Monday, November 29, 2010

Non-competitve cyclocross

I like my family and I like to ride my bike. Since the Mayor, pursuant to §2-391(D)2 of the Municipal Code, gave City employees like myself the day after Thanksgiving off, I spent lots of time involving both of those things. I rode at Case & Gay City as well as the Reservoir. I tried a new tire and decided that it was great. I also found a fancy Camelbak water bottle. Not quite as good as finding $15, but close.

I also did one of those slightly protracted expedition speed rides with walking and riding, and got shot at.

What did you do with your four days off? Did you drink the Sam Adams Cream Stout? It's very good!

Flat tire!

Moody view...
...from Kilkenney Rocks
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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.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bicycle or Spaceship?

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.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

So much 'cross!

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.

Cheshire is my favorite race around. A lot of it is in the woods, where it's rolling and technical. This year, the hill with the "hill people" was without the log & box, so it was rideable. The race was prey brutal for me. I had a bad crash caused by someone running me off course on the first lap, but fought my way back to first (and then second/third). I was feeling really good, but had some issues on the hill and dropped my chain. I lost a few places that I could regain because it took me like a minute to get the chain back on. When running up a bumpy hill, put the bike on your shoulder. Don't push it. I finished seventh.

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!
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Bikes Outside: Bike Ballet

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.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I was riding the old bike tonight through the meadows and I happened upon a small animal. It was a skunk! Luckily, I wasn't sprayed. It was a cute skunk and you can't see it in any of these pictures.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Car Free in Connecticut

Car free in Connecticut – What am I thinking?It has been two months since I moved back to central Connecticut from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and the transportation norms of Connecticut are radically different from what I’d become accustomed. In CU I had shed the personal automobile and relished the biking, walking, and public transit options for getting around the compact and culturally dense community. Addicted to the low costs and enjoyable non-vehicular commutes I decided to continue my car free adventure in central Connecticut. As the car free lifestyle is decidedly rare in this area I thought it might be a good idea to capture my thoughts and experiences in a series of short articles. Folks considering the car free or car light lifestyles could read these accounts and be inspired to take the next step. Existing converts would have the opportunity to share their tips and tricks (and shortcuts) to make the car free life more palatable.

First I’ll share where I’m coming from. For the last three years I was living in an idyllic university community. The cities of Champaign and Urbana sandwich the University of Illinois. Wide, flat streets connected in a convenient grid pattern contain three vibrant business districts and the university within a three mile circumscribed circle. The city of Urbana boasts an 8% mode share for bicycling trips. Although bike lanes aren’t universal, a trip across town is comfortably completed on low traffic, neighborhood streets. CU had the most cycling friendly motorists I have encountered, as they were familiar with sharing the road and many were themselves at least occasional bicycle commuters. A constant supply of vehicle free university students, most entirely clueless of safe cycling practices, augmented the permanent resident bicycle commuters. The town council of Urbana was marjority pro-bicycle and was moving swiftly to implement a comprehensive bicycle plan. Neighboring Champaign was also adding bicycle lanes to major downtown thoroughfares and had included Complete Streets wording in its transportation policy. In 2010 Urbana was recognized as a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists and was quickly progressing towards the next level of Silver.

I lived in central Connecticut from 2001 to 2007, but after frolicing for years in a bikable and walkable mecca the differences are stark. The mode share for bicycle trips in the Hartford area is less than 1%, which is near the national average. The City of Hartford has adopted a policy of incorporating bike lanes where possible, but the surrounding suburban communities have scant bicycle friendly infrastructure. The dominant suburban and exurban makeup of the area results in a less compact metropolitan core and longer distances between home, work, shopping, and cultural events. The geographically constrained arterial roads results in higher traffic volume on critical links that sometimes can’t be planned around by a cyclist looking for a more lightly traveled alternative. On top of the physical challenges of minimal infrastructure and longer distances, the drivers in central CT are not familiar with operating around bicycles that share the roadway. It’s stressful riding out there, but you already know that.

Now why would I choose to attempt to ditch my car in this type of environment? Good question. My primary reason is that I’d rather put away an extra $6,000 a year towards an early retirement. Secondarily, I find that bike commuting reduces my stress level and keeps me fit with a minimal level of time and effort. The trip to and from work each day becomes time to think and get my blood moving. The gym memberships are avoided while at the same time I daily experience the outdoors and counteract the soul destroying effects of an engineering desk job. There are numerous additional benefits of the car free lifestyle that I will explore in future articles, but that’s enough for now.

How does one get started on this car free stuff? When I moved back to Connecticut I realized that in order to make car free work, it would take a little planning. My job in East Hartford at Pratt & Whitney would account for most of my transportation needs, so I decided to live a couple of miles from the office. A bucolic estate out in Hebron was out of the question. Groceries, shopping, restaurants, and outdoor pursuits are within easy cycling distance. Cultural events in downtown Hartford are still an easy ride. The framework is there for a successful car free experiment. Now it’s up to me to see if I can make it work. Future articles will look at how I’m doing and occasionally take up larger urban planning and sustainability themes. Hopefully you’ll find these periodic articles entertaining, educational, and in some ways inspiring. Wish me luck!
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Bikes Outside: It's Lonely at the Summit

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.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Rocks and rocks and manure

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

Authentic cyclocross.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pants and secret cove

As you may or may not know, there's a new pants place on Pratt Street. More specifically, there's a denim place. It's called the Hartford Denim Co.; they make and fix pants. They fixed the crotch of the pants I'm wearing right now and yesterday they fixed the crotch of Johanna's pants. They do a good job. I'm saving up to buy a pair of their tricked out pants that last for a million years. TJ has a pair and hasn't had to take them off in a month!

After work, Johanna's pants and I went on a little trip.

View secret cove in a larger map

It was poetic and dark. I took some pictures. The pants enjoyed the trip. Whilst exploring the secret cove actually got turned around and felt a little lost. That added to the poetic nature.

If you go check it out, make sure there aren't any cars parked nearby even if you're wearing orange. It's a popular hunting and target shooting spot and you end up down range from the target shooting.

On a more serious note, you've probably seen the front page news about poor Henry Dang. That sounds like a fucked up cover up to me.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reflect on This

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

Equestrians Salute Veterans With A Great Big Load of Crap

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.

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Salem's ride: nobody died

On the heels of the eel, Salem organized himself a ride out into the hinterland of East-Central Connecticut. Calling it the De-tour de Connecticut, it left from Salem's house in South Glastonbury, went through Meshomasic State Forest, over to the Air Line Trail all the way out to Willimantic, then it came back west on the Hop Brook Trail, did some very interesting in Manchester, hit the boardwalk and then ventured back to Glastonbury via Keeney Cove, where a secret bit of singletrack was discovered and rendered Keeney connected to Naubuc.

The bike was dirty.

Information about about how this was all going to work involved descriptions like this:
  • I've been wanting to lead this loop for a number of years, and now I finally took the bit. More or less, it is a grand tour of Connecticut's eastern rail trails and some other hidden gems thrown in to boot. Mostly crushed cinder path, I've ridden all of it with a road bike, but would recommend at least a 32c tire, so a cross bike or rigid mountain bike would probably be the ideal as there are some some short but significantly rough sections, and even a touch of singletrack. In other words, it is a typical ride for me. A rough outline on google maps says about 75 miles, so yes, it will be a long day. The good news is the vast majority of the loop stays off car-accessible routes and much of it is rather pretty as well.
  • 2) Regarding bikes, I've done most of the recon on a road bike but have had walk here and there. Cross bike is good if you view that as a mild offroader, but if you view a cross rig as just a dirt-road-bike, best bring yourself a mountain bike. Dario will be riding a fixed gear 20" BMX with no seat just to show us what wimps we are.
  • In answer to requests for a route, the short answer is, "Sorry, no I can't provide one." Not only would it ruin the surprise (where's everyone's sense of adventure?), but the loop doesn't stick to mapped routes, or paths. The sketch: Meshomasic to Airline trail, to Hop River Trail, no-name trails etc through Manchester and E. Hartford, paths along the river, and back. Thus the "De-tour" de CT.
Then, it got clean!

Due to a dare, I rode it on the old fixed Colnago, which was stupid. None the less, it was exciting with dangerous bridges, secret Manchester singletrack and a heart-poppingly strenuous rip-rap along the railroad. I didn't take any pictures, so I don't have any evidence of the final trudge through high water on Point Road. It was a pretty epic final trudge: glowering bike people with bikes on shoulders wading through thigh deep water.

And, that was that. Thanks for leading us on a great ride, Salem!

Cat playing the synthesizer.
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Bikes Outside: Vintage 'Vega

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.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

The art of French cooking on the move

You probably think I only cook soup and pasta, but it's not true. Sometimes, I reach for my thick red book and make something with a rich sauce. And, it comes to work with me.

Hopping up the back stairs at work, I almost lost it!
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Shoes

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

Guest Post: IL to CT Part II

Editor's note: Here's part two of Tony's trip to CT. He joined us for The Eel on Saturday and it was nice to meet him. Since I couldn't get his picture of a map to upload, included is some picture I took of some stuff near NW CT.

Chambana to Connecticut in 16 Days - Part 2

Well you’re back for more. Glad to share and I hope this article inspires others to try a multi-day self supported bike tour. If you missed the first installment, you can get caught up here (insert link). I wanted to start off with some of the things I learned on the trip. A lot of these things are bike tour specific, but there are also some life lessons tucked in there. After that you’ll get the day by day notes as I traveled across Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and finished in Connecticut.

On this slow trip I hoped to learn a little about myself, the people I met, and the new areas I would be exploring. It was amazing how my different types of geography I was able to experience on a simple bicycle trip under my own power. I found that I fortunately had the will to spend day after day in a bicycle saddle without getting overwhelmed or too terribly worn out. My bicycle mechanic skills honed by three years of volunteering at The Bike Project were invaluable. The people I met were supportive, interesting, and welcoming. I stayed with tangentially connected folks on several evenings that were basically strangers, but we had great conversations about my trip, their lives, an the places they lived. All hosts I stayed with fed me without fail and resolutely refused to let me pick up the bill when we went out to restaurants. I had very few instances over 15 full days of riding where a driver honked or passed uncomfortably close, and I was moving slower than usual do to my load and long days. The trip was a refreshing dose of the nice bits of American hospitality and a confirmation that most people are good at heart. The support and friendship I experienced throughout the trip is a important to me as the scenery and physical challenge when asked, “Was it something you’d do again?” My answer is, “Absolutely!”

Critical lessons lessons learned:
A cell phone with reliable coverage and some sort of GPS navigation is critical to light touring. I didn’t have to carry a huge atlas or multiple tour books. I used the cell phone to set up my accommodations along the way.
A touring specific bicycle with a stronger rear wheel and a properly attached rear rack would have been a lower risk for mechanical failures. It would have also been prudent to move some weight forward to front panniers or a handlebar bag.
A hammock with a light sleeping bag is only comfortable down to 50F. At 40F you’re courting hypothermia.
Set up a network of potential stops along the route before you leave. The itinerary my change, and flexibility will keep you in houses and reduce your stress level.
Plan for a conservative daily mileage and achieve what the conditions allow. For me a planning number was 60 miles per day, but I was able to ride 80 miles per day due to favorable conditions.
Stop whenever you see something interesting. An enjoyable tour is not a death march. Take reasonable detours when they look interesting as five miles is in the noise over a multi-day tour.
Carry the tools you will need for basic roadside repairs, and know how to use them. I would have been stranded three times if I didn’t follow this advice.
Bring sunscreen and wear it. Sunglasses and a visor on my helmet were helpful too. The sunglasses deflected countless bits of gravel and insects that could have caused a crash or at least significant discomfort.
If it rains, ride through it as long as you feel safe doing so. Rain happens. Its not that bad.
Bring lights. You’ll probably mis-time your destination at least on day and lights will keep you alive. Your headlight will double as a reading light and camp setup lighting.
Pack light. Don’t bring extra books, food, or more than one change of clothes. If you need more than the basics for an unexpected issue, you can buy it along the way.

And now for the day by day details...

Saturday, Sept 25th - Grapes, grapes, and more grapes. Wine!
After leaving Ashtabula it seemed like I road past countless vineyards right at harvest season. The smell of the ripe grapes filled the air and it was a struggle not to stop at every winery I passed. About ten miles in I noticed my rear wheel had some extra wobble. Stopping at a lakeside park, I took the opportunity to replace the spoke and freshen up in the park bathroom.

My prearranged stop for the evening was just outside of North East, PA where there happened to be a harvest wine festival in effect. I had the chance to taste several wines and try a slice of grape pie. Later in the evening I was treated to dinner by some tangentially contacted friends of friends. I realized that success of this trip was as dependent on the kindness of strangers as my will to pedal for hours on end each day.

Sunday, Sept 26th - Riding on a highway towards Buffalo wings.
Most of Sunday was spent in grape scented bliss along Lake Erie following a signed bike route that hugged Lake Erie. As I approached Buffalo in the afternoon I was excited to see the family of wind turbines on the south side of the city. Unexpectedly my bike route signage evaporated just as I entered the city proper and the street I was on turned into a full fledged highway. Yikes! I jumped off the first exit and weaved through some rough neighborhoods into the center of the city. After perusing some battleships and a submarine at the port, I headed to a the east side of the city to stay at the home of a friend’s parents. We supped on Buffalo wings (Obama ate there) and pizza.

Monday, Sept 27th - Headed for Rochester. Left buttock calls it quits.
Flat tire in the morning from a valve stem failure. I quickly replaced the tube and headed out of town. A conveniently passed bike shop on the edge of town was open early and I snagged a backup tube. Basically a straight shot to Rochester, and not too exciting. The rain started in the afternoon just as I was reaching the city and some heavier traffic. Just as it was getting stressful I came across the Erie Canal path that loops around the SW to SE side of the city. The rest of the ride to a friend’s parents on the SE side of Rochester was scenic and stress free despite the rain and the painfully cramping backside.

Tuesday, Sept 28th - A much needed day off. Butt recovers fully.
After a good nights rest and some lazing about on the couch and several rounds of stretching I got restless with the good weather outside and decided to take the canal path back five miles to the SW side of Rochester to check out Genessee Valley Park. The park abuts the University of Rochester campus and was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead although its not one of his better known works. I found a nice bench and read in the sun and did some more stretching. The short 10 mile round trip was refreshing after nine days in the saddle. Dinner was at Dinosaur Bar B Que in downtown Rochester and was excellent.

Wednesday, Sept 29th - Following the Erie Canal towards Syracuse.
An easy start on the paved portion of the Erie Canal trail that passed less than a mile from where I was staying. Took the path all the way to Newark and then followed the NY Bicycle Route 5 that traverses the state East-West parallel to the Erie corridor. I noticed that most of the preferred cross state route still had legible street markings from the annual bike tour. This was very helpful at I didn’t bring maps or have a planned route. Some folks were surprised that I had done so little detailed route planning, but I think I preferred the approach. I could detour at will, carried less weight, and stumbled across more things than I could have planned to visit. When I was lost or unsure of my route (GPS malfunctioning) I just headed in a roughly northeast direction until I got a better bearing.

After supping at a recommended brew house in downtown Syracuse I headed northeast to a couch surf set up by a Connecticut friend and brewmaster at John Harvards. The home was right on the shore of Oneida Lake, but no one was home and I was waiting for a bit in the dark. Just as the neighbors were about to call me in to the police, Terri showed up with her son and new dog. They’d had the dog for just two weeks and were returning from a first obedience lesson. The adorable dog was a Daschund - German Shepherd mix, and I spent a minute trying to fathom the gymnastics that made it possible. Unfortunately the dog wanted to eat me, and didn’t let up until I had cleared the building the next day. Our hypothesis was that my beard was the reason for the ire, as the dog had reacted strongly to another bearded visitor. Apart from the the unfortunate canine antipathy, my stay was relaxing and the view in the morning was amazing. Couch surfing at its finest.

Thursday, Sept 30th - Sloppy wet. Thank you Tropical Storm Nicole.
When I left in the morning it was raining steadily and it didn’t let up all day. The only variation was that sometimes the steady rain escalated to a wind driven downpour. My target for the evening was Mohawk, but I made a little further to Little Falls, NY due to the focus afforded by the conditions that weren’t ideal for frequent sight seeing and pit stops. Soaked to the bone, cold, and super grungy with trail spray I booked a downtown hotel room for the night. Little Falls was picturesque, even in a stubborn drizzle. After a refreshing warm shower, I dined in the nearby steak restaurant and strolled the historic and hilly downtown and adjacent residential neighborhoods. I put the town into my mental Rolodex of places that would be great for a relaxing long weekend vacation.

Friday, Oct 1st - Smooth sailing to Albany until the rack broke.
Pushing off at a leisurely 9AM to allow the rain to get ahead of me, I hoped to stay dry most of Friday. There were still lingering sprinkles until the early afternoon, but none of the drenching I had seen on Thursday. Looping around Schenectady on hilly paved bike paths, I passed several General Electric compounds. For those that don’t know, I work for Pratt & Whitney, and GE is a formidable competitor of ours in the aircraft and power generation engine businesses. I took the opportunity to relieve myself trail side while facing one of the large GE emblazoned industrial buildings. Rolling through a park in the metro corridor between Troy and Albany I heard a pop while hitting a speed bump. My back wheel stopped turning and I came to a skidding halt. The upper steel strap securing my rear rack had snapped and my rack pivoted backwards acting as a very effective friction brake on the back tire. My first thought was, “Crap! I’m stranded.”

Then my engineer brain kicked in and I determined that I could temporarily support the rack with a tight truss of tent cord running between the saddle rails and the seat tube. After 20 minutes I was back in business, but needed a more permanent fix before taking off for my next leg in the mountains on Saturday. I called a friend who mentioned there was a group of like minded bicycle cooperative folks in Troy / Albany and had them look up a phone number. I left a message at the co-op’s number and proceeded to call local bike shops, all of which were 5 minutes from closing for the day. I was planning to stealth camp just North of the city, and head in for a repair when the bike shops opened around 11AM.

Just then, I got an unexpected call back from Mary at Albany Bike Rescue. They offered to come downtown and open the shop for me. They even had the part I needed for the repair. After a quick repair and lots of great bike co-op chatter, I tried to get Mary and her husband to let me treat them to dinner. They wouldn’t let me buy, but did invite me downtown for grub. We happened upon an unexpectedly large group of cyclists participating in Albany’s First Friday. I settled right in, as these are “my people.” I also figured that someone in the group would eventually offer me somewhere to sleep. After pounding a veggie burger and an absurdly large chocolate cheesecake dessert, I got the couch surfing offer from a friendly guy named Bill. The only drawback was that Bill was headed out shortly and I wouldn’t be able to do much Albany carousing. Now that I’ve seen the bustling First Friday and seen the happening bike culture an Amtrak trip to Albany might be in order.

Saturday, Oct 2nd - Leaf peeping the Berkshires on a bike is a lot more work.
I’d ridden some sizable hills on several days of the trip, but I knew the biggest challenge was going to be riding across western Massachusetts. I thanked various deities throughout the day for a triple front chain ring and a generous rear cassette. Much of the day was spent slowly churning upwards in my easiest gear with ample time to take in the breathtaking views. The rest of the day was careening downhill, faster than was responsible for a loaded touring bike. In the spirit of my unplanned route I spent a good portion of the day on gravel roads, but smooth, packed gravel roads (not evil sucking pea gravel or big unstable rocks). Bombing down a gravel mountain road at 40mph+ is not advisable but I did it anyway, with only one pinch flat as punishment.

The epitome of the hill climbs was would be a grueling 1 1/2 mile climb starting with a long 12% incline. Just as I was starting into the climb a pair of motorcyclists heading down laughed loudly and one said, “He’s got a long haul.” I knew it was going to be a big one. I eventually made it to the Massachusetts-Connecticut border and snacked on the remainder of my goodies for dinner. I had carried a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar and half a bottle of wine (in the extra water bottle) through the mountains and reveled in the luxurious camp snack and instantaneous tipsy feeling. I set up to stealth camp along side a small tumbling river in Granville State Forest. It was going to be a cold night, so I bundled up before crawling into my hammock at 7:30PM. I wasn’t sure how cold because without cell coverage my weather source, Mom on the internet, was unavailable.

Sunday, Oct 3rd - Final day! First time riding NW Connecticut.
Ouch it was cold! Note to self - a hammock and lightweight sleeping bag are not comfortable at 40F. Most of the long night (11 hrs) was spent curled into a fetal position with significant periods of foot rubbing. A pair of thermal tights under my pants or some chemical heating packets might have made this more bearable. I woke up at first light and eagerly started on the relatively short ride into Hartford. Breakfast was a handful of raisins and the dregs in my water bottle. I needed a water stop soon, or I would need to break out the filter I had packed but not yet used.

Two miles down the road I passed a campground replete with a bathroom, warm showers, and camp fires. I had nearly frozen just short of this park amenity. This is the one time when I kicked myself for not planning more ahead of time. After a brief toilet and water refill, I continued my ride into the gradually reducing, but still significant, hills of Northwest Connecticut. Looping the north end of the Barkhamsted Reservoir afforded memorable fall vistas and immaculate new pavement. As I approached the western suburbs of Hartford, the roads became familiar and I put it on autopilot as my energy stores tanked. Rolling up to my current squat in Connecticut, I was greeted by a hearty warm lunch provided Miriam who knew I was arriving. Famished and worn out, I tore into lunch and started digesting the journey. I will do this again.

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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.

The bonus sections, Loomis trails and Hockanum Boardwalk, were left out, so it ended up only being 55 or so miles.

All of this eeling begs the question of what the next event should be. Any suggestions?
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