Author Archive

A great place to ride: Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC

2012-04-25 by neilfein. 0 comments

I recently spent a few weeks commuting in our nation's capital, and my best route was through Rock Creek Park. I wish I had a permanent commute along a route like this!

Folks playing in the park. The pictures in this post are from previous trips; I didn't have a camera this time.

The park was created by congress in 1890, along with Yosemite National Park. The park is a long valley that pretty much divides the district in half. Most access points are very steep, and I see many more riders walking those hills than riding them. (At the end of my three weeks in the District, I'm proud to say I was regularly climbing those hills.) more »

How Cars Can Be Nice to Cyclists

2012-01-16 by neilfein. 4 comments

A message to drivers:

We know you don't all hate cyclists. Many of you--most of you?--probably like bicycles and have fond memories of riding one as a kid. Many of you may not understand why adults would ride a bike when they could be in a car, but hey! --live and let live. You yourself may even ride from time to time.

We know that you try to keep alert for cyclists and pedestrians. It's the occasional driver talking on a cell phone while giving themselves a pedicure that makes you all look bad.

Also, we're truly embarrassed by the stupid, suicidal riders you see on the roads. Those of us who know how to cycle in traffic see wrong-way cyclists (or worse, cyclists who ride on the goddamn sidewalk) as misguided at best, damn fools at worst. Yeah, they're our fellow cyclists (sorta), but every time we see a ninja cyclist at night dressed in black without even a reflector, let along lights, who's riding salmon-style on a divided highway... we shudder. These riders are road-pizza in the making.

We're trying to educate them, but a lack of cyclist education in driver's ed classes (coupled with all the misinformation that's out there) makes this a hard, uphill task. Some days, it makes us all seem like salmon swimming upriver.

(Personally, I'd love to see more cyclists get traffic citations. Sure, the bike advocacy organizations would howl about a "needless and vengeful crackdown on cyclists"--or something along those lines--but nothing makes people more law-abiding than the threat of a ticket.)

If you're one of these drivers who considers cyclists fellow road users, you may have wondered: How can drivers like you make cyclists' lives easier? more »

The Bicycles blog wants YOU!

2012-01-11 by neilfein. 0 comments

Would you like to be part of a blogging community? Do you have opinions about cycling, or just a good story to tell? Do you love the Bicycles site but are you're frustrated by the limitations of the Q&A format? Come and write for the Bicycles blog!

What kinds of posts are we looking for?

Stories about bike rides -- These are easy to write up, and fun to read. If you have pictures from your ride, or even of the terrain or road, so much the better.

Reviews -- Have you bought a bike you love? A headlight that gets you home in the winter evening hours? We'd love to hear about it.

Cycling culture -- Posts about culture, weirdness associating with riding, frankenbikes; really, about anything interesting and strange.

Bike shops -- Do you love your mechanic? Your shop? Tell us all about it, maybe the post will help someone who's looking for a shop.

Controversial stuff -- Do you think helmets are a conspiracy by the styrofoam hat manufacturers? Is "carbon fiber" just another name for "cheap-ass plastic bikes marked up for suckers"? Your Stack Exchange rant-disguised-as-a-question will be closed in a heartbeat because Stack Exchange hates fun, but the blog is a perfect place for you to write about these crazy interesting ideas.

Stuff -- Anything that doesn't fit in the above categories. For anyone looking for ideas for posts, we've started a list of them. This page is filled with post ideas you can use. Also, if you have an idea but you're lacking the ten minutes it'll take to write it up, post to that page and someone else will pick up the slack.

What am I getting myself into (or, "how often will you want a post from me?")

The blog updates once a week on Monday mornings when we're lucky, twice a week when posters are extraordinarily prolific. But you don't have to write a post nearly that often, just when you have something to say.

Okay, I'm sold. How do I get started posting?

You'll need an account, and the simplest way to get one is to ask Neil, Gary, or Freiheit to add you. Just ping us in chat by typing @ before our usernames, or post in this thread.

Last-minute gift ideas for the cyclist in your life

2011-12-21 by neilfein. 3 comments

Looking for a gift for a cyclist? Been putting off your shopping? Here are some stocking-stuffers ideas for the cyclist on your list. Price ranges are estimates; you can almost certainly find these items for more than this, faux-carbon pattern included. Most of these should be available at your local bike shop.


If the cyclist on your list doesn't have any lighting, then anything that emits light will be an improvement. If they already have a few lights, you can contribute to their lighting themselves up like (ahem) a Christmas tree.

Rear Blinkies: The Planet Bike Superflash is well thought of. It's bright, cheap (around $35 US), and durable. (It does tend to bounce out of its included clip, so you may want to toss in a zip tie.)

Spoke lights: Cat Eye makes a set of two that goes for around $20. These things last forever, particularly on blinking mode, and drivers can't help but see the circling, blinking motion. Great for when you cross an intersection. And if they already have these, they can keep adding pairs to their wheels.

You can also get them a safety vest. These can be had for $15--20. Look for the ones made of mesh on the front and shoulders.

Bar Tape

Anyone with drop bars who rides a lot goes through a lot of bar tape. You usually can't go wrong with black, but if your friend has color-coordinated road rig, have a look at their bike before purchasing.


Tires are something people get picky about---I know I do, buying me tires would be like trying to buy me shoes---but tubes? Feh. Avoid the cheap tubes, get Specialized or another name brand and you'll be fine.


If your friend does their own maintenance, a bottle of chain lube goes for around ten bucks. Just try to find out if they use wax or regular lube on their chain.


Multitools are usually a good bet. Park Tool is the "Craftsman" of bike tools, and their stuff is solid. $15--30. You could also get tire irons (maybe $5 if you want the expensive ones), a chain washer tool (around $25), or a pedal wrench ($15). But the most useful bike tool I own is a 3-way hex wrench. They go for anywhere from $9--20, and they're amazingly useful for tightening anything on a bike from rack screws to bottle cages to saddle rail bolts.


Pfft. Yeah, right. I have enough trouble picking out my own bike clothes. About all you can safely get for a cyclist is socks. A pair of nice wool socks can cost $15--30, glaringly bright colors included.

A balaclava might be a safe present; these run from $10--20, more if you want a nice wool one.

A warm winter cap should work out well. Something thin that fits close to the head, so that it fits under a helmet. Bonus points for ear flaps or other ear coverage. A cap and scarf are a more stylish alternative to a balaclava, so a matching scarf wouldn't hurt.


These can be expensive, or not. Winter cyclists often have collections of different kinds of gloves. While they'll be picky about the gloves, they often go through a lot of glove liners---and those are pretty generic. You can layer these under heavier gloves, or wear them under fingerless gloves for a little extra warmth on not-so-cold days. Glove liners run from $5--30.

Water Bottles

Your call: You can find these for a few bucks, or pay more for insulated bottles. A nice idea is to fill an empty water bottle with other knicknacks.

Happy gifting, happy holidays, and have a great new year!

Winter cycling links

2011-11-15 by neilfein. 1 comments

The first cold winds are blowing by my home; winter is coming to the northern hemisphere of our resource-drained planet. We're doubtless going to see a lot of questions about winter riding on the main site. Here are some sites that helped me learn how to ride in the winter.


This is one my favorite winter cycling sites. There's a lot of very, very good information here. The self-proclaimed "Home of the Winter Cyclist and Other Crazy People" is the granddaddy of winter riding sites. Started in 1998, this site is old: Beware moving and scrolling HTML.

Cold Feet

This is cyclist Charlene Barach's page, and it has great advice about cold-weather cycling. The rest of her site is also well worth reading. Charlene has been riding in Canadian winters for years, and knows an awful lot about winter riding.

Winter Riding Tips

Pamela Blalock's site is quite comprehensive. She spends a lot of space on appropriate fabrics for winter riding.

In addition, I've learned a lot from some of the winter riding questions on this site:

How do I gear up a bike for winter riding?

I live in NYC and would like to ride to work during the winter as well. What should one do to a mountain bike? a road bike?
Note: This question has a lot of great answers, but AdamFranco's answer in particular is tremendous.

What to wear when it's cold?

If I put on heavy clothes it will be very hot inside them after the warm-up. If I wear only a T-shirt I'll freeze. What's the solution? I ride around 20 km in a hilly city, with temperatures between 0 and 30 celsius.

What gloves work well for winter riding?

I'm starting to plan ahead for winter riding, and gloves are definitely high on the list. What gloves work well for winter riding? Are cycling-specific gloves the way to go for a flat-bar bike with index/thumb shifters? Would regular winter gloves be good enough?
Disclaimer: I have the top-voted answer for this question, so my opinion of just how awesometastic this question is, is a little subjective. But I think that gloves are often overlooked when it comes to winter riding; it's hard to brake and shift when your hands are numb from the cold.

Twitter + Stack Exchange Specialized Giveaway

2011-10-19 by neilfein. 0 comments

Edit: This contest is now closed and winners have been announced.

The Prizes:

The Rules:

  • Retweet THIS to enter the contest.
  • Include your Twitter handle anywhere in your Bicycles.StackExchange profile.
  • Earn 10 rep points across the Bicycles site (excluding points earned by linking SE accounts) from now until Friday, 3pm EST to increase your chances of winning 3-FOLD. See how to earn rep here.

The Terms:

  • Anyone, anywhere is eligible.
  • Winners will be picked at random, with each winner eligible for only one prize.
  • Winners will be announced Monday, October 24.
  • Prizes must be picked up in person at a licensed Specialized dealer.

Good luck!

(Note: This giveaway is not sponsored by Specialized.)

Please ask any questions on the official meta thread for this giveaway.

Great place to ride: The Chesapeake & Ohio canal trail

2011-10-11 by neilfein. 0 comments

The C&O runs 180 miles along the Potomac river from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC. The surface is mostly packed dirt. You don't want to ride this one with skinny road tires. I managed with 700x32 standard touring tires, but riding here is more fun with knobby tires.

I've been on the trail twice, once as part of a Pittsburgh to DC tour, the other on a shorter three-day ride. (We rode the W&OD west for a day out of DC, then turned towards the more-or-less parallel C&O and doubling back towards the district.)

It's worth noting that the C&O meets up with the GAP trail in Cumberland, which takes you pretty much all the way to Pittsburgh, PA. The two trails are popular touring destinations.

If you're starting in Cumberland, check out the Cumberland Trail Connection, a bike shop that has catered to trail users for years.

The C&O itself starts more or less in the middle of town as a brick-and-stone trail:


Once you exit town, it quickly turns into the dirt trail it will be for most of its way to the nation's capitol.


You'll ride through fields, past pastures and horse farms, and through woods. If it's rained recently, you'll also get pretty filthy. I highly recommend fenders on this trail.

When I went on the northern half of the C&O, portions of it were very overgrown. However, they've since tamed the path a bit, which I think is a shame.


Bring lights along; there are a few unlit tunnels where you'll need them.


Most water available along the trail is from cisterns, and is treated with iodine. If you'll be on the trail for more than a few hours, check the status of these with the park service. Getting stranded overnight without water is, as I can testify, no fun.


Williamsport aqueduct

Fallen tree, about four hours south/east from Williamsport. I had to take an on-road detour, and I was glad I had a GPS for that bit.

Snapping turtle on the C&O, near the great falls

If you have time, stop and see the Great Falls. It's right off the trail itself, and maybe an hour or two from the end of the trail in DC. I found it breathtaking, and well worth spending a couple of hours.


Great place to ride: Pike 2 Bike – The Pennsylvania Turnbike, Harrisburg, PA

2011-09-26 by neilfein. 2 comments

This 8-mile section of the old PA Turnpike was abandoned in the late 1960's. The pavement is now cracked, overgrown, and it feels lonely and dead. But it's actually fun to ride on!


We met a group of folks from at the access point. There's a sign before you enter that, in effect, lets you know you're riding at your own risk. In fact, I wasn't entirely clear on whether riding here is legal or not.


There are some tunnels, so bring a light along. (One tunnel is about a mile in length.)


The pavement is very rough, and I'd bring a bike with wide tires is you have one. I was surprised by how few mountain bikes I saw:


This is more of a stroll than a ride; you really can't go that fast, or that far--but riding on what used to be the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a strange experience, and one I found well worth the drive from New Jersey.


More information:

Great place to ride: Pennypack Park, Philadelphia, PA

2011-09-19 by neilfein. 0 comments

I found I had an unexpectedly free weekend, so decided on a short weekend tour. Why not, yes? I had the time and the bike and the desire for it. My route would take me through Pennypack Park on the way out of Philadelphia.

The Pennypack Park path is paved, and is quite twisty and hilly. Since the first day of the tour was characterized by rain, I had to take it easy when rounding corners. The rain became more than an annoyance perhaps a mile after entering the park, so I took shelter under the Bensalem Avenue Bridge.


While waiting, I reviewed my directions yet to come. I didn't have long until I got to Tyler State Park and the hostel there. I had no idea at the time that the rain later that day would be so poundingly, painfully thick that I'd accept the offer of a ride for the last few miles.


The park is quite beautiful. I would probably be using the modifier breathtakingly if I had seen it in the rain. Pennypack Park is only a few miles in length, but it's well worth the trip.


This guy rode his bike to the park with his fishing pole. He clearly wanted to be left alone, so I did.


The park has nearly ten miles of path, but I left the trail at Lorimer Park, a mile or so before the end. This is a good place to park if you're going to drive here.

Pennypack Park is a great place for a day's ride. You'll use your hill-climbing gears here, but the hills are all short sprints. This'd be a challenge for kids or new bikers, or a fun diversion for seasoned cyclists.

A Jersey Boy Visits Portland

2011-08-29 by neilfein. 4 comments

While waiting for the Red Line to take us to our hotel, we saw several cyclists; I noticed that many of them--most of them, almost all--were signaling their turns.

Sure, most of them were using that weird, left-arm right-turn signal that kids learn in driver's ed, but they were signaling.

Portland, Oregon is--to a right-coast denizen--bike paradise. I'd heard of the city's amazing bike facilities. (I'm a volunteer copyeditor for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and why that's the case is another story.) Actually seeing the bike lanes and transit facilities and the competent riders and drivers who know how to treat them--reading about all this did very little to prepare me for the reality.

We visited the city for a week, and had a great time. We rode on the Steel Bridge, and the bike traffic was inspiring. (We even saw a guy on a welded-together tall bike rounding corners. How do those guys dismount, let alone stay upright?) We rode the west-bank river walk. We visited Powells. (Several times!) We saw City Bikes paint their new mural. We spoke to buskers--and saw them get chased away by the police. And we drank coffee. A lot of coffee.

Sitting in Peet's Coffe and Tea in Portland, Oregon

Let's back up a little bit:

Drivers in my home state of New Jersey have a pretty bad rep. The forums are filled with tales of drivers who scream at cyclists, and stories of idiot high-school seniors in SUVs throwing slushees at bike commuters. After all, bikes in New Jersey are ridden by children and people whose licenses were pulled after a DUI conviction.

To be fair, the cyclists themselves in the Garden State are said to be, almost to a rider, wrong-way cyclists with their saddles too low who run red lights and ride on the sidewalks when they feel like it. Or so the thinking goes. I can't really fault any driver here who thinks that cyclists are scofflaws--because most of us are. But let's get back to Portland:

After a day or so in the city, we rented bikes from the hotel: machines that the hotel called "cruisers" and I called "rattling deathtraps". We had to pump up the tires and raise the saddles, and I did my best to tighten the handbrakes so they actually worked. (It's a shame the city has no proper bike share program.)


When we were riding across the Burnside Bridge into SW Portland, I (stupidly) signaled at the last minute to make a left turn. A car slowed and let me into the lane. Maybe this is normal behavior for the city, but it's nearly unheard of back home. (My wife was smarter than I was, and refrained from making that turn.) I rode more intelligently later in the day, but cars continued to treat me in a similar fashion: like a vehicle who deserved access to the road. Jersey drivers don't even treat other cars this well.

Bikes are everywhere. There's on-street parking for bikes. Businesses have racks as a matter of course, and they're not hidden away where thieves can snip open locks with a reasonable expectation of privacy. (Privacy is a constitutional right, yes?)


This treatment of cyclists as equal road users obviously must feed back in some way. Drivers and cyclists seem to respect each other in a way that's hard to explain to someone that lives where cab drivers won't even let you change lanes.

Later on in our trip, we stayed with cousins in town and they lent us a pair of mountain bikes. When we took those bikes on the MAX, people offered to move out of the way so we could get to the bike hooks (well, they did most of the time), and more than one commuter struck up a conversation with us. Did I mention that Portland's transit is cheap? A seven-day pass for all Portland area transit is exactly the same as a single round-trip ticket on the train from our house to New York City. That's one round-trip ticket = seven days of unlimited riding.

Portlanders, if you don't realize what you have and what the BTA has done, I invite any of you to come to New Jersey and ride with me in Newark or Paramus or Clark. You'll figure it all out--and you'll figure it out quickly--the first time a cab driver accelerates to keep you out of a lane, or a bus driver tries to squeeze you off a road.

Cherish what you have, and know that you have my admiration. (And my envy.) This Jersey boy knows you've done a great job!

Mural being painted at the Citybikes Workers' Cooporative in Portland, Oregon.

(A similar version of this post has been written for the BTA blog.)