Monday, November 26, 2012

Traffic laws: The hell with it?!

I've been a big proponent of bicyclists obeying the traffic laws. I try to spread the word as much as I can. If we expect motorists and pedestrians to respect us, then we have to respect the laws ourselves too. I've been nonetheless getting those moments of 'the hell with it' while commuting recently. I might be losing my religion soon. When in Rome, right?
Last week as I rode up Boylston St. in downtown Boston (busy street!) a cop, yes a policemen, rode the wrong way while gazing straight ahead, in I'm not in a hurry style, on the bus lane!! Holy fuck, that's a new low. He was one of those policemen that rides on a bicycle and hides between cars waiting for a cyclist to go through a red light to ticket. A practice that I would whole-heartedly support if it was done consistently. The reality though, is that it's so sporadical and inconsistent with the behavior of the non-bike riding cops, that's it's probably quite useless. The non-bike riding cops -NBRC a term I just coined, completely ignore the messenger bag wannabes darting through the red light. In fact, last month, a cop on comm ave insistently waved to the car on my left to cut me off and make a right.
That's not to say that I don't go through some red lights. I do, but just for my safety sake. When I feel that it risks my life to obey the law, I break it. For example there is this intersection at Kenmore square where bikes are expected to ride in the middle of the street while getting through the intersection (said the shared lane signage on the street). As you can see from the picture to the right, this is a freakin' big square. Cars on the left want to cross to the street on the right, cars from the right wants to go the street on the left. And me, poor me, is riding in the middle. Every time I cross this intersection I keep murmuring while squinting: I can die any second now, I can die any second now. So when I get the chance to get a head start to sprint thorough it and pray to cross before the cars behind me get their green light, I do.
Look under this truck, right, that's the poor cyclist!

As I commute daily on comm ave on that bike lane on the left (awesome idea by the way), I stop at every light. For the past two years, there has been two cyclists, maybe three that had stopped with me. The rest just slow down and go.. still better than their darting cousins. Pedestrians do their part by constantly jay walking in front of me. They look first to make sure there are no cars, stare at me, then jump in the street and look the other way. That's when I think, why the fuck do I care? I should just do the same. Do motorists and pedestrians pretend that I'm Mr. Cellophane because of my fellow cyclists' behavior? Are my brotherins the reason I might get killed engaging in the simple act of commutting one day?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

VO Campeur

A couple of months ago I started getting tired of smashing my brain against my skull during my Brookline to downtown Boston commute on my aluminum  road bike. They have been doing a lot of road 'fixing' on Beacon St. and there is honestly a section where it felt like I was saddling a machine gun. I had this Redline 925 that had been rusting in my basement after its Brooks B17 had been stolen  and I thought maybe I could recondition it on the cheap side and see if I would feel any improvements. Got a Brooks B67 and replaced the handlebar with a north roads one, and life got much better. Even though I could only fit 28 tires similar to the aluminum bike, I certainly felt the difference with the steel frame. Still it wasn't there, with the north roads handlebar the steering felt twitchy and I wanted the ability to fit fatter tires and thus started my search.
This not a bike in a show room. This is a bike that's been ridden in rain and
mud trails for 3 weeks
I pretty much love every thing on Velo Orange's site, so I naturally gravitated towards their frames. Initially I considered the different offerings from Surly and others in the $500 range, but VO's frames provided an appeal beyond the materials and geometry.

I needed a bike to commute on that was still fast and nimble to a great extent but has all the braze-ons and the fat tires clearance. I tormented my self for a while choosing between the 3 frames VO offered. Initially I wanted their Rando frame, but unfortunately they were out of my size, so it was between the Campuer and Polyvalent.
Work on progress, still with the Schwinn grips and no racks.
Also the toe clips where still there.
They looked awesome but the toe overlap was too annoying to me.
I like the idea of 650b wheels but was trying to keep the project on budget and I had a couple 700c wheels laying around. I settled on the campeur and built it as a single speed commuter with Brooks B67 and Grand Boise 32 wide tires. Different VO components can be seen in the picture to the left. Their beautiful seat post, fenders, campagne handlebar bags, pedals, headset, kickstand, and the ooh so oozing with french class chain guard.
Still work on progress.
You can see the experimental cork tape on the left.

The ride quality is quite compliante and even though it's designed as a touring bike with probably a drop bar in mind, it didn't have the twitchiness that the 925 suffered from with the same handle bars. Handling was superb and riding with no hands or at very low speed is extremely easy. The bike just wants to stay up. Turning at low speed is a bit slower than the 925 but nothing to worry about. Loading it front or rear doesn't seem to effect handling negatively. My wife and I went thanksgiving grocery shopping the other day and I came back with 42 lbs on my rear rack with still a pleasant ride. The tires certainly add a lot of cushioning and the bike as a whole completely absorbs the little cracks and bumps on the road. Of course you still feel the significant pot holes but it doesn't punish you.
I let the bike pick some speed going down a steep hill and past 30 mph it felt amazingly stable and confidence inspiring. It's difficult for me to judge cornering at speed because of the handlebars but so far it has yet to disappoint.
Some black friday shoe shopping!
The bike is a real head turner. I've gotten multiple praises from fellow cyclists on the road and it gathered crowds any time I've stepped into my LBS. In retrospect, maybe I'll also get the Polyvalent!

Monday, November 12, 2012

3 Feet for passing

I've always thought that it's illegal for cars to pass me leaving less than 3 feet between me and them. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be true for Massachusetts. Here are the 21 that do.
MA does state that drivers need to pass bicyclists at a safe distance and speed, but does not prescribe what that safe distance/speed is. New Hampshire for example defines that to be 3 feet at 30 mph, adding a foot for every 10 mph increase in speed. Something like this is more effective in my opinion than the vague clause defined here.
On the positive side MA does have some decent laws to protect cyclists like dooring, cutting you off, the right to take the full lane, etc. The problem that I witness as a commuter, is that none of that is enforced. Mayor Menino has done an awesome job on his efforts to moving Boston to a first class bicycling city with all the new bike lanes and the bike sharing program. We still need much more enforcement on both cyclists and motorists to make this city a safer place to ride.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Commuting is a competitive sport!

People are quite rude while commuting. They yell at each other, curse and in some cases shoot firearms! I usually drive faster than the speed limit, and get frustrated by the ones doing 50 mph on the left lane of the high way. I won't tailgate them (not because I'm nice, but just because my wife won't let me) but here is the kicker, they give me the look as I pass on their right! umm, ok! Then they start speeding up so that I can't pass them. That really got me thinking, why do they do that? Is this just pure assholiness? Then it dawned on me. When they drive it's a sport, they just don't want to lose.