Monday, March 30, 2015

The Bicycle Safety Check: from Mnemonic to Automated Ritual

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If you've ever gone on club rides as a beginner cyclist in North America, chances are you have heard of the ABC Quick Check. Not sure whom to credit for its original composition, but I'll quote the League of American Cyclists:
A is for Air,
B is for Brakes,
C is for Cranks and chain,
Quick is for Quick releases,
Check is for Check it over.
This mnemonic is meant to encourage riders to get into a habit of performing a basic safety check on their machines before setting foot to pedal. But how many of us actually perform such a check? It took a rather disconcerting incident for me to realise that I do.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Studded Tires in March: A Cross-Atlantic Seasonal Summary

Nokian Hakkapelitta 650B Studded Tires
"You do not realise how good you have it there," I was warned as I packed for my flight apprehensively. And in a sense they all had a point: My current appreciation of springtime in Ireland is certainly enhanced by having spent the first half of March back in Boston, immersed in the sort of deep winter one might expect in January - and even then, only once in a great while. It was the sort of winter you'd tell your great-grandchildren about. And they would roll their eyes behind your back - because they'd only half-believe what you were telling them, and because you'd tell the goddamn story so many times. "It was a terrible, formidable winter indeed!..."

It was a winter that now stretched into March, ready to embrace me with its frigid open arms. Our landing was delayed at Boston Logan, the airplane forced to circle aimlessly while the runway was hectically shoveled again, as fresh snow had already covered it since the previous shoveling.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On Financial Incentives for Cycling and the Psychology of Compliance

This morning I came across a recent Atlantic CityLab article called The Problem With Paying People to Bike to Work. It interested me immediately, as just a few days earlier a friend and I were debating the effectiveness of UK's cycle to work scheme (which offers discounts and tax breaks when buying a bicycle for commuting). The CityLab piece, however, focuses on something a bit more radical: France's pilot program that pays employees to commute to work by bicycle. In case you've never heard of this, it was a 6-months trial in the course of which bicycle commuters were compensated roughly 43 cents per mile when cycling to work. The project received much fanfare at the start, but the results have been less than stellar. The author of the CityLab article critiques the program and offers two explanations for its limited success: the continued availability of cheap and free parking, and the "fixed" nature of commuters' habits. As this latter explanation is based on psychological studies and I happen to be a (former) research psychologist by profession, I offer another perspective for consideration:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Toward the Self-Evident

Temple Project, Derry by David Best
Shortly after returning from freezing, snow-covered Boston (where I nonetheless managed to get around by bicycle with ease) I find myself marveling again at how difficult cycling in Northern Ireland is by comparison. These thoughts come as I push myself up the vertical Fountain Hill in Derry, my eyes nearly popping out of my head from effort and incredulity. I had never been up here before, had not even realised this city had such torturous inclines. At some point my ears pop.

At the road end, my map suggests a shortcut that ends up taking me through a housing estate covered with sectarian graffiti. I am too exhausted to worry about this, my legs delighted by the gentler gradient of the hairpin path that winds past the rows of terrace houses. I nod at a sleepy-eyed man who sits smoking a cigarette on his front steps, beside a sprawled bulldog tethered to the fence. He nods back. The bulldog inspects me with mild curiosity. A woman opens her door and peers out to have a look at me, then disappears back inside.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Everyday Pilgrimage

St. Aidan's, Magilligan
We live in an era when shops throughout much of the world are standardised to such an extent, and exported goods so easily available, that being asked to procure something "local and unusual" from one's neck of the woods for curious friends can present a daunting challenge. Luckily, in this remote corner of Northern Ireland I have a few tricks up my sleeve for such purposes. Pulling one of them out this windy morning, I set off to visit St. Aidan's Well.

Two miles down the main road from my house, a modest sign points to this local landmark. The back road it invites you to take then winds its way up the looming Binevenagh mountain. From this vantage point, the mountain has a stacked, tiered appearance - resembling a misshapen cake. First come the grassy tiers, then the forested ones, finally giving way to the flat-top cliffs. The well is located along one of the forested tiers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Concretely Speaking: Musings on Preferred Road Surfaces

Tined Concrete Lane, Northern Ireland
The house I live in stands at the end of a .7 mile farm lane that winds its way through fields of grazing cattle. Thus being the first and last leg of any journey I embark on, this lane - with its lack of traffic and nice scenery - has served as a backdrop for many of my bike photos. Funny enough, the thing that consistently interests readers about the photos I take here is not the scenery but the road surface. What is that stripey stuff and what's it like to ride on? Ah, what indeed! Well, instead of explaining again and again, I thought I would write a post addressing the matter concretely. Got the hint yet?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Creatures of the Night

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a quick rendering of last night's adventure [dramatisation]




Returning home after dark last evening, I was proceeding unhurriedly along a narrow farm lane when, in the far-reaching glow of my light beam, I noticed a gray furry thing emerge from behind the row of hedges at the left and make its way toward the field on the right. A split second later, I saw the unmistakable striped, elongated profile. It was none other than a badger!

Being a fairly optimistic person, I was hopeful of an ideal outcome to the situation: that by the time I reached the critter, it would have already completed its journey. But having sensed my approach the poor fellow froze smack in the center of the lane and just stood there, crouching low to the ground, its short paws and hefty torso vibrating with tense indecision.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cycling Routes and Cycling Abilities

Family Cycling, Glenveagh Castle
On a visit to a nearby nature reserve last weekend, I noticed a man out cycling with his 3 small children. The elder boy and girl, who looked no older than 6 and 5, pedaled along on their own tiny bikes, while the youngest - a toddler - sat in a child's seat at the back of the father's hybrid. I spotted them at the end of the road leading up to the Castle, which meant they were in for a 5 mile round trip overall. Impressed with the kids' good behaviour and stamina, I tried to recall the last time I'd seen children so young out cycling. It had been a while. In the rural area where I now live it's uncommon to see children on bikes beyond the confines of their immediate neighbourhoods. This is not so much due to a lack of infrastructure, as to the nature of the local topography. The area is hilly, and most routes involve climbs and descents that may prove beyond a child's ability. Heck, even adults who are not "cyclists" in the athletic sense of the word, can find themselves overwhelmed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wear and Tear on Your Bicycle: Expectations and Experiences

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Yesterday afternoon I decided to do some maintenance on my folding bike's mud-encrusted drivetrain. Although when I say "decided" what I really mean is shamed into it ("Look at the state of that thing - It's a wonder your gears don't seize up!"). Some cyclists are, shall we say, a bit more fastidious than I am when it comes to bicycle maintenance. But on this occasion even I conceded that my everyday transport bike deserved a good wash. After all, it had been over a year since the last time! And so the next several hours were spent cleaning the bike - starting with extracting packed dirt and grit out of all the nooks and crannies in its maze-like system of pulleys, and (since, let's be honest, one tends to get carried away with these things) ending with polishing the hubs, spokes and chain links till I could see my crazed reflection in their surfaces.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sharing the Velo Love

"You must really love me, if you're actually letting me ride this bicycle!" 

Ten miles in, this was said with the slyest of grins - letting me know that the undercurrent of nervousness in my earlier "of course you can borrow my Mercian, darling" had been less subtle than I thought.