We sure can talk about bicycling can’t we? Lately it seems like you can’t swing a rusty chain around here without hitting someone talking about how the City could be doing so much more to make it safe for cycling; about how the State spends so much money on highways; and so little on bike lanes, about how great Portland, Oregon is.
In fact, here was a podcast that aired last week on Eco-RI News about the state of cycling in Providence. You can listen to myself, Eric Weiss of East Coast Greenway, and James Kennedy of the local blog Transport Providence discussing how we could be more like Portland if we tried harder.
Tonight at the Athenaeum, WRNI hosts a discussion in their Policy and Pinot series titled Bicycles in Rhode Island. There will be some local bicycle policy experts who will be discussing the status of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan and apparently an official from Mayor Tavares’ office announcing a revolutionary bike program inspired from the bike lane network in Bogota, Columbia. At least they won’t be talking about Portland, Oregon.
In case all of this is too much talking and not enough doing, ask yourself what you might do to help push your City into the 21st century. If your are currently waiting on the sidelines until the streets are safer, you might want to at least stick your toe in the water so you can be ready when Providence is criss-crossed with bike lanes Bogota-style. Work on your fitness and skills, volunteer with the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, attend events like BikeFest and Bike to Work Day (May 17) so that you can stand with your fellow cyclists and be counted.
It took Portland, Oregon 30 years to get to the point where we are always talking about them. Let’s give them something to talk about for a change.
While I was picking up some supplies on Friday to prepare for the big storm, I walked past a pile of shovels and decided I might need another one to dig out from what They were calling "Nemo the Thunder Blizzard". We already had a cheap push-shovel at home; but this one was more of a scoop which I figured would be good for the deep stuff. I liked the short wooden handle and lack of bells and whistles, so I threw the Ames #12 Poly Scoop in the cart along with the batteries and wooden matches.
just like heaven
Deep stuff indeed. When we woke up Saturday to 20” of new snow, I figured I’d let the wind die down before getting to it. I was looking forward to putting the new tool to work but I was wondering how it would handle the urban terrain. Would the “poly scoop"-to-wooden-shaft connection handle the weight of heavy snow? Could I scrape the sidewalk clean without a metal blade?
Fortunately the temperature had dropped during the night and the snow had become a bit fluffier than the earlier flakes that had fallen; but the powerful wind had whipped up some heavy drifts that were up to four feet deep in places. I had my work cut out for me as I set out to clear 100 feet of sidewalk out front and another 150 feet to the back door. I also planned to dig out the car and the driveway even though our family had no plans to go anywhere beyond walking distance for the next few days.
From the first scoop with the Ames #12, I was in heaven. The poly blade cut right through the snow and formed a perfectly sized load to carry and dump. The width of it cleared a reasonable path, and the plastic hand grip provided an intuitive control. Getting down and dirty, that poly blade scraped the sidewalks clean and shaped a tunnel, I’d be proud to charge a toll to go through.
But the true test remained to be seen. The city plows finally arrived by Sunday night leaving us three feet of the heavy stuff to bust through at the street. With rain in the forecast and the temperature rising, there wasn’t much time to clear it out before that pile of snow at the end of the driveway became more like a cinderblock wall. Would the Ames #12 be able to finish the job, or would I have to pull out a steel spade to git’er done?
Once again I was impressed. That darned plastic blade was able to break through the iced-over blobs with surprising ease, and throwing the load up onto the 5 foot snow bank was doable and almost fun.
And there is the word that kept looping through my brain as I moved scoop after scoop with the Ames #12: fun. A good tool will do that. While this can be said of the "right tool for the job", there is nothing worse than using the wrong tool or one that is poorly designed for the task at hand. I certainly would not be writing this glowing review of the Ames #12 if I had just come in from clearing a Walmart parking lot. A truck with a plow would be more fun than old #12 for that. However, given the scale of the job and the urban terrain, I don’t have enough insurance to try to clear my world with anything other than a shovel and my back.
Necessity being the Mother of Invention, pain and suffering is how we learn and how we as a society innovate; but unfortunately, as our paved areas get larger and the places we go farther apart from one another, the old, more labor-intensive ways of doing things fall by the wayside. Too often we conclude that improvements such as automobiles and snowthrowers are meant to replace manual tools like bicycles and good shovels rather than simply augment their use. Even if such things are not meant to be a permanent solution, the byproduct of such advances in technology often means that as the market for shovels decreases, the production of well-designed shovels disappears as well.
Fortunately, the bicycle industry has thrived all of these years because of a recreational market. The idea of bicycles as toys has allowed the idea of bicycles as a tool for transportation to exist in more than just theory. Those of us that have had the desire to use our bikes for everyday trips such as going to work or for groceries have always found a good bike and made it happen with fenders racks and other accessories. We have found the fun and satisfaction in using these suitable tools to do our daily tasks, and have shed the expense, hassle and (most importantly) the obligation of owning a car and using it every time we leave the house.
Companies such as Surly and Brompton are out in front of this trend. While they do make bikes for play, they also make tools for transportation. All of Brompton’s line and Surly’s Long Haul Trucker and Big Dummy are just such machines. Getting the job done with tools like these get to the heart of fun with a purpose. So next time you’re in the bike store getting ready for the next natural disaster throw one of these in the cart and give it a try. You might find that surviving is more fun than you think.
We begin to get the question in November when the days get shorter and the mercury has ventured below the frost belt once or twice. “What tires are best in the winter?”
This is not an easy question in November because not all Rhode Island winters are created equally. We have had recent winters with frigid temperatures for weeks in a row and 100 inches of snow between December and April. Last year, by contrast was dry and sunny with consistent daytime temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s.
2 weeks later
By the same token, not all Rhode Island cyclists are created equally either. Many of our customers are regular riders who use their bikes as transportation regardless of the weather and rely on the best equipment to keep them rolling along trouble-free. We have just as many customers who only ride in the warm months and put their bikes away during the winter. I usually look at the condition of their existing tires and make a recommendation based on the type of cyclist asking the question.
So my standard answer to that question in November is the same answer I offer in April. “For urban riding, get the most puncture-resistant tires that your budget allows and keep them properly inflated. In the case of snow and ice, the only tire that makes any meaningful difference are studded tires.” More than ice and snow, a typical winter in Providence offers hazards that can cause flats such as extra debris and potholes. Good tires with a puncture resistant belt under the tread can help resist small metal and glass bits that hold up in the salt and sand that builds up in the shoulder over the course of a winter and can work their way through to the inner tube inside your tire. Keeping tires properly inflated, any time of year, can help prevent pinch flats caused from hitting sharp edges such as potholes.
So here we are in the first week of January, and the cold tempertures have maintained the 8 inches of snow that fell 2 weeks ago to a respectable level. The main routes around town were cleared by plows immediately after the storm and the sun has shrunk most of the snow and ice so that regular tires work fine so long as one is wary of the lurking hazards such as ice on less-travelled, shady roads and “black ice” from melting snowbanks and freezing temperatures.
Nokian A10 I mounted Nokian A10 studded tires the day the storm hit and have been out on the roads every day since. These are the most minimal volume (700X32) studded tires out there and have only 72 carbide studs along the outer treads. I run them at maximum pressure when the roads are dry and drop the pressure if there is fresh snow to push through. This allows the studs to provide traction in sloppy conditions and stay out of the way on dry roads when I’m just looking for some peace of mind while cornering.
Although the heavy tread and lower pressure of studded winter tires makes any bike feel more sluggish, it beats being slammed to the pavement by an unexpected patch of glare ice, or walking instead of riding. Like all good tires, the Nokian A10 is not cheap ($60 each), but considering this is my third winter on the same set and the snow hasn’t put me on the bus, I’d say it is money well spent.
Note from Legend Bicycle:
From Dec. 1, 2012 until March 1, 2013 purchase a set of tires at $35 each and above and you will receive new tubes and installation at no extra charge (a $22 value).
In twenty-first century America it could be said that our ideas about “freedom” as individuals have parted ways with the sense of “freedom” as a society. We often toss about the word Freedom as if it has one meaning, a stars and stripes pattern, and cup holders. As a society, we cling to it like we do our guns and religion; but for each of us it must have a different meaning. That the two basic senses of freedom often dramatically diverge is never more evident than on our urban streets from the perspective of a bicycle.
The automobile is no doubt a miracle of human ingenuity that has pushed our species to limits of individual mobility. Never before in the history of civilization has it been so easy for one person to cover 20 miles, 200 miles, or 2,000 miles all while sitting down and listening to their favorite music. I love a good road trip. It’s just like They say: Fahrvergnügen.
Its the 2-mile trip across town, however, where the the idea of freedom in the automotive sense begins to fall apart. In the City, especially the older ones like Providence, good mobility requires the flexibility and scale of two wheels. There is no better feeling of freedom than crossing through downtown on a friday at 4pm when the traffic backed up through two or three intersections. The traffic report calls it “gridlock” as though everyone is stuck in it. On my bicycle, however, I float freely through it as though above it. This is not that I am entitled to feeling a moral superiority because I find myself not caged behind the wheel - I have simply made other choices that, at that moment of time, grants me a higher level of freedom.
Of course there is a distinction between this individual sense of freedom and the freedom we feel as a society. I feel that the entrenchment of the automobile in our urban and suburban spaces brings us all down. Whether its the disfunction of a road network clogged with heavy traffic or the tax dollars we spend to perpetuate the madness, we as a whole are made less free when we neglect to include the other candidates for our individual transportation vote.
So if you’re in your car on a friday afternoon and you see me buzz by, don’t hate me for my freedoms. I am benefitting from the foresight of our founding fathers not to have written it: “life, liberty and the four-wheeled pursuit of happiness”, and you can too.
Join in the discussion of personal vs. public liberties in the realm of our public rights of way with Action Speaks on Wednesday October 10, 5:30pm at AS220 115 Empire Street Providence.
wait for it...
One of the joys of cycling is finding stuff in the road. From the saddle, at a comfortable speed, you don’t miss much about what’s going past. As the miles roll by, its mostly just sand, cigarette butts and the random auto parts that come to rest in the shoulder. Occasionally something shiny will catch my eye and I’ll turn around for another look. More often than not it will turn out to be a flattened battery or foil blunt wrapper, but I’ve found tools and other interesting or useful stuff this way.
You can learn a lot about where you are by the particular debris you find along the way. It is the flotsam and jetsam of the present day scuffed and scarred by the speed of the street. I once had a regular route through an industrial section of town where the diesel-smeared road was lined with junk yards and their nasty dogs behind what seemed like miles of continuous chainlink fencing. Over a few months, I collected a heavy string of padlocks and keys that had fallen to the pavement and had been crushed by the many trucks that were too busy to notice and too loaded-down to care. A particularly hectic section of this same route once turned up half a pair of heavy handcuffs with a badge number and saw marks. I quickly picked it up, stuffed it in my pocket and made my getaway while 8 lanes of traffic criss-crossed on the highway above.
The wildlife can be counted too. In the city are flattened the rats and pigeons. Out in the sticks you see the bloated raccoons and possum kill, their faces always frozen in some fierce expression, perhaps as a warning that danger lurks here. On the quieter stretches you might scare off an opportunistic raven or vulture picking at the bones in the shoulder. As you get closer to the ocean are the shrapnell of clams from the seagulls who drop the hard shells from a height to get at the delicacies inside.
So I should not have been surprised when I came across this piece of local flavor while on the road this summer on Cape Cod. I doubt the tourists in their cars, windows up, AC on, and stuck in beach traffic could have appreciated this as much as I did. In fact I’m sure they could not have truely been enjoying that beautiful summer day, the smell of the ocean saturating the cool breeze, the sun warming my arms and legs, and fresh sushi in the shoulder.
Swordfish steak, if I'm not mistaken.
One of the great things about the Bicycle is the time span the modern version covers. This video shows the production process in an English factory (I guess Raleigh) in 1945 just after World War II. Judging by the tone of the narrative, the bicycle industry was an important piece of the rebuilding process of British society. When I see the workers doing their tasks they look competent and proud. There are still many of these bikes out there, in fact I might have worked on one from this factory just the other day.
Happy Bike Week!