Category Archives: Utility Cycling

Warwick Excursion

My place of employment recently had a new vinyl sign printed up and instead of paying for delivery, I figured I’d ride out to pick it up. It sounded like a good bike challenge. The sign printing place is located on Jefferson Boulevard, a light-industrial strip in Warwick, RI. Here’s a map indicating the last couple of miles of my route:

I spent most of my journey on Elmwood, much of which is a four lane road with no median, and a 35 MPH speed limit. For a short distance, I was on Post Road, which is four lanes has a median, a 45 MPH speed limit, and a few highway on and off ramps as you can see. Post Road and Jefferson Blvd run parallel, and it looked like the easiest way to get between them was to take this shortcut:

… through Lincoln Cemetery. If you can ride through a cemetery to get between two points, I highly recommend it. Not much traffic.

After whistling through the graveyard, I ended up on Jefferson Blvd, another four lane, non-divided street. Looking at the street numbers, I figured I didn’t have far to go, so I did something I usually don’t recommend: I rode my bike on the sidewalk.


I was in a hurry during most of this trip, so I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but I did grab this shot which is a good illustration of why it’s almost always a bad idea to ride on the sidewalk on a major street:

The motorist pulled right up to the street without looking to her right. I saw her coming, so I paused at the intersection until she pulled out. If I had been a little earlier, or slightly less aware, this could have been an ugly situation. On my return home, I stayed on streets the entire way (except for the cemetery shortcut).

I took one more photograph. I thought that NPR headquarters was in Washington DC, evidently they produce one of their most popular programs in Warwick, RI!

I’m happy to report that in 20 miles of urban and suburban cycling in unfamiliar territory, there were zero instances of honking, close passing or any other dangerous behavior. Also, on the way back in to Providence, I kept pace with a RIPTA bus for about 5 miles until I was finally able to pass him for good. This means that the average speed of a city bus is less than 15 MPH, including bus stops, not including stop lights.


The End of Smugness

Friends, I have a confession to make. For about 2 months, I had in my possession an automobile.

Here, let me return your jaw to you from it’s place on the floor.

I did not own this car, it was on loan to me from some friends who were traveling overseas. Spouse and I had a few car-intensive errands to run while we did some renovations to our house, so it seemed like a good idea to have the car around. Plus, our friends needed to park their car somewhere, and in Providence, you just can’t leave your car on the street overnight. In the two months we had it, we drove about 1,000 miles. There were home improvement errands, day trips, a trip to the beach, and one overnight trip to upstate New York that made up the plurality of the miles.

About a week before my friends were due to return and reclaim their car, I decided to make a stock-up run to Trader Joe’s – about 10 miles from home. Because I am a car-free smugmonger, I left the car in the driveway and took my bike. Some other friends had recently offered me the use of their bike trailer and I wanted an excuse to try it out. So I hooked up the trailer to my city bike and headed out.

Riding with the trailer was a little easier than I expected. At times, I felt like I was flying down the Washington Secondary Bike Path. I stopped for a while to help out somebody with a flat tire. He wasn’t quite sure how to use the patch kit, something I didn’t really know how to do until about 2 years ago, so I was happy to lend some assistance. Besides, is there anything that can make you feel more smug than being the Good Samaritan?

I left my SPD's at home and went for a retro-grouch look with the Keens. Also, I was a little afraid of losing control and needing to put my foot down in an emergency. This did not happen.

To get to the Target, I have to ride on a wide, fast suburban road for about a mile. It’s never fun, and I thought it would be worse when pulling the trailer. However, I didn’t realize that cars would give me more room and not hassle me when I’m pulling a trailer – probably because they think there’s a kid back there. When I pulled into the Target lot, I saw this:

A $20 bill stuck in a bush! What great luck! I figured it was a little Karmic reward for my Good Samaritanism (to mix religious metaphors). This resulted in a general feeling of increased smugness. Next, however…

The bike rack was blocked by a big construction fence! I was slightly angry, but I was riding on such a wave of smugness that I didn’t really mind so much.

I bought a basketball at the Target, thus using up my $20 bill.

Next stop was Target, which still lacks for a bike rack, as does the EMS next door which actually sells bikes. I felt smug as I locked up to whatever this thing is:

A little more navigation of the big 4-Lane road, and I was back on the bike path. I was definitely moving slower than when the trailer was empty, but it was still easy to pull. Around the Point Street bridge, I passed the stragglers of the Rhode Island 70.3 Triathlon. Evidently a portion of the running course went up Olney Street this year. That’s just mean.

After recovering at home for a bit, I decided to test out my basketball. I pumped it up a little, then took a few shots. The first was a brick, not surprisingly since I hadn’t taken a shot in at least a decade. Soon, however I was landing a few bank shots and even a swish or two. Unfortunately, my basketball net has seen better days. Being stuck outside for years, it’s shrunk at the bottom so the ball will not go through. So, every time I made a shot, I had to jump up and punch out the ball. After making a few close ones, I backed up for a 15 footer. I missed, and the ball headed towards my friends’ car. It bounced once on the pavement and then landed on the windshield – and cracked it.

That’s one way to get rid of a day’s worth of accumulated smugness!

Speaking of accumulated smugness, the dedicated reader(s) of this blog may have noticed that I have not included a check-in on the SmugCalc in a while. This was a spreadsheet I started at the one-year anniversary of being car-free. I used this spreadsheet to track all of the miles I traveled using various forms of transportation (except for planes, that’s where I cheated). I was able to keep going with it for months, even tracking my miles after I broke my collarbone and could not ride my bike for a while (I was racking up transit smugness points instead). Finally, however, it just got boring tracking the miles on the bus. But now I’m back. Starting today, the SmugCalc is in full force. It’s not quite my Carfreeniversary, but August 1 makes for a nice round starting date. I’m at 5.5 SmugMiles so far.

And also speaking of accumulated smugness, the ladies at Let’s Go Ride A Bike are holding their 2nd annual LGRAB Summer Games. I have to do 4 of the following 10 items and blog about them:

  • on vacation? rent a bike and go for a ride!
  • write a letter advocating for bicycling infrastructure (bike lanes, bike rack, etc) to your alderman/council representative, mayor, or a local business.
  • take a picture of something along your commute that says “summer” to you, and explain why
  • commute to work by bike or bike/transit if you don’t already
  • perform a maintenance task on your bike
  • explore a greenway or bike path in your city that you haven’t previously visited
  • test ride a different type of bike than you normally ride (road bike, mountain bike, etc.)
  • read a book about cycling
  • ride your bike somewhere new in your city
  • go on a group ride

These things have to be done between July 21 and August 8. I’m late to the game, but there’s still time for me to slay it! * So even though this post may be titled “The End of Smugness”, this is really just a renewal of smugness.

* by “slay it” I mean complete 4 tasks, blog about them, then get entered in a random drawing to win some prizes.

Put your weight on it

My recent post regarding shopping for bikes elicited quite a few comments which pleased me to no end – thanks everyone for your tips and advice. I still have a long way to go and many more bikes to try out before buying my next bike.

A topic that often comes up when talking about bikes is weight. To paraphrase from the good book of Sheldon Brown: A 20 pound bike is not 33% lighter than a 30 pound bike. A 20 pound bike + 150 pound cyclist is 5% lighter than a 30 pound bike + 150 pound cyclist. Or something like that. I couldn’t find the quote right away and I’m feeling google-lazy [this is a new term I’m trying to popularize – it means “I could probably find the answer to this question in 10 seconds by using google, but it could take up to 10 minutes and I’m too lazy to do that right now.” An appropriate response to someone’s google-laziness is to hit them with a link from]  Let’s keep Sheldon’s wisdom in mind, as I relate today’s events.

It was a scorcher out there. Yesterday’s high was 94 and today wasn’t any better. However, I spent much of yesterday indoors, and I wanted to spend a little bit of time in the saddle today. Nothing too crazy, I just wanted to get out and ride a little to see how I could handle riding in the heat. We were a little low on some staple items that can best be purchased at Trader Joe’s. It’s about 11 miles away, so off I went with a shopping list and both panniers.

As I made my way through the hot-as-an-oven west side, I passed the White Electric Coffeeshop, where I noticed one of the bike mechanics from Small LBS #1*. I overheard him say to his companion, “man it’s too hot to ride a bike today.” That’s right, I’m more hardcore than a bike mechanic. DEAL WITH IT! He was right, but once I reached the Washington Secondary Bike Path it seemed almost 10 degrees cooler than the streets. I’ve complained about how the path is straight, flat and a little boring, with all potential views blocked by trees. Well, I wasn’t complaining about the tree cover today as I’m sure it was one of the main reasons for the cooler temperature. I’d given the bike a thorough cleaning yesterday (aside from firework-viewing, it was the only time I spent outside), so things were running very smoothly and I kept a decent pace despite the heat. With a little shade and a 15-18 mph breeze, 94 degrees didn’t seem so bad!

I reached TJ’s and loaded up on the usual goodies. Really loaded up. I even bought a big ol’ jug of maple syrup. I carefully arranged all of the goodies and headed back on the trail. I was much, much slower. I was working as hard as before, but I was in a lower gear than on the way there and my speedometer confirmed that I was significantly slower. I was still moving along and everything felt stable, but I was slow. It may not be fashionable to say it in some cycling circles, but I like to be fast.

Here’s everything I bought at TJ’s:

Trader Joe's Haul. Next thing you know, I'll be posting videos of stuff I buy just like a teenage girl.

Note the scale in the background – that’s right, I weighed everything. IN GRAMS.

Then I converted it to American – it was over 15 pounds! So, now I know – 15 pounds slows me down significantly. It wasn’t unpleasant to ride with 15 extra pounds (at least for 10 miles), but it was slower, and I can’t really imagine doing it on a 60 plus mile ride. As a side note, I really think I need to get a new rack. My panniers were starting to bend under the weight and they got dangerously close to my spokes on a few bumps. I tried to take a picture while I was rolling, but no luck, I only got this:

I guess I could have stopped and taken a picture, but then I would have lost my 12 mph breeze. I need to find a rack with a little more steel in the back to hold those panniers out.

So, now I know what 15 pounds of extra weight feels like. With that in mind, I headed to Big LBS #1 for a little bike shopping. I walked in and said that I wanted to talk about road bikes. The young man’s first question was, “How important to you is the ability to have a rack and fenders on your bike?” Me: “Pretty important, I also want to look at touring bikes.” So we talked about what I expect to do with the bike, etc. Unfortunately, there are very few road bikes these days that have eyelets for racks and/or fenders. In fact, in this large LBS that has (I’m guessing) well over 100 bikes on the floor, they only had 1 real “touring” bike, a Raleigh Sojourn. It was probably a size too large for me, but I took it for a short spin. It seems to be a pretty well-equipped bike with a decent level of components including disc brakes, Tiagra front, Deore rear, Dura-ace bar end shifters, a Brooks saddle. It even comes standard with fenders and a rack. But man, the thing was heavy. And too big for me (and I don’t really want the added expense and lack of serviceability of disc brakes). The guy and I talked about cyclocross bikes which often have fender and rack eyelets (go figure), but they didn’t have any in an appropriate size. We looked around some more and found a Fuji Newest 1.0 that was in my size. It has a higher level of components than my current ride and it has rack eyelets. I gave it a quick spin and the difference between the Fuji and the Raleigh was immediately noticeable. It was fast, and the geometry seemed about right for me (with a 54 cm frame). It has an adjustable stem, STI shifters, 105 rear deraileur, yadda yadda. What can I say, I kinda liked how it rode. Only a longer test ride will tell. So, for now it looks like it’s on the short list.

This brings me to my last point of the evening. It’s been a little less than a year since I sold my car and started thinking more seriously about bikes. In that time, I’ve noticed that there seem to be two main schools of thought on what is “good” in cycling. There’s what is popularly known as the “retro-grouch” school as personified by Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works. It’s tenets: Bikes should be made from steel; they should have lugs; frames must always include braze-ons and eyelets for racks and fenders in order to make the bike as useful as possible; lightweight is not good; if you are concerned about weight you should train more so you don’t notice the weight of your bike; a steel bike will last for decades while the structure of an aluminum or carbon bike will deteriorate and possibly fail catastrophically; wear wool, don’t wear lycra; (and something that really suprised me) clipless pedals are useless. Take a little time to look through the articles on the Rivendell site for more details on retro-grouchiness.

Then there is the modern bike manufacturer school: make it lighter, make it faster, every cyclist wants to ride like a racer, eylets are unnecessary on a true road bike, wheels must have as few spokes as possible, aggressive geometry is best; always wear lycra; slap some flashy graphics on that frame and give it a bitchin’ name! Take a look at any cycling magazine or the ad copy of a major bicycle manufacturer for this particular school.

Is there nothing in between these two poles? Nothing for the cyclist who wants to enjoy a nice ride in the country and be neither weighed down by a heavy bike nor bent over like a speed demon? While the retro-grouch rails against a cycling industry promoting its new-fangled technology with ridiculous ad copy, isn’t he just doing the same thing, but from a reactionary viewpoint?

So, my head continues to spin. The only way to solve it is to keep testing more bikes. I still haven’t visited Large LBS #2. I’ll try to do that soon to see what they have on offer. Meanwhile – I’m glad I wasn’t headed southbound on I-95 today:

As they say down south on Aquidneck: Newport society is divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have yachts.’ Or in this case, ‘use-ta-have-yachts.’

* I’ve decided to start a policy of semi-anonymizing the Local Bike Shops that I frequent. Readers in Rhode Island will be able to recognize them by my descriptions, and for those outside of the area, the name of the LBS is not really important. I’m not sure why I’m doing this – to avoid showing up in their google searches? To keep my own anonymity? Maybe it would be better to be forthright in my discussion of my dealings with these local businesses. Anyone have thoughts on this issue?

They are: Small LBS #1; Small LBS #2; Large LBS #1; Large LBS #2. The numbers have nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I frequent the #1s more than I frequent the #2s. So to speak.

Honk Report: Cranston

I did a little utility cycling today with a trip to three stores in Warwick and Cranston.  The furthest away is the Target on Bald Hill road – about 12 miles from my house. In Rhode Island terms, this is a big trip. I can get almost everything I need at the stores in my neighborhood, but I kind of like the ride to Target, most of which is on the Washington Secondary Bike Path. It also means I get to visit Trader Joe’s, just down the street. I stocked up at TJ’s with about 10 pounds of nuts and fruit, and I cleaned up on Cliff Bars at Target. I was pretty loaded down at this point – I’d guess that my panniers with their loads were almost equal to the weight of my bike. There’s kind of an odd phenomenon to riding with full panniers: once you get rolling, it’s almost like the load just pushes you along. My bike has much more inertia with a full load and it seems more stable in a way. It certainly makes going uphill more difficult – but there’s just a certain heft to riding this way. Anyhoo, I also stopped at EMS to check out their jerseys.

After leaving EMS, I had the option of making my way back to the bike path, or heading home on Reservoir Ave (aka RI Route 2). I’d been on Rt. 2 for a while by this point – it was the best way to get from TJ’s to EMS. There seemed to be plenty of shoulder, and the drivers were giving me plenty of room when they passed. The way to get back to the path seemed convoluted, plus I’d only be on the path for about 3 miles. So, I opted to stay on Rt. 2. Cars passed me, I passed cars at stoplights – the usual suburban stop-and-go. There were a few places where I couldn’t ride in the shoulder due to: excessive amounts of sand (no visit from the street cleaner?), cars parked in the shoulder area (legally), or broken glass. So, I rode in the right hand lane, and most of the cars went around me without a fuss. A red Honda Accord honked at me before overtaking me. They gave me plenty of room, and instead of glaring at them, I decided to take Jenny Ondioline’s advice – I smiled, waved and blew them a kiss. The two middle-aged ladies in the car seemed to get a kick out of it, and we all went on with our business. And now instead of stewing and feeling embarrassed about getting all road-ragey like I did a few weeks ago, I’m feeling pretty relaxed. Therefore, from now on, it’s all smiles, waves and kisses for all honkers.

Quasi-honk report: instead of tackling the 12 % grade on my usual route home, I went up through the college hill area. Brown’s commencement is tomorrow, so the area is full of people right now, including slow-driving luxury vehicles desperately looking for a parking place. Once I was a few blocks from home and traffic picked up, I was passed by a Tahoe or some such GM SUV. A passenger yelled something out the window at me. I’ll file this under honk report, although it’s a little different. Evidently, there’s an odd Rhode Island tradition of car passengers leaning out their windows and yelling random things at pedestrians (and cyclists, I suppose). I’ve tried using popular internet search engines to figure out the origin of this, but I haven’t found it yet. When I’ve asked native Rhode Islanders what the deal is, they usually just say, “I dunno, it’s just a Rhode Island thing to do.” It seems like it’s not particularly aggressive, just random and mostly intended to startle the pedestrian. Still, I’m filing it under Honk Report.

(the honk report is inspired by the Carbon Trace blog from Springfield, MO)

No pictures from my ride today. Instead, here’s an old Ferrari I spotted during my visit to Portland. I’m not a big Ferrari fan, they are so far out of my league that it’s not even worth thinking about. But this one is just plain beautiful.