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!

wishful thinking

It’s hard to believe it was just a week ago that I took these pictures after a long ride from Somerville to South Boston at the end of a gorgeous weekend. I’m going to ignore the wind and rain outside for now and just stare at these until it goes away.

syrup in the city

photo courtesy nuanc via flickr

Spring (or maybe just a temporary reprieve) has come early to Boston this year. Yesterday marked my first day of gloveless riding, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Along with warm sun and snow-free streets, another sign that winter is wrapping up: maple sugaring. Tapping maple trees may be associated more with the backwoods of Quebec than with metro Boston, but there’s plenty of it around here. I’ve heard about several towns in the nearby suburbs that have been tapping their trees, but I’m most excited about the Somerville Maple Syrup Project right in my backyard. This is a great project that brings together Groundwork Somerville, the Friends of the Somerville Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools, and Tufts University. The sap has been flowing since early in February, and will be turned into maple syrup next Saturday, March 13 at a Boil Down at the Somerville Community Growing Center.

If you can’t make it to the boil down, keep an eye out for the syrup this summer at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, where it will be sold at the Grown in Somerville booth.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself talking about farmer’s markets. I’m sure we’ll have more snow before winter is really over, but for now I’ll enjoy the sunshine.

Biking in heels?

Since entering the biking blogosphere, I have discovered just how many beautiful, inspirational blogs there are out there promoting the use of bicycles for everyday transportation by those of us who don’t want to wear spandex or break any records (or even a sweat).

Now, I love the image of a woman in a dress on a vintage bike, hair blowing in the wind, just as much as anyone. After spending some time drooling over vintage bicycle accessories and picturesque images on said blogs, I began to think of my modern hybrid bicycle as very boring and lacking in romance. My typical winter biking outfit of tights, jeans, heavy socks, t-shirt, and parka seemed even worse. I think of myself as an aesthetically-minded person and generally am all for a little romance in the everyday, so I wondered what had brought me down this practical path.

I’ve realized, though, that since the beauty of biking for me is more about the freedom a bicycle can offer than it is about the bicycle itself, comfort and ease have always been paramount. Biking is also something that I love for its simplicity. It’s practical transport without having to think about fuel or train schedules or (at least not much) even parking. That means I don’t want to spend hours thinking about the material accessories that biking can bring into my life, but would rather think about where I’m going to go next.

I hope that the average biking novice realizes that they don’t have to ride a road bike if that makes them uncomfortable, but I also hope that their only alternative isn’t a sit-up-and-beg style vintage bike. While these may be perfect for short journeys under a couple of miles, I know I feel much more comfortable, and travel faster, on my hybrid commuter. And while, yes, the idea of travelling slowly in my work clothes, arriving at work refreshed-but-not-sweaty sounds wonderful, I know that I’m not always going to leave enough time to accommodate that kind of trip, and that I’ll be much more comfortable in casual clothes that I can take off at work and replace with clean work clothes. This is at least partly due to my particular trip, which is almost six miles. I’m sure if I wasn’t travelling so far, biking in my work clothes might be more appealing.

There was a time in my past when I commuted to a job that was four miles from my apartment. It was springtime, and I would travel in my work clothes. Not even heels, but just flats. Twice, I lost a shoe en route, and felt like a fool. The shoe got run over by at least one car and was really dirty by the time I could run into the road (barefoot – ick – why am I even admitting this?) and get it back. Maybe the lesson here is just that I chose the wrong work shoes to wear on my bike, but my point is that I am much more comfortable on my bicycle wearing some practical, casual, and (gasp) maybe even slightly sporty clothing, if I’m going to be travelling any distance.

In general, I’m all for people getting on a bicycle in whatever they would normally be wearing. If you always wear heels, by all means, I suppose, don’t feel you have to take them off to get on a bike. I think, though, that we could encourage more non-bikers to choose bicycle transport by pointing out those things that would make them that little bit more comfortable. Maybe my problem is just that I’m never fully comfortable in heels, even when I’m standing on solid ground, but I really can’t imagine getting on a bike in them.

improvements in my neighborhood

Those locally may be equally cheered by an article I saw on Boston.com today about plans for the North Cambridge stretch of Mass Ave. Apparently, bike lanes and bike parking may be in the works, as well as trees and more retail space!