetic.  In fact, once when visiting Firefly, I had to admit that the bike that I wanted above the others was Josie Morway's Chapman.  I met Brian at the D2R2 - Carl was looking for him to start a conversation about a build and I happened to find the yellow Circle A that Brian told Carl he would be riding.  Brian is as interested in bikes as anyone building them and it was fun to talk with him then.  I got to see the Chapman that was just reviewed in Bicycle Quarterly and it was spectacular.  I also saw a recently built mixte which is a great model for what I wanted to have built for my wife (we ended up with the much more affordable Soma Buena Vista frame).  I hope that Carl talks more of his ideas with Brian Chapman and maybe also with Brian from Royal H.  At least I would want one of them to build a bike for me one day.

I also stopped at the Dill Pickle Gear booth to get new reflective ankle bands and a reflective sash.  I also wanted to see her front bags.  I worry that I can't fit the front bag on my Surly but she said I could stop by her shop with the bike to see.  She does make amazing, light bags and I look forward to getting one.  And, I hear, she can put one of my Coffeeneur badges on the bag.

Between those five booths, and meeting up with Jerry and Carolyn, I had a very busy, if short visit to the ball.  I recall noticing it was 3:15 when I was getting on the train at Alewife to head there and I was home by 6:15 for dinner.  But it was a fun afternoon.  Commuting on the Swobo certainly added to the adventure.  I've been trying to do what I can to get out of my car (I think I've driven 1,500 miles this year, including a couple of trips to the Cape) so finding my way on multi-modal commute seemed like something I should have done.

And my two favorite bikes in the show:

The bike I would have built for my wife if she was want to get a custom frame/

Brian Chapman's light tour, recently review in Bicycle Quarterly

A day time ride?

As they say, I think, when you have kids, you spend a lot of your free time with kids.  That's certainly true in my family and when I ride, it is usually starts between 5 and 6 and ends by 9 AM.  That's fine but I'm never quite awake at that early hour to have a great ride.  But sometimes I get lucky, like being able to ride the D2R2 with a friend.  And a week ago I was told that maybe I didn't want to head over to my sister-in-laws.  I got a hall pass and took it.  I didn't have time for more than 40 miles but that was good enough. I managed a 16 mph ride before I had to stop for a snack (at #ponyhenge).  I slowed down from there but it was a great ride and easily my fastest ride recently.

The ride on Strava.   For comparison, here is yesterday's early morning ride on Strava - it's only a bit slower.

Snacks at Ponyhenge.  It's an odd place but in a beautiful setting.

MY ride, the 2007 IF Club Race.  It remains a fabulous bike and I smile whenever I get on it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Geo Orbital Electric Wheel in the Wild

I've been known to check out bikes when I am riding and sometimes I see something unusual or cool.  Riding home last Friday, I turned around and noticed this wheel on a bike:

Quite the wheel.  Those aren't spokes but the guides and engine for turning the rim.  
It was clearly an unusual wheel and turned out to be an electric wheel from Geo Orbital.  These are locally designed wheels (and maybe locally made but that isn't obvious on their website) are heavy and somewhat odd, compared to the Copenhagen wheel.  The rim seems loose on the motor but then you can lift the bike and the wheel sensors notice this and don't run.  They also don't use standard tires - these are form tires.  The bike seen here has front suspension so whatever lack of suppleness in the foam is made up for with the suspension.

That's a hefty battery.
The battery is large and heavy but has a twenty mile range without pedaling (with a rider of an undefined weight).  That's enough for many possible commutes coming into Boston or Cambridge.

Andrew bought an inexpensive bike just for the purpose of adding the electric wheel.
Andrew, the owner of this bike, knew the folks who are making these wheels and bought his bike to use the wheel.  I believe he wasn't riding before so this wheel may be getting him on the road when he otherwise may not be.  And this wheel is under $1,000, about $700 less than the Copehangen wheel.  He was able to sprint away from the rest of bike riders at intersections and likely on any road.  The one drawback was that the wheel was both very heavy and the ride seems somewhat loud to me.

One thing about this and other e-bikes that worry me - are the brakes sufficient to stop the bike at pedaling plus electric assist?  The other issue is whether these should be allowed on bike paths.  It's clear that mopeds are allowed on bike lanes but I'm not sure if this meets the criteria for keeping off bike paths.  I am generally concerned about overpowered bikes on bike paths with kids around.  This concerns includes bikes with the Copenhagen wheel and also racers (or pathletes) that keep me from taking my nine year old on the Minuteman.  Another concern about the wheel is that the fork you use is up to you.  I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't want to try this with a carbon fork and I would feel safest on a steel fork that was made for the purpose (although that means losing suspension).  Your mileage may vary.

Monday, August 28, 2017

D2R2 2017: Green River Tour with a taste of hills

After riding in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 versions of the D2R2, I missed the D2R2 in 2016 because of family scheduling issues (I can no longer remember what we did instead but it was probably important at the time) so I really tried hard to go in 2017.  I thought I could convince my boys to do the short (12 miles) family ride but that idea was ultimately vetoed.  After that, I asked my friend Carl to join me and he said he could, although he had not rode farther than 25-30 mile rides this year.  I was a better off - I rode 60 miles once and have several 40 milers under my belt this year.  That said, most of my miles this year are commuting miles, which aren't the highest impact for conditioningb ut I wouldn't die trying this.  Carl and I (and Carla and Alex) did the Green River Tour together in 2013 so Carl knew what to expect from that ride.  He considered the 100K but we settled on the Green River Tour plus Optional Loop 2.  That made for a 55 mile ride with 3,700 feet of climbing according to  That didn't seem too hard.

The plan was for me to pick up Carl and drive together to Deerfield.  Carl and I apparently share a predilection for getting started slowly.  And taking long breaks.  I managed to get out of the house only 15 minutes late and we didn't linger too long at Carl's house so we managed to get to Deerfield around 9:15.  We had called Carla and Alex, who were back in Massachusetts for the ride and enjoyed talking with them for 15 minutes before they left and we started to get ready (register, eat something, change, apply sunscreen, and get the bikes off the car.  We weren't on the road until after 10, maybe 10:20 or so.  And we took 7 hours to ride for about 4 hours.  The weather was a blue sky day with moderate temperatures, maybe into the low 80s.  It was warm but not muggy and not too hot.

One great part of stopping at Carl's house was getting a pair of gloves from him, after realizing that I left mine at home.  I remember using a pair like these on a 1985 tour of northern New England and Nova Scotia.  By the end of 7 weeks I had tanned dots over the back of my hands.  These gloves were very comfortable.

The Green River Tour is a great ride on a nice dirt road.  It was in stellar condition this year probably the best I've seen it in the four years I've done this ride.  In fact all of the dirt roads where in great shape.  We did have some paved roads on the Green River Tour but it was around half dirt, or so it seemed.  The great surface condition meant that we could ride fast (relatively speaking) and we did.  We had a few cars pass us on Green River Road but traffic was light and passing other riders (or get passed by other riders) was easy.  Still, I was happy to be running daytime running lights to give drivers a bit of an extra chance to see me when Carl and I were riding side by side.

The organizers let people know we would be on the roads.

I snapped a picture of our bikes at the first water, food stop (and also the family ride start.  Carl's Bicycle Quarterly reviewed Joshua Bryant bike is behind my Surly.  There was good food at the stop.  I ate some pickles but drew the line at pickle brine.

I saw this great child carrying set up at the first stop and late at the lunch stop.  The family is from Cambridge.  They were riding the Green River Tour.  The bike is a flat bar version of the Salsa Marrakesh.

I think this is Tyler Evan's Firefly, equipped for carrying their child.

A MAP.  We saw one of the Green River Tour and a total of three at the lunch stop.

The real fun began after lunch.  While eating, I saw a group heading up Jacksonville Stage Road and they made it look hard (although they were likely a lot stronger than we were so it was a bit intimidating.  But after a long lunch (maybe 2 hours?) and meeting a lot of cool people and checking out cool bikes, we headed up the hill and it wasn't that bad but it was long.  And, as I said, the dirt was in great condition - smooth and very few potholes.  I checked in with Carl at the summit and then proceeded down a pretty fast run to the next intersection.  We met Emma there.  She was pondering the map.  It turned out that she had missed the turn (and wondering why Green River Road was so steep).  After considering how to get back on route (with cue sheets and a bread crumb trail on my Garmin), Emma decided to ride with us.  Staying on route with the bread crumb trail was easy.

The hills were harder than the Green River Tour hill (see the image from my Garmin ride page) but the views were amazing.  Coming from western Massachusetts, these hills are just like home to me. My 34/32 gearing was just enough most of the time.  There were a few places that I had to stand up but I had no issues with that with the great road surfaces.  Carl had a much lower gear and came up slower.  He had some issues with the chain jumping off but was stayed with us.  Emma is a triathlete and conditioning coach and rolled over everything with seeming ease.

On Optional Loop 2, at the top of the hill before descending to Green River Road and back to the tour route.

One issue with taking the optional loop was that we were running low on water.   And low on time.  When we got back on route, we asked other riders (including Amy, who I hope found her iPhone) who told us we were one half mile from the water stop, in the wrong direction.  In the interest of time, we headed home and found a store about five miles down the road and bought liquid and a couple of snacks.  We also decided that in the interest of time, we would head straight back to the tent, skipping the Lower Road and Stillwater section.  Getting back on Route 5 wasn't fun but we all felt some pressure to get back.  I know Emma was heading back to her family who was texting her (as my family was but they were two hours further away).  We said goodbye to Emma at the tent and then went to find food and water.

A Chapman Cycles machine at the finish.
While we both in a hurry (me more so than Carl), we spent a lot of time checking out bikes after dinner.  There was no shortage of amazing bikes on hand, from gravel-ish bikes to randonneuring bikes.  We ended up talking to the owner of a Chapman and his wife, owner of a new Independent Fabrication.  And we took pictures of riders coming in from the 180K ride.  And a few other people.  Finally, after 7:15, we were on our way home.

I would say that was my best experience on the D2R2, from the great company of Carl and Emma for part of the ride, to the amazing road surfaces, the little taste of hills on the optional loop, and the great weather.  I will be back next year and Carl plans to be there as well, this time trying the 100K version, something I did back in 2009.

My Surly was a great bike for the ride, with 38 mm Compass tires softening what bumps there were.  The gearing was just about perfect and brakes (Paul Neo Retro) made me feel secure on the dirt decents.  Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington, MA put the bike together, including hand built wheels, last November and I think this is the longest and most adventurous ride I've done on the bike.  Hopefully it carries me a few more D2R2 rides.

Strava says we only put out an average of 85 watts but it felt harder than that.

The ride, as we intended on RideWithGPS.

From Garmin:
The first little peak was on the Green River Tour.  The three bigger peaks were on the optional loop.  Note the steep backsides all four climbs.  We clearly took the right route.  The last very steep descent was on great pavement.  Surprisingly, we met three Boston area cyclists who did our route in reverse and thought we would have the harder climbs.

Carl and Emma on the optional loop.  It was a lot of extra work but also the best part of the ride for us.  Emma was on the 100K ride so she had a lot more miles under her belt by the time we met up with her.
A Circle A made by Brian Chapman and a Chapman Cycles.  Carl was looking for Brian and knew he would be riding a yellow Circle A so we knew where to look.  It was great talking with Brian.

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 recreation, 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.