Sunday, December 02, 2012

Cranksgiving in Buffalo

New Event Alert!

Hopefully this will occur annually, but GO Bike Buffalo helped Buffalo join other cities in the nation to collect food for food pantries, community outreach centers and such.  This year the collected items went to Food Not Bombs, an organization that prepares a meal and distributes it en masse from a central location.

Some participants took the event with a grain of salt (ha, ha, ha, ooh, ok, stop) and cruised around at a leisurely pace, while there was also a group which came in unibody team spandex and were obviously out to win.  Our little group of three took the middle ground. If you look in the above photo, you will see our bikes lying on the ground (note the red panniers), so that all those people running had to leap over our bikes and then carry theirs out of the middle of the pile, effectively slowing them down. This is what our little group called "strategy".  Poor Jason, one of our group members.  I think he has a competitive streak in him, which we frustrated.

The objective of the event was to go to three checkpoints and five grocery stores and buy at least one item on a list from each store.  Keep in mind that you had to carry it all using your bike/body and that the items included canned goods and 5lb bags of flour.

The middle checkpoint required arrivals to use their hand to make a crayon turkey drawing, do a shot of Wild Turkey (actually optional) and write about what you were thankful for.  The end point was the GO Bike workshop, complete with beer and really nice volunteer made food.  Shout Out to GO Bike Buffalo for making this happen and showing us how to have a good time.  BUFFALO, BUFFALO, BUFFALO! (Portland, OR did not participate- hear the taunt)

The Small City Advantage

Buffalo is a small city.  There is almost nothing that is not highly accessible to cyclists.  It is with great joy that I am and more frequently surrounded by people who are not afraid to hop on a bicycle to meet up.  On this occasion, 3 separate small groups all showed up for breakfast on bicycles.  While two of them are without cars, the other three all chose to go by bike anyways.  And I was out on the commercial strip (don't read that as stip mall or chain store alley, but a strip of bona fide independently owned small businesses) IN MY CAR, on the way back from a "carry something huge" errand and found myself in a gridlock of car traffic. It struck me suddenly that I rarely experience this frustration anymore. On a bike, I would have passed all of the cars (carefully) or not been on that street riding at all.  There is such joy to be found in life.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Surley Troll

Thinking, planning, scheming.  The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is on my horizon and as such a new bike was in the equation.  My LBS, Campus Wheel Works, kept me in their sights for almost a year, looking out for a bike that would perform well in a wide variety of settings.  The GDMBR is comprised of single track (one lane dirt trail), double track (old roads), dirt roads and pavement.  Trying to find a bike to cover all aspects of this trail and carry panniers or tow a trailer is a challenge.
In late August, Ethan pointed me towards the Surley Troll, a hybrid/road/mountain bike which is able to morph into many different things, due to the multitude (ooooh- I've used that word twice today) of dropouts and braze-ons.  This configuration allows Rohloff hubs, which contain internal gearing to take the place of a derailleur, disk brakes, cantilever brakes, fenders and racks. Ethan poked around until he found a front suspension fork which could accomodate a rack (something mountain bikers would generally frown upon). I will miss using the really cool OEM fork, which has braze-ons for water bottle cages on the outer edges, along with braze-ons for anything else you can think of. The price tag comes to under $2,000, which is still a whole heck of a lot of money to me.
There is now a Thudbuster seat post on it and pedals which will accomodate Power Straps.  It seems like the Power Straps will outperform cages and give some of the advantages of clipless pedals without the special shoes. Addtionaly, it has a King water bottle cage and a new fangled Camelback bottle, which doesn't leak when turned on its side.
Now the bike just needs a rear rack and better reflectors and/or lights.  Here is a wonderful resource on tail-lights.  So sweet when someone does my homework for me and does it well.
 Oh, and when I asked about the dreaded "chain slap" which occurs when the derailleur can't absorb the slack caused by going over big bumbs, Ethan suggested a Cycle Stuff Chain Stay Wrap, which will probably be more durable than a cut up tube. I think the handlebars are Multibar Butterfly bars.  They should offer up a nice variety of hand positions for all the washboard road along the GDMBR.
I will be aiming for the summer of 2013, unless Adventure Cycling calls me to lead a tour, in which case I will gladly shift gears.

This is the first mountain bike type bike I have ever owned that was sized properly.  It rides smoothly, with the Thudbuster taking some of the jarring out of the rear without the weight of a full suspension. The fork (Rockshox) seems to offer a nice balance of absorption and has the ability to lock the suspension.
The rack is an Old Man Mountain and came with several options for mounting, but is designed for a suspension fork.  The disk brakes on this bike will help with the brutal braking conditions the bike will be subjected to, carrying a full load of panniers, water and me. Mud and water have affected every touring bike I have used, but this bike will see more mud than on a road tour, though not necessarily the downhill speeds seen on a road tour. I thought the tires would be too much for roads and not enough for of road- wrong: pretty good all around.

Two irritating things- the front derailleur cable comes out diagonally, impeding my ability to grab the bike and carry it by the seat tube up/down stairs and that same derailleur's clamp is placed between the two water bottle mounting points on the seat tube, necessitating the use of spacers (which it didn't come with) to attach a cage.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Progress runs in jagged lines

So in September there was a big hoopla because the city planned something wonderful and forward-thinking, but totally failed to ask anyone for input, basically guaranteeing that an entire neighborhood would revolt. Two way bike lanes on a one way street- Linwood Avenue
Sharrows on Elmwood Avenue
First came the repaving of the street.  Then came the lights facing the wrong way down a one-way street.  Then came the uproar as the neighbors tried to discern what was going on. THEN came the city discussion with the neighbors.  A very jagged line indeed.  In defense of the city, the DPW did actually ask someone about bikes and bike lanes who had some education on the topic.  And that person DID send them to a very good source for information and they DID follow a best practice model.
Outcome?  A set of bike lanes supplanted one of the north bound car lanes on this one-way street. It's also had the effect of slowing traffic that was out of control. And this seems to have set off a plethora of bike related efforts.  It does seem that at least some has been in the works for a while.
And for that fool who asked, "Why a bike lane to nowhere?"; build it and they will come.  The day the city striped it, there were already cyclists riding it who would never have ridden the wrong way before.

Oooooh. Shhhh. You might scare it away before I can get a picture

Okay!  This one was on a Buffalo bus.  You have no idea how excited I get when I see the rare and exotic bike on a Buffalo bus bike rack.  I think the NFTA should put bikes on the racks, just to assure people that the bikes will be safe.
*note- on a revisit to this post, I realized that I made it seem as though cyclists are afraid to put their bikes on bus racks, when in fact the problem is that the NFTA fails to put a rack on every bus (only 50% have racks).  They are unresponsive to requests for action and can't even seem to promise to have all buses on a particular route have a rack.  As a result, you have a 50% chance of not having a rack on the bus which stops.  Most people find the odds too low, and thus the racks are rarely used.  I ride all over and the one time I actually needed a bus w/rack, the bus that showed up had no rack.  Good thing I have a folder.  Oh wait.  I tried to take my folder on a bus with a rack (folded) and the driver refused to let me on. Sorry.  Sarcasm is not usually my style.  BTW, the folder wouldn't have fit in the rack that day because I had a front rack on it. Call me furious.

Tour de Farms!

Organized by Massachusetts Avenue Project, which has an urban farm on Buffalo's West Side, this Tour de Farms event was run in conjunction with GO Bike Buffalo (formerly in part Buffalo Blue Bikes).  I know this is the fourth or so, but did not have the imagination to believe anyone else would be interested in riding 35 miles to visit urban and rural farms.  How wrong I was. About 200 people showed up to visit and learn about the trials and tribulations of farming, both medium and small scale. 
MAP and the 2 other urban farms are utilizing totally different methods of working the soil from their rural counterpart, but both the medium and small are working towards what would be called sustainable farming- companion crops and rotation to reduce or negate pesticide use and the disregard for the "organic" certification for which I hold such disdain after my travels through California.
We probably were a very odd sight moving through Buffalo's rough and tumble East and West sides on our bikes.  Not really a spandex crowd, it was a pleasant trip, which ended with a party.  My kind of a ride.

How other people do it.

NYC- in Buffalo, we are just starting to see bikes on the 50% of buses with racks. I really did try to be open minded about the potential of cycling in NYC, but the vast advantage Buffalo has over NYC is that you can afford an apartment large enough to bring in your bike.

Silo City

Always have to give praise when possible. Buffalo is inching its way up through the pack. In 2006, I was one of only a tiny handful of people doing a winter cycling commute and the vast majority of my compatriots only did so because they couldn't afford a car.
Now we have GO Green Buffalo, who help to carry out cool escapades which attempt to coordinate cycling and other events. One such event was Silo City, a fabulous art event celebrating Buffalo's grain elevators.  Indoor bike parking was a huge hit, and the event brought cyclists (and drivers as well) down into a slow section of the city and into businesses which might not otherwise see traffic on an weekday night. My partner and I watched cycling traffic heading back and forth through this area long after dark.

And now it's normal... use a drive up ATM. I saw this ad in a bank window. It was not directed at cyclists, which makes it all the more interesting.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Netherlands July 31

Yesterday I decided to not pack the bike at the hotel, since that would have entailed taking public transportation to the rail station with 2 pieces of heavy luggage. Instead, I put the trailer on and cycled to the train station. The ticket counter didn't open until 6 am, but there were no "hours" signs, so nobody really knew what time they opened.  The automatic ticket machines only accept cards with a chip and pin #, so I sweated it out for a few minutes.  The ride is only 18 minutes and drops you directly at the airport. I spent 1.5 hours folding my bike and reconfiguring all gear back into the duffle and 20 minutes to get through security, but I had checked in via a kiosk, so I just had to check my bags and pay for the one. That part was pretty quick. Security was right at the gate... interesting.
KLM was very cognizant of my lunch request this time.  They distributed the special meals first (as opposed to coming to the Netherlands, when they messed it up and distributed them last and had given my meal away by accident), though the meal was very institutional.
At JFK, the whole journey went weird.  First you go through passport check, then collect your bags, then go through customs, where they take your little "I am not taking any dangerous flora or fauna home" form, then you walk the length of that terminal, stand in line to re-check your bags, run upstairs to Airtran, run outside to the terminal under construction, back through security (20 min), then to the gate, which has changed.  There was only about 1 hour between flights.  A little hairy, but I made it.
Home sweet home.
Dwight had saved all bad news up while I was gone.  The dog had to be put down and a friend was having serious trouble.  I guess I am glad to have not known.  It pays to have a wonderful person at home.

Netherlands July 30

Woke up and ate the breakfast I bought at Albert Heijn last night.  I briefly visited Albert Cuyp market, even though it was really be too early for most of the booths to be open. Still interesting. I jumped into the queue for Rijkmuseum and was one of the first through the door.  This proved to be very valuable, since the museumkaart also allowed me expedited entry.  The early hour meant that I missed all the tours coming through and had excellent access to all of the exhibits. I only spent about 1 hour there, since most of the museum is under renovation. Next I took a look at the Van Gogh museum.  Because I don't need to worry about the cost of the museums, I felt that if I didn't see as much of the museum as I wanted, I could come back later, but I saw what I wanted in an hour and a half.  The information about Van Gogh and some of those who influenced him was very interesting.  They even had the original vase he had used in one of his still life works. The third floor housed an exhibit about graphic arts, including posters advertising shows and such.  The artist I am familiar with is Toulouse-Lautrec.

Next was the Jewish Museum.  I thought it would be more about the history of Jews, but it was more about culture and reflections. It was okay. St. Nicholas, the catholic church across from Centraal Station was exceptionally beautiful, but no photos were allowed.  It reminded me of some tour guide who spoke about the rational for building beauty that makes you look up towards god.  This was certainly the case. It was juxtaposed by the restrictions on how far you could enter the church, even though there were no services. Really truly a magnificent church, even seeing a tiny portion.

There are free tours put on by Sandeman. You tip the guide according to how much you can afford and how much you enjoyed the tour. Our guide explained the Dutch attitudes about marijuana and prostitution as, in part, a knee jerk reaction to WW II and the cooperation of Amsterdam in the collection and persecution of the Jews.
  He also showed us Amsterdam's solution to men pissing in the streets and the consequences of attempts to provide women the same kind of facilities (after the women protested). The women's facilities were shuttered because since they were totally enclosed and could be locked, they were used for drug use and women were being assaulted in them.  He also talked about the thousands of bicycles dredged from the canals each year and explained that the canals are purged and flushed about every 3 days.  This is one of the reasons the canals don't stink like the ones in Venice.  Yesterday I watched someone in the canal with a face mask on, trying to locate a boat which sank and apparently a long time ago people would throw their dead horses in the canals. Makes you wonder what you would see if you drained one totally. Parts of the old wall and gates still exist, as well as one of the weighing houses, from the times when ocean going ships came right down the canals to the city walls. It is amazing to see how skinny most of the houses are; this one was so skinny it is hard to imagine having anything more than a single sized bed in it.

I ate cheese sandwiches and an apple for lunch, but couldn't resist the urge to get a very un-vegetarian fried roll out of the hot vending machines.  Such an interesting concept.  The staff is still there, but they stock the machine continually from the back and serve things like french fries.
In Dam square (named because the river used to be damned there before the whole great harbor was enclosed) there were costumed, music and performance buskers.

My hotel room is on the 4th floor and overlooks a lovely backyard deck.  There is no privacy in back yards, since other buildings overlook them from far above.

Netherlands July 29

The only person packing this morning, I got up at about 7, so as to not wake the others absurdly early.  We trekked through Brugge, but most of the restaurants were not open early, so we had to eat at a tourist place in one of the main squares; very expensive, compared to what we have been paying ($15 as opposed to $8 or so), but it was good food and filling. The owner/manager appeared annoyed at the presence of customers. All in all, I would probably have preferred to go to a grocery and have a breakfast picnic, but no stores were open. As we sat the horse carriages showed up.
The trip to Amsterdam is in two parts, first traveling to Antwerp, then on to Amsterdam, for about $60, including $9 for the bike. I could probably have avoided the bike charge by folding it, but my anxiety about connections and getting on and off where high enough to accept the extra charge. When Sara was with us, we were able to piggyback off her student discount card, which amounted to about a 40% discount, so the difference is substantial.

There is quite a difference in the attitudes about bicycles between the two countries.  Belgium is not quite as fanatical about bikes; the paths are often less prominent, drivers take bikes less seriously and bikes don't seem quite as welcome.  Still better than the US.
Since the train tracks are not elevated, you don't get much of a view of the cities and what we saw while cycling was far superior to the views from the train windows.  On the second leg, the bike compartment was first, included in the first class section, but I was not allowed to sit in first class.  As a result of not wanting to stray too far from the bike and trailer, I sat in a jump seat in the bike section.  Not quite as comfortable as a regular seat, but I was in good company. 6 or so others where there as well and after a spell, we struck up interesting and humorous conversations. I told them how inferior I felt because one was reading "The Last Cavalier" by Dumas and another "The Prince" by Machiavelli, while I was reading a Tom Clancy novel. We joked that I should just buy a hardcover of something sophisticated and use the jacket to cover my book.  As a matter of fact, you could do that with an entire home collection. One person was Dutch, two French and the rest English.  The English got partly off at most stops to have a smoke.  Really funny. I was oldest, but one of the English looked to be about 30.

Off the train in Amsterdam Centraal station, mass chaos spread before me.  Buses, parked bicycles all over and tons of people, with no signs I could read.  I followed the largest quantity of people to locate the  exit. Outside, my compass helped with orientation.  If I had had a decent map starting off, it would have been faster finding the hotel, but it was fun and a pleasant challenge just figuring out how to move with the wide variety of traffic. Fortunately, I have now been in the Netherlands long enough to recognize many traffic signs and have been blessed with learning outside of huge cities, where the various traffics are lighter and more forgiving. I had to ask 5 different people for directions and I had written the name of the street on my hand.  It was pretty amusing how easily people accepted this as okay behavior.  One guy actually took my hand and re-oriented it to better read the writing and another told me it didn't say anything.  I think what he meant was that he didn't recognize the name of the street, but his English lacked a way to express that.  It came out funny and I laughed.  Hope he wasn't offended. The last person I asked (when I knew I was quite close), was highly irritated with himself, because he said he knew the street was close, but couldn't place it.  He took out his phone and looked it up. It was one block away. Even people who proclaim to not really speak english speak it better than I speak Spanish. Generally they stumble trying to find the exact word they want, but they always get their meaning across. I found myself trying to speak french or spanish, because I don't know Dutch. This probably confused people further.
The hotel is very nice, but the one woman seemed short on patience. A man stepped up to help me and he was very good; he told me that though I could not take the bike to my room, I could store it overnight in the baggage room and disassemble it in the courtyard out back.
Dumping my trailer and stuff in the room and using the map the front desk gave me, I went out to explore and better orient myself to the city.  Like a wheel, the city is easy to get around and the streets are generally well marked.  I found the Amsterdam, Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, checked the Red Light district for private boats for a canal tour (unsuccessfully), rode through Vondelpark, found St. Christopher's church and shopped in an Albert Heijn grocery store. I also stopped for a pancake with cheese and ginger, and learned how to say "have a good day", which sounds a little like "fine a duck". It appears that my attempts to learn some words before I came failed, since I ended up with the wrong words somehow.
Drank wine and ate stroopcakes in my room and read my book by the open window overlooking the city as the sun went down.

Netherlands July 28

We parted company with Sara and Robbert this morning.  We shall see if we are able to navigate on our own...

Skirting Middleburg, Netherlands (not to be confused with Middleburg, Belgium), we headed for the ferry to take us across the channel and towards Belguim. The ferry is for bikes and pedestrians only, since several years ago a tunnel was built.
There are no signs telling you that you are entering Belgium, no border crossing. In Sluis, we stopped for lunch and visited a VVV (tourist info) where we bought a cycling map to get us to Brugge.  Unlike in the US, there were no freebies.
We mostly followed a canal into Brugge.  It was a very popular route for cyclists, joggers, walkers, roller bladers and people fishing. There was even someone swimming up the canal.  That would be like one of those lap pools- you could go forever (kind of).
Fields of onions lined the paths.

This is a photo of the human powered ferry.  It crossed the canal in a section without a bridge for a long, long distance.
This is one of many cargo boats.  I suspect the owners or managers live on them.  The painting and ornamentation is unique on each.

The streets of Brugge are set in roughly two concentric circles, corralled  by the canals and consistently cobbled.  This tends to be a bit of a bone shaker on a steel bike (or probably any bike), but we saw many skinny tired racing bikes.  There are windmills set around the perimeter of the city.
As we approached the outer ring of the city, an older man on a bike asked us a one word question: kamping? He never spoke another word after we answered in the affirmative, but led us directly to the camping.  That would have taken us quite a while, if left to our own devices.
Each camping situation is different and all have their idiosyncrasies.  This one had free showers, but no toilet paper. We met two men with recumbent child seats on the fronts of their bikes. They told us they had traveled to France, but just far enough to see the welcome sign, take a photo, then turn around and come back.  Still a feat with two small kids, but pretty funny, none the less.
We entered Brugge after setting up, because it was already 4:30 and we knew things would shut down, but there was still live music and many shops were open. Chocolate and lace shops predominated the landscape.

Several huge squares hosted music, horse drawn carriages gave the acoustic echoes of long ago and  sculptures and fountains graced several squares. Canals, bridges and buildings built right into water dissected the streets and it became difficult to know north from south.
For dinner we ate pizza (one of the only reasonably priced options).  Customer service here is quite poor; you often wait a long time for someone to take your order and they rarely ask if you want anything further.  Sara attributes this to the discouragement of tipping, leaving the wait staff with little or no motivation to actually wait on you. I think for the most part, I would rather picnic.

We gleefully (at least Linda and I were gleeful, and maybe beerfull) wandered aimlessly as dark fell and we had to use lights for the first time.
Laundry was a desperate plight for Bill and Linda and I were amenable to doing ours as well, but it was almost midnight before it was done and we could go to bed.

Netherlands July 27

We headed out from the campground and backtracked a tiny bit to return to the Oosterschelde water's edge. From there we proceeded to cross the Zeelandbrug bridge, the longest bridge in the Netherlands. The lock at the beginning was interesting, because they built the busy road to shift from one end of the lock to the other, allowing traffic to continue even if the bridge at one end was lifted.
There was the usual crop of wheat, plus a leafy crop which was probably sugar beets and a crop I've never seen before, which Bill thought might be rye. If anyone recognizes it, please let me know.
We came back through Veere, back to its truncated church tower, and had lunch and a desert of inverted ice cream with wee small cones on top.
We showed no  ice cream restraint. Such a tiny little town, with narrow streets and huge delivery trucks.  It was amazing to watch them navigate the streets and intersections. A horse drawn carriage trundled through it all with a bride and groom on their way to city hall.
These three beautiful wooden boats were docked along the canal.  They may be used for excursions in package deals.  The upkeep must be non-stop.

Arriving at 1:45 at the Stayokay castle Domburg, our room was not ready, so we dumped our bags and went out to the beach.  The water was about 50 degrees, similar to Lake Ontario, so we just hung out on the beach until the air temperature dropped too far.
On arriving back at the castle it began to rain; great timing. Showers and the spreading of clothes to dry encompassed the time until we met up with Robbert and his dad, Han.  Dinner was at a Mexican Restaurant in Domburg, in part to get margueritas. Back at the Stayokay castle, Robbert, Bill, Sara and Linda played a game, while I caught up on this blog. Han headed off home. Tomorrow we lose Sara to Robbert, as they work their way back home.
Linda and I had a funky tan competition.  I am not pleased to announce that I won. Kean shoe wearers unite!