Category Archives: Real Commuting


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.

Traffic Pseu-nami: Winning isn’t everything

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know the results of today’s race between myself and ace political reporter, Ian Donnis. If not, you can probably figure it out from the title of this post. If not that, I’ll say it plainly:


I arrived at the office to find Ian, sitting in a chair in the front of the office – looking, well, smug I suppose. And as a certified smugmonger myself, I can’t fault a man for feeling smug. According to Ian, I lost by about 4 minutes.

I won’t bore you with a long account of the race, instead I’ll bore you with a short account of the race. If you missed it, see the post outlining the genesis of the race and the rules of the road.

It was a lovely fall day in Rhode Island. Ian and I met at his home in East Providence:

I mentioned the lack of missile mounts because the previous evening, Ian had been posting trailers for the 2008 film, Death Race. Although his Camry was free of weapons, I’ll note that it had been backed into his driveway before the start of the race, perhaps for a speedy start?

It’s a shame that I had to pixilate my face in order to preserve my quasi-anonymity. Due to the pixilization, It’s difficult to make out that I was sporting the proper “eyeglasses outside of helmet straps” setup as prescribed in The Rules (#37).

What’s not difficult to make out is that my helmet looks like a giant mushroom on top of my head. Oh well.

After simultaneous tweeting, we were off!

I caught Ian at the first two lights, but he soon passed me and was out of sight. It turns out that there was almost no traffic in downtown Providence today (despite predictions), and the parking wasn’t so bad either (as long as you have a monthly spot). So, I lost. But only by 4 minutes, which really isn’t too bad – that’s a lag of about 1 minute per mile between a 1 human-powered vehicle and a 133 horse-powered vehicle. I wasn’t at a full sprint, but I was moving pretty good and I was a bit sweaty by the time I got to work. I brought a change of clothes and used the “office shower” and I was pretty much good to go. I still prefer my leisurely commute on my bike with the rack and panniers.

The "office shower" - pretty effective, actually.

A big thanks to Ian for letting me cajole him into the race and not totally gloating all day. I will happily buy him lunch.

Thanks to everyone else for following the race and rooting for me (no one was rooting for Ian, right?) I’m happy to report that the race was such a big deal that it was covered by the Associated Press! (if “mentioned in tweets by an AP reporter” counts as “covered by the Associated Press”)

Despite this loss, I’d happily take on other challengers, if anyone is interested in how quickly once could commute by bike in Providence. Same rules – I’d meet you at your house and we’d head into downtown Providence at the same time, obeying signs, speed limits, signals, etc. As long as your home is within 10 miles of Providence, and you work in or close to downtown.

Even better, although it wouldn’t be a race – if you are interested in commuting by bike, but aren’t sure how to do it, I could meet you at your home, and we could bike in at the same time. That could certainly make for an interesting post. It’s been quite a while since I did a “bicycle commuter profile” post, so I’d even be up for tagging along on another bike commuter’s commute, just to compare to my own. Hit me in the comments if you are interested.

The Providence Wiggle

Reader(s) outside of Providence, I apologize if this post may bore you, but I feel that it is important to relay this information as a public service to cyclists traveling between Downtown and Wayland Square (or other parts of the East Side). First some background info.

San Francisco, like many North American cities has done quite a bit in the last few years to improve infrastructure for its cyclists. They’ve added bike lanes, designated more bike routes, and probably done some other stuff too, probably some sharrows or something (what? do I look like a journalist to you? do I really need to “research” these blog posts?) I’ve only ridden a bike in San Francisco once, and it was quite enjoyable. Of course, there are still a few obstacles to cycling in SF, namely those durn hills! But those resourceful Californians have created something to assist in climbing those hills and help them get from one side of their fair city to the other. And because they are a bunch of dirty hippies, they gave it a whimsical name: “The Wiggle.” I guess they didn’t create it so much as they discovered it, or mapped it out. Whatever, it’s a good way to minimize the hill in getting between the east and west sides of town.

The Wiggle has its own Wikipedia Page, Yelp Page, and coming soon, its own PSA including a jingle.

And while the hills of Providence certainly lack the monumental nature of the hills in San Francisco, they are still an impediment to everyday cycling. College Hill, one of the steepest, lies between my office and my home. Here’s the most direct route.

The map indicates that this is an official “bike route.” What you can’t quite tell from this map is that the hill gets to something like an 8-12% grade for a few blocks right around where it says “Rhode” in “Rhode Island School of Design.” It’s so steep there’s even a mini-switchback at one point. So, unless I want to pretend I’m attacking on the Alpe d’Huez, I go around:

This adds about 1 mile to my trip, but it’s definitely worth it. There are many different variations that one could take, but the main point is that you head down to Wickenden Street, and then attack college hill from the south where it is much less steep. Not only is it less steep, one also avoids the highest point of the hill. There’s a slight issue in that there is no way to completely avoid the act of “wasting hill” that is, one goes up a hill, just to go down it again.  But just repeat to yourself what the good book says, “You gotta get up to get down,” and all will be well.

Here’s a close-up of the more wiggly part of the wiggle:

This is my preferred route for wiggling, but every once in a while I like to take a different route.


I like to turn from Wickenden on to Brook Street, while Spouse prefers to go up Wickenden and turn at Governor Street.  I feel that Wickenden is steeper and has more cars on it and due to the parked cars it’s difficult for a car to pass [UPDATE FOR DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY PURPOSES: the parked cars are only on one side of the street, still I feel that it makes it difficult for cars to pass a cyclist]. Spouse prefers Wickenden’s straight shot aspect and lack of stop signs.  I’ll also admit that I take Brook street in order to glance at the display window of Legend Bicycle, Spouse has less interest in doing that. [ADDITIONAL UPDATE: the choice of Pwiggle route continues to be a point of contention in the CarFreePVD household and although Spouse has her points, I’d like to point out that I take this route every day while Spouse only takes her Wickenden route a couple times per week and in non-peak rush hour direction]. For the inbound route, I go straight down Governor to Wickenden because it is downhill and requires fewer turns and stop signs. But really, all manner of variations are possible in this area, and the Providence cyclist is free to wiggle anywhich way the heart desires, unlike those San Franciscans who have signs telling them what to do.

Spouse's preferred outbound route. Coincidentally, the preferred inbound route for both of us.

For the downtown section of the route, there are two options. One can take the “bike path” which is really a walkway along RISD combined with sidewalk along the WWI and WWII memorials.

The hiccup for this option comes at around the second arrow where one must transition from the path to the street. I’m not much for curb hopping, so I don’t really like this so much.

The on-street option requires moving from the right lane to the left lane and then waiting for a left turn signal.

Lately, I’ve been using the on-street option more, mostly because I don’t like the curb hopping. Your results may vary.

There’s seven turns in the Providence Wiggle (or Pwiggle, if you prefer) and I’m only counting the section from Wickenden Street to Wayland Square. It turns out there’s only 6 in the San Francisco Wiggle (which I will now call the Swiggle). Although our hills may be less steep, our wiggles are evidently more epic. Point: Providence.


If you are regular reader of this blog, and not just someone who happens upon it by typing “NSA hookups not on craigslist” into your search engine, you’ll remember that I broke my collarbone in a horrific accident caused by an unexpected pothole, dangerous motorist and sand trap all at the same time by falling off my bike because I lost control while replacing my water bottle. This led to a doctor-recommended 8-week hiatus from riding a bike. I didn’t like this idea at all. Perhaps you’ve noticed this – I like to ride my bicycles. Very much so. I didn’t really like the idea of being off the bike for 8 weeks, but the thing about a collarbone injury is that you don’t really want to do anything with that arm and shoulder that could hurt it any more, so I pretty much resigned myself to staying off the bike. Instead, I took the RIPTA bus to work, walked to nearby destinations, and occasionally accepted rides from people. I’m very grateful to the many friends who gave me a ride during my medical hiatus. Spouse and I bought a house during this time, so we needed to pick up paint and renovation supplies – stuff that is normally difficult with just a bike, but pretty much impossible with no means of transportation. My injuries prevented me from helping much with the move, but thankfully we had many friends who helped out with that as well.

I grew to appreciate RIPTA, even with all of its faults. When I was wearing my arm sling, there was almost always a passenger willing to give up their seat for me. There was a bus stop directly across the street from my home and my office is a block away from the Kennedy Plaza RIPTA hub.

On Friday, I rode a bike for the first time since the accident. I picked my ’68 Raleigh Sports to ease me back into riding. It requires an upright posture, which allows me to keep the weight off my hands and shoulders. It also has a coaster brake, so I don’t have to worry about squeezing my left hand (which requires a surprising amount of strength throughout the arm – something I don’t have much of right now). With the Raleigh, I can even comfortably ride one-handed for short periods. I’m riding from my new home – a little bit further away from the office than my previous home is (2.5 vs. 1.5 miles). Friday was a beautiful day, perfect weather for getting back on the bike. My commute was delightfully uneventful. Along with an upright posture, the Raleigh pretty much demands a slow pace, which was fine for me. At lunch time, I took the opportunity to cruise up to the LBS to buy a new helmet. As I rode back to the office, I passed a Ferrari that was stuck in traffic on South Main street. It’s always fun to pass a fast car.

Spouse has been doing most of the work on fixing up our new house. When I got home from the office, we worked together for a little while, then she sent me out to pick up some take-out. I was happy to have the bonus miles. Later that evening, I totaled up my miles for the day and I was surprised to see that I was on the bike for almost 11 miles. Sure, it was all in 2 mile trips, but that’s not a bad total for my first day of riding in 8 weeks.

Unfortunately, renovation needs demanded that I spend most of Saturday in doors working on the house, or taking trips to the hardware store in a borrowed car. I only got in a few blocks of riding to the bank and back. Sunday there was more unpacking to do. Today is the first day of “Bike To Work Week” and rain is predicted, but I’m not going to let that stop me! I even switched to the Cannondale this morning and I don’t feel any ill effects.  I don’t have any interesting pictures to go with this post. Just a shot of my Raleigh locked up next to it’s friend the Pennyfarthing on my first day back:

And for some reason, I keep getting this song stuck in my head:

Happy Bike To Work Week!

Bike Month – Baby Steps

May is officially Bike Month and as a hardcore bicycle commuter, it is my duty to curmudgeonly and smugly declare: “For me, every month is bike month!” As a self-aware bike blogger it is also my duty say “Bike Month is not meant for me, it’s meant for those who could be goaded into biking more!” And thus I shall try to goad you, with a personal tale.

It’s easy for me to say that I’m a hardcore bicycle commuter now. Sure, I’ve been out of commission for the last 6 weeks, but before that, there were only 8 days this winter that I did not ride my bike due to bad weather. Actually, it was more due to street conditions, but those were the result of weather, so let’s just call it weather. Rain doesn’t bother me, snow doesn’t bother me, and because I’ve lived in Edmonton Alberta, I laugh in the face of the coldest temperatures that Rhode Island can throw at me. Sure, my coworkers are impressed when I roll into work wearing snow pants, lobster gloves, a balaclava and a face mask, but I wasn’t always this hardcore.

When I lived in Springfield, MO [shudder] I drove to work, even though it was less than a mile away. When I lived in Boston, sometimes I drove, sometimes I took transit and sometime I biked. Basically, I rode my bike only in good weather. If there was a chance of rain or if the temperature was below 40 degrees, I took my car or the T. When I moved to Edmonton, I became a full-time bike commuter. I wasn’t making much money at the time and when I learned that parking my car at work for the day would eat up more than an hour’s wages, I figured it didn’t make much sense to drive.

My transition from full-time automobile commuter to full-time bike commuter took about 7 years. I dimly remember someone mentioning “a bike to work day” at some point during my Boston years, but I’m not sure it made much of a difference in my biking habits. I didn’t jump straight from my car to my bike. It took a while for me to get used to the idea, so I should expect it to take a while for everyone else. And that’s what Bike Month is about. I recommend giving it a try – one day this week, maybe two days the next week. Maybe stay at two days for a while. Think of how much a tank of gas costs and then think of what you could do with that money. You don’t have to jump in with both feet, selling your car and buying hundreds of dollars in gear. Almost any bike will do for a short ride. Sometimes I think that we spend too much energy trying to get people to bike to work. Instead of biking to work, think of what destinations are less than 2 miles away: the grocery store, pharmacy, liquor store, coffee shop? Put on your backpack and pedal your way down there to pick up a few things. Get yourself an extra muffin as a treat. Besides, it’s been a long, cruel winter….

But now it’s May! There are flowers!

And many more bikes locked up at neighborhood bike racks:

This rack is usually completely empty. It's nice to see it full of bikes.

And many, many more bikes on the street. It’s always nice to see them rolling past me as I wait for the bus. It’s not always so nice to see someone inexplicably riding on the wrong side of a narrow two-way street (Benefit in this case). The young salmon was going about 7 MPH on the left-hand side of the road. I almost took a picture, but I was afraid I would catch her getting hit. Instead I saw several cars get very close to her before the drivers realized that there was a bike on the wrong side of the road. No one honked, strangely enough.

Enough of my crabbiness! More good news!

Three people who visited my office building today came by bike:

One of the visitors (the bike in the middle) arrived on a Circle-A (a local Providence frame builder). Just like all Circle-A’s it had a sweet custom paint job. I was perplexed by the less attractive  rack on the back. I’d think if you are buying a custom frame you could splurge a little bit on the rack. On the near side we have an early 90’s Bianchi (I’m guessing at the age), and on the far side, a Cannondale Hybrid of unknown vintage – I’m guessing it’s fairly new since it’s not plastered with “made in the USA” decals like mine is. As always, our friend the old Pennyfarthing, guards them all.

For me, my collarbone continues to mend, but I’m still a few weeks away from getting back on the bike. I visited the doctor for a follow-up visit which yielded this new X-ray:

They tell me that it’s substantially different from this one:

Evidently, there’s some new bone stitching together the break, but I always have a big bump there. Plus the lightening bolts of pain are gone.

6 weeks down 2 to go!

Special Request for the DJ: Heart Attack Man

The New York Times is somewhat infamous for its “bogus trend” stories. Jack Shafer at loves to write about these sorts of stories. All you really need are three examples, and wha-lah! le trend. (next one: misspelling french). These stories really stick out on the Times’ website because they run next to and look just as legitimate as a story about the economic conditions in Greece. However, they are a little less egregious nestled into the Style section with coverage of some band that records an album in a Central Falls warehouse or whatever. Worse than the “bogus trend” story is the “I’m going to make up a medical condition based on one study that I kind of looked at, even though I’m a journalist and not a doctor.” I present to you, from Jenny Hope at the Daily Mail:

The article cites a study about the “final straw” risk factors in triggering a heart attack. Some of the worst of these include: commuting in traffic, breathing polluted air, and strenuously exercising. It’s the reporter who came up with the idea that bicycle commuting must be the most dangerous thing because it combines so many independent risk factors. Of course, there’s nothing about bicycle commuting in the study… I think the author mentioned bike commuting just to troll for comments on the article. And of course, it this trolling was successful. I only scanned the comments, because they seemed to quickly get into a bullshit back and forth about cyclists not having a right to the road because they don’t pay “road tax” (this is in the UK, BTW). If you don’t know why this argument is bullshit, please leave a comment below.

There was one particular comment that caught my eye:

So … the problem is that pollution in our cities is increasing the possibility of heart disease? And low levels of fitness are also increasing this? Hmmm if only there were some way of reducing the amount of pollution whilst improving peoples fitness levels. Any ideas, anyone?

This comment perfectly illustrates how bike commuting does not put cyclists at risk of a heart attack: our own smug sense of self-importance helps to create a protective layer of positive “vibes” encasing our heart, and ensuring its proper function. Plus, we’re like in hella good shape.
If Jenny Hope was just combining a few random “final straw” heart attack triggers, I think she really missed the obvious:
Other risk factors included negative emotions (3.9 per cent), anger (3.1 per cent), eating a heavy meal (2.7 per cent), positive emotions (2.4 per cent) … sexual activity (2.2 per cent)… cocaine use (0.9 per cent).
So the real risk factor for a heart attack is
being Charlie Sheen.

A Month on the Raleigh

January and much of February sucked for riding. I’m glad it’s almost spring. In the 35 day period of 1/7/11 to 2/10/11, I didn’t set foot to pedal of my main commuting bike, the 2005 Cannondale Roadmaster 400 (a flat bar road bike, or performance hybrid, if you prefer), or my road bike, and there were 6 days where I decided it was better to walk than ride. The rest of the time, I rode my 1968 Raleigh Sports. I bought this bike for pretty much this purpose, so I can’t complain too much, and as a matter of fact, it was nice to have over a month riding just the Raleigh. I feel like I really got to know it.

If you don’t feel like going to my original post about the Raleigh, I shall summarize: It’s an old, heavy steel bike, with a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed IGH (internally geared hub). That is, it doesn’t have a derailleur. After seeing the derailleur on my Cannondale get clogged with ice and snow for the last 5 winters, I thought that an IGH might be the way to go. I bought the bike in July, and mostly saved if for rainy days. My idea was that this way, I’d be saving a little bit of wear and tear on the Cannondale.

There are a few small problems with my Raleigh:

First, it lacks a front fender. Fenders are kind of nice to have, especially for one’s “rain bike.” The lack of a front fender means that when I am riding through heavy rain or slush, it gets picked up by the front tire and dumped on my feet and ankles. Luckily, I’m usually wearing boots and rain pants, so this isn’t too bad. Still, one of these days, I’ve got to put a front fender on this thing. I think there might be some suitable fenders at Recycle-A-Bike. Once RAB’s new shop is all set up, I’m making it priority number 1.

Second, it doesn’t have a rack. I’ve grown to really appreciate the importance of a good rack and pannier system to successful bike commuting. Sure, you can just throw on a backpack, but in the summer time (and most of the spring and fall for that matter) that just means you are going to get all sweaty in the backpack area. Finding a rack for the Raleigh might be a little more difficult. There are some expensive options out there, but this was a $75 bike, so I don’t really feel like investing much money in it. I have actually spent more money on accessories for the bike than the bike itself cost ($50 for a new saddle, $20 for  a cup holder, 2 X $5 for front and rear light mounts), and I’m sure I’ll need new tires (and probably new wheels) for it eventually. In the wintertime, back sweat isn’t much of an issue, which helps confirm my choice for this to be my winter bike.

Third, the frame is a little bit small for me. This means I’m leaning forward  more than is intended for the frame, and I have the seatpost jacked so high that I can’t comfortably put my foot down when stopped. Nonetheless, like Rumsfeld would say, you go to work with the bike you have.

I would almost say that there is a fourth small problem with the bike: the gearing is less than ideal (it’s too high). I live at the top of a hill, and the quickest route home involves grades in the  7 to 12 % range. The lowest of the Raleigh’s three gears is not low enough to really handle these grades, and even downhill I’m never going fast enough to adequately use the highest gear. This could be changed by swapping out a larger cog, but I don’t really have the patience for that right now (frankly, I’m afraid something might fall apart if I try to remove the rear wheel). I say that it’s almost a problem because after a few weeks of riding the Raleigh exclusively, I became accustomed to its gearing. First, I picked a less steep commuting route. This added a mile to my commute in each direction, but that’s just bonus miles. Secondly, I just got used to using only the two gears. On my Cannondale, I’m shifting the rear derailleur all the time, often skipping gears as I accelerate down a big hill.  I don’t know if I’ve just become acclimated to it, or my legs are becoming stronger, but when I ride the Raleigh and don’t have dozens of gears to chose from, I don’t really miss it.

The upright posture has been a nice change of pace as well. Matt from thinks that the upright posture is ideal for city riding, while I do see it’s advantages, I find it a little bit harder to look behind me, and in general I feel less agile on the Raleigh than I do on my Cannondale. At this point, the Cannondale almost feels like an extension of my body. I have very precise control of the Cannondale at very low speeds, which is nice for riding in traffic. When I ride the Raleigh, it gets a little wobbly as I get slower, and if I look behind me, I inevitably turn a bit in the direction I look.  As I approach a stoplight, I often swerve a little bit before putting my foot down.  These tendencies have lessened as I racked up more miles, but I’m not sure if they will ever go away completely. There is a certain feeling that I get while riding the Raleigh, like I’m not in a hurry. This is probably good, because there is no way to make the Raleigh hurry. It just wants to keep you going slow, and with all of the snow we had in January and February, this isn’t such a bad thing. In the 35 day period, I got in about 90 miles on the Raleigh, with the longest single ride lasting about 4 miles. I don’t think I’d want to ride this bike for much longer than that, but I think that it’s weight, paucity of gears and upright posture have made for a good change of pace, and maybe even a bit of a winter training regimen.

With the recent warming trend, I’ve been back on the Cannondale for the last week or so, but looking at tomorrow’s forcast, it looks like I’ll be dressed like this…

… and riding the Raleigh.

Winter Riding Tips / Video Round-Up

One of these days, I’ll get a helmet cam and create thrilling videos of my daily commute for all of you to enjoy. In the meantime, I’ll present you with three cycling-related videos that were recently posted on the internet.

The first is an earnest, but fun look at winter cycling tips in Chicago:

BikeSnobNYC did his usual job of mocking the video frame by frame, so I won’t attempt that here. I’ll just point out that the video was shot and edited by my former classmate, Elizabeth Press, seen here in the middle of putting on layer after layer of winter clothing.

This video does bring up the issue of cycling in the winter, something I have not yet addressed. It seems like many of the “other” bike blogs have already addressed this in earnest, prescribing all manner of wool (both technical and traditional), silk, gore-tex, gore-mex, splats, &c. My commute is very short, so I’m not sure that I have the best advice to give w/r/t winter cycling, however, I lived in the frozen wilds of Edmonton Alberta for two winters, where I did pick up a thing or two. Actually, I picked up four things during my Canadian exile that I consider essential to my winter commute.

Thing 1: Waterproof Pants.

These aren’t the exact ones I have, but they look pretty close. I prefer waterproof pants that go over whatever I’m wearing to the office that day. Then I just whip off my pants, and I’m ready to go. So to speak. These are useful in warmer seasons as well because I don’t really like getting my pants soaked by the rain.

Thing 2: Face Mask

I wear this when the temperature gets below 30 degrees or so. That’s not such a low temperature, but my ride includes speeds up to 25 miles an hour, so there is often more windchill than one would experience while walking.  Some riders might prefer a Balaclava.

Thing 3: Thin Balaclava, Headband or Skull Cap

I have a thin balaclava that I fold up over my head so that I get a thick layer around my ears, but a little bit of a stovepipe effect to release heat out the top of my head. Some people prefer to just have a headband to keep their ears warm, then have a full stovepipe out the top of their helmets. These people are crazy.

Thing 4: Lobster Gloves

These provide the warmth of mittens, and the dexterity of a lobster. Some people just use mittens, although it can be difficult to use some shifting systems without lobster-levels of dexterity. Either way, most cyclists will tell you that regular old gloves aren’t going to cut it when it gets really cold.

Keeping with the earnestness theme, what could be more earnest than social justice advocates’ concern with immigrant communities’ transportation needs?

There’s not much footage of people actually riding bikes, but what footage there is features people riding on the sidewalk.

This is certainly something I see around here: cycling on the sidewalk instead of in the street. I understand why people are tempted to do it, riding in traffic can seem more dangerous, but it is almost always safer. Cycling advocates like to spend a lot of time focusing making cycling safer for people just like them (mostly white, mostly middle class). I’m reminded of when I helped RIBike with the “light up the night” event. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s something that could use more attention. And since I’m not sure where I’m going, I’m going to shut up before I put my foot in my mouth.

I forgot to mention earlier, that I also wear a jacket in the winter. I think it would qualify as a “snowboarding” jacket. It’s mostly water repellent, but not 100%. It’s not particularly noteworthy except for the fact that it is not a very heavy coat.  Even with my short commute, I can generate quite a bit of body heat while cycling. A medium-weight jacket over my work clothes is plenty on most winter days. When it gets particularly cold, I add a hoodie for one more layer of warmth.

This jacket was one of those bargains you always remember. It was originally $90, then marked down to $50 because it was out of season, then marked down to $25 because it had been on the racks for a while. It’s served me well for about 10 years now, but I guess I could get rid of it in favor of a $400 cycling jacket from Mission Workshop:

We begin this film with our hero riding a ferry from one part of Amersterdam to another. I’d say that he is on his commute, but it doesn’t look like he actually does any work during the rest of the day.

it's cold out here, luckily I have a $400 outer jacket to wear over my $235 inner jacket. I'd better put the hood up.

After I get off the boat, I'll take a gratuitous shot of row after row of Amsterdam bikes

Could you do this with any normal jacket? I don't think so.

This video has more rack focus than a Scorsese film

I think my favorite thing about this video is the fact that he is modeling a cycling-specific jacket, one that is designed for use on a road bike – or some other bike where the cyclist leans forward. But he’s riding a completely upright Dutch city bike. There’s nothing wrong with a Dutch city bike, but if you are going to ride one, you can just wear regular clothes. That’s pretty much the whole point of a Dutch city bike! Okay, back to our story, where our hero has returned to his canal boat home.

Uh oh, what’s this?

This doesn’t look good. The jacket has cable routing for portable audio devices.

phew, it's cold again

I guess I should put up my hood in order to further insulate myself from hearing any noise from the outside world while I....

....haphazardly mount my city bike

Biking through the city while wearing headphones. Always a safe idea. Note the skinny jeans – the perfect complement to cycling-specific jackets. Of course, this is an Amsterdam cyclist, so he is coddled by:

Protected bike lanes! (Note that even the bike symbols in Amsterdam have chaincases.) Alright, now I’m just being a hater. Who wouldn’t want bike lanes like those?

Ahh, now he’s leaning forward about 2 degrees, which utilizes many of the features of the “slim-fit, seam-sealed, waterproof jacket cut for life on the bike.”

Soon he reaches his destination: Pristine – a “Lunchroom/Gallery”

…where the depth of field is so shallow, you need a rack focus to read from one side of the menu to the other.

There are a few other product demo videos on Mission Workshop’s Vimeo Page, all of which are equally entertaining. I’d go through them all, but I’m working at mocking Mission, not providing them tons of free exposure to my dozen of readers.

But I can’t resist one more, the video for the Shed Messenger Bag. This one was filmed in Paris, where our protagonist (let’s call him Claude) rides a fixed gear bike from the top of Montmartre. It even sports an aerospoke front wheel. Epic.

I’m going to skip the part where he packs his MacBook into the bag, but I have to mention that every Mission Workshop video shows and Apple product at some point.

After Claude orders his coffee, the barista rings him up in slo-mo.

maybe it's just that all French coffeeshop employees work very slowly

Almost everything is in slo-mo. I guess owning one of these bags turns every day into an epic urban journey of self-discovery. Just about the only time the video approaches regular speed is right after Claude runs across a fellow cyclist, this one on what appears to be a vintage track bike. They gaze at each other knowingly….

because it’s on!

The film is back up to full speed as we get to enjoy some serious Cat 6 racing action.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you the details. These guys even made a video about installing a product display in a store in Portland. Maybe I’m trying to compensate because I just bought a new jacket from a different hipster-clothing brand based in San Francisco. But I totally needed that. And it was on sale… and it will make me go faster, right? Product review to follow.

The Smugness Calculation


It’s been way too long since I last wrote in the ol’ blog. I’d make a Jim Anchower reference, but that’s the stunt I pulled last time I took too long to write. Nobody looks at a bike blog to read about the blogger’s experience with blogging right? The whole blogging thing is inherently navel-gazy, but I try to keep it at a minimum. Let’s just call it a little hiatus. I even stopped reading bike blogs for a week, just to sort of get it out of my system.

I’ll bore you with some navel gazing for just a moment. Check this out:

For a while now, my post, “Craigslist: Not Just for NSA Hookups Anymore” has received the most attention from search engine results. There always seems to be someone searching for something similar to “free nsa like craigslist.” Perhaps with the recent removal (or “censorship”) of “adult services” from craigslist, my search engine hits will go up even more! I think my new goal for this blog should be to make it the premiere cycling/car-free lifestyle blog for people searching for anonymous sex. If I learned anything from my MBA studies, it’s “find a niche” (I didn’t get an MBA, I got an MFA where I learned how to use “scare quotes”). Note that I didn’t say I will provide any sort of NSA hooking up service, I just want to have the bike blog that people end up at when they search for that sort of thing. I guess it’s safe to say that I have that bike blog. Yay for me.

Since I don’t have a regular “mail bag” feature here at CarFree in PVD (see – more scare quotes!), I’m going to start treating my search engine term results as if they were questions from an adoring public. In answer to your question “do you need a car to live in providence” the answer is “No” or… well, kind of maybe. It depends…By way of an answer to your non-question, let me tell you about the latest feature on CarFreePVD: SmugCalc!

To celebrate my 1 year “car-free-niversary” I started what I’m calling the “smugness calculator.” This is where I log all of the miles that I travel by various conveyances. Then I know exactly how smug I can be.

This is a screencap of version 1.0. I'm now on to smugness calculator 2.0 which is stored in "the cloud" so I can be smug no matter where I roam.

In addition to my utilization of “cloud computing storage” … “2.0” or “whatever” (ack help! too many scare quotes!), I’ve added a column for walking, and I eliminated the division between biking for transport and biking for fun. Instead, I have a column for each of my three bikes. It’s always fun to ride and I often work in some sort of errand during my weekend riding. Another feature of SmugCalc_2.0 is a running total of miles for the different categories and an overall total of miles on a bike vs. miles in a car.

As far as my current level of smugness goes, since August 21, when I started the project I’m at 493 miles cycling, and 530 miles in a car. However, there have also been 19 miles walked and 97 miles using public transit. Sure, 5 of those transit miles were when I got on the wrong bus, but still… By the way, I’m not including every yard that I walk as I pace around my kitchen trying to think of something to cook, I’m only calculating when I walk from one destination to another.

So, I’ve been in a car for more miles then I’ve been on a bike. How can I  call myself “car-free?” As mentioned before, I don’t hate cars, and I don’t think that driving a car is inherently evil.  I just don’t think that everyone needs to own a car (or two, or three). Just like not everyone needs to own a roto-tiller, or a beach-front condo, or a moving truck, or a banquet hall. These are things you rent when you need them. For me, a car is the same way. Zipcar is available in my neighborhood, and if I need a car for a multi-day trip, I can walk to a car rental location a few blocks from my office. Which reminds me: after using Zipcar, I really hate renting a car from a regular car rental company. I hate the insurance hustle. I hate the gas hustle. I hate the fact that they don’t have a car when I made a reservation and they then have to drive me to another town in order to get in a car. And I hate the fact that they think they can smooth over their incompetence by “upgrading” me to a larger vehicle. To me, that’s not an upgrade, it just means I have to pay more for gas. And I hate how big cars drive! Alright, enough with the rant. Moving on.

I’m glad I created the SmugCalc, it’s allowed me to see exactly how much I’m riding, and how much I’m driving. Although my car miles are currently above my bike miles, I was pleased to see that I logged 0 car miles in all of September vs. 358 bike miles! I’m practically glowing with smugness!

Okay, that’s enough with the navel gazing. This post is seriously deficient when it comes to pictures. I’ve been on the lookout for strange handlebars and cockpits in order to compete in BikeSnobNYC’s “cockie” photo contest, but alas, the cyclists of Providence are a fairly tame lot. However, I was very happy to find this particular ride on a recent visit to the Wickenden Street area:

I can’t remember if it was a Raleigh, Hercules, Columbia or something else – I’m sure someone else can recognize it from its headtube badge. What made me so happy was to see it rocking the EasySeat! It’s good to see that someone else cares about their taint as much as I care about mine.


I’m a Winner!

and by that, I mean whiner. Case in point:

One semi-regular feature of this blog is the “honk report” wherein I whine about the latest annoyance I endured when I motorist honked at me for no good reason. It had been happening at a rate of approximately one per week, but now I’ve gone over a month without anyone honking at me.  This lack of honking is making me progressively suspicious.  Am I riding in a different way? I keep thinking that a honk could happen at any moment and I want to be ready so I don’t freak out and go all nutty on the offending motorist. Screaming road rage from a driver inside of a more or less soundproof car is one thing, but screaming road rage from a cyclist tends to draw stares. So, I’ve been preparing myself with special zen exercises and yogic breathing in case anyone should honk at me. I’ll turn, glance and ride on. (turn, glance, ride on. turn, glance, ride on) The zen seems to be working because I was almost squeezed by a bus yesterday morning and it didn’t really bother me. Well, it bothered me, but I didn’t freak out. This happened on Canal Street, which is a three-lane wide one-way street (plenty of room for the bus to take another lane). In the grand scheme of the number of cars that pass me, it’s pretty rare that a car passes too close. When it does happen, I don’t really have much recourse. However, when a bus driver passes too close….

They have an easily identifiable number and a company I can call. After passing me, the bus also ran a red light. I loped along at my usual pace, knowing that the bus would end up at Kennedy Plaza (where I snapped these pictures.) For some reason, the driver seemed in less of a hurry once he’d arrived at the station.

Since I was in a fairly sanguine state, I considered engaging the driver in a discussion of the finer points of Rhode Island law. But I decided to keep my sanguinity to myself and enjoy a stress-free day at work. Instead of risking turning into a fuming jerk in Kennedy Plaza, I called Peter Pan Bus Lines and filed a complaint against the driver. That worked so well with RIPTA, right? (Update on my complaint with RIPTA: nothing).

My mood was lifted when I got to work to see that the bike rack was nearly full!

Six bikes in the rack (one is out of the picture frame, and I’m not counting the pennyfarthing at the far end – that one is merely decorative). How exciting to see! Then I realized that two of the bikes have been sitting there for months. Still, four bikes in the racks! Was there a meeting of the ex-Portlander’s club of Rhode Island? Maybe another Teach For America interview session? Nope, just a visit from the community blood bank. Nothing brings out the do-gooders like a blood drive. But what’s that peaking out between the Cannondale Cyclocross bike and the old Raleigh 10-speed (which has been sitting there for 5 months)?

It’s a floor pump! I know that cyclocross is a demanding sport, but does commuting on a cyclocross bike require constant monitoring of your tire pressure? Or perhaps this cyclocross commuter is a wandering good samaritan, pumping up under-inflated tires across the country, an anti-pinch-flat Johnny Appleseed.