I just saw a Boston Globe article in which cycling advocacy groups are demanding that 18-wheel trucks be banned from the city after yet another cyclist fatality caused by a turning truck.

I think this is a great idea, but cycling safety shouldn’t be the only motivation. I have always been annoyed at how wasteful and ridiculous it is to have enormous diesel semis roaring through compact city streets to cover relatively short distances with small amounts of cargo. Starbucks uses 53′ trailers to deliver coffee and cups to their stores, for example. Really, you couldn’t do that with a lightweight van?

I’m sure that with all the construction in town, an absolute ban is not feasible, but there’s no reason we couldn’t head the direction of more progressive cities like Oslo and Paris by requiring that delivery vehicles get smaller, lighter, and more electric.

October 17, 2016 October 17, 2016 cycling by Scott 2 Comments

pedal-wood-03-pair File this one under “first-world problems.” Since putting together my belt-drive city bike last fall, I have been looking for a better way to ride (occasionally) with nice leather-soled shoes. Every metal- and plastic-surfaced pedal I tried rubbed unevenly against the shoe, destructively dug into the leather sole with sharp points, or both.

The solution seemed to come in the form of the Moto Urban Pedal, which has an unusually large flat friction surface as well as a distinctive plywood body. Unfortunately, the friction is provided by “strong grip tape.” While their advertised claim is true–that the skateboard-style grip tape provides slip-free contact even with wet leather soles–the manufacturer doesn’t mention that grip tape also destroys leather by grinding it down. As I found out, grip tape is just coarse sandpaper with an adhesive backing. That solution is perfect for the skateboard-industrial complex because it ensures a steady cycle of demand for new skateboarding shoes, but it is unsuitable for my needs.

So I began my Edison-style experiment with every kind of friction material I could get my hands on. I tried several different models of 3M Gripping Material, the amazing stuff that simulates gecko feet, but it quickly became clogged with debris. I tried a textured self-adhesive neoprene product designed for guns (?!), but it lacked the durability and adhesive strength I needed.

Finally, Feldmeier suggested that the best friction material for shoes might be another shoe. From an online cobbler supplier, I obtained two sheets of soling material: a 2 mm SoleTech soling sheet for dress shoes and a 4 mm sheet of Vibram 7175 boot rubber. The Vibram material is amazing but way too thick and heavy for this application, so I put it aside. The SoleTech (check-textured SBR rubber) is perfect.

I made a template of laser-cut acrylic so I could cut perfect pedal-shaped pieces from the sheet with a knife.

2014-09-14 11.19.01

Rubber contact cement provides a perfect (although possibly too permanent) bond to the plastic pieces that form the plain bearings in the Moto pedals. It also smells awesome.

2014-09-14 11.41.37

The new pedal surfaces are working great so far, wet and dry. And they don’t destroy leather. We’ll see how they hold up in the long term.

2014-09-15 09.13.14

September 18, 2014 September 18, 2014 cycling by Scott No Comments

Mt. Washington HillclimbMt. Washington victory pose Race day was Saturday August 21.

Weather: 70 and sunny at the bottom; 46, clear, and uncharacteristically calm at the peak. There was a nice 5 MPH breeze above treeline. Visibility: 75 miles.

Total climb: 4,727 feet over 7.6 miles
Average grade: 12%

Race result: 1:23:46
Finishing: 182/526


August 24, 2010 August 24, 2010 cycling by Scott 4 Comments

Hill climb gearing

July 18 was my one opportunity to attempt Mt. Washington by bicycle before race day. I had a couple of goals in mind: finding a reasonable pace and testing my hill-climb setup.

It’s worth pointing out that the ride is much too steep and long for conventional road bike gearing to make sense—an efficient cadence would not be possible. It seems like everyone has an opinion about what makes a perfect setup. Some people run with a road triple crankset up front, or maybe a compact crank. Some people install a mountain cassette on the rear wheel, which usually requires a long-cage mountain derailleur to go with it. Since I have only one road bike, and re-tuning derailleurs is not my idea of a great time, I came up with a different configuration: a mountain crankset, holding only a 22T chainring on the front, and a conventional 12–25T road cassette (and standard derailleur) on the back. With this setup, I can achieve better than a 1:1 gear ratio. And the only parts I have to swap out are the cranks, bottom bracket, and chain! (Shame on Shimano for making road and mountain bottom brackets very slightly different.) One unfortunate consequence of having the bike configured for hill-climbing is that my top speed on level ground becomes about 8 MPH, which can be embarassing if you’re actually trying to get somewhere.

We stayed at a friend’s cabin in Tamworth, then drove up at the crack of dawn. There aren’t many opportunities to catch me awake and alert at 5:30 AM, but this was one, as the road would close to bikes after 7:00. Bad news greeted us upon our arrival, though: in spite of the stunning sunrise and picture-perfect weather on the ground, the course was closed due to high winds. Above treeline there was a steady 55 MPH breeze gusting to 70. Apparently they will run the race in winds up to 45 MPH, but beyond that apparently people have difficulty staying upright. After much moaning and groaning and re-checking of wind speeds, it was determined that we would be allowed to ride only the first two miles of the auto road. So up we went. It was the hardest two miles I’ve ever biked! At least there was a bonus: we were permitted the unusual opportunity to ride our bikes back down. Wheeee!

After all the bikes had cleared the course, the auto road opened to cars. We paid the toll and drove to the top so I could study the route. Check out the day’s pictures here. As you can see, the weather above treeline is just as intimidating as the slope of the road!

August 11, 2010 August 11, 2010 cycling by Scott 6 Comments

One of my “resolutions” for 2010 was to join a cycling team and start racing. I have fallen a little short on that task: although I trained all winter and even took a bike racing class, my summer schedule filled up so quickly that joining a team started to seem like a waste of money. But months ago, when snow was still falling and everything seemed possible, I seized upon a moment of mid-winter hubris and signed myself up for one epic race: The Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb.

For some background, let’s turn to a description of the course from a September 2004 article in Outside magazine:

The Rockpile, as Mount Washington is unromantically nicknamed, towers 6,288 feet above sea level. We’ll be climbing the uppermost 4,727 feet, over a mere 7.6 miles. (For perspective, one of the toughest races in the Rockies, the Mount Evans hill climb, near Denver, rises 7,000 feet over 28 miles.) With an average grade of 12 percent and sustained stretches of 18 percent (highway grades rarely exceed 7 percent), Mount Washington is steeper than L’Alpe d’Huez or any other climb in the Tour de France, Spain’s Vuelta, or the Giro d’Italia. Mile for mile, it is arguably the toughest one-day bike race on the planet.

There are a whopping 72 turns on the Auto Road course, and the longest straightaway is only a few hundred yards—on dirt. Most hill climbs ease off at the top, allowing riders to drop into a more muscular gear and enjoy a burst of acceleration. Not on Washington. In the final 100 yards—a section alternately called the Corkscrew, the Ladder, and the Wall—the grade steepens to a horrifying 22 percent.

So there it is. Why did I sign myself up for this again? It’s true that I enjoy riding on hills. And I do score reasonably well on that golden metric of hillclimbers, watts per kilogram of body weight. But this is starting to sound a little intimidating. There’s no coasting: if you stop pedaling on this hill, you’ll fall off the bike. And at a “race pace” of 5–6 MPH, drafting isn’t much use either. Will I even be able to eat or drink? Will my custom hillclimb gearing provide the right ratios for efficient riding?

The Mt. Washington Auto Road is not normally open to bicycles, but to help answer some of these questions, the organizers allow for one unsupported practice ride a month before the race. And with the actual race coming up on August 21, that practice ride is happening this Sunday. More to come!

July 16, 2010 July 16, 2010 cycling by Scott No Comments

Wells Ave 2010-05-02

As I have mentioned, I’m trying a new sport for 2010: bike racing. For this reason, I enthusiastically took to April’s NEBC Spring Racing Clinic, even when that meant renting cars every Saturday and driving all the way to Fort Devens. While the pace of the class was a little uneven, it was completely worthwhile. Two drills took me most outside my comfort zone: the water bottle pick-up drill and high-speed cornering.

“Graduation” was participation in the Wells Ave Training Criterium on May 2. A criterium is a short race involving many laps around closed-off streets. This format is ideal for spectators! For us beginners, the total distance is only 12 miles (15 laps), and it goes by fast! My bike computer recorded an average speed of 23.6 mph. The classes prepared me well, but I also followed the last-minute advice of an experienced bystander: stay to the front and the outside to avoid crashes. Good advice, I think, because there were two pretty bad wrecks. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to look at them, but there is too just much going on when you’re nearly rubbing handlebars and wheels with a dozen other people.

Wells Ave 2010-05-02 I was getting excited about being near the front, since by the penultimate lap I had worked myself up to 3rd or 4th place. But suddenly, the guys who I had been following dropped back, and I found myself leading the last lap—with the wind in my face and legs starting to tire, not a great situation to be in! After a surprise last-minute encounter with a car on the course, the finish line came into view, and suddenly 5 or 6 guys slingshotted around me. I started my sprint. It was too late to catch the guys who passed me, but I manage to get my speed up to 36 mph, fast enough to keep the rest of the pack from passing. This left me somewhere in the top 10 (out of 39), close enough to feel like a success but not high enough to appear in the race results.

As we were finished, an ambulance showed up to attend to the two crashes. One was caused by overlapped wheels, and another guy had been stuck on the inside of a corner was trapped too close to the curb. A little scary!
circa 1992

Before riding home with another Rapha-clad blogger-friend named Scott, we stayed to watch the first half of the B race. The speeds are a little higher, but most importantly, they looked so much more orderly! I have much to learn. So I’m motivated to find a team. And to keep training for my big race in August, which I will write more about in a separate post.

Also: it is confirmed that the Igleheart road bike I got last year rocks!

I recently found this picture of me at age 12. It’s funny that it took me so
many years to discover this sport, since apparently I’ve always had some enthusiasm for it.

May 23, 2010 May 23, 2010 cycling by Scott No Comments

Cycling license

Meet your newest category 5 racer. Next task: finding a team.

January 25, 2010 January 25, 2010 cycling by Scott 4 Comments