Tag Archives: commuting

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.

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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!

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!

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.

bicycle commuter act

This is apparently very old news, but somehow I just heard about it today. Way back in 2008, a Bicycle Commuter Act was passed as part of the Renewable Energy Tax Credit legislation that went into effect on January 1, 2009.  This allows for a reimbursement (from your employer) of up to $20/month for bicycle related expenses, assuming you commute by bicycle regularly.

How this reimbursement happens seems a little hazy and is apparently for each employer to figure out themselves. I haven’t heard a peep about this benefit yet from my employer, so am assuming that it’s not something they actually offer at this point. I sent an inquiry to my HR office and am awaiting a reply…

Even if they do offer it, it’s unlikely that I would ever actually take advantage of the benefit, as you can’t receive this reimbursement in the same month that you receive another transportation benefit (i.e. a transit pass or parking reimbursements), and I really love my subsidized MBTA pass. It seems a shame that these things can’t be combined, since $20 a month is pretty meagre anyway, compared to the $115/month that’s allowed for transit and the $210/month to help drivers. As soon as I heard about this I thought about a beautiful new saddle bag I’ve had my eye on, but I guess I’m going to have to spend my own taxed income on that one.

I doubt that this kind of benefit is enough to encourage those who don’t commute by bike to start, but it does seem like it could be helpful for those who are already doing so.