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  • August 14, 2011

    Superbike

    I recently bought my first new road bike in 10 years. When I lived in NYC, I biked pretty seriously, and whether it meant laps around Central Park (a 6-mile loop with one pretty steep hill – but with the hazards of rollerbladers, unleashed dogs, and unleashed children all along the way); or a 75-mile round trip across the George Washington Bridge, north through Jersey back into New York State, past Nyack, and home again; I loved riding. I even dressed the part.

    Then we moved to Los Angeles. Biking in NYC always seemed weirdly safe because there are so many hazards for car drivers that they tend to be pretty aware. It always felt more likely that I’d run over a toddler than get hit by a car. When we got to LA, though, biking felt suicidal. Nobody is watching for pedestrians while they drive, because there are no pedestrians. Nobody walks in LA unless they’re homeless, and biking is even less popular than walking (maybe because the homeless rarely have bikes). So, I stopped biking.

    Then we moved to Austin, famous for Lance Armstrong, and thought by many to be cyclist friendly. I’ll admit that I never tested that assumption, but it never seemed safe to me. When a half-dozen deer were killed every season by cars on our residential street — a street with a 30 mph speed limit — that doesn’t say to me “drivers are paying attention.” So, still no biking.

    When we moved back to the northeast this summer, I decided that I wanted to ride again. Many people here use bikes as their primary means of transportation, and there are bike lanes on most major roads, so it seemed reasonably safe. (More on that in a minute.) Plus, I missed riding.

    I think that if you love road biking, you really love road biking. There isn’t much of an in-between.  If you’re willing to wear spandex shorts in public, you probably love road biking. Most people, though, think road biking is ridiculous, with its bent-over posture and clipless pedals. I once told John Corigliano that I’d just finished a 70 mile ride that took about four hours, and he said, “that sounds like a tremendous waste of energy.” But when I’m on a bike, it’s like I’m seven years old again, marveling at the speed I can propel my own body. I’m not good at sports that require hand-eye coordination, but put me on a bike, climbing a hill, and I will crush you, or at least I’ll have fun trying. (But please, don’t expect me to catch a ball. I can bike up a hill because of sheer will, but no amount of will can result in suddenly being able to catch a ball or shoot a basket.)

    It turns out that biking in Boston is actually not the safest thing in the world.  Less than a week into ownership of my new bike, I was doored.  I was riding past my bike shop, so I was going slow, wondering who was working outside, when a car door opened right in front of me.  I remember yelling an expletive, but I don’t remember hitting the door.  The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, in the middle of the road, thinking, “oh god – my bike, is my bike okay?” while a city garbage truck was hard-braking to avoid running over me.

    As luck would have it, the guy who doored me was on his way into the same bike shop, because he’s a bike rep. My front wheel was trashed – spokes everywhere – and my fork was chipped.  Other than that, the bike was fine.  The guy who doored me – Paul was his name, nice fellow it turns out – offered to cover any expenses associated with the bike. (I’m not sure he realized at that moment how generous this was.)  I was moderately banged up, but basically okay, all things considered. It’s weird what shock does to you. All I could think was, “my new bike. Oh god, my new bike,” and it probably took about 15 minutes before the adrenaline started to wear off, and I realized that “holy sh*t… ow.”  My right shoulder was scratched, two fingers on my right hand were badly cut, my left elbow was scratched, and my left hip looked (and felt) like I’d been kicked by a horse.  I can’t imagine how I managed to bang up both sides of my body, since I literally have no memory of the impact.  It’s like my brain said, “hey, we might die right now, and I’m going to channel all of our power into surviving, so I’m going to need to disengage our memory for just a sec.”  Anyway, I’m fine, the bike is fixed (new wheel, new fork), and I’m riding a little further from parked cars now.

    So, the bike. I figured, if I’m only going to get a new bike once every 10 years, why not go nuts? Full carbon, electronic shifting, total weight: 15 pounds. There will be a lot of nerdy bike details in a moment, and it may not be super exciting if you don’t love road bikes. Hopefully the pictures will be pretty, though.

    The bike is the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL3 Di2.  Di2 refers to the Dura Ace Di2 electronic shifting.  (The bike lives indoors – but usually downstairs, not next to the bar cart.)

    It’s named for the Paris-Roubaix, an annual road bike race in northern France, known for its exceptionally difficult and dangerous conditions, as it goes over many cobblestone sections that are rough, often slick (you should watch this race in the rain sometime), and hell on both the bike and the rider. Specialized designed this bike specifically for the challenges of that race – it needed to be fast, but also forgiving – and for three consecutive years, the winner of that race has won on a Specialized Roubaix just like mine.  (That is not the proper front wheel, by the way. I took this picture while I was waiting on my replacement wheel. My bike shop – Ace Wheelworks – can’t say enough good stuff about them, particularly Colin, who fit the bike, and Jerry, who built it – loaned me this wheel while I waited for the replacement.)

    The standard wheels are Shimano Dura-Ace tubeless carbon. Carbon is extremely light, and also rides smooth. These tubeless wheels are like car tires, in that (as the name implies) they have no inner tube. Super smooth, quiet, and fast.

    Pedals are Speedplay X/1 titanium.

    The frame is full carbon.

    The shifting is electronic. You still push a button to change gears, but it’s not like a traditional bike, where pushing a lever pulls a cable to change the gear. With electronic shifting, you touch a button – like clicking a mouse – and a small motor changes the gear for you. It changes the gear perfectly every time, and because there’s no cable that can stretch over time, the gears don’t need to be adjusted. Every thousand miles or so, you just need to charge the battery.  You can see the battery between the bottle cages. (The bottom bracket uses ceramic bearings, and the crankset is carbon.)

    Here’s another shot of the front derailleur. This derailleur, because it’s electronic, will “trim” to match the angle of the chain when you shift to one extreme or the other on the rear derailleur. This means your chain will not rub against the front derailleur if you’re on the big ring in the front, and the left-most gear in the back.  It’s pretty sweet to shift the rear derailleur hear the electronic sound of the front derailleur automatically angling itself ever-so-slightly to match.

    Here’s the rear derailleur.

    A tiny indicator light near the handlebars tells you when it’s time to charge the battery.  I’ve had the bike for a month, and even took it on a few heavy-shifting hilly rides in the Berkshire mountains, but haven’t had to charge the battery yet.

    A detail shot showing the shifter and brake.

    Dura-Ace brakes.

    All cabling – brakes and shifting – is internal.

    Here’s the saddle that I briefly rode. It was pretty.

    Here’s the bike today, now with the correct front wheel. (This is actually the 2012 model of the wheel; the back wheel is the 2011.) You can see that I also have a different saddle now. The last saddle was really uncomfortable. (I don’t like kids *, and don’t want to make any, but I want that choice to be mine, not determined by my bike seat.) This saddle is great, but not as pretty as the old white one. A new white saddle that will fit properly is on the way. Seriously: be sure you have a proper saddle.  People often think that they don’t like biking because the seat hurts, but that usually just means you don’t have a good saddle.

    * some kids are okay. Amelia Newman is turning out pretty well.

    For camera-heads, most of these pictures are from the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.  That last shot was with the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II lens. For contrast, here’s a shot at 16mm from the 16-35mm f/2.8 L II – just ’cause it makes the saddle look ridiculously high.

    I love this thing. If it were a car, it would be a Tesla Roadster. It is crazy light – 15 pounds! – and so fast and smooth. Riding it feels like riding a bullet over glass. The only thing slowing me down now is my own lack of strength. Oh, and car doors.

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    August 13, 2011

    Rialto

    As a farewell Austin/welcome to Boston present, our friend Rob Carnochan gave us a gift card for Rialto, a restaurant in the Charles Hotel at Harvard Square here in Cambridge. It took us a few weeks to find a good evening to take advantage of Rob’s generous gift, but on Thursday – when it was a beautiful 73 degrees – AEJ and I walked down to Harvard Square for dinner.

    With weather this nice, we sat outside on Rialto’s terrace, where I considered stealing some of the fresh herbs the restaurant was growing.

    Fortunately, some tasty, crusty rolls – with olive oil and sea salt – arrived to distract me.

    Rialto – as the fresh herbs on the terrace emphasized – celebrates fresh, local ingredients. It seemed like we couldn’t go wrong with our appetizer salads — for me, the shaved farm vegetable salad with pickled chioggi beets (I love beets), scape aioli, and crisp farro flatbread…

    … or AEJ’s salad of local lettuces, feta, lime vinaigrette, and pickled melon. (The pickled melon was one of those so-weird-it’s-brilliant creations, starting out as “good lord, why is this melon pickled” and quickly transitioning to “that is a sweet yummy melon.”  I love it when food is surprising.)

    For my main course, I was feeling like seafood. There’s no shortage of lobster in the Boston area (unlike, say, New York City, where apparently they think it’s okay to serve crayfish from the south, but call it “lobster”), and of the two lobster options at Rialto (the first of which being a pasta dish), I went with the more decadent olive oil poached lobster with garum braised tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, preserved peaches (wow), and chickpea fries (WTF could that be? Really fun, it turns out).  Lobster + preserved peach is pretty spectacular.

    AEJ – now fully vegetarian – had the ricotta gnocchi with green olive, pistachio, and lemon. It was like a bowl of big hot fluffy cheese marshmallows. (That probably doesn’t sound as good as it was.)

    There were several sides from which to choose, but it’s hard to pass up something with corn and cream. This might have been the best thing on the table.

    And then… dessert. For me, the summer fruit crostata with peach ice cream and brandied peaches. Yummy and fresh, but I wish the crust had been just a little less crunchy. (This issue is more mine than the pastry chef’s; I’m not big on tart crusts in general. This one tasted really good, but there was a lot of it.)

    AEJ chose the rhubarb rose meringue with pistachio and strawberry-rhubarb sorbet. My dad’s favorite pie is rhubarb pie — not strawberry-rhubarb, which is common, but just straight rhubarb.  My parents used to grow rhubarb when I was little. (There may have been other recreational plants growing on the property. It was the 70s, after all. But that’s another story.) I haven’t tasted rhubarb since I was probably four years old, and I just remember it being bitter and chewy (it’s not a vegetable to be eaten raw, it turns out), and that’s what’s stuck with me since. As far as I knew, I hated rhubarb – until Thursday, when I tried this dessert. Turns out rhubarb is great.  Also great? Fresh, local summer strawberries.

    It was a delicious and lovely dinner on a perfect summer night. Thank you, Rob, for making it possible.

    Here’s a shot that I took on the way home, walking through Cambridge Common during blue hour.

    On an unrelated note, I have two more pictures I wanted to post. First, there hasn’t been a picture of Loki on here for, what, days? So, here’s a picture of the cat, falsely thinking it’s okay for him to be on the speaker. I shot this with the Canon 85mm f1.2 L II lens, which I don’t use enough.

    And lastly, a few days ago, we created a new cocktail with Grey Goose Citron, Trader Joe’s sparkling limeade, and sweet pickled ginger with a splash of juice from the ginger jar. AEJ – always the master of titles – called it The Koi Pond. Highly recommended. Just don’t substitute tequila for the vodka. Ginger plus tequila is nasty, like having yellowtail sushi with refried beans. It turns out there’s a reason why Mexico is not known for koi ponds.

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