Thursday, July 17, 2014

Someone's Dream Job, Bikes, and Coffee in Lexington & Concord

On a recent Saturday, my wife and I took a four hour car trek to Hillsboro, New Hampshire to visit friends and have a bit of an adventure: we packed overnight bags not knowing where we'd stay - or if we'd stay somewhere - that night. We used an app called Hotel Tonight and hoped to find an inexpensive place to sleep instead of hell-for-leathering it all the way back to Stamford.

As it turned out, we found a cheap but very nice hotel in Bedford Massachusetts, which is very close to the towns of Lexington and Concord. I'm not a big student of history, but I understand there was some kind of famous battle in the area. 

After settling in to our room, my wife and I went to downtown Concord to look for people wearing period costumes and, equally important, find a place to eat. Between spotting a guy in a tri-corner hat and us eating (and enjoying the live music) at Main Street Market & Cafe, she sketched while I fixed and rode on a bike I purchased a few hours earlier. 

I'm not sure what rural New Hampshire town brought this tag sale gold to me, but I am thankful: it's a Diamondback Venture road bike with 700c wheels, a working frame pump, a seatpost bag containing three tire levers, a rusty Allyn wrench, and two new tubes. If you look closely you'll see the green 'Make Offer' tag still hangs on the handlebars (my offer was $5) and after I spent a few minutes using the aforementioned tools to get the bike to working order, I took it on a ride around Concord. 

I did not ride it as far as I wanted or as I dared: when inflated, the front tube would try to ooze out of the space between the near-rotted tire and the rim which isn't ideal. Still, just for this one night I felt like I got my $5 worth (mainly because fixing it and riding it gave me something to do while my wife sketched) so as my wife's watercolors dried I put the bike back in the car. 

The next morning, we checked out of our room and agreed we needed to get a move on to return home in time to attend an opening reception at the Rowayton Arts Center (which is hosting a Chantey Sing at 6:30 tonight, by the way). 

On the drive through Lexington, while looking for a place to have breakfast, something caught my eye and made me park my car with extreme prejudice. 

Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington. Now while I wrote rather admiringly about biking in Boston a couple of years ago I have to say I have little interest in living in that part of the country (you know…cobblestones, Massachusetts drivers, and so on) but right then and there I saw paradise in Ride Studio Cafe. If I had money and talent I'd open a similar place in Stamford: Coffee and bicycles. Two passions combined into one beautiful whole. 

Keep your eyes in the right two-thirds of the joint as you head in and you'd think you were in a nice bike shop - one that features indoor parking. 

This was taken at the communal table between the bike rack and the counter where my wife and I order coffee for me, tea for her and breakfast for us both. Were I a man of means I'd have ordered a carbon fiber frame to go, but my budget would only allow the purchase or something a little less expensive: The Culinary Cyclist by Anna Brones.

The friendly vibe of the place was well represented in the woman who sat across from my wife and I while we were waiting for our order. Her name was Denise, and when the 'what-do-you-do?' part of the chatting began it was revealed that her title is president of sales recruiting firm DANA Associates

It was from her I learned of the existence of a job that made me wish I was among the bicycle/coffee/history-loving crowd in that area: a nearby adventure travel company that does bike tours of Italy, France and other countries is searching for a Selling Team Leader. The job, which would pay $60K annually plus bonus, would involve selling these tours and the opportunity to go on them. The job is for a skilled salesperson (70% of the job is sales while the rest is managing people and maintaining a database) and a passionate cyclist who loves travel. 

Since my sales experience is limited to typo-laden eBay listings - though deciding how many exclamation points should come after the words 'NO RESERVE' is an unsung skill - I did not push the conversation with Denise toward my LinkedIn profile. What I did do is realize that this job cannot go unfilled for too long, for leaving a sales chair vacant at whatever company this is means someone might miss the chance to hear about and take a life changing cycling adventure. And as you all know from my recent trip to India, I am a big believer in life changing cycling adventures. 

So if you are a passionate cyclist and a skilled salesperson who wants to come up on the winning side of a career coin toss, I recommend you contact Denise directly at dbg (at) If you are just a passionate cyclist, you should instead visit Lexington - a place I will return to one day. If you are a passionate traveler, pack an overnight bag, hit the road, stop at tag sales, talk to strangers and don't avoid communal tables - especially at Ride Studio Cafe. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Eight Things Every Republican Must Do in Cleveland

Note: This post was published at quarter to ten in the morning on July 11, 2014. A few hours later, LeBron James decided to return to the Cavaliers. Coincidence? I think not. Please pass the word to The King that his ban from DIYBIKING.COM will be lifted if he Tweets a picture of himself biking in Ohio City. Thank you. 

I don't remember where I was or what I was doing when the Republican National Committee announced it was holding their 2016 convention in Cleveland, but I do remember thinking: Awesome. Well played, Reince Preibus.

I do wonder, however, how many GOP delegates furrowed their brow at the news and thought: Cleveland?

Republican readers: I know Cleveland last voted for a Republican president in the cretaceous period, but don't let that stop you from enjoying the town. You don't even need to wait for the convention to start, for I encourage you to visit anytime, start scoping out hotel rooms and restaurants, and look for things to do while you're there. 

As it happens, I have some ideas that'll help you. This list doesn't automatically assume you are going to bike in Cleveland, but believe me when I tell you that you should. This list also assumes you have visited Positively Cleveland and you have a map of the city. 

So here I present eight things for you to do in Cleveland - either during the convention or anytime up to and beyond: 

8) Volunteer at the Ohio City Bike Co-Op 

I volunteered for this place last summer and had a great time doing it. Here's why you should too: part of the GOP platform has always had an anti-handout theme. The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op allows kids and adults to volunteer their time and earn a bicycle by fixing bikes and attending education classes. It doesn't get much more anti-handout than that. 

Right now the Co-Op is piloting a new Earn a Bike program for younger kids (ages 8 and nine) and for the next few Sundays, they need some extra volunteers: if you're in Cleveland on July 13, 20 or 27th and free between 1:30 and 4:00pm, sign up to help!

7) Know East 4th Street

East 4th street is a narrow, mostly car-free area in Cleveland that features plenty of outdoor seating and places you can lock your bike up. Before a long day of speeches, get your caffeinated beverage of choice at Erie Island Coffee, and for lunch or dinner visit The Greenhouse Tavern. You'll thank me later. 

6) Buy food at West Side Market

Before you serve red meat to delegates on the floor of the convention hall, shouldn't you buy some for yourself first? The historic West Side Market is a short bike ride across the river. Great coffee, breads, jerky, desserts - you name it.  

Oh, and if you want to make a statement about government pork that's ready for television, you just might be able to find something to use as a prop - just make sure you have a bike trailer big enough to transport it safely.  

5) Use The Bike Rack

My hope is that delegates and other members of the GOP stay in or close to downtown so they don't need to use cars often, but if you want to stay far from the city center but worry about not looking professional when you arrive, check out The Bike Rack. For a fee you can lock your bike up and take a shower before you start your day. If it is especially hot during the convention, whomever you end up sitting next to on the convention floor will appreciate it. 

4) Ride in the Cleveland Metroparks

At some point during the 2016 convention you wish for a little quiet time, go someplace with friends or family, skedaddle while former Speaker of the House John Boehner gives his speech - and so on. There's no better diversion than riding on the trails of the Cleveland Metroparks system. You can also visit the Cleveland Zoo or just have fun. 

3) Ride to the house where they filmed 'A Christmas Story'

2) Know Your Bike Shops 

Fridrich's Bicycles, Joy Machines and Blazing Saddles. Study them. Know how to get to each one by memory. If you want to buy a bike, it's a three-way tie on where you should go to get one. As far as repairs go each seems very capable. Best of all, these are small businesses - and they'll inspire you.

1) Take your impressions of Cleveland's bike infrastructure home to your cities and towns. 

If there's one thing I learned when I took the Republican and Democratic candidates for Stamford mayor out for a bike ride last summer, it is that safe cycling and smart cycling infrastructure transcends politics. Neither party owns the issue but both are smart to push it. Riding a bike doesn't lump you in with the Prius-driving, Save The Planet lot. It doesn't mean you don't have a car. It's not a political statement of any kind, it's just a smart and fun way to get around. The more elected officials of any kind can do to make cycling easier, the better. It involves tax dollars, to be sure, but it is well worth it and a little can go a very long way. 

So pack your bike and head to Cleveland, or buy one when you arrive. Encourage your fellow delegates to do the same, and as a gesture of goodwill I recommend hiring local Cleveland artists to build some bike racks for the front of the convention hall.  Remember: Democrats haven't picked their host city yet, and now that you've landed on Cleveland I imagine they'll want to one-up you and show they are more bike friendly than you are. Don't let them win! Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Little Green Men of Shippan Point

Tomorrow (July 5th) is my dad's birthday (Dad: if you're reading this in the morning before I have a chance to call: happy birthday!).

But it is also the Kid's Parade in Shippan Point - a neighborhood in Stamford I've been calling home for the past nine years. The meeting place is at the northern intersection of Ocean Drive West and Stamford Avenue at 11:00am. Kids are encouraged to decorate bikes, wagons, scooters and strollers, and they'll be able to ride in the streets having fun. 

I can't go to that event, so instead I rode around Shippan Point this morning. It was nice as I got to check out houses I haven't seen before, see Governor Dannel Malloy's old home on Ocean Drive East (beautiful but certainly not anything I'd make an attack ad out of), wonder if my wife and I would ever trade up to one of the bigger houses one day, and say hello to the joggers and dog walkers. 

And I noticed something several times and in several places. 

The Little Green Men. 

You've noticed them too.  Sometimes they are accompanied by signs that say 'drive like your kids lived here', and sometimes not. Sometimes they bear the word 'slow.' They sometimes hold flags. Some of them are yellow or even some other color.

There's one right near my house that appears and disappears often. Sometimes I get creeped out by the fact I've never seen it in motion. 

I've grown to hate the Little Green Men. It's not so much the design. If I was trying to come up with an artificial figure to encourage people to drive slower, I might have landed on something similar. I hate them because something has to bear their message. People don't just naturally drive slow. The way some people drive on Shippan Avenue (or any street, for that matter) you'd think their vehicle was tinkered with by Dennis Hopper's character on 'Speed.'

Cars traveling fast encourage the purchase of Little Green Men. Fast cars also discourage people from getting on a bike and using one for their everyday life. This puts more cars on the roads and leads to more Little Green Men and even fewer cyclists. 

It's one of those vicious cycle-type deals. 

I try to tell people there are ways to get people to drive slower that don't involve Little Green Men - or would at least curb their deployment. Complete Streets initiatives, which include making lanes narrower - from 12 feet wide to 11 feet wide - make people drive a little slower. Bike lanes would help a lot too, since they'd encourage people to ride and make the car travel lanes narrower. But right now, there are no bike lanes, shared road markings, or even a share-the-road sign anywhere in Shippan Point. 

Tomorrow, kids of all ages are going to be riding and rolling in the Kids Parade. I've been to one here before and also in Southport. The kids will be smiling and laughing. Parents are going to be happy too. They''ll ride and walk down the road and will be safe, and a fun time will be had by all. 

All I can think to ask is: don't you want yourself and your kids to feel that way all the time? 

I hope the adults who ride and walk in the parade empower themselves and their kids to ride more when their isn't a parade involved. I also hope that when the adults get back in their cars, they ease up on the gas pedal and use the car less - and start demanding bike infrastructure for the city to make it easier to do both of those things. Buying Little Green Men is only one step to make a neighborhood safer. Let's aim for a world where we don't need them. Happy Independence Day. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bikes Lift Cities. Art Does Too.

This Friday, June 27, Fairfield County is lucky to have two great events in both of its cities (and yes: this is worth interrupting the progress report of the bike generator I built last week).

One event is in Bridgeport, a city not thirty miles away from my front door and I've only ridden in it once. From what I can tell by what I've seen recently, that's a shameful admission. Especially since Cleveland is a tank-and-a-half of 87 octane from Stamford and I know that city better

Visiting BPT Creates the other day to drop some of my artwork off tells me I need to bring back my 'All Local Stops' series. 

Let me back up a second.

BPT Creates/Magnacon 7 is a gallery and workspace located at 1001 Main Street, Suite 14. What makes the first part of that address significant is the fact it is in the Arcade Mall (pictured above). All of the wonder of the mall in Cleveland with no five-state blend of bug pizza on the grill of my car to get there.

This Friday, from 6:00 to 9:00pm, the opening reception of BPT Creates' exhibit "I Want to Ride My Bicycle" is being held there. I submitted a few of my pieces (some of which you've seen at my exhibit at Lorca this past March) but from what I've seen on the BPT Creates Facebook page my stuff isn't going to be the highlights of this exhibit. 

It goes without saying, but attendees are encouraged to bike to the opening reception. 

In Stamford this weekend, we have ARTWALK, which turns downtown into an art exhibit. It begins on Friday and continues through Saturday afternoon. You can find out more details, including the calendar of events and the route map, at Stamford Downtown Special Services district web site. The weather looks like it will be good for riding and walking in the city I call home, and some of the exhibits, including some from artist Holly Danger (who was profiled in the Connecticut Post this week and has some of her art on display at Lorca) that may well stop people in their tracks as they pass through Kiwanis Park. 

I talk about bikes the way I do because bikes lift cities up. Art does that too. I hope you have a chance to visit both ARTWALK in Stamford and BPT Creates in Bridgeport this weekend - and tell your friends to do the same. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Playing with Power: Part I

Unless we're talking about Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland, I hate riding indoors. It feels wrong, but I'm often forced to do it anyway. This past miserable winter was made more so because of the snow, and I would, hamster-like, pedal on the rollers. 

I tried taking a spin class, but I was literally century-sore for days afterward. Plus, there was a bit of a Clockwork-orange vibe going on since we were forced to watch weird music videos while pedaling. 

Also: If I'm going to pedal that hard for that long, I'd like to end up somewhere different from where I had started. 

But then I wondered: could a bike, riding indoors, actually provide something useful to the world? 

As usual, I found my answer near an imposing metal sign at the dump that reads: No Scavenging:

Yes, I found a discarded trainer. Somebody out there was even more disenchanted with riding indoors than me. 

Save for the missing adjuster bolt to control the pressure of the roller against the bike tire (I easily replaced it) this trainer of unknown origin was complete. Though it featured a way to adjust the resistance through a shifting cable one could mount on handlebars, I cut that part off immediately as I dismantled the housing.

I ended up with a metal plate that I thought would work for what I had planned. First, I went into my stockpile of old electric scooter parts (you mean you don't have one?) and was able to find the driving sprocket of one I vaguely remember spending $5 on at a tag sale 6+ years ago. Very carefully, I used a hacksaw to remove the wheel.

When I was done with the cutting, I ended up this.

I removed the metal plate from the trainer, dropped the sprocket evenly over it, and marked the four holes (visible in the above photo) with a Sharpie. Surprisingly enough, the result was exactly what I wanted.

Next came the tricky part: With the roller housing off the trainer frame, I put the whole works on a clamp and dropped on the chain and the 24V electric motor. It took a while to decide how I was going to fasten the two together and knew I had to be especially careful when welding: the chain couldn't have too much slack or be out of alignment in any way. I took the bits from one L-shaped piece of steel and cut them just so.

Once I was confident everything was aligned properly, I fired up my Lincoln Electric welder and let some sparks fly. 

Eventually, I had my result: a motor and the back of the trainer mounted on a solid piece of steel. 

Next, it was time for the moment of truth: I reattached the entire assembly to the back of the trainer frame and put on a bike. I attached something to the end of the scooter motor's wires so I could see if anything would happen when I started pedaling.

Sure enough, it did. 

I remember as a kid going to a science fair once and I saw two electric motors: one had a light bulb on it while the other had batteries. When the motor's gears were touching, the battery-powered motor spun the other and the bulb went on - just like mine did. 

It was nice to know I remembered that. In the mid 1980s, most of my brain was reserved to memorizing the plot lines of every 'Transformers' episode. Glad something useful made the cut (but the episode where Optimus Prime has to outwit a big game hunter was pretty awesome).  

But anyway: I have electricity coming out of the contraption, but I'm not sure how much (it's enough to burn out the light bulb in the previous photo) or what I'm going to do with it. The voltage tester I have in my shop was built before the discovery of Radio Shack, and if I want to do something like build a way to charge cell phones while pedaling I'll have to, you know, learn how to do it. I'll also appreciate any suggestions on what to do with my newfound power. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bike Lanes on High Ridge Road: Easier Than Anyone Thinks

This is a picture I took last week when driving up High Ridge Road in Stamford. I must have driven on that road hundreds of times before I looked at the picture and realized how horribly wrong it is.

Now as you know there is a rally to support bike lanes on High Ridge Road this Saturday at 1:00pm at  the Rippowam Middle School. Bring your bike, bring a friend, and go.

And do the equivalent of padding your list of friends. If you're a roadie, bring your mountain biking sister-in-law. If you're one of those cyclists who have a wheel set worth more than the Blue Book value your car, bring that weird friend who rides a Schwinn with 27" wheels and those annoying brake levers too low to see or reach easily.

Bring the friends that don't understand the difference between PSI and bar (to be fair I'm not really sure what bar is. I know that 'barre' is a legally sanctioned form of fitness-based torture administered by excellent gyms like Exhale in the South End, but I'm not sure what bar is in the context of tire pressure).

And bring the petrol heads. Yes: your non-cycling friends. Bring them too. And I can explain why with the following photograph:

That photo, which you may have seen earlier this week on my column on Stamford Patch, is all you need to know about what it means to install bike lanes on High Ridge Road. Cars give up space they don't need while bicycle commuters gain space they do. And if more people leave their cars at home and take the bikes, that means more room on the motor vehicle lanes for you. Come to the rally on Saturday. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Story of Bikes, Bike Lanes, and Stamford's High Ridge Road

I was going to end this post with that picture. Really, the most complicated things can be expressed by the use of HO scale miniatures. As a matter of fact, President Obama today placed an HO scale miniature of himself punching Vladimir Putin on Putin's knee while in France celebrating the D-Day anniversary. 

That actually didn't happen. But it would have been great if it did.

What did happen today, is I took a 13 mile bike ride: I needed to take about three gallons of old paint to Keough's to get it recycled (details on that great program can be found here), drop off a basket at the post office (here seen being used as a substitute kickstand) and stop by both Trader Joe's and Hobbytown USA's Stamford location.

All four of these places are on High Ridge Road (the same road I pedaled up with the same bike and a different trailer eighteen months ago to pay tribute to the Sandy Hook victims).

So I rode the recumbent with the trailer and made it to the post office fairly easily. For the first part of the trip, I had a shoulder.

But a couple of miles later, the traffic got heavier and the shoulder got narrower. 

I arrived at Keough's moments after that photo was taken, where I again wondered what the place would be like if it had bike parking right in front.

After I dropped off the old paint, I headed toward Hobbytown USA and was greeted to another plaza that didn't have bike parking. I hoped the tree didn't grow too fast, I thought. 

At Hobbytown, I bought exactly what you'd expect me to buy. Leaving the bike parked, I walked over to Trader Joe's and bought whatever I thought would fit in the rotisserie chicken-ready bike box. Have you ever actually grocery shopped and selected bread based on what would fit in your bike? It's a surprisingly pleasant feeling. Never mind.

Of course, walking out to the bike, I remembered I had an entire (now empty) trailer that I could have filled with bananas, canned coffee, miniature tacos, milk, eggs, animal crackers, canned coffee, instant oatmeal, lemonade, frozen orange juice, broccoli florets, goat cheese and vanilla almond crunch cereal. 

Oh well. 

I headed home and ate lunch. Later in the afternoon I returned to High Ridge Road in my car. If any militant, fixie-riding, meat-avoiding hipsters are upset about this, please understand that driving a car up High Ridge Road is what most people, including me, normally do. 

I get infuriated at people who use cell phones when they drive (and I wasn't using mine) so only once I held up the camera to take a picture without looking. When I got home and finally uploaded the photo, I saw this…and there are no filters and no special effects. 

Look at the SUV just in front of me and then at the pickup truck to its right. It's pretty striking at how much space cars have on either side. The Wayne Industries Tumbler would have room to spare on either lane of High Ridge.

Bikes? Not so much. The little narrow band in front of the minivan is all any cyclist has, and it's a big reason why so many people don't ride bikes on a lot of roads. 

When you're in the same room with a car they're big, but when you're with them on the road, it's a different story. Cars and trucks not only don't need that much space on either side, but motor vehicles also tend to drive faster when they have wider lanes. A major component of Complete Streets (and the plan to put bike lanes along High Ridge Road) is to make lanes 11 feet wide instead of 12 feet, which opens more space on either side for bike lanes, which will encourage more people to choose the bike and more motorists to drive a little slower. 

I'll be talking about this a lot more from tonight all the way up through June 14th. Mark your calendar for that day and spread the word. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.