lonely commute

My new commute to work is a brisk 20 minutes door to door, and takes me right through the new bike boxes that I wrote about here. Sadly, it’s a lonely commute and I rarely see more than 1 or 2 other cyclists, if that, along this stretch. I’m not sure if it’s just because it’s an unusual direction to head in at 8:30 in the morning (away from, rather than towards, downtown) or if everyone else gets to work earlier than me. I hope it isn’t that Bostonians in these parts cycle less than their counterparts in Cambridge, although that could certainly be the case.

I’m also not quite sure what to make of my new neighborhood in terms of bike-friendliness yet. I see a fair number of bikes locked up around my neighborhood, but have yet to see many of them with riders. I did have a kind offer of help outside my door one day when my chain had fallen off, but also had a neighbor ask me crossly if I knew whose bike was locked up on a tree cage, which is apparently not allowed (I did not know the offender). So I guess that’s a draw in terms of bike-friendliness points for this neighborhood. I’ll have to see how things continue to pan out.

new digs

My long silence is partly due to a move I made at the beginning of the month, which involved relocating to a new neighborhood of Boston. Settling in was my priority for the past few weeks, but I’ve still had to make my way to work each day, and my new commute has given me lots of new things to share.

My new neighborhood is much denser than the old, and rather than being in a duplex with a big front porch, I’m now in a fifth floor walk-up, which creates a new challenge for bike storage. I have access to a basement, which I thought I would pull the bike into to avoid bad weather, but I’m finding that was overambitious of me. Bad weather is frequent and unpredictable in Boston, after all. I quickly surrendered in the face of the frequent rain showers (and thunderstorms) we’ve been having lately. My poor bike is just going to have to make the most of it out there. I’m sure I would ride less if I had to drag it out of the basement every morning, and that’s the last thing I want.

Bike boxes for boston!

I was very excited to hear that Boston had recently unveiled bike boxes along a stretch of Commonwealth Ave.

These allow bikers to filter to the front of the line of traffic at a red light, making it easier to turn left or to avoid cars that are turning right when you want to go straight. I’ve found them very useful in other cities.

Along with the bike boxes, they’ve also added a bike lane. I was surprised to see that the bike lane was on the left side of the road. It felt very strange to ride on that side of traffic, but I suppose there was more room for it there than next to the line of parked cars.

I was grateful to have some space carved out for me, and can definitely say that it’s an improvement from the previous situation, which forced bikers to take up a whole lane next to the parked cars. There’s no more anxiety about dooring or the inevitable angry drivers that swerve around you at fast speeds. Double parking is also prevalent in this area, so it’s nice not to deal with that. However, there were some intersections where the bike lane switched from the left to the right side of the road, necessitating some awkward maneuvering. Maybe it wouldn’t seem so awkward given time.

When I stopped to take these pictures I got to observe some interesting bike-box behavior. Three bikers ignored the bike box and sped through the red light. The bright green paint seemed to send a clear message to the cars, though, which all stopped behind the bike box. Strangely, one biker did too. It seems that adapting to the bike boxes will be a longer process for bikers than for drivers, but I hope they start spreading to other parts of the city.

so simple

While my indecision over bicycle transport systems hasn’t waned much, I had begun leaning toward removable “shopper” panniers that I could attach to my rear rack. The $50-$60 price tag of most of them was making me reluctant to take the plunge, and I just so happened to come across a much cheaper solution on the side of the road.

Here it is all loaded up for an evening of crafts and snacks. I admit it may be lacking in elegance, but you know what? It works. That crate holds A LOT. It can handle everything I need for work or a significant load of groceries. Another thing to recommend this method is the ease with which you can remove the crate and put it back on. I quickly and easily took it off for a long ride this weekend without cargo.

There’s definitely a part of me that just loves the simple way that the crate gets securely bungee’d to the rack, and of course I love that it was free. Maybe I’ll invest in nice waterproof panniers or a stylish bag soon, but for now this milk crate is meeting my needs nicely.

decisions, decisions

My trusty panniers, which have served me so well, are no longer in great shape. I’ve forced them to carry a lot of heavy and awkwardly-shaped objects, from my bike lock to laundry detergent to a dozen Mason jars. One compartment has had a broken zipper for almost a year, and all of them have developed ripped corners. They’ve proven very practical, even delivering cupcakes one winter evening, but I think I’m ready for something new, and not just because they’re so worn.

trust me, there are cupcakes in there

As nice as it is to be able to throw everything and anything on my bike at once, I think it’s almost more bags than I need. They’re really designed more for touring, and I should be able to get my work clothes/workout clothes/groceries to somehow fit on my bike without them. Right? They were a permanent fixture on my bike for a long time, and riding without them lately has been liberating. I don’t really want to go back.

However, clearly I need something. I buy groceries by bike, and like to be able to make modest Target trips and so on from time to time. I was strongly considering folding wire baskets to hang on either side of my rack, but was somewhat discouraged by the bike shop salesman, who thought they would be heavy and would rattle a lot. My panniers were not very easy to take on and off, and after seeing how liberating it can be to ride without them, I also like the idea of a “shopper” style bag that I could attach for specific trips and take off when I’m not using it. Then again, I don’t really want anything nice enough to encourage theft. The less I have to take with me when I lock up my bike, the better. Any suggestions/reviews of particular products would be appreciated!

bikes vs. cars

Whenever I read an article about bike safety or bike accidents (which is sadly too often these days, after a couple of bad accidents in Boston), I promise myself I won’t read the comments section at the end. Of course, that’s a promise I never seem able to keep, and I end up getting ridiculously riled up myself. They’re inevitably filled with vitriol from both drivers and bikers. The “what do you expect?” attitude towards bikers is rampant, and the amount of incorrect information from drivers who seem to think that bikers have zero rights on the road is mind-boggling. Sometimes I think commenters must just be bored at work and trying to stir up a fight on the boston.com message board by taking the most extreme position possible. If they’re being sincere, I’m ready to move to Copenhagen. Just as soon as the volcanic ash clears up.

This rant of mine was prompted by an article about a bike safety summit that Mayor Menino will be holding tomorrow in the wake of recent accidents, to encourage “harmony between bikers and drivers.” I’ll be interested to see what comes out of the summit. If you click on the article link, just make sure you don’t read the comments.

back in the saddle

I’ve decided I’m not going to let a little pollen get in between me and my bike, and I have been transporting myself on two wheels quite a lot over the past few days.

The weekend was up and down, with ridiculous (and surprisingly cold) winds on Saturday and sunburn on Sunday. Today the elements seemed a lot more in balance, and I was able to pedal along at a leisurely pace and enjoy the soothing green and energizing colors that are suddenly everywhere.

Crossing the river, though, there was unmistakable drama in the skies.

Who knows what’s next?

spring blahs

Despite unseasonably lovely weather, a nasty cold, perhaps enhanced by allergies, has sapped all of my energy lately and filled me with nightmare visions of pollen battering my eyes and nose if I get on a bike. I think things may finally be improving, and may have had more to do with illness than allergies anyway, so I may just brave it tomorrow, nightmares and all.

Brompton US Championship

Philadelphia hosted an event last weekend that I would have liked to see. 59 competitors came out for the first ever Brompton US Championship, and raced along a 6 mile course on folding bikes.

photo courtesy John Spooner via flickr

My favorite part: no athletic apparel was allowed, and many raced in suits and ties. The winners of the men’s and women’s events will both be heading to Blenheim Palace in England for the Brompton World Championship in October.
I’ve never been on a folding bike, but seeing these pictures makes me want to try one. They don’t seem to be too popular in Boston, and I don’t think I have ever seen one folded up on the train here. Something about those little wheels is not very appealing to me. Does anyone ride one regularly? What do you think?

playing with google

Since I found out about Google’s new bicycle directions, I’ve been mapping all of my favorite routes to see what they have to say. It’s been fun, and has even led me down some new streets (and alleyways).

I was happy to see that the second route they suggested I take to work is the one I’ve adopted already. I’ve experimented with a couple of the different options that are available to me and feel pretty strongly about my latest favorite, so the fact that they recommended it gave me more faith in their other suggestions.

Their first home-to-work route was closer to what I expected from them, and was geared towards bikers who want to avoid car traffic whenever possible. It included a long time spent on the Charles River Bike Path, which I never normally take, since speed is usually more important to me than scenery or getting away from the cars. On one of the many beautiful evenings this week, though, I took this route home for a change, inspired by their suggestion (or else I’m just a slave to Google). Over the course of the route I discovered a low-stress way to cut through Kenmore Square and enjoyed not having to worry about traffic so much. Unfortunately, I also remembered how much I dislike the Anderson Bridge into Harvard Square. It was fun, but I would never take this route on the way to work.

I also took Google’s advice for a route a rarely take through Back Bay, and was surprised when they suggested I cut through the Public Alley system. I decided to give it a try, but wouldn’t recommend it. These alleys may keep you out of the traffic, but they’re filled with messy pavement and broken glass, and would be dangerous at night. I also didn’t like the way I got spit out onto the sidewalk and then the street at the end of every block, probably surprising the pedestrians and cars travelling perpendicular to me and creating more of an accident risk. The fact that these would even be part of their network seems to suggest an impressive level of research, though, which should only get better as the feedback from users pours in.

Obviously I think their suggestions should be countered by common sense and may not always be best (and I think that personal riding preferences usually dictate how much a certain biker is going to like a particular route) but I’m very pleased to have this new resource to play with!