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Un-American Cycling Part 1: Riding A Bike In Cambridge, England

I recently traveled to a foreign country (no, not Canada, that doesn’t really count) and I rode several different bikes there. I have lived to tell the tale. I visited two cities in England: Cambridge and London. First, let’s take a look at Cambridge.

Cambridge is the home of The University of Cambridge. It’s old – 13th century old. The University is made up of many different “colleges” including Darwin College, where Spouse was attending a conference and I was lucky enough to tag along for a ride. Un-American fact #1 about The University of Cambridge: Darwin College? Darwin? You think that shit would fly in God’s United States? I don’t think so.


This is the logo for the Darwin College Student Association. Not only does it reference a godless idea like evolution, it also implies that some students may want to “walk in their own direction!”

Along with godless logos, there were also tons of beautiful old buildings all over the place. I probably should have taken a bunch of pictures of old stuff while I was there, but I always feel a little odd doing that. So, take a moment and go to your favorite internet search engine; type “University of Cambridge” and search images. Now look at all the pretty buildings for a few minutes and then come back here.

Nice, right?

Instead, I take pictures of bike stuff – even then, I should have taken more so I could capture the state of the “bike culture” there. So I’ll have to describe the bike culture using boring old words. Bikes are big in Cambridge. Estimates vary, but Cambridge may have the highest bike mode share of any city in the UK. Depending on who you believe, bicycle commuters make up somewhere between 20-30% of the people getting to work on a regular basis. (For g-d’s sake, don’t quote me on this, go find something authoritative). All I know is that bikes were everywhere. And while Cambridge is certainly a college town, it’s definitely not just University students who are riding bikes. I saw many bakfietsen out on the streets of Cambridge, usually piloted by a woman between the ages of 25 – 40, often with a small child or children riding happily in the box. Here’s a bakfiets parked at Darwin College:

Bakfiets at Darwin College

Bakfiets at Darwin College

Even more popular than the bakfiets, I saw many tricycles that looked like a mashup between a bike and a jogging stroller. I’m pretty sure that I was looking at a Zigo Leader Bicycle. They all went by too fast for me to catch a picture, but once again, internet search engine image search comes in handy:


Parents riding around on bikes (or trikes, or whatever), carrying their kids – that’s definitely a sign of a healthy bike culture.

Aside from the abundance of dedicated child-portaging bikes, the bikes in use would not have looked out of place in an American city. That is to say, it was a collection of crappy old mountain bikes & hybrids with the occasional road bike, fixie bike, and BSO thrown in for good measure. The only difference is that the factories in China & Taiwan where these bikes were made put different names on the tubes depending on if they ship them to the US or the UK. Still, a BSO, is a BSO, even if you gussy it up with some fancy custom paint work.

Bicycle Shaped Object

This BSO sports a Rocky-inspired custom decal. APPROVED.

The streets are narrow in Cambridge. How narrow? Imagine that part of Benefit street that is really too narrow to be a two-way street with parking on one side. The part where cars have to pull to the side to let each other pass without hitting each other or the parked cars (but we’d never get rid of the free on-street parking, right?) The streets are even narrower than that.

There’s a fair amount of cycling infrastructure leading into the city center, but not much once you get there. Instead, cyclists navigate narrow streets along with buses and cars that pass very close. At first look, I was a little taken aback by how close the cars are when they pass cyclists. But, I wanted to try it for myself, so I rented (erm, hired) a bicycle for the day and set out.

Part of my bike from City Cycle Hire

Part of my bike from City Cycle Hire

I rented the bike from City Cycle Hire. It was a no-frills hybrid with a 3 by 6 drivetrain, but it had many features that are great for a hired bike in the city.

  • Fenders – important for a wet climate
  • Generator-operated lights – in case you want to get anywhere when the sun is not up
  • Chainguard – to protect your pants from getting grease stains
  • A rack – for carrying items that you might purchase
  • Integrated lock – so the bike doesn’t get stolen

Spouse was busy at a conference, so I had the whole day to explore the city. I had noticed a long, green bike path on the google map, so I set out in that general direction. It turned out to be a popular commuter route between Cambridge and the small village of St. Ives. The bike path went alongside a “guided busway” which is some sort of dedicated bus route where the buses seem to run automatically.

Cambridgeshire guided busway

Cambridgeshire guided busway

The buses zoom along on the special road in between towns with no cars to get in their way, and once they get into town, they drive on the streets like a regular bus. It seems like a smart system that combines some of the best of a commuter rail with the best of a local bus service.

It seems to have been built on a railroad right-of-way, so the path was very flat. Unfortunately, it was also rather boring. Where were the subtle, majestic vistas of the English countryside? Certainly not on the 15 mile stretch of bike path between Cambridge and St. Ives. But there was a free-range chicken farm…

chicken farm outside Cambridge.

chicken farm outside Cambridge.

… and I’m always happy to take pictures of chickens.

The bike path ended at the town of St. Ives. What can I say about St. Ives? I’ll just say that not every small English town is picturesque. I turned around and headed back, and that’s when I noticed that I’d had a slight tailwind on my way out, and now it was hitting my square in the face. I plowed into the wind as best I could, and made it back to the cycle hire store with a few minutes to spare before they closed.

City Cycle Hire was closed the next day, but I found another pleasant little cycle hire shop in the middle of Cambridge. This bike was not quite as nice as the one I had the day previous, but it was serviceable enough. It had finders, wide tires, and a simple 1 X 7 derailleur drivetrain. Before heading out, I stopped near the University to take a few pictures of how people lock their bikes in Cambridge, that is to say, barely.

bike locked in CambridgeMany of the bikes I saw were simply locked to themselves. An enterprising thief could just roll up in a van and pile all the bikes in there and cut the locks at his leisure. (We’re in England here, so be sure to pronounce “leisure” as “LEH-zhur.”) In many cases, the bikes were just propped up next to a wall with the lock casually stuck through a wheel. I thought I had seen some of the worst bike racks in the world, but in Cambridge, they have bike parking facilities that seem to come from the Middle Ages:

That's a bike rack?

That’s a bike rack?

I guess the ring in front of the wheel slot is for Ye Olde Bi-cycle Chaine Locke or something. Here’s how people use these today:

bike in the slotAghast at the state of bike locking in England’s Bike-friendliest City, I set out along the River Cam. I started out on a popular recreational bike path:

River CamPicturesque as all get out, right? How about this:

canal lock on River Cam

Because I was traveling in a foreign land, I only had access to the magic of google maps while I was in range of a friendly wi-fi signal. While I was out on the road, I used a map app I had downloaded to my smartphone. It seemed to indicate a bike route along much of the River Cam. However, the map made little distinction between a bike path and a foot path. After a few miles, the bike path ran out and I found myself on this:

not exactly paved

not exactly paved

Not that I’m complaining, it was actually kind of fun. I’ve always wanted to take a trip on England’s famous network of public footpaths, but that seems like a very slow way to travel. Now I’ve had just a little glimpse of the footpath network and it was pretty sweet. I do realize that they are called “footpaths,” but I didn’t see a sign that said “no bikes allowed” so I just kept going and figured I’d play the dumb foreign tourist card if anyone was upset. I did see this great sign:

free range chicken signUnfortunately, I didn’t see any chickens on this particular property. That’s the funny thing about the public footpath network in England. They are on private property, but the public has the right to access them. As we have learned from a recent US Supreme Court decision, that concept is downright UnAmerican.

Although the route was scenic, riding on the footpath is slow going. Each property has a fence with a complicated gate. It’s not too hard get through on foot, but fitting a bike through was rather difficult. There were also people using the footpath for walking. I would excuse myself as I passed them, apologizing for forcing them to move over on the path. The footpath ramblers would apologize right back at me. It was practically Canadian. Unfortunately, I got to a sign that said “no bikes allowed” and it was on private property, so I decided to turn back.

In the next installment of UnAmerican Cycling, I’ll tell you about the wonders of using a bike share scheme in London. That makes it sound so sinister.

Joan Vennochi’s recent column in the Boston Globe

Joan Vennochi, columnist for the Boston Globe recently wrote a column called “Don’t mix bikes and politics.” It’s intended as a response to a previous Globe opinion piece by Jordan Michael Smith called “Conservatives’ new enemy: Bikes.” Smith’s column was an analysis of how some conservative politicians and pundits are using bikes and bike lanes as a culture war wedge issue. Vennochi’s column seems to be saying “hold on, liberals can hate bikes too.”

I’ll address my comments to the author, Joan Vennochi.

You begin your column by setting the scene with a look at what I guess is your daily commute.

“As Boston traffic inched forward during a recent rush-hour snowstorm, a cyclist scooted in front of my car. His back wheel skidded on the icy street, but he righted the bike and cruised across two more lanes of oncoming automobiles.

First of all, why is traffic only inching forward? Maybe it’s all of those cars that are in your way, am I right? I’m sure the snow has something to do with it too.  People seem to freak out when there’s a little bit of snow on the ground. I’m a little confused about your description of the scene. You say the cyclist “cruised across two more lanes of oncoming automobiles.” Are these two lanes of autos inching along as well? Is it a gridlock situation, or did he force the drivers to stop while he crossed in front of them? If he forced other people to stop, that’s a real dick move, in my opinion (not to mention dangerous and illegal). Was he going the wrong way up a one-way street? If it’s a gridlock situation, how did this harm any of the motorists stuck in traffic? This is the opening scene of your column, yet I can’t tell what you are trying to say. And what do you mean by your follow up?

Naturally, he wore no helmet.

How is this relevant?  If he had been wearing a helmet would he have been able to get those other cars out of your way? What does wearing a helmet have to do with you being stuck in a traffic jam?

Why does your helmet observation make up its own one-sentence paragraph?

There’s hostility on both sides. A recent encounter between a driver and cyclist on Commonwealth Avenue that went viral after it was captured by camera on a cyclist’s helmet attests to that. The driver was straddling the bike line. The cyclist didn’t like it. Profanity flowed.

“The cyclist didn’t like it.” Do you want to guess why the cyclist didn’t like it? We often encounter drivers like this guy who edge into (or just outright drive in) the bike line. It’s not a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of being endangered by reckless people operating 4,000 lb machines that could kill someone. I’d say the cyclist showed great restraint with just a bit of profanity after dealing with this driver’s anti-social, malicious behavior. “There’s hostility on both sides.” No, there’s people trying to get somewhere using a variety of methods. Some of them are jerks. The jerks who drive cars are far more dangerous to other people than the jerks who ride bikes.

Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I would feel terrible if my car door knocked down a cyclist. But there’s something about a guy waving his middle finger as he hurtles against traffic on a one-way street that brings out the anti-bike in me.

Did you catch that? “I would feel terrible if my car door knocked down a cyclist.” Does your car door have agency? Does it randomly open on its own? If so, you might want to get that checked. If not, let me fix that sentence for you “Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I would feel terrible if I knocked down a cyclist with my car door.” Makes more sense, right? I’m sure this is what you meant, right? I would also feel terrible if I hit someone with a car door, or any other part of a car (I still drive every once in a while). But you know what, it’s pretty easy to avoid. Before opening a car door, I turn and look over my shoulder to see if anyone is coming. That way I can be sure I won’t hit anyone with the car door. You should try it too.

“But there’s something about a guy waving his middle finger as he hurtles against traffic on a one-way street that brings out the anti-bike in me.” I lived and biked (and drove a car) in Boston for 4 1/2 years and somehow I never saw the middle-finger waving wrong-way cyclist. I also never saw him in 2 years of living in Edmonton or 6 1/2 years living in Providence. Nor have I seen him in the many cities I’ve traveled to. Yet anti-bike columnists seem to always be running into him. Maybe Vennochi is right. Maybe it’s an encounter with this rare creature that turns someone against bikes. Mythical creatures are known to have magical powers. If you have actually encountered this beast, then let me apologize on behalf of all cyclists. We try to control the jerks as best we can, but guys like this just don’t show up to our meetings. I’ve encountered many jerks driving cars (including going the wrong way down a one way street, driving right at me) and yet I’m not anti-car.

I’m kind of confused by this comparison:

But envision the typical man tailgating you in a pickup truck because he thinks you’re not driving fast enough. Now imagine him on a bicycle, propelled by the same attitude.

Unlike your opening paragraph, I think I can picture what you’re talking about, but I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make. I can visualize driving a car with a jerk tailgating me in a pickup truck. This has happened to me many times.  If I have to stop quickly, he won’t have time to react and hit the brakes. This means he could rear-end my car causing significant damage, injury or death. Tailgating me also means he’s more likely to get rear-ended. Now I’m imagining someone on a bicycle tailgating me while I’m driving a car. Okay, that’s a bad idea on his part, but it’s not particularly intimidating to me. If I have to stop quickly, the cyclist could rear-end me causing at most a scratch to the car I’m driving. The cyclist could end up with a wheel that looks like a taco shell, or he could fall and hurt himself. In short, if this jerk is tailgating while driving a pickup truck, he’s potentially deadly, if he’s tailgating while riding a bike, you might get a scratch.

You wrapped up the column with this gem:

Traffic jams haunt the city. On narrow, clogged streets, jaywalking pedestrians add to the chaos — and so do bikers.

It’s not the pedestrians or the cyclists creating the traffic jams that “haunt” the city. It’s people driving cars.

And don’t get me started on jaywalking.

Thanks to twitter user @nicolegelinas for pointing out the Vennochi column in question (and thanks to @miller_stephen for retweeting).

2013: The Year In Pictures

This week marks the return of The New York Times‘ “Year In Pictures” feature which takes over the Sunday Review this time of year so that we don’t have to read “humorous” pieces complaining about the color blue. Inspired by the old gray lady and hoping to cash in on some of the year-end fever for listicles of pictures (pisticles?), here’s the CarFree in PVD 2013 Picture Round-up. I promise it won’t be as depressing as the NYT’s pictures of disasters and wars from around the world. Unless you’re like me and you get depressed by pictures of poorly-designed bike racks.

Let’s start things off right with a picture of a bike rack I use all too often, the Whole Foods Market on Waterman Street in Providence:


So, what are we going to do with all of the snow in this parking lot? I know, let’s just dump it in front of the bike rack, no one will know the difference. I shouldn’t complain since it’s only the spots on the end of the rack that are useful at all. This reminds me, back in August, this particular Whole Foods proudly announced some new picnic tables they were installing:

Additional #outdoor seating in the works!

— Whole Foods Waterman (@WholeFoodsProv) August 9, 2013

To which I responded with:

Maybe add a decent bike rack while you’re at it? RT@WholeFoodsProv Additional #outdoor seating in the works!

— Car Free in PVD (@carfreepvd) August 9, 2013

And they were all like:

.@carfreepvd Funny you should ask! The handicap spot is moving over and 2 NEW bike racks are going in that first spot! Can we get a woohoo?

— Whole Foods Waterman (@WholeFoodsProv) August 9, 2013

I only gave them a “favorite” and a “retweet” but I refused to give them a woo-hoo for I only give woo-hoos to successfully installed bike racks. I’m still holding onto that woohoo, because it’s 5 months later and still no sign of a new bike rack. And now I feel dirty for giving them that “favorite.” They used me.

Enough griping (for now, more griping to follow). Here’s a pic from a solo ride I took in February up into the wooded hills to the northwest of Providence:

Log Road, Rhode IslandJust an example of one of the beautiful places you can ride to in our little state.

We had a serious blizzard later that month, fortunately, I was ready for it with a pair of metal-studded tires on Spouse’s old MTB.

metal studded bike tires

When getting ready to bike in a blizzard, one must not only prepare one’s bike, one must also prepare oneself:

ready for the blizzard bike

Looking at the rainy streets right now, It’s kind of hard to imagine that they looked like this almost a year ago:

blizzard bike in action

I took a trip to Austin in March where I found that they have some pretty good bike infrastructure. However, they also have things like this marked as a “bike path” on their official bike map:

Austin Texas bike pathTo give them credit, sometimes I’d prefer to ford a small stream than deal with Rhode Island drivers. Maybe bike paths like these are just a way of encouraging Texas cyclists to pull themselves up by they bootstraps (or their granny gears, as the case may be):

Austin Texas bike pathNow that’s some bicycle infrastructure, Texas-style!

(to be fair, Austin has created more and better bike infrastructure in recent years than Providence has).

In other bike-parking news, The Hope Artiste Village installed this bike rack early in the year:

Hope Artiste Village bike rack

Another example of what is marketed as a “9-bike rack” but really, there are  only two spots where someone can properly lock the frame of the bike. I used to think that people installed this type of bike rack because they were cheaper than the alternative, but a quick search will bring you to a much better rack for the same amount (or less).

How about some good bike parking? Rhode Island Public Radio held a discussion on the state of cycling in Providence. It was hosted by the excellent Providence Athenaeum with bike valet service provided by Recycle-A-Bike.

recycle-a-bike bike valet

Local bicycle celebrities included Susan Mocarski, from Cleverhood, makers of a fine rain cape for city cycling.

recycle-a-bike and cleverhoodThat’s a Recycle-A-Bike board member on the left, and Susan Mocarski on the right and Susan’s super-sweet Alternative Needs Transportation basket bike in the middle.

Here’s another example of good bike parking. I found this in  New Haven, not far from Yale.

New Haven bike parkingNote how a cyclist can lock both the frame and the wheel to the bike rack, thus providing an additional level of security.

Are you ready from some smugness? How about a bicycle pannier stuffed full of kale purchased at the farmers’ market?

bike kale

yeah, that’s a garage door opener in the mesh pocket of my right-hand pannier, thus mitigating the smugness

I spent several days in Seattle this year. AND IT WAS SUNNY THE WHOLE TIME! Spouse and I rented bikes for a day (but neglected to take any pictures). If you are visiting Seattle and looking to rent a passable road bike, I’d recommend Recycled Cycles where you can pick up an aluminum late-model Raleigh with a Shimano 105 group for $30/day. Or you can hang out at a coffee shop early in the morning and wait for this guy to show up with his custom Vanilla:

custom vanillaYep, that’s a hand-built, highly sought after custom bicycle, casually left unlocked while the guy buys his hand-brewed, single-origin coffee. And when I say highly sought-after, I’m not kidding around. The waiting list to get a Vanilla currently stands at 5 years.

Vanilla Bicycles Waiting ListOh wait, I’m sorry, the waiting list was over 5 years long in June 2011, the last time Sacha White bothered to update this webpage! So, go ahead, leave that bike unlocked, no big whoop.

In more good news, I took two century rides this year. The first one was to Plymouth and back. To prove to you that I rode my bike the whole way there, here’s a picture of Plymouth:

Plymouth Massachusetts

And here’s a picture of my cyclometer after completing the ride (plus 8.28 bonus miles)

My first century plus 8.28

I also took part in the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen’s The Flattest Century in the East. I have to say, TFCE seemed significantly less flat than the Plymouth Century. I’m glad I did though. TFCE had three, well-staffed rest breaks and a rest area at the end. Plus there’s something about going on a long ride with about 3,000 other riders. It’s a very well-run event and I hope I can do it every year.


So that was two 100-plus mile rides with hardly any pictures to show for it. I also went on a long solo ride to Killingly, CT and back.

slow children

This Bike Climbed Jerimoth Hill (almost)

I’m considering printing up a small batch of “This Bike Climbed Jerimoth Hill” top-tube stickers. Who’s in?

I recently discovered that there’s a new section of the Woonasquatucket Bike Path. Somehow I missed when it was introduced – guess that’s what I get for skipping the Woonie Ride this year. It’s a short section, but it’s nice and it helps cyclists avoid a little more of the city streets.

Woonasquatucket Bike Path

The new section runs behind Rising Sun Mills, and there’s event a little bit of left over old mill stuff lying about.

mill bits and pieces

Back in October, I came upon this bike casually parked on Steeple Street.

doppelganger bikeWhat’s this?!? It’s the same bike as mine! Although it is a little smaller, and it has a very ugly bottle holder, and it appears to have almost all of its original components which means its owner isn’t riding enough. This is a 2005 Cannondale Road Warrior 400 (although it doesn’t say “Road Warrior” anywhere on the bike – it does say “Cannondale” six times). Since I bought mine in 2005 I have replaced the following:

  • Tires (multiple times)
  • Pedals (upgraded to clipless/platform flip/flops)
  • Rear Wheel (original freewheel failed – irreparable)
  • Front Wheel (wore through the braking surface and blew out the rim)
  • Cassette (multiple times, now with lower gearing)
  • Chain (mutliple times)
  • Small and middle chainring (big ring still going strong!)
  • Saddle (for more comfort)
  • Stem (to provide a longer reach)
  • Handlebars (wanted something with a little bit of a sweep-back)
  • Brake pads (Hah! Replaced too many times to count)
  • Front brake caliper (worn out)
  • Cables
  • Rear shifter (worn out)
  • Rear Derailleur (worn out, replaced with longer-cage to accommodate lower gearing)
  • I think that’s it

It’s a good old bike, still does just about everything I need it to do.

It will even haul a Christmas tree.

Christmas tree on the bike

One last item: The Providence Bicycle Plan was released this fall and I never got to write about it (although James over at Transport PVD has covered the topic pretty well). It was a busy period at work, blah blah blah. It’s one of those things where I feel like I could spend a long time taking down the bike plan point-by-point, but I don’t think that will really accomplish much. Plus, I didn’t get to attend much on the presentations of it due to other work-related reasons. So, my very simple analysis of the Providence Bike Plan: there’s not much there. Nothing ambitious, nothing that’s really going to change much of anything, nothing exciting. Cities across the country have started to realize that they need to make a serious investment in cycling infrastructure, but what do we get in Providence? Just some sharrows here and there, maybe a few more bike lanes. We have a good selection of bike racks in downtown Providence, but no commitment to bike parking in the other retail sectors of our city. For example, you can ride the entire length of Allens Avenue and not see a single bike rack (although you’ll see several restaurants providing valet parking for their car-driving customers).

Meanwhile, in a fictional universe where you can grab any car off the street and drive it as fast as you like, slamming into cars and running over pedestrians without consequence…

GTA V bike parking

… you’ll find ample, well-designed bike racks.

The Indignity of Bike Parking: Trader Joe’s

I was first introduced to the wonders of Trader Joe’s when I was bachelor living in Boston. And what could be better for the Bostonian bachelor? Cheap eats, ready to easily cook and with a patina of responsible consumerism. Or something, I’m not sure what the vibe in that place is supposed to be – “funky”? “quirky”? “beach-y”? Also, there’s cheap wine.

But I am no longer a bachelor, and I no longer enjoy Trader Joe’s version of a Meal Ready to Eat. But I do still like their trail mixes, which make for an essential work-time snack. Plus, the Rhode Island location is just off of one of our major bike paths – the Washington Secondary Bike Path (also known as the  Cranston Bike Bath, Warwick Bike Path, West Warwick Bike Path and finally, the Coventry Bike Path. [and another thing, where's the Washington Primary Bike Path?])

Here you can see TJ’s and its proximity to the WSBP:

Washington Secondary Bike Path and Trader Joe's

Green curvy line = Washington Secondary Bike Path. A pinpoint = Trader Joe’s

You can see there’s even a little spur heading out to Bald Hill Road. Of course, Bald Hill Road is a bit of a nightmare as far as cycling is concerned.

The beauty that is Bald Hill Road in Warwick, RI

The beauty that is Bald Hill Road in Warwick, RI

Oh my gosh, I think there’s actually someone walking on the sidewalk on the left!

So it’s a big crappy road, whatever, it does have a very wide shoulder, and you’re not on it very long before you get to Trader Joe’s. And what do you find when you get there? Nothing in the way of bike parking. About a year ago, I asked the manager if they were ever going to install any bike parking. He said, “oh yeah, we have a rack on order, it should be here in a couple of months.” All right, that sounds like kind of a long time to wait, but I can understand if it takes a little while to source and install a bike rack, right? Well, I stopped at TJ’s today and I see that the months of waiting got us this:

Bike Rack at Trader Joe's Warwick RI

Bike Rack at Trader Joe’s Warwick RI

I moved the rack a few feet in order to get a better picture. It’s not secured to anything, and it weighs about 25-30 pounds (i.e., about as much as a bicycle). You can buy one of these online for a little over $100. There are very similar models made by a variety of companies, I didn’t look closely enough to see which company made this one, but it looks essentially identical to this one. From the product description:

Parks up to 6 bikes.
Perfect for home and small businesses. Set it up outside or in a garage or basement to park a family of bikes.
Assembles in minutes.
Lightweight yet surprisingly solid. Durable and weatherproof. Welded frame with one-peice and sections. [sic]
Can be anchored in lawns, concrete, or asphalt using Anchors #6257 and #6258 (Sold separately).

See that? “Parks up to 6 bikes.” It doesn’t say anything about locking the bikes to this thing (here’s a hint – you can’t properly lock a bike to it!) “Perfect for home and small business… set it up in a garage…” Yes, exactly. I have one of these in my garage. I use it to store three of my bikes. The anchors are sold separately, and they were evidently just a little too expensive for TJ’s budget.

What Trader Joe’s should have installed was something more like this.

A decent bike rack

A decent bike rack

You can pick these up for $430 (plus $19 for the mounting kit) right here.

Oh, what do you know? I found a few of these, right on the WSBP! Check it out:

WSBP bike rack

WSBP bike rack

First of all, this rack is installed RIGHT NEXT TO A FENCE which means you can’t fit your wheel through the loops. Secondly, it’s installed right next to a parking lot. There is nothing within walking distance. Why would anyone park lock a bike here? There’s nowhere to go once you get off the bike. There are several more of these “wave” bike racks along the WSBP, usually right next to a little park bench. I guess the idea is that you might want to take a rest from riding your bike, so you stop at one of these benches and use the bike rack to lock up your bike while you are 3 feet away from it. This seems to be a trend, in this state at least. A few years ago, I discovered the most useless bike rack in the state in Woonsocket. That one won’t even fit a 700c wheel!

I guess I could lead a cyclists’ boycott of Trader Joe’s, but what would that accomplish? This bike rack makes it pretty clear that cyclists are not wanted in their store. Until I organize a boycott of TJ’s, I’ll just boycott their bullshit bike rack:

I turn my red tire to TJ's bike rack like a baboon turns his red butt to his enemy

I turn my red tire to TJ’s bike rack like a baboon turns his red butt to his enemy

I almost went in to have a discussion with the manager about this so-called bike rack, but I was wearing my “sporty cycling attire” that is, really tight bike shorts and jersey, so I wasn’t feeling that dignified. Maybe next time. IF THERE IS A NEXT TIME! Hear that TJ’s? You can kiss my occasional trail mix money goodbye!


I ended my Bartolomé Day ride with a visit to Fertile Underground for lunch.

Fertile Underground Bicycle Rack

Now that’s a bike rack!

I’m an avid driver

Many people use the phrase “avid cyclist” to describe basically anyone who rides a bike for transportation. Alternately, an avid cyclist can be someone who puts on special clothing more than once a year and rides their bike for more than 10 miles in one day. And if you are someone who does both of these things, then you are definitely an “avid cyclist.” There are those in the bicycle advocacy world (such as Mikael Druker of the blog Psytenance) who do not like the phrase because they feel it marginalizes those who ride bikes:

…labelling those who willingly cycle as “avid cyclists” is a way of setting aside the difficult and interesting problem of how to make our cities conducive to cycling — in favor of the easy story of cycling as something “other”, as something done by people who aren’t normal. Why bother making the city a better place to cycle if the only people who will do it are the ones who are already cyclists?

Sure, okay. I guess I pretty much agree with that. Using the phrase as an advocate is not the best position.

But, I’m not sure if I’ll go to the step of banishing the phrase from my vocabulary, because sometimes it just fits. Within a few minutes of meeting me, I may be tempted to bore you with talk about cycling, bikes, infrastructure, and the overall indignity of bicycle parking. I’ve been commuting by bike for over a decade now, and for the last 8 years, I’ve done it in every type of weather imaginable. I also enjoy a long ride on my road bike, when I have the time. (I guess this blog is evidence of my cycling avidity as well). By all accounts, I am an avid cyclist.

I sold my car about 4 years ago, and since that time, I’ve tried to keep track of the miles of biked as well as the miles I travel by car. In the last 12 months, I’ve traveled approximately 3,100 miles by bicycle. But by zipcar, traditional rental car, or borrowing a friend’s car, I’ve traveled 4,200 miles driving and an additional 200 miles riding in a car as a passenger.

So, I guess I’m an avid driver, too.

As I approach Carfree-niversary #4, my goal for the next year of car-free living is to ride 3,650 miles in 12 months from August 2013 through July 2014. That would mean an average of 10 miles per day. I’m doing good so far, I rode my first century on August 5th, and along with my usual commute and shopping, I’m already at 150 miles of cycling. However, I’ve taken a few car trips too, and I’m up to 156 miles in that column.

It’s a beautiful day today, time to put in a few bike miles.

Product Review: Light and Motion VIS 360

I believe that this post may qualify as my first product review*, but I’m not quite sure. The problem is that I don’t actually read my own blog, I just type it. As soon as a sentence has left my fingertips, I scroll down and never look at it again. I like to think of it as a way to keep things fresh and always moving forward so that my reader(s) can experience this blog in the same way I write it: sporadically.

Moving on.

Back in early September, Josh Zisson, bicycle lawyer of Boston, and proprietor of the excellent announced a twitter hashtag contest. Josh challenged his followers thusly:

“To enter, you need only post a tweet that includes the following hashtag: #DearDrivers.

The idea is that you’re writing a letter to drivers, along the lines of #DearDrivers, please don’t forget about me when you’re making that right turn. Love, bikers.

Simple, right?

Politeness and humor are encouraged, and the best tweet gets the lights.

Good luck!



And here is my winning entry:

Yes, beautiful in its simplicity, my tweet captures the smugness and snark you have come to expect from Car Free in PVD. But truly, I think that it conveys something else, something that Mr. Zisson described in his on-line announcement that I had won the contest:

It’s simple and to the point, and there’s a friendly cheerfulness to it that I quite enjoy.

I also like the hint of pride in his certainty.  Cars may be able to get off the line a little quicker, but at the end of the day, a bike in traffic can usually get there just as fast as a car (and sometimes even faster).

The prize for this contest was a Light & Motion VIS 360 helmet lighting system, as seen here mounted on my helmet worn by a pillow shaped like popular public radio personality, The Head of Carl Kassel:

Here I am trying on the light while doing my best Scarlett Johansson impersonation:

And here it is in the package:

It has a USB rechargeable battery in the taillight, which is connected to the headlight by a springy, coiled cable. The headlight has three settings: high, low, & flashing. Along with the very bright headlight, there are two small yellow LEDs on the side of the headlight body to aid in visibility for vehicles approaching from the side. The taillight can only be set to flashing. Along with the three LEDs, the taillight also has reflective material to catch the headlights of the vehicle behind you.

I’ve been using the light for about a month now, so I have a few impressions to share.

My standard light system is a Planet Bike Blaze 2W headlight (mounted on my handlebars), and a Planet Bike Superflash tailight (mounted on my rack). The Blaze 2W is a great light, I wrote about it more after someone stole my first light. I usually use the headlight in flash mode where it blinks several times at low light, then once at super-high level. It seems to do a good job of getting motorists attention. Most of my night-time riding is well-lit by streetlights, so I need a lighting system that will allow me to be seen by others more than something that will light the way. I’ve been quite happy with my Planet Bike set-up.

Until now.

The Light & Motion helmet set up is hella-bright. There are probably some numbers I could list about lumens and what not, but when I run both the Blaze and VIS 360 side by side, I can see that the VIS 360 is brighter. The cone of light it creates is also wider than the Blaze. Even when I point the concentrated beam of light down, I can see the “halo” portion of the light catch reflective street signs -another aid to motorist visibility. Along with being a brighter light, there are some inherent advantages to having a light on your head rather than on your handlebars. First, when you turn your head to look at something, it’s lit up! Sure it sounds simple, but it is kind of fun to use one’s head as a turret, scanning back and forth on the road, looking for potholes, debris etc. Although my flashing taillight does a good job of attracting the attention of motorists behind me, there’s nothing like turning one’s head to show motorists that there is a real human being ahead of them. One more thing I like: the helmet light makes for an effective defensive “weapon.” There have been a few times now where a motorist was about to pull out in front of me. Although I have the light pointed at the ground about 8 feet ahead of me, all I have to do is flick my head up a little bit and BAM! the offending motorist gets a quick flash of light. I probably have more fun doing this than I should.

The VIS 360 is not without problems.

Here’s a picture from the Light & Motion website. Everything looks solid: the taillight is mounted on the back, the headlight is mounted up front. Things are not working out as well with my helmet:

Here it is mounted on the middle beam at the back of my helmet. There’s a plastic tab on the inside of my helmet (part of the helmet’s strap system) that prevents me from mounting the taillight in the middle of the helmet. So I tried the lower beam:

Down here it just flops around. There are a couple of problem with the mounting system. First of all, the bracket is optimized for helmets that are mostly round on the back. Many helmets are like mine: they come to a point in the back to aid in the appearance of aerodynamics. The bracket just won’t sit flush on this sort of point. But this isn’t the worst design problem. The big problem is that the velcro attachment strap is far too long.

The strap has both “hook” and “loop” sections of velcro on it and they are designed to overlap in order to secure the rear bracket. My helmet seems to be of a standard thickness, but I’ve tried many different ways of setting up the velcro and no matter what I do, it overlaps in a less-than-optimal way – that is, a loop section of the strap is overlapping with another loop section so that the velcro is not fully engaged. I don’t think that it is in danger of immediately falling off, but it doesn’t feel secure. The mounting kit came with a second velcro strap, but it was identical in design to the first. Since this kit fits so poorly on a very common Giro helmet, I think Light & Motion needs to refine their mounting kit a little bit, and at the very least provide two different velcro straps – one for thick helmets and one for thinner helmets like mine.

Here’s the taillight mounted to Spouse’s helmet, where the bracket mounts pretty flush, but the velcro straps are still too long:

You can also see the reflective properties of the light (and Spouse’s helmet)

One other thing, the price. My current light set-up retails for about $90 ($60 for the headlight, $30 for the taillight). The VIS 360 retails for $149. It’s a quality product, and I plan on using it regularly, but that $100 barrier is pretty hard for me to break for a lighting system. And since one could buy a complete “road bike” for $159 (but please, for the love of all that is holy, do not buy that bike), I can’t imagine that high-end lights like this are anything more than a niche product. But, maybe for a commuter with a much longer ride than mine, this sort of investment makes sense.

There are some other factors to consider before getting a helmet light that are just inherent to a helmet light. A great thing is that I can just throw on my one helmet and hop on whichever bike I want to ride. Currently, I have to move my lights around from bike to bike – not a huge hassle since I bought extra mounts for each bike. The flipside of that is the fact that I now have to take my helmet with me when I park my bike at a store. I used to just leave it on my bike (but I removed my Blaze headlight). Just a slight drawback to having a helmet light.

Also, it looks super dorky, but I’m pretty much beyond worrying about how dorky I look.

Final verdict for this review: I like the light, I plan on using it all the time. However, it needs significant improvements to the mounting system. For some people, the price point might be just right, it certainly performs better than my $90 system. For others, $150 is a lot to spend on a bike light.

*One could consider my early post “Spongy Wonderful” to be a product review, but that was a long time ago.

and not a single soul escape


Friends, this is too important to merely tweet. I was walking in downtown Providence (or downcity, or… whatevs), when I came upon this scene:

The mainstream media may be afraid to report this, but it’s obvious, the nudist rollerblader rapture has begun.

May god have mercy on our souls.

In other news, I wore out the front rim on my 6-year-old commuter bike. The brakes were feeling a little funny and then….

BLAM!!! My rim exploded. I was quite surprised. And now I know what it feels like when a rim is about to go.



I should explain what it feels like when a rim is about to blow: The rim begins to warp and I could feel it in the brakes – they sort of “pulsed” as I slowed down. As it got worse, the brake lever would actually move as the brake calipers went over the more warped sections of the rim. Since the rim material is so thin, there isn’t enough of it to hold the shape of the rim so it also starts getting far out of true. I could see my wheel start to wobble a little and I thought “I guess I need to bring it into the shop soon and get this wheel trued.” The brakes were pulsing a little bit, then they started pulsing more and more.. and then BLAM! I was on Commonwealth Ave in Boston at the time which can be a very busy street. Fortunately, I was in a bike lane, going about 10 MPH and there wasn’t much traffic. I was able to slow down using just my rear brake and pull over to check out the damage. There were some surprised pedestrians on the sidewalk who asked, “Did you just get hit?” “No,” I replied, “I just blew out my rim!”

you were lucky

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Vinalhaven, Maine, a small island in Penobscot Bay. You have to take a ferry to get there. We had dense fog for the entire ferry trip, but it just made Vinalhaven seem like a magical land, hidden in the mists.

Round trip fare for a car or pick-up truck: $49.50. Round trip for a person: $17.50. Round trip for a bicycle: $16.50. Hmm, that doesn’t really seem fair, does it? My bike weighs about 1 percent the weight of a car… Oh well, it’s a beautiful island and it was definitely worth it to bring a bike. I mean, check this out:

What’s that in the distance, you ask? Oh, it’s just three electricity-generating windmills.

I’m sure there was some controversy before they were put up, people complaining about “ruining the view” and whatnot, but I’d say they improve the view – they are a sign of progress and a hope for a future full of renewable energy. Of course, back in the day, people probably thought that smokestacks were a sign of progress, modernization, and industrial strength.

One sign of progress completely absent from Vinalhaven: cell phone towers. I didn’t mind so much, it was nice to be completely off the grid for a few days. It was nice to ride around the island, stopping here and there. I probably didn’t even need to lock my bike (but I did, since I’m a city slicker).

I had a great, relaxing visit to the island, only slightly tarnished by the following interaction with the ferry worker who took my ticket: I was waiting to board the ferry to leave the island, chatting with my friends who were staying for a couple more days.

Ferry Worker: Do you have your tickets ready?

Me: [thinking she was asking for the tickets for me and my friends] Oh, it’s just me going… Oh, you mean the ticket for my bike. I forgot that I bought a ticket for it too.

FW: Some people think we should encourage people to bring bikes to the island, but really it’s the opposite, we should discourage them.

Me: Why’s that?

FW: The roads are too narrow here, it’s dangerous.

Me: [trying to remain upbeat] Oh, I found that everyone who passed me gave me plenty of room, I really didn’t have any problems at all.

FW: Well sometimes, a car can be coming around a curve and you can’t see them.

Me: Well, it’s so nice and quiet on the island, I could hear the cars coming from quite a ways away, so if someone was about to overtake me and I could tell that it wasn’t safe, I just stuck out my left hand and the car behind me would wait a couple seconds until it was safe to pass. I found that everyone was pretty patient and they only had to wait a couple of seconds.

FW: Oh no, these fishermen around here are some of the least patient people you’ll ever meet.

Me: Well, I’ve biked many different places and I found everyone here to be very polite.

FW: I’ve talked to bikers from all over and they say that Maine drivers are the worst.

Me: [needing to board the ferry by this time] Well, that hasn’t been my experience.

FW: People can get killed on these roads, you were lucky.


I was walking away by the time she said this. Of course, once I was in the middle of the bay, I thought of how I should have responded:

Me: Yeah I guess was lucky. Everyone I met on Vinalhaven was very polite, that is, everyone I met until just before I left.


So, thanks Vinalhaven Maine Ferry Service, part of the Maine Department of Transportation. Thank you for the great send-off.


Some might say that this blog is only updated sporadically. Others might think that I’ve run out of things to say. I prefer to think of this blog as a “limited release” or “carefully curated.” No matter, dear reader(s) we have a good topic in front of us today.


If you ride a bike for any length of time with any proximity to motor vehicles in any sort of climate where the drivers of said motor vehicles may have their windows down, you have no doubt been subjected to someone yelling this at you. If this type of motorist was capable of putting together a sentence, they would say, “You should be riding that bicycle on the sidewalk.” The subtext of this is, “I’m driving a car in the street, therefore I am more important than you who ride what is equivalent to a child’s toy and should therefore be riding it on the sidewalk. Get out of MY way.”

Spouse received the “SIDEWALK” yell from someone recently. Here’s how she relayed it in a tweet:

Me (on bike): Were you just honking at me? He: Yeah. Me: Any special reason? He: Sidewalk! [i.e. I should be on it] Me: Check the law [WTF]

I agree with Spouse’s sentiment, so I retweeted to my many followers, one of whom replied to Spouse with this gem:

talked about this w/bikers & drivers alike; they all agree the root of hostility is mostly when bikers DON’T obey traffic laws

Well that’s one way to respond, I guess. A law-abiding cyclist is verbally harassed by a motorist, and this particular tweeter’s response is to say that the source of such hostility is when cyclists break the law.

I disagree.

The source of the hostility is this motorist’s sense of privilege. He’s driving a vehicle that he paid a lot of money for. He has encountered a cyclist in “his” way. Because of this cyclist, he is going to have to 1) pay more attention to piloting his 3,000 pound vehicle. 2) Endure a slight delay in his travel on a 25 mph city street (I’d say as much as 15 seconds).  3) Turn his wheel slightly to the left in order to pass the cyclist. 4) Turn it back to the right to return to his lane. 5) Get really annoyed when he sees the cyclist in his rear view mirror because she caught up to him at the next light.

I know, I know. It’s a tough life driving a car with all of these cyclists around. But maybe this motorist is right, maybe we should be riding our bikes on the sidewalk. I certainly see lots of people doing it, what could be so bad about it? Maybe I’ve just been reading too much propaganda (and state laws) that say that cyclists are entitled to the rights and responsibilities of using the roads of our great little state (and every other state). Maybe I should give up on the streets and take to the sidewalks like so many motorists love to suggest.

So I did just that.

For my commute home last Monday, I resolved to ride only on sidewalks. I started out from Kennedy Plaza, riding on the sidewalk along the south side of Burnside park. It was a lovely day, so there were many people walking along, not really paying much attention. I had to keep it pretty slow. I made my way over to what I call the “RISD Riviera” – that part of the campus that is right next to the Providence River.  I made my way down to Water Street and crossed over to the wide walkway between the street and the water. Some maps designate this as a bike path, but I never ride on it – too many desultory pedestrians. On this afternoon, there was this:

This required me to slow down to about 3 MPH and weave between the barriers and the parking meter where there was just enough room for my shoulders. I headed up to Wickenden, passing many people out on the sidewalks who were just trying to get to a shop or restaurant. I turned up Brook St., a normal part of my commute (aka, the Providence Wiggle, aka the Pwiggle), but I had to make a detour. I just couldn’t allow myself to ride on the sidewalk as I passed my local bike shop – the shame! Instead, I encountered obstacles like these:

Recycling bins, and pedestrians! (I ducked into the street for a second to pass the pedestrians).

I’ll stop boring you with a turn-by-turn account of my commute, let’s just say that it sucked, it was slow, and it was more dangerous than if I had ridden on the street like I always do. How did it suck? While I hate the pothole-encrusted streets of Providence, the sidewalks make for a much rougher riding experience. Expansion joints out of whack, bumps, uneven pavement, and the lack of curb cuts made for a bumpy ride. Why was it slow? I couldn’t get much over 10 MPH with the rough pavement and pedestrians in my way. In fact, I was usually riding about 8 MPH.  How was it less safe? I was constantly crossing driveways where a car could pull into the sidewalk, and I was crossing streets at a place where drivers do not expect to see a cyclist. And oh yeah, it wasn’t particularly safe for the people who were using the  sidewalk to, you know, walk. In fact, I passed 40 pedestrians in my 2.6 mile commute home that day – all of whom I inconvenienced in some way or another.  5 of the pedestrians were children aged 6 or younger. A block away from my home, I saw a mother with two small children walking towards me on the sidewalk. I pulled into a driveway to let them pass and the mother apologized to me as she passed. There was no need for her to apologize – I was the one doing it wrong!

“Well sure,” you may be saying to yourself, “you inconvenienced a few pedestrians, but how many motorists do you slow down when you insist on riding in the street?” I’m glad you asked. I had never really counted before, so the next day, on my way home, I counted the number of cars who passed me. There were 17. However, 5 of them passed me on Waterman Ave where there are two lanes headed in the same direction – the drivers merely had to change lanes in order to pass me. Another 10 passed me on Water Street – also two lanes wide. Of those 10 that passed me on Water Street, 6 of them passed me while I was riding about 23-26 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. That is, they were exceeding the speed limit when they passed me. I caught up to 5 of those cars at the next light. That leaves 2 motorists who passed me on two way streets where there was only one lane in each direction. I delayed each driver by about 5 seconds.

There are some rare occasions where I might consider riding on the sidewalk. In fact, I used to do it on a regular basis (for a very short distance). There are some more suburban areas of the country where it might be occasionally appropriate to ride on the sidewalk. And I can understand how a timid cyclist may feel safer on the sidewalk – but most of the time, you are going to be safer in the street.

So, the next time a motorist tells you to get on the sidewalk, tell them to go drive on the interstate. Or just wave and smile – that might be more productive.

Bike To Fun Day!

Sure, everybody in bike blog land is going on & on about Bike To Work Day. There are basically three ways that a dedicated bike blogger can treat Bike To Work Day.

1. Complain about in the most smug manner possible because “for me, every day is Bike To Work Day.”

2. Jump in with both feet and embrace all of the people who use BTWD as an opportunity to try it out.

3. Scarf some free food and call it a day.

I opt for a fourth option, which is to cover it in a half-vast way. Here are my 3 pics from the BTWD celebration in Providence.

There were vendors with stuff for people to try out:

There was an adorable toddler riding stoker on a Surly Big Dummy while his dad talked with a lady who designs rain capes for cyclists.

And there was a guy who clearly believed in the power of “wake & bake” wandering around the WW I memorial saying “Tupac is comin’ back! Get ready for the return of Mackavelli!”

2pac 2work day

But enough of this talk of biking to work and generally using the bicycle as a practical method of transportation for commuting and all of life’s short journey needs. I feel like transportation cycling is emphasized too much in this country. What about the poor sport cyclist who just wants to ride his roadbike in a big circle for several hours while wearing a skin-tight shirt, very special shoes that can not be used for walking, and padded shorts that make him feel like he’s wearing a diaper? What about that guy, huh? Everybody just makes fun of him, calling him a Lycra-wearing weight weenie, or a MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra). Even NPR used Bike To Work Day to talk to the foremost anti-MAMIL activist in the cycling world, Grant Petersen.

“[the bicycle] is not a workout tool. It should be a pickup truck on two wheels.”

Such anti-MAMIL bigotry, it is truly astonishing. We need some sort of Bike to Fun Day to help counter balance all of this Bike to Work Day, practical transportation cycling that seems to be so big now.

To help in the effort, I went on a ride with the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen on Sunday. I wore my bike clothing, and I went on my road bike.

This was only my second ride with the Wheelmen – it seems like most of their rides start a little too far away for me, or I seem to be doing something on the Sunday when there is a nearby ride. This last Sunday’s ride was just right: the start was about 3 miles from my house, and the ride started at 8AM, as opposed to their usual 10AM. I woke up early, pumped up my tires, and headed out. Here’s the start: evidently, everyone drives their car to the start of the bike ride. Well, almost everyone, I did happen to pass a dentist on his Serotta on my way to the ride.

Officially, this was the “Plymouth Century” Ride, but as with all NBW rides, there are multiple ride lengths to choose from. Along with the full 100 miles (to Plymouth, MA and back), one could choose 21 miles or 54 miles. I have not yet done a century, and I didn’t really have the time for it, and I was afraid I might run out of steam somewhere along the way, so I opted for the 54 mile route. I won’t bore you with all of the details. It was a flat route with no significant hills, through pleasant southeastern Massachusetts countryside. I largely rode at the back of whatever pack I happened to be in at the time. I was amazed when I ended the ride and looked at my cyclometer to find I had been riding at an average of over 17 MPH. I think when I did 50 miles by myself, my average was more like 13 MPH (there were more hills). It certainly helps to draft behind other cyclists. Anyhow, it was fun, and I hope to go on another ride soon. Here’s the map:

It was a fun, Lycra filled day. Just to bring myself back to Earth, I did a little bit of transportation cycling later that day and picked up a few things with my commuter bike:

I think my average for this ride was about 8 MPH over 5 miles.