2009 Distinctive Location

I’m presume this is an honor… according to a recent East Bay RI article, Bristol was

named one of the 2009 Dozen Distinctive Destinations in the country…

For 10 years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, based in Washington, D.C., has recognized communities that offer cultural and recreational experiences different from typical vacation destinations. Bristol is one of 12 communities selected this year for the honor, and was cited for being a “quintessential New England waterfront town” with an “unwavering commitment” to preservation.

Now stand back and watch the tourists flock to our little town.

2007 Cycling Stats

I had a good year for cycling, 5,600 miles.  The majority of my miles this year were racked up during commutes, so it’s likely this distance will plateau until the kids grow up a bit more and we can, hopefully, start taking some more significant family rides.  For the first time in many years, I haven’t been able to better my total distance by a 10% margin.  While I didn’t reach my mileage goal, I did manage to put more miles on my bike than car.  I only put 4641 miles on my car, most of those miles were on family vacations.

Snowy Commute

We got our first good snow of the year yesterday.  The local weather forecasters were talking up the event like it was going to be a blizzard.  I’ve heard this same talk plenty of times since we moved to Rhode Island and most times, the storm diminishes and we get a light dusting.  So I decided to ride anyways, figuring I could always catch the bus if it was too nasty.  Well, by about 2:30pm, we had somewhere around 5″ of snow and people were beginning to bail from work; so the forecasters weren’t completely off.

I try riding, it’s not far to the bike trail and I’d be totally safe once I made it there.  As it turns out, there was such gridlock downtown, that I was plenty safe.  Pedestrians were making far better time than cars.  As I approached the entrance to the bike trail, there was a woman standing on the edge of the road, her car was stuck.  She asked if I had a cell phone and proceeded to say, “oh, I thought you were the police.  You know, one of those bike police.”  I guess this gives you a sense of how much reflective gear I wear at night 😉  She proceeded to make her phone call and I overheard her say “nobody would even stop for me, except this nice guy on a bicycle.  Yeah, a bicycle.”

I wished her luck and went on my way.  I brought my snow bike, an old mountain bike with 2.1″ studded tires.  The bike trail can get pretty rutted if people have been walking on it and this bike lets me stay upright.  Well, let me tell you, pushing it through 5″ of snow is a workout.  After 10 miles, I decided to bail and changed paths to find a bus stop.  I finally reached a stop and waited, waited, waited…  Fortunately, I had plenty of extra cloths in panniers.  I ended up wearing an  odd assortment of biking and work clothes, but they kept me from completely freezing.  As I was standing by the side of the road, I counted 5 buses going into the city, but not a one going the other direction.  I started to wonder, how would I know if RIPTA decided the weather was just too bad and they stopped service?  I could be standing out here a really long time!

At one point, I spoke with my wife and was feeling pretty guilty about my commute choice.  I figured I would have been home by now, if I had just taken the bus from the beginning.  Eventually a bus approached.  The driver didn’t seem to be slowing down, so I started waving madly.  He eventually stopped, a ways past where I was standing.  It was completely packed, but it was warm!  I later suspect I have the other riders to thank for the driver stopping.  As we continued on our way, passengers would start yelling, “driver, there’s someone at the stop up there.”  I’m not sure he would have stopped otherwise, given how packed the bus was.  The topic of discussion was invariably, how long peopled had been trying to get home.  A woman standing nearby, said they had boarded this bus downtown at 1:30pm!  That was more than an hour after I had started biking.  Suddenly, I realized my commute choice hadn’t been horrible, I managed to make it out of the city faster than I would have by bus.

Today, I had a chance to speak with some other people who tried to ride the bus.  Because of the weather, drivers were not allowing people to stand and only allowing people to board if there were enough seats.  How my bus became so full by the time it reached the point where it picked me up, I’m not sure.  Many co-workers were standing out waiting for the bus for two or three hours before they could even get on.

Once again, the bike comes out looking pretty good.  I do have to admit though, I’m pretty darn sore this morning!

Hokey Spokes Review

It’s that time of year again, the weather is turning cold and I’m riding at least one way in the complete darkness. Last year for Christmas, I received a set of HokeySpokes for Christmas. I’ve had a lot of people inquire about them. Now that I’ve run them for a while, I thought I should write up a review.

I ran the HokeySpokes for almost a complete winter, through all weather conditions the NorthEast could throw at me. I had no problems with them running through the rain, sleet, and snow. They are absolutely great for drawing attention to yourself. I’ve had numerous motorists slow down to take a look, roll down their window and comment on how cool they are, or just give me a friendly honk. I run lots of light in general and the HokeySpokes are the only things drivers have ever made the effort to comment on. If you are a quick rider, then you should ask for a spring upgrade when ordering. I noticed that at speeds greater than about 20mph, they started to turn off. I contacted the company, they knew of the problem and sent out a higher quality spring to better hold the batteries in place.

They do affect the rotational inertia of the wheel. It’s not horrible, but you will notice a difference. I would not recommend running them on a bike wheel with a low spoke count or thin spokes. While I can’t prove it, I did have a wheelset that started blowing spokes like crazy after running the HokeySpokes on them. This started happening in the Spring after the HokeySpokes were removed, but I’m still suspicious that there was a connection. Prior to this, I ran them on an older, heavy wheelset and experienced no problems.

The HokeySpokes are great at displaying interesting patterns and also advertise that you can write text messages. Unfortunately, they have no way to compensate for the speed of rotation. This means the text will only be able to read at a certain speed and in practice, my family watching out the window as I road up and down the street, it’s really hard to make this work. If you are interested in this ability, there is a do-it-yourself project called SpokePOV which uses magnetic sensors to account for the speed of rotation and should work better for this purpose.

I’ll be running the HokeySpokes again, once I get a chance to change over to my “winter wheelset”.

The Toughest Road of All

The following came across the NBW mailing list recently and I thought it was cute:

A piece of road walks into a bar and declares to all its occupants: “I’m the hardest bit of bitumen in the whole of this town!”

The piano player stops and the bar goes deadly silent. After a brief pause, all eyes drop, the pianist returns to playing and the piece of road pulls up a bar stool and settles down to a beer.

Five minutes later, a piece of dual carriageway throws open the bar door. Once again, the bar goes silent but for the creaking of the slow-moving overhead fans.

The dual carriageway declares: “I’m the toughest piece of bitumen you’ll ever see this side of the border!”

The piece of road slowly turns and locks eyes with the piece of dual carriageway. The tension mounts, other drinkers scatter and take cover.

At that precise moment, in walks a piece of freeway which says: “I’m the hardest bit of bitumen in the whole country and I’ll take you both on!”

And there they stood in a three-way Mexican stand-off for what seemed like an eternity.

Once again, the door opens and, into the middle of the stand-off, walks a strange-looking piece of coloured bitumen with a blue stripe. The other three turn their backs to the door, sit down at the bar and stare sheepishly into their drinks.

The bartender sidles up to the three of them and asks what the problem is. “Shhhh!”, says the dual carriageway, “Watch what you say, that guy’s a real cycle path.”

Just Trying to Help

I’m riding into work this morning and at one point, I came to a halt at a stop sign. As I watched an approaching utility truck, towing one of those big air compressors on wheels, I noticed it dragging what must have been a fifty foot air hose behind it. I start frantically pointing at the trailer. The driver clearly sees me and screams out the window, “what’s your problem man?”. His phrasing actually contained a few more expletives, but that was the gist of what he was saying.

I watch him continue through a yellow light, only to have a car turn left behind him. Naturally, the car couldn’t see the air hose, so it ran the hose over in the course of making the turn. The combination caused one end of the air hose to rip out of the air compressor, while the other end, with the brass connector on it, swung up and hit the car.  He certainly noticed the hose now!

I feel bad for the unsuspecting motorist making the turn, not so bad for the utility truck driver.  I suppose he just thought I was a nut, but would it really have cost him much time to slow down and find out what I was madly pointing about? What if I had been pointing at something that was a matter of life and death?

A Similarity Between Cyclists and Children

I’m in a position where I’m in the fairly early stages of being a “transportation cyclist” and a father.  It dawned on me the other day, how these two groups are somewhat similar.

For cyclists, potholes are a never ending problem.  What is a mere nuisance to an automobile can be a major hassle or even life threatening deficiency for a cyclists.  Cyclists become adept at making a mental map of such hazards, so we can proactively avoid the.  Occasionally, there is a pothole or other hazard that is so atrocious that cyclists or motorists actually take the time report it to the appropriate authorities.  Some states make this process easy, RI is not among them.  They leave the onus on the person making the report to determine which organization is responsible for the maintenance.  Recently, there was one such pothole on a route frequented by cyclists that was reported.  Much to our surprise, it was fixed within a day!  We aren’t sure whether this was mere luck or they actually sent a truck out to inspect it, determined that it really was dangerous and promptly fixed it.  By the shear volume of email this generated, you would have thought DOT had given the cyclists a big prize check.  Cyclists were absolutely thrilled that DOT fixed the pothole!   It made me realize that cyclists put up with a lot and hardly ever complain.  They take what they are given and make the best of it.

When I got home, I suddenly realized how similar this attitude is with young kids.  I’m constantly amazed at the pure thrill one of my kids can get from being given, oh I don’t know, a piece of paper.  If it’s unexpected or just what they are looking for, it can make them happier than any whiz bang toy that makes tons of noise with flashing lights.  While I can’t say that kids don’t ask for a lot, they often do a great job having fun with what they already have.  In many cases, they deal much better with change and go with the flow better than adults.

Almost every kid learns to ride a bike and it becomes, at least it used to, their first vehicle.  At some point, almost every kid seems to outgrow their bike and start driving.  Perhaps we would be a happier society all around if we did keep pedaling.  Is there magic in riding a bike?

Mass Transit, Not Quite There

I’ve had two days over the past few weeks, where I decided to try the bus instead of biking. With the Washington Bridge walkway closed, my bike commute distance is now about 16 miles each way. Assuming I don’t flat or have some other sort of bicycle mishap, I can pretty much guarantee a one hour door-to-door time. My experience driving during peek rush hour has been, the commute in via car is about the same as biking, my commute home is almost always faster by car. I was curious to see what RIPTA could do for me. So here are some of my thoughts/observations:

  1. The bus schedules should be treated as advisory only. In the morning, the buses seem to run pretty close to the published schedule. However, in the afternoon, I consistently noticed the buses were ten to twenty minutes late. Naturally, the first time I depend on the buses being late in the afternoon, will be the time they are actually running on time. I don’t fault the drivers for this, they have no control over the traffic jams they face coming and going from the city. It does make me wonder though, with all of the reconstruction involved with the 195 relocation, are RIPTA and/or RIDOT looking into carpool or bus only lanes? Even if they are only active during commute times, this could really help bolster public transportation, especially if people begin to realize they can commute faster via bus than their own cars.
  2. The buses seem to end up grouped together. The bus I rode home yesterday was about twenty minutes late, it was immediately followed by a second bus, that was originally scheduled to be 15 minutes behind the first bus. This can be a definitely problem when people are expecting a bus every 15 or so minutes and they all go by in one big clump. This seems to be more of a problem on the way out of the city than on the way in.
  3. Some buses seemed to be over stuffed, while others are almost empty. I rode a bus into the city a couple weeks back that had a sum total of five people! I suspect his has to do with point number two.
  4. If I include the time walking to and from the bus stops, the riding the bus is slower. Because of the delayed buses out of the city, riding the bus home can be significantly longer.

Bottom line, the hassle of riding the bus isn’t worth it. I have more freedom with my bike, can come and go when I please, and it’s no slower. Quite frankly, I was surprised that I couldn’t even match my bike times over a 16 mile commute.

Bike Touring

The more time I spend on the bike, the more I’m interested in trying some bike touring. We have a few years before the kids will actually be big enough, but I’ve already begun thinking about it. I came across a quote by Ernest Hemingway today

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.

that got me thinking about why I want to try bicycle touring. I have these visions of doing a trip in VT or NH and really “seeing” these two states. I suspect I’ll have a bit of convincing to do, perhaps even some family bribery, as either state would involve climbing some hills.

BugMeNot Firefox Plugin

Every once and a while, I stumble across a firefox plugin that is just a great time saver.  I’ve been telling people about the site BugMeNot for quite some time, it’s a convenient way around those sites that require logins for no good reason (i.e. the New York Times website).  I came across yet another site today, went through the manual process of getting a BugMeNot login and started thinking to myself, Firefox really needs a plugin to do this for you automatically.  Well, it turns out that someone had this same idea long ago.  The crew over at RoachFiend published a BugMeNot Firefox Plugin and it works beautifully.  The next time I came across one of those login screens, I just right click on the login and I’m in.  It looks like it’s been over a year and a half since the last update and I had no problems running it with Firefox