Flat Fixing; Cool and Wet

March 29th, 2012

Today I had the now unusual occasion to ride my bike into Boston. At the foot of the Longfellow Bridge, I met another commuter who was walking her bike. I stopped, noticing the flat tire on her bike. I offered assistance, in fact giving a step-by-step explanation of the flat fix process. She was grateful, and we both went on with our days. I’m going to start carrying a patch kit to expedite (?) the process – I wonder how many people get flat tires on the popular routes into Boston on a given day. It might be fun to ride back and forth over the Longfellow for an hour in the morning and in the evening to find out. I noticed the debris and sand was noticeably swept into the shoulder (bike lane) today, so that might have spiked the number of flats.

If you’re concerned about flats, you should pack a flat fix kit, or a good lock and a T pass. For the former, you’ll want a tire levers and a pump, as well as either a spare tube (that fits your wheel!) and the tools to remove your wheel, or a patch kit. For a pump, I’ve been using the Road Morph, which is awesome.


This week the weather has been more like it was in the winter: lows in the 20s, highs in the 40s and sometimes 50s. A spring jacket is definitely too little: one needs gloves and at least a few layers. There’s been sporadic rain and water on the road. There’s also more than enough sand and dirt to go around. If you understand the benefits of fenders, now is the time for it.

BUI; Cool and Dry

March 16th, 2012

Yesterday, I went for farewell drinks with my coworkers. Some were very concerned about my transportation home after a few drinks. In the end, I had fewer than one drink per hour (beer is so heavy!), and I had an uneventful ride home. However, it made me think about biking under the influence.

Now and again, I see references to how dangerous this is as an activity, but anecdotally, it’s not really taken as seriously as DUI. In fact, the parallels between the two are numerous, mostly because biking for transportation is so similar to driving for transportation. What one loses in the dangers of high speed in a car, one also loses in the protection of an enclosed vehicle. The exception is that a drunk biker is a much smaller threat than a drunk driver.

The police unsurprisingly don’t take BUI seriously. I have a friend who tells of riding his bike while visibly intoxicated: an officer pulled up behind him and announced “Sir, walk your bike or I will take it away.” While humorous, can you imagine a policeman treating drunk driving so cavalierly? (Perhaps you can, I don’t know of any DUI perpetrators personally.)

What are your thoughts on BUI? How do you prepare for an evening with drinks? I know I’d always be the designated biker if I could transport people home from the bar in a bakfiets.

Bakfiets passengers

I'd always want to be the designated biker if I had a bakfiets to carry people home in.


Temperature: 38

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Same as the rest of the week: light spring jacket, EVO Drone Gloves, loafers

Comfort: Decidedly underdressed. Some spirited riding kept me from shivering, however it seems willpower alone may not make mid-March into the spring season. I’ll have to wait until next week for that. It is very interesting, though, how ensuring you’re warm before going outside can make such a difference in comfort. My ride last night felt much warmer, even though the conditions were similar and my outfit was the same.

Maps; Cold, Windy, and Wet

March 1st, 2012

A few days ago while driving with my fiancee on Putnam Ave in Cambridge, she remarked on the epiphanies one has when first discovering a new place. “This Putnam Ave (at the intersection of Mass Ave and Mount Auburn) is the same as that Putnam Ave (in Cambridgeport).” Having those Aha! moments is so much fun; I imagine what fun it would be to sit down and draw your “world map” every week after moving to a new place. I recall in my first months living in Harvard Square running to Inman Square (exotic!) or biking over the Somerville line on Beacon Street and feeling as though was on the verge of falling off the end of the world. (My bike broke right in front of Johnny’s Foodmaster and I had to walk home.) Now, of course, I have to bike 30 minutes in some direction to find a map connection not yet made.

The other map discovery is by route following. I’m old fashioned and own a couple of atlases of Massachusetts that I have used to plan (but rarely ride) bike tours in Central Massachusetts. It is very challenging to put together a coherent route between two points which is suitable for biking and also direct enough, especially because one never knows the road conditions in a foreign place. The challenge is similar for using a mapping tool such as Google’s: while they suggest bike routes, I generally find them painfully indirect (go over the Longfellow Bridge to get to Back Bay Station?) or overly emphasizing “bike routes” which are usually just, um, streets. Over time, of course, you gather others’ route suggestions and combine them with your preferences to develop unique directional habits. As much as I’d love to collate that information, somehow I think it’s too idiosyncratic to bother.


Last night was an unremarkable ride in the rain/snow mix: the snow didn’t stick, and falling snow is as pleasant or more so than freezing rain… which brings me to this morning’s ride. I would say it was one of the most extreme bike commutes I’ve had. Freezing rain and temperatures, driving rain, and heavy wind. I took it slow and covered myself head-to-toe and it was mostly just a little inconvenient. On the other hand, I do like riding in the rain for the solitude and smugness; I hope the look on my face communicates that to the drivers sitting in traffic.

Temperature: 35 degrees

Road conditions: Wet, clean; they didn’t put down much or any sand for the storm yesterday

Clothing: Rain shell, sweater, rain pants, timberland shoes.

Comfort: Warm! I had the odd experience about five minutes from my house when my thighs felt noticeably cold – I think it was the cold rain sitting on the rain pants before I had worked up any heat from riding. I wore the hood up under my helmet and pulled it as far over my eyes as possible to avoid getting too much water on my glasses. The rain wasn’t falling too heavily, so it wasn’t as much of a factor as the wind.

Cold and Dry

February 29th, 2012

Snow is forecasted for today. I welcome it: the sooner we can get to spring. 🙂


Weather: 33

Road conditions: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, EVO gloves, Timberland shoes.

Comfort: I rode fast again today, and got a little warm: I was chasing someone on a mountain bike whose drive train exceeded the 50% rust marker. He made up for it by standing and pedaling hard basically the whole length of my commute. The little wind covers on the EVO gloves were clutch.

Yesterday was the inaugural meeting of Boston-area bike bloggers (or in internet parlance, BABBA). Some of those in attendance were (the people behind) Bike Safe Boston, Commonwheels Coop, Hub Bicycle, Bikeyface, Boston Cyclists Union, Steve Miller and, obviously, theHumble Cyclist, as well as a variety of non-blogging bike enthusiasts. A good time was had by all, and those who stuck until the end of the night had a little convoy north of the river, where many of the “Boston” bike bloggers seem to reside. Following on our discussion of promoting road safety with blogs, no traffic laws were broken on the ride home; I also observed an unusually high number of people able to do track stands. I don’t know when the next meeting will be, but I encourage all to attend as either blog readers or writers!

Following yesterday’s promise to “portage” one bike with another, I managed to follow through without too much fuss!

Bike on bike portaging: good luck parsing the mess of tubing

I did put some scratches on the “top” bike from its rubbing against the wheel axle (lesson: don’t put the removed wheel against the frame), as well as somehow getting grease on my pants (lesson: if you handle the dirty bits on a bike, you will get dirty). I consider these minor costs to advancing the world’s bike mobility!


Temperature: 37

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, timberland shoes, EVO gloves

Comfort: Worked well; the wind-breaking covers on the EVO gloves warmed up my hands after I started the ride without them.

Everybody got scared off by the weather forecast today (it is currently snowing!), although the snow didn’t start falling until after 9 am, and should be done by the evening.

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).

Wet Pavement

February 15th, 2012

I have to run off to a long meeting, so I’ll just do the weather today. I’ll curse the clip on fenders I threw on my fixed gear at  a later date.

Weather and Clothing

Weather: 39 degrees

Pavement: A little wet

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, normal office shoes (I forgot to change them yesterday!), messenger bag

Comfort: It was lovely. Surprising how hands either warm up or go numb.

This is a really dumb pet peeve of mine, but one nonetheless: fixed gear bikes are not the same as single speed bikes. The experience of riding them is also very different.

Single speed bikes have exactly one gear combination; they ride the same as a gear bike but without shifting (imagine your bike got stuck in the 6th or 7th speed of 10: you’d be riding single speed). The benefit of this over a gear bike is lighter weight, better power transfer (because of a straighter chainline), and simplified maintenance. These are well suited to city riding, as you don’t do a lot of shifting anyway. (Or if you do, you could probably do fine without it.)

A fixed gear bike is a single speed in which the back wheel does not turn independently of the pedals. Therefore, you could ride it backwards; the pedals are always moving and transferring power between the wheel and and your legs. The maintenance on this type of bike is a wee bit less than a single speed (no freewheel means one fewer moving part), however it is cultish because it’s a totally different riding experience than a bike with a freewheel; you can immediately feel the responsiveness of the road surface and of the bike.

As an aside, Sturmey Archer makes an internal hub which rides fixed, but has 3 gears. It ruins the purity of the fixed gear bike, but sounds pretty fun to try out.


Easy ride, felt a little cold at the beginning, but I warmed up nicely.

Temperature: 33

Road condition: Dry, but some salt and sand from this weekend still around

Clothing: heavy winter jacket, Timberland shoes, Portland Design Works EVO bike gloves (I lost one of my wool gloves!), messenger bag

Comfort: Worked perfectly! I like the PDW EVO gloves I am using: they have a little vinyl mittens shield that folds down for wind protection. That part is a little light, though, and is getting kind of shredded from the ferocity of my grip.

(For those wondering, I took the day off work yesterday, so there was biking, but no commute.)

Edit: I looked down at my palms later and realized the gloves were EVO, not PDW. Thanks hubcyclist!

Today I’m going to follow up on my previous “Carrying Things” post by talking about big, bulky items. You know, the kind that don’t fit in yours, or anyone else’s bag, such as two weeks of laundry, a CSA share, another bike, or large packages of paper towels. These are the kinds of things I move with alarming frequency with the bike. The only practical way I’ve found to do it is with a front rack (I use a Cetma rack). Other methods, such as a back rack (a device created solely to eject cargo from your bike), or balancing on your handlebars (hard to steer when your arms are busy with other things) aren’t up to snuff. Good alternative I haven’t tried are a bucket bike (bakfiet), basket, or a trailer. Is anyone else moving moderately sized things with their bike?

Weather Today

It was a little warm today, beautifully sunny, but actually shockingly comfortable.

Temperature: 35 degrees

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, Timberland shoes, messenger bag

Comfort: Tiny bit warm, easily solved by removing my gloves


Tires; Cool and Dry

February 9th, 2012

There are many kinds of tires; they vary in width, tread, puncture resistance, tubeless or tubed, and accessories. Road racers tend to ride very narrow tires (23 or 25 mm width) and with little to no tread; commuters and bike tourers ride wider tires (28 to 35 mm, sometimes higher) with some tread; mountain bikers ride wide tires (2 inches and up) with moderate to gigantic tread. Almost without exception, in snowy winter road riding, you can get away with a treaded tire, although studs give you the maximum level of safety. I have some 35mm aggressive tread tires which worked wonders last year in the snow, however, they’re useless on trails. I’d love to report on studs, but there’s yet to be any ice or snow worth its salt (har har) this year.

As a transportation biker, the most important thing to me is reliability, which means not having to stop for a flat. I always buy the more expensive tires (around $40 each), which have a Kevlar strip to resist punctures; once the tire tread starts showing little tears and becomes soft (the tire seems to absorb any sand or salt on the road), the its life is almost over. When I’ve gotten a few flats in a short period, then it’s time to replace it. However, the benefit of using these tires is that I get a flat once every six months or so; on my fixed gear bike, I realized recently I haven’t touched the wheels in over a year (granted, it gets less use now that it’s not my commuter).

Despite their reliability, I still carry (and know how to use) a flat fix kit. Most of the time it just takes up space at the bottom of my bag.


It was a very easy day of riding. I was wearing a suit today (and the weather isn’t crummy!) so I took the commuter, which was an unwelcome change, although I fixed the shifting and cleaned the chain, so it was a very smooth ride.

Temperature: 33 degrees

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, rain pants (gotta keep those suit pants clean), Timberland shoes. I had the suit jacket in my panniers, if you’re wondering.

Comfort: It was noticeably warmer on the ride, and I had to go slow up the Longfellow Bridge to stay cool.