In 2007, Boston was ranked the worst biking city in the U.S. by Bicycling magazine—for the third time. There were plenty of reasons: lack of lanes, poor road conditions, boorish drivers. Today, Boston is on its way to becoming one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, and it’s the first to create a public bike program targeting low-income communities. The main reason for the one-eighty: former Olympian Nicole Freedman.
Freedman grew up in the Boston suburbs, rode professionally for 12 years (she won the national road-racing trial in 2000), and holds a degree in urban planning from Stanford University. In 2007, when Freedman was tasked with heading up the city’s newly launched Boston Bikes program, the city had zero bike lanes and a dismal safety record. In 2006, there were 36 bike accidents in one intersection alone.
Freedman, 42, was undaunted. She created 14 miles of bike lanes in her first two years on the job and hasn’t slowed down since. The city is now rated 16th by Bicycling. And Freedman recently secured a $15 million grant to build protected lanes, including a four-mile ring around downtown. “Cities need plans,” says Martha Roskowski, VP of the national advocacy group People for Bikes. “But they really need people like Nicole who can turn them into action.”
As Americans have finally begun to embrace the idea of bikes as transportation, other cities have made turnarounds of their own. Washington, D.C., now has six miles of protected lanes, and Chicago’s bike-share program is on pace to have 475 stations by the end of the year. What sets Boston apart is the progressive bent of its efforts. “It was really important to make sure that we reached residents with low incomes,” says Freedman. “They’re the ones most impacted by transportation costs.” Hubway, the city’s bike-share system, recently began subsidizing memberships for those making less than $20,000 a year. In March, Freedman launched Prescribe-A-Bike, which offers low-income residents a reduced $5 annual Hubway membership if a doctor recommends riding for health reasons. (Nearly 2,500 people have since signed up.) And, finally, Boston Bikes has donated more than 1,000 bicycles to in-need locals. “Cycling is universally appealing,” says Freedman. “We just have to make it accessible.”
It's not just about the bikes at the 2014 Tour. Many companies use the world’s biggest race to unveil all manner of gear. And why not? Stick a racer in your helmet, shoe, or jersey, and if they win a stage or place well, you can claim your product helped. We can’t verify all of that, but here are a few of the new things we’ve seen that we like.
Lace-up cleats have made a bit of a comeback in recent years, in part thanks to American Taylor Phinney’s affinity for them. The original Empire was already lightweight and trim, but Giro has pared the shoe down further for the new SLX version. With an even trimmer EC90 SLXII carbon outsole and a highly ventilated Teijin upper, a size 42.5 SLX weighs just six ounces—about the same as a large banana.
Aero road helmets have exploded since Giro launched the first-of-its kind Air Attack two years ago. Bell’s Star Pro is a bit different than most because it uses a system that allows riders to either close or open the vents, improving aerodynamics or ventilation respectively. Bell says that in wind-tunnel testing, the Star Pro had the least drag of any of its aero competition (the Specialized Evade and Air Attack among them), while it was cooler than the average road helmet with vents open. Some models will include a sun visor, which attaches with built-in magnets.
This jersey, worn by Team Sky, takes lightweight to an almost ridiculous level. The open-mesh body fabric is so lightweight and gossamer that the garment comes with a warning tag that it must be worn with sunblock for safety reasons. It is, indeed, extremely comfortable on stuffy days, and as with all Rapha apparel, the fit and tailoring is just right. The locking zip, which keeps the jersey secure with the thob down but allows for quick cooling with just a tug of the fabric if the thob is up, is a nice touch. And though we have nothing against Team Sky, we do wish this jersey was available in a non-Team edition for less-conspicuous riding.
Ironically, after typing that about wanting a non-branded version of the climber’s jersey, the Course Superleggera 2 showed up, and it’s mostly cut from the same gauzy fabric used by Rapha, which Garneau calls Kite Mesh. An extremely sheer Lycra covers the upper chest and shoulder blades, a material that Garneau uses in order to add a Cold Black treatment for UV protection. This one also has a neat, laser-perforated elastic waistband, and it’s nominally lighter than the Rapha—90 grams for a size medium. Wisely, Garneau is opting to offer it to the public in options other than the cash green of Europcar, which, in Rapha’s defense, isn’t nearly as fetching as the Sky design.
Remember those giant, ski-goggle-esque glasses that Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, and all the cool kids wore back in the ‘80s? They’re back, courtesy of a Heritage line by Oakley. The resurgent Eyeshades (as well as two other models, the Razorblades and Frogskins) come in three lifestyle colorways (Seafoam, Black, and Fog), as well as a Tour-de-France edition that has white frames adorned with a color swatch to match the three jerseys of the Tour. And yes, there are some pros actually wearing these.
Those paying close attention might have noticed a few riders with cameras mounted to their bikes. For the first time in history, the UCI has approved the use of these electronics at the Tour, and Shimano has placed a number of its new CM-1000 with sponsored teams. The diminutive device sports an f2.0 lens that records in 1080 HD, and it’s also ANT+ and WiFi enabled so it can talk to a host of devices, including Shimano’s new Di2 transmitter, power meters, and smart phones. Shimano is hush hush about what it plans to do with any video it might collect, but footage from the Tour de Suisse in June has become a bit of an internet sensation.
In search of an eye-catching shot for the Red Bell Illume photo contest, local Seattle rider Steven Bafus and I set out for this massive cowboy hat in Oxbow Park just south of the city.
We showed up at 6 a.m. on a June morning hoping for a window to bust out our ladder and get to work (the hat's brim is about 15 feet off the ground, and there is no real easy way to climb it). After dodging a few park officials, Steven rolled around the 44-foot-wide brim, airing out each side like it was a skatepark.
Maple syrup has many of the minerals and electrolytes athletes need to perform at the top of their games. A tablespoon of pure maple syrup has two milligrams of sodium—critical to help maintain blood fluid levels during exercise. That same amount of syrup also has 42 milligrams of potassium to prevent muscle cramping. Manganese—a trace element linked to better bone health—occurs naturally in maple syrup, as does iron.
There’s more. According to a 2011 study from researchers at the University of Rhode Island, Canadian maple syrup has anti-inflammatory properties: one of the lead researchers went so far as to call it “a champion food” with many of the same healthy compounds found in berries, tea, red wine, and flax seed.
Plus, it’s a simple, easily digestible sugar. Pure syrup has a low glycemic index, which keeps you from constantly feeling hungry, and maintains even blood sugar and insulin levels. Maple sugars burn slowly and are absorbed slowly for spike-free energy. I would know: I’ve tried the stuff myself.
I’ve had the enviable task of taste testing Slopeside Syrup’s signature sauce—Grade A Amber—for more than a year now, and have been purchasing Slopeside Syrup in bulk for use on, well, anything I can think of. The stuff is easy to stomach even on hot days and in the middle of epically long rides.
You won’t find any of that in Aunt Jemima. You also won’t find most of this natural goodness in any other sports gel. Then, of course, there’s the delicious taste.