Cambridge Constabulary, Serving & Protecting

One of my commuting pet peeves is the habit of taxis in Harvard Square that park in the new, improved, and oh-so-useful bike lanes that were recently put down as part of the whole “let’s tear up the Square and screw up traffic for a year” urban renewal project.  Love the bike lanes, hate the fact that they’re usually blocked by cabs parked in front of the Coop & BofA.  (This will no doubt be a topic for a future rant.) So imagine my delight this morning when I ride around the corner on Mass Ave headed down from the Common and see one of Cambridge’s finest, in full para-military regalia, standing astride the bike lane on the corner of Church Street.  He was staring up the street, looking for … ?  What?  As far as I could tell the only function he was serving was to force cyclists into the flow of traffic (which I’m all for, but it does kind of render the whole concept of a bike lane superfluous).  And he did a good job of forcing you into traffic; he didn’t budge an inch as cyclists bore down on him.  The Man would not be moved.   I certainly hope he found what he was looking for.   P.S. I really need to get a camera I can bring along and take quick pics. 

I Feel Like I’m Living on the Set of Bladerunner

Remember how it was always raining in Bladerunner?  (What was it about those Japanese-owned corporations that made it precipitate so much?)  That’s what I’m feeling like.  Me, and most of the people who live in eastern Massachusetts.  Folks, I’ve got meteorologists in the family, and I’m here to tell you that my limited knowledge of climatology and weather maps indicates that we’re in this weather pattern for the long haul.  I don’t think we’re going to be able to do any long range ride planning this summer.  I feel like I should suck it up and just ride, but that’s tough in the morning.  Something about getting into work looking like I just finished a cyclo-cross competition doesn’t do much for the professional self-esteem.  I don’t mind riding in the rain on the way home; there’s s shower and clean clothes waiting for me there.  But the drowned rat look just doesn’t fly well with co-workers.

There… Having called this summer as a washed-out loser of a season, I’ve put the ju-ju on it and assured us a string of clear (with a scattering of puffy cumulus) and 80 degree days.  Post your thanks in the comments.

I actually have been managing to ride some; not enough, but some.  The new commuter is still loud, but I’m getting used to the noise.  It definitely needs a smaller cassette, and a longer stem.  That’s coming this weekend.  But I still feel slightly beat-up after I ride it.  There is a carbon fork in my future.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it’s coming.  And can someone please explain to me why you consistently see 2 or 3 buses on the same route, one in front of the other, on Massachusetts Avenue?  Who’s in charge of scheduling the #77 bus?  Do you think it might make some sense to space them out a little bit more, so you don’t get them with a 15 second interval between them?

OK, rant over.  Back to rationality.

The New Normal

I’m struck this week by the differences in the way I approach a new bike versus a new car.  A new (i.e. new to me) car is something I enjoy, but it arrives in my life as a whole, immutable entity.  I pay my money, take the keys (and visit the Registry), and drive off.  After a week I begin to notice the little things that start to bug me — the knob that’s in the wrong spot, the huge blind spot in the right-rear, the way the transmission lags when I punch it.  But I almost invariably come to terms with them and drive on.  If they continue to bug me I might mention it to the mechanic the next time I take it in for a service interval.  But change something myself?  Ain’t goin’ happen’.

Compare that with what I do with a new bike — like the one I’m riding this week.  Day 1, minute 1, before I even ride it for the first time, I raise the seat.  I like a lot of leg extension, and the shops never set the seat high enough for my tastes.  There follows days, weeks even, of tweaks after every single ride.  Adjust the angle of the handlebar.  Play with the saddle position, moving it back to begin with, and then bringing it forward bit by bit.  No barrel adjustment on a cable is safe.  Where do I like the shifters & brakes best?  Should I trade out the saddle for the one I had on the other bike?  Yeah, but that means another week of tweaking the hight/position/angle.  Small price to pay; let’s do it.

Eventually everything settles in, and I can begin to just simply enjoy the ride.  But until then I feel like a mass of nerve endings, or a piece of space junk that’s all wired up for telemetry.  Everything is being fed into the central cortex, where it’s evaluated in the context of all the other sensations and decisions are made — seat needs to be moved forward, but that means you’ll have to tweak the handlebar, and figure out if that means you should raise the seat.  I need a mission control with NASA engineers just to ride the bike path.

One of the data elements I’m working with is speed.  Actually, the speed of the new bike as compared with other bikes.  The Fiorelli, and my other bike, are both roadies.  Drop bars and a flat back. Hitting 23mph headed down the bike path in the morning wasn’t unheard of.  That was then — this is now.

The new normal is a conservative, practical “city” bike, with (as the marketing brochures probably put it) “a comfortable upright position that allows great visibility,” fatter tires than I’ve run in years, and those crazy V brakes that look like some kind of suspension bridge over your tires.  Not to mention a cassette on the back that has the diameter of a dinner plate.  (Can you really put 42 teeth on a cog?)  The past two days I feel like I’m working to get it down the hill, and I’m topping out at 18.   Plus (and yes, this is a knock at aluminum frames), it’s loud.  It makes all these pinging noises when I hit a bump.  Nothing like that nice sedate feel you get from steel.  You got bumped, but it was a gentlemanly, quiet sort-of nudge.  With the aluminum frame it’s like a free safety busting through the line and teeing off on you.  I’m going to need some thicker gloves.

All this brings to mind the question of the day: Slow Bike Movement; is the emphasis on the SLOW or on the BIKE? Are people “rediscovering” the joy of pedaling slowly because they honestly decided to just go slow, or did they find themselves on these practical, harsh framed, over-geared city bikes, and just couldn’t go any faster?  Did they make a conscious decision to amble, or are they making lemonade out of lemons?  If I ever actually left early to get somewhere I’d probably be in a position to make that decision.  But until I actually get out of the house before 8AM you’ll see me hauling ass, trying to make my draft horse of a bike into Seabiscuit.  Or maybe just a Trek Madrone.

A Moment of Oxygen Deprivation, or Just Plain Obliviousness?

Questions of the day:  Why did the gent on the classic celeste green Bianchi take such an interest in the two people who passed him going the other way on the bike path under the BU bridge yesterday afternoon?  Why was it so important for him to turn his head and stare after them as he rode, inadvertently forcing the on-coming rider to almost veer onto Storrow Drive?  Did he even notice that almost-disaster?  What caused him to feel the necessity to stop and turn around to catch those now-long-gone riders?  And lastly, was he upset when I screamed at him because his method of turning around was to wait until I was about 10 yards from him and then pivot 90 degrees so that his bike was suddenly a finely crafted, Italian made road block? Post Script: the same guy passed me later on, just before Porter Square on Massachusetts Avenue.  He seemed as disdainful of red lights as he did of other bicyclists.

A Fond Farewell to a Faithfull Ride

Do you believe in omens?  I really think some things happen in your life that are nothing more than messages that need to be heeded.  Maybe they happen to us every day, but we’re just too pre-occupied or oblivious to notice them.  Maybe we don’t want to see them.  Maybe we’re just clueless.  But sometimes we’re awake and ready for the message.  Sometimes we’re looking for a message.  I choose to believe that’s what happened to me yesterday.

I hauled out the repair stand yesterday to work on my commuter/beater/Italian framed abused 2nd bike.  One of the things I wanted to do was true the rear wheel, which had very suddenly become out of whack the last day I used it to commute, many, many days ago.  After working on it for a while, and not having any success at getting it back into round-ness, I was about to bite the bullet and pay to have it trued.  That’s when I first saw the tear.  The wheel was coming apart between 2 spoke nipples.  Have you ever seen that in a wheel?  It’s very disconcerting.  You don’t expect wheels to tear — they’re made out of all those fancy alloys and carbon fiber thingys.  But what made me stand up and shudder was this was the second time I’ve seen this in a year.  The first time I’d just gone to the bike shop and bought a new wheel (“And make it bomb proof!  Lots of thick spokes!”).  Now I was looking at it again.  Someone was trying to tell me something.  I could take my chances with another not-so-bomb-proof wheel, or I could cut to the chase.

It’s sad.  The Fiorelli has been very, very good to me.  Something like 15,000 miles, many of them riding the tough streets of Boston.  4 Pan-Mass Challenges, with not a mechanical  issue in any of them.  She never complained when I made her wear Japanese components.  And I didn’t treat her as well as I should of:  A couple of semi-bad crashes; she wasn’t always (ever?) as clean as she should have been; a nice steel frame that shows way too much iron oxide.

But it’s quite simply time.  So the Fiorelli will live in the garage for a little while, until I figure out what to do with her.  I can’t see putting her out for the trashmen to have their way with her.  But I don’t know what the Italian bicyle equivalent of a Viking funeral pyre is.  Should I take her to the Dolomites, and throw her off a switchback high on a mountain side?  Or bury her at sea in the Tyrolean Sea?  Suggestions anyone?

Take A Load Off Fannie…

… and put the load right on me.  First ride in 11 days this morning, not that anyone’s counting.  And I’m here to tell you to believe all those articles you read that say you begin to lose conditioning after a week.  Either that or I managed to put on way too much weight in Ireland.  It didn’t help that I had one of those not-rare-enough rides when the wind was in my face on the way out to Concord, and — I swear — it switched and was in my face on the way back.  To make things even better, there was so much pollen in the air that at some points it looked like a dust cloud.  I didn’t figure  out what I was seeing (and breathing) until I’d hacked out a lung about half-way out to Concord.

I was able to follow up the ride with a trip to the bike store.  Why did I think I’d be able to get someone’s attention on a sunny Sunday in May?  It was a freakin’ feeding frenzy in there.  And the people who work there (place to remain nameless to protect the innocent) are all nice and knowledgeable and un-pushy.  But there’s absolutely no discernible system for getting anyone’s attention that I’ve ever  been able to determine.  It’s purely a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  So I was real happy to get a lot of input into a buying decision from a great guy who set me up on a bike for a test ride.  And I was still happy when I got back the ride, only to have to wait for 20 minutes for someone to take the bike off my hands and answer some more questions.  The guy who’d been helping me had moved on to 2 more customers, and all of a sudden I’m holding a grand worth of bicycle waiting for someone to take it off my hands.  By this time I had been marked as “taken” so no one else could/would help me — I just had to cool my heels.  It all worked out, and the sales guy was very nice about apologizing for making me wait, but it was incredibly frustrating.  It made me consider the possible benefits of going to a smaller shop.  But everytime I do that I get “help” from someone who (I think) learns more about bikes from me than I do from them.  There must be a market niche for concierge bicycle sales & support.  Something where the bike shop comes to you.  Imagine sitting on your front porch, dressed and ready for a ride, when a van pulls up with 3 different bikes for your testing pulls up to your house.

God I hope I can get (at least) 3 days of bike commuting this week.  Driving a car is just too mind-numbing — does anyone get inspired to write a blog post after driving to work?  The best I can usually come up with after locking the car door is “Wow, what a great song to start the work day with!”  There’s an opening for the great American novel if I’ve ever heard one.

Dublin Blues

As in skies.  Much like the people in Oregon used to tell (false) stories of the horrendous economic conditions, terrible weather, and lack of culture, all in a mis-guided and eventually fruitless effort to keep hordes of Californians from moving to their state, I am now convinced that the citizens of Ireland are taking a similar position to keep the number of US tourists to a manageable level.  In 5 days of visiting Dublin I was rained on once (for about 20 minutes) and managed to get a respectable sunburn while strolling on a beach.

There were a good number of bikes on the streets of Dublin, and the interesting thing is that most of the riders wore those high-vis yellow vests that construction workers all wear here in the States.  It was like watching a moving construction site.  Actually not a bad idea.  There was a good bit of bike-friendly infrastructure, with bike lanes on a lot of the main roads, and bike racks on main streets.  And the racks were full on a weekday morning, at least in the neighborhood I was staying in.   My big disappointment was that I never made it to a Dublin bike shop.  I’d have been willing to pay big bucks for some kind of local-team bike jersey, something that you’d never see among the hundreds of Pan-Mass jerseys on the road around here.

I’d love to say I’d go back to Ireland to cycle, but I don’t know if I can in good conscience.  It’s a lovely country, and the people are the friendliest anywhere.  The after-ride beer would be both nutritious AND alcoholic.  But between the incredibly narrow country roads, the Irish propensity to coax the maximum MPH out of the smallest possible engine, and the whole driving-on-the-left thing, I’m afraid I’d last about 2 hours before an ambulance would become involved, and I’d learn about emergency health care in a foreign country.

Back in this country, I’ve come home to experience the type of weather I expected to see across the pond.  Maybe back on the bike this weekend.   And another week of cycling lost.

I’m Outta Here

Just for a few days.  I have plans to investigate how European Union food labeling regulations may have affected the methods of serving Guiness draft.  And to be sure that the study is unaffected by any regional prejudices I’m going to be conducting it as close to the source of Guiness as possible.  If that means I’m in Dublin for Memorial Day, so be it.  No parades or beginning-of-summer cook-outs for me this year.  This is important, and we are (as Dr. Thompson constantly reminded us) professionals.

Of course, the true down side is I fully expect that five days in Ireland will result in me reverting to a mid-February  fitness level.  But if millions of Irishmen can do it, I’d like to think that I can too.

And You Shall Know Them by the Whites of Their Calves

It’s great to live in a town with such a large, diverse, vibrant and vital student population.  Having several hundred thousand college and university students roaming around your town has to be a major competitive advantage, and something we should appreciate and even nurture.   The students keep us young with the energy and involvement.  The faculty and staff from the educations establishment are a literally world-class civic resource, providing on-call ideas and know-how the likes of which can be found in very few other cities anywhere.  Without Harvard, MIT, BU, BC, Emmanuel, Simmons, Emerson, and the 90+ other institutions of higher ed around here we’d be nothing more than Hartford on the Charles.  So why do I keep seeing such stupid stuff from these people?

Driving by the Longwood Green Line stop on the way home from the Red Sox last night (Wakefield; 8 IP, 4 H,  1 ER — if this guy isn’t eventually mentioned with Bobby Doer, Dom Dimaggio, Jim Ed, and the rest of the demi-gods then there’s no justice in baseball) when I’m startled by something moving fast by the driver’s side window.  I literally didn’t see anything, but there had been something there.  I eventually catch up with what I’d seen/felt. He (I think it was a he) was dressed in all dark colors, riding a black bike, wearing a black helmet, with a black back-pack. It was a velo-black-hole. The only — and I mean ONLY — way you could see him was because he had his pants legs rolled up to keep from getting them caught in the chain. And those calves were white. I’m not talking Caucasian-hued flesh. I’m talking albino white. I’m talking one of the many words the Inuit have for frozen precipitation white. I’m talking the kind of white that calls out for seven dwarfs. But those calves were the only visibility this person had. I don’t even think he had a red reflector on that bike. It was really kind of spooky, just seeing those six inches of incredibly pale flesh pumping up and down, weaving through traffic and somehow coming out on the other side, to live another day.

I hope that person eventually gets a job that pays them enough that they can afford the $25 it would take to put a couple of lights on his bike. Or maybe they’ll reach a fashion cross-roads and realize that white is the new black. But he’ll probably just keep wearing the same stuff, weaving through heavy post Red Sox traffic, wondering why cars never seem to yield or get out of his way. IT’S BECAUSE THEY CAN’T SEE YOU! And for your own sake, invest in some high-quality sun screen.

Switching Gears

There seemed to be a lot fewer bikes on the road today, National Bike to Work Day, than there have been earlier this week.  Is the threat of scattered showers enough to keep the amateurs inside their internally combusted boxes?

Massachusetts Avenue this morning, just before Porter Square.  School bus puts on its flashers, stops to pick up kids, traffic on both sides of the street does the right thing and stops.  Then the driver gets out of the bus and starts a little meet ‘n greet with the parents on the sidewalk!  With the flashers still on!  I’m all for community involvement and getting to know your public servants, but I don’t think the center of Mass Ave. at 8:30 on a weekday morning is the right time and place.

And Mr Gray Hair riding the newish Surley out of Brookline Village and on across the BU bridge this afternoon… Not good form to jump ahead of people waiting for the light to change and then ride so slow that everyone backs up behind you.  And yeah, I noticed you at each of the next 4 the intersections I was stopped at, and where you followed the exact same plan.  Not to mention your little detour going the wrong way down the one way streets of Brookline.

But the day wasn’t filled with scowflaws and miscreants.  I was stopped at a light in Cambridge coming home this afternoon with a real interesting bike next to me.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was certainly something different about the ride.  It was a mountain frame, with upright bars.  But it was clean, in the design sense of the word.  Nexus internal hub, front disc brake, and no dirt at all, anywhere.  Then I noticed it — no chain.  No chain ring, no cog, no freewheel.  It looked just like your bike would look if you took the chain ring off the cranks and trashed the chain.  Nothing to mar the view of the chain stays.  (Can you call them chain stays if there’s no chain?)  I talked with the rider and he filled me in.  Shaft driven, with internal gearing.  “It probably has a lot more parasitical drag than a chain so it’s less efficient, but I get a better workout and don’t have to worry about grease on my pants legs!”

Worries about parasitical drag — this is what passes for casual riding conversation for the commute out of MIT-ville.