Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Games: Bicycle Diaries

For my second Learning Experiences challenge for the LGRAB Summer Games I'm reading a book,Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games the celebrated Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. For good measure, I reserved the book from my woefully underfunded local library using the excellent regional inter-library system, BCCLS, and biked over to pick it up.

As its title suggests, Bicycle Diaries is a collection of the author's experiences and musings traveling and bicycling around the world. That said, the first thing I noticed about the book was its unpretentious retro-cool design:Bicycle Diaries cloth over cardboard covers, take-me-along size, eminently readable typefaces, fine-grain, matte photographs. A tiny bicycle wanders back and forth across the bottom of some pages, and of course I had to see what happens when one flips the pages rapidly (grin). There's tremendous visual and tactile appeal and a subtle assertion of the experience of reading a book that directly parallels the once-learned-never-forgotten experience of riding a bike. As soon as I touched the book, my fingers knew I'd like its contents just as surely as they know good wool.

Indeed, I enjoyed the book so much that I'd rather not spoil it for other readers by commenting at length on the essays. It's worth noting that the whimsical bike racks sketched in the back of the book actually did get built and temporarily installed around NYC. Also note: the author's voice is intelligent, urbane, and tolerant; a few reflections include R-rated material. That said, I highly recommend the book to readers interested in cycling, city planning, travel, and contemporary culture, particularly music and visual arts. I'll be adding Bicycle Diaries to my personal library of bicycling books.

For more David Byrne on bicycles (literally), see this NY Times video short, David Byrne: Live on Two Wheels.

For more books on cycling, see the LGRAB suggestions or The Christian Science Monitor, 10 great books about cycling. Or see the LGRAB Summer Games blogroll – I can't help thinking that in our modest way, participants are generating our own bicycle diaries.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Games: Car-free to DE

For my first Learning Experiences challenge for the LGRAB Summer Games I decided to carry a load. As mentioned previously,Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games I packed a weekend's worth of clothes, bike stuff, and paperwork into urban panniers and pedaled off to a conference at the University of Delaware.

Although I frequently use my bike for local transportation, this was my first "self-supported" tour. My goal was to get there solo and in style – and get there I did, via a happy combination of bicycling, light rail, and commuter rail. I was very pleased with the ease of travel, particularly as I opted for a pink polo shirt and patch madras skirt rather than a bike jersey and shorts. Bike + train is just so civilized!

Journey's end

As might be expected, the loaded panniers changed the handling of my bike. The extra weight low around the rear axle made the front tire rise – I kept feeling like I was about to pop a wheelie. I also kept kicking the panniers with my heels as I pedaled. Some of the time I compensated by pedaling with the arch of my foot on the pedal, which is considered Very Poor Form, and the rest of the time I kicked away, which was annoying. Traditional touring panniers tend to be trapezoidal to allow heel clearance, which I think rather spoils their lines. Alas, dreary utility! I like my pretty rectangular panniers, but need to find a workaround for these issues.

Packed panniers

The biking portions of the trip – in three states, from casa Jersey Knitter to the Newark Light Rail (NJ), in Center City Philadelphia between trains (PA), and from Newark Station to the conference center (DE) – were mostly on low-traffic roads, many with bike lanes and pretty little parks. I did have to ride like an arrow in Philadelphia to catch my train, but that was because ::cough:: I spent too much time gabbing with a friend. Otherwise, the riding was pleasant and easy.

Halcyon Park

On the trains – light rail to Newark Penn Station, NJ Transit to Trenton, SEPTA R7 to Center City Philadelphia, SEPTA R2 to Newark Station – my bike was in good company. NJ Transit and SEPTA personnel were invariably helpful and accommodating and most passengers seemed quite positive about bikes on board. I started to think maybe the paradigm shift has come.

3 bikes on board

Then again, maybe not – or rather our current built environment often reflects a different sensibility and imposes a different reality. The biggest obstacle of the trip was at Newark Station (DE). It's labeled accessible, but the station platform is at grade. In response to my dismayed queries, an obliging conductor explained the station IS accessible (there's a mini-platform... but it was locked and no one could unlock it), told me to stand back, then neatly hoisted my bike and carried it down the train steps to the platform. While I appreciated that brawny assistance personally, as a matter of public policy I have to wonder (not for the first time) how a passenger with limited mobility – people with mobility devices, youngsters, oldsters, women great with child – would fare.

Lupin sock in progress

Somewhere between Newark (NJ) and Newark (DE) I cast on my conference sock. The conference itself had a good amount of knitting time, neither too little nor too much. This is how far I got over the weekend. In a way, it's evidence I actually attended meetings instead of ::cough:: playing hooky to ride my bike. Not that I wasn't tempted – I'd love to go exploring.

And I'd love to try more car-free multi-modal touring, both for business and leisure.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Old Glory

Today is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the start of another summer and another low stress Summer of Socks. This year the weather roundabout Exit 151 is hot, the economy is not.Summer of Socks button Area townships have had to cut back on so many important services that it seems frivolous to lament scrimping on Fourth of July festivities; still, I was sad when my township canceled its parade – and happy when private donations allowed it to be reinstated. Surely that small victory calls for patriotic cycling socks.

1776 singleton

This was my SKA Scavenger Hunt sock. The pattern is simple; the unusual yarn, Fortissima Colori colorway 1776, does all the work, automatically forming red and white stripes and blue and white stars. Well, sorta. I was rather hoping for a crisp, high contrast look, but Old Glory will have to do – the stars are more like swirls and the red has bled onto the other colors. At least the sock has a bright contrast cuff and toe and a decorative zigzag bind off.

Zigzag bind off toe

Some SOSers are using a wedding theme in honor of bride-to-be and SOS founder Zarzuela. For me that would be:

Something old: UFOs!!! I could spend all summer on this one.
Something new: ooh, shiny (or why there are so many UFOs).
Something borrowed: I’ll make something out of a sock book borrowed from my woefully underfunded public library.
Something blue: it's Zarzuela's favorite color.

Although I'm also fretting about my carbon footprint. Again. It does seem to be a recurring theme.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Tomorrow I'm traveling car-free to a weekend conference in Delaware. Part of the journey is by train and light rail, part by bicycle. So I got my new Basil double panniers on the bike. All my bike stuff, conference stuff, and clothes are in the panniers.

Basil panniers

I got my new Lazy Daisy socks to wear. The only modifications I made were to cast on 64 sts for the picot cuff and reduce to 55 sts for the leg (to prevent the lace from bagging) and to work a sl st heel. The socks just cover the ankle bone – if I knit these socks again, I think I'd work one more pattern repeat for a slightly taller anklet.

Lazy Daisy socks

And I got a new motivation to reduce my carbon footprint. This computer model shows some possible paths of the oil spilling from the Deepwater Horizon, running from the April 20 start of the disaster through August when the relief wells are projected to be complete. It shows what could happen to the oil that will already be in the water regardless of the success (or failure) of the relief wells.

Or view here.

We got to find ways to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

I'll be snapping photos of the journey for the LGRAB Summer Games and also knitting in public at the meeting – see you on the other side.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summer Games: Memorial Day Weekend

The weather over the U.S. Memorial Day weekend was perfect for a family bike ride, so on Sunday I packed up la familia to have a look at Fleet Week NYC.Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games Thanks to visionary city planning and determined community advocacy, many Fleet Week attractions are easily accessed from the car-free Hudson River Greenway. The ride didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped, but it was still happy and I'm including it as part of the LGRAB Summer Games.

Finding parking for cars or bikes can be a major headache in NYC, but we lucked out and got a free on-street spot next to the Clinton Community Garden on West 48th Street. As we unloaded the bikes from the car rack, it was very noticeable how much cooler the garden was than its surroundings. It's hard to imagine a more charming Mile 0.

After a short on-street ride west (including a one-block stretch of exposed 19th-Century cobblestones – a bumpy novelty!), we were at the Greenway. The area around the Intrepid Museum, a converted aircraft carrier, was simply thronged with visitors, so we dismounted and walked.

Fleet Week at the Intrepid Museum

We've biked parts of the Greenway before, and experience shows. Right before we got to Hudson River Park at Pier 84 (44th Street), a chorus broke out about needing a breather (we were walking), a bathroom break (we just got there), refreshments (eyeroll). I watched the bikes while the others scampered off, almost as happy as the children cavorting in the fountain.

Hudson River Park fountain

Plan A was to ride south to Battery Park (where there are more bathrooms and concessions), but that was declared "boring." The sugar buzz must have kicked in, because a majority of the party announced a burning desire to see the Little Red Lighthouse (181st Street). So we headed north.

Along the way, we clomped up the old detour rather than ride the new Riverwalk, leaving the Greenway to look at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 89th Street. In recent years the Civil War-era memorial has become the focus for some of the more thoughtful reflections on war and remembrance.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

At 155th Street, we were turned back by police, who insisted nothing was happening but we couldn't proceed. Between us and the lighthouse we could see two ambulances and a police helicopter which seemed to be using its downdraft to intimidate and disperse what looked like a peaceable picnic. That rather soured the mood of the day and provided ample fodder for speculative discussion on the ride south. Not to mention my camera jammed, perhaps from all the dust in the air.

Back in Midtown, conversation was no longer sufficient fodder, so we stopped at Pam Real Thai Food to refuel. Their spicy lime sauce – tart, salty, spicy, and sprightly in its freshness – makes taste receptors on the sides of the mouth go gaga. It was a perfect restorative after an afternoon of biking.

Full dark fell while we ate. As the ride back to the car was short, but not one I'd recommend for inexperienced cyclists, we judiciously retired to the sidewalk and walked. Chatter on the way home and subsequently was so subdued that I thought maybe the ride was a failure... but the other day someone asked about going to the lighthouse, so maybe not. To be continued....

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer Games: Bike JC 2010

Like the button says, I'm participating in the Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games!Let's Go Ride a Bike Summer Games That means six bike-related activities documented in blog posts for your reading enjoyment. Let me note at the get-go that I'm not worried about fulfilling the biking tasks... for me, it's keeping up the pace of blogging that's the real challenge.

Anywho, 'way back on May 23 I rode in a group ride, the first annual Jersey City Ward Tour. Getting there was easy – I rolled the bike onto Newark Light Rail, connected to PATH at Newark Penn Station, and popped out at Exchange Place in JC – no heavy lifting required (yay!). It was raining lightly when I left casa Jersey Knitter, which made me worry about turnout. When I arrived, this somewhat unpromising vision met my eyes. Where was everybody?

Bike JC start

But in the twinkling of an eye, scarcely enough time to take in the Katyn massacre memorial (freshly decorated in memory of April's tragic Polish plane crash) or the magnificent view of NYC, the Exchange Place plaza was full of bikers. Tour organizers had planned for 100 riders – they closed online registration early at 600.

Exchange Place plaza

Overall, I had a great time. Publicity, registration, check in, the post-ride festival, and the follow up survey were all excellent. The ride itself showcased parts of Jersey City that I'd never visited before – some grand, some scabby, some renewed. For me, the high point was stately Lincoln Park, designed by Daniel W. Langton and Charles N. Lowrie, proponents of the City Beautiful movement.

Lincoln Park

Security can be an issue on an urban ride, but I always felt perfectly safe. JCPD led the way at an easy 6 mph (10 kph), stopped traffic to create an excellent car-free security cell, and provided bike patrol officers to ride along. There were plenty of volunteer ride marshals, not to mention the most adorable sweep riders ever seen. If these sweepers catch you, it's time to withdraw.

Sweep riders

I did hear some grumbling along the way, mostly about the slow, family-friendly pace set by JCPD and the congestion at the pinch points. By my observation, the people whinging the loudest tended to have racing turnouts and surprisingly poor group riding skills. People biking in street clothes tended not only to be calmer, but also to be better riders. Hm....

Pinch point

As I've experienced far worse congestion, notably walking Bike NY, and have worked on the Tour de Montclair, I was and am more inclined to praise and encourage than to criticize. I'd hate to see an outstanding tour killed off its first year because of its success in attracting riders.

Ride's end was Exchange Place, where there were vendors, a hot band, community groups, safety demonstrations, and a random fireboat doing maneuvers in the Hudson River.

Fire boat

I'm looking forward to next year's tour. Go Bike JC!