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winter biking

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Usually the best part of my day is my bike commute to work from the New North End of Burlington. It’s about 6 1/2 miles, and takes me about a half hour. I get some valuable time to myself, freed from the demands of work or family, it’s great exercise, and it’s a good time to mentally prepare for or unwind from the work day. I’m saving money on gas and health club memberships, it’s good for the environment, and it’s just more fun than sitting in the car.

I’ve been bike commuting in the summers for years, but in the fall last year I attended a lunchtime session sponsored by the EPIC crew about winter biking. They brought in Chapin Spencer, the director of Local Motion (a local “active transportation” advocacy group) and one of the mechanics from the local bike shop The Old Spokes Home to give advice on clothes, equipment, and things to watch out for.

It didn’t seem all that hard, so I decided to give it a try, and for the most part it turned out to be way easier than I thought it would be. Once I figured out the clothes and equipment parts of it, the actual biking turned into part of my daily routine, just like it is in the summer. It even made snowboarding more fun, because my legs were much stronger than they’ve been through previous winters.

If I can do it, you can do it too! In retrospect I’m kind of surprised that more people here don’t winter bike, given the fact that we are generally big fans of winter at Burton. If you ride a snowboard in the winter, you are most of the way towards being able to do it on a bike – you probably already have a lot of what you’ll need. Fortunately we have a proform deal with the bike supply outfit Hawley, so you can probably get anything you need for pretty cheap.

The most important thing in any winter sport is to stay warm, and that means wearing the right clothes. When I started I was basically wearing an old version of what I would wear to go snowboarding, and while that worked pretty well, I ended up changing it a bit. With snowboarding, you alternate moving around and sitting still a lot, so you go through a lot of hot/cold cycles.

With bike riding, though, you’re moving the whole time, so you need less. Instead of snowpants I would just wear a first layer with a pair of shorts on top, so that there was less fabric around the drivetrain to get caught on the chain. And instead of a fleece or a sweater underneath my shell, I’d generally just wear a thick first layer and the shell, and that would be good enough. The heat you generate is enough to keep you warm, but you should carry sweater or something warm with you in case you break down or have to stop for some reason. And speaking of stopping, you should definitely carry a spare tube. They’re bigger than a patch kit, but it takes just as long to apply a patch as it does to just change the tube, and that way you’re not trying to find a tiny hole in the dark and cold.

I also started with heavier winter boots, but found that plain old sneakers worked fine. Warm socks were a must, of course. Winter in Vermont means that some days will be slushy and wet, while others will be frozen solid. On the wet days you might want to stick with the heavier waterproof boots, because your feet will get wet and we all know that wet socks + cold = painful toes. It’s equally important to keep your hands warm. Unlike with snowboarding, they’ve got to keep warm enough to work well. They are less likely to get wet, but you need a good pair of gloves to be able to have enough dexterity to work the brakes and hold on properly while still staying warm.

Some people say to just wear work clothes underneath the outwear so you’re good to go when you arrive, but I always carry a backpack with my work clothes and stuff in it. I just give myself an extra 15 minutes or so to change clothes and take a quick shower when I get here.

As far as hardware goes, you might think that you need a ton of special bike gear to bike thru the winter, but you only really need a few key things.

You will definitely want to use your warmer R.E.D. helmet with the ninjaclava underneath, and you should have a pair of your Anons in case it snows. Get some night lenses because it will probably be dark. The darkness will also mean you should have some good lights. Now, you can get really fancy and have super bright floodlights on your bike, but I used a $15 front and back light combo I got from Hawley that worked just fine. Your lighting needs will probably depend on where you are riding, but since my whole route is in Burlington I can depend on streetlights, and just need my lights to be visible to cars.

I just have one mountain bike, which I think lets me get out in the widest variety of conditions, but I see fixies and road bikes and touring bikes in the winter all the time, so don’t let that stop you. I rode on knobby tires for a long while, and they worked pretty well, but when it comes to ultimate winter domination you can’t beat studded tires. These will be the most expensive piece of winter biking equipment you might get, but I hear they last years and years because they get ridden for a relatively short period of time per year.

One of the biggest changes for me was the route I had to take. In the summer, I’m lucky enough to be able to take the bike path the whole way, but in the winter it gets taken over by cross-country skiers and never gets plowed or anything, so it’s less than ideal for biking. I ended up just taking over the sidewalks. Some people just ride on the shoulder of the road, but I always got a little worried about hitting an ice patch at the wrong time and falling, so the sidewalk seemed better.

As I mentioned before, the conditions can vary a lot, and are probably the biggest challenge to winter biking. I stayed warm with the setup I mentioned on all but the coldest days. On the below-zero days, I’d throw on a sweater underneath the shell. During the very coldest cold snaps it can be hard to keep hands and feet warm, but that only put me on the bus a handful of times when it was -10 or lower. When it’s super cold like that the sidewalks and roads can be a strange combination of dry patches melted by the salt-spreaders and sheets of ice. Studded tires will keep you upright on the ice sheets, and even on regular knobbies you will usually be ok if you take it easy. The main thing to remember on ice is not to turn or brake if you can help it. If you go slow in a straight line, gravity will stay your friend.

If it’s snowing heavily, I usually depended on the diligence of the road crews to keep me rolling. It’s easy to bike in up to about 6 inches of snow, especially with good wide knobby and preferably studded tires, but anything more than that can be slow going. Generally the roads are cleared pretty quick thanks to our tax dollars at work, though it’s pretty fun to ride through loose snow, though, and your snowboarding skills will come in handy with knowing the fall line and how to manage a skid gracefully without having to bail.

On the warmer days the challenge is keeping your feet dry, but fenders and good waterproof boots will help keep you dry, along with slowing down through the block-long puddles that can form in the spring.

Bring your bike inside at Burton and at home if you can, because the water that builds up on it during the ride can hurt your parts when it freezes. And since you’ll be ridiing through lots of salty water, you will rust out most of your drivetrain over the course of the winter. Once spring comes around it’s a good idea to get your friendly local bike mechanic to check it out, and they’ll probably to replace at least the chain and a few other parts.

Trust me when I say that winter biking’s really not that hard. You’re already going outside on a regular basis to ride a snowboard, so it’s really not that much different to ride a bike, and it’s another way to enjoy playing in the snow on those work days where you might not be able to any other way.

Honestly, what with getting all sweaty and swallowing bugs by accident and dodging all the yahoos that walk their dogs on those stupid retractable leashes on the bike path, I’ve been missing my dark silent lonesome winter rides lately…

old playlist

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Found an old tape with “Energy Music” written on the Pay N’ Save label.  It must be at least 20 years old.

It’s notable mostly for the fact that I never made mixtapes, and still don’t.  Even in this age of mixes and iPod shuffle, I am still a fan of the Album.  Most of the time I will listen to one the whole way through before I play another one, even if I know some of the songs on it suck.

Here are the songs on it:
side 1
The Cult – Spiritwalker
Rolling Stones – One Hit (To the Body)
The Power Station – Bang a Gong
The Cult – Electric Ocean
Talking Heads – Television Man
Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere
side 2
some classical that i would be able to identify if i was more cultured
Dire Straits – The Man’s Too Strong
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
Jan Hammer – Miami Vice theme (with an an intro from the radio show it was recorded from)
Duran Duran – View to a Kill theme
Thomas Dolby – She Blinded Me With Science

New North End Secession = hot air

Friday, April 17th, 2009

The Burlington Free Press recently ran an article about talk of the New North End neighborhood seceding from the town.  Aside from the fact that I think that’s a dumb idea and would never actually go anywhere, the article itself seemed to be trying to report a nonexistent story.

There was not a single quote from anyone advocating for secession, and the sixth paragraph admits that there’s no official movement.  You get a few quotes from City Councilor Paul Decelles and neighborhood activist Lea Terhune saying “people” are discontented.  Terhune, in particular, provides the only real substantial quote:

Still, people like Lea Terhune, a Ward 4 resident, see a good deal of political discontent over a good number of issues: zoning, code enforcement, instant-runoff voting, use of tax dollars and the disc-golf proposal at Leddy Park. People in her neighborhood are disgruntled, and with reason, she said.

“The question is, will things change significantly in the city so that the New North End feels less alienated from the decisions that are made in City Hall?” she said.

After those introductory paragraphs, there’s a short history of the area, which is only marginally related to secession.  Stats are provided that show the NNE differs demographically from the rest of the city: more people there vote, own homes, and then one semi-misleading stat is provided: 40% of Burlington residents 65 and over live in the New North End.

I couldn’t find census data that was broken out by age and neighborhood, so I couldn’t verify the stat itself, but according to the 2000 census, the 65 and over age group was 10.5% of the population of Burlington, or 4,092 people.  40% of that is 1637 people.  My question is, what’s the total population of the NNE?  What percentage of that total is made up of people 65 and older?

The next paragraphs of the story give some interesting (but unattributed) statistics about how voter turnout is much higher in Wards 4 and 7, and how much lower percentages of Wards 4 and 7 voted to approve the school budget, which did pass, but only narrowly.  Jean O’Sullivan, a former city councilor and longtime NNE resident, explains it this way:

Senior citizens on limited incomes are sensitive to tax increases, and this explains part of the voting on school issues in the New North End, O’Sullivan suggested. It’s a mistake to assume New North End residents are all conservatives, as many do, the Democrat emphasized.

“I have been re-elected three times,” O’Sullivan said. “No one could possibly accuse me of being conservative in any way, shape or form.”

A paragraph later, a conservative weighs in:

Vincent Dober Sr., a newly elected Republican city councilor from Ward 7, heard many constituents voice concern about the school budget’s increasing so much this year, on the heels of a 10 percent increase last year. Budget approval by the rest of the city left some residents of Wards 4 and 7 feeling they must pay the tab for food somebody else ordered.

“Everyone wants good schools, but we can’t afford to keep going at this pace,” Dober said.

So by this point of the story, you get the strong impression that the NNE is full of older folks who don’t want to pay for those durn schools any more.  I guess the quote from O’Sullivan is meant to show it’s not universal, and Decelles ends the article by saying that he’s head secession talk come and go, and how his goal is to keep the NNE as part of Burlington, but the stereotype of our neighborhood came through quite strongly.

As a member of the Flynn Elementary community and a parent of young children in the NNE, I can officially say that stereotype is not true.  Sure, there are lots of retirees in our neighborhood.  But the article downplayed the fact that there are two senior centers located out here, which in my view would more than account for the fact that our population is older than in other city ‘hoods.  And there was virtually no mention of what might be the largest demographic in the neighboorhood: middle-class families. Stroll down North Avenue at 2:30 and you will see hundreds of kids getting out of school and going home to their younger families that live here.

ride a bike!

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I think this world would be a better place if everyone rode bikes more.

They’re simple machines, and you can learn to maintain them yourself or have it done for you extremely cheaply.  They last for years if properly taken care of, and they’re powered by the most renewable energy source there is.

Biking is good for you, mentally and physically.  Not only do you get good exercise while you’re moving from point A to point B, you experience the environment around you in a way that you just can’t do from a car.  And you can move at your own pace.  If you want to take it slow and just mosey along on the sidewalk, you can, or if you want to race cars and do crazy bike messenger bus-dodging, you can (though I would not recommend the latter if you like staying in one piece).

It’s also good for the environment.  Bikes cause zero emissions, of course, and they use a relatively small amount of metal for the machine itself and for the hydrocarbons needed to lubricate it.

It’s better for our collective quality of life, because it creates less traffic, less fatal accidents, and more personal interaction.  It’s not very easy to have “bike rage.”  It does happen, but since bikers have to deal with problems face-to-face in a way that drivers don’t, the crazy factor generally gets reined in.

All these benefits also add up to it being simply cheaper to bike.  It’s even cheaper than public transit, although most places you can combine the two if you need to.

You live far from your work, you say?  I think many people do, but you can make that work too.  Drive as far as you must, but take your bike for at least part of the way.  If you’re commuting into the city center, you won’t have to deal with crazy downtown traffic or the expensive parking.  And you’ll get mad respect from the bike messengers once they see you every day.  Maybe you’ll even start to see the city differently – I really think if our population centers were more bike-friendly, it would be better urban planning.

It’s not easy to start the habit.  Like anything worth doing, it takes commitment and effort.  But once you get into it, you’ll appreciate it more and more.  People will ask you if you’re working out.  Your co-workers will remember you as the bike person.  You’ll be relaxed and ready for your destination when you get there, because you had some fresh air and quiet time to think as you pedal.

Don’t you remember how free you felt when you rode your bike as a kid?  You can get that feeling back!

hipster is a meaningless term

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Liam pointed me to this article that calls out hipsters for basically being the endpoint of Western civilization.

It don’t think that you can compare self-obsessed club kids with a true counterculture, it was a nice n’ scathing evisceration of the vanity of people who try to be too hard to be cool without just trying hard to be real.

I think it’s a sign of the difference between 26 and 36 (to use one of my favorite phrases these days) that I think this way, but their reflexive preening attitude is my main worry about our hyperconnected world (and yes, haha irony that i’m putting this thought in a blog posting): very little happens nowadays that is not filtered through the great digital echo chamber.

It takes no time at all for shit to become stale.  Memes come and go, relentlessly farmed by people who want to be on the edge, and they wither and die like cut flowers.  How will the kids come up with good stuff if they’re so worried about how it’s going to look?  Maybe the only way to come up with something original is to toil away in digital seclusion, like neal stephenson.  Until that becomes hipster.  Then I guess creative people are fucked.

mantra for today

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

“imagine the life you want to live.”

fantasy football scouting

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

To the person who leaves the printouts from ESPN.com with fantasy football scouting reports in the men’s room at work:

Thank you.

surfing rules!

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

So we went on our family vacation to Maine recently, which was awesome.  I surprised myself, though, with how much of it I wanted to spend at the beach.  We spent two days hanging out on the beach out of the 6 we were there, and it just didn’t seem like enough.

When it was time to leave the beach on those days, I didn’t want to go, even as I was playing the good daddy and shepherding the boys away from the water.  When we were eating dinner, I just wanted to go back to the sand.  When it was raining and threatening thunderstorms, I figured we could hang out at the beach till we actually saw lightning bolts.

We did some really fun things in between beach times, don’t get me wrong.  I would have been bummed to not go to Strawberry Banke or the zoo.  But I have to confess that I just can’t get enough of the beach.  The lake is fun, and there are nice things about a lake that the ocean doesn’t offer, but there is simply no substitute for the power of the sea.

Probably the main reason I’ve been thinking about it so much was because I took a surf lesson.  I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to try it!  And I have to try it now, when I live hundreds of miles from the ocean, when I lived within walking distance for years and years in SF?  What the hell was I thinking?  Surfing is the perfect sport for me.  It’s by far the king of the boardsports.  It’s strange to me that snowboarding has gotten so big when both skateboarding and surfing are so much better.  Skateboarding is the ultimate in simplicity.  You have a pretty cheap and simple device that’s super portable, and you can do it anywhere that’s flat.  Surfing takes more effort because you can only do it in specific places, and the board is much bigger, but still, you just dive in and go.  With snowboarding, not only do you have the most equipment of any of the three, but by and large you’re restricted to specific places that are generally far from populated areas.  And these places have to maintain huge infrastructures to get people from the bottom to the top of the mountains and to keep the snow cover reasonably consistent in many of them.  And yes, lots of places don’t need snowmaking, and you can always hike, but that’s not the reality for most people.

Taking that surf lesson and falling in love with it instantly made me realize what it’s like for people who live in NYC or Boston and who love snowboarding in Vermont, but just can’t make it up here very often.  They have to look at it the way I have to look at a surf trip: it’s a commitment in time and money and it’s a very special occasion when it can happen.  They dream about moving to the mountains, and they read our website just to get the merest taste of the lifestyle.  I take snowboarding for granted now.  It’s easy to go and there are lots of incentives to go.  I should go more than I do, given how easy it is.  It’s good to remember that many people are not so lucky…

But it’s summer now, and all I want to do is go surfing again.  I want to feel the sand in my toes.  I want to watch the sun go down over the ocean (yes, I know I’m living near the wrong coast for that, but sunsets over the ocean are better than sunrises).  I want to smell the overpowering smell of sea life, permeating everything, flavoring everything with that metallic tang.  I want to clear my head with the constant roar of water slowly grinding rock to powder.  I want to watch my kids dig holes to see the water flow in as the tide comes in.

Ah well.  I will do well to remember those people who envy me, just like I envy beach residents right now…

salvatore is 3

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Dear Sal:

It seems like time passes more quickly for you than it does for your brother.  Much as Mommy and I try to keep the pace of your lives as mellow as we can, time still gets away from us.  You are already three!

There’s such a difference between two and three, Salvatore.  Now you run, climb, tumble and play with so much more confidence in your body.  You just do things now, where at two there was still a sort of experimental quality to how you moved.  Now you just go for it, and if you tumble and fall, well, it just means you have a good story and a scrape to show me when I come home that evening.

You think of much more than you can say, I think, but you try all the same, and I can tell that not being able to make the words come out of your mouth the way you want them to is incredibly frustrating sometimes.  And then you have a total meltdown, the likes of which Enzo never really had, the red-faced, balled-fists, eyes-shut screaming that only utter toddler helplessness can bring.  But you are like your mother, it seems.  You get over it, and you move on.  I know you will learn to live with life’s frustrations, but I hope you can learn to harness that fire inside, because it can be a pretty powerful force.

Not that you are inarticulate.  Far from it.  You have more words than I thought possible, and more new ones come every day, and you put them together in ever more complex arrays.  And you are very observant.  It’s strange to have a little one mention things to you that you thought passed them by, but that’s part of the joy of being a parent.  You and Enzo are a true reflection of how things are going at the Boone household, and I’m glad that you are both doing so well.

I am proud to be your father, and happy birthday!

I have returned

Monday, February 18th, 2008

It’s incredible that the last entry in here is of Sal as a baby.  He’s a boy now, and we just put his crib away a couple of weeks ago in favor of a toddler-sized bed. And Enzo is in kindergarten now. Kacey’s a full time mom, jewelry artist, business consultant and children’s book rep (all from home), and me?  Well…I guess I’m doing the same stuff I’ve always done.  I’m still working for the same place, and still doing much the same things when I’m not there.  Which as you might expect means that I need some new outlets for my energy after all this time.

So I’m going to have a serious go at blogging now.  I struggled for a while over picking some kind of theme, but as Kacey wisely said, “I think the most important thing is to just start doing it, and a theme will probably come out naturally.”

I know that I’m going to try to review all the media I consume, so there are categories for music, books, and movies.  I watch a lot of TV and play a lot of video games, too, so those will probably make it in here at times.  I don’t usually catch things right when they come out, so don’t expect me to be timely, though.

Anyway, you can probably expect some bits about programming and web usability, and just random stuff that I observe.  Sound eclectic?  Yeah, that’s the theme so far…