Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Boston Marathon

Last Monday was a wonderful day. I woke up early and took a great morning ride...

...and have taken some awesome rides since then...

But all this week, I've been thinking about what really made last Monday, April 19th, so special: the Boston Marathon! After all, cyclists and runners are kind of like cousins. We both take ordinary roads and turn them into something extraordinary.

Here in Boston, the third Monday in April is always marathon day and a state holiday (Patriots Day ... commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord). So most of us in Massachusetts get the day off to enjoy the race. I took these photos within the very last mile...

There are few things in life that are perfect, but the Boston Marathon comes pretty close. The way it starts in the country and winds its way into the city; the way we Bostonians cheer every runner that passes, calling out their names (knowing this, many runners write their names in big letters on their shirts); the thrilling wheelchair race; the world-class runners from around the word ... all of these things make it special. But more than anything else, it's the unique stories of so many people running such a life-changing race that make the Boston Marathon so magical.

That evening, I drove down to Rhode Island to attend a business conference the next day -- slightly suntanned and hoarse from standing outside and cheering on the runners. But it was well worth it. Later that week I was back on the bike, so inspired by those amazing athletes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Mechanic

My bike knew something big was happening this morning. It sensed my air of purpose, saw me channeling my inner bike mechanic...

"So," it said, eyeing me cautiously, "what are you up to?"

"Oh nothing."

My bike doesn't trust me. It groans when I bring out the tire pump, pesters me with instructions when I adjust a screw. Too tight! ... Wrong direction! ... Why don't you leave it to the real mechanics!

After my Friday morning ride in the rain though...

...my bike's chain was in desperate need of a good cleaning. Thanks to a post I read on the Cyclin' Missy blog, I had recently bought this:

I know, it's pretty sinister looking. But it's actually a chain degreaser/cleaner. You can see how it works on the box cover. It also comes with that oddly shaped brush for cleaning dirt out of the rear cassette cogs. Today, I was going to give them both a try for the first time.

As I took the machine out of the box, my bike got mighty suspicious.

"What's that you got there, Jason?"

"Well, it's a chain cleaner."

"Oh no!" my bike started to protest, but I interrupted...

"Now look -- after yesterday morning, you need it. Your chain is covered in road grime, and all the oil has washed away. Believe me, you'll feel much better afterwards. Besides, look how cool this cleaner is!"

My bike let out a defeated sigh. I went to work.

First I cleaned off the chain and cogs with the brush and then used the brush's handle to get the dirt out from between each gear. It worked remarkably well! That hook drops right into the cassette, so all you have to do is turn the pedal cranks and the dirt falls right out.

My bike didn't say anything, which I think meant it was secretly a little impressed.

Next it was time for the big gun ... the degreaser/cleaner. First though, a technical note: in bicycle-speak, the sprockets in the back of the bike are called cogs, and those in the front are called chainrings. The degreaser/cleaner instructions suggested shifting the chain into the smallest rear cog and then shifting the front chainring into whatever gear keeps the chain level with the floor -- all of which I did.

As I went step-by-step through the cleaning process though, my bike started hammering me with its usual worries:

First I filled the cleaning machine's reservoir with citrus degreaser...

"Wait, don't spill it!" it yelled.

...then I pressed the chain into the bottom half of the machine...

"Careful, don't twist the chain!"

...and clasped on the lid...

"Don't get the chain stuck!"

...then I started turning the pedal cranks...

"Watch out, don't let the chain fall off the chainring!"

...and the chain fell off the chainring.

My bike looked at me. I looked at my bike.

"See," it said.

I groaned.

It took some doing to get the chain back on the sprocket. Even though I had shifted the chain into the middle gear of my triple chainring set, it actually fell outside the largest chainring and wedged itself in the front derailleur cage. Yikes! I'm sorry I couldn't take a photo for this post, but my hands were covered in grease. After shifting the front derailleur into the highest gear though, I was able to pry the chain back into place pretty easily.

With a renewed sense of purpose, I said to my bike...

"Don't worry, it's o.k. We simply forgot Rule Number One: throw out the instructions!"

My bike just rolled its eyes.

I figured the problem had to do with the chain being in the smallest rear cog, which never feels all that stable even when riding. I was wary of this when I read it in the instructions. So I shifted the chain into a nice centrally located cog and tried again.

This time everything fell into place. I turned the cranks, and after a few starts and stops, the chain moved smoothly through the multitude of sponges and brushes, degreasing and cleaning itself to a sparkly finish. After a number of rotations, I undid the lid and removed the contraption from the chain. It never looked so clean!

I then dried the chain with a cotton cloth and gingerly applied a light coating of chain lube. After letting it sink in, I wiped away the excess and stood back to inspect my handiwork.

Nice! I could have repeated the process to make it completely spotless, but I'd had enough for one morning. I thought it looked awesome as is.

My bike just stood there gleaming, and I could tell it was pleased. After washing out the cleaning machine, I put my handy new tools away. Time for my morning ride! I pulled back the curtains and checked the weather out the window...

It was raining.

I looked at my bike ... I looked at the rain ... I looked at my bike ... I looked at the rain again. I thought about all I did.

Then my bike said:

"Why don't you just go to Dunkin' Donuts and get a nice cup of coffee. We'll ride tomorrow."

My bike. It always knows.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ghosts of Boston Harbor

When you live near a very old harbor, odd things are always showing up at your doorstep. For instance, this just appeared in my corner of the harbor last week:

It's a barge -- or more exactly, about a third of a barge. It was a complete vessel when it arrived, with a bow, a stern, and everything in between intact. I saw it every day as I crossed over the Neponset River Bridge on the subway.

But by the time I rode out to it on my bike this morning, all that was left was:

Now, I love industrial ruins. Abandoned factories, dilapidated wharfs, crumbling mills ... they all have an eerie, dark beauty about them. And this barge seemed especially mysterious as I passed by it on the subway, when it was all in one piece.

So looking at its remains this morning...

...I was sad to see it in the process of being demolished. The grimy old barge would have felt very much at home naturally decaying among the other ruins in this quiet part of the harbor, like the sparse remnants of Flounder Fleet Wharf next door...

...the overgrown runway just across the water I wrote about last year...

...and the strange industrial tower on my normal riding route (here in a photo I took on a gloomy morning last month):

It must have had an interesting life, this old barge. So as I got back on my bike to head for home...

I took a parting photo...

...and wished it well as it joins the many ghosts of Boston Harbor.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Early Evening on the Road

I took a rare after-work bike ride this past Tuesday. I usually prefer to ride in the early hours of the morning, but this evening's ride turned out to be a real treat.

I watched the sun set over the salt marshes:

And on the waterfront, as the city wound down its day...

...someone played bagpipes out by that mysterious tower. I couldn't see the piper -- he or she must have been on the other side of the rocky neck. But the sound of those pipes spread all across the harbor. As a blimp hovered over Fenway Park off in the distance (the dot on the left)...

...and the Red Sox prepared to take on our arch-rival New York Yankees, that music seemed to be the perfect way to let this warm spring day settle into a beautiful Boston night.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Early Morning on the Road

It's 70 degrees outside as I write this post, at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. But this morning the temperature was in the low 40's. So when I got out of bed at 6:00 a.m., I had a choice ... I could go back to sleep and plan for an afternoon ride in the warmer weather (the forecasters have been talking about it for days), or I could head out at 6:20 with the cold still in the air, but enjoy sunrise over the bay and little traffic.

I chose the sunrise...

Even though it was fairly light when I began my ride (and I was wearing my usual bright-red windbreaker), I still attached lights to my bike to be doubly sure cars could see me...

But really, the roads are always pretty much all mine that hour of the morning...

...except for a feathery friend fishing beside the causeway...