Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What can I say?

The long lapses between posts don't indicate a lack of thought, they are the result of too many thoughts, too close together. Strangely for this time of year, when nature slumps toward hibernation, I have trouble finding time to sort and edit what occurs to me.

The weather has been erratic even by New England standards. The storm on the day before Thanksgiving brought eight or ten inches to the neighborhood. That stopped me from riding. By Monday the roads were clear, so I got back out. I still haven't done a commute. Friday and Saturday look good. Sunday the cellist and I have to do automotive maneuvers to get her car inspected and serviced before winter might actually arrive.

When I lived for ski season I would go insane when winter did not cooperate with my need to have deep snow in the woods. Since I refuse to let an unrequited desire drive me crazy I got myself over that fixation in a couple of seasons. Unfortunately, in a specialty shop you have to deal with some people who do not control their addictions well. You might think they'd be a great source of revenue, but they can actually be a little psychotic. They can also be highly annoying when they need endless therapy. Seems like the climate may be either killing them off or crushing some sense into them, though. I haven't heard a lot of chirpy bullshit about when and how much it's going to snow. Maybe they've just learned to keep it away from me. Either way, problem solved.

No doubt the season has affected my own mental processes. I take a strange pleasure in the last dark dip at the year's close. Sometimes that pleasure is hard to discern. It's best when I get the chance to contemplate it quietly without a bunch of people trying to overcompensate for what they perceive as the gloom.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Conflict avoidance vs. conflict resolution

My autumn adventures in side path land have been at once restful and disturbing.

The peace of a car-free path is undeniably restful. I worry about very little as I ride in the secret world of the path. Hardly anyone is on it this time of year. It runs through the woods, unseen from the busy road except at a couple of crossings in Wolfeboro and a couple of long views where it runs on causeways beside Crescent Lake and Lake Wentworth. After Route 109, no other major streets cross the path for the rest of its completed length. If anyone ever raises the funds to finish the route to Wakefield, as planned in the 1990s, virtually all of it will be in the woods. My biggest worries are skunks or the occasional moose.

When I imagine myself restricted only to the segregated path I start to feel as if I have been locked into a small room and left there. It's not quite like being buried alive, but it's a feeling of imprisonment nonetheless.

Every time I ride a path, whether it was the Potomac bike path and related Washington, DC-area trails in the late 1970s and early '80s or the B&A Trail from Glen Burnie. MD, to Annapolis in the late 1990s, the C&O towpath, or the Maine Mountain Division Trail, I have the same disoriented, unprepared feeling when I emerge and have to deal with the realities of traffic cycling as it happens in the vast majority of places. Paths are relatively rare. Well-designed paths are much rarer still.

Cyclists and motorists alike get spoiled by paths. Motorists have complained to me when they see me on a road near a path, because I'm not using what they consider to be a superior facility to the dangerous road. As a cyclist, I find myself less warmed up and alert when a lot of my route consists of largely-level, segregated path instead of hilly roads shared by everyone who really has somewhere to go.

A path that makes good connections feels like an advantage. The more I have to bend my route to fit the path into it the more obvious the artificiality of the path becomes. And, as I already noted, cyclists who need or want to ride on the streets near the path may hear more criticism from motorists there. When popular paths are very busy, a fit cyclist is safer riding among the motor vehicles than dodging the many obstacles on paths choked with strollers, dog walkers, darting children, and a variety of things with small wheels, moving erratically.

The mix of users on the trail in Maine last week did give me an idea for an event called strollercross, in which cyclists sprint up to people pushing strollers, singly or in groups, and have to dismount, run past the stroller(s), remount and resume speed. My colleague envisioned stroller derby, in which the jammers are small skaters who try to get past much larger blockers pushing double-wides. That is more of a closed-track event instead of the cross-country format of strollercross.

Traffic-phobic cyclists and non-cycling planners view the only critical user conflict as a problem between motorists and bicyclists. In a broader context, bicyclists are usually lumped with pedestrians. But who gets the stink-eye on multi-use paths? The bicyclists again. We are NEVER on top.

Motorists have been the focus of road planning for decades. Pedestrians are the focus of non-motorized route planning. Sure, paths are often referred to as bike paths, but they usually turn into bike and pedestrian projects, even though they are usually barely wide enough for a moderate to high volume of bicycle use, let alone bicycle use slaloming between people on foot. The main goal is not to provide genuine integrated routes that help bicyclists ride efficiently for transportation and pleasure. It is to get cyclists out of the way and show something that looks like progress to overseers who have no idea what progress really looks like.

It's great to take advantage of some corridors, like old rail lines, that are not being used and that can connect some portions of a transportation network. Other paths follow corridors defined by things like power lines or wherever route designers can stitch together a strip of land left over from development that had a completely different focus over the centuries. This elaborate, frustrating work is all to avoid upgrading the existing rights of way used by vehicle traffic to truly accommodate the non-motorized user on a travel way appropriate to each type of propulsion: sidewalks for the walkers, lanes and intersections configured to reduce motorist-pedaler conflict, secure parking and general acceptance.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rides in November: Fact Finding and Favorite Spots

Last Sunday the cellist led us on a field trip to the Maine Mountain Division Trail. It parallels a portion of her route to Windham, Maine, where she teaches orchestra in the middle and high schools three days a week. She was thinking the trail might provide an opportunity for her to do some park and ride commutes when the days lengthen again in the latter part of the school year.

The first part of the trail in Standish, from Route 35, is a dirt road of compacted glacial till. The fine-grained sediment looks sandy, but was not loose and treacherous the way sand can be. The bad news was that the till contains cobblestones about the size of a potato, which stud the surface with endless bumps. They're not the jagged tire-slicers we have further inland, but the jolting was relentless. The cellist decided years ago she did not like anything resembling mountain biking, so this initial surface aggravated her considerably.

The Cross Checks are well suited to handle rough bits, but their forks are not as robust as real mountain bike forks, whether rigid or sprung.

Once the trail descended to the rail line we reached the paved part that looks like your typical multi-use path. On the dirt, multi-users included people on horseback and many dog-walkers. The horse folk advised us that their mounts were calm enough for us to ride past, but they couldn't guarantee other horses would be as accommodating. Most of the dog walkers just looked at us like something someone else neglected to put into a plastic bag for proper disposal.
 I didn't take a lot of pictures because we needed to keep moving to complete the route well before dark. I had my well-lit bike, but the cellist would have to make do with Beamers and blinkies if we let sunset overtake us. Beside that, the scenery was nice but not outstanding enough to make me interrupt the ride.
 This bridge over the Presumpscot River brought us to a stop while traffic cleared from the pathway. The center strip of the wooden deck has been reinforced with that recycled plastic lumber stuff, creating a one-way path where tight two-way passage might have been possible. The raised edges of the plastic planking create a tripping hazard even if the rider has the whole pathway to use. The plastic slabs are warped, presenting an undulating surface with some raised seams even down the middle of it.
A stupid idea. I hope they get rid of it. If you notice, in the pictures of the bridge on the trail's website the decking does not have this added reinforcement.

On a warm Sunday, albeit a cloudier one than the forecast seemed to promise, the trail saw a lot of use. Planners must feel gratified when people prove the popularity of a project like this. On the other hand, it can lead to other problems of conflicting styles of use. Other problems arise as users try to get on at access points where the planners might not have anticipated as many people trying to leave vehicles, for instance.

In Windham we left the segregated world of the path and joined the rest of vehicular traffic.  No one went out of their way to bother us but it does raise the stress level when motor vehicles are buzzing by. Anyone who has ridden with traffic for a few years has had enough encounters to know that anyone at any time could decide to inflict some bullshit. They probably won't. But they might. The bicyclist is an oddity in this country. Some of you may live where these oddities are more numerous, but the cyclist is still in the minority, perhaps well tolerated in places (better in some than in others) but almost nowhere welcomed and encouraged. We are encouraged to drive to side paths to enjoy our little hobby out of everyone's way. When we ball up our little fists and insist on having our piece of the road we may be granted it, but some of our fellow travelers will express their opinion. Traffic riding calls for extending the senses while simultaneously thickening your hide.

The total round trip, including about four miles each way on the roads, came to about 18 1/2 miles.

The next day I went out to do one of my favorite routes, taking in Huntress Bridge Road. Huntress Bridge Road traverses a tamarack swamp on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. I missed the peak golden  color of the tamarack needles. There are still a few pale ones left. They made delicate compositions with winterberry shrubs splashed among them.

The red berries hang in the dun-colored framework of leafless branches.
The day was unseasonably warm again. You wouldn't know it from the sky. It was a typical November gray. The beech and oak leaves have turned russet brown. The sun slides cross the southern horizon, lower each day. I prefer clouds because they eliminate blinding glare.

Riding didn't fit the the schedule on Tuesday, Wednesday or today. Tomorrow I'll be back on the commuting trail, finding out if the rails and fallen leaves on the Cotton Valley Trail are merely wet or actually icy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pivot Rivets and Marvin Bolts

The repair tag said, "Bike fell over on drive side. Trouble shifting to big ring." The bike was stopped, so it wasn't a serious slamming, sliding crash. There were no major or even minor impact marks.

The front derailleur cable felt a little slack. I thought maybe the cable had simply gone out of adjustment and the bike's fall had been a coincidence. Snugging the cable did not fix the shifting, but it did change the problem enough for me to notice that the front derailleur was not swinging in a smooth arc.
This picture was taken after I noticed that the rivet on which the derailleur cage pivots had backed out about three millimeters. When I tapped it back in, the derailleur then functioned properly. I have no idea how a minor topple could have caused this problem, but there it is: something else to check when normal adjustments aren't bringing the desired results. The rivet could have been backing out already and the minor fall either helped it the rest of the way or had nothing to do with it.
Shown at the center of this shot, the pivot rivet. Derailleur is Shimano 105.

Some older front derailleurs were held together with bolts that can loosen. Check your derailleur and snug these bolts every so often. The term Marvin bolts comes from the particular repair on which I failed to remember them soon enough.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A real advocacy opportunity

The Lakes Region Planning Commission is updating the regional bicycle-pedestrian plan from the most recent version issued in 2006. They have scheduled four public-input meetings around the region. They also have an on-line survey so you can record your opinion within the usual cumbersome limits of such surveys. Take a few minutes to fill out the survey here.

The first meeting was in Wolfeboro last Thursday. The next one is in the Tamworth Public Library tomorrow night at 6 p.m. On Wednesday, November 9 they'll be at the Bridgewater Town Office at 6:30 p.m. The final meeting in the series will be Thursday, November 10 at the Belmont Corner Meeting House at 6:30 p.m.

I'm sorry the notice is short, in case anyone reading this blog is in the region and would like to attend. I've had trouble finding writing time of late, so I didn't post anything at the instant I found out. I'm not sure how much difference it would have made. Whether you get to a meeting or not, fill out the survey. Use the "other comments" blocks to try to make up for the misleading nature of the over-simplified questions. Surveys are a woefully blunt instrument. However, a large number of respondents will indicate that people are interested, so funds are worth expending.

Eric Senecal from the LRPC and Seth Creighton, who works in the planning department for the city of Laconia but was not attending in that capacity, have prepared a short program to introduce their project, but stressed early and often that they really want to hear from the public so the updated plan responds to citizen needs and wants. They're not coming in as experts to tall people how it ought to be.

The Wolfeboro Public Library had provided plenty of chairs. Most of them were empty. The people who showed up for the meeting, perhaps a total of a dozen, were the usual suspects. They were the people who have already been working for years in town to create such facilities as the Cotton Valley Trail and the upgraded sections in the Sewall Woods and Abenaki trail networks. Every one of us was over 50 years old. Other people, most of a similar age, will show up for volunteer work days on various outdoor projects.

The age emphasizes the graying of the self-propelled demographic. Cross-country skiing, for instance, tends to draw primarily from the middle aged population looking for beneficial exercise to stave off the effects of aging that can no longer be denied. Some might have started in their twenties or even in childhood, but many enter the sport after they have to give up sports that cause more impact, or after years without significant daily exercise. The same is true among the customers looking for a comfortable bike for path riding and a path without motor vehicles on which to ride it.

It occurred to me as I jotted a few notes before the meeting that bicycling has never -- in its entire history -- been necessary.

In the beginning, humans walked. Before they were even humans, they walked. To cross water, they grabbed floating logs and then began to shape those logs and use other materials to invent and refine boats. They domesticated animals to carry loads, and pull carts and whatnot. Eventually, along came steam engines and railroads.

The bicycle was the greatest idea never to catch on. It had its fashionable periods, even before it had pedals, but most of the public considered it an annoying nuisance. It seemed like a plaything for the idle classes to zip around on. Sure, the Wheelmen may have made a stink about improving road construction, but not because massive numbers of people were depending on the bicycle to move people and things in a unique and vital way. As conditions improved for bicycling, and industrial practices pioneered by the cycle industry improved to make bikes easier to build in quantity, the motor vehicle industry was already surging ahead with a more publicly-desirable product. Roads got better, but bikes were already being run into the ditch. We have no strong sentimental connection to a great period in which the bicycle was a huge force advancing our civilization. Conestoga wagons, clipper ships, railroads, cars and airplanes covered the major distances. Few made a big whiz-bang deal about how the bicycle helped people of fairly modest means cover more minor but more common distances.

The bicycle belonged to childhood in this country. I say belonged, because kids don't use it the same way anymore. The normal childhood of a kid born in the 1950s would probably be considered abuse, neglect and endangerment today. On a summer day I might disappear from the house right after breakfast and not return until dusk. The bike was the first set of wings. My friends and I rode everywhere. Yes, we nearly got into trouble in various ways. I don't remember losing any schoolmates to those dangers, though. The first one to die succumbed to bone cancer when I was in sixth grade. That had nothing to do with our common practices of playing on active railroad bridges, bushwhacking along jungly creek banks for miles, or sneaking up on guys target shooting with a .44 magnum in a vacant lot. He was at the top of a steep river bank, practically a cliff. I'm sure he never expected ten-year-old boys to scramble up it like little commandos because they homed in on the sound of gunfire with an uncontrollable instinct to go toward anything that sounds like it might be blowing up.

When it came to the bicycle, that which did not kill me I would get back on as soon as I healed sufficiently. Kids didn't even think twice about it. Get back on the bike or be that poor whiner going "guys, wait UUUUUP!"

Regardless of the bike's place in kid culture, we were also meant to outgrow it and get into cars and cigarettes by our late teens. As generation after generation got its driver's licenses and hit the road, those roads looked less and less like a place to send the kids to pedal. As a nation, we let that get away. It's easier to sell the idea of protecting a vast tract of wilderness hearkening back to our pedestrian and equestrian past than it is to get plans approved to upgrade the roads in any major city or suburb so that people can walk or ride their bikes without fear of getting mowed down by a motor vehicle or at least annoyingly and frighteningly harassed by bullying drivers who want only clear running room.

The bike may finally see its time as a world finally paying attention to its resources starts to try to use them more wisely, including human energy. It's too early to be sure.

For millions of years, humans never had to plan very far ahead. Every generation could duke it out for money, power and sex without thinking about the kind of world they would leave for their children. A few aggravating prognosticators might go on about how we were going to hell in a handbasket, but never for the real reasons that we WERE going there. A very few thinkers started to catch onto that mess in the late 1960s and early '70s, when the terms "ecology" and "environment" trickled into common use. It was still the first time in the entire history of the human species that anyone started to realize just how carefully we might have to think about the future if we really cared about the the little yard-weasels some of us were raising to inhabit it. Of course the offspring born in the 1960s and '70s have had their own offspring and probably become grandparents by now, all without doing a whole lot to improve the outlook for their own little squirts. Someone is always looking back the glory days of the late 19th Century or one of the economic peaks of the 20th, with or without glorious bloodshed, and trying to get us to go back to the good old days even though they weren't really a good idea at the time, and they certainly aren't now. Humans simply make things up as they go along and then look back and call it wisdom.

Friday, November 04, 2011

OK, so it snowed

I measured about eight inches of snow at my house. Someone told me Wolfeboro logged 16. I don't know about that. Warm weather immediately started taking the cover away. Because of other necessities, four days passed before I could even think about trying to ride my dark-time path commute.

Snow survives in many shaded places. However, really shaded places didn't receive as much snow because the trees intercepted the sticky snow on the way down. The sun then melted it the next day, so it fell as warm water onto the thinner accumulation under the trees. Where we find deep drifts is in clearings that filled up, but where the low sun of late fall can't penetrate easily to bring the most warmth.

 The parking lot didn't look too promising, but I needed a ride after several days without one.

 Zoom! After the first ugly bit, the path appeared completely clear.
 Luck ran out, but for how long? I was committed to the route by then.
 This section made me work. Someone had been training a sled dog team with their off-season wheeled rig.
Woof! This was just one snowy section. I was running late, so I didn't stop to document every obstacle. Some were deeper than this, but for a much shorter distance.

The work day was pleasant and unremarkable. In addition to various employment-related tasks I also installed a helmet mount for a Beamer light to see how it might improve my lighting options.  The Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp I've been using as my "zombie spotter" is light and affordable, but I thought I might like to add a light with more range. The Beamer helmet bracket was cheap enough. I figured I could use the Beamer as my zombie spotter and the Cosmo as my dashboard lighting, aiming it down toward the computer on my handlebars while the Beamer sends its light out along my line of sight.

The term "zombie spotter" came to me as I rode alone through the spooky woods on a late October night. You know, you hear a noise from the dark forest and whip your head around to see what made it. Usually I don't see anything. Whatever might be crunching and crackling is headed away from me and that's just fine.
Zombie spotter and dashboard light

The day never felt warm, with a high in the 40s and a gusty wind, but it was above freezing. The snow had not miraculously vanished between morning and evening commute, but it was better at the end of the day. I never got sent sideways on the evening run, but I nearly did on the morning rush to town.

The augmented helmet light array picked up glowing eyes from the brimming swamp beside the path several miles out from town. If I lived in the south I would guess it was a 'gator. Up here I'm thinking it was a beaver. Can't think what else might be looking up at me from a pond when it's 38 degrees and dark. I suppose any northern aquatic small mammal is as likely. In any case it was just a glint as I hurried past. That section of the path was clear to the dirt, so I was taking advantage. No point giving the zombies a good fix on me by going slowly. I've gotten this far in life by making myself a moving target.

The Cosmo and the Beamer put out very comparable illumination. Neither one had a longer range, but they joined forces if I angled the Cosmo to place its light patch adjacent to the Beamer's. If I really want range and power from my helmet light I will have to invest in one of the modern super-lights. I don't know if I care that much. The dynamo light does a great job by itself down the road or trail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


 I suppose I should have gone out on skis yesterday so it would still have been October. I was ignoring the snow, hoping it would go away. Heavy, wet glop over unfrozen ground on Sunday had mutated only slightly by Monday, so it didn't look inviting. By today, though, I'd taken note of the beginning of the winter flab roll that has taken the place of the redistribution of muscle that used to mark the transition from cycling to cross-country skiing and climbing every winter. In the fall I would start weight-training and other exercises designed to make muscle migrate to the arms, and get the legs used to supporting body weight instead of just providing power through the pedals. It's all great athletic fun, but you don't do much else when you also have a full-time job. So that side of life has suffered as I spend time trying to draw and write, and other pursuits of the mind that also can't happen during the work day.
 The woods look strange with the fall foliage above the snow. The trees are trying to cover the snow with leaves and needles. Winter does not officially start for seven more weeks. Locally we're usually ready for snow by Thanksgiving and at least not shocked by it in mid-November. We've also waited entire winters for it to fall, seen it arrive early and take off for a midwinter break or make its first appearance anywhere from late December to early April. This is certainly the earliest any of us have seen this much snow around here.
 The golden canopy gives no hint of what lies on the ground. The snow melted off the trees on Sunday. As with Hurricane Irene, the dramatic effects of the big snow storm hit elsewhere. Parts  of New Hampshire got more than 27 inches of snow. Some people are still without power.
Thursday night, before Saturday's big storm, we got a more seasonally appropriate test snow. It was solidly frozen onto things on Friday morning when I took this dash-cam shot. The ice and snow kept me from incorporating the bike into my commute at all. I can only imagine that the trail I use this time of year is inconveniently covered over much of its length. Warm days may clear it, but night meetings on Wednesday and Thursday will keep me from checking.