Monday, March 27, 2017

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold (Book Review)

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron CurtainThe Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain by Tim Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


https://youtu.be/A5YVpF6PPm8 - is a video on YouTube by the author to the Russian (formerly the Soviet) national anthem with different footage of his trip, mostly taken by himself with his phone (which is remarkable in itself).


Author's video in support of the book on YouTube

Early in 2015 (I think that's right; books like this are often a bit vague on when they took place) travel writer/adventure cyclist Tim Moore set of to trace the route of the (former) Iron Curtain, the defacto border between socialist Eastern Europe (the "Soviet bloc") and Western Europe, much of which can be followed by riding the EuroVelo route 13 (EV13).

The full route, from the north to south, is 10,000+ km (or 6,200+ miles, give or take) and takes him in to (and out of, and back in to) twenty countries.

For reasons never quite properly explained, the author chose to start his trip in Finland in March, more or less guaranteeing that the part of the book describing his travails in Finland is about surviving when cycling in what most people would consider winter, with temperatures down to 20 below (Celsius - oddly this book was not edited for the US market, so temperatures are in Celsius and distances in kilometers - oh well). And to make things more challenging, Moore didn't select any sort of normal touring bike but an East German "shopping bicycle" with 20 inch (that is, small, like a folding bicycle) wheels - a pretty crappy, poorly made, heavy one at that. (This follows on his previous cycling bike where he attempted to follow the route of the 1914 Giro race in Italy in 2012 riding a bicycle that dated to that period, including wooden wheels.) With only two gears! And a coaster brake! OK and a crummy front brake. Which sets the stage for is self-deprecating tales of travel.


The author follows a tried and true approach to such travel narratives, mixing description of his adventures (or here, more often, misadventures) with digression on relevant history.

Probably the strangest aspect of this book is that the part set in Finland is dis-proportionally long compared to the rest of the trip, but then perhaps it is because it really took that much longer so it is proportional in terms of days of travel. He also provides more digressions into Finnish history and society than he does as he gets further south. (I'm not so fond of the history so this was fine with me.)

It's a long trip (three months, thousands of miles or kilometers) and over 330 pages, its a long book. I got through it, I enjoyed reading it.

Some of Mr. Moore's description of different nationalities (Finns, Russians, on to Austrians and Bulgarians eventually) would no doubt offend many people of these nationalities. Russians in particular. Hmm.

After Austria, it was a little more difficult to keep track of things - the EV13 goes in and out of countries and so border crossings become the main feature, along with some hill climbing escapades (followed by hair-raising descents) that are somehow less thrilling to read about than the descriptions of near-death-from-freezing-experiences towards the beginning.

Somehow Moore managed to travel this distance, including the slow snowy/icy parts near the beginning, in only three months. Amazing. And then with his book to relay it to us in the British version of ah-shucks humorous misadventures, including insights into a third of the nationalities of the former Eastern Europe and some thoughts about cycling thrown in.




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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Now THAT'S a Tough Ride

Transportation with horses, mules, dogs and bicycle (detail)
Transportation with horses, mules, dogs and bicycle (detail)

Bicycle as part of Alaska Gold Rush. One wonders what it was for.

Transportation with horses, mules, dogs and bicycle
Mail and freight on Valdez Summit

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
www.loc.gov/item/99614295/

As I contemplate the March snow fall here, and getting to and from work . . . . .

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Smartphone Add-Ons - How Smart is That?

"Hexagon is a bike camera that turns your smartphone into a rearview mirror" - article about a new Indiegogo funding effort for the solution to end all solutions for bike safety and anti-safety, all wrapped up in one.



Perhaps it goes without saying, but I am not the demographic this sort of thing is supposed to appeal to - but it's still a free country so I am still allowed to express some opinions, right?

It isn't impossible that someone will come up with a good rationale for attaching a smartphone to your handlebars, but so far I have yet to see one, particularly for recreational riders. For one thing, most of the brackets that hold smartphones in place aren't going to keep the smartphone attached if you have a simple falling accident, so in many cases, the phone ends up on the pavement, smashed. But that is secondary to the contradictions of this particular device.

There are a slew of safety features described - you have a turn signal system, a tail light, a brake light, you have a rear view mirror when the camera's view is displayed on the smartphone, it can provide video evidence if something bad happens, and it even provides parents real time information about a child's ride (with its "new generation parental control system" - by which they mean parents who are out of control, I think). It can automatically notify your emergency contacts if you get in an accident! But then there is important anti-safety feature, that this device encourages live streaming of insane stupid bike tricks. ("Amaze your friends with new tricks through live stream functions.")

"Your rides with Hexagon will be more safe, connected, and fun" - apparently I am a curmudgeon.




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Epic Bike Rides of the World (Book Review)

Epic Bike Rides of the WorldEpic Bike Rides of the World by Lonely Planet

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Lonely Planet seems to have decided to publish more specialized guides - although this isn't a take-it-with-you sort of guide but more of a this-may-inspire-you introduction to possibilities for longer distant cycling (generally at some non-trivial expense, by the way).

The format is puzzling. It isn't a coffee table book, but is large-ish format. Physically it reminds me of a high school text book.

The book covers in some detail fifty different possible cycling routes (as they call them) in thirty different countries, organized by region (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania). The number of routes per region varies widely, with all of two for Africa but nineteen for Europe and fourteen for the Americas. The rides are categorized "easy, harder, epic." For each route, there is a "tools" section that gives some information for someone who might actually be considering one of these rides, but since these are mostly not in one's neighborhood and would require considerable preparation, they are just a bare bones start at the research that would be required.

The photography is nice - again, with the idea to perhaps inspire you.

In a nod at how such information would be presented on a web side, each of the fifty routes ends with brief "more like this" section with another three routes covered in a paragraph. Some of these rides were more interesting to me than the ones covered in details - oh well.

The front cover has the blurb, "Explore the planet's most thrilling cycling routes" at the bottom of it. Perhaps I don't think of "thrilling" the right way. Clearly a few of them are in what I would consider attractive for a thrill seeker, but I would say a more accurate blurb would be "the planet's most satisfying cycling routes." But I guess inspiration needs to be for thrills, not satisfaction.



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Saturday, March 4, 2017

America's Bicycle Route (Book Review)

America's Bicycle RouteAmerica's Bicycle Route by Michael McCoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The sub-title of this book is, "The Story of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail." This is a coffeetable format book published by the Adventure Cycling Association, which I learned from reading this book, came into being as the organization headquartered in Missoula, Montana, that led to the 1976 "Bikecentennial," an organized effort to celebrate the bicentennial with an established route and some support for participants to ride across the country - about 4,100 cyclists did so. Wikipedia has a good short entry about Bikecentennial.

The book mixes history of the Bikecentennial and descriptions and photographs of that event in 1976 with description of the TransAmerica Bike Trail that resulted with coverage from the 1970s through to today, as well as profiles of different riders. It's quite well done. Although it is the kind of thing you don't usually sit down and read cover to cover, I have ended up reading a lot of it. The photography is good with the authors having successfully dug up quite a few photos from the 1970s.

Oddly the Adventure Cycling Association doesn't do anything to make this book available to vendors that provide books to public libraries, so I don't think you will find this in any public library. In fact, it doesn't seem to be available from Amazon, even. To get a copy you have to go to the Adventure Cycling Association web site. (I sent the ACA people an email pointing out it would be a good idea to provide a book like this to vendors that sell to libraries - they could probably sell several more copies of the book and get the word out about their association too.)

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road (Book Review)

Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American RoadBike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road by James Longhurst

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book describes the evolution of cyclist use of roads in America, which got its start before the appearance of automobiles. If today there is some recognition of the need for "complete streets," then this is something we have arrived at after considerable evolution, with highs and lows along the way.

If someone is interested in the history of recreational (rather than racing) cycling in America, this book provides an interesting perspective. If you are a regular bicycle commuter as I am, reading this certainly explains the history of how we got to where we are with some, but not (in my view) enough support for cyclists.

The title overemphasizes conflict in this history, as the author admits - "Bike Battles" sounds more interesting than "Selected Cycling Policy Debates." After working his way from the 1800s through to today, the author's advice to cyclist-policy advocates is to take a moderate approach, recognizing that roads are a shared resource, to be used by motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Some of the information and detail was new to me. I had not known much about the "sidepath" movement, which sought to create dedicated bike paths suitable for cycling at a time when roads used by horse-drawn vehicles were often not suitable for bicycling. This movement never got very far and had various misadventures with how it sought public funding. It somewhat presaged the conflicts closer to the present day between those who favor "vehicular cycling," that is, riding in the road as a vehicle with no special infrastructure for cyclists and those who favor such special infrastructure.

The book includes interesting photographs, many from the National Archives, that I had not seen before to make various points. There are also different instructional videos mentioned, many of which can be found on YouTube with a little searching.

While presented as an academic work, with footnotes and a bibliography, the approach is engaging and readable. I was able to find this at my local public library.


A Victory Bicycle during World War II
World War II "Victory" bicycle, discussed in the book - a photograph much like this one is include

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Double-Decker Bike Parking for Commuters in USA

Bicycle shelter, National Cash Register [Company], Dayton, O[hio]
Employee parking in Dayton Ohio in 1902 - back to the future?

Bicycle shelter, National Cash Register [Company], Dayton, O[hio] - detail
Two parking levels of bikes visible in parking shed (or "shelter")

In the detail photograph, you can see clearly that the rider-commuter to the right has a clip (or something) to keep his trousers from getting caught in the front ring of the drive train as well as away from the chain. The fellow in the middle would occasionally work late, it seems, since his bike is outfitted with a headlight.
Bicycle shelter, National Cash Register [Company], Dayton, O[hio]
Contributor Names-Jackson, William Henry, 1843-1942, photographer
Detroit Publishing Co., Created / Published[1902?]
Source Collection-Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection
Repository-Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
www.loc.gov/resource/det.4a20572/

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Another Odd Parked Bike in Neighborhood

Trek 750 in neighborhood
Bicycle parked like this near my house for more than a week

This bike appeared in my neighborhood more than a week ago, locked up to a cable that runs from a phone pole. It isn't doing it much good, sitting out in the weather. It's a Trek 750 "MultiTrack" from around 1995 I would guess.

Bike in neighborhood
Dog checking it out - yes, it seems to be a bike

This bike is probably about 20 years old - I have a Trek mountain bike of similar vintage, which I like quite a bit. With a little effort a bike like this could be a really good commuter bike. Yet here it is, with its mirror that is falling off, rusting.

1995 Trek with Michelin Run'r tires installed
My 1995 Trek 930, which is sort of similar

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What One Sees While Commuting

Crew training on Four Mile Run
Unusually warm February day brings crew team to Four Mile Run for training

Not much room for crew on this stream, really
I guess they came up from the Potomac

Untitled
There were in fact two racing shell and a motorboat

Normally my commute is on the other side of Four Mile Run, where the Arlington water treatment plant is, but at the moment cyclists are supposed to use a detour while some work is done along the north bank.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Quick Fix from National Park Service

Mount Vernon Trail at rail bridge, near 14th St Bridge

Mount Vernon Trail at rail bridge, near 14th St Bridge -- large tree fell some time after my passing through early in morning rush hour, someone tweeted it was down and NPS must have sent crew to fix it before evening cycling "rush hour" - rush hour in quotes, because the weather was not conducive to much bicycle traffic today. Nice they made the effort to get this taken care of quickly!

Mount Vernon Trail under rail bridge, near 14th St Bridge




Saturday, January 21, 2017

To the Women's March on Washington by Bike

Bike Valet at Women's March on Washington
Bike valet parking at L'Enfant Plaza SW & Independence Avenue

It is about nine miles from my house to where the bike valet parking was set up for the Women's March on Washington - I decided to take my ancient 1973 three-speed Raleigh Sports bike that is indestructible and also not a bike that would be a loss if something bad did happen to it (like it disappeared).

According to the Women's March on Washington web site, there were 1,500 parking spots at this bike valet service for bicycles, which they seemed to suggest would not be enough, but alas the bike valet service was not much used. The above photo was taken at around 9:30, about 30 minutes before the rally started, and there were maybe a few dozen bikes parked total. Hmm. When I left the area around 2:15, heavy crowds extended down Independence Avenue further than this - far too crowded to try to walk a bicycle in that direction - I was able to leave the area by going south, away from Independence, crossing over the railroad tracks and SW freeway on L'Enfant Plaza, then down to Maine Ave and the usual bike route from the Jefferson Memorial area onward across the 14th St Bridge and into Arlington. So for me at least the bike valet parking was well situated.

Given the huge number of people who attended and the stories of how Metro was overwhelmed, it appears bicycle was a good solution, but apparently not an obvious one, although I understand many people came in groups and a group bike ride to something like this probably isn't the first idea one has. Still, the bike valet must have been one of the more over-provided (or under-utilized) resources connected with this event.

Both on the way to the March and on the ride home, I saw more attendees riding Capital Bikeshare bikes than their own bikes.

Women's March on Washington
Listening to speakers at the March

It was an uplifting experience in many ways, even if the historical fact that drove the organizers to create it isn't a positive one in my view. I was glad to be there. Who knows how many people were really there, but Lord that was a lot of people.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bikeways : State of the Art, 1974 (Government Report)

Bikeways : state of the art, 1974 / Dan Smith, Jr., author ; prepared for Federal Highway Administration.
Main Author: Smith, Dan.
Language(s): English
Published: Springfield, Va. : distributed by National Technical Information Service, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 1974.
Subjects: Cycling.
Cycling > United States.
Bicycle trails.
Note: DeLeuw, Cather and Company, performing organization.
Physical Description: v, 97 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.

Available as a public domain government funded document from HathiTrust - https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007473274

It sounds to much like today . . .
With this growth in cycling popularity and utilization have come both a demand for good recreational and utility oriented facilities on which to ride and a concern for the increase in bike involved accidents. The concern for accidents appears well founded despite the fact that only the gross numbers of accidents occurring are known with a reasonable level of accuracy. Very little is known about accident rates associated with the gross numbers. Despite this lack of accident rate information, the following national statistics are significant. In l962, some 570 cyclists were killed and 30,000 injured in bicycle - motor vehicle accidents. By l968, the corresponding figures had grown to 800 killed and 38,000 injured. The National Safety Council's statistics for l972 show l00,000 bicycle - motor vehicle accidents and l,l00 fatalities.

As a result of the growing concern on the part of both the public and public officials at all levels, the past several years have been marked by a veritable blizzard of bicycle safety studies, studies for development of bikeway design and locational criteria, cyclist safety education programs, and provision of physical facilities for bicycles. But the sudden rise in activity and the demand for programs and facilities found planners and designers unprepared and uncertain as to means of responding to these demands. As a result, programs have been planned on the basis of intuitive judgment, what knowledge could be gleaned from European literature on the subject, and trial and error. The result of the past four or five years independent activities undertaken in state jurisdictions across the country has been a broad range of studies, plans, programs, design manuals and in-use facilities with substantial variance and even conflict in recommended practices. The results of initial use and experiences in various localities are now becoming available and it appears that differences in design practices have significant implication for utility and safety.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Women's March by Bike?

The Women's March on Washington information about bicycle parking still a work in progress.
Local Transportation - By Bike

Q: Can I bike to the march?
A: You are welcome to ride your bike as transportation to the march. However, bikes are not allowed in the rally area or the march route. We are currently identifying a place for bike parking. We will update people over the next week with more details.

According to the what to bring page (which really should be titled, "please don't bring anything!") it seems you are only to have a relatively small, absolutely clear bag if you have any sort of bag at all. I guess I can put a sandwich in my pocket, and an apple. And my phone, which (thanks T-Mobile!) probably won't work but no worries, life proceeded before there were mobile phones.

While it is clear where the March starts, it isn't clear where they are planning to march to, but since it is stated it will be a March of only one and a half miles, it seems like down Independence Avenue to the Washington monument or something like that. Probably best to try to park towards the destination end and walk back to the march start.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Seattle Bike Share Failure

Seattle Bike Blog description of the closure, giving considerable detail.

Short Seattle PI online news article briefly on the closure of Seattle's bike share system, Pronto.

Around Seattle - Jan. 2015
Seattle Dept of Transportation image of a Pronto bike

I lived in Seattle for about fifteen years, but that was in the last century, before cycling was a Seattle "thing" so to speak. I have relatives in the Pac NW so I go back to visit occasionally, and have observed the generally more robust development of cycling and cycling infrastructure there over here, in the Arlington VA and DC area. One of the things that seemed amazing to me was the absence of a bike share program - then once one was introduced in the last few years, called Pronto, that it seemed so lame. (Yes, that is not a very deep analytical comment, I admit.)

Anyway, the Seattle PI item above is an amusing contrast in its brevity to the endless information in the blog post and several items it links to. It appears that just about everything that could be done wrong was. But there are apparently so many villains/possible causes that who knows if any real lessons can be learned.

Because the management of Pronto was so screwed up (according to the accounts) and it was started too small (another theory) combined with the reality of Seattle's hilly terrain combined with bike share bike weight, the issue of Seattle's helmet law is not regarded as a significant factor in the failure. Hmm.

Downtown Seattle - McGraw Square Pronto Station
Seattle Dept of Transportation

These are probably the only bike share bikes of this sort of heavy industrial step-through design that have seven speed, not three speed, gearing. Apparently they were still pretty hard to get up some of Seattle's hills.

Arlington Traffic 9
Capital Bikeshare users happy that CaBi continues to flourish, without helmets (by the way)

The Pronto bike share web site (https://www.prontocycleshare.com/faq) which doesn't mention that they are going out of business at this point, speaking admiringly or aspiration-ly about CaBi. "What other cities have bike share and how do they compare? - People are using bike share systems in over 200 cities, including New York, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, London, Paris, and Barcelona with more programs launching each year. In New York, Citi Bike riders recorded over 10 million trips in 2015. Washington DC's 1,100 bike program was [as in, is] so successful it has already expanded to 2,500 bikes to keep up with demand." - This is a rare case where Seattlites have something nice to say about Washington DC. Oh, and as of now, it is more than 3,500 bikes for CaBi, yeah.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking (Book Review)

Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking: The Ultimate Guide to Lightweight Cycling AdventuresUltralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking: The Ultimate Guide to Lightweight Cycling Adventures by Justin Lichter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was something I picked up at the public library. I suppose since this isn't the kind of guide you take with you, it is an OK book for a library to have, but I should probably buy myself a copy for reference if I am serious about some overnight rides of any sort. Not sure I am.

The concept here is that most bicycle touring is done in with a "heavy" approach, often with special racks for the front and back that have so-called pannier bags attached. The "ulralight" bikepacker instead uses a combination (usually) of handlebar bag, a slightly elongated bag that attaches behind the saddle, and a "frame bag" that fits into the triangle of space under the top bar - between the rider's legs, basically.

I am sympathetic to this approach mostly because of how my approach to commuting evolved - I used to have these ginormous pannier bags for a back rack on the bikes I used to commute. They were silly large, and from time to time I would more or less find enough crap to haul to/from work to fill them. A lot of weight, and eventually I began to feel they were ruining (or at least not helping) my enjoyment of my rides. I started using a messenger bag and found that if I forced myself to live within the smaller amount of space and made better decisions on what to take with me, it was enough.

This book is advocating much the same approach for longer bike trips of various kinds. The two co-authors (Justin Lichter and Justin Kline) have a light style and there is some amusing stuff about travels in Central Asia - well, amusing for me because I am somewhat interested in that region. Note all of their chapters are relevant for me - for example, "bikepacking for speed and endurance" - eh, not so much my interest.

Anyway, they mention somewhere that packing light and staying away from the heavy bags on the front and back on racks can mean better maneuverability, which seems attractive to me, but also that it can be a better approach for older riders. Amen!

Even though I wasn't equally interested in all parts of this book, it's only about 150 pages so I just read it from start to finish. A nice read.



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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In Connection with Nothing in Particular

Rabbit on bicycle (illustration, 1903)

From a digitized children's book

Jest-nuts by Bridgman, L. J. (Lewis Jesse), 1857-1931
Published 1903
Topics Nursery rhymes
Illustrated lining-papers
Publisher New York, Boston, H.M. Caldwell Company
archive.org/stream/jestnuts00brid#page/n48/mode/1up

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Moscow Extreme Weekend Cycling Event

It was a bit chilly for Washington today, but I wanted to test out some different cold weather gear and went for about a 7-8 mile ride in the middle of the day. It was around 18 F or about -8 C - my winter stuff worked OK to keep me warm, but riding back I was a little slowed by a steady cold wind. Ugh.

But this weekend in Moscow there was a winter "Velo-Parade" that was held despite unusually cold conditions there (even for Moscow) with a ride-time temperature of -27 C, or about -17 F. Yikes! I guess I have nothing to complain about.

SecondMoscowVeloParade
Poster available to print and post from one of the event organizers, http://i-bike-msk.ru/

There is this story in Russian, from the Russian News Agency TASS. There is a shorter version in English. It says in English, in an example of less than great translation, that the participants were "recommended to be accurate" which in Russian was really something like they were told be careful. Perhaps a machine translation. There were about 500 participants. The "Ministry of Extreme Situations" (which is a Russia national agency for emergency response; basically some EMTs) was at the start and finish, but apparently no one needed assistance. This was the second such "winter bicycle parade;" the first one in 2016 had about 3,000 riders but the weather was more seasonal (again, for Moscow) although of course still below freezing. More seasonally appropriate "bicycle parades" have been organized in May in Moscow for several years, as well as in a few other cities. These events are in support of (Russian) public awareness of cycling and advocacy for more cycling infrastructure. The events are not races but more of a fun ride, although in this case, in rather extreme (for most) conditions. This winter ride seems to have been about 6 kilometers each way, along the embankment of the Moscow river, or (coincidentally) about 7.5 miles, just about what I rode today in (by comparison) almost tropical conditions.


News video from MetroNews.ru (in Russian) of this winter event


Московский Велопарад 2016 from Let's bike it! on Vimeo.

Organizer produced video of the 2016 spring Velo-Parade in Moscow, in late May

The spring ride in 2016 claimed more than 30,000 participants.


Winter Riding

Lucky Run Trail Arlington VA
Lucky Run Trail in Arlington VA that was given advance treatment to slow development of ice

This is the bike trail near my house, which is treated to slow development of ice, largely for cyclists I suppose but also helpful for people on foot. (Alas, as a dog owner I am less enthusiastic about this.)

I took this while riding a bike with studded tires, however, so while it is nice, I prefer that extra insurance against falling down. Today is Sunday and I'm not riding, but I am thinking about whether to ride the bike with studded tires or my regular commuter bike tomorrow. The Mt Vernon Trail will almost certainly have some icy spots.

I don't much like falling down. I guess I said that.