Friday, August 31, 2012

What a difference an inch makes

That's what she said!

Sorry. Our blog is usually lacking in terrible humor (always lacking in good humor). Anyway, I took the ferry over to the Meshomasic State Forest the other day and went mountain biking. It was very enjoyable. I was thinking, while going down some rocky, washed out descent (as they are there), I'm not crashing and generally out of control like I have been lately. I realized that it's probably because my tires are about an inch wider than they are on my 'cross bike. It's realizations like this that make people think I'm not too bright and they're totally correct.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Diminishing returns

It's another one of those transitional periods when I start to neglect the beat bike blog. Sorry, beat bike blog.

Limed fields in the meadows look like summer snow.

In other news, I have become quite terrible at riding a bike. I went down to the Blowhole Monday afternoon and crashed five times! Really, five times! I also almost lost my pump. Maybe it's 'cross bike overload or something. I rode out to Penwood last week and double flatted. The bike is definitely trying to tell me something.
Read more!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I need some bike mechanics.

Heya kiddos.  The Discover Hartford Parks Tour is Saturday, September 29th.  I'm looking for 6-8 mobile bike mechanics / route marshals.  Anyone interested should drop me a line.

You'll need some basic bike maintenance skills, and the ability to ride 10-25 miles - slowly.  Will also want 1-2 folks to be mechanics / sweeps for the 40 mile route.  I've heard that there are some world class bike mechanics that read the Beat Bike Blog.  Time to come out of the shadows and support a great event.  You'll need to bring your own basic tools and a pump - basically what you might bring on a multi-day tour.  I'll round up some tubes and patch kits to distribute.

You also get a free entry - and probably a t-shirt from the event.

Note:  Registration for the tour is now open.  If you don't want to volunteer, you should register now.  It's only $25 for Bike Walk CT members if you register before August 29th.  And help us spread the word with this Facebook invitation! Read more!

Flower Street Scoop

I was hoping for a rope swing to get over the busway at Flower Street.

A source has forwarded an email to the beat bike blog from the Department of Transportation with some positive news regarding the disposition of Flower Street. It looks the DOT may have realized that the busway should accommodate its neighbors and human-powered modes of transportation.

To wit:

The Commissioner requested that we examine the feasibility of several options for maintaining pedestrian access between the two neighborhoods during construction to the extent it can be allowed by ongoing construction activity, as well as maintaining or creating access long term after opening day.

For the construction period he requested us to look for opportunities in the construction schedule when access for pedestrians could be maintained.   Any access during construction will definitely require the design and installation of a new crossing with gate protection, and probably will also require relocations of existing sidewalks with clearly defined pathways to the crossings.  When the access can be open to pedestrians, the design of the new sidewalks and gates will have to steer pedestrians clear of the active construction zones and lay-down areas so the pathway may well move to different locations at different times during construction.  But it is understood that there will be significant periods when access is prohibited during construction.

For the post-construction period, he requested us to do an initial feasibility review for at-grade or grade-separated pathways for pedestrians.  If an at-grade crossing cannot be designed to meet the state and federal standards, then a  grade-separated option should be examined for feasibility.

One concept that was raised by a party at yesterday’s field trip was to build a switchback ramp beginning at grade on Flower Street and going perpendicular to Flower under the highway viaduct, then crossing the tracks and CTfastrak in roughly the current Flower Street alignment but above-grade.  The same kind of ramp and switchback might be required on the south side of the tracks but would not be constrained by the viaduct overhead.

Another option raised was to do a straight ramp/sidewalk that starts on the north side of the highway viaduct by the Aetna driveway  and roughly follows the alignment of the current Flower Street sidewalk across the tracks and CTfastrak, returning to grade on the south side along the Courant parking lot and sidewalk.  Might  the grades in the area make it viable for such a grade-separated ramp/sidewalk to meet allowable ADA grades without switchbacks?   Also, bringing the ramp/sidewalk down on the Courant side will have a long run and we need to avoid interfering with the access to the parking lot.

The final option to be examined would be a very quick feasibility of a Flower Street roadway bridge that grade-separates Flower Street from the crossing.  This option is no doubt very problematic and very expensive.  But if it is not technically feasible, let’s present the details of the analysis which should then allow us to rule it out conclusively.  Clearly there are several key issues, any one of which could be a show-stopper.  Given that you have to take off from Flower on the north side and elevate the roadway to approximately 22 feet over the Amtrak tracks, is there enough space to reach that elevation over the tracks and still leave adequate vertical clearance for the roadway under the viaduct?  As the roadway comes down to grade on the south side, the roadway and retaining walls likely block off access to the Courant building and its loading dock, and for what distance up towards Capitol Avenue does the raised roadway run?  What other issues?

Finally, I know we’re already working on the feasibility of several options to keep the roadway and pedestrian pathways open for as long as possible.  We should finalize our conclusions for the latest date by which we must close the roadway.  And, if, in the event there is no viable, feasible and safe pedestrian option, we should also determine what is the latest date by which we would have to close the pedestrian pathway permanently.

The Commissioner would like these analyses to be done within three weeks, so that should give you some guidance as to the level of detail and effort that is desired or required in order to get these initial feasibility analyses to a point where decisions can be made.

I could summarize, but I thought this email excerpt would not miss points that I might. Feasibility studies are often the start of positive developments with the bike/ped stuff we care about (see Putnam Bridge). None the less, interested parties need to stay on top of this. Read more!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thoughts on Flower Street

You may recall that the Putnam Bridge was supposed to be refurbished and the DOT declared that a bike/ped lane was impossible. There was no possible way. No amount of engineering could get a bike/ped lane on the Putnam Bridge. People got angry. People leaned on their elected officials. Suddenly, the Putnam Bridge developed a way for things other than cars to get across.

Flower Street is a very similar thing, but where are our elected officials on this? Rep. Gonzales has been silent and so far Sen. Fonfara has been, too. Clearly, constituents are riled up, and for good reasons. I saw that the Mayor wrote a letter, but the DOT is going to listen to State legislators, not municipal people. They control the DOT budget, not the towns.

There's an obvious and appreciable negative economic impact here and I cannot fathom why DOT is being so tone deaf. Must be the engineers' superiority complex. Read more!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

DOT Violates Own Policy

Photo by Christopher Brown, used with permission // Looking north on Flower Street.
During the winter-that-wasn't, James Redeker, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation assured cyclists that the DOT was entering a new era, taking seriously the safety of cyclists through initiatives like the New Britain-Hartford Busway (now called CTfastrak).

We thought those promises were too good to be true.

Now, in August, the DOT is telling cyclists that their safety is, well, you know, whatever. They are doing this through a plan to permanently close Flower Street -- a small street connecting Capitol Avenue with Farmington Avenue -- in Hartford. Cyclists have been told to use Broad Street, one block away. This would not be a terrible idea, if Broad Street were remotely bike-friendly and not due for major construction starting tomorrow.

People are pissed.There is a public hearing slated for Thursday at the DOT. Read more!

Bonus Sunday philosophy post: Is Cycling a Constitutional Matter?

Dario sends this along to be posted:

Dear Tony,

Thank you for posting my response to the NPR segment dealing with bicycle culture in the U.S. ("NPR and Velosophy", August 4, 2012). And thank you to those that posted comments. If I may, I wish to respond and to elaborate on those comments because each commenter posed an interesting problem or perspective. My aim is to promote further discussion.

I wish to respond to what I see are two main issues in the comments: conceptualizing cycing culture (excuse the alliteration) and the relationship between consumerism and cycling. I will also try to respond to your (Tony's) three recommendations for improving cycling culture, I asked you, "If you were king for a day, what three things would you do ...?" and you responded succinctlty. I wish to discuss your recommendations. I'll limit this post to discussion of the first point (about conceptualizing cycling culture) and deal with the other topics in subsequent posts if that is all right with the blogs' editors.

Gabriel Sistare in his comment to my "post" writes that the mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrico Penalosa, has taken an innovative position about cycling. It would seem that Penalosa's view about cycling (vis-a-vis cars) is far reaching. Can you imagine taking Penalosa's view and informing American drivers that the right to park is not constitutional? Car drivers often behave as if it is their right to rule the road. Asphalt roads were created for driving cars, in fact. So, drivers must rule. But between the two, cars and bicycles, the mayor of Bogota has rightly deemed that bicycles are the more ethical means of transport because (I'll assume) they occupy less space, do not cause pollution, and are overall safer for the riders and other citizens on the street. And they reduce urban congestion. The one thing I disagree or, rather, wish to challenge Penalosa (and Gabriel perhaps) is on whether or not cycling is a constitutional matter. They seem to think not. I differ. I will make a case (likely an extreme one) for cycling being a constitutional issue.

Bicyles and arms (guns, forget about swords) have a lot in common. The BeatBikeBlog is based in Hartford, historically the city of Colt firearms and of Pope bicycles, two industries and two technologies that are intertwined. Guns are a polarizing topic. The bicycle, thankfully, less so, unless you live in NYC. The debate today about the right to bear arms has never been more heated and relevant especially because of recent tragic events. When the writers of the Constitution included the second amendment about the right to bear arms, they had a specific historical context in mind: to protect the citizenry against despots and tyrants and to be able to form militias against would-be usurpers of power. Our founding fathers had a lot more good sense than we do, so they didn't legislate transportation. They left that for us. Cars and bicyles had yet to be invented. But bicycles, like cars, are a sophisticated technology, not to the same degree as the automobile, but they are sophisticated because of the materials, design and construction. Cars, in particular, are arguably a weapon, not unlike guns. Whereas, fortunately, it is illegal for me to wave a gun around in public, there is considerable leeway in how I am allowed to use a motor vehicle. Road rage and indifference with mortal consequences (See Ken Krayeske's post about Mr. Harrison's death.) are just two instances of how the car is frequently a weapon in the hands of some people. Aside the occasional "scorcher" (the nineteenth and early twentieth-century term for rogue cyclists who terrorized the streets), cyclists rarely do harm. The bicycle is not technically a weapon because of its scale (speed and size) and because of its humanizing quality about which I talked in the last post, unlike many, especially, larger motor vehicles. Most cyclists are automobile drivers and would never think of their motor vehicles as a weapon. Most car drivers who don't cycle also don't think of themselves as engaging in a ballistics arms race when they drive. But how many drivers choose to purchase a vehicle for its defensive capabilities (the SUV versus the compact car in case of an accident)? That is a weapons choice, defensive, but still a choice about object/subject relations in terms of potential violence and harm. That is not generally how cyclists choose a bicycle, I think. When our founding fathers included the second amendment about the right to bear arms, they thought of protection. Hence, cars are analogous to, if not like, guns. Whereas the bicycle is not. Nonetheless, because cyclists and bicycles necessarily share the road … Well you get my picture. As I said, I'm trying to push the limits of discussion, but I don't think we can dismiss the argument entirely. What do you think? Read more!

One man's D2R2 is another man's R2D2

As the New England cycling blogosphere is no doubt atwitter, D2R2 was yesterday. As you probably want to know, my gearing was (463:2973:9i)/y=mx+b; my tires were ovoid, 900m wide and filled with nitrogen and I tattooed the cue sheet to my tongue in Hebrew.

Actually, there is a funny story about my bike. No wait, it's not that funny. The Jake the Snake had some weird flat tire problems. I don't know why. It seemed like it was just a puncture and I removed the sharp, but Johanna and I went for a ride a month or so ago and she got three flat tires in five miles. That precipitated me picking her up and getting followed by the Wethersfield police for the very suspicious activity of picking someone up from Mill Woods Park. I wonder if the cops follow all the moms picking their kids up from Little League, too.

Anyway, I put in a new tube, it held air over night, so I took the bike for a longish ride on Thursday. It was working well and I was having a good time riding the Avon town forest trails, until I shifted my derailleur into the spokes. The derailleur was ok, but I bent the hanger somewhat. I got it back, though I couldn't pedal backwards too well. Although, it's rare that one needs to do very much back pedaling beyond a half a stroke or so. I pressed my luck and kept going out to Neapaug and then up Breezy Hill. I explored some of the Canton Land Trust trails, which are very cool. I should take some other people out that way. My hope was that Thursday was Benindorm's late night and I was in luck. I was also in luck in that they're a Kona dealer, so they'd probably have the hanger in stock and I wouldn't need to get one of those stop gap universal hangers. They did and I rode home. I also ended up getting sort of lost, or at least on the wrong roads in Avon. I figured growing up there, I'd know better where to go.

I swapped out the hanger and everything seemed to be working ok drivetrain-wise when I rode up and down the driveway a few times Friday evening.

Johanna and I had pizza at Park Lane. Thankfully, she gave me a ride home, so I didn't have to ride in that flash flood-inducing thunderstorm Friday night.

I drove up Saturday morning in the drizzle and the ride (with chip timing!!(??)) commenced with drizzle. As you may know, the first stage of the ride has like 7,000 feet of climbing. Drizzle and cool temperatures were perfect. The sun came out around a little before the first checkpoint in Heath. While there was some steam rising off the road on the climb to it, the temperature was still low and the effect was just pretty. Sadly, the sunflowers were gone from the Heath checkpoint.

The rest of the ride followed pleasantly enough. I ate a lot of pickles to avoid cramps and generally felt pretty good. I ate less than I thought I would, but I've been eating less on rides lately. Unless I ride with Salem, riding with him makes me wicked hungry and I'm always feeling like I'm going to bonk. I think that's true for the most part, though, because if I ride the pace that my body is comfortable with me riding, I can manage food and fatigue better. This is probably why I'm a terrible racer.

Patten Hill is no longer my demon and I'm convinced that Hillman is the hardest climb on the course. It's right  after Archambo and it just gets looser and sandier the deeper you get into the climb.

At times I rode with others and chatted, but I've never really got anything interesting to say.

I got back around twenty to four, drank a FLT Preservation Ale (not a porter day), ate some macncheese and a pulled pork sandwich, packed up and drove home. Even with a stop to pick up some miller lite, I was home at 5:15. Just felt like another day at work.

Thanks to the Franklin Land Trust & Sandy.

The end. I didn't take any good pictures this year.

Read more!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I Love Cities!

Right now I'm lounging behind the Polish National Home enjoying live (FREE) jazz.  As Valerie might say, "More fucking jazz?"  The PNH is a ten minute walk from my place and that makes me happy.  Cities in general make me happy.

Last weekend on a lark, I headed up to Boston with Dave for their midnight ride.  I was a bit concerned that a ride leaving at midnight and finishing at dawn might turn into a zombie death march.  I was blown away by how organized the ride was.  Despite the extremely varied riders (starting with ~ 200) we stayed together all night, and nobody died.  The ride stopped almost every mile so the organizers could share some Boston history or recent urban planning happenings.  Did you know Boston has it's own Kona bike, the Dew Boston.  Oddly I chose to ride my heavily modified 2004 Dew Deluxe.  A special shout out to Nathaniel, our radioactively bright Boston compadre.

Monday night was the last "fucking" jazz in Bushnell Park for the season.  Thursday night started with Creative Cocktail Hour and ended with Hartford's own mini-midnight ride.  Chill Will was back in Hartford.  He wanted to kiss the river. We meandered.  We raced.  Will is on the hook for a more in depth blog post on this topic.

Other than my volunteering to set up at 6am, the last Hartford Bike to Work of the summer was nearly perfect.  Solid attendance, media coverage, free food, and custom t-shirts.  The City of Hartford designed some bangin graphics for the shirt.  And Mayor Segarra showed up on a bike.  He appeared winded and perhaps thanking god he was still alive.  I guess this was his first rush hour bike commute.  Good on him!

This morning I picked up about 200lbs of tile and did some renovating.  Nearly blew an O-ring climbing up Warwarme to Wethersfield Ave.  After lazing and a liberal dosage of jazz, I may wander down to the Asian festival at the Riverfront.  Then tonight - Shag Frenzy!  No cover, indie dance party at Up or On the Rocks.  Shake it!

Fuck mowing the yard.  I love cities!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

People who drive the wrong way on one way streets

Since the spring, I've watched a fair amount of people drive the wrong way down one way streets in front of me. It's getting popular in Hartford.There seems to be a trend in that these drivers are confused and angry that someone is seeing them do it. Back in the spring, a confused man on Heath St. decided to crash into a car on the side of the road right in front of me because he was so perplexed that he was going on the wrong way. He was also unlicensed, had a car of suspect registration and carried no identification. 

Earlier in the summer, I was going down Crescent Street and the driver flipped me off really angrily as she went the wrong way.

Today on Seymour Street, the driver went the wrong way and asked "Don't you have a car, motherfucker?" I have no idea what my car had to with this.

Generally when I see someone going the wrong way, I wave my arms, because I have this stupid notion that they didn't realize they were on a one way. I'm totally wrong, they know they're on a one way and simply angry that someone is seeing them.

One exception was a one way sign was missing on West Street and people kept leaving the pro park parking lot going the wrong way. I called 311 and they installed a new one in like two days. I was very impressed. Now people generally go the right way.

What would you do when you drove the wrong down a one way in front of me? Read more!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's Raining Bicycles in Hartford?

If you’re looking for fun bike stuff to do in Hartford, there is an abundance coming up in the next month and a half.  Some of it even snuck up on me, so I’m giving the five faithful (faithless?) readers of the Beat Bike Blog a hearty heads up.
  1. Friday, August 17th - Last downtown Hartford Bike to Work.  6:30AM to 9AM at the Old State House.  Get your commuting on and get fed.  Free t-shirts to the first 100 bike commuters.  This event is sponsored by the City of Hartford and Mayor Segarra will be there.  Channel 8 will be filming.  Represent!
  2. Thursday, August 23rd - Hartford Bicycle Symposium.  Meet at the Hartford Public Library at 5:30PM, in the Hartford History Center.  Panelists include Tom Condon (renowned Courant editor) and TJ Clynch (Cycled Energy on Pratt Street).  Get out and learn about Hartford’s bicycling history (Colonel Pope) and be a part of our cycling future.
  3. Saturday, August 25th - The East Coast Greenway rides into Hartford.  The East Coast Greenway is a developing trail system linking major cities on the eastern seaboard between Canada and Key West.  In year 2 of a 10-year plan to ride all 3,000 miles, this year’s leg begins in Portland, ME and ends in Hartford at Bushnell Park. You can join the ride at 10:00am in Putnam (corner of Route 44 and Kennedy Drive) or 4:00pm in East Hartford (DOT commuter lot at 500 Main Street), or just welcome the riders at the east end of Bushnell Park around 4:30pm. For more information, please email Rob Dexter or call 860-836-9304.
  4. Friday, August 30th - Hartford Critical Mass.  Meet at 5:30PM at the carousel in Bushnell Park.  Usually the ride rolls out around 6PM.  This month I've heard rumors of special guests...
  5. Saturday, September 22nd – Real Art Ways Real Ride.  This was a blast July 4th and we’re doing it again in September.  Come out to RAW, decorate your bike (or not), and come along for a night ride / parade / party.  Dave now has three HUGE battery powered amps that will be pumping the jams, so you’ll be grooving wherever you may be in the group.  FREE!  Usually we meet up at 6PM-ish and roll our around 8PM.  More details to follow.
  6. Saturday, September 29th – The Discover Hartford Bike Tour.  This annual ride is a family friendly roll through Hartford’s parks and neighborhoods.   Tell your friends.  The bigger this ride is, the more momentum (and funding) Bike Walk CT has to do good works for bike and pedestrian safety in CT.  Registration is open!

A big part of improving cycling conditions in Connecticut is simply getting more people riding, particularly for commuting.   It’s next to impossible to advocate for an activity that garners < 1% of the transportation mode.  As a cyclist and commuter, it is therefore in the interest of your own safety that you should be spreading the word about events like those mentioned above.  If love of your fellow man and environmental considerations aren’t enough, maybe you’ll be engendered to act by base self-interest?  Now - Spread the Word!

Read more!

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to ride a long way without really noticing it

No one has written to the beat bike blog asking for advice about riding. Ever. It's not surprising, considering I don't really have any idea how to ride a bike. Yet, I feel like I should dispense some unasked advice anyway.

People often want to ride their bike a long way, but it seems like a difficult undertaking. Yesterday, I rode a pretty long way (95-100 miles), but it wasn't a big deal. I broke it into several different rides of various reasons throughout the day. I rode to Peter's house and then rode with Peter and Doug for awhile. Then I ate some pasta and drank some seltzer and went home via the ferry. I made a bunch of pesto and puttered around the house for awhile. Then, I rode to my parents' house to feed the cat and do some other puttering. I stopped at the grocery store and bought a few things and then came home around 6:30pm. While I was just under the minimum randonée average speed of 10.5mph, I still got things done and rode a long way.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Long Sunday Ride

This past Sunday Kenny convinced me to ride down to East Haven with him to where we'd be placing a ghost bike as a memorial for Jeffery Harrison who was killed by a speeding minivan driver just two weeks ago on July 30th.  We headed out from Hartford through New Britain and picked up the beautiful and peaceful Farmington Canal trail for the last stretch into New Haven.

It was a 50 mile roll to where the cyclist was struck dead within sight of the beach in East Haven.  I'll leave it to Ken's article to lay out the details of the ghost bike.  What I'll carry with me is the human stain on the road where the mangled cyclist had lain and bled out in the middle of the day.  After leaving East Haven I biked East to a birthday / barbecue in Clinton with our new friends Colleen and Sean.  Ken took a ride with his wonderful wife Wiz, who had brought the ghost bike down from Hartford.  While meandering along the affluent Connecticut coast I found some timely graffiti over the MetroNorth rail line.

Upon arriving at the picnic, I collapsed with a lemonade and plate overflowing.  After another plate and a beer I was feeling up to the ride back to Hartford.  Leaving a bit late (6PM) I was hoping the south wind would carry me home before the predicted t-storms that evening.   Riding solo, I took more arterial roads than I would have typically taken on a ramble with friends.  When you're not trying to ride double and chat, an entirely different set of roads make sense.

I took a short break on the newly refinished sidewalk of the Arrigoni bridge between Middletown and Portland.  While sitting on the railing enjoying the view of the river I was hollered at by one of Connecticut's finest.  I believe he called me a queer.   Made me think a bit about what type of person yells what they consider to be insults at someone they don't know while passing in a car at 45 mph.  I'm curious.  At the end of the day, I can be thankful that I'm not that person.

It was solid dark as I raced the thunderstorms into Hartford.  A fulfilling day.

Safety note:  I had a bunch of blinkie lights.  So should you.

Read more!

Friday, August 10, 2012

My secret hope

So, I've been interning at a law firm this summer. I've learned a lot and it's fun, in a pretend-to-be-a-lawyer sort of way. Some day, if I don't get all F's, I may even stop pretending.

Anyway, we use Hartford Courier to send documents around fairly regularly and my secret hope is that instead sitting at a desk and doing what I'm doing, they'll ask me to be the in-house messenger.

UPDATE: during the thunderstorm/tornado this afternoon, I thought, "damn, this office job is great."

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

East haven

Ken doesn't ever seem to want to write blog posts here anymore, but with our poor writing quality, it's no big surprise.

None the less, here's a moving piece just written.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Keney carriage roads are being cleared out

Very cool. I wonder who's doing this. The park is the cleanest since I've lived here.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Things I love besides my bike

You may have noticed that there are no people in that blog post from yesterday. Johanna emailed me and told me that it looks like I went on vacation with bikes, a fishing pole and nothing else. Well, that's not true. Johanna didn't appear in any pictures, because she gets mad when included in blog posts. But, to make her happy and prove that I love her, here's a secret picture. Hopefully, she doesn't see this.

This is atop Gore Mountain, if you're interested.
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Monday, August 6, 2012

My summer vacation

Per usual, I spent my summer vacation more or less in Vermont. In addition to riding around, I endeavored to take up fishing. Since, I also love canoes and bikes, which you may have heard, I tried to fish using those things. So, I bought a telescoping reel that I could pack into my bag. It worked great, except that when I rode my bike to other bodies of water, I never caught any fish.

I also did some good bike to hike, whereupon I hiked up this really cool, though short trail up Wheeler Mountain. I wasn't attacked by any falcons.

I tried to do some philosophizing, but Dario did way more, so I will spare you mine. I read a lot of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Saul Bellow, though.

I also like rope swings a lot. A good one developed last year across the lake form Johanna's place. At first, I canoed to it, but then I rode my bike to it.


Finally, the day before I left I won the Glover Mountain Bike Race. It was the most important race of my career. Now that I've won the Hartford Alley Cat and the Glover Mountain Bike Race, I think I can retire and concentrate on canoeing full time.

Below is Wheeler Mountain. I guess I should put this picture near the paragraph about.
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Sunday, August 5, 2012

38 Special

The other day marked my completion of 38 trips around the sun. While not the birthday party type, I'm more than happy to use it as a guilt-free excuse to clear my to-do list for a day and indulge in a bit of meandering on the bike. I started with a hearty lunch of "Texas Caviar" (a seriously tasty black-eyed-pea salsa) from the Urban Gourmet at Bushnell Park. From there I made my way toward the Connecticut River and followed the Riverside Park Trails to the railroad tracks by the Windsor line. From there I followed the newly-paved Windsor multi-use path north to the Bissel Bridge and crossed the river to South Windsor.

Keeping the river on my right (albeit mostly out of sight) again, I pedaled south through East Hartford to Glastonbury, where I visited the bike shops, refilling my water and lingering in their air-conditioning. I meandered along Southward toward the ferry, taking in historic homes, farm fields and unmanned honor-system farm stands along the way. I picked up some peaches, tomatoes and hot peppers (honorably) for my short-and-medium-term eating pleasure. I arrived at the east bank of the river and bit into the first of several peaches as I waited for the ferry to land and offload.
Edibles with a stern warning taste better.
I love riding the ferry.  This 350+ year old institution will never get old for me. For something so close to Hartford, it has a quaint, Brigadoon-like remoteness about it that makes me happy each and every time I use it. I'm going to make a point of taking more ferry trips this season. To that end, I prepaid for a special order part at Bicycles East, ensuring an easy excuse for a return trip this week. Note: the operating hours (10:30-5:00 every day) on the CT DOT site don't match the longer hours (M-F 7-7, S/S 10:30-5:00) posted at the ferry.

Back on the west bank, I hopped on the abandoned rail line near the Rocky Hill ferry landing and rode north into Wethersfield. There was more natural and man-made debris in the way than I recalled from the last day I spent along this stretch of track, but it wasn't that bad. With late-afternoon temps still holding in the 90's, the added effort of riding the traprock and rotted, uneven ties of the tracks made quick work of draining my on-board water reserves. I left the tracks in Old Wethersfield, where an impromptu visit with nearby friends provided snacks, water bottle refills and good conversation in front of a blessed electric fan. As dusk fell, I pedaled off refreshed, making my relaxed way through Wethersfield and the South End to home and a refreshing shower. It was a very fine day.

Read more!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

NPR and Velosophy

I had the opportunity to be an in studio guest on the Colin McEnroe show this week to chat about bikes, bike culture, and infrastructure.  Dario took a listen, and may have had some wine.  Results below.


I listened to the replay of Colin McEnroe's show on NPR this evening. Nice job. You should consider doing a brief write-up about the show and posting it on the beat bike blog with a link. Allow me some random thoughts, maybe a little rant, but hopefully the beginning of a good discussion, besides our usual conversation concerning esoteric bike parts. Please excuse the length of this message.

A couple of things dawned on me as I listened to the show, one was inspired by a comment by someone (was it you or Tom Vanderbilt?) that we in the US talk about bike culture, whereas in some other countries there is little or no discussion about it. They sort of just do it. We talk about "bike culture(s)" because we really don't have one, I believe was the speaker's point. He overstated it in my opinion. There is a bike culture or bike cultures and in some places it's pretty healthy (Portland Oregon) and in others far less so (Hartford?). In Italy, I've seen bikes piled up one against another in provincial railway stations that belong to commuters who park their bikes and get on the train. The scene is even more impressive in northern Europe where the climate works against cycling commuters. Italians are also debating creating better infrastructure in their cities. Interestingly, the name of a major advocacy group there is "Salvaciclisti" (Save the cyclists!). The Dutch and the Danes have a long tradition, but theirs is also the result of conscious debate and awareness of "cycling" culture. So, I think that those cycling countries have rich cultures, but not to be taken for granted because they continue to advocate for legislation. The Danes, of course, are well ahead of us.

My point, actually a question, about the show's discussion is: Why does everything have to be a theological debate? Spandex vs. no spandex, racing vs. "just riding". We talk about cycling as if we were 17th C English Puritans dropped into the 21st C. Cycling is far richer and more nuanced than the hackneyed dualities trotted out during the show, even if it is modern radio and everyone has only ten seconds to respond. The problem on a practical level is certainly two-fold: educating drivers and cyclists to be more considerate (look who's talking, right?) of one another, and creating the appropriate infrastructure (bike lanes, etc…). Yet, I see the problem as being bigger than just educating drivers and cyclists to being more courteous and bigger than improving our cycling infrastructure.

Let me try my hand at "velosophy" (cycling philosophy) a word coined by Grant Peterson, although on the show he didn't express a crumb of it and he sounded very confused. The reason why he can write a book (and I'm sure it is a provocative book), titled "Just Ride" is the same reason why Michael Pollan can write a run away bestseller about food titled "In Defense of Food". Just go for a ride. Just eat real food. Their positions are tautological however because they don't explain the underlying problems in my view. (I haven't read Peterson's book, but I have read and re-read many of his "essays" on the website and I agree with a lot of what he says. Also I use Pollan's book in an undergraduate course about food culture.) What both books seem to be addressing is the lack of "good sense" and that we have to get it back (presuming we ever had it). My philosophical point?: We are detached (alienated) from food and nature. And we are detached from natural movement. Cycling requires that we interact in time and space differently from the way we do in an automobile, a train, a plane, which literally (and not just metaphorically) obliterate time and space. So does the bicycle vis-a-vis walking or running perhaps, that is "obliterates time and space", but we get the best of both worlds with the bicycle, expeditiousness and economy of movement with the psycho-physical engagement with the environment. The bicycle is a sophisticated technology, too, but one that potentially enhances our engagement with nature, not lessens it. In the U.S. I believe that we are generally alienated from movement. An example is the simple activity of walking. Walking or moving our bodies is called exercise, not simply walking (to work, to the store, to school). People go for walks to lose weight, to stay in shape, as if it were an unnatural activity, something one makes a point of doing; not something one does as necessary to existence. I bet you can buy a book about walking technique, too. And it will certainly state the obvious, "lean forward and put one foot in front of the other." We are (and I'll overstate the point) alienated from our bodies in no small part and inevitably because of technology. 

I'm definitely low tech, but certainly not a Luddite. The particular brand of American capitalism has determined that certain technologies prevail over others, cars over bicycles, Facebook vs. face time, elliptical trainers vs. walking up hills to get to the store or to work. So the problem is not so much as between choosing low tech (riding a beater bicycle) over high tech (an oversized SUV with all the bells and whistles); rather, that our culture of consumerism and conformism compel many to purchase and to mis-use technological goods that are not in the collective's best interests, creating consequently other problems, like pollution and waste. Most people could get around on foot or by bike just fine, and keep the car for other longer trips. Right? However, the political, cultural, and technological framework we inhabit is such that it is actually advocating against cycling or walking for that matter. It's not even that our society is indifferent to cycling. It's against it. Colin McEnroe opined on the show that mini-van drivers are the worst because they have no sense of the size of their vehicles. Nonsense! The mini-van driver has bought a house on wheels and wants to moving his or heer fucking house on wheels wherever he/she pleases. When you've decided to buy a house on wheels you don't care about the "other", be it a smaller car, cyclist, or pedestrian. Obviously, ditto for SUV drivers. Houses were not meant to be on wheels. (Except for trailer homes, but you get my point.)

I understand quite well that it is a lot simpler to argue for bike lanes and for cyclists to not blow through red lights (especially when you're allowed only sound bytes) than it is to change our consumer and conformist bad habits. But I think that if we understand better the deeper roots of the fracture in our own society we can have a clearer discussion about the remedy. Cycling, food, the environment, and especially social relations (how we talk to and behave with one another) are all intertwined, of course. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that these conversations happen in such a vacuum. I'm probably not saying anything you don't know, but I was sort of disappointed that a deeper discussion about "culture" didn't develop.

One question I had for you (and I would for other guests) is: Were you "king for a day" what three things (legislation, etc…) would you change or implement to enhance cycling safety?


I'll answer Dario's questions soon, but want to give the internets first dibs.

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