Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review: Motobecane Boris

Oregon probably isn't traditional fatbike territory, at least not the Portland area where we have neither snow nor sand. But tradition gives way to necessity when building a stable. After all, Catniss didn't traditionally have exploding arrows, but they sure came in handy once she had them! Likewise, with a fatbike in one's stable, every ride becomes an opportunity to use it.

I picked up the Motobecane Boris during one of BikesDirect's sales, which is to say their everyday price. As is the trend with BikesDirect, they stick a single mid-range component on the bike (in this case the SRAM X9 rear derailleur), and then compare it pricewise to bikes that have the full X9 gruppo (compare to bikes costing $2400!). But once you understand that ruse, and accept it as merely a charming fib rather than maliciously deceptive, the $800 price of the Boris is very reasonable. To my eyes, the components appear nearly identical to the KHS 4 Season 3000 which retails for $1800. The frame, too, is a dead ringer. Perhaps we have a third-shift special? Seriously, these bikes are virtually twins.

My Boris arrived in fine shape. UPS is no match for a bike protected with 4 inch tires.

I've put together enough partially assembled bikes that it took only about 10 minutes to have a mostly functional ride. I'll admit to always being frustrated by handlebars. Either the bikesdirect builders employ the world's weirdest cable routing, or they twist the handlebars oddly when attaching them to the tubes for shipping. The end result is this:

The routing works fine, but is awkward. Cables that should go around the headtube go instead behind it. Weird, but serviceable. I'll re-route when I get some free time. The end result looks like a fat-bike:

The first thing I noticed.. This thing is heavy. Bikesdirect glosses over this fact:

How much does a fat bike weigh? These bikes are big and Big FUN. Big weighs more. Most average fat bikes weigh between about 30 and 40 pounds. How much do these fat bikes weigh? Compare specs, aluminum fat bikes with similar parts will weigh the about the same.

37.25 pounds is between 30 and 40 pounds, but realistically a quality fatbike will weigh between 25 and 30 pounds. 37.25 is a substantial premium. The > 8 pound front wheel is part of the problem.

The components are fine, but budget. The Avid BB7 discs are no match for a modern hydraulic brake. Locking the wheels with light pressure from a single finger is not an option, and modulation is coarse at best. The Front Derailleur (Sram X7) and crankset (Sram X5) suit the bike.

The Ride

If Max' Cannondale is the Mclaren above, then the Boris is my F-350. After breaking my Trek's (brand new) rear derailleur on a log, I took the Boris out for the same 6 mile cross-country loop that I usually ride on the Trek.

At the trailhead I had my first surprise; we tend to steer a bike by instinct.. Just lean and nudge the bars and the bike turns. Turning the Boris, at first at least, is a much more intentional action. Rather than counter-steering, I found myself steering in the direction I wanted to turn. I've never driven a cruise-ship, but I imagine it feels something like the Motobecane Boris. Over the course of my ride I got used to the bike's handling and steering became more natural.

Climbing was also an interesting experience. At 37 pounds the Boris outweighs my Trek by... a lot. 10 pounds maybe? On the other hand, without the rear suspension you lose a lot less energy to useless up-and-down movement. Again the first few hundred yards took getting used to, as with the low tire pressure (about 7 psi) the bike bobbed in time with my pedaling. But again I quickly learned to work around that, and climbing on the Boris seemed about as quick as my Trek. With the tires at urban riding pressures (20psi or so) it would probably climb better than a full suspension rig.

Descending highlighted the Boris' biggest component shortcoming (though admittedly not for the target market). While the quick release seat is handy, it is no match for the dropper seatpost that I've become spoiled by. In rolling terrain with the seat high enough for comfortable pedaling, descending was a treacherous experience, with every feature threatening to chuck me over the bars. When I did finally stop to drop the seat, descending was actually a blast. With a bit more practice, I suspect it will be every bit as fast downhill as is my Trek (at least under my inexperienced guidance). I'm not sure if I'll put on a dropper post, but if I do the 31.6mm seat-tube should allow a generous 6-inch drop.

The real pleasure was climbing on low-traction terrain. A couple notable climbs where I tend to slip out on my Trek, even with mud-tires, were easily conquered with the Boris' 4-inch low-pressure tires. I haven't tried snow yet, but with the right tires it should be a great snow bike.

What Next

We here at the Huffman Bicycle Club are seldom happy unless we're tweaking our rides. But with the Boris I'm not so sure. It's a cheap bike, and if I spend money on upgrades it'll be a cheap bike with a few expensive bits and pieces. For now, while I'm considering upgrading the tires (the stock Vee Mission tires are much derided by those in the know), I'll probably hold off on more expensive upgrades like rims and components.

It's not hard to spend 4 figures trying to shave a pound or two off a road bike. Were I to try, I have no doubt the same money could take 8 pounds off the Boris. But if I decide that I like fat-biking, I would probably come out well ahead by selling the Boris on Craigslist, and picking up a better brand with better components. You know, like the Salsa Beargrease, which allegedly comes in at about 24 pounds... Yowza.

I'm planning a couple trips to snow country, and will try to bring the Boris with to give its intended usage model a try.


For $800 the Boris is a buy. It's cheap and, while a hardtail is just a full suspension ride that bounces less, a fat-bike is a genuinely different experience. I anticipate the Boris getting weekly use in the future.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Badass or Herbivore?

I've blogged recently about what a hard guy I am riding in winter weather.  At the same time, my bike is taking a beating.  Returning to the Indy airport after 10 days away, bike locked up under a roof but in the open air, I was shocked -- appalled! -- at the grinding, squeaking, and shrieking from the drive-train.  It turns out 10 days well below freezing wreaks havoc on Shimano 105.

Working some long hours, so I haven't made it to the bike shop during open hours.  Water on the chain alleviates the symptoms for long enough to get home, but needless to say, that is not a long-sighted strategy.

Time to ride home after a long day.  What to do?  In the under-desk fridge I found . . . Newman's Own Balsamic Vinagrette.

Fortunately about Newman's Own:
1.  No weird ingredients. Oil, vinegar, and spices.
2.  Oil rises to the top.
3.  Less expensive than real chain lube!

The chain hummed like a country ballad all the way home.  And it smells phenomenal!

So, vote:  badass or herbivore?  (Poll on the right.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reviewed: Proviz Reflect 360 Jacket

I think we can all agree that the ideal jacket for night-riding would be about this bright:

But the dose of radiation required is a little more commitment than most of us have. After reading a few (quite a few...) very positive reviews of the ProViz Reflect 360 jacket, I decided maybe it's a close second. Amazon's selling them for a tad over $100, so I figured it was worth trying out.

Reflective enough?
Whereas most jackets use a few stripes of reflective material on a Gore-Tex base, ProViz doesn't bother with the Gore-Tex. They just do the reflective stuff. I imagine their R&D department skipped right over light reflection, straight to ludicrous reflection:

It's really hard to explain how remarkable this is. In broad daylight in my house with the jacket hung over a chair it still shimmered as it caught the occasional angle of light.

I've got a couple other biking jackets; an old Performance Gore-Tex jacket, and a recent Showers Pass of some type; one of their expensive ones, though we're talking about Showers Pass, so that hardly narrows it down. So of course a reflect-off was in order.

I lined all three up and put on a headlamp. Granted it's not exactly a car headlight, but it's nearly as bright, and I think it's close enough for this admittedly unscientific test. I jiggered with the camera settings until the picture matched approximately what I saw with the naked eye.

Direct light; Proviz Reflect360, Performance, Showers Pass
Here I was standing about 20 feet away with my headlamp pointed directly at the jackets. The Proviz is a solid mass of whiteness. The Performance jacket does reasonably well due to its yellow color. The Showers Pass jacket is visible only thanks to its reflective stripe. Again, this reflects (haha) pretty much what I saw.

Same vantage point, but with my headlamp pointing toward the ground in front of the jackets. Here the Performance jacket is nearly invisible. You can make out a faint glimmer of the Showers Pass jacket's reflective stripe. But the Reflect360 is still very reflective.

Having shown the futility of comparing the Reflect360 with my other jackets, for this test I walked about 100 feet away. The picture above is with direct light on the jacket

And this is with the light pointed way off to the left. The Reflect360 jacket is still very visible.

I had very little doubt that this jacket is less waterproof than a Gore-Tex jacket. But to be honest, wearing Gore-Tex on a wet Pacific Northwest day I still get soaked. So I'm not sure that's a big problem. The material feels a tiny bit stiff, but the jacket is brand new. I'm sure that it will soften as it breaks in. It's got sealed zippers, three exterior pockets (two chest pockets, and the usual back pocket), and an interior velcro pocket. Most cycling jackets give you only one or two pockets. I was pleased to have plenty of places to stash my keys, wallet, and cell phone.

The fit is "normal US" fit, as opposed to the euro-fit that most bike apparel companies adhere to. So an XL is a little big on me, but with a couple layers underneath it's about perfect.

I gave the jacket a trial run, with a 2-hour mountain bike ride in a downpour. It was sufficiently wet that my Gore-Tex gloves ended with the fingers full of water. And sure enough, the Reflect360 got soaked as well. My riding companion commented that the wet jacket was less reflective than when it was dry, but even at the end of the ride it was still reflecting significant light.

Granted I've had it for only a week; who knows if this jacket will have the longevity of a Showers Pass. But it needn't last very long to warrant the purchase.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Collection of Rides

There's a poster that used to adorn 1/3 walls in the Cornell dorms, which must be ubiquitous across rich-kid colleges.

Could you be more obnoxious?

Apart from the obvious falsity -- what about education makes such an ostentatious display of wealth either possible or desirable? -- the poster is proof of every American male's desire to possess a diverse and beautiful array of rides.

There's a limit to what we can acquire when it is cars. I had to dump the WRX to buy a cheapo German toy last December.  Even if I could afford to keep both, I could not afford the necessary storage.

What presents the best alternative?

What to Collect?

Part of the collection!

Even a penny-pinching academic like myself can find a way to locate a bike for each car in the higher education poster.  Even with our modest 1500' sq. we can store them all.  Even with a third-rate training ethic I can ride them -- and regularly.

Here's my list.  You probably have your own.

The Audi S4

I'm a big fan of Audi's everyman's sports car, a wicked fast jobbie that still has four doors and room for groceries, luggage, or the dog.  This is what you drive if you want to get somewhere fast -- but you want to look sort of normal doing it.

Family sedan?  That's my kind of family.
The bicycle analog?  You need carbon, to be sure; probably electronic shifting; I'd say deep-dish wheels and maybe a bling paint job.  How's this?

The Focus.  Pretty, no.  Fast and fun, yes.


For a Saturday afternoon cruise on a sea-side highway, it is difficult to imagine something you'd rather have available than this car.

XKE Roadster.
Not the fastest car on the highway.  Doesn't handle the best.  Nonetheless a marvelous vehicle to drive.

Enter my analog:  the Gunnar Roadie.

Gunnar Roadie.  The choice for a Saturday afternoon ride.
I once had my ears assaulted by a supposedly knowledgeable sort who explained that steel bikes must suck because even Walmart sold aluminum and carbon bikes.  The alternative view, of course, is that one of those represents a Honda Civic and the nice steel number an XKE.  I'll take the Jaguar.


No matter how much I prefer the driving experience with a low slung compact car, sometimes one just needs bigger tires, better ground clearance, and the ability to carry a load.

Wikipedia for "SUV."
Nice for traveling and, we all tell ourselves when buying it, filling up with a load and hitting the road.


Ritchey Breakaway at the literal end of the road.
The Ritchey Breakaway goes places and has the capacity to wear racks and panniers.  I hope for at least one self-supported multi-day ride next summer.  This will be the bike of choice.

The ZR-1

We all want 500 hp and a 200 mph top speed.  But not all of us can afford the latest version.

1990s ZR-1.
Corvette's 1990s offerings get pretty close.  And they present a fine analogy to a cheap-skate's tri bike.

Not a Ferrari, but with the right driver it may still come out ahead.
For those dozen or so times a year when you want to ride fast and don't care how much you actually enjoy it, the Cervelo P2 serves as well as any other.

The 128i

I decided last year that as little as I drive a car, I may as well enjoy it when I do, so I bought this little number at an end-of-the-model clearance sale.

As economical as Germany gets.
It's pretty without being lovely; high-performing without being exceptional; fun without being unwise.  Even, dare I say, practical -- if the kind of use I envision is a trip to Costco and the occasional bike-in-the-trunk en route to a race.  A fine car for everyday use.

The daily driver.
The Neuvation is my cycling "daily driver."  It's perfect for sprints out of stoplights and fun for an afternoon on a quiet road or trail.  At the price-point, no need to stress about leaving it parked while I'm out of town.  But I always look forward to riding it when I get back.

The Golf Cart

This powered four-wheel vehicle is great for getting around town.  Not designed for going very far, but admit it -- it would be an adventure if you tried.

Yes, if you have to ask, I do want one.
A good fixie or single speed is about the right alternative.  This one is still to be built.

Gitane. Even sounds like "golf cart."
Maybe I'll include a shelf for clubs.

The Unimog

One day the zombies will, indeed, attack.  We know it is coming.  And when it does we need to get out of town.  Enter the Unimog:

Want . . .  Need!
Bussing it home from the airport after a snow-storm, bike racked on the front of the bus, I realized Sam was right, and I needed one of these.

One -- kind of like this -- coming in the mail.
I'll use winter riding to get used to it, knowing full well it will become essential when the apocalypse descends.  Almost looking forward to it.


I once thought of myself as a car guy, but the most profligate I ever got meant two cars titled in my name at one time.  I'm now down to one and it spends most of its time sitting in a parking lot in Indianapolis.  Having shown such restraint, one understands why I might feel privileged, even obligated, to keep a good collection of bicycles instead. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marathon Plus

Pretty awesome new shoes from Schwalbe.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus in 25 mm.

A few notes:

1.  Hard to mount, although they are the first wire-bead tires I've mounted in -- literally -- years if not a decade, so maybe this is par for the course and I had forgotten.  I had to fight to seat both beads in one place, wrap that with a Velcro strap, and move around the wheel adding straps until enough was seated that the beads would not pop out unexpectedly.

2.  They look awesome.

3.  They do next to nothing on packed, grooved, ice.

4.  There is something just a tad off about 25 mm. semi-all-terrain tires.  28s are a tight squeeze on this bike in the best of circumstances and I was concerned that 28s with tread would not fit.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rule # 9

Sam tells me (comment here) my commute of 1.25 miles (more like 1.7 the route I take) is too simple to be impressive -- and, in truth, I agree.  Even riding to work this morning at 23 degrees wasn't a terrible chore; after breaking the fast at Starbucks and exchanging a few respectful nods with the handful of other bikers out it was more cool than difficult.

During the day the weather stayed chilly, the wind picked up, and the snow started to fall.  I badly wanted to cycle back to the condo and drive the car to the airport.  But mindful of Rule # 9 -- "If you are out riding in bad weather, you are a badass.  Period." -- I suited up for cold weather and headed into the west wind for the 15 miles from work to the airport.  Garmin reports 27 degrees, snow, and 11 mph wind.  It was chilly, challenging, and lovely.

The airport commute heads west through campus and across the White River, where it picks up Washington Street for two miles heading west and Holt Road for another mile and a half going south.  Washington to Holt is the one unpleasant part of the ride, both four-lane roads through working class and industrial neighborhoods.  After crossing the interstate the route joins Minnesota Street, a smallish and lower-traffic road heading further west.  A few quick turns to North Perimeter Road for four miles around the airport grounds.  North Perimeter is where the ride gets fun.  The wind picks up with no buildings or trees to block it and the road is a wide four-lane with good pavement and devoid of cars. 

I locked the bike in my spot in the airport garage next to the valet shack and stripped down to civilian clothes for the flight.  It turns out that the full-body scanners light up like a Christmas tree if you are wet, which after sweating in winter garb was more than a tad amusing.

Today makes time two starting the commute home by riding to the airport.  This past Monday on the return I enjoyed 40 degrees and sun for a pleasant ride back to work.  I'm more than a tad concerned about what I will find when I get back to the bike this coming Monday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Poor Man's 1x Drivetrain And Other Mods

Recovering from my latest mountain bike injury left me with a weekend to kill and one good elbow, so I finally tackled a few projects that have been left decaying in a pile in the garage. The subject of this post will be changes made to the steed over whose bars I launched unceremoniously.

The 1x Drivetrain

One needn't read the MTB blogs much to see that the SRAM 1x11 drivetrain has gained considerable mindshare over the last couple years. The recent target of my fascination, the Kona Process 111 is a fine example:

There are several advantages to a single front chainring. A front-shift is far more violent and error-prone than a rear shift. I've broken a few chains by slamming the front and rear both into the granny, only to have the front ring get held up right as I'm approaching maximum torque. And no matter how well tuned your FD, you're sure to drop the chain on the inside once in a while. Other advantages include less gee-gaws on the bars, and significantly less weight. Indirectly related, a 1x setup is often accompanied by a clutched RD, which substantially decrease the risk of chain-slap and chain-wrap. Yee haw.

Of course the downside is also obvious: fewer gears. There are plenty of websites that cover the math, but with my Trek the stock gearing gives me a gain ratio of 42/11 (3.8) down to 24/36 (0.7). Replace the front triple with a single ring and, depending on the chosen chainring (I'm using a 30T) and that gain drops down to 2.7 to 0.8.

Now honestly I'm not doing a lot of longer trail rides on my Trek, so losing the high gears isn't a huge problem. But I am fat and slow, so I hate to lose the granny. So I'm also throwing on a 42T granny gear, which gives me back a 0.7 easy gear.

The Front Ring

I went 1x10 on a cross bike a couple years ago, but made the mistake of throwing a regular double chainring on. Imagine my surprise when, on the shakedown ride, the chain kept derailing. Turns out those are designed to derail.

SRAM's 1x rings are based on their X-Sync technology, which is designed not to derail. I bought a Chromag Sequence 30T ring.

Which will be replacing the old rings

The Rear Cog

I've been fascinated with apple "go-fast" green ever since I got my Volkl P40 F1s (with Energy Rail!). Just like the Volkl P9 single-handedly made chartreuse cool, the P40 has done the same with apple green.

So when I read this review (and this, and this) of the Oneup 42T cog, the fetching green was simply too much to bear. Not to mention going from a 36T granny cog to a 42T. So it ended up on my "to install" pile.

Adding a new granny means dropping the 17T cog. And since my bike came with a pie-plate, removing both meant the weight gain from the new ring was only 31 grams.

The Rear Derailleur

With the single chainring I may as well upgrade the rear derailleur. The newer generation of derailleurs have a clutch mechanism. This lets them swing backward easily, but not so easily forward. Thus nearly eliminating chain-slap. The price you pay is a tougher rear-shift, but this strikes me as a good bargain.

As usual Merlin comes through with a $60 clutched rear derailleur. With a single chainring, I went a little crazy, opting for the medium-cage.

XT Shadow M780 on the left, XT Shadow+ M786 on the right

Bash Guard

May as well add a bash guard, so I picked up a Hope 32-34T from Merlin.


Installing the bits went about as easy as such things always do. For some bizarre reason Trek opted to use Torx bolts instead of hex. WTF? Thankfully my recent torque wrench purchases included the necessary driver.
WTF Trek? Torx?
Dropping the three chainrings for one saves about 130 grams. Not that I'm counting.

I was able to install the new RD without using a new cable. Also salvaged the chain. Thank goodness. I left the front derailleur and shifter on for now, in case I decide to switch back to a double- or triple-chainring. After a few weeks, I'll take that off too.

Hope Bashguard and Chromag Sequence 30T. With a FD just cause.

42-teeth of apple green.

Shorter Bars

On one of the local trails I'm always threading through some narrow trees. So I decided to chop an inch off of each side of the bars. I used the Park steerer tube cutting guide and a hacksaw.

To be honest, with the benefit of hindsight, taking two inches off was too much. I should have started with maybe a half inch. Oh well. Go big or go home, right? Of course I was already home, so maybe I shouldn't have gone so big.

New Grips

When I bought my Trek it was already used, and the grips were pretty torn up. Oddly they haven't gotten any better over the last couple years.

So I bought a couple sets of ODI Rogue Lock-On grips, one for the Trek and one for the Lynskey. Only after the fact did I find that they're also available in green.

Oh well. Even in boring black they're still a big improvement over the old grips.
New Grips, Shorter Bars

The Verdict

Despite still nursing an elbow that won't quite straighten, I took my newly renovated bike out for a short ride yesterday evening.

The verdict? I'm very pleased with the shifting. I've got virtually the same granny that I had previously, and while I'm missing quite a few gears at the top end, the only reason I ever really needed the big ring previously was to combat chain slap. And the new rear derailleur takes care of that nicely.

The action is admittedly a bit stiffer when shifting up, due to the stiffer spring on the derailleur. Were I riding my mountain bike on a 300K brevet, I might choose to release the clutch. But for a typical 10-mile MTB ride, it really wasn't a big deal.

Dragging the chain onto the 42T rear cog was a delightful non-event. Now granted I've got the b-screw pretty much slammed, but that's what the b-screw is for after all. The shift across the missing 17T cog was slightly more eventful, with perhaps the occasional miss, but it was never a real problem.

And my goodness, the chain stuck on the front chainring like glue. SRAM really figured it out with their narrow-wide tech. This weekend I'll take off the now unnecessary front derailleur and shifter to finish the package. I see no reason to put the triple rings back on.

The new grips were fine. I really didn't even notice them, which I suppose is a good thing.

Now, the only real issue was my ill-advised decision to chop a couple inches off the bars. The bike was quite rideable, mind you, and I certainly never clipped the end on a tree. But I did miss the extra bit of leverage.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sad Sign

Saw it coming a mile away, though.

Used to be a nice little bike shop.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bicycle Commuting

My trip from home to work in Indianapolis is a full 1.25 miles and I have walked it daily -- sometimes twice a day -- for 6 1/2 years now.

The commute.
It's been a frustration because while I like the walk, I would really enjoy commuting by bicycle.  Goodness knows I have plenty of bicycles that would work well for the purpose.

The Gunnar.  The first and favorite.
The Neuvation.  Vanity project.
No longer built, but, well, it is still around.
In a box ready for the next trip.
Ready for triathlon season 2015.
New, fast, and fun.

One approach would be to add extraneous miles just to make the ride worth-while.  Another would be to consider the shift to cycling to be more general:  cycling to dinners out with friends, cycling to dr. appointments, even cycling to and from the airport.

Last week I took the plunge.

The setup

I'm riding the Neuvation, which has been sitting around, occasionally on the trainer but mostly leaning against the wall, since I built it.

Neuvation F100, finally in daily service.

I swapped the wheels for my old Ultegra 600 hoops, the pedals for eggbeater semi-platform (Candy Cs) pedals, and added a PBW taillight, a Serfas 500L headlamp, and a seat-stay pump for faster inflation.  The bike looks sweet in shiny black and it rides smooth -- although it is not the snappy performer that the new Focus is.

Over the years I've acquired a good collection of commuting gear.  I've become Showers Pass's dumping ground for clearance outerwear and in the cool fall weather I've been wearing a nice soft-shell with reflective accents on the fold-out tail flap.  When it gets cold I have pants to match. 

And I took the plunge on new shoes -- Giro has a great line of cycling shoes that look not unlike casual wear, including these "Republic Touring Shoes."
Sweet.  Almost hip.
Good for cafe use.  I picked up a cable lock -- good enough for temporary use while getting something to eat but nowhere near enough for overnight use.  Finally, a shoulder bag:  I'm almost ashamed to cop to this one, but it is visible, and I got it on clearance at Rapha.  So here's the collection.


A few rides

Coffee and wrap at Starbucks.
I started with a ride to and from work.  Not, I must say, particularly exciting.  But there's a caveat:  riding in a city is sort of like running on a trail or skiing in a terrain park.  It's an all-senses and all-body experience, what with reacting to real or perceived threats, navigating poor pavement, and spinning up from a start at every stoplight.  And because I was replacing a 25' walk, I could add a few miles, heading south to the edge of town, west across the river, and into work across the campus. I could also stop for coffee and an egg-white wrap.

Riding to Butler U.

My former colleague P__ invited me to a soccer game at Butler, where he now teaches.  I left the condo at 7 pm and rode north on small roads through town, enjoying a rare night-ride when I wasn't already 200+ miles into the day.  It turns out that while the major arteries through town are vaguely unpleasant, the smaller neighborhood roads are downright fun.  It would be annoying if you were trying to get somewhere -- nobody likes cross-streets on a brevet -- but for a 5 mile trip north the jaunt through town was a nice diversion.  Butler tied league rival Depaul, we went out for a beer, and I headed home around 11 pm, confident in the PBW taillight and increasingly so in the Serfas headlamp.

Riding to Carmel, IN.

The dean held a faculty social on Sunday.  He lives in Carmel, 12 miles north up the Monon Trail before heading west for a few miles.  With the cooler weather, I could even dress in khakis and a sweater without concern for unpleasant sweating.  Or at least not that anybody was gauche enough to point out.

One day I decided to explore the extension of the White River bike trail south from town to its end at Harding and Raymond streets.
White River Trail (from

 I had the trail to myself.  It wasn't all perfection; on one stretch you get a strong stench of malts from a nearby brewery.  On a short stretch you are aware that you are about to cross some waste-water effluence -- and a well-timed bunny hop is essential.  But the good outweighed the industrial.  Here was the view through the trees, east toward the river with the sun still low in the morning sky.

Not a good bike commuting route.
After getting in trouble with Eli Lilly security for riding through a Lilly employee park, I turned up Harding Street back toward town -- just a tad too early.  South of Highway 70, Harding Street looks like this:

Note in addition to the three lands of traffic the double-exit lanes and lack of a shoulder.  Remarkably, nobody honked, nobody tailgated, and nobody passed in ostentatious frustration.  A yellow bus of kids comprised the only aggression, and that was aggressive waving. 

After crossing Interstate 70, Harding turns to a quiet street through a run-down industrial hood.  There was something poetic about the scenery.

Cool old brick factory buildings.

Some restaurant.  Wouldn't eat here but in the abstract I'm glad it exists.
Finally, a turn back east toward the law school, crossing the White River on New York Street.  Photography into the sunrise with an iPhone 4 is terribly imperfect, but you get the idea.

The Rapha gentry might -- almost -- accept me.

One last:  back in DC I did a trip around Northwest over an hour or so on Saturday.  Here's the Gunnar at my favorite cupcake-and-espresso store Sweet Teensy.

And with today we're into week 3.  On the way into work I've made a semi-habit of following Washington Street across the White River, rounding the Zoo, and returning back east on New York to the law school; the rides on Washington and New York give me a few miles of high speed riding to get the day going.  On the way home I'm checking out Indianapolis neighborhoods that were too far to walk but too near to drive.  And I've discovered something intriguing.


Indianapolis -- bicycle mecca?
Portland's status as a bike mecca is legendary.  Cities around the country have talked the talk of doing what Portland has done.  To it's massive credit, Indianapolis -- this backwater of a car-crazy, mid-sized midwestern town -- is on its way.  We have bike lanes everywhere.  I've blogged about the silly Pacers bikeshare stands -- but they are getting used. 

Plans to have 35 microbrews?
The town has microbrews coming out its ears:  dozens of small shops selling small batch beer.  Patrons pull up on bikes, fill a few growlers, and pedal away.
There is a huge bike commuting scene.  The Monon Trail brings hundreds of commuters daily from the northern suburbs into downtown, where they park at the Indy Bike Hub, shower, and walk to work.  

Indoor parking, workout facility . . .
And though it's 10 years late, there is a substantial fixie culture of would-be Brooklynites riding up and down my street -- Mass Ave -- at night.

We may be a few years late to be at the leading edge, but I'm a big fan of the Portlandification of Indianapolis.  In contrast, DC is well ahead of that game but is not doing as well, suffering from poor road surfaces, a tad too much crowding, and too high of rents for the ironic crowd to live in town.


A few lessons and ruminations

Khakis or jeans with a gusseted crotch work just fine for riding as far as 30 miles or better.  Roll up the legs and go.  Jeans without a gusseted crotch get uncomfortable -- quickly.

Clip in shoes really are that much better.  I started with loafers or tennies on platform pedals.  Clipped in I rediscovered my track stand and the ability to beat a car off the line.  In short, with clip-ins you are riding, while with platforms you are just commuting.

500L really will light up a dark road.  Wow.  It just won't do so for very long.

I wonder if I look ridiculously old when riding around town -- because it does make me feel young.


The goal

There is none!  I realized one day while sprinting across the White River with the sun at my back and my lungs filled with cold air that I have always loved riding places.  Together with Sam and S__ I grew up riding to school, to work, to swim practice; Sam and I both pulled the lawnmower around the neighborhood for a short-lived business venture behind the red Schwinn World.  In college I rode to class, up, down, and around the obstacles on the Cornell campus, on a steel-framed hard-tail Novara mountain bike -- right up until it got stolen off of a college-town porch.  Even in DC after first building the IRO fixed gear I played faux bike courier, dodging cars and pedestrians through downtown on the way to work or to meet a friend for a beer.

Somehow I lost touch with the sport and when I came back to it, riding was about spending all the daylight hours, and some of those after dark, covering as large a section of the map as I could.  No dig on going long, of course, but when I found myself declining to sit astride a bike unless I could stay on for at least 25 miles I found it increasingly hard to ride at all.

Sam and I had a discussion over the summer about trying to ride daily for a month.  I even targeted August as the month to try.  I did not get even close.  By contrast, I've been riding 6 days/week for the past two weeks and not even feeling like it is hard work.  Total mileage may be on the low end, but I'm pleased at how easy it is to surmount the barrier to entry imposed by getting the bike off the rack and buckling a helmet.


Remaining projects

Google says 15 miles!
I'd like to ride to and from the airport for my weekly commute.  Why not?  I only travel with a shoulder bag anyway and I'd be saving at least $36 in parking every trip home.  It's about 15-20 miles each way and can be traversed on surface streets.  How to lock a bike there is a tad less clear.
I recommended to the Indianapolis airport that it install a safe bike-lock area in the garage and just today received this reply:

$10 says I'm the only person ever to suggest this, so I am not holding my breath.  Mind sending Paul Collier an e-mail to add to the encouragement?

I'd like to increase my sphere of comfortable commuter travel.  If the airport and the dean's house is possible, why not a ride 30 miles to Columbus, Indiana, to see the famous architecture; or 70 miles to Bloomington for a meeting or to catch a performance at the music school; 125 miles to Cincinnati to visit friends; or 180 miles to Chicago for the conference I attend each year in April?

I'd like to sort out the commute-to-nice-events problem.  Will a jacket, tie, and shoes in the satchel do the trick?  Any way to solve the problem of the goat-herd smell?

Grocery shopping?  The obvious answer is a rack and panniers, but that kills the pleasure of riding.  Micro-shopping with the shoulder satchel?

Riding in the dead of winter?  People do it, but usually on fatbikes or cross-bikes with studded tires.  Can I keep riding 25s on the Neuvation?  Taking corners would probably be a slower process.

And once I get these worked out I'd like to see how long I can go without needing the car.  Not planning to sell it any time soon, but think how cool not driving it would be.