Bikes and Biking 2014

January 14 – First Ride of the Year

A break in the winter weather yesterday got me out on the Shining Sea Path in West Falmouth for a quick five-mile ride on the Jamis. Despite the mild weather I pretty much had the trail to myself. That pond is actually a cranberry bog flooded to keep the plants from freezing.

Winter Trail

This was my first time on a bike since early November, and I was surprised at how soft my legs had gotten. They feel fine today, though, and the outing boosted both my mood and my energy level. While five miles may not seem like much, keep in mind that I have aged into my eighth decade and no longer do century runs or cross-country tours.

This was also my first time out on my old Jamis since I rebuilt it (for the third time) into a town bike for winter rides, running errands, and slow rides with friends. It’s basically set up the way it was two years ago but with new wheels, brakes, levers, and seat.

IMG_3270IMG_3275

The one-thumb Nexus brifter works great and is easy to read. It’s perfect for winter riding because it can be operated while wearing gloves and ski mittens. The 8-speed Nexus hub works almost as well as the newer Alfine, but does not downshift as well under load.

Today I moved the seat back about an inch, installed a slightly shorter stem, put a bottle cage back on, and adjusted the hand grips. The 20mm gel saddle is wonderfully firm but comfortable for a relatively upright position at 100% of leg length.

January 15 – Wing’s Neck

Another mild day with little wind, so I rode out to Wing’s Neck Light. This is an area of waterfront mansions that are mostly vacant off-season, so there are few vehicles on the roads. Lots of short climbs so the Nexus hub (and my knees) got a workout.

Wings Neck LightWhen I was a kid our family would drive out to this light and watch the navy fighter-bombers fly by low directly overhead. They were on training missions and we could see their bomb bay doors opening before dropping bombs on Noman’s Island south of Martha’s Vineyard. Noman’s is still uninhabitable seventy years later because of all the unexploded ordnance.

The last time I was out here on the Jamis, it still had the original crappy equipment and the chain jammed. My foot locked into the pedals and I fell on my knee. The resulting injury kept me off my bike for five years.

January 21 – Turducken Gloves

Here on Cape Cod we are hunkered down today for a blizzard. Yesterday was not too bad, though, so I did a quick seven miles on the Shining Sea Path between North and West Falmouth, with a side trip along the harbor.

The Nexus hub and shifter worked flawlessly this time. I suspect it just needed some breaking in, as there was no hesitation on the downshift.

GlovesThe biggest challenge to winter cycling – other than snow and ice – is keeping your fingers warm while still being able to brake and shift gears. The Jamis has an 8-speed Nexus hub with a shifter that is one thumb operated.

So I use cashmere knit and Goretex lined leather gloves inside of double lined and insulated ski mitts. They look bulky, but do not impede braking or shifting, and keep my hands toasty. I call them turducken gloves after the Thanksgiving specialty that my ex made by stuffing a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey.

February 18, 2014 – Brrrr!

A solid month of unrelenting wind, single-digit temps, and 58 inches of snow have kept my bikes in the cellar. Until about 20 years ago, we rarely saw snow on Cape Cod, and temperatures stayed pretty much in the 30-80 degree range. Every ten years or so the canal would freeze over, and we might get a light snow a couple of times each winter. Now the winters are arctic and the summers tropical. Spring and Fall weather is wonderful, though, so we continue to hang in here.

March 9, 2014 – A Break in the Weather

There’s still snow on the ground here on Cape Cod, and the bogs and ponds remain crusted with ice, but temps hit 56 degrees yesterday, so I did a quick 5+ miles on the Shining Sea Path. It felt good and I slept well. Can’t wait to get out regularly.

June 1, 2014 – Minuteman Trail

Shortly after my last post, I sold my house and found myself with only six weeks to clean out, pack, and move 17 years of collected stuff. Nothing appealing has come on the market, so I’m now staying with a daughter  on High Street in Medford, the road that Paul Revere took on his famous midnight ride.

A couple of miles up the road, Paul Revere’s route meets Massachusetts Avenue (known as Mass Ave to locals) and crosses the Minuteman Trail. There are unpaved paths that follow the Mystic River and Alewife Brook over to the Minuteman trail but, this being my first time out in a while, I decided to drive to the paved trail in Arlington.

You can find a detailed map of this trail along with other information at http://www.minutemanbikeway.org/Media/MinutemanBikewayBrochure2.pdf

Now I see why this trail is so popular. It goes through some of Boston’s heavily developed inner suburbs, so I expected an urban landscape and many road crossings. I was pleasantly surprised to be pedaling through lush parkland, with fewer crossings than I’ve found in more rural trails.

MM Trail

When my family lived in nearby Wakefield in the 1950s, this was an active commuter rail line connecting Boston to Bedford, running through Cambridge, Arlington, and Lexington. It lasted well into the auto age, so many of the road crossings have overpasses or underpasses.

This glorious Sunday morning, there were more runners than bikers on the trail. It was busy but not crowded, with a broad mix of people of all ages and abilities. Pavement is good to excellent, with only a few areas of root growth.

Along the way I passed many playgrounds, ball fields, and mini-parks. All were in active use, lending a festive atmosphere to today’s ride. Despite feeling weak from a persistent cold, I managed to pedal nine miles, taking it very easy on my Jamis town bike.

Minipark

This being a rail trail, there are no hills, but I was surprised to find that the route from Arlington to Lexington climbs steadily, gaining 160 feet of elevation over four miles. That easy grade, combined with a refreshing north wind, kept me in low gears all the way. Found this amusing message along the way:

Push Here

I turned around in Lexington, just south of the central business district. My first planning job was as a summer intern with the Lexington planning department 52 years ago. The town hasn’t changed much since then, other than becoming very expensive and exclusive. That little brick building in the distance is actually a Dunkin Donuts.

Lexington DD

Now that the weather is getting better, as is my head cold, I expect to get out onto this trail more often. After I get back into shape, I’ll pull my Surly out of storage, and pedal all the way to Bedford, then continue on the Narrow Gauge Trail to Billerica.

I also want to pedal the unpaved trail that starts across the street from my daughter’s condo and follows the Mystic River to its head at Mystic Lakes in Winchester, with a branch along Alewife Brook over to the Minuteman Trail near its southern terminus at the Alewife MBTA station. I see on Google Earth, there is another trail running a few miles west from the Minuteman Trail northern terminus in Bedford to Concord.

June 9, 2014 – Narrow Gauge Trail

For 55 years I have been a fan of New England’s two-foot gauge railroads. The first of those was built in 1877 between the towns of Bedford and Billerica outside of Boston. It basically started nowhere and went nowhere but provided pleasant Sunday rides through the woods for a couple of years before folding. In 1895 it was rebuilt into a standard gauge rail line connecting to the Boston & Maine system.

B&B Engine House SignThe railroad is gone now, but three miles of its right of way have been made into a hiking trail. The trailhead is located across the street from the northern terminus of the Minuteman Trail. The 1877 engine house for the Billerica & Bedford Railroad has been rebuilt into a visitor center and gift shop.

Bedford Depot Park

The B&B engines and cars, as well as a turntable or two, went to the Sandy River Railroad in Maine, where they ran for more than 35 years. Some of the cars then became garden sheds, chicken coops, and camps.

Yesterday was one of those stunningly wonderful days that make living in New England worthwhile. Sunny, warm, and dry, with no wind to speak of. I got a late start and found the Minuteman Trail packed with people, so drove to Bedford to ride the Narrow Gauge Trail.

Only a short portion of this trail is paved, so skaters and hot-shot cyclists avoid it. The surface is well-packed and well-drained, though, so I had no problems with my 32 mm tires until the last few hundred yards where they slipped around a bit in loose sand. I pretty much had the trail to myself, meeting fewer than a dozen walkers and bikers along the way.

There’s not much to see on this trail – just woods and swamps, suburban back yards, and lots of mosquitoes. Next time I ride it, I’ll bring bug spray and a bike with wider tires.

June 22, 2014 – Back on the Minuteman Trail

I headed out early this dry and sunny Sunday morning, and pedaled the Minuteman Trail again – this time a 17-mile round trip between Arlington center and the northern terminus in Bedford.

This trail is so heavily used that the yellow stripe down the middle has almost completely worn off in most places.

Old Rail on Minuteman Trail

This remnant of rail and rotted ties has obviously not been used in a long while, judging by the size of the tree growing in it.

The former station in Lexington center may be the last of the covered railroad stations once common in New England. Most of them were set afire by sparks from the old steam engines.

Lexington Station

A block beyond this station is the high point on the Minuteman trail. At 222 feet it is 175 feet higher than my starting point five miles south in Arlington. It then drops about 100 feet before crossing I-95 (known locally as Route 128).

Route 128

Route 128 circles around Boston, but tends to wind its way through the suburbs. It was originally designed as a parkway in the 1930s, but not constructed until after the war. At that time, wetlands were considered useless, so this road was laid out on filled swamps wherever possible to save land acquisition costs. It’s now a very busy 8-lane highway.

July 1, 2014 – Old Saybrook, CT

No photos today, but over the weekend I pedaled an easy seven miles with my brother around Old Saybrook, Connecticut. We passed Kathryn Hepburn’s old summer house, but couldn’t see it from the road. It was severely damaged and flooded by Hurricane Sandy but has been rebuilt and is for sale to anyone who can afford a $15 million seasonal cottage.

July 18, 2014 – Out on the Surly

The stinking oppressive weather has finally broken, and my never-ending cough is almost gone, so I took my Surly out on the Minuteman Trail today for another 17-mile ride from Arlington to Bedford and back. I have been riding my Jamis town bike until now, but had no trouble switching to the Surly, with its less upright riding position and toe clips.

I had forgotten just how sweet this bike is. It moves so much easier than the Jamis, thanks to its long cranks, drop bars, toe clips, and higher seat. The wider 37mm tires seem to roll easier and definitely absorb bumps better than the 32mm tires on the Jamis. It seems to take very little effort even on the long climb to Lexington.

July 20, 2014 – Alewife

A leisurely eight-mile pedal this morning explored the off-road trails that emanate from the Alewife T station, the northern terminus of Boston’s Red Line subway, which sits at the point where Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville come together.

Alewife Rock

This is the southern end of the Minuteman Trail through Arlington, Lexington, and into Bedford. It’s also a central hub for four other trails. From this point you can pedal off-road toward Harvard Square in Cambridge, past Davis Square in Somerville, a mile or so into Belmont, and along Alewife Brook to Medford.

The Alewife Brook path is not paved, but has a hard-packed fine stone finish. I made it only a short distance when my path was blocked a family of wild turkeys – two adults and four little ones about eight inches tall. They ducked into the woods before I could catch a photo, though.

Alewife Station

The Davis Square T stop offers no parking for cars, but has a double-decked sheltered rack for bikes.

Davis Station

Davis Square is a vibrant eclectic urban center, with wonderful locally-owned shops and restaurants, public spaces, and transit options. The Somerville Community Path is currently being extended to Lowell Street, where my middle daughter lives.

Davis Square

The Minuteman trail passes through a park on the banks of Spy Pond just north of the Alewife station.

Spy Pond

Rental bikes are available at many of the T stations.

Rentals

July 27, 2014 – Trail Etiquette

Traffic was relatively light on the Minuteman Trail yesterday morning, but there seemed to be more inconsiderate behavior than normal. There were the middle-aged women asserting their independence by taking their half out of the middle, forcing others dangerously close to the edges.

This behavior is common on all trails, but the epitome is found on the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Dennis, where two women with small children block the trail for hours at a time, forcing all bikers to dismount to get around them. Nobody dares argue with anybody that batshit crazy.

Then there are the overly entitled Millennials  with their precious two and three year olds wandering aimlessly and unpredictably all over the trail on their baby bikes.

Most common of all, though, are the hotshots that whiz silently by, startling walkers and slower bikers alike. My response, depending on the closeness of the encounter and the individual situation is usually a polite “signal please”. Other times it might be “signal!”, “SIGNAL!”, or in one case yesterday “SIGNAL, ASSHOLE!!!”.

August 6, 2014 – Coming Attractions

Here’s my new project: https://twofootartist.com/dirt-trail-camargue-bike/

Bike Parts

Secure Pedals

Obviously, some assembly is required. Missing from the photo is the stem, which I later found, and the VO Zeste brakes, which I hope are in the self-storage unit.

And finally, here’s how I secure those pricy White Industries pedals on my Surly…

August 9, 2014 – Boston Esplanade

For many years I have thought it would be fun to pedal on the esplanade along the Charles River in Boston, It’s only a few miles from my daughter’s condo where I have been staying, so today I finally did it. It was interesting, but it wasn’t fun.

Lagoon

The weather was perfect: sunny, dry, 75 degrees and no wind. The trail was packed with people, mostly runners, and nearly all of them fit young women. There were surprisingly few cyclists.

Although the tidal lagoon and surrounding park appear serene, the area is anything but quiet. This is a highly urban trail. It crosses several busy thoroughfares, runs inches away from heavily travelled Storrow Drive, and in some places is too narrow for two bikes to pass.

Charles A

The official name of the path is the Doctor Paul Dudley White Bicycle Trail, named after a Boston heart surgeon who was an early advocate of cycling for cardiac health. Dr. White commuted to work by bicycle half a century ago when few others did, and continued to practice long after most of his peers had retired.

The trail passes the unpronounceable Hatch Shell, where the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra gives free concerts, including the famous July Fourth spectacle. At one of those celebrations I heard an obnoxious 10-year old repeatedly telling his younger brother that it’s the “Hatch Shell”, not the “hat shell”.

Hatch Shell

Next to the shell is one of the cannons that the National Guard fires during the coda of The 1812 Overture, which is the traditional climax of the July 4th concert and fireworks.

Cannon

I started near the WBZ studios on Soldiers Field Road and pedaled to the end of the trail at the Science Museum, for a total round trip of 12 miles. That’s one of Boston’s iconic Duck Tour amphibious trucks cruising up the Charles in front of the Science Museum.

Science Museum

It was not a relaxing ride; in some places it was quite stressful. I’m glad I did it but I won’t be riding this trail again.

August 17, 2014 – Blackstone River Trail

Yesterday my brother and I biked 21 miles on the Blackstone River Trail in Rhode Island. This trail runs along the Blackstone River between Woonsocket and Lonsdale, just north of Providence.

Eventually it will connect with Rhode Island’s East Bay Trail and another section in Massachusetts, to provide a continuous trail between Worcester MA and Bristol RI.

Blackstone Trail

The southern half of the trail follows an old tow path along a canal that runs parallel to the river. The northern half of the trail is built mostly within or near the remaining remnants of the canal.

The canal was built to serve the woolen mills that once dominated this area and to bypass the many dams that powered those mills.

Blackstone Dam

While much of the trail follows the path of a former railroad that was built on the canal tow path, the northern section runs alongside existing trackage. As a result, this section is not as flat and straight as most rail trails, but has grades and curves that give it more interest.

Blackstone Mid-point

This trail is very well-maintained, with good to excellent paving except in a few small areas where tree roots have cracked the pavement. There are many rest areas along the way, fitted out with massive granite benches and attractive landscaping.

Of all the trails I have ridden, this one has the fewest road crossings. Here is a most unusual timber bridge that takes a local road over the river.

Timber Bridge

Compare that simple bridge to the majestic structure that carries Route 116 across the river a few miles away…

Rte 116 Bridge

…and this new bridge built on former railroad bridge supports over a dam crossing the river.

Blackstone Bridge

I expect to return to this trail again soon.

December 28, 2014 – Last Ride of the Year

For a bicycling year that started strong, this one turned out to be a bust. Shortly after my last post in August, I bought a condo that needed a complete cosmetic rehab after 20 years of scant maintenance. I also landed a plum consulting project in the Caribbean, which has taken up about half my work days since. The fun stuff – including finishing my new dirt trail bike – all got set aside.

Yesterday, as I was prepping the bathroom for a new paint job, I realized it was a rare December day here on Cape Cod. The sun was out, wind was low, and temps had hit 50 degrees. So I dug out my Jamis, pumped up the now flat tires, and did a quick seven-mile run on the Shining Sea Path between North and West Falmouth.

Last Ride 2014

This is the same scene as the first one on this page. The cranberry bogs were harvested in October, but are not yet flooded to protect them from frost. It was a nice ride; I’m not aching today; and it felt very good to be back on one of my favorite trails.

Postscript

When I arrived home from the ride yesterday, I found a package in my mailbox. It was a new Jtek bar-end shifter; the last part I needed to finish my new Camargue trail bike. It had been back-ordered for months to replace a faulty unit I bought last winter. Now I will have a new bike to start the new year.

Camargue Nearly Done

Here’s what it looks like almost done. All it needs is a shifter cable and chain. I’ll adjust and trim the fender supports, and shorten the front rack supports. I will also lower the bar 20mm and add a clock to the stem head like on my Surly.

 

 

One Response to “Bikes and Biking 2014”

  1. Neil Erickson Says:

    I have been enjoying your site / blog and was pleasantly surprised to find that we have another similar interest in cycling. Besides a rail fan and architect, I commute to work most days on my bike and try to keep up with younger riders on Saturdays. Your drawings of the Sandy River caboose has inspired me to try a version in 3-3/4″ scale. It will end up about 9′ long.

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