Tag Archives: bicycle commuting in Nashville

Review: Mini Monkey Light

For the last two months, I’ve been dazzling Nashville with my Mini Monkey Light M210 from Monkey Electric. And I really mean that—while it’s no Christmas light set, this is the sort of lighting option that draws oohs and ahs from pedestrians and is difficult for motorists to miss. Very important attributes when it starts getting dark at 4:30!

The Monkey Light is easy to install, with a battery case  (3 AA) that rests on top of the wheel’s hub and a small circuit board that fits between the spokes like a baseball card.

 

The on/off button, and the button that allow you to select which pattern you want the light to display, are on the circuit board, as you can see below—they’re labled “Power” and “Theme.”

You may also notice that there’s a “tire” and “hub” indicator, and mine is facing the wrong way.  This did not seem to affect its performance, although I’m sure it alters some of the patterns, so I changed it around after these photos were taken. I attached the Monkey Light to my rear wheel only; I felt like both would have been overkill and I was worried that the battery pack would affect the bike’s performance. That does not seem to have happened,  although my definition of “performance” is doubtless less stringent than most.

Sadly, I can’t seem to get a picture of the light at night to save my life, though I’ve made a few efforts. Whitney finally helped me out and got the best snaps yet. I believe the pattern I have selected is the red “fireball” shown here. I may look like a ghost, but you can definitely tell the lights are BRIGHT.

Luckily, they have a video that better displays what the Monkey Light can do (and has me thinking that maybe I should install it on both wheels after all?).

You can find out more about Monkey Electric and the Monkey Light on their site, or their Kickstarter page. The Monkey Light Mini will be available in February for $49.99, but you can pre-order now. While the price is a tad steep (especially if you want to use the light on both wheels) this light definitely delivers when it comes to visibility (and in two months of use, I haven’t drained the batteries).

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Big biking weekend in Nashville

Two bike events are happening in Nashville this weekend that you should know about.

First of all, New Belgium is bringing the Tour de Fat here for the first time on Saturday, July 9. The event benefits Walk/Bike Nashville and Soundforest, and Kermit Allegra and I will be marshals, so come on out. You totally want to see my costume (OK, I haven’t planned it yet, but that just means it will be even MORE awesomely random, right?). Things get started around 9 and the 5-mile, leisurely ride kicks off at 10. Kegs are tapped at 11.

Then on Sunday, July 10, I’m planning a bicycle brunch. If you ride your bike in Nashville, or if you want to start riding your bike in Nashville, come on out and meet others who do! We’re meeting at ChaChah on Belmont Blvd at 10:30.

Will you be at either event? Both? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

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Nashville!

I’m back from Trishaville, aka Nashville. Although I lived there for only three years and moved away four years ago, Nashville is my favorite city to return to again and again, simply because of Trisha and other friends.  And there’s something about the South that calls to me, although I spent my youth hatching escape plans.

My three days with Trisha were full of awesomeness, of course: used bookstores, a British sitcom marathon, a discount designer warehouse, French breakfast, fancy ice cream, duck fat tater tots, Yazoo beer and live music at the Mercy Lounge (Those Darlins!).  Plus, I finally got to meet Trisha’s brother, Charlie.  Hmmm what else?…

…oh yeah – bicycling!

I got to meet the new Kate Spade Abici, whom I keep calling Kermit Spade, to Trisha’s chagrin.  With Trisha on KS and me on the Bat, we rode downtown and crossed the pedestrian bridge for a view of the Nashville skyline.

Yeah, we’re cool.

I must share, there are a number of weirdo men loitering around downtown Nashville who were quite interested in us.  We handled them effectively with stoney silence, which we’re both really good at when we put our minds to it.

After the bridge, we rode over to Broadway, with its honky tonks and cowboy boot shops.

We really should have stopped to take advantage of the 3-boots-for-the-price-of-one deal – missed opportunity.

Bicycling in Nashville was a great pleasure for me.  The weather is not yet at Southern summer oppressiveness.  The infrastructure is quite supportive of cycling, with wide bike lanes on many medium-sized streets and plenty of winding back roads with almost no cars at all.  Drivers seemed to display the fabled Southern hospitality, although I’m prone to romaticize it now that I don’t live there anymore.  One guy in a work truck blocking the bike lane drawled, “Pardon me, ladies,” which made me inordinately happy.

Today my thighs are sore from all those hills (damn! major props to Trisha for handling those every day) but it was worth it.

I make it to Nashville at least once a year, for Trisha’s birthday, but hopefully it won’t take me a year to return this time.  Chicago is comparatively cold in all ways.

Many more photos from our Nashville adventures and Trisha’s Abici to come.

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Me and my shadow

Work, life and a few side projects have kept me from the blog so far this month—but they haven’t kept me off my bike. I am loving these late spring evening commutes. Even if this picture was taken a week ago and it’s now far too warm to wear a jacket of any sort, much less corduroy!

This morning I’m riding into the Village to get a new pair of glasses. (After 6+ years, it’s about time.) Anyone taking advantage of the pretty weather to bike this weekend?

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Happy Friday!

This has been a splendid week for cycling.  During the past few days, I have encountered:

  • Countless other bicyclists on the streets.
  • Two friends during my commute (Hi Jami and Elizabeth!).
  • A mother riding a box trike with two kids in the front.
  • An impromptu happy hour with seven of the lovely Women Who Bike.
  • No particularly aggressive or wildly stupid drivers.
  • Warm weather!

I’m especially happy to see all the other bicyclists.  We’re a real presence out there.  :)

Still waiting for flowers, though!

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A Shared Bike-Cab Moment

Q: What would cause a bicyclist and a cab driver to share a moment in the middle of a busy Chicago intersection?

A: Nearly falling victim to a supremely stupid and dangerous move by another driver.

On my way home yesterday, as I waited in the middle of an busy three-way intersection to turn left – my light was green but through traffic from the other direction had the right-of-way – a big SUV pulled next to me and then awkwardly inched itself half-way in front of me at a turning angle, effectively cutting me off and placing me dangerously within its turning radius. I was thinking, “What the hell, moron??” and had to walk my bike backward. (True to stereotypical form, the driver was a woman talking on a cell phone.)

We sat there as one, two, three cars went by coming from the other direction. There was one more car, a cab, in the line of right-of-way traffic. Our light was still green. Shockingly, the SUV driver turned left right in front of the cab. She did not dart out quickly; she simply turned as if she had all the time in the world.

For a split second I was sure the cab would crash into the her and both would crash into me. Thankfully, the cab driver managed to stop in time by slamming on his brakes and the SUV continued on as if nothing strange had happened, leaving the cab driver and me stopped in the middle of the busy intersection, staring at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief. Happy to have someone to commiserate with, he made a “What was she thinking????” gesture and I responded with a “I have no idea, but that shit was crazy!” gesture. We shared a moment. Then he continued straight and I turned left, strangely giddy for the rest of my ride home.

I deal with so much ridiculousness on my bike every day, connecting with a driver about the confirmed idiocy of another driver was oddly comforting. It reassured me that I am not the crazy one. It also reminded me that cars are not my natural enemy; rather, stupid drivers are a common enemy to all. I prefer to focus on that part of the incident, rather than think too much about the fact that there are so many drivers distracted by cell phones that they don’t know or even care what they’re doing on the roads. After all, if the cab had crashed into this woman, she probably would not have been injured in her huge SUV and I’m sure she has insurance, so why should she care enough to follow the law and not talk on her cell phone while driving? That would be terribly inconvenient.

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Air Pollution and Bicycling

Breathing behind the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and SUVs is one of the worst parts of bike commuting. Although passengers in motor vehicles breathe in extra pollution from the toxic chemicals leaching off the car interior itself, a recent study found that bicyclists in Brussels breathe in 5 times more air pollution than drivers or pedestrians. On the other hand, I remember a study that declared bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, but I cannot find a link to it now. What I know for sure is my own experience and I feel like I breathe in a lot of pollution while cycling.

Air Pollution - Image (c) Tom Krymkowski

This subject is on my mind due to a recent experience. Yesterday morning a truck, similar to the one pictured above, passed me and belched out a horrific plume of thick, black smoke from the top. The plume was at least 5 times as big and thick as the picture above. I almost pulled off the road, but there was no escaping, so I ducked my body over my handlebars and held my breath until I made it through the other side. The truck continued hurtling from block to block, releasing a disgusting plume of smoke as it accelerated from each stop sign, before mercifully turning onto another street. Surely, this truck would never pass a city inspection, but nevertheless it was out there on the road, spewing its disgustingness around.

This incident, although rare, was troubling. I hate to think how much pollution I breathe in while cycling through the city. I often say that I love cycling because it’s a chance to get out in the “fresh air,” but I shouldn’t kid myself: the air is not so fresh in Chicago. That is a depressing fact.

I am not sure what to do or say about this problem. Complaining about trucks in general would be hypocritical, since they carry food to my grocery store, deliver my packages, sweep my streets and remove my garbage. Living in the Bike Lane wrote about this problem last year and offered some solutions for both individuals and cities.

What have your experiences with air pollution been? I’m especially interested to read the responses of the country mice versus the city mice.

Hopefully, air pollution will not progress to the point where bicyclists feel the need to don surgical masks, as they do in other countries.

{Image courtesy of Tom Krymkowski via Flickr}

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My Take on the Mary Poppins Effect

How much does your outfit and bicycle affect how drivers treat you?

Lovely Bicycle talked about the Mary Poppins effect in January and London Cyclist brought it back to my mind with a recent guest post from Bike Thoughts From A Broad (love that name!).

For those who are not familiar, the Mary Poppins effect is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair. I haven’t read much from men about this, but maybe dapper men on city bikes get the same deference.

My daily experience cycling in Chicago supports the Mary Poppins effect. Generally, drivers treat me well enough that I feel somewhat … respected? or patronized? *shrug* Both are fine with me, as long as I’m safe. Of course, there are always the assholes outliers, but for the most part drivers are okay.

My only disagreement with the general hypothesis is helmets. A major contributor of the Mary Poppins effect, others have posited, is riding helmetless and with free-flowing hair, because of both the relative vulnerability and the “regularness” it exhibits. I wear a helmet ~ 98% of the time I ride in traffic by personal preference and I receive as much deference, if not more, than someone without. The key is a fun and distinctive helmet – red hearts! pink starbursts! Having a distinctive helmet causes drivers to recognize me, and it’s hard to be rude to someone you pass daily.

The Mary Poppins effect is especially on my mind now because I experienced a lack of the effect today. Typically I wear a dress or skirt, but today I wore a navy pinstripe pantsuit with a ankle strap on my left leg. Everything else was the same: I rode an upright Danish bike, wore a helmet covered with red hearts and rode with my typical calm assertiveness, but luxury SUV after luxury SUV after car passed me too closely. The effect was decidedly non-Mary Poppins.

Could simply wearing pants instead of a skirt lead to such a noticeable change in drivers’ behavior? Maybe. Was I more sensitive to the idea of the Mary Poppins effect due to my recent reading? Perhaps. But I felt like there was a marked difference in how drivers treated me, during both the morning and the evening commutes.

I’m really interested in what others have experienced. Men, women, pants, skirts, helmet, no helmet – have you noticed a Mary Poppins effect, or lack thereof?

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Biking the Bible Belt

Nashville is something of a blue dot in the red state of Tennessee. But even so, this Bible Belt city is no slacker when it comes to churches. Below is only a few of the churches that can be found along my commute and in my neighborhood.


This one was just begging for the Hipstamatic treatment

Of course, I also pass multiple restaurants and one wine store (right across from one of the churches!)…what do you see in quantity along your daily ride?

What do you see in multiples along your commute?

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Spring has sprung in the South

Not to rub it in to those of you who are still fighting winter weather (yes, that includes my favorite co-blogger and the mister, who definitely deserve better!) — but after a beautiful week/weekend here in Nashville, spring has sprung and I’m noticing things like this:
So, my fellow bike bloggers and LGRAB readers: can I suggest Nashville as a travel destination? Chicago might have more bike lanes and riders, but it’s got nothing on spring in the South, weather-wise!  Plus, all the cool kids can’t just visit Dottie in Chicago or I’ll get way too jealous. :)

To further tempt you, here’s our four-day forecast. Should be a great week for riding!

What’s the weather looking like in your neck of the woods these days?

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Creative Commuting

This month has been a chilly, snow-filled one for most of the US, and Nashville was no exception. I’ve been surprised by bad weather a few times, and spent one week without a car altogether. The result? Occasionally making transportation reminiscent of one of those river-crossing riddles as rides are accepted, vehicles of all varieties are left at the office or elsewhere and walking and public transport play a bigger role than usual in getting around.

For example, last week Le Peug spent a couple of days at my friend Erin’s house. To get him back, I drove to work, walked to happy hour with the girls, then caught a ride with Erin back to her house and rode Le Peug home. The next day, I rode the Flik to work where Minnie was waiting patiently.

Flik got popped in the back for the way home, et voila — all my vehicles safe at home.

Anyone else gotten creative with their commuting style lately?

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On the one day I didn’t have my camera . . .

I saw a guy pedaling a unicycle in the center turn lane in Hillsboro Village.

Clearly I need an iPhone like my father, who’s able to capture pictures of bike art like this while working in Detroit.

Seen anything interesting on your commute lately?

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What is this, New England?

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard those words over the past week—most recently, this morning, when I strolled into Fiddlecakes through falling snow with ice crunching underfoot in search of a cheddar and bacon scone (totally worth it).

Yesterday I rode to work. It was right around the freezing mark, so not too cold, and the night before the roads had seemed pretty clear. Thinking I wouldn’t be walking, I traded the snow boots I’d been trapped in all weekend for my heeled leather boots. Mistake! Icy, slushy patches had me on foot for about half my commute. Fearing I wouldn’t be able to spot these in the dark, and feeling discretion was the better part of valor, I accepted a ride home with a co-worker. The Bat is currently installed in my office, hoping for clearer streets (and perhaps an earlier departure time) tonight.

More pictures, from a snowy walk to watch my alma mater Auburn win the National Championship at the Melrose on Monday night.

I know other people have had to put their riding on hold because of the weather—let’s hope we get back to our regularly scheduled programming, i.e. less snow, ASAP.

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Some Rules Were Made to Be Broken

Like, “no white shoes after Labor Day.” Especially when one has just acquired a pair of white pumps that one’s grandmother wore as a bride in 1956, and one knows that once winter really sets in, it will be too cold to wear them.

A perfect match for my white vintage bike!

In other news, it’s starting to feel like Christmas as invites to holiday parties start filling up my calendar and my neighbors start putting up their holiday lights.  I can’t wait to see this one when I ride home tonight.

Happy Friday everyone!

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Friday fun time

It’s finally Friday, and after an interminable week I am headed to the ATL for a weekend with friends. For your entertainment, here are some random shots from the week, with commentary.

It has been a dry fall (poor Nashville; this year we’ve had the coldest winter, wettest spring, hottest summer and driest fall on record for a while) but there is still some beautiful fall foliage, though this tree is a lot more bare today than it was on Monday when I took this picture

I don’t think I’ve ever expressed my dislike of bike racks that don’t work with non-diamond frames. Although diamond frame or not, I never see anyone using this rack as it’s intended to be used. Too complicated!

For the past few months I have been completely obsessed with Mumford & Sons. And I am seeing them LIVE on Monday. Can. not. wait. This song is perfect for the morning commute.

And now, back on the bike to head in for the last day of work this week!

What have you liked/disliked/loved this week?

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Why is Nashville’s bike share program being kept under wraps?

Last Saturday, I took a trip downtown for BarCamp.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and after a few hours in tech seminars lit only by the glow of Apple computers, I was ready for some sunshine. Wanting to prolong my trip home, I swung by Riverfront Park to check out our much-touted bike share program. I was already feeling guilty for waiting two whole months to visit.

So I left Le Peug tethered and walked the two blocks to the Visitor’s Center.

This is what I found.

How inviting.

A trip inside was no more encouraging. My friend and I stood in front of the reception desk for at least a minute before the young man sitting behind it noticed us (hard to hear an entry bell when you’re listening to your iPod). We proceeded to attempt to extract some info about the program from him. It was like pulling teeth from a hen. He eventually said that to borrow the bikes, we would have to be residents of Davidson County (check) and would have to fill out a form (he implied this had to be done online beforehand; I’m not sure that’s true).

Since I had my own bike, I did not press the issue. But it made me wonder if anyone at all had actually been able to use this program. It’s nice that you can rent bikes for free and cruise around downtown. It’s not so nice that on one of the most beautiful fall days of the year, the bikes were covered by tarps in the back of the building and the person in charge did nothing to encourage their use, even when confronted with people who were interested.

This bike share program has seemed dubious from the beginning — just two locations, Davidson County residents only — but the fact that it was free and the fact that the two stations were in good locations made me think the investment might be worth it, if only to give Nashville’s citizens a risk-free way to rediscover riding a bike on a lazy afternoon. Maybe the Shelby Bottoms location is more welcoming, but if the Riverfront station is an indicator, I doubt they’ll get enough use out of the bikes to justify next year’s planned expansion. The Music City Star all over again?

On a cheerier note, here’s a picture from downtown. I loved seeing the SUV behind the horse and buggy.

suv and buggy in Nashville

And here’s a pic of us  back home. You may have noticed I’m missing about 11 inches of hair. Locks of Love was very appreciative, and I adore my new bob.

me and le peug

A close up:

But back to the subject at hand: Any Nashvillians had a better experience with this program than mine? I’m willing to admit it was just one day and one man, albeit one perfect day for a bike ride…

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Confessions of a biker who’s been doing it all wrong

Jessica in Germany

Jessica in Germany

Today’s guest post comes from my friend Jessica R., a Vanderbilt PhD candidate who some of you might remember from a post last year. As a German studies student, Jessica spends a lot of time abroad; here she shares a lesson learned after a summer filled with borrowed bikes—that “doing it wrong” might just mean doing it right.

Doing things “the right way” is a big deal in my book. Time to cook? I follow the recipe to the letter. Buying a major appliance? I go to the store, Consumer Reports in hand. I know it’s right to protect the environment, so I recycle, buy local, organic or fair trade. Or in German “eigene ernte” or “Bio”.

I think any anxiety about doing things the right way hasn’t been helped any by living repeatedly in Germany, where there is a “right” way to do everything – the less significant, the better. Laundry, taking out the trash, and avoiding drafts (even in stifling summer heat) are chapters unto themselves. For a few weeks this summer I returned to a German university town where by far the preferred form of transportation is a bicycle. Bike only zones and lanes are ubiquitous and well marked, and the terrain is fairly flat. Not only students bike to university, many professors commute by bike — out of conviction. It is the right thing to do.

I was lucky enough to borrow bikes from friends while I was there, which set of my personal cocktail of anxieties: “I’m not an experienced bike rider! I get confused when I have to shift gears! I panic in high traffic situations. I’m totally clumsy when it comes just to locking the bike – I can’t do it without getting black smudges all over my hands. I can’t even get off the bike the right way!”

It’s true, I do this sort of jump-off-to-the-side-of-the-bike thing when I stop. I blame it on riding with a coaster brake, so I can’t do the “right” version of waiting for one pedal to be low, then stepping off with the other foot and setting it on the ground. Because I also can only start pedaling with the right foot, and then that pedal is down, not up….

And to top it all off: I didn’t have a helmet. Riding a bike this summer meant crossing a line I have always clung to: that somehow the danger of riding a bike badly would be miraculously balanced out by wearing protective gear on my head. When I was here a year ago, I didn’t get on a bike until I bought a helmet, and would scoff at the other students whizzing by me while balancing a gym bag on their handlebars and texting. Sure, they can do that, but I have a helmet. I also made multiple trips to the bike repair shop last summer, because I knew it was the right thing to ride with a bike in good working condition.

Jessica on Nashville's Ride of Silence in May, before leaving for Germany

But this summer was different. I would only borrow a bike for a couple of weeks, at most, so even a basic stop in a repair shop was hardly worth it. So what if the fender was about to rattle off, the bike had one working gear, no lights, and a loose cable that made a lot of noise, even if it never got stuck in anything. Some days though, when I went through that list of anxieties and broken parts, I decided “Maybe I’ll just walk.” But as the summer went on, my days got busier, and the weather got warmer, even the “wackligste” bike seemed like the best choice. Riding would get me there faster and cooler than walking. But what if I did it wrong?

Finally, moral rightness vs. equipment and skills rightness both lost out to sheer practicality. It was just too far to walk! So off I would set, bike rattling, hair blowing free in the wind, sitting on the bike at stops with my feet on the ground. And nothing happened, besides getting where I needed to go in a timely manner. There were no ill effects of doing it all wrong. There is a part of me that is still holding her breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop on that one.

Now that I’m back at home, I haven’t kept my promise to ride as much as I can, just as always. To be fair, always returning to the South at the beginning of August makes it a little harder, but mostly the choice is due to the luxury of owning a car. That my boyfriend and I live together but each have our own car still raises a few eyebrows in Germany, especially since we’re still students. But I feel that it also shows that even for someone very convinced of how much more “right” it is to bike those three miles to campus, it would take a choice of walking or biking, and not driving, those three miles to make me a more consistent cyclist.

On my drive to school, I’ve seen more bike commuters this year than I’ve noticed before. It seems the increase comes from happy-go-lucky college students pedaling to campus. A more consistent, though smaller population of cyclists comes from a less well heeled part of the neighborhood, people for whom, for whatever reason, driving a car was not an option. In every city in America there is a population for whom a car is still a luxury. An insufficient cycling infrastructure limits them in more ways than it inconveniences me. So I’m glad to see more people making demands on the city just by getting out there on two wheels, which will eventually help all bikers, whatever their motivation.

Sometimes I feel when I read about cycling that I’m just missing the right stuff: spandex and those clippy shoes, or a vintage bike with a charming basket. What I learned this summer, though, is that the truly “right” way to bike, regardless of the benefit that bike lanes, LED headlights, waterproof panniers, helmet or not may provide… is to actually do it. I’m going to try again tomorrow. How about you?

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Seventies light

Life has come between me and long blog posts, but these photos sum up my evening rides home better than words anyway. As the days get shorter and my workdays get longer, the ride home takes place in what I like to call “Seventies light”—because snaps from that era often seem to include the same preternaturally bright greens and golds that spring to life in the early stages of the sunset.

How’s the scenery on your commute these days?

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

IMG_1361

OK, so I’m still not sure about this statement when it comes to romantic relationships, but it does apply to me and my bikes. Every once in a while, I get in a rut where bicycle commuting seems as problematic as any other form of routine transportation. Over the past two years I’ve learned that if I start feeling that way, the best remedy is to not fight it. After a few days off the bike, riding it again feels like a new discovery or a special treat. That wasn’t the reason for my recent break in riding, though: it was due to the extreme head cold I’ve been fighting since getting back from NYC. Despite a welcome drop in the temperature I hadn’t felt up to getting on my bike — until yesterday.

IMG_1356

What happens to one's skin under heavy bangs after 3 weeks of 100 degree temperatures is not pretty.

And it felt great. Le Peug and I added on an extra couple of miles by going to my friend Erin’s to pick up our CSA share. Only one squash was lost on the way home (darn pletscher racks).

Hope everyone is enjoying the cooler weather.

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Bikes=summer fashion trend?

It’s been the hottest June to hit Nashville in more than 50 years, but regardless I feel like I’ve seen more people riding bicycles this month than I did either of the two previous Junes put together.

Another thing I’ve been seeing more often this summer? Bicycle-themed clothing. Of course, I completely approve of both trends, even if wearing a dress printed with bikes while riding a bike might be overdoing it a little bit.

Oh well, subtlety can be overrated. And a cool cotton dress is the perfect choice for a hot summer ride.

Anyone else out there sporting bike fashion these days? And if so, do you wear it while riding your bike?

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