winter panorama ebbp

My family moved out of Providence last summer and we landed a few miles down the East Bay Bike Path to a place where we can smell the ocean.  This changes my commute into the city from a 15 minute spin through an urban hardscape in jeans and flip flops to a 45 minute ride along the coastal edge of upper Narraganset Bay in chamois shorts and SPDs.

Although my commute takes longer on a bike, it is often more time efficient than driving;  which can turn from a 15 minute cruise up the highway to a 45 minute slog through gridlock depending on the time of day.  Even when the weather looks threatening, the relentless traffic factor makes my decision to ride in that much easier to make.  So far, a typical week has me riding 4 out of 5 days, and I couldn’t be happier.

The satisfaction of making my miles by bike is only part of it however.  When I look back on my day and I can say I saw egrets in the mud flats at low tide, and pushed through a morning fog into the sun, and saw that green Heron, or circling osprey there’s an extra bonus that I can’t put a value on.  I see, feel and smell the weather and seasons in a way I could never feel them behind the wheel.

I’ve been living the bicycle-as-transportation lifestyle for many years so it is easy to take certain things for granted.  Such factors as having a bicycle and appropriate gear ready to go at all times is a big one.  Knowledge I have acquired related to weather and how to dress is important also.  However, in making this recent change, I have reflected on the fundamental thing which makes it possible to choose a bicycle over other means to get from A to B is the realization that I have that option in the first place.  Whether your ride takes you through city streets or country roads, over hill or over dale, I hope you do to.

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"I did, but i don't"

Notable Quotes from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford:

“Riding a bicycle [in one of his City’s many bike lanes] “is like swimming with sharks” because, after all, “roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes” (March 7, 2007).

“My heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed. But it’s their own fault at the end of the day.” (On fatally injured cyclists, March 7, 2007)

“Bicyclists are a pain in the ass to the motorists” (May 25, 2009)

“I am a busy man”.  Regarding a question of a photo posted on the internet of him driving his Cadillac Escalade at 70 km/hr. while reading a “document” (Aug 14, 2012).

“It’s time to stop this war on cars.” (Sept. 10, 2010)

“I did not smoke crack” (Nov. 3, 2013)

“I did smoke crack” (Nov. 5, 2013)

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to get the latest on the renovations that have kept direct access from India Point to the East Bay Bike Path closed for the past year.  The tour was arranged as one of the many activities offered at this year’s 4th annual New England Bike-Walk Summit at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence.

The Washington Bridge over the Seekonk River

The Summit is hosted by the East Coast Greenway and attracts community planners and advocates for improved biking and walking conditions in our cities and towns.  For the event, Providence is showcased as an example of successes, failures, and to-be-determined activity that other places can relate to.  The Washington Bridge - or George Redmond Linear Park as it will be known - is the final piece of the Washington Bridge reconstruction that replaced the old arch bridge from the 1930’s with a modern steel beam highway bridge over the Seekonk River. 

future crossing

The linear park is an example of some creative collaboration between Local, State, and Federal agencies that will result in a significant improvement for cyclists and pedestrians who have endured limited access to this important crossing through the years.  Those who have used the old sidewalk next to the highway remember the narrow concrete channel with high speed cars and trucks just a chainlink fence away.

remember this?

It has been a long process, but today we saw the progress being made since the project began in 2007.  Essentially the original bridge was sliced along its length so that 20 feet of the original width remains on the downstream side.  The original arches and facade are being restored so that the view from the river remains from the original 1930 structure.  It is the historical significance of the original arched spans that justified preserving this section of the bridge and allowed for a separated bike and pedestrian crossing.

Geo.Washington was here

The project is expected to be completed sometime in the summer of 2014, and according to Bill Desantis of the primary design firm Vanasse Hangen and Brustlin (VHB), construction is running a month behind schedule.  In the meantime, non-motorized traffic will continue to be redirected to the Henderson Bridge which crosses the Seekonk about 1 mile to the north for a total detour of approximately 3 miles.

coming along

When it is completed this facility will not only be the best way for cyclists and pedestrians to cross the Seekonk River, but will link two important state bike routes, the Blackstone River and East Bay bike paths.  In addition, The East Coast Greenway uses this connection in its route from Maine to Florida.  This could prove to be a significant attraction to boost tourism, particularly bicycle tourism in the region prompting further improvements to the bike-ped infrastructure in Providence.

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We sure can talk about bicycling can’t we?  Lately it seems like you can’t swing a rusty chain around here without hitting someone talking about how the City could be doing so much more to make it safe for cycling; about how the State spends so much money on highways; and so little on bike lanes, about how great Portland, Oregon is.

In fact, here was a podcast that aired last week on Eco-RI News about the state of cycling in Providence.  You can listen to myself, Eric Weiss of East Coast Greenway, and James Kennedy of the local blog Transport Providence discussing how we could be more like Portland if we tried harder.

Tonight at the Athenaeum, WRNI hosts a discussion in their Policy and Pinot series titled Bicycles in Rhode Island.  There will be some local bicycle policy experts who will be discussing the status of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan and apparently an official from Mayor Tavares’ office announcing a revolutionary bike program inspired from the bike lane network in Bogota, Columbia.  At least they won’t be talking about Portland, Oregon.

In case all of this is too much talking and not enough doing, ask yourself what you might do to help push your City into the 21st century.  If your are currently waiting on the sidelines until the streets are safer, you might want to at least stick your toe in the water so you can be ready when Providence is criss-crossed with bike lanes Bogota-style.  Work on your fitness and skills, volunteer with the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, attend events like BikeFest and Bike to Work Day (May 17) so that you can stand with your fellow cyclists and be counted.

It took Portland, Oregon 30 years to get to the point where we are always talking about them.  Let’s give them something to talk about for a change.  

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While I was picking up some supplies on Friday to prepare for the big storm, I walked past a pile of shovels and decided I might need another one to dig out from what They were calling "Nemo the Thunder Blizzard".  We already had a cheap push-shovel at home;  but this one was more of a scoop which I figured would be good for the deep stuff.  I liked the short wooden handle and lack of bells and whistles, so I threw the Ames #12 Poly Scoop in the cart along with the batteries and wooden matches.

just like heaven

Deep stuff indeed.  When we woke up Saturday to 20” of new snow, I figured I’d let the wind die down before getting to it.  I was looking forward to putting the new tool to work but I was wondering how it would handle the urban terrain.  Would the “poly scoop"-to-wooden-shaft connection handle the weight of heavy snow?  Could I scrape the sidewalk clean without a metal blade?

Fortunately the temperature had dropped during the night and the snow had become a bit fluffier than the earlier flakes that had fallen; but the powerful wind had whipped up some heavy drifts that were up to four feet deep in places.  I had my work cut out for me  as I set out to clear 100 feet of sidewalk out front and another 150 feet to the back door.  I also planned to dig out the car and the driveway even though our family had no plans to go anywhere beyond walking distance for the next few days.

From the first scoop with the Ames #12, I was in heaven.  The poly blade cut right through the snow and formed a perfectly sized load to carry and dump.  The width of it cleared a reasonable path, and the plastic hand grip provided an intuitive control.  Getting down and dirty, that poly blade scraped the sidewalks clean and shaped a tunnel, I’d be proud to charge a toll to go through.

But the true test remained to be seen.  The city plows finally arrived by Sunday night leaving us three feet of the heavy stuff to bust through at the street.  With rain in the forecast and the temperature rising, there wasn’t much time to clear it out before that pile of snow at the end of the driveway became more like a cinderblock wall.  Would the Ames #12 be able to finish the job, or would I have to pull out a steel spade to git’er done?  

Once again I was impressed.  That darned plastic blade was able to break through the iced-over blobs with surprising ease, and throwing the load up onto the 5 foot snow bank  was doable and almost fun.

And there is the word that kept looping through my brain as I moved scoop after scoop with the Ames #12: fun.  A good tool will do that.  While this can be said of the "right tool for the job", there is nothing worse than using the wrong tool or one that is poorly designed for the task at hand.  I certainly would not be writing this glowing review of the Ames #12 if I had just come in from clearing a Walmart parking lot.  A truck with a plow would be more fun than old #12 for that.  However, given the scale of the job and the urban terrain, I don’t have enough insurance to try to clear my world with anything other than a shovel and my back.  

Necessity being the Mother of Invention, pain and suffering is how we learn and how we as a society innovate; but unfortunately, as our paved areas get larger and the places we go farther apart from one another, the old, more labor-intensive ways of doing things fall by the wayside.   Too often we conclude that improvements such as automobiles and snowthrowers are meant to replace manual tools like bicycles and good shovels rather than simply augment their use.  Even if such things are not meant to be a permanent solution, the byproduct of such advances in technology often means that as the market for shovels decreases, the production of well-designed shovels disappears as well.

Fortunately, the bicycle industry has thrived all of these years because of a recreational market.  The idea of bicycles as toys has allowed the idea of bicycles as a tool for transportation to exist in more than just theory.  Those of us that have had the desire to use our bikes for everyday trips such as going to work or for groceries have always found a good bike and made it happen with fenders racks and other accessories.  We have found the fun and satisfaction in using these suitable tools to do our daily tasks, and have shed the expense, hassle and (most importantly) the obligation of owning a car and using it every time we leave the house.

Companies such as Surly and Brompton are out in front of this trend.  While they do make bikes for play, they also make tools for transportation.   All of Brompton’s line and Surly’s Long Haul Trucker and Big Dummy are just such machines.  Getting the job done with tools like these get to the heart of fun with a purpose.  So next time you’re in the bike store getting ready for the next natural disaster throw one of these in the cart and give it a try.  You might find that surviving is more fun than you think.

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We begin to get the question in November when the days get shorter and the mercury has ventured below the frost belt once or twice.  “What tires are best in the winter?”


This is not an easy question in November because not all Rhode Island winters are created equally.  We have had recent winters with frigid temperatures for weeks in a row and 100 inches of snow between December and April.  Last year, by contrast was dry and sunny with consistent daytime temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s.

2 weeks later

By the same token, not all Rhode Island cyclists are created equally either.  Many of our customers are regular riders who use their bikes as transportation regardless of the weather and rely on the best equipment to keep them rolling along trouble-free.  We have just as many customers who only ride in the warm months and put their bikes away during the winter.  I usually look at the condition of their existing tires and make a recommendation based on the type of cyclist asking the question.

So my standard answer to that question in November is the same answer I offer in April.  “For urban riding, get the most puncture-resistant tires that your budget allows and keep them properly inflated.  In the case of snow and ice, the only tire that makes any meaningful difference are studded tires.”   More than ice and snow, a typical winter in Providence offers hazards that can cause flats such as extra debris and potholes.   Good tires with a puncture resistant belt under the tread can help resist small metal and glass bits that hold up in the salt and sand that builds up in the shoulder over the course of a winter and can work their way through to the inner tube inside your tire.  Keeping tires properly inflated, any time of year, can help prevent pinch flats  caused from hitting sharp edges such as potholes.

So here we are in the first week of January, and the cold tempertures have maintained the 8 inches of snow that fell 2 weeks ago to a respectable level.  The main routes around town were cleared by plows immediately after the storm and the sun has shrunk most of the snow and ice so that regular tires work fine so long as one is wary of the lurking hazards such as ice on less-travelled, shady roads and “black ice” from melting snowbanks and freezing temperatures. 
Nokian A10
I mounted Nokian A10 studded tires the day the storm hit and have been out on the roads every day since.  These are the most minimal volume (700X32) studded tires out there and have only 72 carbide studs along the outer treads.  I run them at maximum pressure when the roads are dry and drop the pressure if there is fresh snow to push through.  This allows the studs to provide traction in sloppy conditions and stay out of the way on dry roads when I’m just looking for some peace of mind while cornering. 

Although the heavy tread and lower pressure of studded winter tires makes any bike feel more sluggish, it beats being slammed to the pavement by an unexpected patch of glare ice, or walking instead of riding.  Like all good tires, the Nokian A10 is not cheap ($60 each), but considering this is my third winter on the same set and the snow hasn’t put me on the bus, I’d say it is money well spent.

Note from Legend Bicycle:
From Dec. 1, 2012 until March 1, 2013 purchase a set of tires at $35 each and above and you will receive new tubes and installation at no extra charge (a $22 value).

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