Bike Commuting Stats

So I’ve been stationed in Waltham a little over six months now, and with prime biking season behind me, I thought it was time to check in on the statistics. Since 17 April 2015, I have had 34 days where I was in the Waltham office for the whole day — those are the days where commuting by bike is a viable option. Of those 34 days, I rode my bike to work 26 of them, or 76%. I feel pretty good about that. It’s exercise I wouldn’t likely have gotten otherwise, and it’s also days that I didn’t drive the NOx-imizer. Other mildly interesting (to me…) highlights of the data include the fact that in July I rode in all 6 of the possible days. August, on the other hand, complicated by vacation and work travel, saw only 1 possible bike commuting day, and I missed it for no good reason (failed to prepare the night before).

While the best commuting days are behind me, I will still continue to try to find days to do so. It’s 4 November today, and I did ride in both today and yesterday. With the weather getting colder, and there being fewer available daylight hours, it is more challenging. Though to address the light, I do have both head and tail lights, and a new helmet with built in lights. And other amenities. For the cold, I have gloves, tights, and a long sleeved jersey. Definitely good into the upper 30’s, not sure how much lower. Would probably need thermal shoe covers next, which would imply clipless pedals, etc. While I have those on my road bike, I like being able to ride my commuter in whatever shoes I happen to be wearing. Time will tell…

Commuting Stats

When we left off, I had commuted by bike 1/1 full days to Waltham. In the ensuing three weeks, I’ve had seven full days here, and have commuted by bike five of those. Pretty pleased so far. The trip to work ends with the final mile and a quarter incorporating three uphills. They are not long, but they are still challenging for me. The first, on Main St. in Waltham just before crossing I-95 is about a quarter mile long and climbs fifty feet. The second comes after turning onto Bear Hill Rd. and elevates me 54 feet over .14 miles — basically twice as steep. On the first, if I really push, I can almost maintain 8 mph up it (but not quite). That second hill, I am generally glad to just get up and over, although the past two days I have climbed it out of the saddle, which got my heart rate up to 161. The third hill is really not much of a hill. It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice unless you’d just been up two other challenging hills — 38 feet over .13 miles. Well, that’s what the GPS reports anyway. Looking at the numbers, I’m surprised it’s as close to that second hill as it seems to be. But altitude is GPS’ least accurate dimension, so who knows for sure.

Last Full Day in Montreal

Today’s forecast looked pretty good in the morning, with an increased chance of rain in the afternoon, so we decided to head over to the Botanical Gardens early, and make our way over to the BioSphere later, since we’d be mostly inside. The gardens were lovely

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20140805-232017-84017391.jpg and we got to see many styles of garden, but still felt like we barely scratched the surface.

The Gardens are also right across he street from the main stadium from the 1976 Olympics, so we got to see the outskirts of that as well

After an unintentionally expensive lunch, we went to the BioSphere, which had interesting exhibits about the environment and our effect on it. We got to see a presentation on cyclones, which used Katrina and Hyaiyan to highlight their destructiveness. Emma had just lived through Rammasun while visiting there and saw some of the devastation that Haiyan wrought up close. Another exhibit showcased artistic ways of turning refuse into dresses. Here’s an example

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Once we had finished at the BioSphere, we split into two groups. Susan and Tyler took the Metro back to the Old Port where they rented a bicycle car

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and on the walk home from there, they came upon (but did not fall into) a Burning Ring of Fire

20140806-083901-31141677.jpg. Meanwhile, the girls and I rented Bixi bikes and rode to the Old Port. Along the way, while we were riding across a bridge, the skies opened up on us like never before. Emma and Clara had puddles in their shoes. But we did get something out of it

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Brrrrrrrr!

I planned to ride in to work today when the forecast called for overnight lows in the upper 30’s. I headed out at about 5:30 this morning, outfitted in tights, a semi-thermal jersey, wool socks, and hopefully warm gloves. Both the gloves and the jersey were new and untried. I was envisioning maybe it would even be low 40’s. Unfortunately, I forgot to actually check the temperature so I can’t say what it was for sure, but it was noticeably chillier than I expected. Susan thought the thermometer might have read 32; my mom thought perhaps 31; the official recorded temp at Bedford was 27. And I was headed west, into what is generally a colder area.

I was more than halfway through before I started to be uncomfortable, though. Hands and feet got cold, and my thighs and belly began to take on that “cold meat” feeling. My the time I got in, my hands were close to numb, but I honestly think they did better with the new gloves than they did last week in another pair of gloves on a significantly warmer (low to mid 40’s) morning commute.

Some signs that it was cold: when I went to squeeze out some shampoo in the shower, it wouldn’t come out because it was thick as sludge; while the water directly from the shower was nice and warm, any water that actually ran down my body was cold by the time it got to my feet! Putting on the clothes from my pannier was reminiscent of getting dressed on a winter camping trip if I forgot to sleep with tomorrow’s clothes in my sleeping bag.

Anyway, the experience taught me that it is possible, though I wouldn’t want to do it in any colder weather.



I Want to Ride my Bicycle

So I’ve been riding my new bicycle around town, but in the wimpy freewheel mode. Yesterday I got my courage up to flip the rear wheel around and give the fixed gear mode a try on the ride to Tyler’s soccer game. And today, I went for a longer ride — Arlington Center to Lexington Center on the Minuteman Trail. Including the short bit from home to the bike path and back, it’s just about exactly ten miles.

It takes some getting used to, I’ll say that much. I stopped in Lexington Center at the water fountain, as the bike doesn’t yet have a water bottle cage. So essentially it’s five miles of continuous pedaling. So there are a few things that are tricky. First is getting started. I’m very accustomed to having the pedals stationary when getting my second foot in the clips. No such thing now. Must get the pedal oriented and the foot in while the pedals are moving. It’s challenging. Second is while biking: there are times when I’m used to coasting a bit. Usually, it’s when I get out of the saddle to go over a bump more gently. It’s very disconcerting to be mentally prepared to stop pedaling, and to have the pedals not cooperate. Also very jarring to say the least. Finally, stopping can be a bit tricky. When riding a “normal” bike, you have the ability to adjust your pedal position when stopping. Not so with a fixed gear — the pedals are where they are.

But aside from starting, going, and stopping, it’s really easy. Sheldon says that “It takes a couple of weeks of regular riding to unlearn the impulse to coast, and become at ease on a fixed gear.” We’ll see.

My Bike

Having largely completed Clara’s bike, I moved on to my bike. This is the bike I bought in High School, early 1980’s, from the bike shop that was at the edge of our neighborhood (The Bike Rack). It cost me about $300 at the time. I rode it all over during my High School year, or at least as far as I ranged back then. I wasn’t allowed to have a driver’s license until I was 18, so there wasn’t much driving for me in High School, though of course I did get rides from friends. Anyway, back to the bike. It got a lot of use in those years, and I brought it up to college with me, though with some trepidation given the reputation Cambridge had for bike theft. I didn’t use it a lot in those years, but when I needed to get off campus on my own, or even to the other end of campus, it was handy. One of my roommates borrowed it once, and the back wheel got stolen. He graciously replaced it, even before bringing the bike back, but that made me even more anxious about riding it. Or more precisely, parking it. I had a Citadel “u-lock” and the idea was you’d remove the front wheel and lock it up along with the back wheel and the frame to something sturdy. But what a pain, and you end up scratching up the fork ends.

After college, the bike saw even less use. And after getting married (or maybe it was just before), Susan and I bought snazzy new Specialized mountain bikes, which meant that the old bike really languished after that, sitting in basements, attics, and other random storage areas. I had a $10 price tag on it at a yard sale once, as it had gotten a little rusty in some parts, and someone offered me $5 for it. I hate yard sales. As if $10 wasn’t enough of a bargain. I couldn’t let it go for that, so it sat in the basement some more, but its presence there began to bug me. So a few years ago, I stripped it of all its parts, and began to strip the paint from the frame. It sat for another year or two, and last summer I got “inspired” to turn it into a single speed/fixed gear bike, and did a lot of research. The trickiest bit was getting a special rear hub that would allow some front-back adjustment of the cog (to tension the chain properly) even though the rear dropout was essentially vertical. I eventually bought a set of wheels on eBay where the rear wheel had this special White Industries Eccentric ENO hub. The pair of wheels, all built up, cost about a third less than the hub alone would have, brand new. Seemed like a good deal. But then it sat some more. Oh, and the new wheels are size 700c, while the old ones were 27″ so the conversion necessitates a longer reach brake.

This summer, we bought Clara an old road bike that she and I fixed up for her. Part of that job was having the frame painted (or more accurately, “powder coated”). I thought I could perhaps get a discount getting more than one frame done, so I got both frames ready. That didn’t turn out to be the case, and it turned out to be quite a bit more expensive than I’d hoped, but I’m very pleased with the end result. After essentially finishing her bike, I started on mine. I bought about half the parts via eBay, and others through a couple of online bike shops, and even some parts/tools from local shops. At this point, there remain but three original parts: the frame, the fork, and the seatpost binder bolt. After that, there are a few things I bought used: the wheels, the seatpost, and the saddle. Beyond that, everything on the bike is new. Which means the project cost more than it was worth, but it has been a fun and interesting project, and I learned a lot doing it. Plus, I still have my old bike and all the sentimental value that carries.

I rode it for the first time last Friday. I had it set up in fixed gear mode, but felt a little freaked out in that mode, so I switched it to single speed (by simply flipping the rear wheel around!) until I could get comfortable with the bike as a whole. Hope to make the switch and get some practice riding “fixie” soon. I expect it will take some time to get used to it.

Here’s a listing of most of the components:

Frame: 1981 Panasonic DX2000
Fork: original Tange
Rims: Mavic Open Sport
Rear Hub: White Industries Eccentric ENO
Front Hub: some Nashbar sealed bearing hub
Headset: Velo Orange Alloy Headset, in JIS size (not many choices in that size!)
Stem: Nitto Pearl 120mm
Handlebar: no-name Bullhorn style
Bar Tape: Arundel cork
Bottom Bracket: Tange sealed cartridge
Crankset: Sugino XD
Pedals: MKS Sylvan Prime Track Pedals
Toe Clips: MKS (NJS Stamped :-))
Brake: Tektro R536 Caliper
Brake Level: Tektro RX 4.1
Cross Lever: Cane Creek
Seatpost: SR Laprade
Saddle: Selle San Marco Island Ponza

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Clara’s Bike

Ever since she briefly rode a friend’s road bike on vacation last year, Clara has been wanting a road bike of her own. There are kid-sized road bikes available, but they run $700 and up! So I scoured Craigslist, and eventually came upon a 1977 (I think) Fuji Junior, which is a kid-sized road bike, built on 24″ wheels. Nice. Picked it up for $60. Seemed like it had been garaged for a long time — grease was very dry, but the bike and its parts didn’t seem beat-up or anything. So, Clara and I took the bike completely apart with the intention of getting the frame painted nicely and generally overhauling all the moving parts.

Brought the frame in to the powder coater just before we left for two weeks of vacation, and picked it up shortly after we returned. It looked awesome! It cost more than I expected or hoped, but it was beautiful. Clara picked out a nice teal, which doesn’t seem to be rendered quite accurately in the photos below. We’ve been working together over the past couple of weeks to clean and re-grease all the components and re-install them on the frame. It’s come along very nicely.

The biggest headache, somewhat surprisingly, has been the wheels. The new standard in wheel measurement is from the E.T.R.T.O. and is now an ISO standard. Wheels labelled 24″ may be one of (at least) 4 different sizes: 507, 520, 540, or 547. These numbers represent the “bead seat diameter” in millimeters. Turns out, the version of 24″ on this bike is the 547, which is by far the least common. It seems to also be known as “S-5” a proprietary Schwinn size. After much searching, I came upon one tire that would fit, and ordered a pair plus tubes, even though they are bigger (wider) than I’d like. They are more like “comfort” tires than “road” tires. They are listed as 1 3/8″ where the old, cracked ones on the bike were labelled 1 1/8″.

On the plus side, the tires do fit on the rim properly. On the down side, they are so much bigger, that the rear tire rubs against the brake hardware. I’m currently searching for a better option. Over the long term, I’d hope to upgrade from these heavy, chromed steel rims. Not only are they heavy, but chrome rims are notorious for bad braking performance. Seems that the best option for wheels that offer a better selection of road tires are the 520mm variety. The rear wheel wouldn’t be much trouble — everything is fairly standard on the back, most importantly the hub spacing is 126mm, for which hubs are still available without *too* much trouble. On the front, however, the hub spacing is an odd size — 91mm, which shows up in references as a “low end” hub. No hope of replacement there, which means to replace the front wheel, I’d have to re-lace the current front hub to a new rim. But even putting together all these parts leaves the issue of whether the new wheels would be too small — brake reach is the key issue here, because I’d be losing 13.5mm in radius, thus requiring brakes with 13.5mm more reach, which I suspect will also be tough to find.

So for now, the bike is going back together with all the original hardware, with wear-and-tear items replaced: tires, tubes, brake shoes, cables, housing, handlebar tape, and ball bearings. Probably didn’t have to replace the bearings, but wanted to do a good/complete job. But it’s honestly been a bit hard putting all these old (& often heavy) parts back onto this new-looking frame. I hope, over time, to replace a lot of the components with new, improved, lighter ones. But almost certainly by then, I’ll have spent as much as (if not more than) a new bike would have cost, and Clara will have outgrown it. But perhaps it can be sold at a premium on Craigslist as a small but nice bike for a small woman, or a generous parent…

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A Late Start to the Season

Mere hours after the Bruins season came to a victorious ending, my bike commuting season has begun. This morning, I biked the sixteen miles in to work for the first time this year, which took me an hour and seventeen minutes. I forget how that compares with previous years, but I’ll assume it’s somewhat slower. It certainly felt so, but my expectations were low: making it here in one piece is good enough. Let me tell you, tele-commuting is much easier! 😉
There’s a biking blog I like to read called EcoVelo, which is written by a guy who is something of a bike fanatic, and I mean that in the most complementary way possible. I read with envy about his commuting in California, with its almost always beautiful weather, and I look at his pictures with lust in my heart. I could probably do my commute six months of the year, reasonably, without too much cold weather gear. But I know that when the temps are in the forties, my hands can get painfully cold in less time than that. In contrast to the dedicated bike paths, and quiet rural roads through wildflower-filled fields described by Alan, my commute is along heavily trafficked, narrow roads, frequented by trucks going 40-50 mph. Keeps me awake and moving, though! Plus it motivates me to get an early start on the day.
Most drivers are reasonable, but occasionally I encounter one who clearly expects me to ride in the shoulder (or what they undoubtedly think of as the “bike lane.”) I’d like to explain to these folks: “See this painted line here? This line represents a contract between road users and road maintainers. The road maintainers promise that they will work to keep most of the storm drains and broken pavement on the right side of the line. They will sweep all the sand, broken glass, debris from car accidents, random screws, nails, etc. to the right of that line. They are saying, if you keep your big, four+ wheeled vehicle and it’s inch thick steel-belted radial tires on the left of the line, you will be safer. Now, do you really think it’s right to expect me to ride my vehicle, balancing on its two, eighth-inch thick tires, there? Really??”
My commute route:


Ouch!

Life gets busy at times. And then there’s the un-cooperative weather. Mix in some natural laziness, and you have the perfect recipe for a late start to the biking season. Yesterday, though I finally got our fleet of bikes out and got them ready for riding. For me, this means washing off the winter dust, inflating the tires, a quick lube of the brakes and derailleurs, and Bob’s your Uncle! Then I put the bikes away for the night, but they didn’t spend very long in the basement, as this morning we took a family ride to one of our favorite local diners, at Bagels by US on Mass Ave. After that, we continued up Mass Ave. a ways into Lexington, but not as far as the center, and then we hit the Minuteman Bikeway and cruised back home. We then watched the small Memorial Day parade, which we almost always do (I remember my dad being with us last year). This year, Clara and I followed the parade past their first stop (right near our home) and into the cemetery, and heard all the speeches, many of which were sobering reminders of what Memorial Day is all about (hint: it’s not about shopping).
Then shortly after noon, I headed out on the bike again to Lexington Center, to meet up with my friend Mike, to go on a longer bike ride. It was challenging, to say the least. A loop a little over 20 miles, which was about 10 miles more than my legs felt up to today. My excuse is that Mike’s legs were fresh starting at Lexington, but mine already had about 13 miles on them before we started out together. It was both good to get out, and yet miserable. Mike and I are often pretty equivalent riders, but he’s already got more than a couple hundred miles on the bike this season, so he’s way ahead of me, and that’s where he spent most of the ride. Here’s a picture of me from the ride:

Sorry to have held you back, Mike. Maybe in a couple of months I’ll be able to keep up with you. We stopped for lunch at Fern’s in Carlisle, which is quite obviously a big biker hangout.

Anyway, here’s what our route looked like:



The last 5 miles I did on my own, after Mike got back in his car and drove off from Lexington Center. That part is included on the map, while my 5 miles up to Lexington aren’t. All told, I put about 40 miles on the bike today. Which is good. Though it doesn’t feel that way now. My legs, butt, shoulders, and neck all ache from the abuse.

Get Lost!

I went on a bike ride today with my new toy. I started by following the Minuteman Bike trail from Arlington Center to Bedford. Then I started back, but I deliberately got off the trail (it would be hard to do so accidentally) and just rode in a direction that I thought would take me a ways east and south. After riding for a while that way, taking semi-random turns and ending up somewhere completely unfamiliar, I asked my toy for help.

I confess that this is someone else’s picture of their toy on their bike, but you get the idea. I thought I would extend what’s normally just shy of a 20 mile ride by a mile or two. But here’s what I ended up with:



You can see what I great sense of direction I have. At least I didn’t end up going west! Anyway, it was a fun outing and a fun, successful test of the new toy. It also records tons of data to analyze later. Hopefully it will be interesting to me at some point.