Saturday, September 17, 2011

Biking in Italy and Spain

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel in Italy and in Spain (it was work-related). I was able to take the time to look around and get a feel for where I was. Some of the things that I saw were bicycling-related and I took pictures. As you might imagine, bicycling is different. In Florence: 1) Issues of salmoning, filtering, riding the sidewalks and so on were moot. All of these were happening and no one seemed to care. 2) Bicycles were utilitarian: no fancy components, with unrecognizable brands (or just bare downtubes) and a general disregard for upkeep. 3) People cycled to get get places and that was about it. I saw one roadie on the ring road but that was unusual. I did notice some cool stuff, like curb-stand parking:
And a really neat bike:

The city has rentals, but the system seems a bit difficult to deal with; there's an attendant and hours are limited (this picture is in the morning, after 9am).

In Granada I saw very few bikes, but I did notice this one. It's a bit hard to see since I didn't get a chance to take a good pic, but this is a street with two moving lanes of traffic. There 's a cyclist right in between the two scooters. I'm just plain impressed by this woman (though note that in these towns traffic speed is generally low by our standards; cars move the slowest, scooters the fastest, with bikes somewhere in between).

In Seville on the other hand biking is an integral part of transportation. The city has an extensive automated bike rental scheme that provides bikes for personal transport. The system is geared towards quick turnover: the first 30 mins are free, the next hour is 1 EUR and after that it's 2 EUR. For 10 EUR a week you get a "membership" that allows you to use the bikes. The bikes are in generally good shape though I learned to check the brakes before checking one out. The only real problem I ran into was racks that were empty or completely full. But the turnover is rapid; within 5 minutes you could leave/get a bike. I love this system.
The above picture shows a bikestand (with rental kiosk). The sidewalks on main streets are very wide, so there's room for a dedicated bike route (marked in green).There's even speed limit signs for the bikes. I like this picture because it's missing a common mode of transportation.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The WPW centuries (11 XI 2011)

Did the 67 mile "metric" century. Nice ride, in almost perfect weather. Yummy endorphins.

Things got off to a bad start: I was running late and managed to miss the shelter on my first pass. I drove around randomly for a while (nobody had heard of any bike ride). I think maybe I was just too focused on spotting a parking lot full of cars with bike racks and people wearing too-bright jerseys. I guess everyone had left by the time I showed up (duh). Anyway, I scored the last remaining 65mi cue sheet and off I went. The route was good; that is, except for the stretch along a road that had just been milled.
I started to get tired after 50 miles or so, making the rest of the ride progressively less fun. In hindsight I should probably have skipped that last beer the night before. Though I don't think I would have been able to manage getting more than the 4 hours of sleep that I did. Sigh.  At least for next time I'll have a better idea of what I'm capable of.

I spoke with one of the doers, Al, at the post-ride picnic. I was the only rider there, but he still offered to fire up the grill and make me a burger. I declined (not hungry yet and, besides, I'm in the middle of Michael Pollan's
The Omnivore’s Dilemma). Al told me that they had about 90 riders shown up, with about twenty doing the 35-miler. He wouldn't commit to a 65/100 distribution (I think he said that some people "cheat" when they declare their intended route or otherwise change their mind along the way). I hung around for a bit, sucking down cans of lemonade and listening to bike-geek conversation, then left.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Tour of the Montour, 25 IX 2010

Nice ride, but it felt like a Cat 6 race much of the time.

Biking elsewhere

Over the past two weeks I was in Italy and in Spain, for conferences. In addition to everything else, I tried to keep an eye out for things bicycle out of curiosity about how things were done elsewhere. Unsurprisingly things were different.

Some things that I noticed in Florence:
1) Issues of salmoning, filtering, riding the sidewalks and so on were moot. All of these were happening and non one seemed to care.
2) Bicycles were utilitarian: no fancy components, unrecognizable brands (or just bare downtubes) and a general disregard for upkeep.
3) People cycled to get around and that was about it,. I did see one roadie on the ring road but that was it.

Some things that I noticed in Granada:
1) Almost no bikes to speak of. This was maybe not entirely surprising: the town is pretty hilly and you'd probably have to be pretty dedicated to bike around all the time.
2) The bikes that I did see were mountain style with big mostly knobby tires.
3) On a trip to the Sierra Nevada (by car) we did run into a large ride puffing up a hill (roadies in lycra, nice bikes, the whole bit). I noticed maybe only a couple of bikes with skinny tires.

In Seville:
1) Tons of bikes but no roadie types. This is actually not very surprising. Many streets are cobbled or brick and really rough to ride on.
2) The city has a well-organized municipal bike rental system. It's actually amazingly simple: you pop in your atm card to buy a 10 EUR 'subscription' (which also puts a 150EUR hold on your account), get a ID number and set up a password and you're all set. Bikes are available at automated stands all around the city. You log-on, select a bike and you're off. The system is set up to short term use: your first 30 mins are free, the next hour is 1EUR, hereafter it's 2EUR/hr. Just perfect to hop on to get somewhere and drop it off at a stand. The bike are big and heavy but surprisingly easy to ride. My hotel was about 2km from the historic area and all I had to do is hop on and off to get there. There were problems: while the bikes were generally in good condition I discovered that it paid to first check the bike before taking it (brakes especially). The empty bikestand happens, and also the full bikestand (nowhere to park!). But turnover is fast; it seemed like something would show up (or leave) within 5 minutes. I ended up not worrying about it

In Malaga:
1) Not many bikers to speak of, at least in the downtown area that I stuck to.

In general:
I noticed that in the urban center cars were the slowest, followed by bikes but both bested by the scooters. It made sense: cars are big and not all that maneuverable. Scooters move fast and generally ignore traffic, scooting between cars and so on. Bikes were slower but more adaptable: salmoning and sidewalks kept you moving and you could get through narrow spaces much easier.