Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Real People, Real Reviews? well, not really...

Let's say you're trying to find the best bicycle shop in your new neighborhood so you go over to Yelp and locate a shop around the corner. They've got glowing reviews about how great the shop is and how helpful and friendly they are....

So you go into the shop and they treat you like dirt. What could have happened? Well, it turns out that Yelp might have deleted the bad reviews from the listing.

I discovered this when one of my reviews was removed "because it is not relevant, specifically it falls outside of a normal consumer experience." Huh? Really? We provide free content to Yelp which they use to earn ad revenue and in turn they censor it?

Well, I posted about this on a certain social networking web site and my friend responded with even more shocking information:

"They actually pay certain "elite" reviewers to give good or bad reviews to places that have, or have not advertised with Yelp. Yelp representatives call restaurants to aggressively request advertising with them, basically insinuating that if they don't, Yelp will ensure only the negative reviews make it to the "relevant" list. check out"

So, I'm deleting my Yelp account and removing all 49 of my reviews. And I won't be trusting what I read on Yelp again. From now on, if I'm going to review something, I'll do it out here in the open network, not behind their gated community.

You can delete your Yelp account here. Got any great reviews you want to save? Put them on your blog instead or send them to me and I'll post them here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Barcelona: Bicycle Test

A simple question to test your Barcelona bicycle savvy. Which way should you ride in this lane, left to right or right to left? Leave your answer in the comments.

THE ANSWER IS... If you're in Barcelona you go whichever direction you want. But really, whoever designed these lanes intended you to go right to left, in other words the opposite of the direction this is pointing. Right before this, on the ground you'll see an arrow pointing to the left and as you bike along, you'll occasionally find these 'arrows' pointing in the opposite direction, and not always at an intersection.... so who knows what they were trying to do here. Barcelona's bike lanes are more like an obstacle course than a bicycle infrastructure.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barcelona: Bicycle Culture?

Barcelona has some amazing bicycle projects under way. The Bicing program offers bicycles to residents who sign up for the program. Once you're a member, you can grab a bicycle from any station and return to any other - and the program is popular! Everywhere you go, you'll see people riding the bicycles.

But where are they riding them? On the sidewalk, the wrong way on the street, the wrong way in the bicycle lane, through red lights, everywhere except where they would be if they had a strong cycling culture.

Barcelona also has a pretty extensive network of bicycle lanes and projected lanes. They run between many of the neighborhoods and connect to the beaches. In some places they are real bicycle lanes, separated from the cars by trees and curbs and with their own traffic signals.

But, in other places, the lanes are a mess. Sometimes they're blocked by something (as seen above, and for no reason, there were plenty of other places to put those benches). And often, the bicycle lane runs directly through the line of traffic into and out of the Metro stations. In one place, the bicycle lane is painted on the ground directly in front of the city bus map on the back of the bus shelter. So, anyone looking at the city bus maps along that route (at every station) is standing in the bicycle lane while doing it. The Metro station crossings are the most dangerous. Because the lane runs on the sidewalk directly beside the Metro entrance , it would be very easy to ride right into the Metro. Look away for a moment and you will either be crashing into a crowd exiting the Metro or crashing down the stairs into the Metro. This might be why you rarely see locals actually riding in the bicycle lanes.

Overall, Barcelona's bicycle lane system reminds me of New York. There are lanes all over the city, but they don't connect well, some of them are outright dangerous and everyone uses them improperly. The most popular activity in Barcelona seems to be riding the wrong way on the bicycle lane or riding in the pedestrian lane right next to the bicycle lane. Even when there is a lane running on both sides of the street.

Barcelona puts cars first, then scooters and motorcycles, then the Bus and Metro system, then pedestrians and bicycles are last. Everywhere we went, I saw the bicycle lane being used to store trash cans, park delivery trucks, and more. Bicycle lanes in Barcelona seem to be widely considered available space for anything but bicycles. And yet, it still often ranks with the worlds greatest bicycling cities.

Barcelona: Budget Bikes & Juicy Jones

While in Barcelona, we rented from Budget Bikes. They charge 16€ for a 24 hour rental and take a copy of the credit card info as a deposit, but they don't charge or authorize the deposit.

The Budget Bikes location on C/ Estruc. The other locations can be found here.

They offer theft insurance, but be aware that it only covers 300€ of the 400€ 'value' they claim for their bicycles - and the contract lets you know that the theft insurance does not cover the cost of the locks and a claim requires that a police report is filed and all keys to the bicycle are returned. We looked at Our Beautiful Parking as well but they charge about the same and ask for 100€ cash deposit.

While biking around Barcelona, take a break at the Juicy Jones on C/ Hospital. There are a few locations, but this one has the best interior space - and is in the more interesting El Raval Barrio.

They have great fresh juices (my choice is the mango, papaya, pineapple with lime) and a very affordable menu del día offering an outstanding veggie meal - your choice from 3 starters, 3 plates of the day and several desserts along with water or wine. The Thali is always good if you're craving Indian, but I suggest choosing one of the Spanish dishes instead.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Essentials

During the summer in NYC, we get a lot of visitors. Yes, human friends come to stay with us - but we also get insect friends wandering into the apartment. When it rains heavily, even more of them come inside. Any relaxed insect who wants to hang out in our place is welcome, but if they want to bite or they're big flying cockroaches (the large outdoor species are driven inside by the rain) we like to return them to nature (or Brooklyn as the case may be).

How do we do it? The Humane Bug Katcher. It's a great tool for gently collecting an insect friend and returning it outdoors. I used it 3 times last night - it's a great test of your ability to move slowly and carefully.   Toss that swatter and try it!  You'll feel so much better re-locating your insect friends.

Get yours here.

Buddha on a Bike

My new favorite person who I've never met is Patrick Reynolds.  He teaches meditation, yoga, fitness and happiness.  I'm addicted to his yoga videos on youtube and his podcast with Gwen Bell Zen is Stupid.

Here's a great bike post from his blog:

What Riding a Bike in the City Can Teach You

One of my favorite things about living in Japan is not needing a car. I have never been interested in cars, and I don't really enjoy driving. Sometimes Japanese people will tell me that one of their hobbies is "driving", but for me speeding down an asphalt road in a big hunk of metal with other bigger hunks of metal just inches away also moving at high speeds, it's just not my idea of relaxing.

Instead, I ride my bicycle just about every day of the year. I can get to any part of the city in under a half hour on my bike, often faster than a car. And over time I've learned a lot from riding a bike. These lessons also apply to a well-lived life, and so I'll share them with you now!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Is Reading the New York Times Bad for your Bones?

This article in the New York Times is just silly.  It's called "Is Bicycling Bad For Your Bones?" and asks:
"Is cycling bad for the bones? A number of intriguing studies published in the past 18 months...have raised that possibility..."

Um.... No, actually all the studies they talk about are looking at "competitive bike riders" and refer to riding a bicycle as an "endurance sport."  I don't know anyone who rides a bicycle as an "endurance sport" and just about everyone I know rides a bicycle.

Finally, at the end, they concede "most recreational cyclists probably don’t need to worry too much about their bones. “The studies to date have looked primarily at racers,” Smathers says. “That’s a very specialized demographic."

So, what was all that alarmist nonsense at the beginning? Oh, I get it, they're trying to hook you into the article by scaring you.  When did the New York Times start using tactics borrowed from the local 6 'clock news?