Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Provincetown School of Vehicular Cycling

We often take daytrips to the Cape in the summer, but avoid Provincetown, because it is both too far and much too crowded. However, last week we stopped by. For those unfamiliar with the area, Provincetown is a lively and quirky town at the very tip of Cape Cod, long associated with the arts and with freedom of sexual expression. The main street is lined with galleries, coffee houses, excellent restaurants, eccentric shops, theaters, piano lounges and dance clubs. Rainbow flags are aflutter. Tourists pose to have their pictures taken with drag queens. Ocean waves rise picturesquely in the background. Everything is relaxed and easy; everyone gets along.

We arrived with our vintage 3-speeds and found the town center absolutely packed. The photos don't capture this, but many parts of the long and narrow Commercial Street were filled shoulder to shoulder with pedestrians and bumper to bumper with cars. It did not look like we could walk through the center, let alone cycle. And yet, the place was full of cyclists. They were riding in both directions through the narrow street, blithely passing the slow cars and the meandering pedestrians with dogs and strollers. We got on our bicycles, and what an educational experience it was.

Imagine: Cars pay attention to bicycles and wait for them without getting angry about it. Drivers and passengers look before opening the doors of parked cars. Cyclists are non-belligerent. Phrases such as "Please, go right ahead!" and "Oh, sorry about that!" and "Thanks!" and "Hey, nice bike!" can be heard all around instead of what is normally shouted in Boston. Can this be Vehicular Cycling Heaven? Cycling in Provincetown - both through the center and through the wider roads with higher speed limits - has made me feel considerably more comfortable about sharing the road with cars.

We did not take many bike photos, but here are a few bicycles spotted in town. A colourful Electra Amsterdam with nice wicker panniers and a sunflower on the handlebars. I believe it belongs to a local painter.

And here is a Rivendell Rambouillet by the marina, complete with fenders, Brooks saddle, rack, lights, and handlebar bag. The owner was pleased and amused that I recognised his bike.

And finally, a solution to the "control issue" in tandem cycling: The Buddy Bike! Now both riders can feel like captains - though I assume this can only be done if the riders are roughly of the same weight.

For more about cycling in P-Town, read about Vee's bike date at Suburban Bike Mama.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ladies and Diamond Frames

Lots of ladies ride diamond frame bicycles, even in a skirt. The lovely Charlotte of Chic Cyclist and the good women of Bike Skirt are just some examples. Recently, I tried riding diamond frames for the first time in my life.

Here is the Co-Habitant's vintage Raleigh. I had to wear platform shoes, because I can't otherwise clear the top tube of his 24" bike.

And here is an Origin8 Cykel, which I tried at the Bike Stop in Arlington, Mass. This time the frame was just the right size, though those super-wide handlebars took some getting used to.

My feelings about diamond frames are mixed. While cycling, I actually find them very comfortable: The horizontal tube helps me feel balanced and in control of the bicycle. But by golly, I don't understand how to mount and dismount gracefully. The Co-Habitant swings his leg over the back in one fluid ballet-like motion, but I seem to be incapable of executing this maneuver without faltering. Plus, in a skirt this can't be done without hiking it up first.

I've tried leaning the bicycle over toward me until the frame is low enough to step over, but that does not seem right either. Ladies, how do you do it? And when you're wearing a skirt?

UPDATE: The graceful Charlotte of Chic Cyclist has now posted a photo-tutorial showing how she rides her diamond frame in a miniskirt. Enjoy!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lobstah Gettah?

This spectacular bicycle was parked next to a beach entrance at the National Seashore on Cape Cod. The frame is ancient, but clearly the bicycle is very much functional. The red Raleigh grips look like a comparatively recent addition, but all else seems original - including tires and saddle!

Rear wheel. Note the chainring and guard on the other side. The bolt-on on the stay indicates that it is coaster brake.

Front wheel - note the original parking stand.

The blue plaque between the tubes says "Donut Shop".

The lobster pot is shiny and new. The lid is secured with pink bungee cords, but I wonder how the pot itself is secured to the front rack without the need to make holes in the metal? The owner of this masterpiece was not in sight, or I would have loved to ask. This is one of my most exciting bicycle sightings ever!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mixte Lovers, Rejoice: VO Prepares a Little Something

Some of you know that I have been considering a custom bike for next spring. It has been a somewhat tortured search, because of my pickiness when it comes to things like lugs and stylistic detail. Basically, I want the mixte to have the classic twin lateral stays (as opposed to a single top tube), and I want it to be fully lugged (which is nearly impossible to achieve nowadays, as mixte lugs are no longer made). To get the kind of bicycle I want, I basically had three choices : (1) to go with a builder who can hand-make the lugs, (2) to go with a builder who can alter lugs meant for diamond frames into mixte lugs, or (3) to find a builder who has a stash of NOS (new old stock) mixte lugs that they would be willing to use. All three choices are rather costly, and I am not sure whether I am in a position to commit those kinds of funds to the purchase of a bicycle. A more economical option like Rivendell was not possible, because although beautifully lugged, their mixtes are the type with the single top tube.

[image from Velo-Orange]

Enter Velo Orange, which announced in their recent blog entry the release of a fully lugged mixte with twin lateral stays. Thank you, Mr. Kulczycki! The photo above is a prototype frame.

[image from Velo-Orange]

Here is a close-up of the lugs. The projected price is $700 for the frame and fork (!), and the anticipated delivery date is January 2010. Three sizes will be available: 50cm, 54cm, and 57cm, making it accessible for both short and tall riders.

What I love about this frame:
. the lugs,
. the classic construction with the twin stays,
. the choice in sizing (54cm should be just perfect for me),
. the 700c wheels (larger than the wheels on the Betty Foy, which I found too small)
. and the excellent price.

What I don't love so much:
. the colour (if I order it, I would definitely get custom colour or have it repainted),
. the way the rear stays connect to the seat tube (I think this could be more elegantly done),
. and the fact that, like the Rivendell Betty Foy, it is made in the far East.

So what do you think? Regardless of whether I decide to go for this bike, I am very excited that this product has appeared on the market. Now, if only I can persuade VO to alter the rear stay connexions and change the production colour...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pashley, Speed, Hipster Bag

In my review of the Pashley Princess, I mentioned weight and lack of "agility" as counterpoints to her positive features. One thing I did not discuss was speed. Many assume that heavy "Dutch"-style bicycles cannot go fast and are not appropriate for long distance travel. I assumed this myself, and initially did not take Eustacia on super-long trail rides the way I did my roadbike Marianne.

But when put to the test, Eustacia came through with flying colours. We took the Pashleys on the Minuteman Trail, where we had previously only gone on our roadbikes. Pashleys are fast if you only give them a chance! They are slow to accelerate, but once they get going, they pick up speed better than I ever imagined, and roll oh so smoothly while doing it. We were absolutely flying on these bikes, and to our amazement, we made about the same time as on the roadbikes. I attribute this to the fact that going fast on the roadbike feels scary and dangerous, so I tend to self-regulate my speed, especially limiting it on downhills. The Princess, however, feels safe and stable even going downhill at 30mph, so I don't feel the need to slow down.

Gaining a better understanding of the gearing has also helped tremendously. And of course, a broken-in saddle plays a big role in comfort level (I know that Sigrid of My Hyggelig has reported pain from the rivets in her Pashley's saddle when riding long distance, but I have not had this problem). I am very happy with how this bicycle handles speed and distance, and have no hesitation taking Eustacia on half-day trail rides - basket and all. Longer rides than that I have not tried yet on any of my bikes.

The bag I am wearing... After Anna's post on Cyling is Good for You, I broke down and bought a Chrome for carrying my laptop. Given their hipster status, I think it's pretty funny to wear one of these bags while riding a heavy steel lady's bicycle with a coasterbrake. But I just don't feel comfortable keeping my laptop in a pannier and the Chrome provides the best support and the safest closure of all the bags I've tried. The one I bought is the Mini Metro, all-black. It fits my 15" MacBook Pro and anything else I might want to carry in it for the day. I am thinking of covering up the logo and maybe personalising it a bit.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Batavus Old Dutch: Not What I Expected

If you follow the Suburban Bike Mama blog, you may recognise that this is the fabled silver Batavus Old Dutch that has been the subject of some frenzied discussion due to its fabulous sale price. Vee didn't buy the bike because the frame was too large for her, so being in the neighborhood I hurried to see it. The price was so good that I was considering getting it as a winter bike and sparing my main ride  from Boston's salt and snow. Heading to see the Batavus, I was pretty much prepared to take it home. But alas, I left empty-handed.

On fist impression the bike looked nice enough (though for some reason the shop fitted it with this strange basket). The bicycle is all silver, including fenders, chaincase and dress-guard. I like silver bikes and the loop-frame looked classic and elegant.

But a closer examination gave me a different perspective. The frame is partly welded (as opposed to lugged), and the welds are kind of messy. Unicrown fork, too.

Seat tube.

And the "loop" connector. Now, some may be reading this and thinking "So what? Most modern bicycles are welded." True enough. But from a classic Dutch bike that advertises the "old" aspect of Dutch bikes, I would expect a more traditional frame construction.

But while the frame construction was disappointing, the more serious problem were the components. The front brake had almost zero stopping power - and that's riding around the flat parking lot in dry weather. We adjusted the brake and the bike shop even replaced the brake pads, but there was almost no improvement. Perhaps this had something to do with a combination of a low-end caliper brake and steel rims. Steel rims + caliper brakes = poor braking, especially in wet weather. The coaster brake did have decent stopping power, but was not especially strong either. Since I was thinking of getting this as a winter bike, that would rather defeat the purpose. Downhills might also be scary even in the best weather.

The closer I examined the Batavus Old Dutch, the more details I noticed that made it look cheaply made. The cable guides were plastic clip-ons that were starting to come off in places. The pedals and bell felt flimsy and loose. The chaincase was made of a vinyl cloth-like material apparently prone to yellowing and tearing (as it had both yellowed and torn... and this bike was a floor model that had never seen hard use).

I feel bad piling so much criticism onto this poor bike. I wanted to like it and fully expected to take it home. But the bike I saw did not make sense for me to buy, even at the sale price (which I think reflects its value more so than the retail). That said, the Batavus Old Dutch is sturdy and, from a distance, attractive. If bought at a discount, it could work nicely for someone who wants a Dutch bike for short urban trips and isn't bothered by the issues described here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cynthia Rowley Bike on Newbury Street

Including bicycles in shop window displays seems to be the new thing, and some fashion designers are even making their own. Cynthia Rowley beach cruisers are now available for sale in her shops, including the one on Newbury Street in Boston.

Cynthia Rowley clothing has a flirty, girly, 1950's-era feel to it, so the beach cruiser seems an appropriate complement. I wonder how many people out there are buying designer bicycles. The Rowley cruiser is certainly a more affordable alternative to the Fendi Abici!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bike Shadow

It kept following me around, so finally I took a picture.
Ever photograph your own bike shadow?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cream Delta-Cruisin'

Last night, our 3-speeds Lucy and Rodney came home after a bit of sprucing up. When replacing the original tires, we decided to go with the cream Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. These are light touring tires with a "racy" quality. They have Kevlar puncture protection and are inexpensive.

Here they are in motion. It was getting dark by the time we got the bicycles home, so pardon the blurry shots. I think the cream looks so elegant with the green frame! As an aside -- Yes, I've been wearing the same shorts in recent photos (well, alternating between 2 pairs of the same shorts)! It's been over 90° F here with 100% humidity for the past week, and the thin terrycloth material of these is about the only thing I can endure wearing when not submerged in the ocean. Summer dresses get soaked instantaneously and stick to the saddle, but these shorts have an intriguing moisture wicking and non-slip quality to them. They are by Champion; highly recommended.

Back to the Delta Cruisers: The tires on the Roadster are 28", and the ones on the Lady's Sports are 26" . Note that the 26" tires have reflective sidewall strips, but the 28" do not; no idea why that is.

We've tested the tires on a ride around the neighborhood. They feel very similar to the Schwalbe Marathon Plus that came with our Pashleys, but the Delta Cruisers are a bit lighter and faster. This makes them well-suited for the vintage English 3-speeds, which are somewhat more sporty than the Pashleys. I also love how the cream tires give the bicycles a personal touch. There are so many 3-speeds in Boston, but Lucy and Rodney are our 3-speeds.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Seaside Tandem

Over the weekend we wanted to take our bikes to Cape Cod and cycle on the Rail Trail. Unfortunately, our lighter bikes are at the shop and the Pashleys are too heavy for the car's rear rack. Browsing the rail trail brochure, I noticed an advertisement for tandem rentals. Tandems! Within seconds, I was making a reservation.

Our tandem was a modern Fuji mountain-road hybrid, with an aluminum frame and carbon fork. With our mismatched beach attire and sunscreen-streaked faces (it was a hot day) we didn't exactly look glamorous, but it was quite an experience!

Tandem bicycles look charming and fun, which makes them seem easy to ride. I assure you that they are not! Despite Sheldon Brown's detailed description, we did not expect it to be so challenging. The tandemists must learn to coordinate their pedaling and coasting patterns, pedaling cadence, and even their body movements, so as not to disbalance the bicycle by leaning in different directions. This takes some time! Steering, shifting gears, and turning corners require considerable skill.

The person at the front of a tandem is called the Captain, and the person in the back is the Stoker. The job of the Captain is to steer and balance the bicycle, and to control the gearing. The job of the Stoker is to provide extra leg-power on the pedals and maintain the balance. If you are the Stoker, the Captain's back will be your view (inches from your face), unless you turn to the side!

The Co-Habitant was a natural captain and could even ride the tandem stretched out from the rear pedals.

I could not, but I was a good Stoker!

One of the benefits of a tandem, is that it can go very fast. Once we got the hang of operating the bicycle, we were flying on that thing, grinning with delight and leaving other cyclists in the dust. Overall, I prefer to ride an individual bicycle, simply because I like the control and independence. But on occasion, a tandem would be so much fun. It's a tandem!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DZnuts for the Ladies?

One discovery I have made in my attempts to battle roadbike discomforts is a product called DZnuts. This is a chamois cream that promises to "protect your junk" from chafing, irritation and infections that can occur during long distance cycling on a roadbike. This stuff is sold in most bike shops, branded as a men's product. So I present it here surrounded by lavender and a cup of herbal tea to indicate that it also works for ladies.

If you are wondering for what purpose you would possibly need something like this, then you probably do not need it. But if leaning forward on your saddle for hours rubs you the wrong way, then you know what I speak of. Oh I know it is a delicate topic, and I assure you that I blush and swoon at my own impropriety even as I write this, but somebody had to address it. So yes: DZnuts helps against that. The cream both alleviates the pain if you've already hurt yourself, and will prevent it from happening in the first place if applied before the ride. If they come up with a better product that is women-specific, that would be wonderful. Until then, DZnuts it is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Idyllic Trail Through the Charles River Reservation

When most people ride on the Charles River trail, they keep to the popular loop around Boston and Cambridge. However, the trail goes on (and on and on), through beautiful reservation lands along the narrowing Charles River all the way to West Newton, Waltham and Weston.

The last time I mentioned this route, a couple of people asked me for more information, since most Charles River Trail maps indicate that it ends in Watertown. The best online maps I have found are these:
. from Boston to Watertown (the popular loop)
. from Watertown to West Newton
. from West Newton to Weston
These show you the side-streets you need to look for in your neighborhood in order to get to the trail (everything represented in green has the trail going through it).

Once you pass the point in Watertown where the popular route ends, the trail continues across the street. The entrance is narrow and easy to miss, so watch for the sign above.

There are a few instances where the trail interrupts, in which case the connector route is marked on the sidewalk with these "Blue Heron tracks".

An actual heron on the trail.

Here are some photos to give you an idea what this lesser-known part of the trail looks like. It is narrower and more "woodsy" than the popular Charles River loop. Fewer people, too.

The river is quite narrow here, and most of the bridges across it are pedestrian. They are beautiful and fun to cross, offering views of lily pads and miniature waterfalls.

There are several unpaved stretches, and many long stretches of boardwalk over marshland, with built-in observation decks. We had no problems cycling through the unpaved stretches on the Pashleys, and we saw roadbikes riding through them as well.

Another wooden bridge, and the entrance to Landry Park in Waltham.

This is home to the Charles River Museum of Industry. We have not gotten beyond this point yet, but as the map here indicates, the trail continues in the same manner towards Weston.

Altogether, it looks like the Charles River Trail might be 15 miles or so each way. If you are looking to get from West Newton to the center of Boston like MamaVee, I am guessing that this is maybe a 10 mile trip? If you are local and do this regularly, I welcome your thoughts about this trail and its use as a commuter route.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Night Time Bike Art

After the 90F heat subsided yesterday, the evening offered some interesting photo opportunities.

Bike against the Harvard Square skyline.

Self-portrait with bike in shop window. (You can see the outline of my hat on the far left.)

In that spirit, we stopped by the opening of the Momentum show at Open Bicycle's Chorus Gallery, which was amazingly well attended. My treacherous camera decided to run out of batteries, so I only have a couple of shots. The show features the work of graphic designer Matt W. Moore, including paintings, limited edition prints, and painted bicycle frames.

The painted frames made me think of Anna from Cycling is Good for You. Anna, I can so easily imagine you riding this in Vienna, especially one of the red frames!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Adventures with Twine

The most typical use of twine on a bicycle, is to secure the inner edges of handlebar tape. Normally, bar tape is secured with black electrical tape and left as is, but I find that this looks unfinished. With twine, the handlebars will look more appealing and the tape will be more securely attached.

I use cooking twine, which is softer to the touch than industrial twine. It is white in its untreated state and turns caramel-brown when amber shellac is applied.

After wrapping your bar tape and securing the inner edges with electrical tape, the twining can begin.

First apply a layer of clear double-sided tape over the electrical tape.

Cut a half-armlength of twine.

Apply the twine over the double-sided tape by simply wrapping it around the handlebar and placing it down neatly onto the sticky surface of the tape. There should be no gaps and no overlap.

When the surface of the double-sided tape is covered with twine, cut the remainder off. There is no need to secure the twine, since it is stuck to the double-sided tape. This will provide a good temporary hold until shellac is applied.

Using a paintbrush or a sponge brush, cover the twined area with amber shellac following the same principles described here.

After three layers of shellac, the twine should feel completely solid and have a deep amber colour to it, at which point the project is finished. Your bar tape will be more secure than ever and will look great.

If you've finished twining your bars and still crave more, do not despair: There are lots of other places on a bicycle where twine can be used. I twined the chrome connector piece between the rack and the rear stays on my Pashley, because I was not satisfied with how the expanse of chrome stood out in an otherwise green and black colour-scheme. The dark amber twine softened that area up, and integrated it nicely with the wicker basket, brown leather saddle, and handlebar grips.

Here is a close-up of the twined rack connector. I thought that this was a failry subtle detail, but to my surprise, several people commented on it while examining my bicycle.

My most daring use of twine thus far, has been the twining of my Shimano Nexus shifter. My reasons for doing this were two-fold: I thought that the big rubber shifter was too modern for the aesthetic of the Pashley's handlebars, and I also found it unpleasant to the touch, especially in the sumemr heat. Covered with shellacked twine, the shifter blends in better and is more comfortable for me to use, as the twine provides a better grip than the rubber. There was some concern regarding whether the twine would adhere well to the rubber, but this was not an issue; just wrap it tightly prior to shellacking.

Of course, once you do this to your shifter, there is no going back: the shellac will disfigure the rubber if you ever decide to remove the twine and you will need to buy a new one. Twine at your own risk!

For more twining ideas, Rivendell has some nice pictures and instructions, as well as hemp twine for sale. Also have a look at this marvelous twined water-bottle pictured on The Epicurean Cyclist.