Gone Fishin'


I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!


In Summary

I've been thinking lately about where I've ended up and the relative infrequency of my activity on this blog. When I started re-turn in 2005, I was newly married and about to move out of my in-law's Cape Cod basement, where I had hunkered down for an agonizing summer of temp work and deciding not to go back to Vermont Law in the fall.

I had no presence on any social network and Kate and I were about to strike out across the country to a place we had never been, to start a whole new life together with no idea of what we would do for work, how we would make out new home together, or where we might end up. There was a point in Missoula early on where I took out a new credit card just so we could put one more month's rent on it, just to see if that would buy us enough time to find jobs. I can't even fathom that sort of instability today.

This blog has seen me through that cross-country move and back again, through the birth of a son and the death of old friends. I've journeyed into the world of my in-through-the-trapdoor career of land use planning and I have evolved  from bicycle owner to bicycle commuter to bicycle/pedestrian advocate. I've lost 50 pounds and bought a house.  I've started side projects for bicycles and poetry. I don't have to write paragraphs and import photos here for people to find me if they want to. My Google Analytics account tells me that almost everybody who comes here is looking to find out more about one of my bikes or if that Whole Foods is ever coming to South Burlington, anyway. Anybody who was trying to find me has certainly done so by now.

And my life, as it is now, has not become something worth writing long-form posts about. That doesn't mean it isn't wonderful and surprising and fulfilling- it certainly is-to me. But this business of navel-gazing and obsessing and documenting gets in the way of living, and that's why I've done so much less of it over the last couple of years.

Forwarding address:




Brewing Journal: Batch #15 Pumpkin Ale

Catching up. I brewed my last batch, a Wee Heavy (#14) in February of 2012 and haven’t brewed since. The Wee heavy was OK but not great, and I’d say we dumped about half of it. It just never really fermented out properly.  Then, other priorities including exercise, fitness, and a toddler took over. I got a beautiful Blichman burner for Christmas in 2012 and picked up a tank of gas for it as well. I just got a (#15) Northern Brewer Pumpkin Ale kit at the end of August 2013 and just brewed it, on gas, in the driveway this weekend. outdoor brewing was excellent and the Blichman performed admirably. I got a better hot break than I have ever seen before and chilling with the chiller was also nice and fast. Fermentation took off within hours and has been vigorous in the last few hours. I started with about 6 gallons of water and boiled off to an even 5 after a one hour boil. Probably I would start with 7.5 gallons in the future.


Thirty Days of Biking

Spring heralds the beginning of  the bike activist season, with bike to work days, bike to work weeks, bike to work months, workplace bike to work challenges, and even season long challenges.

One could easily spend more time in the spring documenting and pledging one's rides than actually riding.

Of course, as I find myself to be some sort of bicycling advocate, I feel obligated to participate in as many of these events as I can. I even have my own event, which is from march 1-March 30. That's "No Excuses Month," when I do my best to get back out on the road, having inevitably promised myself I would keep riding all winter and having inevitably thrown in the towel due to weather, temperature, or just the desire to listen to NPR and drink coffee on the way to work instead of alternating between frozen eyeballs and fogged goggles while surrounded by an increasingly unsympathetic motoring public.

So on the first day of March, I got myself back out there. No excuses. In April, the more organized stuff kicks off with "30 Days of Biking." I like this one because it is simple to do:

1. Pledge that you are going to ride a bike each of the 30 days of April.
2. Do it.

So far, I'm on track, despite some early-April commutes that have felt, due to wind and temperature, more like mid-February rides. There is nothing like pedaling hard downhill into a 22 degree, 20mph headwind to make you question your motivation. It helps knowing that while it may get wetter by the end of this month, it will probably get milder.

My "ride every day" plan will mostly come from commuting and the occasional recreational ride, but I am especially excited for April 6, when I'll be kicking off the first-ever Burlington, Vermont Kidical Mass ride down on the waterfront. My son and I will be there. I have no idea if anybody else will show up. But we'll get our ride in and put another day in the books for April.

Austen has already been out on his balance bike a bunch this spring. He's really starting to coast with both feet off the ground and I can't say enough good things about balance bikes as a teaching tool for little kids. One of the things I sort of hope might come out of Kidical Mass is a loosely organized group of, for lack of a better term, "Family Cyclists" who might be willing to exchange bikes with one another as their needs change. Sort of like the big ski swaps that happen every year all over Vermont. We'll see.


Shameless Self-Promotion Part II: Vermont Bicycles United Funding Campaign

As usual, this blog has become the neglected oldest child as bicycle-related pursuits have consumed my efforts. The latest is a stab at funding all three of those efforts and hopefully in the process creating a little piece of bike culture in Vermont that hasn't existed before. Please give if you can! Here's the copy from the Vermont Bicycles United blog:

"So here's the deal: Vermont Indoor Cycling is about to complete its second successful season of weekly indoor group rides. Burlington Vermont Kidical Mass is about to kick off with its first kid-oriented group ride in April. And there are movements afoot to bring back indoor roller racing to Vermont. Three great projects that share a mission and a need.

The mission:
 To bring bicycle riding experiences to unconventional places, to enhance and expand Vermont's bicycling culture, and to have fun.

The need: 
Lots of Vermonters have bikes and could get more use out of them, especially if they found a community of cyclists to join-maybe not hardcore racers or mileage junkies, maybe just regular people. Moms and dads and kids. Hipsters. Teenagers. Retired people. Poets. The goal of Vermont Bicycles united is to reach out to that vast untapped reserve of people with bikes who are just waiting to become bicyclists.

What do we want to do? 

  • We want to make Vermont Indoor Cycling's indoor group rides bigger, more widespread, scale-able  and sustainable. We want to go from it being a one-man show to training other group ride leaders who can set up their own indoor group rides in other parts of the state. 
  • We want to get Kidical Mass off the ground, first here in Burlington, then all over the state- give kids a chance to ride their bicycles in an enrgetic, synergistic multi-generational format that helps them make bicycling a lifetime activity. 
  • We want to secure and ensure the sustainability of bicycle roller racing by offering a consistent, scheduled series of training and race events- again, first in the greater Burlington area and later statewide as other organizers and leaders are trained and sent out to spread the bike love! We want to get roller racing in front of people at art hops, cultural events, in ski lodges and schools and everywhere else-and especially to give young people the chance to experience the excitement of bicycle racing . 
What do we need to do it? 
We need money, plain and simple. About $5000 to get it off the ground. With that money we can-
  • Purchase a complete roller racing setup and ensure that it is available for regular use in the community ($1500)
  • Secure indoor cycling space for the 2013-2014 indoor riding and racing season. ($600-800)
  • Purchase audiovisual equipment (a projector, sound system, and portable movie screen, $1500), which is necessary for all three efforts- to show training videos for indoor group rides, to enhance Kidical Mass rides through such events as bike-in movies, storytelling, and musical performances, and to project races in progress and results for roller racing. 
  • To become a true 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization, so future donations can be tax-deductible and to legitimize all of the operations of Vermont Bicycles United and its projects ($1200)
How are we going to raise the funds? 
We have an Indiegogo campaign in the works which will go live shortly WHICH IS LIVE RIGHT NOW! but if you just can't wait to donate, you can always use the paypal link at www.vtindoorcycling.blogspot.com

Who are you, anyway? 

That's me in the red jersey, fixing a flat. 
And there I am on the far right, riding with Vermont Indoor Cycling 

My name is Matt Boulanger. I'm a husband and father, a cyclist, an urban planner by trade and a writer and chef by aspiration. I founded Vermont Indoor Cycling in 2012 and Burlington Kidical Mass in March 2013. I serve on the South Burlington Recreation Path Committee.  Bikes and bicycling have done so much for me, and I want to share that excitement and fulfillment with as many other people as I can. I also want that effort to expand and last well beyond me, hence the creation of Vermont Bicycles United to ensure the long-term sustainability of these efforts.  Let's go for a ride. 


Nice Share the Road piece from AAA and the LAB, but...

Why, I was riding on Williston Road just the other day and it was totally like this!

No, wait, it wasn't.

I was in the left lane (westbound) waiting to turn left onto 116. There was a steady green light but oncoming traffic so I couldn't go. I waited patiently, signalling my turn so the drivers behind me would understand why I wasn't going. Not good enough for the driver of the white pickup with various aftermarket parts manufacturer's stickers displayed in the rear window.

He gave his engine an impotent but terrifying rev, then took off around me, using half of the right lane to do so and disrupting traffic in the process, clearing me by inches. The fact that he had a license plate and registration made no difference, nor would it have if I had had one on my bike.

I would love to have had him follow me home around the corner, where he could have met my beautiful 2 year old son, and where he could have seen that son give me a bigger hug than he looked capable of giving, happy that his adored father was home. But no, 30 seconds at the light and making a point were more important than all that, let alone the well-being of a fellow human.


More Bike Stuff!

So, I'm not sure what I'm getting myself into, but I started this over the weekend:

Click for Details. 

That's right, kid-oriented group rides.

Trying to pay my karmic debt for times I have left Austen at home to go for rides by myself. Oh, and because I think it will be a total blast. Come join us!

First ride is Saturday, April 6- let's meet under the shelter by the railroad tracks behind One Main and ride to the North Beach playground and back. More details on the blog.


In Praise of Riding Rollers

Note: cross-posted to Vermont Indoor Cycling and my Muscles Not Motors page, if they'll let me- Matt

Over at Vermont Indoor Cycling, most of our riders show up with a trainer. The advantages of trainers are numerous: they are compact, many have adjustable resistance, and they don't require much of a learning curve- you just jump on and ride. And therein lies the biggest difference between a bicycle trainer and a set of rollers. The first time you get on rollers, you most certainly don't just "jump on and ride."

You probably set your bike on them. Then you gingerly swing your leg over the bike. Oops. the top tube is higher now because the bike is up on rollers. You need to be standing on a platform of some kind, or if you don't have one, you need to stand (in your bike shoes) on the narrow rails that connect the three rollers. Got it? Good. Now clip in one foot. Got something to hang on to? You'd better have. Now clip in the other foot, start pedaling, and let go of whatever you are hanging on to. Keep pedaling, and keep that front wheel nice and straight! Once you let go, those first few awkward pedal strokes you made while you were still hanging on (to a door frame, adjacent chair, overhead rafter or floor joist, patient partner, etc..) will fade away and be replaced by smooth, confident pedaling. Or not. Maybe the whole thing will freak you out, maybe you aren't as used to riding in a straight line as you thought you were. What's the worst that can happen? Will you go shooting off the front of the rollers and into the nearest wall?


Remember, you have no forward momentum. If you come off the rollers (probably to the side), you are just going to stop pedaling. If you're lucky, you'll unclip in time to put a foot down. If not, you'll just reenact the clipped-in fall to the side you probably did at least once when you first graduated to clipless pedals. No biggie, especially if you are practicing in a doorframe or at least over a carpeted surface.

If that sounds like a lot to contend with, it is. At first. Like for the first two weeks you have rollers. Then, everything in that whole big paragraph up there starts to take less time, until it's all muscle memory. And everything about falling just doesn't really happen anymore. You get smooth. So smooth you start to be able to handle the TV remote or computer mouse while you are riding. You can even stand up and coast for a few seconds. You might even ride a little bit no-handed! You may even find that rollers are fun by comparison. Imagine that. There you are, a cyclist, outdoorsperson extraordinaire, but some combination of weather, limited daylight, and family/work obligations have consigned you a night in the basement- and you're looking forward to it. What could be better than that?

I owned a stationary bike trainer for years and dutifully set it up every winter, after which I would ride it about once during each of the winter months. Not so with the rollers. For some reason, they just "work" for me in a way that a trainer doesn't. They're more fun, and in my mind if you can take winter indoor riding from "not fun" to "fun, even just a little bit fun" it's worth the effort. Plus, rollers can be relatively inexpensive, hovering right around a hundred bucks on the used market, and findable for under 150 dollars new. Considering what you might spend on wheels, clothing, or components, adding a set of rollers to your bicycling arsenal is a bargain.

There are some limitations. Cheap rollers do not have any resistance beyond the effort necessary to spin the drums. You can air your tires up or down to change resistance a bit, and you can certainly use your gears to change things.

If you ride with a computer, especially one that shows cadence as well as speed, you'll quickly get a feel for the range of effort levels you can employ. I know, for example, that I can comfortably ride rollers anywhere between 70 and 100 RPM, and 12-30mph, with sprints to 40. I know that a hard hour on the rollers for me is anything over 27 "miles" and an easy one is anything under 24. Your mileage and effort level will vary. I run into some limitations in some of my workouts where a low cadence (say, 75 RPM) and a high level of effort (9/10) is required. Even in my highest gear (53X11 on 700X23c wheels at 110 psi), 75 RPM only feels like a 5/10 effort. Some more expensive models of rollers do allow you to add a wind resistance unit or a flywheel to compensate. Rollers also come in different diameters, with the smaller rollers generally providing more resistance and less of a flywheel effect, while larger rollers are easier to spin and, due to their weight, tend to spin longer and allow you to coast a little longer if you stop pedaling.

If you are interested in learning to ride rollers, I recommend committing to no more than 15 minutes a day, five days a week for the first two weeks. By setting a reasonable goal, you won't burn out and you'll give your body time to learn what it feels like to be successful on them. When I started out, I added five minutes to each session each week after the first two weeks until I could ride a full hour. After that, the sky was the limit. I started riding in February and by June I had ridden an entire century on the rollers in a night.

If you are feeling burned out, if you feel sad every time you walk by your bike in the garage all winter long, if you can't bear the thought of another grind on your trainer- do yourself a favor and pick up a set of rollers. Just like cycling outdoors, it's more fun with friends- start an indoor group ride, or join an existing one (hint, hint) You won't regret it.


Shameless Self Promotion

Here's a little bit on the Local Motion blog about Vermont Indoor Cycling:


I'm really grateful for everything Local Motion and their fantastic staff do for bike/ped advocacy in Chittenden County, and I'm honored that they chose to mention me and Vermont Indoor Cycling!.


Post Holiday Commuter Slump

I have a confession to make.

I haven't ridden my bike outside since December 17th, more than a month ago. Here's a list of contributing factors:

1. We finally broke down and bought a second car after five years of sharing the Jeep. I now have a very convenient way to get to work without inconveniencing Kate and Austen. If I didn't like coffee and NPR in the morning so much, the bike/car contest might be a wash this time of year.

2. Austen has had an ear infection and has been waking in the middle of the night and/or at odd hours of the morning again, jarring our routine and causing us to occasionally oversleep, such that the additional 20 minutes at home in the morning I get from driving to work has been a necessity.

3. We got some actual snow that was just never plowed from the bike lanes or the shoulders of the roads. We had a thaw after that but then more snow and now a deep, deep freeze. I have taken note that portions of Williston Road that were plowed when they were car lanes are not plowed now that they are bike lanes.

4. I have switched over to my true winter bike. It is by far the bike I least enjoy riding. It is heavy and ungainly and I cannot seem to get it set up in the same riding position as my other bikes. I am cheap and thus refuse to replace the big knobby tires on it until I they wear out, and said tires are really too big for the fenders on the bike. It is really hard to get the fenders set up right and every little ding or bump to the bike sets them awry again.

5. It's cold. That doesn't make the riding itself all that unpleasant, but getting dressed for it is awful. I laid out all my stuff last night in preparation to ride in and I think altogether my winter biking gear weighs about 15 pounds, before I put on my bag with tools and tubes and such.

6. I've been sick, with the kind of upper respiratory thing that makes breathing cold air in and out really painful.

This got me thinking once again about those comparisons to Copenhagen and why Burlington is a different sort of place where our expectations about bicycle commuting might have to be a little different. When I look at that list up above, I imagine how things might be different if I lived, say, in the South End of Burlington and worked downtown. The commute would be half as long, much flatter, and on streets that are generally driven at a lower speed. I could do that. I could probably have one bike that would do that commute year-round. I probably wouldn't need special clothes or to shower at the end of my ride. It would probably be just as fast to ride as to drive, maybe faster. So maybe it is fair to compare Burlington to Copenhagen, but not Chittenden County or even the greater Burlington Area.

That raises a more interesting question for me: We have the density we have (not as dense as Copenhagen), we have lots of places we need to get to that are not always very proximate to each other, and we often have to get three people to and from three different places every morning and evening five days a week. Can or should we build infrastructure to serve that development pattern, or should we focus on changes in land use that make the additional infrastructure unnecessary? That's probably fodder for a whole other series of posts.

All that said, I do plan to get back out later this week or next week. I want to start seeing just how long I can leave the Jeep in the driveway for, even if it is tempting me with that warm, coffee-sipping ride to work with the dulcet tones of Morning Edition in the background.