Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I don't do "heartfelt" or "sentimental," so the plethora of gratitude posts/articles leading up to and on Thanksgiving always infect me with good old-fashioned alienation and bitterness. People who do not have a fractured relationship with their families do not get this; so, it's been a week or so of knee-deep guilt and general annoyance. After all, a lot of these same people who love to talk about gratitude run out the next day to be rude to fellow beings at the shopping malls, nevermind support the Black Friday nonsense that requires minimum wage workers to report in at three a.m., forcing them to leave their own Thanksgiving dinners early so that they can take a nap before work.
What does this have to do with bicycles?
My pissy mood lifted enough today to recognize my gratitude for being able to ride a bike and for owning a decent one. This allows me to ride faster than the speed of street harassment. I can travel more safely late at night by myself. My brakes work.
Recognizing this, I took a shorter-than-expected jaunt down by the Connecticut River. When we begin to get snow and ice, I am switching from my Jenny to Starry Starry Bike, with the intention of maintaining Jenny's good looks and lack of saltiness. I had not even reached Downtown before realizing that I would have been better prepared for the ride with a balaclava and thermos of hot chocolate.
The ride to the river is always interesting. I cut through Sheldon-Charter Oak and South Meadows, which means passing buildings and beings that have both seen better days. The Capewell Horse Nail Factory and Colt Armory are two such places. As for the people, this area has a number of homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and it's along the highway and railroad, which some live along. I guess this traces back to gratitude too, because I live in a community where we actually have services and resources for the hungry, homeless, and ex-offenders. It might be uneasy at times to ride on past, but at least we are not outsourcing our "problems" for others to deal with.
Arriving at the secret creepy entrance to the Riverwalk, I saw the gate was closed and I could find no way around it. I suppose I could have jumped it and lifted my Jenny overhead, but honestly, that was a lot of effort to put forth on a Sunday morning. I figured I'd just ride on the roads further, go into Charter Oak Landing, and hook up with the path there.
What I discovered was that the path was obstructed by construction equipment. My assumption and hope is that they are finally getting around to completing Riverwalk South, the unpaved section of path between Charter Oak Landing and Mortensen Riverfront Plaza. It's never been too difficult to either ride or push my bike up the unpaved part, but as much as I might think I'm the center of the universe, other people may actually want to use this path, including the elderly and those in wheelchairs. What I learned over Thanksgiving vacation is that the elderly do not enjoy off-roading it through any parks. In fact, slightly uneven sidewalks can make them cranky.
I was hoping the Riverfront Recapture website would have more information on the project, but there's nothing more than a vague reference to the plans.
Circling back, I got distracted by something I wanted to take a photo of and ended up heading the wrong way on a one-way street. This would not be a big deal except that after I was halfway down the street, people came pouring out of a Polish church and I found myself standing on the sidewalk, with my bike, just waiting for the street gridlock to subside.
Thinking I'd get something more out of this, I tried to find coffee and a snack Downtown, but unless I wanted a F.B.S. there was nothing for me. The Sunday after a holiday is reason for all the good places (anything but DD) to shut down.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Being car free does limit some of my after work cultural activities. Realistically a range of about eight miles is what I’m willing to ride to attend an event or visit a friend after a full day of work. That puts downtown Hartford, West Hartford, Manchester, and Glastonbury within my commuter cycling range. Luckily there is more than enough going on in that range to keep me busy and entertained. On Thursday, October 28th I was headed over to Hartford’s Connecticut Science Center to attend a free (I heart free!) event put on by the CT World Affairs Council. The former president of Shell Oil, John Hoffmeister, was speaking about his new book, “Why we Hate the Oil Companies.” The futuristic new science center is only a two mile jot from work and the petro topic had me intrigued. The weather was beautiful and it looked like it was going to be an ideal evening.
That was until I arrived at the Connecticut Science Center on my two wheeled spaceship. Due to construction on the Founders Plaza entrance, I dropped down to Columbus Boulevard and locked my spaceship to the railing at the edge of the very wide sidewalk. Upon entering the building I was detained by a confused but friendly guard that wasn’t sure that spaceships could be parked on a city sidewalk in that location. I explained that I didn’t see any other parking options in the vicinity and that my spaceship was neither causing harm to property nor blocking foot traffic. Regardless I was detained as the guard radioed upstairs to another guard for further instructions. After waiting a good five minutes and now late for the speaker, I insisted that the bike was fine and headed upstairs.
The guard at the top of the stairs asked me to wait until he could get further instructions on spaceship parking. Another five minutes went by until he was able to round up a museum official, Cherie Sweeney, the Vice President of Operations. Ms. Sweeney said she was fine with my parking location if it was okay with me. I replied that the ship was locked securely and most Hartford residents wouldn’t even recognize a spaceship as a viable means of transportation. I had no concerns of it being stolen or vandalized. I did learn from the Cherie that there is spaceship parking in the museum garage, although as a first time visitor it would be unlikely that I’d know to look there. My huffy recommendation was that the CT Science Center, as a good example to other downtown businesses, should put in ample spaceship parking near the building entrances.
John Hofmeister was an engaging and inspirational speaker, so much so that I purchased his book at the post event meet and greet. His message was largely focused on the neglected US energy infrastructure and was foretelling a great “energy abyss” that would become real by 2020 unless real moves were made to increase energy capacity while at the same time improving efficiencies. John laid much of the blame on partisan politicians, elected by a superficial partisan public, that hadn’t done much to improve the energy infrastructure of the US in the last thirty to forty years. His arguments were solid and although I didn’t agree with all of his proposed solutions, I recognized that a pragmatic compromise solution to our nation’s future energy needs was required if the US was going to in any way retain our current cushy standard of living. The “energy abyss” will punish everyone, including the liberal greenies and the fiscal conservatives.
I think I was the only person who rode a bike to that event, and I would be surprised if more than a few of the fifty or so attendees walked. Everyone nodded when John mentioned the potential efficiency gains from intelligent urban planning, but the nods were empty of any real substance in a sprawling suburban Connecticut. When I mention my current, possibly tentative, carfree status to co-workers and friends I get the “Spaceship Stare.” This is my new term for the look of disbelief that I’ve come to expect from Connecticut residents when someone shows up on a bicycle or explains that a full life doesn’t necessarily entail car ownership. It is seems like I’m saying, “I’ve got a spaceship and its a nifty way to get around,” or “Where can I park this here whizzbang spaceship?”
After the event I contacted Cherie Sweeney at the Science Center to see what their plans were for bicycle parking. I knew the building was a LEED Gold building, and hoped there were some comprehensive bicycle parking plans in the works. At this point there is bicycle parking with one rack outside the parking garage (near the fuel cell) and another rack inside the garage. There are plans to install additional bike racks on Founders Plaza and on Columbus Boulevard, with total bicycle accommodations for 43 to 44 bikes. If you’re in a hurry you should be able to lock right up to the railing on Columbus Boulevard, but this entrance is used for large school groups so there will be lots of minimally supervised youths passing your ride during the daytime hours. The CT Science Center is also planning to put up more bike parking info on their website and will be increasing signage at the entrances to point out the bike parking. Based on this info, I’d say my first awkward experience at the Science Center was part of their startup stumbling blocks. I’m planning a full trip to check out the facility in the near future if anyone wants to join me and my spaceship.
Monday, November 22, 2010
I'm not a very good bike racer. It's fun and I'm really starting to enjoy 'cross, but it's not something I'd drive a really far distance for. None the less, there were THREE(!) 'cross races within 50 miles of my house this weekend. I opted to do Cheshire on Saturday & Hop Brook (in Middlebury, CT) on Sunday. I didn't do Easthampton, even though it was the bigger race on Sunday. I would have had to get early on Sunday and I went out Saturday night. Besides, it was good to support to try and keep it from going away.
The next day I went to where they have that mountain bike race down near Waterbury. There weren't too many people, starting field of seven, and it was a course that didn't suit the Brendan, long straights on pavement. But, after a bunch of high pressure races, this was welcome. Also welcome was that it was the battle of the Mahoneys. Mark Mahoney, whom I've raced against a few times this year, was present and he and I battled the whole race. We traded the lead a bunch of times, but neither one of us was able to sustain a gap until the last paved straight, where he pulled ahead and I didn't have it in me to contest. And, he won.
So, two races in one weekend. That's too much racing!
Exhibit A: Genderfuck bicycle. Note the bold fuchsia paint job that is paired with a deep blue crate.
Exhibit B: The font is bubbly, script, and ultimately, girly; yet, the tires say "move out the way before I run you down."
Exhibit C: Bicycle parking itself at rack where light pink ballet slippers are tied.
Verdict: Awesome. One fewer student in the Blue Hills neighborhood using a car to transport him/herself across campus.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
This morning, Bikes Outside takes a field trip to a near-flung corner of hard hittin' New Britain. There, on the grounds of CCSU, Bike Walk Connecticut held their first Bike Walk Summit this past Saturday. When I arrived a little early to help with check-in, mine was one of only two bikes in front of the already-buzzing Memorial Hall. I braced for another embarrassingly sparse bike turnout at a bike event, but a few more bikes did arrive in time for the official start of the event. By the time the first break rolled around, there were eight bikes locked up outside including mine. Two more attendees rode their bikes and parked them inside on the stairway landing. While this disqualified their pampered rides from Bikes Outside immortality, it did bring the observed ride-in total to 10. While this is an improvement over last March's rainy annual meeting, it's still pretty underwhelming for an event with an estimated attendance of 160, and no, I don't think (m)any of the other people walked there. The weather was really beautiful this time, too.
The bikes that were representing were of the practical sort. Fenders and racks were the norm rather than the exception. The Kettler Elegance had internal gearing, dynohub lighting, a Trinity College decal and was made from alurad, a lightweight alloy of aluminum and radness (comparable, but not identical to the "aluminawesome" and "alubitchin' "alloys) A Breezer Uptown 8 rocked similar specs. A couple of Trek hybrids that I know well from years of CCBA Bike To Work breakfasts were there, along with a few more bikes, a tadpole recumbent trike and my own cargo bike (not pictured). The summit itself was a success. There was still plenty of bike bonding and policy discussion, etc to be had inside (which warrants another post when time allows), but not enough bikes outside.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Thursday was Veterans' Day. To honor the Vets, CT-NEMBA sponsors a ride. I did it last year at Grayville and I did this year's at Millers Pond. Salem and I arrived early and rode west of the park and visited a big rock. NEMBA folks I know like Mark, Charlie and Al were and then lots of others whom I don't know. If you've never ridden Millers Pond, it's great, even though it's one of the most difficult places around. Everything is rideable, but half of the place involves artfully arranged giant rocks. The other half, which I believe is called the XC loop, is also fun, but not quite as difficult. I think the crazy rocky park may also be difficult because the two times I've been there, I've ridden them retrograde to way that most people ride it. Although, I'm sure it's difficult in both directions. I just get the sense that it might be slightly easier to ride down a lot of these rocks rather than up them. It seems to me if you want to get an "XC loop", ride the entire place, even though there'll be a little walking. It doesn't take that long (2 - 2 1/2 hours?).
Yesterday (Saturday), there was a cyclocross race in Ellington. It was a rather strange course on the side of a hill at a farm: lots of long straightaways. It made my course in Hartford seem twisty (when I got a couple of complaints that it had too many straightaways (it only had two and they weren't that long)). None the less, it was fun. I rode it on Johanna's bike with flat bars and I must say that it would seem I ride better with flat bars. I think I'm a more confident descender and I've got more leverage to climb. Also, the bike has the same gearing as when I rode D2R2 on it, which was helpful on the "climbs", as I think I was only person in my race to ride them. 5th place, though, wins you no socks.
Afterward, I visited my parents and did some fixed gear mountain biking to pass the time. I guess it's fun
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
American exceptionalism and auto-centric culture go hand-in-hand. These foolhardy beliefs make me want to get back to investigating handlebar-mounted weaponry. Maybe a bayonet?
A local teenager was recently struck and killed while riding his bicycle. For possibly the first time ever, the newspaper had the decency to not delve into the blame game, leaving any mention of helmets, reflectors, or distracted driving out of the article. They even used this as another reason to support better treatment of pedestrians and cyclists. Fucking unheard of! And the first comment on that editorial?
I totally agree however even though stated, more emphasis must be put on bikers. I leave the house in the dark every morning. On my way I pass people on bikes with no rear (maybe no front) lights, dark clothing and maybe a reflective stripe on their shoes. This is on country roads that aren't that wide and curve around. Often you see them very late and although not difficult to avoid a moment of distraction and it would be tragic. They may have the right to use the road, but they also must use it safely.
I see dark cars with tinted windows often driving with no lights on. Sometimes the annoyingly loud music is the only indication that a car is nearby. Those with hearing impairments would be at total loss. Typically, because such motor vehicle operators can not be bothered to either fix or turn on their lights, they also can not be bothered to stop at intersections or pay attention to others on the road.
All of this is to say, what the hell is your point? Most suburban and rural cyclists make themselves visible from outerspace with neon racing gear, reflectors, and lights. Urban cyclists are a more diverse lot, but even people who are more difficult to see are not invisible. If one is driving his vehicle with headlights on, he should be able to observe people, animals, and other objects that might also be on the street. I drove rural Connecticut for years and never hit anything while I was driving the speed limit. I mention this because I killed an opossum and the guilt with haunt me for as long as I can remember it locking eyes with me that split second before I crushed its head with my tires. I was going well over the speed limit on a winding country road. If I had been driving more slowly, I would have had the ability to miss the creature. Every time other animals -- squirrels, dogs, cats, raccoons, deer, chipmunks, and one emu -- darted in front of me, I was able to avoid contact. I could be wrong, but not one of those bastards was equipped with reflector vests or lights. Read more!
Monday, November 8, 2010
When the time comes to honor those who served and those who fell serving our country or state, Hartford has parades and processions. When the time comes to honor longstanding traditions and pageantry, members of Connecticut's military and police forces participate in these parades astride horses. When the time comes to clean up after the horses, nobody does.
This past Sunday's Veterans' Day parade was a grand event that featured numerous police and military personnel on horses. As is often the case, they traversed the bike and pedestrian pathway that connects the southeast corner of Bushnell Park to the state armory. As is typically the case, their horses shat all over the path and they left it there for somebody else to deal with. As of late this afternoon, the path remains strewn with feces. Today's rain and sleet ensured that it hasn't dried out, making it a continuing (if not worsening) slip and fall hazard for any errant shoes or tires that fail to dodge the equine land mines.
From my ancestor who fled famine-ravaged Ireland for a stint in the Union Army to my cousin currently stationed in Afghanistan, numerous members of my own family have served in the armed forces. All of the ones I have known personally were (or are) active outdoorsmen, some Eagle Scouts, with a sense of responsibility and stewardship of the outdoors.
I can think of no veteran who would feel honored by this sort of carelessness.
This Monday's Bike Outside was spotted downtown a while back. It's a handsome machine in spite of a glaring case of missing bar tape.
It seems like the vast majority of classic Univegas are either blue or gray in color, and I, for one, think it would be a shame to pass up the opportunities inherent in the symbolism of the two colors. I envision an interprative reenactment of the War Between the States. Picture this: hipsters in mid 19th century garb square off in a brutal, week-long North vs. South bike polo tournament to gain control of the Mason-Fixie line. Such an event would be guaranteed to be [described as] epic!
I'm partial to the versatile 'Vegas of the 70's and 80's, so today I pay my respects at the Church of Univega Universalism.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Now I'm not a very cool guy. I don't dress well. I don't ride cool bikes. I don't listen to cool music. To that end, my shoes aren't that cool either. I have a beat up pair of Puma Baskets, which have served me very well, but they're on their last legs. I got these, but their colors are too bright to ride a bike with. I've also got these weird formal Pums that I bought at some crazy discount in West Hartford center like seven years ago at a crazy discount (I paid like $15 and they were $200 shoes). They're really sleek and cool, but I couldn't find a picture of them online. I've never seen them anywhere other than my feet. I've got some boots and some cross country ski boots. I've also got a pair of Answer cycling shoes-- great shoes except for the stupidly oriented middle strap. Since there are many times that I ride a bike to work with clipless pedals (I don't agree with the Shoes Ruse), I wear my cycling shoes while riding and then get there and switch to those formal Pumas I was talking about.
This is a blog post of a decidedly first would problems. You're probably thinking that I'm a total narcissistic jackass at this point, but I really want to tell you about these shoes I bought!
Anyway, many of you have seen those sort of dorky "sport/touring" shoes on Nashbar. They're probably exactly what I'm looking for except that they're not edgy and bike culture-y enough. SPD-compatible BMX shoes look pretty cool, but I can't figure out BMX things at all. So, you can imagine how happy I was to find that someone wanted to make cool spd-compatible shoes that are neither one of those things. These people call themselves DZR shoes and I bought their GMT-8.
They work and I like them. I've had them for three weeks now. They take a little bit of effort on the owner's part, because one must cut a hole in the sole to mount the cleat. It took me about twenty minutes to get all that right, but it wasn't that hard. You do lose a cool little graphic on the sole of the shoe, though. They're stiff enough. The toe box has a hard structure between the rubber sole and your foot, but it's not hard under your arch and heel. It provides more than enough stiffness for all the riding I've done in them-- commuting, rides on my 'cross bike off road, some mountain biking. I wouldn't do a 50 mile mountain bike race or 'cross race in them, actually I wouldn't do any race in them, but short of intense riding, they do the trick. The rubber sole has actually come in handy in a few hike-a-bike situations a bit, it grips better than a hard plastic mountain bike shoe's sole.
Walking around is very pleasant for the most part. The insert could use a little but more padding and has minimal arch support. It's not terrible, but it's not great. I'm probably going to replace it with something from CVS. The shoe's flex, though, is 85% as good as a regular shoe, which I think is. The recess for the cleat is very, very well designed: no tap dancing at all, but clipping in and out is a breeze when the cleat is aligned correctly. I've worked standing up in them and walk around a bunch and feet haven't started hurting. The same can't be said when I do the same in cycling shoes.
My complaints are: toe box is a little big, DZR claims you can use these shoes with clips and straps, but you have to open up your straps a lot. Also, the laces are slightly on the long side. Especially if you're riding fixed, tuck them in.
So, that's it. They're a good comprise (85% of the good things about regular shoes and cycling shoes) and look pretty good.
I own a pair of wingtips, too. Read more!
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
Eight intrepid young cyclists met on Saturday morning and took part in The Eel. Some of us we were beset by mechanical problems: broken spoke, broken cable housing and broken toe clip. Some of us were waylaid by dinner plans. The mud was deep and train tracks bumpy. Only five made it back to Hartford. I only took one picture, well two if you count the picture of the Chili Mango that I bought in Glastonbury, because the events of The Eel are more the stuff of epic poetry than digital photography.