Sunday, November 12, 2017

2017 Coffeeneuring Challenge: Bike Early and Often

Bike early and bike often – that’s my motto. And when the weather is brisk and beautiful at the beginning of the Fall coffeeneuring season, I know I will be glad if I get my official rides in early. Because life offers no guarantees and good weather should never  be taken for granted.

That said, while I joyfully took my rides early, I nearly had an epic fail in recording them. I thought I was being so smart to post each ride on the Facebook page as soon as I took it. My mistake was not writing down the ride details someplace more accessible. With the growing popularity of coffeeneuring, I was not able to look through all the posts to find my rides. And the search function only turned up four of my rides. However, I had fortunately not deleted my photos from my phone and with the brilliant I phone technology, I was able to get the proper date of the photos to reconstruct my rides. BUT - I encountered insurmountable issues importing some photos into this blog. Although they appear on my phone and computer, I cannot find them through Blogspot AND I can no longer import them via the app. Sigh - technology!!! 

So here is the compilation:

Ride 1 – October 17, 2017 – 8 miles

This year coffeeneuring season began on my 65th birthday, but due to a bikeless weekend trip to Yogaville I was not able to take a ride on that day. However, on Tuesday the weather was brisk but beautiful and I took my bike to Trader Joe's for some groceries, stopping at Northside Social on the return for a cookie and espresso. It was just chilly enough that few people were seated outside, but as I was warmed up from my bike, it felt good to sit in the sun and enjoy my treat.

Ride 2 – October 18, 2017 – 5 miles

I am lucky to live in close biking distance to the Eden Center where Vietnamese treats abound. This day I tried a bubble tea – a very sweet concoction in which you use a wide straw to suck up blobs of tapioca. It’s a bit sweet for my taste, but was a nice contrast with the spicy fried tofu that is made fresh at Thanh Son Tofu. It is addictive! Bike parking is not the greatest at the Eden Center, but there are racks at the far end by the Good Fortune grocery store. And, on the way home I used the new bike lane on Washington Blvd, which makes it much nicer to ride up the hill.

Ride 3 – October 21, 2017 – 14.5 miles

I rode to Baked and Wired in Georgetown for a ginger scone and cortado (which they call a tallat for some reason). Their baked goods are always outstanding. The weather was so lovely that I decided to bike home the longer way – riding up to Chain Bridge. Some days you just want to ride. Only after I'd locked my bike to a fence did I later notice that there is actually a bike rack halfway down the block toward K St.

Ride 4 – October 24, 2017 – 8 miles

I rode to Courthouse, voted early, and made my first (but probably not last) visit to Bayou Bakery. I had been craving biscuits and they made a nice flaky one, which I had with an espresso. I had taken along my laptop with the thought of doing some writing. But I had the problem I usually do with coffee shops: the music inside was too loud and the chairs outside were too uncomfortable. I settled on outside and did manage to write for half an hour, but was happy to get back on the bike.

Ride 5 – October 31, 2017 – 8 miles

Decided on a “coffee shop without walls” ride, packing a picnic lunch and my favorite combination of ½ ginger-turmeric tea with ½ my homemade kombucha. I rode the W&OD Trail turning off into the grounds of the Long Branch Nature Center. It was quiet and peaceful, the colors just beginning.

Ride 6 – November 2, 12017 – 10 miles

It was time to get my senior Metro card, so I rode to the Commuter Store in Rosslyn, got the card and then stopped on the way home at Bakeshop in Clarendon. I didn’t enjoy my soy chai latte or peach scone as much as I’d hoped. Also – it’s an adventure to use the restroom, as it’s a shared facility for the building, requiring a walk down the block and through the hallways of a a building that feels practically abandoned. Sometimes when you’ve been riding your bike awhile in chilly weather you would like a more convenient pit stop!

Ride 7 – November 4, 2017 – 6 miles

This year I clearly saved the best for last. Livin’ the Pie Life has been open at the corner of Lee Highway and Glebe Rd for about 18 months and, believe it or not – this was my first visit. I first rode to Pilates class and then stopped at Pie on the way home. It was hands down the best espresso of this season and the scone was second only to Baked and Wired (which is pretty hard to beat). It takes great self-control to go in and NOT buy pie. Even at 10 a.m., plenty of people were bypassing the scones and going straight to pie. It is definitely a good place to visit by bike, because car parking is very inconvenient and limited whereas bike parking is readily available.

Almost immediately after I finished my rides, the thermometer plunged with temperatures in the 30s. When it's in the 40s I am still happy to bike, if dressed properly. But once it gets much colder I am less eager to get on the bike. I lucked out this year with lovely weather. And also – as the Facebook community has grown I have delighted in seeing other people’s rides.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bike Share in Beijing - Guest Blog by the Cycling Yogi

Bike sharing here in China uses a tiny fraction of the infrastructure required in America. The overhead and equipment are both simpler and smaller than programs in American and European cities. They use cheap bikes, and count on responsible behavior by their patrons. The cost of living in China may be 1/3 or 1/4 of what it is in the States, but bike shares in China are more like 1/50th of what they cost in America. The bottom line is that these bright yellow bikes are everywhere, and anyone can pick one up for 15c per hour. And anyone does.

Chaotic. Practical. It's a whole different kettle of fish. (I know there's a pun in there about fish without bicycles, but I'm not sharp enough at the moment to articulate it.)

There are no docking stations. You can leave the bike on the street anywhere in the city (6,000 square miles!). You don't need a credit card because the dominant social media system, called "WeChat" has a built-in payment system that everybody (everybody!) uses. People use WeChat to pay their utility bills and their rent and to transfer money in the family or to a friend. Less commonly, they use WeChat for shopping. There are no bank fees. (Now there's a radical commie idea - the state promotes commerce by making banking cheap and convenient.)

The reason bike sharing is so cheap and convenient is that lots of people use it, and the reason lots of people use it is that it's so cheap and convenient. My home town of Philadelphia inaugurated its Indego bike share program two years ago, and recently expanded to 1,500 bikes for a few downtown neighborhoods. Beijing has 200,000 bikes spread all over everywhere.  

American Bikeshare programs count on subsidies from the city and sometimes from environmental foundations as well. Beijing's several competing programs all run at a profit.  Savor the irony: "Communism" has come to mean that the state leaves the most profitable franchises for startup entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, "capitalism" has come to mean that the state collects tax money from a million working people and channels it to Deserving and Efficient Multinational Corporations. Philadelphia's bikeshare is run by Independence Blue Cross. New York's is run by Citibank.  Washington's Capital Bikeshare is subsidized by both local and Federal money, which goes to Alta Bike, a division of MotiviateCo.

Every American bikeshare program uses bikes that are overbuilt, foolproof, and practically indestructible.  I'm guessing the cost is over $1,000 per bike in quantity, though I've been unable to find cost figures. China's bikeshare bikes are sturdy but very simple, one speed, and I'm told they cost less than $50 each.

(Note from Biking Yogini - yes US costs are high. See the following from the Capital Bikeshare page on Wikipedia: In May 2011, it cost $41,500 to install a station with six docks and $49,300 each for larger stations with 14 docks. Each bicycle cost about $1,000, and the annual operating cost per bike was $1,860.)

China pays $50 for a bike. America pays $1,000+ for a bike + insurance against breaking + security against theft.

Chinese bikeshares are slow and clunky, but not noticeably slower than their American counterpart. It doesn't seem to matter so much in China, where the custom is to ride more slowly. The set of American cycle enthusiasts contains a core of Velosport athletes; but in China, cyclists are students and workers and shopkeepers and businessmen, all of whom seem to saunter along at ~7 mph.

The System

Every rental bike has a wheel lock and a QR code in the tag on the back. Scan the code in your phone, and get a combination to unlock the bike. Ride where you want to go.  Lock the bike on the street. Scan the code again to log out.  1 Chinese yuan is deducted from your account, about 15c.  

Once you know the code, what's to stop you from keeping the bike as your own? The main deterrent to theft in this system is, who wants a bright yellow bike with one speed and no resale possibility, with the constant possibility that your license number will be spotted on the street and you'll serve jail time? But my guess is that good will also plays a role, and that it just isn't worth stealing something and calling it "mine" when you can have one any time you need it for 15 cents. Perhaps the bikeshare entrepreneurs were smart enough to factor in a high theft rate on startup, but once the greed of a few thieves was satisfied, they were overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of bikes on the street.

If there's such a thing as a "Chinese national character," then part of it is being practical and short-sighted, doing things in the easiest and cheapest way. I've seen the down side of this short-sighted culture in the form of haphazard construction and consumer goods that fall apart. But as a model for a bike share system, there's a good case to be made for the "quick and dirty" approach.

China is developing at a dizzying pace that no one can keep track of, let alone plan. There has been a huge migration of half a billion people from rice paddies to the cities. America has 5 cities with over 1 million people; China has more than 150. Currently, the most common vehicle on the streets of China is the electric bicycle, which can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. But there's much more diversity in vehicles, with lots of little electric vehicles, lots of small electric trucks, taxis and Ubers as well as motorcycles and cars. I'm predicting that the next wave will be self-driving electric cars. They don't add to the city's choking pollution problem, and you don't have to own them (or park them!)--you will be able to call one like an Uber, except that the car that appears will drive itself. A huge breakthrough will come when the fleet of self-driving cars comes to dominate traffic flow, and they are able to talk to each other on the internet and spread out to avoid creating traffic jams. This vision may come to pass first in China, where private car ownership is both less affordable and less entrenched than the West, and where central planning is not disdained by ideology.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 Errandonnee - A Tale of Three Cities

After the warmest February ever, with weeks in the 60s and 70s, it was a shock to have snow and ice in March. So when the Errandonnee started with a few temperate days, I hastened to complete bicycle errands whilst the weather was favorable.

March 20, 2017

In a classic trip chaining scheme, I planned a route with many errands in a 10-mile loop. From my home in Arlington’s Westover area I rode to George Mason and Lee Highway for the post office and bank; then along 22nd St and Lee Highway to the yoga studio. From there I took Quincy St to the central library and then along Fairfax and Clarendon Blvd. to Trader Joe’s. I returned along Wilson to the Ballston Sport & Health, looping around to the Glebe Rd entrance to park my bike. I then took Glebe Rd to the entrance to the Custis Trail, where I exit on John Marshall Dr. I like the challenge of working out the most efficient route!

#1 – personal business – stopped at the post office to mail a letter.

#2 – non-store errand – stopped at the bank to deposit money in my daughter’s account.

 #3 – “work” – I wasn’t working, but I stopped at my place of work – Sun and Moon Yoga Studio – to drop off checks for my substitute teachers – one for the previous week when I was sick; the other for the coming week when I had travel plans.

 #4 – non-store errand – stopped at Central library to return DVDs that occupied me while I was home sick for a week.

 #5 – store – went to Trader Joe’s for sauerkraut in my attempt to eat fermented foods daily.

 #6 – personal care – stopped at the gym and lifted weights, but was disappointed that the steam room was out of order. Forgot to take a photo, so here is a link to Sport & Health.

March 21, 2017

#7 – arts and entertainment – rode to Courthouse to see Get Out. Definitely worth the 9-mile ride.

 March 24, 2017

#8 – personal care – Drove up to Philly on Thursday, so Friday morning took the tandem with the Cycling Yogi to Magu Yoga for class (2 miles round trip). Forgot to take a photo, but am including a link to the studio, where I had a great class to get out the kinks from my car trip. That afternoon took the train up to NY to see the Paul Taylor company and spent the night at my friend Sarah’s house in Brooklyn.

March 25, 2017

#9 – social – In Brooklyn, Sarah and I rode from her apartment near the Cortelyou subway stop to Coney Island – my first visit there – 10.5 miles round trip. I borrowed her partner Kevin’s bike, which I found to be supremely comfortable. The illusion of me standing on my bike seat was unintentional, but quickly noticed on Facebook by an astute Coffeeneur! Took the train back to Philly that afternoon.

 March 26, 2017

#10 – wild card – When my daughter moved to Philly she took over use of my Philly bike. The Cycling Yogi had the good fortune to win a bike in a raffle, but I had never ridden it. It is really a bit too large for me and has drop handlebars, which I never use. They make me nervous! So I totally miscalculated how long it would take me to ride from Mt. Airy to Center City. My hands were cramping because the reach of the brakes was really too much and the ride into Center City is predominantly downhill – something I enjoy under normal circumstances, but was a bit hair-raising on an unfamiliar bike. Long story short – plans had to be adjusted because it took me so long. So I found a nice coffee shop (a little Coffeeneuring scouting) and had an espresso and a snack while waiting to meet my daughter for a later movie than we’d originally planned.

 #11 – arts and entertainment – Had parked the bike by the movie theater where I met my daughter to see I am Not Your Negro (11 miles for the ride). From there we walked about a mile and had dinner, then stopped at the Philly AIDS thrift store. Then we headed on foot for Jefferson Station where she could get the trolley home and I dashed to the SEPTA without a second to spare to take the bike back by rail. On the newer SEPTA trains there are long seats that flip up and bikes can be easily stored. There is even a seat belt to hold the bike in place!

 March 27, 2017

#12 – personal business – After driving home from Philly that morning, I decided to take a walk trip to complete the Errandonnee, giving my dogs a chance to finally get in on the act. We walked just over a mile (round trip) to the Westover library, where I had Lisa See’s new novel on hold and then to the post office to mail in my taxes. It was 68 degrees and sunny, making me believe that Spring is here to stay.

 So – I had a grand total of about 42.5 miles biking (using 4 different bikes) and 2 miles walking. With good weather and trips planned for the rest of the week, I’m certain there will be more bike errands to come, but this concludes my official 2017 entry.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Coffeeneuring Roundup: 2016 Edition

Once again, the October beginning of coffeeneuring season found me on the road. I always treasure the opportunity to work two-wheeled beverage hunting into my travels, but this year I really outdid myself. During October I was in both China and Japan. The Facebook posts may have US dates and times – but this blog records the local date of my adventures in all cases.

Ride 1: October 7, 2016 – Beijing gave me a 12-hour time advantage over the East Coast US to begin coffeeneuring…making me perhaps the first official 2016 rider. It was a rainy morning, so I procrastinated a bit, but then took my newly borrowed bike in a loop between the Cycling Yogi’s office and the nearest metro stop (Life Sciences Park – in the upper northwest corner of Beijing) to ensure the requisite 2-mile trip. Between the modern office buildings, apartments, shopping malls, and metro station there is an area that looks very different. Tiny crowded shops, produce vendors, purveyors of street food, and lots of dirt, litter, and garbage make for an old world atmosphere. Despite the garbage and smells, I prefer this glimpse of old-style China over the shopping mall, which could be in any American city.

Our sweet buns had to be heated up

I enjoyed the big bowl of doujiang: warm soymilk

I loved riding this adorable one-speed bike: look at the pedals!!!
The Cycling Yogi met me on foot and helped me negotiate our order of doujiang – warm soymilk, which I had been looking forward to sampling. Traditionally it is served for breakfast with a long twisted doughnut-like pastry crumbled into it. We were too late for these, but did manage to get some delicious sesame balls to accompany our large bowls of doujiang…the whole breakfast for both of us costing under a dollar. While he walked back the short way (down a narrow dirt alley and across two sets of RR tracks), I biked the longer way, having to share bike lanes with electric motor scooters and dodge cars, which never yield the right-of-way to bikes or pedestrians.

Ride 2: October 8, 2016 – I wanted to get a longer bike ride in Beijing, although long rides proved to be not very pleasant. The Cycling Yogi had not managed to find a large enough bike for his Beijing use – given that he’s 6 feet tall with a long torso. A friend had located the right neighborhood for him to find a good bike store – near Peking University – so we hatched a plan. He rode my little orange bike – standing all the way there – and I took the subway. He easily found a nice bike at a good price and we stopped for tea and food. We then headed to Bai Wang Shan Forest Park – a non-touristy park located on probably the only mountain in Beijing. As luck would have it, this was the one day of clear blue skies for my entire three weeks in China. We parked our bikes and hiked to the top, getting magnificent city views.

The tea was really weak

The view was amazing - we were lucky to have clear blue skies: rare in Beijing!
Our ride back entailed many navigational snafus. Cycling directions are not readily available; bike “lanes” that run along a major highway often turn into smaller access roads – always used by motor scooters and often used as convenient parking spots for cars – and side roads peter out with wild fields and footpaths creating interesting (and frustrating) routes.

This shows part of our route and gives an idea of how far we were from central Beijing
Total distance – I’m not sure, probably around 10-12 miles. Fortunately I’d had the opportunity to bike a lot in the countryside the previous week in the beautiful area of Yangshuo, along the Yulong River. This was a far more pleasant biking experience than I had in Beijing.

Ride 3: October 22, 2016 – After leaving Beijing I spent two weeks in Japan, hiking through beautiful countryside, exploring small villages, and visiting the large cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. I had little opportunity for cycling, but was able to get a bike from my Kyoto hotel toward the end. It was a supremely comfortable 7-speed internal hub bike ($13 for the whole day!) and I made my destination the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine (fox shrine) – famous for its thousands of red torii gates and strenuous uphill hike. Kyoto has a long canal running north-south which has broad multi-use paths on both sides. For some reason, however, my navigation system insisted I get off the lovely canal path and took me through many city streets, including bridges over highways that left me feeling the path couldn’t possibly be right. But I prevailed and soon found myself in the Saturday hustle-and-bustle of busy train stops, street vendors, and foot traffic leading up to the grounds of the shrine.

The bike I got from  my hotel was supremely comfortable

There were large crowds at the shrine

Foxes are revered, in part, because they eat mice.
I had taken my own tea in a bottle, but I stopped to sample a sweet concoction of sticky rice ball that was stuffed with a choice of sweet bean, green tea or, I think, chestnut. I thought the green tea was most in keeping with the coffeeneuring spirit, so that was my choice. As I was navigating on foot, I noticed that the canal came very close to where I was, so I decided to ignore the phone navigation and follow the canal back. It worked just fine – although several times I had to cross from one side to the other and I discovered that this part of the canal was not the major canal; it was a few miles before I hooked up with the “official” canal.

You can't park a bike just anywhere in Kyoto; often you have to get paid parking

The canal paths made for perfect cycling.
I wish I’d had more time for biking in Kyoto. Although there is plenty of traffic, drivers are very considerate and there is much good infrastructure. I was concerned it would be confusing to get used to riding on the left, as is the rule in Japan. However, this was my informal observation – and I’m not sure whether it’s accurate or not. When bikes and cars shared the road it seemed to be the convention for bikes to ride opposite the oncoming traffic. This meant I got to ride on the right, as I was accustomed to do.

Total mileage – about 8 miles.

Ride 4: October 25, 2016 – Two words: jet lag. When I returned from Japan I was exhausted but found myself unable to sleep at night. My body’s internal clock was all confused. After five weeks of travel, where I rarely had access to the kind of strong French Roast coffee I normally brew at home, I was really looking forward to a gigantic mug of my own home brew. I had plenty of coffee at home, but no cream, and I wanted the whole perfect cup. So I took my coffee in a travel mug to Village Sweet in Westover, added their yummy cream, and bought a pumpkin scone. It was divine! (Note on bike friendliness: there is no place to park right in front of Village Sweet, but plenty of good bike parking across the street in Westover, and their baked goods are worth the minor inconvenience.) From there I went to the gym to lift weights and take a steam – two other things I’d been without for 5 weeks - and then picked up the last installment of my summer CSA, so I’d have some fresh veggies. I was in quite a fog. Total mileage – about 6 miles.

They make delicious scones (and cookies)
Ride 5: October 31, 2016 – Well, everybody seemed to be hopping on the early voting bandwagon so I decided I would, too. I rode to the Arlington Courthouse, cast my ballot and then stopped at Northside Social where I had a ginger-turmeric tea and pistachio chocolate chip cookie: both delicious. (Bike friendliness note: NS has 3 bike "staples" but they are usually full. Perhaps a few more are in order as the place is - with good reason - very popular.) From there I made a stop at the library and headed home for a total of about 8 miles. The leaves were beautiful, the air crisp, and I felt lucky to have such great bike riding weather.

(Postscript - no we are not going to ruin the joy of biking by talking about the election.)

Ginger-turmeric tea seems to be the latest craze.
Ride 6: November 7, 2016 - With the change to standard time it now gets dark very early. Bike Arlington sponsors a free light giveaway and I volunteered to help by the bike counter in Rosslyn. It was great fun to give away lights and encourage people to pick up other reflective gear to help them stay visible in the dark. 

Lots of cyclists stopped for free lights
Once the sun went down, however, I got quite chilled, even with my jumping around to attract cyclists. So I left for home, decked out with a few supplemental blinky lights and a new Bike Arlington reflective vest. I decided to stop at The Italian Store, close to home, thinking I could get a decaf cappuccino. No luck - their coffee bar had closed up for the night. But I needed something hot, even after fast-pedaling 4 miles up hills. So I got a slice of pizza and a limonata. Total distance - 10 miles.

New supplemental lights

I wanted hot coffee, but had to settle for hot pizza and cold drink.
Ride 7: November 11, 2016 - Is any coffeeneuring season complete without taking at least one ride on a bike share? Not for me and I love the challenge of seeking our bike share systems wherever I travel. But who'd a thunk I'd find one in Corpus Christi, Texas? Okay - here's a little self-promotion. An essay I wrote was awarded first place in creative nonfiction by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation - a very worthy organization that provides free health services and promotes women's health. Published in the literary journal of Texas A&M University - The Switchgrass Review - I was invited to read from my work at their fall festival. 

I think the total system has 40 bikes and fewer than 10 docks.
The next morning I checked out the city's new bike share system - in operation since August. I had planned ahead and downloaded the Zagster app, which you need to secure a bike. Unlike other bike share systems, these bikes are secured to their dock with a U lock. The key is in a locked box on the back of the bike. When I could not unlock the first bike, I called customer support which was quick to respond - even at 8 a.m. on Veteran's Day! They cancelled my ride and I was able to unlock the next bike. 
The light made it hard to get a good photo of the Selena statue
The docking station was just steps from my hotel, and right on the Gulf of Mexico. I rode as far as I could go up the shoreline, which had a nice multi use path, past the statue of the Tejano star Selena, a Corpus Christi native who was tragically murdered at the age of 23. Going north I came to the arts and entertainment area, with many museums and so forth. A large construction area made it challenging to get from the shoreline and ride more inland. I had searched for coffee shops, but then made many wrong turns and did not manage to find one that looked appealing. Ideally, I would have found a place serving a Tex-Mex breakfast. But it was not to be.
Art Museum of South Texas

This bridge goes across to Padre Island
The advantage of a bike share that comes with a U lock is I could have locked the bike anywhere - even when I couldn't find another docking station. And the rental system doesn't require bikes be returned within half an hour. Plus - the system is CHEAP! As you can see from my receipt, I kept the bike nearly an hour and a half for the low price of $3!

But, back to food - the restaurants that appealed to me didn't open until 11 (too late for me to get to the airport and make my flight home) and I refused to go to a place called Whataburger. So I cycled back to the hotel and chowed down on their brunch buffet - complete with coffee. 

By the time I had brunch, I think anything would have tasted good!
With all my twists and turns, I estimate I rode about 8 miles. Then I got to walk on the beach, put my feet in the warm gulf and fly home.
Beautiful view from the air