Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bicycle Snow Cover!

As we head towards the New Year, I give you this image of our neighbor's awesome bicycle cover!

It is snowing here in Boston again and the forecast promises that it will continue doing so for four days straight. So far, I have not exactly been a heroic winter cyclist, but in 2010, I hope to get increasingly more comfortable. Other cycling goals include: touring long distance, conquering drop bars, developing stronger upper body musculature for wielding the Pashley, learning more about bicycle components, and dare I say, wheel building? Yes, that may be in my future over the winter months. Stay tuned and have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chance Encounters and Boston Vintage Bikes

Taking advantage of the mild temperatures a couple of days ago, we went for another ride along the Charles River Trail, this time a nice long one. We were taking a break to photograph the bikes (a totally normal part of any day, right?), when I heard a very polite yet excited voice from the trail. Was I by chance the person from Lovely Bicycle? I guess of all the girls out there riding loop-frame bicycles with enormous red bows on the basket, I must be especially recognisable? I attribute it to my unique facial features.

We invited the gentleman to join us on the dock, and a fest of bicycle photography and discussion ensued.

Apparently, he collects photos of people photographing him. So this is my picture of him, taking a picture of me taking a picture of him.

And this is his picture of me, taking a picture of him taking a picture of me taking a... Really, the philosophical implications are staggering. You can see this and many other bicycle related pictures on verdammelt's photostream on flickr.

Here is a shot showing off his bicycle better (admittedly posed in what Steve A. calls my "Lenin in Finland" stance). The bicycle is a vintage BSA 3-speed step-through, which he found abandoned, rescued, restored back to health, and now uses as a winter bike.

Here is a somewhat blurry close-up. Our new acquaintance is proof of how common these rare vintage bicycles are in Boston. A BSA randomly left abandoned on the streets? Yup. It is a pretty cerulean-blue colour with nice lugs and a beautiful fork crown. You can't see them here, but the bike also has shimmery red grips on the handlebars that set off the blue frame quite nicely.

And I love the unusual saddle. It is sprung pleather, with the look and feel of an old leather jacket - not the texture one normally sees on saddles. Overall, this is an excellent rescue, and the owner seems to care about bicycle and to like riding them very much. We enjoyed meeting him and thank him for posing for these photos!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Five Rivendell Fork Crowns

We were at Harris Cyclery the other day and I took the opportunity to photograph the fork crowns of the Rivendell frames that were hanging in the shop. Enjoy the colourburst!

the Atlantis

the original green Sam Hillborne

the orange Sam Hillborne

the A. Homer Hilsen

the Betty Foy

Nice, aren't they? I think the "curly-cue" design that's on the Betty Foy, the A. Homer Hilsen, and the orange Sam Hillborne tend to be most people's favourites. But as a girl of simple tastes, I prefer the one on the original green Hillborne.

Feeling Slow? A Simple Explanation

It's funny that no matter how much cycling experience we gain, we remain susceptible to those silly mistakes and those "duh!" moments. I am sure I have many, but the most recent one really had me smacking my forehead.

For the past month I had been favouring my vintage Raleigh and not riding the Pashley as much. When I finally did take out the Pashley last week, I noticed that it felt more sluggish than I remembered. I thought this was strange, but chalked it up to my having gotten out of shape and the vintage Raleigh being easier to ride. But the sluggish feeling kept growing worse, and neither of us could figure it out. Until finally, cycling behind me, the Co-Habitant realised what was wrong: My tires were nearly flat! There were no punctures; they were just low on pressure and neither of us had noticed.

I know it's absurd to overlook such an obvious thing as tire pressure; it is the equivalent of wondering why your computer is not working only to realise that it is not plugged into the wall. We do usually top up the air in our tires at reasonable intervals, but my Pashley slipped through the cracks. I wonder whether the cold temperatures played a role in it as well? Now that my tires are re-inflated, the Pashley flies again (really, the difference in speed and handling is amazing). However, I do think that I will replace its native Marathon Plus tires with Delta Cruisers come springtime; the latter just feel livelier and more enjoyable to me. In the meantime: If your bike is feeling slow, do check your tire pressure before looking for more complicated or sinister explanations!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Days Ahead

The pre-Christmas blizzard has come and gone, leaving in its wake a patchy landscape of snow, slush, ice, and mud. Yesterday the weather was mostly good and we went for a ride along the Charles River Trail - our first real ride together in weeks. In the afternoon everything looked lilac and utterly beautiful; it was a wonderful ride.

The previous night it had rained and much of the snow had washed away. Though the river bank was snowy and the river was iced over, the trail itself was mostly clear, save for a few stretches. What surprised me was how utterly impossible it was to cycle through those stretches.

Having ventured out in the blizzard last week, I thought that I "knew" snow - and with that thought, I proceeded to cycle straight through a snowy patch. As a result, I almost took a spill - twice. Apparently, the fresh, evenly distributed powder through which I rode last week was nothing compared to the lumpy mess of slush, ice, and crusty snow of varying density through which I now attempted to pass. Let's just say, the Marathon Plus tires said "No". And I don't think studded tires would have helped in this kind of snow either - though feel free to correct me if you disagree.

The Co-Habitant checks my tires whilst enjoying the view of Boston across the river. I love this picture, because it captures the feeling of living in this area in a way I can't quite explain verbally. And I have a funny story about my tires, but will hold off on that till the next post.

After yesterday's ride, I think the realities of winter have finally hit me: My God, I won't be able to cycle "normally" again for the next 3 months! Sure, on good days I may feel safe enough to cautiously ride from Point A to Point B. But I can pretty much forget those fast long rides I have grown used to over the Summer and Fall. During the warmer months, I probably averaged around 100 miles per week on the bike, over 80% of them recreational. It should come as no surprise then, that the comparatively minimal cycling I am doing now leaves me wanting more. So what do I do, get a trainer? That's not the same as "real" cycling, and I just can't see myself getting into it. Instead, I think I simply need to accept the limitations of winter, and to stay positive by planning for the next season. Since I enjoy long rides so much, perhaps I should try to develop my endurance and challenge myself - set some goals, devise a training schedule, think of some local destinations I would like to cycle to, and so on.

A year ago, I could not have imagined that I would ever develop an interest in the "athletic" aspect of cycling - but there you have it. Those are my thoughts on cycling as we head towards the New Year. What are yours?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Owls, Bears, Bicycles

In the Co-Habitant's words, our tree ended up looking "very organic," decorated with golden berries, wooden forest animals and round ornaments in shades of copper and gold. The bicycles seem to like it.

Happy holidays and enjoy your winter break!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Riding in a Winter Wonderland

On Sunday, we had a truly beautiful winter day. Because the blizzard hit Boston on a weekend, the snowplows were not as active as they would have been during the working week. For the first half of Sunday, the entire neighborhood lay covered in a blanket of pristine white snow, and only around lunchtime did people begin emerging from their houses to reluctantly shovel their driveways.

Despite being down with a minor cold, Velouria could not sit still in the blizzard. Stir-crazy in our small apartment and desperate to feel the fresh snow under her tires, she begged me to come out just for a bit, at least to give it a try. How could I resist her charms?

She posed for me next to the fence while I photographed her this way and that. A kickstand was not necessary, because the foot-deep snow enveloped her wheels and functioned as a bicycle rack. With her black frame and cream tires, Velouria was stunning in the snow. The aesthetic experience of seeing her thus even made up for carrying her down the front stairs - which had been semi-visible when the Co-Habitant left for work several hours earlier, but were now completely buried in snow. With the bike in my arms, I slowly extended my toe and felt each step under the snow before proceeding onto it. With the 40lb DL-1 this was doable, but I would not have been able to execute the same maneuver with the heavier Pashley.

The snow was still falling as we prepared to head out, quickly covering the saddle with a thin layer of powder.

Upon Velouria's advice, the voyage I chose was an easy and safe one: a trip to a grocery store that is just a 6 minute walk (3 minute ride under normal conditions) from our house via a secret route through dead-end back streets. There would hardly be any cars there, and if I found myself unable to ride I could just walk the bicycle the rest of the way to the store and back.

I took my camera along and had grandiose plans to stop every so often and photograph Velouria against the backdrop of various winter scenes. However, the visibility was so poor and the snow so... snowy, that getting off the bicycle to pose it became the farthest thing from my mind once we were underway. Instead I offer you views of a few landmarks.

"No Outlet" - Hah! Perhaps not for cars, but for a bicycle the gaps between fences will do just fine.

Arriving to the grocery store via the back parking lot.

At this point I will give you my ride report: Basically, my biggest problem was visibility, or rather, the lack thereof. These pictures do not really capture how difficult it was to see in front of me as I was cycling, but the falling snow obscured my vision completely. In these back alleys that was okay, but I cannot imagine cycling on real city roads in these conditions. As for the bicycle's behaviour... It was fine. Granted, I was so paranoid about falling, that I cycled very slowly and made ridiculously wide turns. Riding through the snow in this manner felt similar to cycling on the sandy fire trails on Cape Cod, only slower.

I did not experience a sense of slipping on the snow while going straight or while making turns, but again, I was intentionally cycling very slowly. The tires on my DL-1 are the Schwalbe Delta Cruisers, 28" x 1 1/2". By the time I returned home from the grocery store (having purchased a bag of raw cranberries and some chocolate), the snow had made its way into every single crevice of the wheels, covering the spaces between the spokes and dress-guard cords.

If you click to enlarge the picture above, you can see that the snow also made its way into the gaps around the brakes. This is a problem not just for bicycles with rod brakes, but for any bicycle with rim brakes. The snow lodges itself in between the rim of the wheel and the brake pad immediately, increasing stopping time considerably. Because I was cycling so slowly, this did not really matter; at that speed I could stop the bicycle by merely putting a foot down. But if you plan to cycle with anything resembling normal speed, I think drum or disk brakes are the only solutions that will provide adequate stopping power.

This short but beautiful winter adventure was more than enough for me and Velouria. We were happy to return to the warmth of our home - both of us trailing lots of snow. That snow on the saddle accumulated during the time it took me to drag the bicycle up the front stairs. If you don't want snow on your leather saddle, consider swapping it out for a vinyl one for the winter. For me, a little precipitation on the leather is okay though.

I did experience a panicked sense of remorse when I saw the extent of snow accumulation on the bicycle once we got home, and the next 30 minutes after this photo was taken were spent with a rag, frantically wiping off the moisture. I have been assured however, that the snow in itself is not bad for the bicycle; it is only the salt that is damaging. Thankfully, the roads had not been salted yet at the time of our ride. Velouria enjoyed the refreshing tour through our local Winter Wonderland. She is up for doing it all again - as long as I promise to go slowly, keeping her rod brakes in mind.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hello Winter! Commuting in a Blizzard

Sunday morning.
17°F (-8°C).
Blizzard.
Snow emergency in effect.

The Co-Habitant has to work today.
He prepares for his commute as usual.

Dragging the 60lb beast down the snow-covered concrete steps.

The snow is deep and I grow a little alarmed. "Are you sure you'll be able to cycle in that snow?..."

"No problem," he assures me cheerfully, putting on his convertible mitten-gloves.

And, with the quiet chuckle of a man who has conquered nature, he is off into the blizzard. I scurry back indoors to drink hot coffee and put on a second pair of wool socks.

Pictures taken with his mobile phone upon arrival to work. Lucky for the Pashley, his workplace provides secure indoor bike parking.

Ride report (in a boyishly excited tone):
"It was so dangerous. I only got off the bike once to cross a snow bank in [Harvard] Square. The worst part was snow in the eyes and face. The bike kept sliding but was going and controllable. Pretty amazing. The worst conditions in a while. Took me 20 minutes instead of 10."
Should I be worried?

Morning view from a window at his workplace. It continued to snow after that, still is. Hope my fearless commuter rides home safely in the evening!

I too tried to brave the snowy terrain today, though on a much smaller scale. I will save that for another post.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

Yesterday we both had a day off and planned to go on a long holiday ride. A mere 10 minutes into it, we decided it was time for Plan B and rode to a coffee shop instead. So it seems that I am officially a winter bike wimp! When the temperature is below 30° F (I think yesterday was a high of 25° F?) , I can't really handle more than a commute or an errand ride.

This conflicts with my daydreams of cycling serenely through snowy landscapes - not a soul in sight and my tires making a soft swooshing sound as they roll through the lightly packed powder. Right. The odd thing is that I love winter and have spent most of my life in cold climates. I have no problem cross-country skiing in much, much colder temperatures than this and with less clothes on. What's with this cycling discomfort? I was wearing more layers than a layered cake, including a thermal shirt, thick Irish wool sweater and a windbreaker trench, and the wind still pierced right through it all. And it's not as simple as being just "too cold", but more like going back and forth between being too cold and too hot every couple of minutes. I guess I could wear my XC ski clothes on the bike instead of my regular clothes, but this goes back to the whole "cycling in your regular clothes vs special clothes" debate. Well, at least I continue to ride my bike for transportation; short rides I can handle.

Unlike me, the Co-Habitant scoffs in the face of adversity with his skimpy outfit and no scarf. Tough guy.

According to him, only his hands and ears really get cold when he cycles, hence the wool hat and leather gloves.

I like these gloves very much, and they match his Pashley's leather accessories nicely.

Looking like a snowman in my overstuffed coat, I could only marvel at the Co-Habitant's tolerance of low temperatures. We are promised a blizzard tonight, so the real winter test will soon be upon us!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays!

The Co-Habitant and I celebrate four holidays during the Festivus season! - and since one of them is already in progress, our cats urged us to send everybody some warm wishes. They even agreed to pose for these photos inside my Pashley basket.

To give you a sense of the size of the basket, our kitties are Norwegian Forest Cats, which are almost as large as Maine Coons. One is black and white, and the other is brown. They have asked that we not reveal their identities, and as you can see they are a bit camera shy.

And here is Eustacia Vye in her entirety, bedecked in a festive red bow. The holiday season has been good to us so far and we now own some better quality digital cameras - which will, hopefully, lead to nicer bike pictures on this weblog. Having read the holiday wishlists posted on some of the bicycle blogs out there, I realise that I am actually pretty satiated in the velo department and have no bicycle themed items on my list. It is good to be happy with what you have... Either that, or I better get my thinking cap on!