By Peter Burns
Repetition and Difference
Most mornings I ride into Burlington, either to go to the YMCA or to work. With slight variations, my daily route is the same but each time I ride, there are differences. The weather shifts from day to day, my mood is different and as the seasons flow one into the other, the flora and fauna change as does my outerwear.
By Peter Burns
I can trace most of the main roads in Chittenden County in my mind. Sometimes in the winter, I like to remember the rides I took in the summer, retracing them in my mind. As I leave Chittenden County the mental map starts to fade out. When I am planning a local recreational ride, my mind automatically explores a few different routes, along with the possible road conditions. Traffic and wind direction also important. I want to avoid busy roads, especially during rush hour. If the wind is blowing at more than ten miles per hour, I ride into the wind on the way out, and with the wind on my way home. Sometimes I change my route during the ride. In the evening of June 17th, I was riding back toward Winooski on Middle Road in Colchester. My original plan was to take a right on Route 2A and head home by way of Mallets Bay Avenue. But I was low as on water and wanted to use the facilities so instead, I took a left on 2A and went to the Burnham Library for a break. Because I have a clear mental map of the area, it was easy enough to figure out the way home from the library.
By Peter Burns
It is possible to write an autobiography focused on any number of subjects. While it would not be appropriate for this blog, I could write my storytelling autobiography, my reading autobiography or my work autobiography. We all live multiple lives. Here is my bicycle autobiography.
By Peter Burns
Finding a place to urinate can be a challenge. I don't like to stop within sight of a house, and it is nice to have a place to lean my bike. On most rural Vermont roads it is possible to get out of sight fairly quickly, behind trees and bushes. It is easier when there are leaves on the trees and bushes.
By Peter Burns
A couple of months ago I was in the locker room at the YMCA when a friend asked me about bike injuries. I said, "Sometimes my wrists hurt and once in a while I get a sore knee or back, but I don't have any chronic problems because of bike riding. Even on a steep hill it is possible to go slowly and stay relaxed if you find the right gear and use the correct cadence." My friend said, "That is a good life lesson." Here are two more life lessons drawn from my bike riding experiences.
By Peter Burns
I can use the map apps on my phone, but I prefer paper maps. In an unfamiliar place, the phone maps are difficult to follow. They give a micro view of where you are, but not the bigger picture. When you zoom out, street names disappear. Last summer when I ventured across the lake to ride south to Port Henry and then took the ferry back to Charlotte, I almost got lost. I used my phone and maps copied from a New York State Atlas, but I would have preferred a regional map. Sometimes I can tell where I am but I am not sure if I am heading in the right direction. There is also the option of mapping out a route using one of the map apps and then printing it out. I first learned to use maps in England, when I was walking through the countryside. I used Ordinance Survey maps which are beautifully designed. Perhaps I inherited a bit of map reading ability from my father. He was a flight navigator for B-52 airplanes, although he was never involved in any actual bombing runs.
By Peter Burns
In the summer I am not usually bothered by mosquitoes or ticks but I still wear bug repellent because when I stop by the side of the road for a break or go into the woods to answer the call of nature, I get swarmed by mosquitoes. I also get attacked by mosquitoes when I ride up steep hills. I climb so slowly that they can keep up with me but when I get to the top of a hill I leave them behind. On sunny days I wear sun glasses and on cloudy days I wear clear glasses. This keeps most of the insects out of my eyes. Once, many years ago, I rode into a bee and it stung me on the chest. It was startling. From time to time I spot a butterfly flitting through a field. I can identify Monarch Butterflies, Swallowtails and yellow Cabbage Butterflies. Beyond that I am clueless. In the summer I often hear the sound of crickets and cicadas. One December, a couple of years ago, it was 70 degrees just before Christmas. I went for a ride in Shelburne and as I glided through the countryside I felt strange because although the temperature felt like summertime, I did not hear any birds or insects.
I have an old pair of Pearl Izumi winter bike tights that have a zipper at the bottom of each leg. One of the zippers broke and this presented a problem. The tights are second hand, so I did not feel that I could return them to the manufacturer. Having a seamstress replace the zipper would be expensive and my sewing skills are not up to replacing a zipper myself. The tights are very warm and aside from the zipper, in good shape. I did not want to get rid of them. I needed a way to keep the lower part of the tights closed. I could have duct taped them shut, but that would make it hard to put them on and take them off. The most obvious solution would be to tuck the tights into my socks. This would work, but I wear long underwear under the tights and I need to tuck my long underwear into my socks so the long underwear does not ride up under the tights. I tried keeping the tights closed with rubber bands, but that left big gaps. The same thing happened when I used metal pant leg cuff clips. Then I remembered a pair of footless wool socks that I bought a couple of years ago when Eastern Mountain Sports was going out of business. They proved to be the perfect solution! First I tucked my long underwear into my socks, then I put on my tights and finally I pulled on the footless wool socks. They kept the bottom of the tights secure and also provided an extra layer of warmth. I was very pleased.
Elements of Bike Riding, Part 7
Recreational Winter Riding
The elements have to be just right for a fun winter road ride. The roads have to be clear of snow and dry, because the bike I ride for pleasure has no fenders. The temperature has to be above 35 degrees with no rain, I have to have time to ride and it has to be well before dark. In December, when the sun is setting at around 4, just finding enough daylight is a challenge. On December 21st, all the elements came together and I was able to take my first fun ride in quite some time. I have been riding daily for practical purposes and I am in good enough shape to ride for two hours without any difficulty. I went on my usual short ride route -- from Winooski through the Intervale to Mallets Bay, then the Colchester Bike Path to 2A where I stopped at the Burnham Library to use the bathroom and get some water. I went on Depot Road, Sand Road and Gentes Road which took me back to 2A. I circled back to Suzie Wilson Road and then rode through Fort Ethan Allen and Saint Michael's to get back to Winooski. There was a moment, on the Colchester Bike Path, overlooking Mallets Bay, when I felt that opening up of the mind and body that is one reason I ride. It is a feeling of spaciousness and joy, a sense of freedom difficult for me to achieve in other areas of my life. One of the pleasures of riding in the winter is that you can look through the woods and see things that are blocked by the leaves in the summertime. I see houses and sheds that are invisible during the warmer months. Last summer I photographed wild flowers. This spring I will start photographing abandoned sheds and barns. I saw two good sheds on my ride. Even on warmer winter rides, I don't take photographs because my hands get cold easily, even with gloves liners on. That is why my photography project will start in the spring.
In the winter, when I get home from riding, I bring my bike into the front porch so that it can dry off from the snow or rain. Later I bring the bike into the house. There are many advantages to having an inside bike. It is easy to put more air in the tires or lubricate the chain. The bike and the bike lock dry throughly every night. Last year when I kept my bikes out in a shed, my lock got wet in the rain and then froze overnight. It was really hard to get open in the morning, and from then on, when it got really cold, the lock was hard to use. The biggest advantage in the winter is that you can leave the house with both you and the bike warm. In single digit temperatures, even with glove liners on, my hands quickly get cold if I have to unlock my bike and put my lock in my pannier then close the pannier. It also takes some time to put on my bike helmet and switch on my lights. Once my hands get cold, they don't warm up again until I am inside.
When I teach winter bike classes I tell participants about the importance of the indoor bike, and I suggest that if necessary, they may have to get rid of a roommate or a spouse to make room for the bicycle. It it just a matter of getting ones priorities straight.
Other Bike Riders
Cars present the real danger for bike riders but It can be annoying when too many pedestrians and bike riders are using the same recreation path. Last year, in early October, on the holiday weekend, I took the Colchester Causeway to the bike ferry. It was a cool gray day and I thought that the weather might keep others away, but the Causeway was crowded with riders and walkers of all ages. I don't go very fast, but I do go faster than most causal riders, so I passed others bike riders. People coming the opposite way often drifted into my lane and only looked up at the last minute. Riders and pedestrians going my way did not stay over on the right hand side. It was no fun. If we suddenly had as many bike riders as we have car drivers, chaos would result and it would be frustrating to ride a bike. There will be more riders as time goes on and infrastructure and bike riding culture will have to keep pace.
I see other bike riders most days. There are still few enough of us to stand out among pedestrians and cars. I know a handful of people to wave to, the rest are strangers. Some riders are slower than me, some faster. There is one particular man who seems in a great hurry and he is always passing me in town. It is usually when I am on my commuter bike, loaded down with stuff. Also, in the city, I see no need to ride fast. Sometimes he passes me on Riverside Avenue. I confess that I fantasize about seeing him when I am on my road bike. Then I would leave him in the dust! This is unlikely to happen because I rarely ride my road bike in town.
By being involved with Local Motion and Old Spokes Home, as well as online groups, I have come to feel that I am part of the bike community here in Burlington. It is a good feeling. Many of the things I love to do are solitary pursuits. I usually ride, swim, do yoga, read, and meditate alone. I try to add some group element to each of those activities, so I don't feel isolated. Teaching bike classes and going on occasional group bike rides keeps me in direct contact with other bike riders.
As the weather gets colder, I see fewer bike riders. Many people stop when the roads get icy. In the late fall the Church Street Marketplace and City Market remove some of their bike racks, which makes things just a little bit harder. That said, during the first real snow storm of the year, in late November, I saw four other bike riders on my way to work. This would not have happened every a few years ago. We are making progress!
There are more and more electric bikes on the roads. They are great for people who would not ordinarily get out on a bicycle. For people with disabilities they are a godsend. I prefer to ride a regular bike. I find it very satisfying to utilize only human power. I can't imagine engaging in any sports activity in which I did not provide the power myself. The question is whether electric bikes should go everywhere that regular bikes go. I am leaning toward use on the road and recreation paths but maybe not on single track trails. In early November I saw a man standing by his electric bike on a trail in the Intervale. There had been rain the day before and the trail was muddy. The man had skidded on his bike and now the fender was rubbing. He had just fixed it with a dime embedded in a stick. Very creative. I offered to help but he was fine. I wondered if having an electric bike made it too easy to go fast on a slippery trail.
Although I have not experienced extreme road rage recently, I still get angry every couple of days. I just don't chase car drivers down so I can yell at them. I have done that in the past. Recently a white truck cut me off on Riverside Avenue by taking a right onto Intervale Road. The driver turned into a driveway on Intervale Road and I resisted the impulse to follow him and have a little discussion. I also worked on not spending the next fifteen minutes on revenge fantasies. On a regular basis cars come too close or start moving at a stop sign before I have finished crossing. Riverside Avenue heading into Burlington is a challenge in the morning. At the top of the hill I turn left onto either Hyde Street or North Winooski Avenue. If it is after 7 AM, traffic gets heavy and it is hard to get into the left lane to make my turn. I often have to stop on the right side of the road and look back until all the cars have passed. Then I can get into the correct lane. This is not pleasant, especially when there is snow on the right side of the road and I have less space than usual. Given a choice, I prefer to ride on car-free roads. This happens less and less frequently in Chittenden County. New homes and businesses are going up all the time, and there is more traffic than ever. The infrastructure for bikes is still patchy.
I am glad I do not own a car. Once in a while I use a Car Share vehicle but mostly I ride, take the bus or walk. When I do get behind the wheel of a car, I find myself instantly returning to car consciousness. Recently I was driving in town when I saw two people approaching a crosswalk. Instead of slowing down I sped up to get through the crosswalk so I would not have to stop. It was automatic, I didn't even think about it. We change who we are when we change from rider to driver .
By Peter Burns
Join Local Motion (and Peter) at a winter biking workshop near you this December! These fun events are free and include food and prizes. Find the schedule at www.localmotion.org/events
When I started riding through the winter 35 years ago, there were only a handful of us. Each year more and more folks are riding though the winter. The technology for cold weather riding is constantly improving. Even more important is the change in consciousness. Many people see winter riding as not only possible, but desirable. If you can ski, you can bike in the winter!