Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reflecting on Scott Simon's response to seeing a few bad cyclists

Scott Simon of NPR posted this thought this morning (and has been bombarded and supported since then):
Hey Scott, I ride a bike most days and am appalled at the behavior of a subset of cyclists, too.  They run stop signs and red lights, pass me on the right without warning, and generally do dumb things that, at times, are dangerous.  I am also appalled at the behavior of a subset of drivers.  They run stop signs and red lights, pass me on the right without warning, and generally do dumb things that, at times, are even more dangerous than what a cyclist could do.  Living in Boston, I'm aware of the car that flipped on Beacon Street in the Back Bay and killed a young couple.  People on bikes have killed people but the number is low.  The number of people killed by errant, distracted, drunk, or otherwise disengaged drivers is quite large.  I bet you know the numbers better than me.

I am troubled by generalizations, such as the idea that since some cyclists disregard laws that being a cyclist leads to almost any nefarious outcome, athletes doping to win big included.  I also am troubled by thinking that some drivers are bad means that all drivers are bad.  They aren't.  You probably drive sometimes and I bet you consider yourself a good driver.  And you probably don't want me inferring from the legions of bad drivers that you are also one of those bad drivers who doesn't deserve a license.

What you saw with your children was some people doing something dumb and potentially very dangerous.  Try riding your bike to work tomorrow.  I bet you will see as many, or more drivers doing something dumb and potentially very dangerous.  And you and I are very vulnerable on our bikes, just two people trying to get to work.  But stop at all stop signs and wait at the red lights.  You will be safer for that, usually.  (See this short post and a reflection on the same event and other crashes.)

I think you got the message already. You have noted that the response was sometimes some unkind, unpleasant, and sometimes beyond mean.  These came from a community that is too often disparaged and almost always dodging cars whose drivers think that we have no right to be on the road.  People should be nicer but I can't control that.

By the way, I think Lance Armstrong was a product of his times.  I recall a whole lot of competitive cyclists from that era going down but maybe I'm wrong.  And there was that BALCO scandal ...

We do have the right to use the road in Massachusetts.  (You should watch this video, produced by MASSBIKE in cooperation with Boston, Massachusetts Police Department.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Blue Honey Commuter

A couple of weeks ago I checked out a nice Honey commuter at the Ride Studio Cafe shop, ready for its new owner.  It was a dark blue with very subtle text.  And it was well equipped as a commuter.  It had a disk brake Shimano Di2 Alfine rear hub and Schmidt disk front hub generator hub.  I don't see lights yet but it is lights-ready (differing from my road bike, which has lights and is waiting for a generator hub).  It also comes equipped with fenders and a rear rack.  The fenders aren't painted, as many on Honeys are, but this looks fine to me as is.  It looked like a great commuter in the shop.

I happened to have been passed by its owner this morning and I had to catch up with him to see his bike again, despite having returned only recently from the injured reserve list.  Andreas was happy to stop and let me take a picture of him and his bike.  He loves the bike so far.  He mentioned taking some time to dial in the shifting but it seems perfect right now.  There is a comprise in the simplicity offered by internal greared hubs and the electronic shifting.  Otherwise the bike seems low maintenance and ready for rainy commutes with the fenders and disk brakes.

On a complete different note, I just moved my commuting panniers from the rear rack to the front rack to get a feel of how they perform.  Given changes in drop off schedules, I could benefit by dropping off our youngest by bike after getting the older boy on the bus.  It could work.  Handling in the city was fine but I noticed that my rear tires had substantially less grip ascending on some local gravelly trails with more weight in the front.  Otherwise this is a go, when I have sufficient energy for carrying a 30 pound boy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

No, I don't think I am a racer

If you read anything that I ever wrote about bicycling, you would be pretty convinced that I have no hope of ever racing a bike and you would be right.  I have never been fast.  Once I rode 20 miles inside an hour but that was over rolling terrain and in a group.  I did catch the group a couple of times after I fell behind and I'm proud of that but that was 6 years ago.  And before then I would routinely do short rides, between 20 and 40 miles, that I would ride somewhere between 18 and 19 MPH.  And I would ride 60-70 miles as fast as 17.5 MPH.  Riding solo at a 20 MPH pace was the Holy Grail for me and I never made it, try as I did.

I knew I wasn't riding at racing speed but the point was reinforced by a neighbor who I saw after one of my 70 mile rides, feeling good about the 17.5 MPH average speed I maintained.  My neighbor was a road racer and he just came back from a hard, hilly ride in western Massachusetts and, when pressed, admitted to a 26 MPH average.  Case closed - these people are in a different league, assuming I was in any league, which I wasn't.

One of my cycling goals last year was the Highpoint Ride, put on by Ride Studio Cafe.  The ride was expected to be hard and long (although there were various lengths you could choose) and the shop needed some kind of confirmation that you could do the hills and the distance.  The two major constraints were that you needed to ride a century and that you could main a 12 MPH pace, stops included, and this includes the 9 mile 2,700 foot climb up Mount Greylock and an even harder climb, 2.5 miles and 1300 feet from the Deerfield River to Whitcombs Summit, the highest point of Route 2 in the Berkshires.

I started out the year slowly, riding a 60 mile loop to Harvard, MA at 13 MPH in April.  But that was fast for me and for how many miles I had under my belt at that time of the year.  I mentioned this to a fellow parent at the preschool our boys attended and he cautioned me that this wasn't really fast - he regularly rides out to Harvard at a 20 MPH pace and faster.  I let him know that I knew I wasn't fast but I was in a race, and the race was against me and I was winning.  He's a cool guy and was very nice about it and wasn't trying to impress me with his speed, although it is pretty impressive how fast he can ride.

Over the month and a half that I trained, I finally got my speed up to 17 MPH over similar routes so I did make progress.  But all my progress didn't get me to a 12 MPH average on the Greylock climb.  On the first day of the Highpoint ride, I averaged 11 MPH, even slower if you include time the I spent off the bike en route to the summit.  But I did the shortest route (50 miles) and I was the fourth person at the summit so it didn't matter that day.  The next day, with the big drop off of Greylock, was far easier and I averaged close to 16 MPH, despite having ridden across the Berkshires.

Fast forward to last weekend.  I have had a very slow start to the year.  Most of my riding has been commuting and I'm not a fast commuter.  I have had a couple of fast rides, including a 17 MPH 40 mile ride and 15 MPH 80 mile ride (but that was in a group, which makes for a faster ride) so I felt confident in taking a longer ride with a firm time limit.  The ride was on Sunday, which was Father's Day, and my wife gave me the option of taking a longer ride or, if I was up to it, a morning ride followed by her family's traditional Father's Day picnic.  I could also have chosen to ride to the picnic but finding a route to the south shore with little traffic was daunting.  So I picked the early ride option, set my alarm for 5 AM and promised to be back by 10 AM.  I also decided to ride out to Harvard, which is at least a 60 mile ride from my house.  Five hours might seem like a lot of time for a 60 mile ride (63 miles as it turned out) but there is always a time sink, like when your alarm rings at 5 AM after you got to bed at midnight.  After getting dressed and applying sunscreen, I headed out at 5:35.  By then I had only 4 hours and 25 minutes for 63 miles.  And I didn't have breakfast.

I had the option of shortening the ride by going through Concord and then Acton and taking Nagog Hill Road to Newtown Road but being overly energetic, I instead went through Great Brook Farm Park to South Chelmsford on my way to Newtown Road.  This avoided some hills but added a few miles.  It was also a pretty quiet route and I didn't seem many cars.  I chose the Oak Hill Road route to Harvard from Littleton, which is prettier and harder than the Harvard/Littleton Road route.  Once I got to Harvard, I realized my mistake.  I was 30 miles from home at it was 8 AM, which meant I had just two hours to get home.  I was pretty sure I could ride 15 miles per hour but I was counting on stopping for breakfast either at the Harvard General Store or the Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord and now this wasn't an option. I ate a bar 10 miles earlier and had a couple more with me so I just rode on.

As it turned out, the ride back was fast, for me, and lovely.  By 8 AM the world was largely awake but it was still early so anyone actually was inside so there was still very little traffic.  I started to see a lot of cyclists west of South Acton and many groups of cyclists heading west by the time I reached Concord at 9.  I was home before 10.  It was one of those rides that even a flat would make you late but I was lucky and everything went as planned.  I would have liked to have stopped for a meal.  I made it home hungry but with enough energy to help us get ready to get out of the house.  I wasn't racer fast but I was fast enough to have a great time on my bike and get home in time for the rest of the day.

Here is the route I took.  And I finished the ride averaging 15.5 MPH, which was good enough for me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Seven Cafe Racer in the wild

Seven Cycles makes a bike called a Cafe Racer and they have a demo bike at Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington.  That Cafe Racer is a single speed with a Gates belt drive.  And Rob Vandermark even let me take it out of the shop overnight.  Unfortunately, because of my schedule, I was able to take it for only one ride but it was great fun to ride it.  These are very comfortable bikes and can be fast over long distances, if the right person is riding it.  Pamela Blalock rode one for 70 miles the Ride Studio Cafe Pioneer ride last weekend.  I couldn't do that but it does say a lot about the bikes and Pamela.

I haven't seen any other Cafe Racers on the rode until yesterday.  I came across Aaron on a Cafe Racer, coaching his friend on bike commuting in the city.  BTW Aaron was a great teacher and is a conservative and safe rider in much the same way that I think of myself.  He was prudent is his thinking on when to take the lane but he did take the lane when necessary.  My only criticism, is that his friend was riding a Hubway bike, which I know to be an exhausting experience but that was an easily available bike for his friend.

Aaron has a great version of the Cafe Racer.  His bike is equipped with a Rolhoff Speed Hub, which I understand to be much more efficient than the Shimano models - I believe at least 7 of the speeds are direct drive.  He also has the same, or similar handlebars as the RSC demo model.  And well designed racks, lots of them.  They look like all custom titanium racks from Seven.  Overall it has a very nice look and the single rear pannier he carried was well secured on struts set below the deck of the rear rack.

He didn't opt for generator lighting but he does have lights.  He had these bar end lights welded onto the deck rear rack, just below the deck of the rack.

He also has a tube for mounting a front light on the left side of his front rack, also almost certainly custom.

It was great meeting Aaron and enjoyed checking out his bike and watching his careful mentoring of his friend, who is new to Boston.  Bike commuting around here is challenging but Aaron's friend is getting a good start.

How fast do you ride on a 15 MPH ride?

(Edited on 6/11/2014 to clarify leader of group and the suggested speed of the group)

I rode the 111 kilometer Pioneers Ride put on by Ride Studio Cafe on Saturday.  The route was developed by Pamela Blalock.  The day was fabulous.  There was a brunch before the ride and some downtime while everything was organized and people talked and checked out the cool bikes that people were riding.  The ride was great.  We had clear, dry weather without much wind and the roads were very nice.  I knew the first and last 20 miles and the rest of Pamela's routing was a series of very nice surprises.  There was even a couple of stretches of dirt roads.  I went on the slow, no drop group with a planned speed of 15 MPH (more on that later) and enjoyed the company of Ryan, Lily, Guenther, Lee, Dan, Pamela, and Katja.  We were a pretty relaxed group and I think the ride went well for all of us.  I enjoyed everyone's company and we were lucky with no flats and one mechanical, which did change the second half ride for a couple of us.

All photos by @LeeToma.  His complete of pictures from the ride are here. 

Yes, we did ride on dirt roads:

The ride was the longest I've done in a long time.  In fact, I can't remember the year that I rode at least 80 miles (my ride was a bit longer than 111k, since I had to get to and back from the studio for the ride).  My previous longest ride this year was 40 miles and this ride was a big leap.  With encouragement from @sloansh, I decided that I could do the entire ride and I abandoned my two bailout points (the second bailout option) that I had loaded on to my Garmin unit.

Headed home - on Virginia Road in Concord, near Hanscom:

One issue came up on the ride - how do you use a Garmin to follow the route correctly?  We veered off course a few times (as did the 17 mph group, as we saw) and this was caused by a few things and I was guilty of all of them (thankfully Pamela saved us several times):
  • Riding past the GPS signal - I've seen this before riding and in a car, the GPS icon falls tens of feet or more behind your actual location.  This happened at least twice, once in Bedford on the way out of town.
  • Riding in a tightly packed group and not having the luxury of time to check the GPS unit with bikes behind and in front of you, especially going downhill at a decent speed.  Yes, I missed a turn on a downhill run in a comparative crowd.
  • Just forgetting to watch the GPS unit and not seeing a turn.  I did this at least once on the ride but it didn't cost us more than 50 feet.
I generally don't miss turns when riding solo but there is much more to pay attention to when riding in a group of any size.  Besides any conversation that you might be having, there are multiple people making decisions about when to turn, when to pass you, when to let you pass them, etc.  It was still a great ride and I would have never made it so far on my own.

So what do you mean by a 15 MPH group?

I picked the slowest group to ride in, given that this ride was twice as long as my longest ride this year and most of the miles I rode have been commuting, which aren't a speed workout for me.  Dan led the group and Pamela Blalock was sweeping.  I rode with Pamela on the recent Diverged ride, which she swept, and last year's Highpoint ride. Pamela has done a lot more riding than me and leads regular trips so I felt I was in good hands.  Her expectation was to ride a 15 MPH ride, which was a good speed for me, based on the couple of 40 mile rides I did earlier this year (one at 15 MPH, another at 17 MPH).  It was a stretch but that's what you do when you ride with groups.  There is more energy in a group ride and there is a real gain when you can draft off of people, even if you aren't riding their wheel closely.

My personal experience is that when I average say 15 MPH on a ride, my average rolling speed on the flats is close to 18 MPH.  When I average 17 MPH, my average rolling speed on the flats is more like 20 or 21 MPH.  Hills never seem to balance out so I need a faster average on the flats to tip the balance faster on my average speed and all of this depends on how hilly the ride is.  I never have gone on a solo ride that my average speed on the flats was close to the average speed of the ride.  And, for full disclosure, I don't go on all that many group rides.  In fact, much of my riding is solo so I'm not very experienced in pacing within a group.

So near the start of the ride I got in front and was heading up a decent hill on Grove Street, heading into Bedford from Lexington.  It's a surprisingly long and hard hill and I kept on eye on the riders behind me.  I noticed that we lost at least a couple of people by the top of the hill so I stopped everyone at the end of the following downhill while they caught up.  No one said much about this so I proceed to ride at the same pace.  We eventually passed the 17 MPH group after one of them flatted.  But they soon passed us on 225 heading towards our turn on Maple Street.  Their pace wasn't all that much faster than ours so I slowly picked up the pace ... until Pamela rode up from the sweeper position (last in the group, making sure no one falls behind) to the reel me in.  I wasn't going all that fast but I was going too fast for the group.  Point taken.  It took a rolling discussion for me to understand that in Pamela's world, a 15 MPH ride means a 15 MPH rolling average.  She is generally a much better hill climber than me (even doing the Mount Washington Hillclimb on her fixed gear bike, which she happened to be riding on the Pioneer ride) so she assumes that her average of uphills and downhills works out to be even, something not remotely possible for me in the past, though that is a great goal.  And I would like to be able to keep a desired pace on a group ride.

Perhaps surprisingly, we ended the first 30 miles with a 15.0 MPH average speed.  But I can't say that we really did ride 15 MPH on all of the flats.  It's hard to tell from this graph, from data on my Garmin uploaded to, because of the rolling terrain was so varied.  But I'd like to think that I at least understood how to better match my speed with others' expectations.  Here is what I ended with (warning: it's a pretty gross representation of elevation and slope and doesn't contain the detailed changes in elevation that influence speed and managing a constant cadence when cycling):

The straight up speed graph is more damning, at least it looks like there isn't much 15 MPH rolling averages here but then the rolling terrain made straight up level sections rare:

But the pace seems like I'm right around 15 MPH for the entire ride:

At about 40 miles into the ride, Pamela split us into two groups.  One person was having issues with his rear dropouts and skewer - his wheel was getting loose enough to rub his chain stay and he was slowed down periodically then stopped to reset it many times.  He had a nice bike and was a strong rider and didn't show what had to be some frustration with this.  Once he and Pamela left, there were six of us and with Dan leading the group, we increased our pace some by mutual consent (and by Dan setting the pace) and ended up slightly better than 15 MPH (15.2) and slightly faster than 4 minutes per mile (3:57).  But it seems awfully close to our goal.  I'm curious to hear if Pamela thinks we were on her planned pace or my pace, which has me going faster to make up for my lack of speed on hills, and my lack of daring on descents.  In any case, we all got home safely and enjoyed a great day out on bicycles.  And I did try to keep a 15 MPH pace.

On other lesson learned: if you think might actually do the whole ride, let your wife know before you leave the house.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting out of the house

I was thinking last year that getting out of the house was getting easier for two years running as the boys get older and this year would get out even more.  I was wrong.  There never seems time to get out for long rides and most of my miles this year have been commuting miles.  Nevertheless, I have been out on my IF for a couple of hundred miles and on my Surly for mixed surface riding several times.  I really enjoy recreational riding and hopefully I will get more time as the summer unfolds.

I did do a forty miler a couple of weeks ago on this route on a damp and sometimes foggy morning:

on this route. except I did a little side trip to Flint Pond in Lincoln.  Because of the conditions, I kept my lights on for the ride (and got to see how long my Nite Rider lasts on the low setting - 3 hours and counting).  The route covered much of 6 towns and also crossed briefly into Acton.   The ride looks like this:

I believe I mentioned the process before but I used a GPX file generated from, although I could have taken it off my Garmin, and pulled the town boundaries from MASSGIS, pulled the towns I wanted using QGIS, and converted them into KML (from their original shapefile format) using OGR2GUI.

I've repeated some variation of this ride 3 times this season.  It's a very easy ride and I know my timing on it pretty accurately so I know I can get home when I need to.  Having said that, the last time I did this ride I had intended to go south to Conant Road and Old Conant Road south of Lincoln center and realized I didn't have time for the extra miles and time that entailed and cut back a shorter way than I planned.

I also did a night right, in preparation for Rob Vandermark's DUTODARI all night ride on the shortest night of the year.  It was over well know routes, including the Minuteman Bike Path, the Reformatory Branch Trail, and Battle Road.  Since the DUTODARI includes dirt, my training ride included dirt.

One lesson learned - when you leave for a ride like this when your wife is asleep, leave prominent notes so you don't get into trouble.

I did the night ride on my Surly, which has the tires for dirt trails and the better lighting system, for now.  I do have lights ready to go on my IF and hopefully I will get a new generator wheel this summer.  The ride was pretty amazing.  I averaged 12 MPH, which isn't bad for night riding that included dirt.  There were a couple of sections of long (enough) wavelength rollers on the Reformatory Branch Trail that were fun but not dangerous.  It was sort of a mild roller coaster, not over the top for the conditions but amusing.  I went out legally lit up (plus a couple of extra headlights and tail lights) with more than adequate reflectors so I felt I was safe as I could be.  And I wasn't on roads all that much either.  I did skip some trails in favor of checking out the NE Randonneurs 300k/200k finish line but my arrival was ill timed.  There was a very unfortunate and fatal airplane accident at the airport and state police were blocking the entrance to the airport.  I saw one randonneur held up with what looked like a ride official coming to the roadblock to try to explain the situation.  I just rode off into the night rather than trying to get past the roadblock.

Hopefully I can report on more long rides later in the summer.  I plan to do Ride Studio Cafe's Pioneer ride this Saturday and have my sights set on some interesting rides later in the summer.  We'll see how it turns out.