Everybody Loves a Parade

The seventh annual Brookline Bicycle Parade and Community Celebration of the Parks is Sunday, May 18th.
It’s a free, fun, family-friendly, five-mile bike parade for ages 8 to 88+ on a car-free Beacon Street. Festivities start at Amory Park at 11:30 a.m. with giveaways, community booths, dj music, bike shop safety checks, a Hubway membership raffle, and food to purchase. A shorter ride for younger cyclists is also part of the fun. Parade leaves promptly at 1 p.m.
What could possibly be better than a parade of bikes? A parade of bikes with an ice cream party at the end!

Keep on Bikin’

A mugger robbed me for every dime so my sleep was deep and careless. Nobody troubles an empty pocket– I bless the one who made me fearless.

- Mirza Ghalib Since my bike was stolen, my temporary ride has been a Raleigh 3-speed with a step-through frame that was manufactured the year before I was born. I found it at the curb ready for the trash back in 1996 or so, before the vogue for old Raleighs had taken off. I never did a real restore job or anything – just replaced the rotted tires and the plastic saddle and the brake shoes, and it was good to go. I looked through Craigslist for a while, first for my missing bike, and then finally as it sunk in that I wasn’t going to find it, for a replacement. But I didn’t see anything inspiring. I’d been bike commuting off and on for close to 5 years on the bike that was stolen. I liked it well enough, but I’d been starting to see the limitations of building a commuter bike out of a mountain bike: a frame geometry built for a different purpose, gearing that meant I had to pedal like a caffeinated hamster on the flat, and a style that didn’t speak to me: the bicycle equivalent of a Jeep Cherokee. We’d recently re-possessed my wife’s old Peugeot 10-speed (I’m sorry, I can’t start calling it a “road bike” this late in life) from her parents’ basement. I started to have daydreams about it. I prefer the frame shape of the 10-speed, perhaps out of nostalgia – the first bike I bought new with my own cash was a Motobecane. I asked myself questions. What if it had thicker, puncture-proof tires? What if it had a nicer seat? What about switching out the drop handlebars for a more upright ride? And so I asked my wife if I could have it. “Of course.” And I went to Harris an hour later. photo of peugot cranksetI’m about halfway through breaking it down and cleaning it up. The cranks are off. The big gears are clean and shining. The freewheel cluster is waiting for a tool. The chrome rims are shining again. The rear wheel bearings and axle are in a plastic bag, waiting for grease. I love this work. There’s something deeply satisfying about scraping off 30-year-old hardened crud and discovering nearly pristine gear teeth underneath. photo 2 Simplex derailleur on a Peugeot bike Maybe it’s a way to slow down the pace of aging, the pace at which old stuff is cast off for the latest new thing. This bike is old, but damn, it’s younger than me, so it can’t be THAT old! Right? Un-sticking frozen old parts, putting a shine on things that were dull, making things glide, getting wheels back to round. Like new? No, there’s still some rust and corrosion, nicks and scratches, even a few dents, and a slight wobble in one wheel that won’t go away. But at every step, I’m closer to having the commuter bike I really wanted while I rode my serviceable but not quite satisfying converted mountain bike.

I wonder how long I’d have gone on riding an unsatisfying bike. Maybe I needed that thief; I’m out some money, but richer by a process of rebuilding.


Sad Tale of a Missing Bike


bike with bagWhen I went out to the garage this morning to grab my bike and head to work, there was no bike to grab. My thoroughly modified old Raleigh mountain bike was gone. In its place was a kid’s Raleigh mountain bike.

Awful feeling – not just stolen, but stolen right out of my garage. And no, it wasn’t locked. It’s such a junky-looking old thing I never imagined someone would want to steal it. Now I know better.

It pretty much looks like this picture, though there were a few minor mods after this: the addition of a black chain-guard, a yellow Bike Newton sticker (of course!) and a “Support Radical Militant Librarians” sticker. There’s a rather nice cat-eye headlight, too, and an updated saddle.

If you happen to see it (probably in Newton), please contact Steve Runge. It disappeared in the vicinity of Weeks Field, and my bet is it hasn’t traveled all that far.

kids raleighOh, and the kid’s bike? Here’s a picture. If your child’s black and red Raleigh mountain bike went missing sometime in the last several days, I have it. Though I’m sure my son covets it, I’d much rather return it to its rightful owner. It’s in pretty good shape.

Both my missing bike and this found bike have been reported to the Newton Police as well. My advice to all: don’t depend on the ugly-duckling theorem of theft-protection, and don’t get complacent at home. Lock your bike if you value it.


Mother’s Day Genco Ride

In case a Father’s Day ride (Tour de Newton!) isn’t enough, how about a Mother’s Day Ride! Bike Newton is proud to continue to sponsor the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation’s Mother’s Day Memorial Ride, on Sunday May 11. Registration is $45.00, and all proceeds support Habitat for Humanity and Bike and Build. There are 4 ride options: 68 miles (8am), 34 miles (9am), 17 miles 10am) and 3.4 miles (10:30am) for families and children. All rides depart from and return to Newton City Hall. Hope to see you there!

CCG Poster 2

Register for the 2nd Annual Tour de Newton

It’s official! Registration for the second annual Tour de Newton (June 15, 2014) is now open. Celebrate Father’s Day this year on wheels! More details.


The Nonantum riders at the end of a fun, wet ride

The Nonantum riders at the end of a fun, wet ride

In spite of the fun a number of hardy folks had biking on a cold, rainy day last October, we decided to move the Tour de Newton to a warmer month. (But with weather acting like it is, who knows!) The route and idea are the same: bike as much or as little of a 20 mile route through all 13 of Newton’s villages as you like, stopping at each to experience a little of each village’s hospitality. Get a free, unique pin at each village! Get a free brightly colored Tour de Newton t-shirt! Meet other Newtonites!

The only change this year other than the date is a registration fee. In the fall, Bike Newton assumed most of the costs associated with the event and ran their budget into the red. This time, we’ll have to ask participants for a modest fee: $5.00 for children, $10.00 for adults, or $25.00 to register a whole family.

We need ride leaders! If you are an experienced ride leader, please contact Lois Levin, Newton’s Bicycle Coordinator, via email or cell:  617.283.5077.

Hope to see you there!

American Biking Began in Newton


Columbia bicycles ad circa 1890

Yes, an arguable case can be made that it all started in Newton. According to Bruce Epperson’s Peddling Bicycles to America: The Rise of an Industry (local libraries), some important firsts having to do with bike manufacturing occurred here in Newton:

1. First “ordinary” bicycle–aka “penny farthing”–made on American soil: credit goes to an Englishman by the name of R. H. Hodgson, who had a small shop in Newton. He made a “small number” of bicycles in 1878. Another Newtonite, a man named A. M. Gooch, may have been even earlier, but his operation was even smaller, little more than a repair shop.

2. First (and biggest) American bicycle manufacturer: Newton resident Colonel Albert Pope began importing, and then quickly thereafter manufacturing bicycles under the brand name Columbia in 1879. Pope Manufacturing would have to be called the first American company to manufacture bicycles on a large scale; it also went on to become the largest and most successful bike manufacturer in America for at least two decades, and led the “bicycling boom” of the 1890′s. Though production took place at a factory in Hartford, CT, Pope himself was a Newtonite and remained in and around Boston. He was a founding member of the first bicycle club in America, The Boston Bicycle Club, and he founded the Massachusetts Bicycling Club, which became something of a marketing organization for Columbia bicycles.

portrait of albert a pope

As he was putting his manufacturing deals together in 1878, Pope occasionally raced through the streets of Newton on a horse, trying–and failing–to beat his friend Alfred Chandler on an imported English bicycle. David Herlihy, in his illustration-packed and remarkable book, Bicycle: The History (local libraries), describes Pope’s first encounter with Chandler on a bicycle in Newton as a key moment in Pope’s decision to embark on manufacturing bicycles. It’s a charming story, though it may be apocryphal: it seems from Epperson’s meticulously researched book that Chandler didn’t acquire his “wheel” until after Pope had already begun inquiries at factories in Hartford. Still, it would make for great cinema, wouldn’t it? A horse and a bicycle charging up Heartbreak Hill on a summer Sunday, past the astonished looks of families strolling in their Sunday best.

Pope went on to be an influential member of the League of American Wheelmen (precursor to the League of American Bicyclists) and a major figure in the Good Roads movement at the turn of the century, which resulted in thousands miles of roads being paved for use by bicyclists.

Being first and foremost a manufacturer, he also later manufactured electric automobiles under the same brand name–Columbia–as his bicycles. One even carried President Roosevelt in the first Presidential motorcade.

If anyone has any tips or leads about more information about Pope and early bicycles in Newton, drop me a line in the comments. When I have time, I intend to poke around in the archives at Jackson Homestead. Who knows? Maybe I’ll turn up a photo of Pope himself on an ordinary, racing down Comm. Ave.

Glaciers Receding

Listen to the sound of spring! It’s the sound of the crusty old snowplow piles finally shrinking. For someone who’s been biking as many days as I can all winter, that’s a welcome sound. The cold doesn’t bother me that much, but glaciers are partially or wholly blocking bike lanes on Beacon. I’ll be very happy to see them shrink.