Friday, August 30, 2013

That Ought to Get You Four Feet!

We started our ride this morning with expectations of pretty much "the usual".  That didn't last long.  Two and half miles down the trail another rider coming towards us warned us to be careful, that someone was being attacked.  My first thought was why wasn't he calling for help?  There was clearly no threat in the immediate vicinity, so if this rider had been fleeing danger, then he had succeeded and could easily stop now and call for assistance.  We rode a little farther on to an area with dense foliage on the side of the trail.  We stopped and listened - saw nothing and heard nothing.  We parked the bikes and walked along calling out to see if anyone needed help.  No response.  We couldn't locate anyone in need after searching the area for 5-10 minutes, so my friend rode over and notified some security guys in an adjacent parking lot.  They came immediately and took a look around themselves.  While we were initially searching, we noticed the rider that had warned us had reversed direction and came back to where we were.  He stopped about 70 feet up the trail, (didn't say anything to us) and took his bike into the brush and disappeared.  It was a strange encounter.

With professionals now alert to the possibility that someone could have needed assistance in the area, we continued our ride.  Our immediate goal was petit déjeuner.  My friend had heard about a new French bakery opening in Squirrel Hill and was anxious to try it.  I informed him that there was another French bakery in Lawrenceville (which was much closer!) that we hadn't tried yet, so we headed for Butler St.

Along the way we made sure we went past the new Bike-Pgh billboard at Doughboy Square.  They just launched a new public awareness campaign and it looks great!  I hope it gets through to some of the drivers out there.

By the time we arrived at La Gourmandine Bakery, we were hungry and ready to try something new.  This place is steadily busy and I can see why.

The problem here was making a decision!  Realizing we weren't riding far enough today to justify one of everything, we eventually made our choices.

Now with plenty of energy to burn, we climbed the hill to Garfield and started to work our way through Bloomfield and Shadyside  toward the Junction Hollow Trail.  That was when we encountered this guy:

I asked if he delivered car parts by bike all the time, and he told me no, that it was his bike-car... part bike, part car.  I thought he was kidding, but a friend informed me that Aaron is well known for his car-bike combo.  I did think it was a great technique for getting drivers to give you space.  I advised him to paint his bumper a brighter color though.  Maybe add some Fiks reflective stickers to the ends?  That ought to get you four feet!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pedal Pittsburgh - 20th Edition

Today Pittsburgh's annual Bike Fest came to a conclusion with the 20th rendition of Pedal Pittsburgh.  Only their second year hosting this event and Bike-Pgh did a great job.  This was also only my second time riding it and I saw a lot of improvements over last years version.

They offer three rides, each one geared to a different skill or interest level.  A relatively short ride is set up for people with young kids or those who prefer to not mix with traffic.  It sticks mostly to the trails near the start/finish point.  A 25 mile route is offered with just enough climbing to make sure you know you're doing this in Pittsburgh and not Kansas.  The 62 mile option is set up for the hard-core biking enthusiasts.  That one has enough hills to disenchant the rest of us.

The routes were well marked with signs and pavement markings at the turns.  This year it seemed difficult to get yourself lost.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a police officer controlling the traffic light where the route turned left onto Liberty Ave.  Nice.  I was even more surprised to find cones set up once I made that turn, creating a temporary bike lane on what would be a busy stretch of road a little later in the day.

No, your medication isn't wearing off - some of these photos came from the helmet cam so the images appear a bit distorted.  You can still get the idea.

I got a very early start, riding to the event while it was still dark.  It was much more comfortable in the early morning and it was nice to have very little vehicle traffic out there.  It was a great time to ride through Bloomfield too.  A little later on their final day of "Little Italy Days" would be in full gear.  When I went through it was just a line of empty booths.

The first half of the ride was actually very pleasant.  The first rest stop was in Highland Park and it was a good time to take a break.  Whole Foods sponsored the rest stop and they had a very nice spread!

Lots of very nice people there to great us and offer us great refreshments.

The second rest stop seemed to come a bit quicker.  A stop in Schenley Plaza for more fruits from Whole Foods plus cookies from Eat N Park.

It was shortly after departing from this rest stop that I encountered my first too-close-for-comfort moment.  A Port Authority bus on 5th Ave got a bit up close and personal.  There was no reason for it.  Traffic was still pretty light and there were two lanes to the left of the bus available.  I had five - count 'em - FIVE back lights on.  Two on my helmet, two on my bike, and a safety vest with a row of flashing LEDs on it.  Add to that a safety-yellow shirt and there was no way this driver could ever claim to not have seen me there.  No excuses.  Not nice.  Not four feet!!

After crossing the Birmingham Bridge the 25 and 62 mile rides separated again and this time I followed the 62 mile route.  I enjoyed the signs of warning and encouragement I discovered along the route.  There had been one sign much early stating something like "you can do it" along one of the more gentle, but sort of long climbs.  This time they posted a warning of "caution, very steep hills ahead".  Understatement.  While working up a couple of those hills I saw these - and they made me smile.

Good advice.

I somehow failed to take a picture at the last rest stop that I visited.  The folks staffing this one were cheering on anyone that made it all the way up there.  I admitted that I had not done the whole 62 mile course and they didn't care.  They just gave me a round of applause and said it was enough that I climbed that hill.  Very nice people.  

This was not the first time I've climbed to Grandview Park.  In fact it's a favorite destination.  Usually I pack some snacks and consider the view my reward for getting up there.  I just don't usually start this climb after already riding more than 25 miles.

Believe it or not, there was yet more climbing after this point.  We continued on to Mt Washington with a ride up Grandview Ave.  It was on the way back through Arlington that I had another driver fail to introduce herself when she nearly brushed my pannier with her SUV.  In her defense there was a lot of construction on this road.  The problem was that there really wasn't enough room to safely pass, yet she did it anyway and at an uncomfortably fast (for me) speed.  Thirty feet ahead she got stopped at a red light and I quickly caught up.  I took advantage of the opportunity to explain about the four foot rule.  It was a nice, non-confrontational conversation.  She seemed unaware of both the rule and of how close she had come to me.  She apologized and I just asked her to use caution as there were a lot of cyclists out today.

I was very happy to leave that road with a right turn at that light.  It really was too narrow and by now the traffic was getting heavy here.

The rest of the ride was uneventful and I enjoyed the decent to the finish line.  By the time I arrived there the bike racks were full, the band was entertaining people and the food vendors had lines.  It looked like a very successful event for Bike-Pgh.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

3rd Annual "Try-A-Bike Jamboree"

For the third year in a row, Flock-O-Cycles has organized and hosted the Try-A-Bike Jamboree as a Bike Fest event.  They gather together all kinds of bikes and volunteers and let people try different things.  Most of these are privately owned bikes.  Their very generous owners stand by and watch while people experiment with them.

This one is reverse geared for steering.  Turn the handlebars left and the bike turns right.  Turn the handlebars right and the bike goes left!  This was one of the more unusual offerings, and meant for the more adventurous.  Obviously it has no real use outside of being a conversation starter (or a way to set someone up!).  Interesting none the less.

There were several different types of recumbents available, and they seemed to be the most popular choices while I was there.  Dan was kept busy explaining the different styles and adjusting the bikes for each rider.

His patience was amazing as he moved pedals and handle bars every few minutes.  He also spent a lot of time jogging along side anyone new to recumbents until they could get going.

This Cruzbike model felt especially twitchy.  With all the gears up front it took some getting used to.  Each stroke of the pedal had a tendency to turn the front wheel.  Not everyone was able to get the hang of it.  Some of us (ahem) figured out pretty quickly that this just wasn't the bike of our dreams and quit before we wrecked it.

There were plenty of other options to try, like folding bikes.

Electric bikes, cargo bikes...

I saw both kids and adults riding in the front of that one and they all looked like they were having a great time.

You can see in the background that they also had some bikes for the youngest riders to try.

The tandems had a lot of interest.  They also had just regular bikes so people could try a fixed gear, single gear, step through or other more common options.

There were unicycles of just about every size imaginable.  Those were for the more adventurous in my book.  Or at least for the less balance-challenged among us.

Finally, they offered the Port Authority bus rack demo stand so that anyone could take a minute to learn how to operate them.  They really are simple to use, but there's a real awkward moment when you're standing in front of a bus load of impatient people trying to figure it out for the first time.

Thanks to everyone that brought their bikes out so the rest of us could have some hands-on with something a bit different.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Legacy of Amon Cashmere Harris

Today's ride started out mundane.  A steady, light rain while I ran some errands - sticking mostly to the trails because of the reduced visibility.  I was pleased with an opportunity to use the new bike racks at the Waterfront Costco, but I encountered nothing exceptional on the ride until the skies cleared and I joined a community group in Uptown celebrating the completion of a new mural.

At the corner of Gist St and Forbes Ave, Base Man with Moon by James Simon and 25 apprentices now sparkles in the sun.  It was there that I met an amazing woman, Tyian Battle.  In 2009 her 7 year old son died from a previously unknown heart condition.  Just trying to survive the loss of a child devastates many to the point of paralysis.  Tyian, however, kept moving - and found a way to channel her grief and energy into helping the other kids in the community.  In tribute to her son, she established a non-profit organization ACH Clear Pathways.  Named for her son (Amon Cashmere Harris) ACH Clear Pathways offers learning opportunities in the performing and visual arts.

This summer they had two separate programs for the kids.  One was the creation of an Urban Community Choir with opera singer Eugene Perry as their instructor.  At the completion of their training, the choir performed four songs including Lean on Me and Put a Little Love in Your Heart.  The other project was a summer art camp led by internationally known artist James Simon.  This beautiful mosaic mural was completed by Mr Simon with the help of the kids.

A handful of the 25 kids that worked on this mural showed up for the celebration today.  They were interviewed by the local media and proudly showed which parts they helped with.

This organization is not your average something-to-keep-the-kids-busy-for-the-summer club.  This is something offering the kids real opportunities to learn creative things with professionals.  This is something that these kids will look back on in 20 years and say "I did that!" with a sense of pride.  This organization is an amazing legacy to a little boy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Wonder of a Phone Booth! Klavons 2 .0

We witnessed a funny thing today.  Started out finishing the job we began on Sunday - marking road hazards for an upcoming bike ride.  When we completed our task we decided to stop by and try out a new ice cream shop.  It's actually a very old ice cream shop, in a building that was once a pharmacy with a counter-service soda fountain.  They still have the original decor from the 1920's, and that includes built-in phone booths in the back corner.

As we sat at the counter finishing our well-deserved treats, we were struck by the scene taking place at the back of the store.  Two young kids were absolutely delighted to discover the phone booths.  They were thrilled to find that the lights came on when you closed the doors, and a man that appeared to be their grandfather was taking pictures of them in the booths with his smart phone!

We've been in this store before, but now it's under new management and we like it.  The original counter, phone booths and cabinetry are still there, but the new Klavons has been cleaned up and now they offer Penn State Creamery ice cream.  They're having their official grand opening of the new and improved version this Sunday (25 Aug 2013).

Today they had training in progress and that included learning how to make designs in the cappuccino:

We put in our request for a bike design, but they looked skeptical.  They did seem to think that they might be able to work on duplicating the local bike rack design, so we'll have to see if they can swing that next time.

After enjoying the ice cream treats, we continued to ride and discovered some street art about a mile away that seemed to show real talent.

These were located on the same property - same colors of paint used - so I'm guessing perhaps the same talented artist.   I'm not a fan of graffiti when it's destructive, crude or offensive.  When the images are as good as these it's hard to object though.  Besides - I don't know if this artist had permission to paint these here or not.  Maybe they live here or know the owner.  All I know is that I kind of liked them and wouldn't mind seeing other art by this person.

Short ride (around 15 miles) beautiful weather, and an ice cream stop.  Not a bad way to spend the day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A True Friend

You know you have a true friend when you volunteer him for something that turns into a very long, frustrating, exhausting, goat (you know) of a day, and he's still your friend at the end.

It was a great day for riding - relatively cool and overcast for August - and we anticipated an enjoyable ride while doing a good deed.  The directions had some issues; there were missing street signs and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were supposed to go.  Enter the frustration factor.  Add to that a lot of climbing.  Did I mention a LOT of climbing?  I'm not an athlete and I don't play one on TV.  I'm also not a weekend warrior.  I log a fair amount of riding and don't shy away from the hills, but after 35.5 miles today I was hilled-out.

There's the view when we figured we'd done most of the climbing. Unfortunately we had several more gratuitous hills to deal with on the way back down.  Each wonderful descent was dampened by the knowledge that we were going to have to climb again. And again.

So, when you want to know if your good friend really is your good friend, drag him along on a ride like this and see if he's still willing to do it with you again.  I'm very lucky.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Squonky Kind of Ride

Returned to Schenley Plaza today and stopped to get the photos of all the PNC Carousel animals.  The lady running the carousel graciously allowed me to walk around inside the fence while no one was riding.

"Pitt the Panther"

"Harry Skettle"

"Sea Diver"
"Krissy's Lily"


"Troy Polamalu"

"R Merry Seal"


The names for the animals were bestowed on them by the people or foundations that sponsored them.

This entire plaza (which is more of a small park) is a great spot.  When I attended Pitt, this was a parking lot.  A big slab of concrete full of vehicles with the heat radiating off of everything all afternoon.  What a remarkable difference with the grass, carousel, vendors and flowers.

I knew I was going to see the carousel this evening, but what I wasn't expecting to see just beyond it, parked on the grass, was the Squonk Opera Roadshow.  This is not your average park entertainment.

This unusual group of artists have been entertaining for over 20 years.  They began in Pittsburgh but have performed nationally and internationally.

Yeah, that's not going to fit through the Squirrel Hill Tunnels.

Their creativity seems to have no bounds.  The roadshow stage has a spinning piano and truck horn calliope.

They were warming up as we were marshalling bikes in front of "Dippy", across the street at the Carnegie Museum complex.

"Dippy" is a local landmark and the usual meeting spot for "Flock O Cycles"

While we were waiting for the rest of the group to show up, we walked the bikes over to the Oakland Farmers Market to see what they had.  To our great surprise and pleasure we found The Creped Crusader  had set up shop there today.  My friend had just emailed them trying to find out their schedule.

After fueling up with a "Danny Devito" (ham, cheese, pineapple, sourcream) crepe, we set out with Flock O Cycles for the Bike Fest Party Ride.  A good crowd turned out and the flock departed Dippy with Nick towing the Flock's music trailer.  Music, bikes, a nice evening and good people... it doesn't get much better.  But wait!  It does when the ride ends at the Point State Park fountain and everyone pulls out picnic supplies.

A beautiful evening by the river with friends as we watched the sun set behind the West End Bridge.  The ride back to the car in the dark was my chance to really evaluate which bike light I liked better.  I had both my Magicshine 16W light and my Cygolite Expilion 170 freshly charged and mounted on opposite sides of the handlebars.  The Magicshine lit up a wider area with all three of it's light on, but the Cygolite was definitely brighter and easy to adjust where the beam was directed.  Although I like having both lights, if I had to chose one I'd go with the Cygolite.  It's much easier to mount and remove, the beam can be easily repositioned, and the Magicshine folks never responded to an email asking about a battery recall on my model.  That's not good customer service.  

View of the fountain as we crossed the Ft Duquesne Bridge after the Flock O Cycles picnic.