Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I knew it wouldn't be easy: starting to ride in the snow

If you read what Peter White has to say about studded tires, you might see why I picked the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires (the 700x35mm version) for my commuter.  They are for people like me - commuters who might ride in the snow but are most worried about slipping on ice and maybe getting stuck in an icy rut.  I bought a set of these from Peter last month and mounted them soon after,  waiting for a chance to try these out.  My chance came this morning.  There was a ride out of Ride Studio Cafe (first snow of the winter, which happened at 3 AM today) which was too early for me.  In any case, I knew that I would be outclassed on my "dad bike", a Swobo 3 speed, and headed out around 5:30 AM.

Since I knew I would be riding in the dark and with snow falling, I mounted a few lights on the bike for the purpose, an older 600 lumen Nite Rider on a Paul Components Gino mount at the front hub and a generic battery powered flashlight/headlight on my handlebar.  I kept a Light and Motion Urban 350 in reserve (and for pictures, as it turned out).  For rear lighting, I had Portland Design Works Radbot and a generic red/blinky rear light.  (Both of the generics were handouts on a Bike to Work day in the last couple of years.)  The Marathon tires have reflective sidewalls and I had my usual assortment of reflectors on my person.

So how did it go?  It was fun, pure and simple!  I can't say that I was fully in control at all times, especially in the deeper snow (thanks to plows - although most streets that I rode were not yet plowed).  But I could move through the snow and felt that I was stable as long as I was moderate in my speed and direction changes (as Peter White preaches).  I could ride through snow as deep as 2 inches with not much difficulty, although riding in a complete straight line wasn't easy and at times even possible.  That kind of performance seems expected based on reviews and the advice on Peter's web page.   I rode on some trails and the bike did fine, as long as I was riding downhill or on the flats.  The bike had a lot of difficulty moving up snow covered hills.  I suspect that this has something to do with the gearing, it may have been easier on my Surly Cross Check with a 30/30 gearing.  My Swobo has the stock cranks and chainring and Shimano 3 speed IGH and that's usually good enough.  In fact, I had to walk a hill on snow covered dirt that I could pull my 40 pound son up on a trail-a-bike.  I also had to walk a couple of steep sections of paved road.

That said, I think the tires excelled in the kind of riding that I got them for: minimally plowed paved surfaces.  I could ride at a reasonably fast pace safely.  The bike path in Arlington was paved an hour or so before I first rode it (there was more snow on my return trip) and the going was safe.  If you know anything about me and commuting, you'll understand that safe is better than fast.  And these tires in these conditions are anything but fast.  It was fun to hit slightly deeper snow (2+ inches) in Lexington, where the path isn't plowed, but it was remarkably slow.  Having to get home to shovel out my wife's car (although changed plans later and worked from home), I was relieved to get back on the plowed Arlington bike path and made great time getting back home.

While the tires made riding possible for me, it wasn't easy.  At times I felt like I was riding moderate hills on the D2R2, except that I was on the gentle uphill grades on the paved bike path.  Surprisingly, they felt suddenly fast under the 3 bridges on the path that we still clear.  That contrast is telling for me: studded tires and riding in snow is not going to get you there faster, but it will be more fun than waiting for a bus or driving.

Should you try studded tires?  If you are a fair weather commuter like me, then you might want them if you plan to ride this winter.  I understand that some  experienced year round riders don't believe that studs are necessary.  But it was clear this morning that I would not have been out without studded tires.  And I certainly would be less than enthusiastic about riding the next few days with snow and icy patches on the edges of the roads I will be commuting on without studs.  They gave me some measure of confidence.  But I'm not entirely sure that I want to ride on the narrow streets of Cambridge, if we have anything like the snow that fell last winter.  I'll hold off on a decision until we get there. It's not that I don't think that the tires could help me control the bike, it's because there are a lot of cars that might be in less than complete control of their drivers.  Your mileage may vary.

Oh, and Ride Studio Cafe had a great idea of getting out early for the first snow of the year.

Tires tracks in the snow at the beginning of the unplowed Lexington section of the Minuteman bike path.  I hear it was the Ride Studio Cafe riders.  I was here around 6 so they were long gone by the time I arrived.  But I did see two cyclists following me back into Arlington, although left the path before they overtook me 

I tried some trails in Arlington Great Meadows.  They proved to be impassible  for me when traveling up a steep enough hill.  I passed through here on my road bike with 700x25mm tires last weekend.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Riding my bike in 2015

While I don't define myself as a cyclist - I do a lot more than just ride my bike - I do take great pleasure in riding my bikes.  And this year I rode my bike a lot, over 4,000 miles.  Over 2,000 of those miles were riding between home and work, although some of those miles were detours for the fun of it on days that I had some extra time for riding.  I also road almost 1,900 miles on my road bike and all of those miles were for fun.  I rode some dirt road rides, including one at night, and rode the D2R2 again, this time extending my off route ride the organizer suggested to me last year.  In short, it was a great year for riding my bike, with 4,157 miles and I still have a few more days left to ride this year.

Bike commuting

My commuter (a 2009 custom build on a Surly Cross Check frame) remains in service and still is a great bike.  Besides regular maintenance, it saw no changes this year.  I did add a 2014 Swobo Novak, bought on sale in early 2015,  I use this for commuting on days that I need to park in places that I wouldn't park my Surly and it has come in handy.  I've also used it as my "dad" bike when riding in the neighborhood with the boys and have put on a trail-a-bike for towing one of the boys.  It has worked out well.  It's now set up as my winter commuter with 700x35mm Schwalbe Winter Marathon studded tires.  I hope to ride at least part of the way to work once the weather turns, which it seems to be doing right now (lows near 20F this evening and with today's rain, I expect that means some ice on the roads in the early morning).  Overall, I rode to work on 145 days, riding about 2,085 miles.  That is clearly a big part of my riding.  I started riding in mid March after I took two months off from cycling while I let a tendon in a finger heal (after I cut it in a kitchen accident after last New Year's weekend).  I rode about 4 of every 5 days during the months that I was actually fit to ride a bike.

Road rides

I had dreams of more far flung rides this year but it didn't happen.  I did get a lot of riding in on my road bike, a 2007 Independent Fabrication Club Racer built in Somerville, MA, which remains an amazing bike for me eight and a half years after buying it.  I averaged just under 40 miles per ride on my road bike with 22 rides of at least 40 miles.  My longest ride of the year was 75 miles.  I did a decent amount of exploring in the area that I primarily ride:

Despite the appearance of variety, I was pretty time limited again this year - most of my weekend rides were early morning rides with me getting home by 9 AM.  It would have been nice to go further afield but that's hard to do without impacting my family more than I want to.  My favorite ride was a multi modal ride up to Ogunquit to join my family for a weekend on the Maine coast.  It included a trip on the Red Line and the Commuter Rail, and about 50 miles of riding.  It was also one of my coffeeneuring trips.


I actually finished the challenge this year, which was great fun.  I was again the North East Regional Office of Coffeeneuring, producing the maps for the challenge.  It's great working with Mary on that project.

Oh, those goals from last year

These goals:

Well, I was a more enthusiastic bike commuter this year, starting about the same time as last year but riding about 30 more days this year.  I did say that I started riding late because of an injury but you might remember the snow storms of 2015.  I might have rode more than I did if I didn't hurt myself but there would have been several weeks that I would have punted on.

My second goal, of getting longer rides didn't exactly happen.  I did get a number of 50+ mile rides but never all that far from home (except that ride to Truro from our vacation cottage in Chatham).

I didn't get the Dill Pickle bag I thought of getting, instead opting for Acorn bags, a small front bag and the medium saddle bag, which fit my frame better that the Dill Pickle bag.  These worked out well, with as much carrying capacity as I needed.  The only drawback with the saddle bag was that the buckle would tap the fender on bumps when it wasn't full.  I recently (yesterday) put a new saddle on my IF, a Selle Anatomica, and now there is plenty of room with the integrated saddle loops, which I didn't have on my old saddle (I installed the VO loops, which really needed a longer bolt and locking nut) on my old saddle.  Ironically, I now have plenty of room for the Dill Pickle bag with the new saddle.  My IF has great carrying capacity for a road bike now and I'm comfortable leaving my house dressed for the early morning temperatures and expecting to remove layers as the day warms.  Overall, I am pretty happy with the bags I now have.  Now I just need to find time for longer rides.

I did ride the 2015 Diverged ride and the D2R2, both of which were great fun.  My only regret on the Diverged ride was that I was ready for a much longer ride.  That said, I really enjoyed riding with Brad Smith, the ride leader on the shorter ride.  I enjoyed the D2R2 but had minor equipment issues that made the ride slightly stressful.  I did extend the ride fully from Sandy's 2014 instructions and it was great fun to do solo, for the most part.  I missed the Honey 100.  I can no longer remember what family event precluded me from going although I do see that I managed a 50 mile early morning ride that day.

While I didn't get to any of the NER events, I did enjoy my longer rides.  I planned on the Dunes Dynamo, a 124 mile overnight ride to Provincetown in early August.  I was unsure of my ability to ride it and when a friend dropped out, I did as well.  I'll try to get in better shape for the 2016 version, which goes to Portland, Maine.

Goals for this year?

I don't have specific goals beyond riding to work as much as is feasible and getting on my road bike as much as I can, given family obligations.  I do intend to ride a lot on my new studded tires, both for commuting and for fun.  And I hope to do longer rides, both from my house and maybe, if I'm lucky, in western Massachusetts and further afield.  We plan to spend a couple of weeks on the Cape this summer so hopefully I can do a couple of longer rides on the Cape this coming summer.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Be afraid - commuting stories #4

I think the worst position I could put myself in, while commuting to work, is getting a little bit cocky.  Like assuming that since I haven't been in a collision with a car, that I'm smart and I'm a strong rider and I'm very careful and I have a zillion lights on my bike and wear a lot of reflective gear when I ride.  Because that's not always going to be enough if you aren't lucky.  So I ride with caution. Especially at night.  And more so in the rain at night.

So this happened yesterday: I was riding home in the rain.  I was well clothed in waterproof gear from head to toe.  Actually my shoes were covered in neoprene booties, which aren't waterproof, but my shoes stayed dry. I had three bright headlights, including two that are very prominent even from the side (one actually has yellow lights on the side - the Light and Motion Urban 350), and three rear red lights, all quite visible from the side.  I also had reflective stripes on my arms, wrists, ankles, and hands, all visible from the sides, and a reflective vest, not quite visible from the side.  I also have reflectors on my spokes and these have a bright white light that I usually run in flashing mode, like I did last night.  In short, I bet anyone could see me from the side.  So by now you should have figured out that my side view visibility is key in this story.

Getting back to being afraid, the title of this post.  While I do my best to be safe, including riding as slow as I need to, I'm still very concerned about what other people might be doing, or not doing when they are driving.  Like using there phone for one purpose or another (yes, it happens - just ride a bike and look into cars since you have a great view).  Or not paying attention.  Or doing something dumb because they are in a hurry.  So I'm generally very cautious because I'm afraid that I meet one of those drivers.

So the rain wasn't all that intense but I know how it's harder to see in the dark and even harder in the dark when it's raining.  And the rain was enough to make my cantilever brakes that much less effective.  I was heading down Mass Ave in Cambridge west of Porter Square and saw two cars speed across Mass Ave onto Russel Street in front of me. My instinctive reaction was to brake several times to dry my rims so I could stop if I needed to.  Sure enough, another driver thought he could make it through before the cars approaching the intersection made it there.  And he started to speed across the street.  So I braked some more.  Braking wasn't great but, if you've ever used rim brakes in the rain, you know that I could tell that braking was improving.  But the guy (yes, I could see it was a guy, I was almost in the intersection at that point) was moving fast and I wasn't stopped just yet.  Suddenly, the driver took his car to the left, hard.  Right before then, I could see that he could see me and he must have made the decision that, while he was in a hurry, hitting me wasn't going to get him to where he was going faster than if he took that last second detour.  I'd like to think that he saw me because I'm lit up like a Christmas tree (only whites red, and yellow lights but nice blue reflectors on my arms).  I'd be worried if he didn't see me and just turned because he decided that was the best thing for him to do to get him to where he was going in a hurry, because he clearly was in a hurry.

If there is a moral to the story then it's this: assume the worse.  Had I been right in front of him, which I would have been if I hadn't started braking early, then it all might have turned out worse.  Or maybe he would have seen me earlier.  Maybe, but I'm not taking any chances.  So don't take this as 'be afraid and don't ride your bike."  I'm more on the "ride your bike but assume the worst of the drivers on the road.  A little fear keeps you focused on everyone else on the road" side.

The other moral to the story, if there is a first, is to consider getting disk brakes which, I hear, are better in the rain.

No pictures because it was raining out and I really didn't want to get my smart phone wet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Commuting stories #3

Four very short items:

1) I see a taxi driver pull up to a red light on Oxford in Cambridge.  He is saying to the cyclist, who got to the red light a few seconds before me, "do you want a light?" The driver hands the other cyclist a red blinky light.  The light changes and the taxi drives off.  The other cyclist starts to ride off.  I suggest that he use the light as I pass him and he stops and puts it on his backpack.  The other cyclist had a rear reflector and pedal reflectors so he was legal from the back but the blinky should make him more visible.  I had three rear red lights on, 2 solid and one blinking so it was no surprise that he offered the light to the other cyclist.

Not long after, as I was passing the Porter Exchange, a young woman in the right rear passenger seat in a sedan opened her door slightly and looked back before opening her door fully.  She sees me, or my headlights (yes, plural) and closes her door until I pass.  Thanks for looking out for me.  I've been running my generator light (last generation Busch and Mueller IQ CYO) and my old Nite Rider 600 at low power on a Paul Gino mount.  The Note Rider is low to the ground, aimed about 8 feet in front of the light, but the light is very visible, at least when I see my reflection in glass storefronts.  I've been doing this in part to make myself more visible in situations like this and also to better see potholes when cars are blinding me with their lights.

Later, on the Minuteman path in Arlington, a cyclist is approaching me.  The cyclist covers his light as he passed me so I'm not blinded.  I turned off the bright light when I got on the path and was running just my dyno powered lights.  The headlight has a cutoff at about 2.5 feet or 3 feet about fifty feet out (waist high on most adults) so I'm pretty sure I wasn't blinding him.

On Mass Ave, again, now in Arlington, I see a woman with her daughter in a SUV at stop light.  Her eyes are glued to her phone.  I was exhausted after a long day at work and couldn't muster up the energy to yell, "put down your phone" and the likely ensuing argument.  She had it her hand as she drove off.  I wish I had a GoPro.  Arlington police would have a copy and be visiting her right now if I did.  All the lights in the world couldn't alert that woman to presence of cyclists on the road.  I hope everyone is safe out there.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Early winter ride

It's meteorological winter in the Boston area and it's been cold, even if we are the midst of 50-55F afternoons.  This morning was no exception.  I knew it was going to be cold this morning so I dressed for it.  I thought it would be around 30F but the weather station said that it actually dipped to 23F.  How does that feel?  Well, dressed as I was, I was fine and never felt very cold.  My toes did get a bit cold but I could wiggle them around and they would be fine.  I was wearing a neoprene shoe cover over my road shoes with a thick pair of wool socks.  Maybe I do need some heater packets for colder days.  But despite how well prepared I was, it was cold.  I could tell how cold it was when I touched my top tube without gloves.  That was very cold.  This ride would have been impossible if I lost a glove.  Another way to see how cold it really was?  Checking my water bottle after realizing that I wasn't drinking enough water, I saw a fair amount of ice and it cracked when I squeezed my bottle to get water out of it.  That's cold.  I was outside for about 3 hours and while not chilled, I was more than happy to take a hot shower when I got home.

Edit: Just to be clear, I'd love to be doing daytime rides but I'm trying to find a balance between enjoying riding and being part of my family. 

The route.

Miles for the ride: about 38 or so, miles for the month: 92, miles for the year: 3,960.  Given good health, I should easily top 4,000 miles this year.

Some pictures from the ride:

Looking at the beaver lodge from the Maple Street bridge in Carlisle.  The 2007 IF Club Racer was a great bike for the dry roads.

Near the intersection of Pope Road and West Street in Acton. 
South of Strawberry Hill Road in Acton.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015 official entry

Here it is, the last weekend of coffeeneuring, on the last day of the challenge, and I'm submitting my paper work to the Chief Coffeeneur.  Being the Northeast Regional Office of Coffeeneuring, you'd think that I was a seasoned and successful coffeeenur, but you'd be wrong.  This year is the first year that I actually finished the challenge.  Here is the documentation.

Trip 1 - highlights: many off road miles including bike paths and dirt trails on a visit to Tamper in Medford, MA.  Short review: yes, I'll be back.

Trip 2 - highlights: this was a multi modal trip to Ogunquit, ME to join my family for an overnight stay.  This was my favorite ride of the year and had a sense of adventure as well as luck with timing trains and rides between train departures.  The coffee shop was Caffe Kilim in Portsmouth, NH.  Short review: yes, I'll be back if I'm in the area.

Trip 3 -  highlights: a quick 30 mile ride with the coldest conditions since early spring and a quick trip to Starbucks in Arlington Heights, MA.  You can see a full review of the shop here.  This post is from 2013 but it doesn't seem to have changed much at all.

Trip 4 - highlights: It was a dark, cold ride, leaving at 5 AM and hitting a low temperature of about 25 degrees, my coldest ride of the year.  Nashoba Bakery in West Acton, MA was a great place for comfort food and hot coffee.  I'll be back for pastries but not necessarily for coffee.  I also tested the Chief Coffeeneur's helmet kickstand on this ride.

Trip 5 - highlights: Another dark, cold early morning trip with a 1.5 mile diversion in the woods on my road bike.  Coffee at Ride Studio Cafe, one of my favorite bike shops, I mean coffee shops.  OK, it is one of my favorite bike shops as well.

Trip 6 - Another ride with an even longer diversion in the woods.  This one followed the same track as last week with an exploration of an off road route between Sandy Brook Road and Route 126 near Walden Pond.  That route wasn't all that easy on a road bike although I would do it on my Surly.  Coffee was had at Main Street Grill, which has good pastries and, in my opinion, decent but no where near great lattes.

Trip 7 - My last coffeeneuring excursion, and it was great fun.  I did my usual Lincoln ride that takes me south of Lincoln to Conant then Old Conant Road and back to Trapelo.  I found my way to Barismo, which is a keeper.  Not much besides coffee but they have a sort of group table, which is a nice touch for someone who gets out on bike alone, for the most part.

Thoughts?  Well, there was no theme within a theme except: go ride your bike!  It was a nice incentive for me, and for my wife to not mind me getting out early on weekends now that it seems like it is too cold to ride.  As I thought in past years, this would be a lot more fun to do with company but it's better to do it alone than not do it.  It did take some patience on my wife's part and I did get some ribbing from family.  But my niece did ask me to explain what I'm doing in an interested way.  I've gone on bike rides with her but I think it's going to be a few years before I suggest she try coffee and coffeeneuring.

The mapping project with Mary is fun and doesn't take a lot of work.  I copied the tables from last year and emptied them and Mary is filling them up.  I link to them from my blog and that's about it.  For the coffeeneuring map, I answer emails and get people signed up for adding their coffee shops.  It's fun to watch this grow and hopefully it will be added to in future years.

My shops this year (current year are red, others are purple):

How to make a map like this.

The coffeeneuring finishers map for 2015.

And how to get permission to add your stops to the coffeeneuring coffee shops map.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Coffeeneuring 7, 2015 - Barismo, East Arlington, MA

This is my last official coffeeneuring ride of the season and this year is the first time that I actually finished the challenge.  That my wife encouraged me to finish certainly helped.  And having warm enough weather and, sometimes, warm enough clothes also helped.  Today I did a quick 25 mile ride out to Lincoln with less than 1,000 feet of climbing.  It was only moderately cool, just above 40 degrees, but windy, especially for my last 2 or 3 miles after my coffee stop.

Barismo is a great shop conveniently located in East Arlington.  I'd be stopping here daily if I didn't bring my coffee to work.  It's a funky shop with a lot of coffee for sale and some seating.  I sat at a communal table with Brad, a recent transplant to East Arlington from North Carolina.  That people would sit together and expect to talk is a great thing and kudos to Barismo for encouraging it.  My cappuchino was great.  I only wish that I had the tolerance for a second cup, which I considered.

Perhaps the only interesting part of the day is how I found Barismo.  After school drop off Wednesday, I found myself talking with the owner of Sip and Dave, a parent from East Arlington and the subject was, predictably, coffee.  Jared has been part of Boston coffee world for a while now and Dave is just an interested consumer like me.  He mentioned Barismo, which he liked.  Jared also had a great opinion of Barismo.  And so I decided my last coffeeneuring trip of 2015 should be to Barismo.  And it was well worth it.

As you all know today (11/14/2015) is the day after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.  I feel pretty awful about the future right now, much like I did in the days after 9/11.  I don't know what the next days or years will bring but it is certain that more war is possible.  I thought an early morning ride, a strong habit for me, would be calming and it was.  So was my conversation at the coffee shop.  But history is happening outside my little bubble and I have little control over it and it looks uncertain.

My ride for the day, a 2007 Indy Fab Club Racer, well lit for an early, but not too early, departure.

There isn't much color right now but the sun lighting up some bare crowns was pretty .

A cappuccino from Barismo.

The newly constructed Mass Ave with sparse bike parking and the new bike lane.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Coffeeneuring #6, 2015 - more off road exploration

After my Coffeeneuring excursion last week, with some off road exploration between Bedford Road and Sandy Pond Road in Lincoln, my colleague mentioned that he was interested in that off road route to get to Walden without going into Concord on 2A and having to cross Route 2.  There was a gap in my knowledge between Sandy Pond Road and Route 126 so I decided to complete the exploration and see if the trails were passable on a road bike (or the CX tandem that he and his wife ride).

I had a somewhat early start, about 5:30 or so and started out under moon (and planet) light with lights and reflectors.  I took the most direct way to Bedford Road except for avoiding most of Route 2A between 128 and Hanscom.  It was light, although the sun wasn't quite up, when I made it to the Oxtail Trail.  The sun came up some time when I was riding around Flint Pond.

Morning sun.
 Once past Flint Pond and onto the unexplored section of the trails, I found rougher terrain, both hillier, steeper, and rockier.  I really enjoyed the Bedford to Sandy Pond section, which was largely gravel with a stretch of relatively open rock gardens, always with an easy line to follow.  This section was harder and I found myself stopping and walking in several places, both for ascents and descents (but level ground was almost always passable on my 700x25mm Clement Strada LGG tires.  There were also a lot more houses not far off of the trail.  It's be a fine place to walk, or take your CX bike but I won't be taking this trail in the future, at least on my road bike.  It's east enough to bypass using Sandy Pond Road to Baker Bridge Road.  I'll be curious to hear if my colleague tries this section of trail.

Coffeeneuring - yes, I did make a stop in Concord, at Main Street Market and Cafe.  I used to stop here somewhat frequently, if you can call several times a year frequent.  But with kids at home, most of my rides include very little no non-riding time, except in coffeeneuring season, so it's been a while since I was here.  The shop is more of sit down restaurant with pastries and OK coffee, including espresso drinks.  I had a latte and a coffee cake and enjoyed both.  It wasn't all that cold out today (relative to recent weekend bike rides) but I did appreciate sitting down inside and enjoying my coffee.

Heading home, I took 62 to Bedford, thinking I would take the Minuteman Path back into Lexington.  But I have new shoes - real biking shoes for the first time.  After my coffee stop, I was eager to see if the shoes helped me go faster, and they did.  So I took a more convoluted route that let me sprint here and there.  And it was fun.  In retrospect, I wish I had tried real shoes a long time ago.  That said, these shoes are pretty stiff and awkward to walk in.  I may yet buy replacement commuting shoes since these new shoes are way overkill for that purpose but I'll enjoy these super stiff soled shoes on any other kind of riding.

My ride for the day.  Yes, there is a trail on the other side of the tree.  With most of the leaves off the trees, the forest floor is covered completely.  This could have been the perfect coffee shop without walls, if I had a thermos of coffee.

The route.  Miles for the ride: 30, miles for the month: 100, miles for the year: over 3,600.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Coffeeneuring #5 2015 and an unplanned ride in the woods

I had a great ride this morning, not all that far or fast but it was a great, mild morning (after the mid 20s ride last Saturday).  Despite this morning's time change, I managed to get out before the boys were up (but apparently it was a close call).  I had originally intended to ride out to Lincoln, south to Weston then into Boston with several options for coffee.

As it turned out I made a turn into the woods in Lincoln and thought I'd see where it went.  It didn't go far but I saw a guy walking his dog and he suggested that I take the Oxtail Trail just north of the trail we were on.  He said that he and his family regularly ride it on mountain bikes but it was a decent surface for my narrow tires (25 mm Clement Strada LGG) so I tried it.  I didn't look at any online maps but remembered that the guy said I should follow the main route and then take a left, which would take me around Flint Pond.  The route was pretty nice.  It turns out that it is an official bike route and I started to notice the signs (if you happen to try this they are small, blue signs).  The path was as wide as it was described to me and was in great shape.  And it was lovely ride in the late fall woods.  There were a number of rocks on the trail after the left turn but there was always a clear path through them.  The off trail section was about 1.5 miles.  It was well worth the detour, although it threw my plans of riding into Boston out the window.

After I got to the road (Sandy Road), I followed my usual route south of Lincoln center to Conant then Old Conant Road and eventually into Lexington center where made my coffeeneuring stop at Ride Studio Cafe.  I enjoyed a pastry and latte along with a conversation with Zach, who was scheduled to sweep a ride, and Patria, one of the co-owners.  As always, Ride Studio Cafe didn't disappoint, both in the coffee they serve and the atmosphere.  And they had this great fat tire Seven (with 4.7 inch tires) for me to check out.  I'm not sure I could actually buy a fat bike but they sure look like fun and this one had great lines, if you ask me.

I never fail to think of Rob Vandermark (of Seven, Honey, and Ride Studio Cafe) when I get on trails like the Oxtail Trail.  I've been going off road and on trails on my road bikes here and there for a few decades but I'm pretty inspired by his ideas and rides like Diverged and Honey Hundred (and probably a few others).  I'd probably do better with a bike with wider tires on a frame like Rob's Seven Evergreen but I seem to be able to do a decent amount of off road miles on my IF with its narrow tires so I'm happy to see where it will take me.  I do have my Surly when I know I will be riding off road but it's nice to have the option on my IF.

My route (with off road portions in green).

The off road section of my ride:

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

Obligatory photo demonstrating that I actually did some coffeeneuring.

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Three signs

I updated an earlier post to include a third sign that I mentioned but did not have a photograph of, this one also in Cambridge.

Three signs, maybe more than one message. 

The first sign is in Cambridge at the intersection of Main Street and Galileo Galilei Way and and routes you around a construction site, with the sidewalk taking up the bike lane and bikes moving into the right turn lane.  This small sign, propped up on a traffic cone, might be hard to see from a car driver's perspective.  And this sign might subject travelers to some confusion.  Does it say "bicyclists, share the road with cars, because you act like you own it" (which we certainly do in part because we pay for it with our taxes) or "cars, bikes are on the road, share the road"?  I know the law so the I understand the second interpretation to be correct, although not all drivers may see that.

Not the most obvious sign.
To give Cambridge some credit, there is a much clearer sign on the corner of Ames and Main Street, right by Legal Seafood.  I don't go by there much but I went back today to get a picture. I much prefer this sign over the first sign.  It could be clearer but you have only so much space on a sign.  I do recognize that Cambridge is paying attention to cycling and this sign shows it.  In fact, there is a bike lane with a separation from the parked cars on both sides of this street.  I've seen photographic evidence of cars parking in the bike lane.  Hopefully police respond when/if people call it in although it isn't clear to me that parking in a bike lane is illegal in Massachusetts at this time.

This one seems easier to interpret, at least for me: "Bikes, cars - share the road."

The next sign, in Somerville, is much clearer than the first two.  Granted, it has three screens to get its message across but it does educate drivers and cyclists in about five seconds.  This is at the east end of the recently repaved Beacon Street and is part of a much larger project to improve the street for all users, including cyclists.  That Somerville and the state spent money on the temporary pavement is recognition of how bad the street was, in particular for cyclists  Somerville had already advised cyclists to take a signed detour, which I used a number of times and will likely use frequently during the full depth reconstructions.  This is a video and you need to click on the image to start the video.

In short, It looks like Somerville's political leadership recognize that there are a large number of people, residents and neighbors like myself, who cycle on its roads and is doing a lot to make it easier and safer to ride bikes through the city.

A video posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on
Thanks, Somerville.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Coffeeneuring finishers, 2015

The coffeeneuring challenge is past its fourth weekend so it's time to publish the digital version of the maps - here there are.  Mary from Chasing Mailboxes will be updating the base tables that will fill in the map for the next few weeks.  The communal coffee shop map is being updated and you can find out how to add to it here.  Feel free to contact me to get permission to edit the map.

Number of coffeeneurs by state:

DC is the epicenter for coffeeneuring  and it is small relative to the rest of the country so here is a detailed look at it:

Cities with coffeeneurs and links to the blogs, if they have one (a blog is not required to finish but they are fun to read):

And here are the coffeeneuring stops (big red points are 2015 and purple are from 2014):

How these maps are made.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Coffeeneuring #4 2015, an exercise in checking how I dress for cold weather cycling

It is fall and it is getting colder, if only in fits and starts.  I had a pretty cold weekend coffeeneuring ride last weekend and it was even colder today.  According to wunderground.com, the low in Concord this morning, about the time I passed through, was around 25 degrees.  That turns out to be pretty cold when you are riding a bike.  I was prepared for it, as much as I could given what I had on hand.  I ended up riding 43 miles, starting at about 5:15 AM, and rode through Lexington, Bedford, Concord, Acton, and Lincoln.  It was a beautiful morning, including about an hour or so of riding in the dark.  I was well lit and had a lot of reflective material on me and felt pretty safe.  And I wasn't alone out there.  I saw 5 or 6 cyclists about to get started at the Concord rotary (the one near the Colonial Inn in Concord center) and not long after saw a couple of women riding into Concord center on Lowell Road.  But that's all of the cyclists I saw before sunrise.  I also saw a few people running. And I saw a cat near Arlington Great Meadows on the bike path looking feral, two bunnies and one coyote.  The coyote was about to cross the bike path then it saw me and changed its mind and headed back into someone's yard in Lexington.

I was pretty well dressed for the weather but I had two weak points - my arms above my elbows and my feet.  I think I could deal with my arms getting cold and they really only got cold on fast descents, which isn't all that much when riding in the dark.  My feet were another matter.  By the time I was in Acton center, heading south to Taylor Road and a Route 2 crossing, I was actively working my toes around to get them warmed up.  It was probably 25 degrees about then.  I was wearing a heavy pair of wool socks, my cycling shoes, and neoprene overshoes, the kind with the bottom mostly cut out to accommodate walking and hardware for clipping into pedals.  In retrospect, I could probably do fine with this set up if I got some insulated insoles and, maybe, chemical heaters.  With both, I'd bet that I could ride into the teens for a decent distance.  I'm in the market for a warmer glove and that would be necessary at that temperature.  I'm also in the market for fleece lined tights, thanks to Matt Roy's advice.  My light tights did well enough today but I would appreciated something warmer at cooler temperatures than today.

Anyway, to get back to coffeeneuring, my feet were getting cold and I thought that getting off my bike sooner than later was a good idea.  My route was planned to stay closer to town and on familiar roads.  This was because I had a deadline for getting back home and also for safety, considering the cooler temperature and the lack of light at the started of the ride.  I also included three possible stops for coffee: Nashoba Bakery in West Concord, Haute Coffee in Concord, and Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington.  Given my cold feet, I opted for Nashoba, which was the first one I would pass, and rolled in not long after then opened, though I wasn't the first person there.  Comfort food was pretty desirable and they had what I needed.  I also order a latte.  The food was great, the coffee was hot, and the room was warm enough.  I was very happy to be inside long enough (and it was a quick breakfast) to warm up and for the sun to warm the atmosphere a few degrees.  And that was enough to make me comfortable for the rest of the ride home.

So do I recommend Nashoba?  The food is fine.  If I had more time and was hungrier, I would have tried a pastry, which I enjoyed in the past.  The coffee was OK, but not great.  The room is comfortable and bike parking is ample in back (there is no parking in front of the shop.  I parked my bike within sight of the window and didn't bother locking it.

Comfort food is sometimes necessary, especially when you have cold feet and the rest of you isn't exactly overheating when you are wearing everything you have with you.

I made a quick stop at the Gropius House. My wife tells me that a tour is worth your while but it was closed when I went past.  Note the clever use of my helmet as a kickstand, copyright @coffeeneur.

It's looking like late October on Flint Pond in Lincoln, MA.  Peak leaf peeping season has passed, which is expected about now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Spin Arts Cyclocross bike in the wild

On my way into work today, I ran into Shauna, riding her Spin Arts cyclocross bike.  I have never heard of Spin Arts before.  When I saw the head tube with an unusual badge, I asked her if I could take a look at her bike.  She was happy to show it off.  She used to race and this was once her racing bike.  Now it's her commuter.

After checking out her bike we enjoyed a rainy commute into Somerville together.  We both manged to remember rain gear so the commute wasn't all that bad.  But my gloves didn't dry by the time I left for home, which tells me I need a better drying arrangement at work.  By the way, the pictures were taken when the rain was still very light.  I wouldn't have asked to check out her bike if I ran into her 20 minutes later.  By then I just wanted to get out of the rain.

The bike:

The unusual head badge that caught my eye.

Side view of the bike.  It has nice lines but certainly is a little retro looking, with curved steel forks and lugs.

Lugs everywhere.

Bottom bracket, also lugged.

Beautiful details in the head tube and and fork crown.

As Tom Stevens says on his web page, each bike he builds is durable.  I'd say this one has stood the test of time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Coffeeneuring map: duplicates and making the map your own

Apparently there are only so many coffee shops - people are visiting the same shops that others have been to on this year's coffeeneuring challenge or last year's, when we started this map.  And this is a challenge for the those adding their coffeeneuring stops to the map.  I have an interim measure to deal with  this, although not gracefully.  There is now a new column in the data: Older visits.  For now, if you see that the shop that you want to add is already in the map, you can do two things, depending on the year the shop was last visited:

1) If the information is from the current year, put your name/twitter feed/blogpots into the More Coffeeneurs 1 2 3 columns.  If you run out of columns, let me know.  Add anything you want to the notes but write that a second coffeeneur is adding the notes.

2) If the information is older, feel free to add to the notes before the older notes and put your name/twitter feed/blogpots into the More Coffeeneurs 1 column (or 2 if 1 is filled in or 3 if two is filled in).  If you run out of columns, let me know.

These extra columns aren't showing up on the map now but I'll fix that this evening.

Making the map your own

Having a group map is great but you might want to include a map of your stops on your blog.  You can do this easily.  First, when looking at the map view, use the filter to find only your entries.  If you did this with single entry, like I did last year (with "https://twitter.com/NEBicyclist"), you can easily find your data by clicking on Filter, then Coffeeneur and then clicking on the checkbox for you name.  You might search for your name, as I did in the example below.

Or you might have added your stops with a blog post for each entry, which I am doing this year.  In this case, you need to scroll down through the list and check off each of your entries.  Remember that this list is alphabetic and where how you entered a link matters.  For instance, some of the twitter links are http:twitter.com and others are https:/twitter.com.  Therefore all of the https links are after all of the http links

Once you have your stops selected, you can publish you maps.  Publish is under the Tools menu.  You will get two options: a link like this one for my map or HTML so you can embed your map using HTML as I have done here:

The form that you pull the link and HTML looks like this:

You may have to mess with how the map is centered as long as  your stops are in the center of the map but it is mostly a trial and error process.

It should be put before the last DIV in the HTML in Blog

Once you have your map all set, go back to the original fusion  table and delete your filter.  The link and embedded code still have the filters.

Give it a try and ask questions via comments here or send me email.

And also feel free to leave comments on how you thinks it's best to deal with duplicate coffeeneuring stops.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Coffeeneuring #2 2015 or a 3 state multi modal tour

In interview form:

1) Where do you live? Arlington, MA, just west of Boston.

2) How did you decide to coffeeneur? This is my third year and I've held the title of the Northeast Regional Office (NRO) for that time, based on my mapping assistance to the cause.  The mapping is easy and fun so it's not a problem for me. How could I not participate being the NRO,  And it's fun to do.

3) What bike are you using as your coffeeneuring bike? Tell us a little about it and what makes it a good coffeeneuring bike? I used my 2007 IF Club Racer.  It's for long, fast rides (both long and fast are relative to me and maybe not you).  And it has about 6 liters of carrying capacity, which makes it ideal for longer rides where I might shed or need more clothes, carry some food, and carry a u-lock (if I can't bring my bike inside a coffee shop).  I used that capacity fully on this trip.  The bike has ample generator and usb-charged lighting capacity so I ran lights on for safety.

4) Where did you choose to coffeeneur for this coffeeneuring trip? I chose Caffe Kilim, which I found in obscure way.  There was a post by a local cyclocross rider that had a picture of a racer from somewhere else who had a picture of coastal NH and someone commented, saying that she or he (I can't remember) should stop at that shop when near Portsmouth.  Got that?  When I knew I might be riding through Portsmouth, I pulled the shop out of my memory banks and figured out that it wasn't out of the way and decided to try it.  And there was a decent restaurant next door.  How could I lose?

5) How was the shop, was it worth the trip?  Well, the trip was worth it for other reasons, which I'll get into later but yes, they had decent coffee and a nice, hippy-ish atmosphere.  There were a number of other people in the shop, one buying coffee beans so I knew it wasn't going to be bad.  There was a Turkish theme to the cafe, which wasn't surprising since one of the founders is from Istanbul.  Having been in Instanbul for a couple of weeks, it was familiar place to enjoy a shot of espresso.  But it was definitely an American cafe.  Bike parking was limited but there was a street sign right out front and I locked my bike in sight of where I sat and in view from the restaurant next door.

Official Coffeeneuring photograph.

I wasn't all that hungry (5 hours after breakfast) but I knew that I need substantial food before I made it to my final destination, Ogunquit, ME, so I stopped at The Kitchen.  The Kitchen was an even more appealing place to sit and enjoy a few moments off of the bike. I ordered a sandwich to go and promised to return with my family one day.  I had room in my seat bag for the sandwich and rode off to find the recently renovated Memorial Bridge and ride the last 17 miles (according my GPS) and find a place to eat lunch.

6) What other types of riding do you do besides coffeeneuring? I love taking my IF out for road rides.  I also commute on my Surly Cross Check and take that on trail and dirt road rides when I have the chance.

7) What else did I forget to ask you? Do you have anything you want to share? Sometimes (maybe almost always) the journey is as much fun as the destination.  This ride was a somewhat hastily organized trip to join my family for a large family gathering at the Cliff House in Ogunquit.  At first my wife said that it was fine to ride then she said that she wanted a family trip and it was better for me to ride early and then be bike-less on the trip.  Then, on the evening before the trip, she told me that her sister wanted to go with her since my brother-in-law was working and needed to come up later in the day.  In short, me riding up to Ogunquit was fine with my wife.

I knew I couldn't do the whole ride from home before dinner so I planned on catching the 9:30 AM Newburyport commuter train from North Station.  I left my house about 8:45 and rode to Alewife and picked up a ticket got on a mostly empty Red Line train.

On the Red Line train.  There train was mostly empty and the space wasn't otherwise needed on that trip.

I bought my commuter rail ticket to Newburyport while on the Red Line train and then talked to a very nice guy heading to an Ingress event while on the train.  We both got out at Charles/MGH and I rode the bike path to North Station.  The timing wasn't all that tight - I had 10 minutes to spare.   Bikes are allowed on the commuter rail on weekends but the space is right in front of handicap seating, which wasn't needed on this trip.  There were at least a dozen cyclists on the train and the bikes spilled out of the designated area to another car, which was fine with the conductor.  I sat next to Jake M., who was a cool guy.  He was riding a custom built Surly Cross Check and was heading to a party on the North Shore and then riding back to Boston the next day.  He is also is putting together a Moots light weight touring bike for a two month tour in Central Europe this fall and a planned trip from Vancouver to Alaska next year.  He was great company and an inspiration.

Getting on the commuter rail.  I think I rode about 4 miles between my house and the Red Line and between the Red Line station and the commuter rail station.

On the train.  I texted this picture to my wife to let her know I made the train.  She was surprised that the conductors still wear these traditional uniforms.
Once at the Newburyport station, I followed a Meetup bike trip into Newburyport and over the Merrimac and then headed north.

I've never been on the coast here so I didn't know what to expect.  The first stretch from Salisbury, MA to Seabrook, NH was wind swept and less than pleasing, even with the ocean on one side of the highway.  It had that desolate look of a vacation area when not in season with too much capacity for how many people were there at the time.  The homes were a far cry from Chatham or other well to do Cape Cod towns, and not always in good repair.

Homes with a view - Route 1A and the ocean on one side and a nuclear power plant on the other.

Hampton was in much better shape than Salisbury and Seabrook but still desolate and mostly empty on a cool, breezy October day.

The scenery changed in Hampton, NH, especially north of town.  The road hugged the coast here and everything looked more prosperous than further south.  I saw many people walking on the side of road, with ample space for them away from traffic.  Portsmouth was even more appealing - we'd move there in a minute if we could find work nearby.  I found the coffee shop and restaurant with no problem, enjoyed the brief stop and found my way into Maine.  Before getting to Maine, I watched the vertical lift descending on the Memorial Bridge.  It was an impressive site.  I took a series of pictures and will add the link here in the near future.  The coast hugging road ended so my hope of finding a rock to sit on and enjoy the view and the sandwich I bought in Portsmouth didn't materialize.  Instead I found a nice spot near the Barrell Mill Pond Dam and got out of the sun.

The bridge over the outflow from the Barrell Mill Pond.  The water was running fast!

The remaining miles where easy with some hills and the road again was closer to the coast.  A guy who was staying locally paced me to the hotel.  I found my way to my wife and kids and immediately drank a glass of cold water and enjoyed a hot tub with the boys.  I'm not sure if a hot tub was a good idea immediately after a long ride but it felt good and my muscles were fine the next day.  I later stepped outside to watch the boys swim in the pool.  The water was warm but swimming with temps in the low fifties wasn't fun.

The hotel wasn't exactly my style but the company was great and the rocks were a lot of fun to climb on.

Awaiting sunrise from the rocks.  We had coffee for my wife and me and hot chocolate for the boys.
The route from Newburyport to Cliff House in Ogunquit.

Miles for the ride: about 50, miles for the month: about 200, miles for the year: almost 3,300.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Touring blues

I've been following NutmegCountry on his Instagram feed for a while now and really enjoy his photographs.  I recently discovered his blog, which doesn't have all that many posts, unfortunately.  His recent posts are documenting his cross country tour.  One of those posts struck a chord with me.

This post.  It documents his struggles with touring and it seemed familiar to me.  As he said in the post, "i'm sure plenty of distance tourists have run into this but i've never heard anyone ever talk about it. it's probably just like anything else, in retrospect you forget much of the bad and candy-coat everything."  Well, that strikes a nerve, deep down somewhere in my memory.  I have these thoughts of times on long tours, by myself, when the rain came early and cold, or the hills were relentless and I didn't have enough food to stop for the night, or the cars and logging trucks were running me off the road or the wind just made traveling nearly impossible and I needed to get to a place to sleep or eat.  And at those times I, too, wished I were somewhere else.

I think he's got it right, that doing something every day, all day for as much time as you would spend on a full time job, and more, makes everything, even cycling, difficult, for a time.  I never got home wishing I didn't take that tour but I definitely had some days that made me wonder.  Maybe I did what he did and found some refuge and rested and found energy to make myself happy about what I was doing.

I'm not sure when I might get to spend at least a couple of weeks by myself on bike.  Maybe since I'm older I'm also wiser and I'll avoid getting into a rut and getting too tired or wet and cold or caught on the wrong roads.  Probably not.  I'll just make the mistakes and figure out how to sort it out yet again.

But read the blog, it's totally worth following: www.pedalpedal.net.  And he is back on track after a rest in Lincoln, NE.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Coffeeneuring #1 2015 or how much of this ride can I get off the road and still get there

Coffeeneuring season has started and I got out yesterday for #1 and could have done #2 today, but I was in too big a hurry.


Yesterday's plans evolved a lot.  We had planned on going to the Topsfield Fair, parking nearby and riding a mile on the Topsfield Linear Common to the fair.  We invited my sister-in-law and her daughters but the cool weather turned them off so they ended up coming over for a play date with the cousins.  I was given a hall pass so left before everyone came and headed over to Tamper, in Medford on Boston Ave.  I've stopped there for coffee and pastries on my way to work once but never sat down there.  I chose a route that looked like a big S, clearly not taking the most direct way.  But I managed to use the Minuteman Bike Path and the Alewife Greenway and spent most of the ride off road.
The Greenway north of Broadway.  The structure holding up this bridge/ramp down to the path looks pretty light to me.
Boston Ave in Medford is under construction, which isn't  a bad thing since this was pothole heaven before they ground down the asphalt.
Tamper is a nice place.  I was there around 3 PM and it wasn't empty but was quiet.  The cookies were tasty and the latte was worth the ride.  I enjoyed a few minutes of quiet before heading home to chaos.  While there were some bike themed ornaments (a tab was a chain ring - yes, they serve beer, Rapscallion, once one of my favorite beers, back when the bottled Blessing), there wasn't much in the way of bike infrastructure helping me out.  But that's true of the entire area around the Boston Ave/Winthrop intersection.  And in fairness to Tamper, there isn't space to fit a bike rack on the sidewalk, and Medford hasn't experimented with bike corrals, something you see in Somerville, at least in a couple of places.

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

I went out of my way on my return trip, prompting my wife to say, "Belmont isn't on the way back from Medford."  And it isn't but after heading back through Davis Square, I didn't take the Minuteman and instead took the Fitchburg Cutoff into Belmont.  From there I found my way to Snake Hill Road and eventually the Western Greenway.  I managed a wrong turn on a trail but found familiar sites and eventually made it back to Arlington and home.

Along the Fitchburg Cutoff. 

My wrong turn brought me here, at the edge of the cemetery.  I followed this trail out to a road I recognized and found my way back into my town.
All in all, it was a great coffeeneuring trip with great coffee and nice roads.  It was a 12 mile ride with 7 of those miles on bike paths or dirt trails.


I went out for an early ride on Sunday, getting out of the house shortly after 5 AM, about 1.5 hours before sunrise.  The goal was to get in a decent road ride and, if I was fast enough,  to stop at Ride Studio Cafe for a quick espresso.  That sort of meets the coffeeneuring criteria, although I like the concept of making a trip to a coffee shop the goal.

Riding that early means riding with lights.  I have ample lighting and used it to ensure my safety.  I did take the Minuteman out to Bedford.  Sometimes the trail seems less safe if I ride it in the evening but early morning, especially on a cool morning, it seems just empty. (And it was cool, 42 degrees in Bedford, according to wunderground.com.)

Looking towards sunrise, a bit too early.
Lighting my way.  This is on the west end of the bridge over 128.  The message and new pavement is from recent work.  It seems temporary - some of the new surfaces are quite bumpy.
Maple Street in Carlisle, looking south.  I still had my lights on but I could see well enough without lights, at least for walking.  I kept my lights on for safety.
I made it to Lexington not long after 8 AM but I promised my wife that I would be back by 8 so I didn't consider stopping at the studio.  I did enjoy a moka pot outside as I joined my wife in a landscape project, splitting up a number of hostas and other plants.

Mile for the ride: 43, miles for the year: 3,160.