posts tagged with 'biking'

slippery cycling

Now that I'm not on a school schedule I find that I have to work a little between Christmas and New Years, but with the weather finally turned wintery I was happy for my chance at the first ice cycling of the season. I only fell twice!

my bike and backpack fallen by the side of the icy bike path


The path was plowed yesterday but not down to pavement everywhere; and even if it had been it wouldn't have mattered because more freezing drizzle fell overnight, so the whole thing was pretty much a skating rink. In order to stop without falling I had to put a foot down, but even then I slid a good 10 or 20 feet. It was a little surprising the first time, but then I was ready for it.

If the whole surface were flat, I wouldn't have had any problems; once you get used to the disconcerting sensation of the back wheel sliding out from under you you realize you can pull it back in and keep yourself going forward. As I said a couple years ago, ice biking is easy as long as you don't have to speed up, turn, or stop. When the icy ground is uneven, though, things get trickier—and it was just warm enough in the middle of the day yesterday for other cyclists to have left shallow tracks in the ice. It was one of those that brought me down on the way in to work. But the whole thing was so slow—I knew I was pretty much out of control and heading for the side of the path, but I had plenty of time to think about it and my landing was charmingly soft. And all the moments I didn't fall I was reveling in the challenge of the operation.

Unfortunately, I had a deadline to get to work, so in Lexington I abandoned the path in favor of the better-plowed and salted road. And on the way home I was feeling tired and again went most of the way on the streets. But the last little bit was back on the ice, giving me the opportunity to fall one more time just before I got home. Again without damage, so I can look back on the day with nothing but pleasure.

That said, having done it once... I won't complain if conditions are a little better by next week when I have to do it again!


weekend long ride

On Saturday Luke finally got me out to do a long ride with him. He started the day off by riding up here from West Roxbury, so he already had a lot of time in the saddle by the time I joined up; but with plans to go almost 50 more miles I wasn't sure if I was going to make it! We were headed out to the Haystack Observatory out in Westford, which meant plenty of fine fall riding along quiet rural roads.

Luke riding down a country lane

he knows the way

After 25 miles or so (and only one major wrong turn) we made it to the base of Haystack Hill and, eventually, to the top. It turns out they like to put observatories up high.

Luke riding towards a towering white ball

I think we found it

It being a Saturday the place was closed to automotive visitors, but there was a sign pointing to a pedestrian cut-through around the gate. We thought that could go for cyclists too.

Besides a pair of giant white orbs (the Haystack Radio Telescope proper, pictured above, and the Westford Radio Telescope) and one smaller orb (Haystack Auxiliary Radar; only a 40-foot dish) the site is also home to a couple of much more visually interesting exposed metal antennas.

the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna and the Zenith Antenna, seen from across the parking lot

I'm sure they all do something

We deemed the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna as the most photogenic for the purpose of our official posed bike shots; though I was challenged to get both bicycle and antenna in the frame.

my bike leaning against the fence in front of the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna; with Luke and warning sign

proving I biked there

Because we kind of had to sneak in we were the only visitors, but the site seems like it would be at least moderately welcoming to visitors during work hours. Outside one of the buildings they had a pair of parabolic dishes with platforms in front of them; standing on one platform you could hear a whisper from the other, 30 yards away (just like the one at the Discovery Museum only bigger and better!).

They also had an apple tree, and, as is always the case, I couldn't resist trying one. I had some thought it might give me super-powers—you know, the radiation and all—but no luck. It was pleasantly sweet but soft and mealy, so I didn't finish it (the only disappointment of the whole outing).

me holding a red apple in front of the Haystack Radio Telescope


Then it was time to head home. We chose a more southerly route in order to make a loop, and it took us through picturesque Concord.

a red barn (or garage) amidst fields and stone walls

well-kept rural landscape

We crossed the Concord River by way of the Old North Bridge, which merited another stop for a photo.

my bike leaning against the rail of the Old North Bridge

almost home

Then home, for a total (for me) of about 45 miles. There were definitely moments along the way when I thought I wouldn't be able to make it up the next hill, but after finishing up with three flat miles on the dirt of the Reformatory Branch Trail I was feeling good and would have been happy to keep going even further. And I didn't even get sore afterwards! So... 75 miles next time?

Thanks, Luke, for getting me out there!


downtown by bicycle

I had a little extra time today between finishing up work in Cambridge and meeting Leah and the boys to hang out with friends in Arlington, so I hopped on my bike for a little extra ride. I thought maybe I could head downtown and go all the way to the ocean. That may not have sounded like a reasonable plan to Harvey ("there's an ocean in Boston?!" he asked incredulously, as I described the adventure afterwards) but, judging by distance alone, it was entirely reasonable—just like five miles away! Never having biked into the city, though, I overlooked one crucial point: it's a terrible experience!

Well, maybe not entirely terrible. But doing it as I was on a whim and without a well-planned route I exposed myself to all sorts of things that made for a not-so-fun ride. Things were fine as I started out from Rindge Ave down Sherman into Harvard Square. But east of Harvard—I ended up on Mass Ave, because, you know, you do—I was faced with a series of red lights that made me start doubting the whole enterprise. Over the river I was into Back Bay, which wasn't my original plan; I meant to cross the Longfellow Bridge, which is much closer to the ocean! Avoiding Comm Ave, I headed down Marlborough St, where four-way-stops every block—not to mention countless double-parked trucks—kept me from building up any momentum. And things got even worse when I hit Berkeley St, where, apparently, Marlborough's one-way traffic reverses! It was only with difficulty that I found a legal way around that didn't lead me onto Storrow Drive.

So there were navigation challenges; there's also the insanity of city drivers who, wherever the road allows, accelerate to maybe 30 miles an hour over a short block. That's tricky on, say, Arlington by the Public Garden, where I was trying to cross four lanes of traffic to make a left. Up Beacon Street I went to the State House, where I looked at the time... and made the decision to give up my quest. Caught in the crazy tangle of Old Boston streets, I was needing to look at the map on my phone at almost every corner, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get anywhere in the time I had available—never mind getting back! So with many more map checks I made my way back down to the river and across the bridge by the Science Museum; if I was going to turn back before my objective, at least I'd make a good loop of it!

Across the river conditions improved right away—well, as soon as I got myself on the right side of the street. The cycling was fine on Cambridge St and I finally got into a rhythm and felt like I was on a bike ride rather than a mad orienteering expedition. Then I turned onto Beacon, where the paving is exceptionally bad. But Beacon took me up to Somerville Ave into Porter Square, where the green-painted bike lanes are a thing of beauty: a true paradise after the desperate struggle I'd endured. Too bad I could only enjoy them for a quarter of a mile before I turned onto Rindge and finished the loop (in an hour and ten minutes; I had plenty of time to spare).

I really ought to have taken some pictures along the way; there were many fine sights, and this is like the fourth pictureless post in a row here. But frankly I was too terrified and/or confused most of the time to be thinking about aesthetic concerns. The biggest problem was with navigation, and obviously if I knew the city better—or at all—I would have done much better there. But even if I'd been totally certain of my route, I'm still not sure it would have been a really pleasant experience. There are lots and lots of cars downtown—I can't imagine why—and when they aren't playing drag race on multi-lane roads they're stopped in traffic, so close to parked cars that you can't find a way to squeeze through. Add in the stop lights and the pedestrians (who are the smart ones—that's the way to get around the city!) and you start to question the sanity of the whole endeavor.

It was so bad that I need to try again one time to see if I can do it better.


hey kids, it's the day people won't try to kill you with their cars!

Today is "International Walk/Bike to School Day", and Bedford is observing it with all the care of a squeamish teacher pretending enthusiasm for the mealworms the kids are studying in science.

Led by Selectman Margot Fleischman and other volunteers, the Lane School walk from St. Paul’s to Lane School is approximately 1 mile long, and follows neighborhood streets. The bike ride will follow the Narrow-Gauge rail trail from Loomis Street to the school with police support for all the road crossings.

Note how it says "the Lane School walk" and "the bike ride"—that's because, rather than letting everyone make their own way to school (presumably they know how to find it) administrators are hoping to gather folks at a few central locations in order to have them all walk or bike together. I wonder how many of those kids will be driven to the assembly points?

My favorite part of the whole ridiculous mess is the title of the Bedford Citizen article I linked above: "Wednesday is Walk-Bike to School Day — Drive with Care!" Unspoken subtext: if you try to walk or bike any other day, you crazy hippies, you can just expect someone to run you down! It's funny because it's true... wait, no, it's not funny at all!


on being a crazy person

We're back in the compost business, and this afternoon I went on an errand to pick up a couple full buckets that we had left to sit at a friend's house for far too long. Since I was just going around the corner—maybe a half mile away—I couldn't bring myself to take the car. The blue bike could handle the load fine. It was only as I rode home that I realized how I might appear to the more conventional citizens passing me in their cars on their way home from work: this guy in worn-out carhartts and broken shoes, piloting a ridiculous bicycle loaded down with two open five-gallon buckets of rather fragrant food waste.

In all fairness, I am actually pretty crazy; though I like to think my particular insanity is actually a rational response to the environmental threats our planet is under. So from that point of view I may be saner then the folks down the street who spent the afternoon using an excavator to smash down a perfectly good house (filling two dumpsters full of what, moments before, had been perfectly good building materials) in order to make room for a bigger house (made of newly-cut wood, naturally). For many reasons it might be possible to argue that they're the crazy ones. But they have the numbers on their side, so I get the label. Fair enough.

It could have been worse, actually. On the trip to the pick-up, I was going down a hill when the wind started to lift my cap off my head. I reached a hand up to keep it from flying away just as the front wheel hit a bump, and down I went. It was a pretty hard crash, and I have a bloodied elbow and some serious bruises to show for it. But when the bike went over the only things flying out of it were the empty bucket and an assortment of trash that the kids had left behind. Imagine if I'd been coming home when it happened: ten gallons of slop landing on my back as I hit the ground would have made me feel a lot, lot worse. So all told, I count the outing as a complete success!


holiday weekend

On Friday Leah and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by dropping the kids—all three of them—off with Grandma and Grandpa, and going for a bike ride.

Leah riding her mountain bike by Flint Pond

10 years of riding together

With Leah feeling a little sick we abandoned our plans for a lunch date at the end of the ride, but it was still lovely to have a few hours to hang out together—and we being the way we are, we hang out best when we're moving. We did a little over 20 miles of hilly country roads, and it was all wonderful except for not being able to cross Route 2 at two separate points and having to backtrack to find a different way home. Our marriage is still strong despite that difficulty.

Then on Saturday we marked Labor Day a little early by inviting some friends over to labor with us. Work on the porch is proceeding apace, and we thought many hands would make it light. In the event only one other couple was able to come, but Leah watched the kids while the three of us carpentered, and we got the job mostly done before eating a considerable amount of meat.

Sunday saw a full morning of church followed by a 95th birthday party for Great-grandma Faye (that's Leah's grandma). The gathering was wonderful except that we were late and Faye angrily walked out of the group photo. But all three kids were lovely—once they'd warmed up, at least—and did us proud.

Today we did school, because why not?! But we also went to a barbecue all the way down in Brookline. It was fun, but... now we are tired. Good thing the long weekend is over!


this moment

Zion and Lijah in the blue bike with cereal, Harvey standing behind it

have cereal, will travel

A moment from the week.

the PMC kids ride experience

lots of bikes in the parking lot after the ride

where'd we park again?

Harvey and Zion rode in their first charity ride on Saturday, to support the fund-raising efforts of the Pan Mass Challenge and Dana-Farber. We were late sign-ups, but once they were registered (on Thursday afternoon) the boys were pretty excited about it all, and we spent a few long conversations on what they might expect and what cancer is. Three other families on our small street also had kids riding, and the energy level was high at 8:00 Friday night as they ran practice races with each other.

Then Saturday Harvey woke up feeling sick, and before long had thrown up, oh, five or six times (when he's sick he goes all in!). Luckily he was up at 5:00, so he had plenty of time to work around to feeling better by the time we had to leave at 8:30. Of course, he hadn't eaten anything, but that didn't stop him from mounting up for the ride to the assembly spot, about a mile away. Of course we biked up; I was particularly proud of how I set Leah up to carry Zion's bike.

Leah riding the blue bike carrying Lijah and Zion; Zion's bike strapped on the back

bikes carrying bikes

We got there good and early to make sure we'd have time to pick up the boys' numbers and shirts, which meant we had plenty of time to wait around for the start. Zion, signed up to ride the tricycle obstacle course, was raring to go.

zion waiting on his bike

ready and waiting

So was Lijah; Harvey, for his part, was happy for a little down time to get some more rest in.

Harvey, wearing his helmet, lying on the ground by Leah and Lijah

saving his energy

There was lots going on as hundreds of young riders assembled, but mostly we just sat around in our parking space corral with the rest of Team 14; we had a cracker each to give us energy for the ride (Harvey had a bite of a cracker). Finally, the preliminaries drew to a close and the team headed to the starting line for our final instructions—with Harvey, Lijah, and I bringing up the rear.

Harvey and the rest of team 14 waiting in front of the balloon arch starting line

ready, set...

Then we were off. We were in the "steady" ability group—the middle of three levels for the 5-mile ride—but the leaders headed out quick while the Archibalds took a minute to warm up. A sidewalk portion let us regain contact (a little too much contact when folks in front of us had trouble negotiating a turn!).

the group riding along the sidewalk

on the sidewalk

We were delighted to see, passing the Martins' house, a cheering section with personalized signs for Harvey; I only wish I had my camera ready either of the two times we went by. The half-way point aid station also sadly went unphotographed: I was too busy watching Harvey and Lijah enjoy their snack of goldfish (well-earned in one case, at least) to remember to get out the camera. Pictures were easier when we were all rolling smoothly along.

the group riding on the street

a little more room

The course was fairly hilly, but Harvey took it like a champ. One of the few kids on a single-speed, he had to dismount for a couple of the steepest climbs, but both times he ran his bike up very smartly. He started to suffer a little towards the end—I told him he could stop any time if he needed to throw up, after he warned me it was a possibility—but he pushed on strong to the end. Lijah, on the other hand, was totally worn out by the effort.

Lijah sleeping in the Copilot seat

the end of a long, hard ride

The scene back at the start-finish line was even crazier than before the ride. All the kids abandoned their bikes (as pictured above) to enjoy free hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, ice cream, and cotton candy; plus a bounce house, glitter tattoos, a water slide, and of course the obstacle course, where Zion had confidently completed three laps (Leah has those pictures). After half a hot dog and half an ice cream, Harvey started to recover his energy—much faster after Megan joined us and she and Zion dragged him off to the bouncy house. He even managed to get back on his bike for his turn at the obstacle course.

Harvey riding over a wooden ramp on the tennis court

smallest hill of the day

I felt a little bad for our littlest boy, the only Archibald who couldn't manage to participate on his own bike; but then he found a bucket of sand that occupied him for half an hour, so I didn't worry as much.

Lijah digging in a five-gallon bucket of sand

tiny sandbox

It was a grand day all around, and even before we got home Harvey was talking about next year and starting to lay his plans. Then we went inside and all three boys slept for two hours.

Thanks so much to all of you who saw Leah's Facebook post and supported Harvey and Zion with donations. If you missed your chance no worries; we made our goal, and you'll have another chance next year, when we might even put up a fundraising page a full week in advance of the ride!


lest I be judged

I'm usually not a judgmental sort, but put me on a bicycle and watch out! The following is a partial list of the things I've looked down on other riders for doing.

  • Adjusting their arm sleeves while stopped at the end of the bike path.
  • Wearing full kit and going slower than me.
  • Having aerobars.
  • Having a squeaky chain.
  • Passing me and then slowing down.
  • Passing me and then not letting me catch up, denying me a chance to demonstrate my superiority.
  • Wearing full kit and riding two abreast on the bike path with five feet separating the two riders.
  • Talking loudly about cycling while cycling.
  • Wearing a full face mask and goggles in March, when it's warmed up enough for me to think about going without my muffler.
  • Riding with an unbuckled helmet.
  • Riding a fixie.
  • Falling over at an intersection after failing to unclip.

And things I have not looked down on other riders for doing?

  • Being a young man riding a vintage step-through frame in an untucked button-down, with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.


training wheels reconsidered

The cognoscenti are down on training wheels these days: balance bikes are all the thing. And I used to be right there with them. I wanted Harvey to get one back when he was three, and was a little disappointed when grandma Beth, instead, delivered a 12-inch bike with training wheels. At least it was a beautiful 12-inch bike, with full fenders and a rack. And in the event it was perfect for what Harvey needed. So I didn't mind at all when Grandpa Ira recently procured Zion his own, even smaller, first bike.

Zion's new bike: red 12-inch with training wheels

little bicycle

This recent Metafilter thread reminded me of the balance bike/training wheels dispute. Amidst discussion of countersteering and neoroplasticity one commenter wrote, "training wheels taught me nothing about riding a bike except where my hands and feet were supposed to go." I said something pretty similar back when we were thinking about Harvey's next step after the tricycle; my thought was that the tricycle had already taught him to pedal, so balancing was all that was left to learn. And of course, I figured it'd be best done on a balance bike.

What didn't occur to me back then was, at least for Harvey, there was a lot of value in letting him ride with his training wheels over distance. Sure, the pedaling action is pretty much the same as with the tricycle, but the tricycle is a direct drive machine with a pretty small drive wheel, so it is not at all the thing for transportation. On his 12-inch bike, on the other hand, he was able to travel as far as three miles in a trip, and he used it many times to get to Whole Foods or the library. It may be that some kids use their balance bikes for trips of similar length, but balance bikes do have some drawbacks: no brakes, for one!

For whatever reason, at the age of 5 3/4 Harvey was then able to learn to ride on just two wheels without any trouble at all. He just pushed off with one foot and lifted up the other one, and trusted the natural balance of the bike to keep him upright. He fell once or twice, but mostly just from crashing into things; it wasn't the pathetic parade of tipping over that we're given to expect from a first timer (how much trouble he may have had with countersteering is a subject for another post). I can't say for sure, but I do believe that the advantage of being very comfortable on a bike with training wheels did transfer when he took them off.

And of course, the advantage of having already experienced longer rides also transferred. Towards the end of our recent trip of over eight miles, he told me he was ready to go lots farther. As much fun as riding with friends in the street might be, cycling for transportation at age 5 is useful!

I don't know how much of Harvey's experience is transferrable to other kids—even to Zion—and I still think balance bikes are super cool, but I can't be disdainful of training wheels like I was. For our determined but cautious firstborn, they were just the thing.