Friday, October 28, 2011

Ghosts of Races Past

When it comes to commemorating great bicycle races, there's no Boston Garden on which to hang a championship banner...

...or Fenway Park.

That's because only a few hours after a road race ends, like the TD Bank Mayor's Cup criterium I attended here in Boston last month...

...the city settles back into...

And that's o.k. This is what makes cycling so special.

In the Mayor's Cup race, which consisted of multiple laps around City Hall Plaza, the scene of cars speeding down Cambridge Street that's repeated night after night...

...for one special day was preceded by this scene for the women's race...

...and this for the men's...

The race results certainly look solid enough...

1. Jen McRae (787 Racing)
2. Samantha Schneider (Team TIBCO/To The Top)
3. Coryn Rivera (Peanut Butter & Co.TWENTY12)

1. Ken Hanson (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda)
2. Dan Holt (Team Type 1)
3. Luke Keough (Mountain Khakis p/b SmartStop)

But what you may not notice in these photos I took of the winners... that if you take away that temporary stage, all you'll be left with is...

So how do we keep the memory of great races alive? Through blogs, paintings, books, collages, photographs, and magazines. That's why "cycling culture" is almost always tied to some sort of creative endeavor. It's from those elusive arts that our own championship banners are hung.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday on the Minuteman

It's autumn in New England, and the Minuteman Bikeway just gets more and more beautiful with each ride.

Beginning at Alewife Station in North Cambridge, the "Minuteman" is an old rail line that was converted to a bikeway in 1993. Remnants of its passenger train heritage still exist, such as this "W" marker which directed engineers to blow the train's whistle...

...and this old railway car at the trail's Bedford end:

On weekday mornings the Minuteman Bikeway is one of the country's busiest rail-trails, and for good reason. Running 11 miles through the towns of Bedford, Lexington, Arlington, and Cambridge, it's a fast and direct car-free route from the historic western suburbs to Boston's Red Line subway. I like to think this makes the Minuteman uniquely "New England"; it's as practical as it is scenic.

Although shared by cyclists, runners, skaters, and people simply out for a stroll, the Minuteman Bikeway's smooth surface and yellow center-line make it easy to pass slower traffic. In fact, while the path's multi-use purpose rules out high speeds, on quiet early mornings we cyclists can still pedal along at a pretty good clip, which is quite thrilling without having to worry about cars.

The Minuteman Bikeway isn't very close to where I live, but there are two great ways for me to get to the start of the path from my home on the South Shore.

The best way is by bicycle, of course! It's a spectacular 25-mile ride, running by the beaches of South Boston...

...the ships in Boston's Cruiseport...

...commercial boats on Boston's Fish Pier...

...on bike lanes into downtown...

...through Boston's historic North End...

...and on the Charles River Bike Path.

The other way for me to get to the start of the Minuteman is to take my bike on the Red Line subway (the "T", as we Bostonians call it).

The T allows and encourages bikes on most of its lines. If you're reading this and live in the Boston area, check out the T's guidelines here.

Within the past three weeks, I've both cycled and taken the T to the start of the Minuteman. Yesterday morning I chose the T, since I wanted to get to the Bikeway as soon as possible to ride its full length and then continue out beyond its western end.

Arriving at Alewife Station around 7:45 am...

...I entered the Bikeway, which is just across the street.

I then rode the entire trail...

...taking a short detour through the center of Lexington...

...and stopping to admire the Minuteman's quirky mile markers along the way. This one indicates Mile 7. Can you figure out how?

(Hint: Think Roman numerals!)

Reaching the end of the Minuteman in Bedford, I then rode on extraordinary tree-lined roads out to the nearby town of Billerica and back.

Feeling the need for that most favorite of cycling beverages (coffee), I stopped in Lexington's Ride Studio Cafe on my way back down the Minuteman (you can read about the Cafe in my Oct. 17th post). It was full of cyclists! I enjoyed a great iced coffee while chatting with an amateur racer relocating to the Boston-area from Pittsburgh. Thanks so much to the Ride Studio for putting my Oct. 17th post on their facebook page!

After enjoying about a half-hour at the Ride Studio, I got back on the trail, rode to Alewife Station, and took the T home. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning in New England, don't you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Ride Studio Cafe

On the Minuteman Bikeway... the historic village of Lexington, Massachusetts...

There's a coffee shop.

Now on the surface, there's nothing special about a coffee shop in Lexington. Across the street from this Ride Studio Cafe is a Starbucks and a Peet's Coffee. And like every other town in Massachusetts, a Dunkin Donuts isn't far away.

But the Ride Studio Cafe taps into something extraordinary.

According to a historical plaque outside the old Lexington train station, through which the Minuteman Bikeway now passes...

...19th-Century Lexington was once known as a "town of taverns", a place where weary travelers could escape the cold, and enjoy good food and company before resuming their journeys.

I'm not sure Peet's and Starbucks reflect that today, but for cyclist-travelers on the Minuteman Bikeway, the Ride Studio Cafe brings the romantic notion of a mid-adventure tavern back to life -- but now as a 21st-Century cafe, with coffee and croissants rather than ale and roast mutton! The Ride Studio Cafe is a coffee shop devoted to cyclists.

What an ingenious idea! It's part high-end bike shop, part repair shop, and part coffee shop.

I stopped by the Cafe on my own journey down the Minuteman Saturday morning, and it was as if I had stepped into a vortex of cycling culture, in all its cool creative essence. After all, "coffee-shop culture" and "bike culture" are like old friends, each with a deep appreciation of community consciousness, off-beat artistry, and good story-telling.

If you plan to visit the Ride Studio Cafe but don't have a bike lock, no worries. Just bring your bike inside and park it on the rack. That's my blue bike in the foreground:

Feeling self-conscious about your biking shorts, snug-fitting jersey, cycling gloves, and helmet? Don't. On the morning of my visit most of the customers were in full cycling gear.

In fact, during my entire time there I never bothered to take off my helmet or cycling gloves!

After placing my bike on the rack, I ordered an iced coffee from the barista and sat down at a big wooden table which had an assortment of strange and wonderful cycling magazines.

I watched a bit of the 2000 Championship of Zurich that was playing on the large flat screen television...

...and then I turned my attention to those magazines and journals as I enjoyed my iced coffee (it was excellent coffee, served in a nice big glass).

Although the Ride Studio Cafe sells these hard-to-find cycling magazines, I didn't have a way to carry them home on my bike. So I can't wait to go back one night after work this week and buy them! Rouleur looked especially intriguing -- an artistic, almost avant-garde journal with thoughtful stories and striking photography.

The owner and staff kindly let me take pictures in the shop (I asked permission), but I'm always sensitive about taking close-ups of people. So although there aren't many other cyclists shown in my photos, a steady stream of customers did roll in and out during my brief time at the Cafe. One man who seemed to know everyone happily told tales of his cycling trip to Italy.

So there I was in this unique cafe, enjoying iced coffee in a tall glass, surrounded by sleek handmade bicycles, reading exotic cycling journals, all in the middle of a historic village not far from America's most popular rail-trail. It doesn't get much better than that.

I could have stayed there all morning! But now that I had discovered this super-cool place, I knew there would be more visits in the future. So it was time to get back on the bike. I paid for my coffee, left a tip in the jar, walked my bike out the door and down the sidewalk, and then resumed my journey on the beautiful Minuteman Bikeway.

But a funny thing happened as I sped down the path. Having spent time at the Ride Studio Cafe, I felt like I was no longer just a single cyclist enjoying an early-autumn ride. I was now part of the greater cycling culture. Thinking of those cutting-edge cycling journals, riders telling tales of faraway places, and the old-world artistry of handmade bicycles, I had the sense that a simple ride can inspire endless creativity.

Maybe that's why so many great stories include cafes, inns, and taverns. There's a kind of subtle wisdom in those intimate spaces. We enter, enjoy, reflect, and then resume our journey -- but somehow we're changed, just a little. The path ahead seems richer than ever, bright with possibility.