I hate to repeat myself, but bright lights are for safety. With a few days of riding on my new dynamo light, I now have another anecdote to share. Yesterday, while riding down Mass Ave north of Porter Square, I was about 30 feet behind and to the right of a car. As they prepared to turn and, presumably checked their mirror, I had something that rarely happens, and almost never at night and from that distance (about 45 feet behind their mirror): they stopped and let me pass. In fact, on more than one occasion on that ride did I have vehicles stop and let me turn rather than cutting me off, but this was the most memorable.

Following up on yesterday’s post, I had another close call, this time from a car running the light. In close proximity to my previous anecdote, I started to ride when the light turned green. However, a car going in the other direction had sneaked through the intersection on a dying dedicated turn phase (or something like that). Luckily, he saw me and stopped. In addition, another kind biker called my attention. (The driver then proceeded to honk at either the other biker or a crossing pedestrian.)

Finally, I thought I would add a little spice with a picture of my commuter bike from yesterday.

My commuter bike

I pack the full complement of equipment: two racks (Cetma 3-rail half rack up front for big cargo, Toba rear rack for panniers, both purchased from Hub Bicycle Company), Planet bike Cascade fenders, dynamo hub and Blaze 1-watt, Kryptonite lock bracket, water bottle holder, and even a cycle computer (I mount it under my seat so I don't check it compulsively). With this set up, including lock, it weighs in at 40 lbs. Camera phone apparently only makes blurry pictures...


Temperature: 41, but feels like 50 🙂

Road condition: Basically dry

Clothing: Rain shell jacket, timberland shoes, cotton Pearl Izumi gloves, Timberland shoes. It’s so lovely outside today! I meant to wear the bike shoes for some variety, but forgot.

Comfort: Lighter clothing and still cool weather means you can ride harder, but managed to stay mostly cool.

Today was probably the closest I’ve come in a long time, maybe ever, to getting hit in traffic. I chose to go through a red light on Cambridge Street near Government Center, and a few factors made this a very bad decision. Luckily, none of them conspired to cause me injury. First, I ran the light in Boston: there is no delayed green, so almost as soon as I was in the intersection, another direction had the signal. Second, I did it as a truck was turning: the traffic on the far side of the intersection had no way of seeing me (not that one thinks when the green light comes on). It just so happened that there were pedestrians in the crosswalk, which kept the traffic from proceeding against me.

Really in the “bikers running red lights” discussion, there are two kinds of red light running. The first is doing it like a car: entering the intersection immediately after the light changes. The second is treating it as a stop sign. The former is nearly universally derided, whereas the latter is hotly debated. (As regular readers may know, I am generally against it.) I won’t say more except that drivers tend to view all red light running as the former, whereas bikers make the distinction (as a pedestrian would with regard to jay-walking).


Temperature: 31 degrees

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter jacket, Timberland shoes, light EVO gloves.

Comfort: Perfect! The air was colder than I expected, but well suited to my outfit. I rode the commuter bike (Crosscheck), today with both racks attached. My lesson is: if you ride a challenging bike (e.g. fixed gear), every bike feels easy after that (e.g. geared but 40 lbs bike).

Dooring; Cool and Wet

February 17th, 2012

Yesterday, I went to the Boston Cyclists Union meetup around the Climate Ride. It was lovely to meet or reacquaint myself with all those folks. In fact, you can sponsor one of the three (four?) riders from the BCU and the organization will get that donation! (or an extra donation? Anyone more knowledgeable care to clarify?)

One of the people I met says he has been doored five times; four times in the last year. He quoted the old biking proverb (in various forms), that there are two kinds of bikers: those who have been doored, and those who will be. Aside the obvious response, “you need to ride farther from the cars,” I offer up lifelong cyclists who have never been in any kind of crash (I know a few). It truly is not necessary for drivers or bikers who are operating defensively to get into crashes. Granted, it is difficult to practice that kind of safe riding in a very hostile environment, but I counter that Boston, even with its many bike-lane parkers, lack of driver signalling and heavy traffic, is not such an place.


Temperature: 44

Road condition: Wet (but not raining)

Clothing: Heavy winter coat,  timberland shoes, no rain pants

Comfort: Warm! I zipped into work today, and definitely ended up too warm despite opening my coat. I didn’t realize how high the temperature was when I started riding, or I would have gone with a lighter coat.

I’ll also note that last night I rode home in the light rain. The fenders and waterproof clothing (no rain pants, though) were sufficient for the 15 minute trip. The thighs on my pants were definitely wet, but it would probably have been rather unpleasant were I not going home and changing.

Whoa, Bikers! Cold and Dry

February 8th, 2012

I’m going to switch up the post order, putting weather and such at the end now. It’s been pretty repetitive, so I’ll put the variety up front.

Despite the misleading forecast for rain yesterday, the accurate forecast for slightly warmer weather seems to have gotten bikers out in droves. My operating theory is that they all stayed home Monday reflecting on the meaning of life (and what the Patriots loss means for them) and on Tuesday resolved to leave a better world for their children (and therefore use up their once-a-year bike ride to work). It was, however, a parade of terribly maintained bikes. My classic favorites were out in droves: rusted and gritted up chains, and deflated tires. Which brings us to my “enjoy biking” hint of the day (a two-fer!):

If your knees (as opposed to thighs or calves) hurt from pedaling, your chain needs maintenance. If the bike is painfully unresponsive to your pedaling, your tires need inflation.

Weather and clothing

The weather this morning was bracing, despite being a mild 24 degrees. My face was cold, but happily warmed up with riding and collar adjustments.

Temperature: 24 degrees

Road: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter jacket, wool gloves, Timberland shoes, messenger bag

Comfort: My face and legs took a little while to warm up. It was definitely on the edge of needing additional covering in those places.

Today was another one like the rest: 43 degrees, sunny, dry. Now that I’m at work without my rain pants, I see the weather says “rain” today. It seems like it may stop by the ride home, but that trip may be messy nonetheless. I took it slow because, well, that’s how I felt.

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, wool gloves, Timberland shoes, messenger bag.

There’s an interesting phenomenon after championship games, such as we had yesterday: there’s much less traffic on the road. You may recall yesterday I observed light traffic, but attributed it to an earlier commute time; the trip home was also quite light. On the other hand, the drivers last night were just plain awful. At Charles Circle (by the MGH T Stop), a biker in front of me got yelled at by illegal cross traffic. I had the satisfaction of yelling at him (the driver). Plenty of dangerous cutting off to urgently park in the bike lane was observed. For what it’s worth, back at my usual (tardy) commute time, today had lighter traffic as well.

The more I blog, the more I wish I had a camera on my bike so I could liven up this site. However, I’m also very lazy, and probably wouldn’t use it…

Wet and Cool; Traffic Laws

January 26th, 2012

There was a dusting of snow last night, so I begrudgingly went back to the commuter bike today. Temperature was 33 degrees, so a good temperature for my setup.

Clothing: Rain pants, waterproof shoes, heavy winter coat, wool gloves.

For some reason, whether to obey traffic laws on the bike is a contentious topic. I’ve found that moral questions aside, there’s little reason not to do so: you get to your destination at the same speed and without stress by stopping at lights.*

However, I think the reason many people do not wait for lights is simply a matter of habit and culture, and they justify these irrational behaviors with arguments about safety and convenience (which may have some validity in suburban conditions, but not in urban ones). On my route to work, I often take Hampshire Street in Cambridge to Broadway, make a left, and continue to the Longfellow Bridge. At that left turn, there is a phase that, in the morning, generally causes one to wait with no cars passing through the intersection for about twenty seconds. On some days, there will be cyclists piled ten deep waiting patiently for their signal, on others everyone will burn through that left turn with not a soul waiting. I will stop to wait, and cyclists pile up behind me (there is generally still space to go around me and go through the light, yet they choose to do so).

This experiment indicates to me that most bikers follow the lead of the person in front of them. I know that when I first started riding for transportation a few years ago in New York, I rode like the deliverymen and messengers I had watched all my life: cutting into intersections between speeding cars, and weaving between trucks and cars and riding in their blind spots. (That was a really stupid time.) I did get scared, and started researching safe riding behavior, and learned about taking the lane, waiting for lights, avoiding the door zone, and I changed my behavior

The point is that because there is no real cyclist education, observation of others is how people learn to ride in traffic. When there are more people intentionally misbehaving (and that’s what it is), there is a multiplier effect as others haplessly imitate them.

You don’t have to agree with me from reading this: go and watch the traffic patterns and see whether I’m right.

* I’m not going to pretend to be perfect here. At an empty intersection which I’m familiar with, I will go if I think it’s safe and it will save me time.

Warmer and Slush; Take the Lane

January 23rd, 2012

Although we got a few inches of snow this weekend, the conditions this morning were pure winter slush. Mediocre plowing (the bike lanes are to guide plows to drop their snow, right?) was the word of the day, however warmer temperatures (mid 30s) also made for a very comfortable ride. It’s supposed to be in the 40s mid day today! Still no love for my studded tires.

Clothing: Sweater, rain pants, rain shell, waterproof shoes. I can’t find my normal gloves, so I picked up some nice cushy ski gloves. My hands have never felt so loved.

Today I chose to ride the Craigie Bridge, also known as the Science Bridge, into work. This is the more trafficked route of my two (Longfellow being the more local), and less protected. Cambridge Street in Cambridge is lovely until you reach McGrath Highway. Then the road goes from one lane each way with bike lanes into four lanes in in my direction, with turns, and no bike markings. In the bridge section, there are three lanes with one marked with Sharrows (those “bike lanes in the middle of the road”). This leg on McGrath is mercifully short, but quite intimidating, even as an experienced rider.

The light timings are such that once I make the turn onto McGrath, I always get stopped at the light where the road crosses Land Boulevard (which then turns into Memorial Drive, and also goes into Charlestown over the canal and train tracks, and under I-93). At this light, there’s always a drag race with a driver who is waiting in the rightmost lane – which narrows to 9 feet after the light. Normally I either hug the edge through the intersection and then edge in (ill advised, but it reduces the incentive to squeeze past me), or simply take the lane at the light (safer, but nerve wracking). Today, I had the pleasure of a driver trying to essentially squeeze past me in the 9-foot lane, which meant very close passing distance.

The moral of the story is that you have to be an assertive rider. The comedy of this particular stretch of road is that a biker taking the entire right lane has no impact on car speeds or volumes; by the time I reach the end of the bridge, I am at the back of the pack, and everyone is sitting waiting at the light (I then filter to the front and get to laugh). The upshot is that as a defensive rider taking the lane, you are not inconveniencing anyone, whatsoever. You are also riding much more safely by doing so.