Bike shopping. On one hand, it’s been five years since I shopped for a new bicycle. On the other, I do it every day. Every time I pass a rack-full, I spy sweet rides. Recently, knowing there’s a purchase in my future, I’ve started staring hard at nearly every bike I pass, wondering, Is that the ONE?
My current bike –the tank– was a nervous purchase from the Cambridge Police Auction. Nervous because I hadn’t owned a good bike since the Columbia of my childhood, nervous because I wasn’t really sure I wanted to ride in the city (shooting down Bolyston, center-lane, with a yowling cat perched on your shoulder, anyone?) I told myself that I wouldn’t chance a new bike unless I proved to myself that I was really going to ride. It took a while, but the challenge has been met.
A confirmed maker-of-lists for all purposes and situations, I have taken the opportunity to compose a wish-list that I’ve, so far, given to my favorite bike mechanic/sales-lady for review. I’d like to think she was impressed by my nerd-acity (new word, just made that up.)
Phoebe Needs A New Bike
What I’m looking for:
- Use: daily commute/weekend rides
- Light enough to carry up flight of stairs daily
- Faster than current mountain bike hybrid
- Rear rack included
- Preferably includes fenders
- Interested in drop handlebars (or feature that promotes good wrist posture)
- Discrete (fade from the eyes of thieves)
What I ride now:
- Raleigh mountain bike hybrid
- Ugly (a plus!)
- Bad breaks
- Rack & fenders
Like many people, I’m of multiple minds about graffiti.
Mind #1: I don’t like it: if it’s not your property, you shouldn’t alter it. If it’s public property, it’s even LESS cool to lay your mark. (Do unto others: I’m almost 100% sure the average graffiti artist would frown the frown to end all frowns if, heading into his/her bathroom in the morning to brush his/her teeth, discovered a pink hippo riding a tricycle spray-painted on the shower door.)
Mind #2: Show me a book on graffiti art world-round, and I’ll spend at least half an hour flipping through. I won’t deny that there’s something intrinsically attractive about in-your-face art. And sometimes the graffiti is truly beautiful; the skill of the artist enviable.
Mind #3: Place and context: is the graffiti just tagging (hi! I’m here! Lookatme! Lookatme!) or is it social commentary? Was it skillfully applied or slap-dash? Is it marring the side window of some little neighborhood coffee shop (you know the owner’s going to have to go out there with gray paint), or interrupting the monotony of a train ride down the Northeast Corridor?
I think it was last year that the Southwest Corridor multi-use path was repaved, making many cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, and rowdy high school students happy to enjoy smoother travel. Not long after, someone trailed red paint in a erratic line from one end to the other, inciting in me a surprisingly possessive and self-righteous sort of anger (you kids! get out of my back yard!) Not long after that, somebody else stenciled the word Bold between Green Street and Stonybrook Stations. Recently, the erratic line and Bold have been joined by a cyclist wearing a hat.
My second thought was more a resigned sigh.
What do you think?
Majority of my city bike-commuting experiences are positive –interesting, funny, beautiful, and so on. For example, the time when a MBTA bus pulled next to me on Mass. Ave., opened the passenger door and the driver called, “Do you want to race?”
Or the time when a tractor-trailer stopped beside me at a light and the driver honked the horn, pointed to my rainbow legwarmers, and gave me a thumbs-up.
Or spotting tiny frogs on the path while heading up Olmstead along the J-way on a wet, rainy night.
Or the time when a 70-something woman passed in front of me on a crosswalk and exclaimed, “You’re awfully cute!”
And then there are the bike-commuting experiences that can best be encapsulated by the phrase: oh MY (insert favorite sacrilege expletive.)
Like yesterday when I witnessed two cars smash together in the bike lane on Hampshire Street in Cambridge.
Or yesterday when I passed two separate incidents of women weeping (one wearing scrubs and clogs, tucked behind a tree, another on a bench with a friend) along the Muddy River in the Back Bay Fens.
Or last week when I think I saw someone stealing from a car parked near the Riverside Whole Foods, promised myself I’d report it when I got to work, and then of course promptly forgot.
Like the aforementioned Incident Behind Jackson Square Station.
Like when there’s a full moon and everybody gets just a little bit odd –you’ll never seen more mid-road K-turns or multiple-car assorted contortions on tight side-streets, than during a full moon!
Part of my intention in creating (and sustaining) this blog is to crow about my favorite Boston-area events. The four listed below are my long-standing loves.
Boston Skillshare: I learned of the Boston Skillshare as a result of my volunteering with Boston NOW. My first Skillshare (I’ve been attending for about seven years) was a wonderment -free learning, for real, of the most random assortment –knitting, soda brewing, spoon whittling, home schooling, time management?! At my second skillshare, I taught a class on letter writing. Now everyone I meet, practically, I attempt to sway to the way of the Skillshare. I’ve won lots of folk over, including my own mother.
Boston Pride Parade: I’m not sure how I learned about the Boston Pride Parade, but I’ve rarely missed a year of standing along the route, clapping and shouting and jumping for beads. In the time that I’ve been attending, the LGBT community worked towards and won the right to marriage equality in Massachusetts. And it might just be my opinion/experience but I believe, the Parade has since “cleaned up” just the tiniest bit, with fewer men shaking-their-rears on the elaborately decorated beds of semi-trucks to club beats.
Cambridge Citywide Dance Party: I’m only a three-year veteran of the biggest free dance party in Cambridge, where the city closes down one of its busiest streets, pumps up the music, and sets out chairs in front of the Senior Center for folks to enjoy watching the dance mayhem. Want to see how well your city councillor dances, conga with strangers, or steal some new moves from a four-year-old? This is your party.
Bike By Bike, At Night: I’ve only made it to two of these all-night rides that are so underground they don’t have a website (just flyers posted around the neighborhoods.) Begun in 1989, this annual tour is organized by the Back Bay Midnight Pedalers and features stopping points at historic and architectural sites of note in Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge. I haven’t yet made it to sunrise due to the lack of bathroom breaks combined with no published route, but once I figure those two issues out, I just might!
It’s funny, the very things I expected to dislike about city cycling, or at least find uncomfortable, have turned out to instead number among my favorites. For example, biking in the rain (bonus: doing it in January.)
When I first started bike commuting, I avoided riding in the rain. I mean, who wants to be wet? And cold? Wet and cold on the crowded Boston streets, tires kicking up grime, cars honking and driving too close. That swishing sound as they slosh past. On one of my first rides, I recall whining to a friend whose house I was departing and his expression of sympathy. At the, I remember thinking, crossly, whatever! He doesn’t care!
And then I got out there on the SouthWest Corridor, my tires singing that low, splashy song. Everything smelling a bit brighter. I noticed the pretty little spray created by my front and wear wheels. I realized that I practically had the path, the city, to myself. And I experienced an attitude adjustment (like what the teachers warn about in middle school.)
Truth be told, I don’t love all the rainy days -and sleet just plain hurts! But if it’s a mild January evening and I’m heading out for that six-mile stretch from Cambridge to Jamaica Plain, sure. Get a little magic of the clean, quiet city along the way . . . I’m down for the ride.
This Monday I set out on bike. It was cold but fresh, and I took the opportunity to snap a photo along the Southwest Corridor bike path that I’ve been meaning to capture ever since some enterprising stencil artist set it down.
Each year, I stretch my cycling season further into the winter. I’ve been giving a fair amount of lip service to obtaining winter woolens and studded bike tires. Once the snow and ice hit, however, it’s anyone’s guess how often you’ll see me on the path and roads.
I thought I’d introduce you to an important member of my family. I never loved Boston more than when I started bike commuting from Jamaica Plain to Cambridge. Every weekday, I travel a little over twelve miles to and fro, more when I have evening activities (which is most evenings.)
Three years in, I’ve logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 bike miles per year. Each winter, I find myself extending my season a little further because it hurts to be off the bike. Typically I’m not a jealous person but watching someone cycle past on a bright day, no matter how bitter cold or how bundled the rider, makes me yearn for my wheels.
Meet my rusty, trusty stead: a pink Raleigh mountain bike hybrid circa 1990s(?) Also known as:
- The bike
- My bike
- The $60 police auction special
- Heaviest bike on earth (not true, my Huffy was heavier)
- The tank
- The rickshaw
My “trunk” used to be a plastic milk crate, but I quickly outgrew that. Now I’ve a large set of bright yellow Ortlieb panniers. Unlike the bike, they’ve got actual names: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I named them in part because I have trouble with left and right. So Fred “rings and bell” and Ginger “turns on the light.”
This past fall, I got a death sentence for the bike: frame rot. Sadly, I know our days are numbered. In the meantime, I will continue to appreciate it as the best bike I’ve owned in my adult life, purchased from the first auction at which I hefted a number, hand trembling with anticipation when I won my “prize.” What a prize it has been.