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.

I am pleased to announce that I am now a syndicated bike blogger: I have a guest post on Josh Zisson’s site, Bike Safe Boston. I think that makes me syndicated, anyway. Head over to check out my post entitled “One Simple Principle for Comfort on the Road”.

In other news, I used my new front (left) gigantic pannier with a bulky load for the first time. Unfortunately, because the load was pretty small, it didn’t force the bag into a solid shape, and one of the clips jumped off while I was climbing the Longfellow Bridge. That was unpleasant. I may have to retrofit with some velcro loops. On the other hand, the bag performed admirably with groceries and folded laundry. It also stayed nice and dry today (which my electronics appreciated).


Temperature: 54 degrees

Road condition: Wet

Clothing: My normal office attire with waterproof shell and hood on top, light Pearl Izumi gloves, rain pants, Rockport (I am embarrassed to say I’ve been calling them Timberland) shoes.

Comfort: Excellent! I stayed totally dry, didn’t feel hot the whole ride.

Everyone seems to have stayed off the road today: it was as empty as the middle of winter (this mild winter, that is). Plenty of car traffic and double parking, though.


March 2nd, 2012

Last night was some good old fashioned winter riding: cold (28 degrees) and snow. Unfortunately, my bike was already set up for spring, as I removed my studded tires two weeks ago, and I had some pretty plain vanilla road tires on it. The road conditions had a quarter inch of snow, enough that you need to have a treaded tire to maintain control. The ride from downtown to Cambridge was slow and dicey. However, I made it much worse by loading up on groceries at the super market and riding them, home (as I did on Saturday) on my lopsided single front pannier. It was probably about 45 minutes of riding for what normally takes me 20.

When I got home, I discovered (through no fault of my own, I maintain) that the milk I had bought was dripping out of the carton. So I went back to the store, except this time I rode my mountain bike, a Surly Ogre (yes, I own three different Surly bikes). It has disc brakes and 2.3″ tires. It was every bit the snow tank it looked like: when I picked it up from the bike shop, another customer remarked, “I’m looking for a bike that will get me across town in a snowstorm. That looks like it would do the job.” Yes, fellow Hub Bicycle Company customer, that bike will get you across town in a snowstorm. It stopped quite nicely when a Whole Foods customer, berserk for his natural foods, cut me off on Prospect Street (despite my bright light). The only downside was its lack of fenders, even though I own a set that would fit fine.


I didn’t ride today, but it was in the 20s, with wet pavement. A few folks were out riding: it looked like the roads were generally clear, but the bike lanes were not, so you’d have to have some treaded tires or ride in the traffic lane today.

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.

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.

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.

Wet, wet, wet; More Fenders

January 27th, 2012

I knew it was dreary outside when I left, but within five minutes it was an outright downpour. As I was waiting at a light (with three cyclists behind me, mind you), the next person in line says to me, “If I had known it would be like this, I would have taken the bus.” I scanned over his bike, a mountain frame with wide tires, and noted, “No fenders, huh?”

I first understood the need for fenders in wetter weather than this. It was fall and I had ridden to my dad’s house without sight of rain, and only a light fall coat for protection. On the trip home (late, perhaps midnight), the rain was just straight downpour; the bike sent a gritty spray of sand up my back and also into my face. The bearings in the chain received a very heavy sludge that slowed my riding despite my desire to get home as soon as possible. I later found sand inside my pants.

Needless to say, I bought fenders the next week and have never regretted it for a second. Only much later, in a different heavy downpour I was compelled to ride through did I learn the value of proper rain attire, but that’s a story for another time.

Today’s ride went quickly because it was engaging: 43 degrees and water cooling on my face kept my body temperature down while I steered around relatively heavy traffic.

Clothing: Same as yesterday, heavy winter coat, wool gloves, rain pants, waterproof shoes. I got some water running down my socks, and that annoying “is everything inside my coat wet?” feeling, but it wasn’t. I did wish I had a hood today, though. I was so drenched my coworker thought I looked like a character from a horror movie.

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.

Spring Is Here (?); Bags

January 24th, 2012

I should announce in advance any time I have to wear a suit to work: it is highly correlated with weird weather. Often it’s a heavy storm or cold snap, but today it appears to be freakishly warm (46 degrees this morning).

Technically, wearing a suit is no different from wearing other clothing. However, for me it adds a few complications: the jacket (what to do with it, as it’s long and sticks out of coats), cleanliness (you don’t want to get grit or slush on that bad boy), and the shoes (I usually leave my shoes at my desk). If this were most any other season, I might consider just wearing everything. Since this is the Dirty Season (winter to the lay person), I wear my rain pants, any coat, my normal bike-to-work shoes, and pack the jacket and shoes in panniers.

Clothing: Rain jacket, rain pants, waterproof shoes. No gloves.

I got a little warm riding in despite the light clothing. The key is airflow. I already had the tie knotted, and the shirt tucked in; the rain clothes add extra constriction. However, the biggest factor that kept me from getting actually sweaty was the bag. Any kind of bag on your body (whether two strap backpack or a messenger bag) will effectively increase the temperature by at least 10 degrees. The reason is airflow, for two reasons. The first is that there’s no air whatsoever under the straps: your body tries to remove heat, and so it sweats and nothing can escape. This ends up soaking your clothing in weird patches. Second, the straps obstruct any air from circulating between your skin and the openings in your clothing (around your neck, arms, and maybe lower back), which raises your overall temperature. If I want to arrive someplace presentable, I go for panniers.

Since I’m recommending them, I’ll go ahead and say that most any pannier will work. I have Axiom Typhoon LX panniers because that’s what the store had when I urgently needed a bigger bag the night before leaving on a touring trip. (It turns out the saying is true that you will fill whatever size bag you have, however.) They’re dry bag style, totally waterproof, and a giant sack. That’s not ideal because whatever you need is inevitably on the bottom of the sack, however the waterproof property and tough material makes these a good buy.

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.