Friday, May 25, 2012

Expressway for Bikes

In the past couple of weeks, I've made drastic changes to both my morning and evening routes into work, coming up with what I think is both the shortest and the least trafficky way from Hampden to the Inner Harbor and back. I've completed them both in slightly less than a half hour, although that's only if all the traffic lights are working with me. I'm especially pleased with my evening commute, enough so to take a break from not posting on my blog and talk about it for a few hundred words.

View from the end of the lane, I love the color of that bridge.
Before, I was dodging evening traffic on Calvert, which I took mostly because it's either Calvert or Charles and there's slightly fewer cars on the former. Very slightly. Not a day went by where I wasn't yelled at or buzzed at least once, but that's what you should expect when you live in a city that didn't even make the top fifty American biking cities. (Okay, I know that these rankings are just a popularity contest and don't mean anything, but friggin' Orlando is on this list. Baltimore ain't Portland but there's nowhere in goddamn Florida that deserves to be on ANY "best biking cities" list.)

I've known for months that the Fallsway cycletrack was in progress, or had just finished progressing, or had yet to be completed... I'm not really as up on these things as I should be. I assumed that construction was still ongoing so instead of worrying about how I was going to deal with an unfinished road, I stuck with the devil I know. Then one afternoon I just said "screw it, let's try this out." It couldn't be any worse than dealing with northbound suburbanites who are already all pissed off about the JFX lane closure.
View of pedestrian path, bollards... and pothole.

The route isn't pleasant and picturesque in the normal sense of the word. You're sandwiched between the JFX and a succession of industrial buildings (and a jail). But who really cares? For a little over one glorious mile I'm completely separated from cars and that is the MOST pleasant thing I can think of. The road spits you out on Guilford Avenue, the first bicycle boulevard on the East Coast (but it's nothing compared to what Orlando's got). I've been taking Guilford into downtown every morning and I can say with confidence that it's at least ten billion times better than Cathedral. They're similar streets (one-way, multi-lane, 25 mph that really means 35), but the fact that Guilford is marked as a "bike boulevard" makes all the difference. So basically, suck on that, anti-infrastructure types.

It's not done, as the huge, evenly-spaced ditches can attest (it's just not a Baltimore road if there isn't at least one pothole every half-mile). I'm also still a little edgy about taking it in the wintertime but I'll cross that overpass when I get to it. For now, this is the fastest, safest way to get out of downtown on a bike. I'm sure glad I decided to try it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How's Your Bike Week?

As the many cycling blogs I follow have mentioned once or twice, this week is Bike Week in the USA, a time when we collectively think about how different and better our lives could be if we accepted cycling as a viable form of intra-city transportation... before jumping in our minivans to drive half a mile down the street. As this is my first Bike Week as a transportation cyclist in a city with a large enough cycling population to support Bike Week activities, I wanted to partake in a few of the events, even though I'm not really a very social person by nature or in practice. "Unfortunately," I've also been busy with writing stuff: I've really felt a lot of drive to work on my short stories lately, and haven't done any cycling outside of the minimum amount of nine miles per day. That's more than 99% of Americans, but less than 85% of bike bloggers. Mea culpa, except not really, because my short stories are very important to me.

My bike, after riding to work in the rain. Note the frame sticker.
My "festivities" this week have been pretty much confined to riding my bike like always, although I must admit knowing that there were going to be bike counts this week (and that I pass two of the checkpoints on my daily commute each way... four "counts" in all!) influenced my decision to ride to work Tuesday in a fairly heavy rain, although I've found that even when it's raining, I never really regret riding to work. I think I've maybe missed two commutes because of weather in the six months-plus I've been doing this, and both times I spent a good portion of the morning thinking "man, I really wish I would have rode in, I'm such a chumpette." And anyway, the rain was over by the time I got to work, as happens more often than not when I set out (the other possibility, of course, is that it gets way worse and I have to wring out my pants/skirt in the bathroom, which is annoying but still probably better than taking the train). I thought about going to the Ride of Silence but I didn't know about it until the last minute, and I had a writing group meeting. It's something I think is really important, though, and I'll definitely be doing it next year as it is apparently a yearly, nationwide event.

Tomorrow I attend my first Bike to Work Day, which I assume will be just like a normal non-capitalized bike to work day, except that I'll get free stuff. I'm hopeful that there will be a lot more riders on the road... but it will also make me sad, because I know that for many people, this is only a once-a-year thing. Then a week later is Baltimore's first Tweed Ride. Being a committed citizen of the 21st century, I don't have anything to wear for it, and I'm debating showing up in rags with dirt smeared on my face, as this was the style at the time among my coal-mining ancestors. (Who probably didn't even own bikes, and just walked everywhere until their feet fell off and then couldn't afford to buy new ones, which was also the style at the time.) But I could also just get a nice hat at one of the four thousand resale shops along the Avenue and duct tape it to my head. At least my bike is vintage!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Back in Action

Sorry once again for the lack of updates, my three or four regular readers. I'm still riding to work every single day, and still riding most other places too. Still as committed as ever. Just... not talking about it. I think that maybe it's because cycling has moved to being such a normal, everyday part of my life that I don't talk about it, any more than, say, a blog on eating food. Although, wait, those do exist. Damn hipsters.

BUT ANYWAY, I am pleased to report that my vintage Raleigh Sports is back in service! A few months ago, I came out of my last day of work at my former job to find that my rear wheel was flat. This is the wheel that is really hard to remove due to the internal hub, and I had a new job to get to, and the hybrid was sitting right there, looking pretty unsexy but oh-so-practical. And then even once I changed the tube, I couldn't get the rear wheel back on correctly. The Sports isn't practical for winter anyway, because it doesn't yet have lights (though I hope it will soon... hint, hint).

But now that it's light for my entire commute home, I knew I'd want to ride it every damn day. So I took it down to Baltimore Bicycle Works and gave it a full treatment: tune-up, cog change so it's easier to climb hills (was 17 teeth, now 20), and new brakes. Before, I had to partially use my feet to skid to a stop, like a fixie rider. Although it was even dumber because this bike weighs like 35 pounds and was hard to stop. It's working probably as well as it did when it first rolled off an English assembly line in 1973, and I actually think it's a better hill-climber than my hybrid now. The steel frame definitely makes it a smoother ride on Baltimore's interestingly-textured streets. Still not sure if I'm going to put a rack on it, since I have the hybrid for my epic weekly 50-pound grocery hauls. But it will be my daily commuter until it gets dark out again at least.

Here's the Sports at one of the stops on last Friday's Baltimore Bike Party (formerly Critical Mass) ride:

Holy crap, that's blue.

That's Northern Parkway in the background, and I feel I should report that I rode on it for a whole minute almost, and it was kind of a surreal experience. Certainly not anything I'd do without fifty other cyclists around me, but if they're there, then it can be fun, and a good preview of the kind of riding we'll all be doing post-peak oil. I've done four group rides now, and each time I come away feeling so much positive energy (to sound like a damn hippie) and hope for the future of transportation cycling. Although, the fact that our ride also has sweet tunes is all for the better:

In the dark he put on lights that made it look like a disco ball, and as a side benefit, made it easier to find the group if you fell behind. Which I did a lot, because I'm not used to cycling fifteen miles at a stretch. One thing that I love about the group rides I've done is that they're incredibly low-pressure. You don't need to be a racer to join and sometimes even I was able to get closer to the front. I do wish the Baltimore rides had more diversity (both age-wise and race-wise), but there were a lot of other lady riders. I'd guess maybe a third of the riders this time were women, and while I don't know how that compares to other group rides in other cities, nationwide the gender split for transportation cycling is like 80%/20% men/women. I feel like I've seen a higher percentage of women cyclists in Baltimore, although it could just be that I notice them more.

So to get back to the main point of this post, my vintage bike is working again, and I'm pretty excited about that. Now, off to ride!