One celebration that we particularly look forward to each spring is West Medford Open Studios which will take place this Saturday and Sunday, May 10-11, and over 75 artists and craftspeople will be performing and exibiting their work.
Because it takes place at 27 locations throughout the neigborhood it is a perfect event to experience by bicycle or on foot. It's easy to take it all in this way, and residents will appreciate your thoughtfullness with less car traffic on their streets.
For most, this is reason enough to check things out, but for cyclists, there will be something extra special at location #26. Emily O'Brien will be displaying her Dill Pickle Gear saddlebags and handlebar bags, which she specially designs and crafts for distance touring.
Emily, how did you get started on making cycling gear?
I've always liked making stuff, so when I look at products, I think about how I could make them myself, and also make them better.
When my partner Jake and I got into randonneuring, which is a type of unsupported endurance cycling, we needed bags to carry our stuff. At first I just made bags for the two of us, in colors that matched our bikes.
I had no intention of making them for anyone else, but we got lots of questions about where our bags came from, so when I went overseas to go back to school, I would come back for semester breaks and make them for sale in small quantities. After finishing school, I came back home and was working as a musician and at a music shop, so making bags became a way to supplement my income.
Eventually it became an alternative to working at the music shop or having dozens of private students. Since then Dill Pickle Gear has really taken off. I started out with one saddlebag model, but have since added three more styles, plus a handlebar bag and a few other things.
Why did you choose to make them in Medford?
I started making them here because this is where I live, and until very recently I was working out of my home. I recently moved my shop to a studio in Somerville which I am sharing with two artists. Dill Pickle's needs have outgrown the space in our apartment and because it's a shared space, the studio is very affordable.
The design of your products is informed by your experience, what types of riding do you do?
I've been a transportation cyclist since I was a kid and it's the only way I get around. I've never had a drivers' license.
I'm also a longtime road cyclist. I raced road for a while in college and then got into long distance events. I do regular group rides and I like brevets, which are long distance events with time limits. I also do some touring and "pseudo-touring" where I load up everything I need to teach a music workshop for a week and then ride a couple hundred miles to get there.
What can you share about riding in Medford and surrounding towns?
There is less bicycle infrastructure in Medford compared with other nearby towns such as Somerville, Cambridge and Arlington.
There are some problematic intersections here, so I'm more likely to choose a more out-of-the-way route if I'm riding a cargo bike and don't want to navigate them, but it is still way better than what I remember of riding through downtown Washington, DC, when I was in high school. Of course, the Boston area has become vastly more bicycle-friendly since then, and DC as well.
Medford has fewer bike lanes, but I'm not sure bike lanes are always the best answer. Poorly thought-out bicycle infrastructure is worse than none, but in general I think Medford is a very bikeable place. It has plenty of easily accessible amenities and is convenient to the rest of the Boston area.
If you like road riding, being a little farther away from the center of the city makes it quicker to get to the quiet suburban roads in the Western suburbs. Some of my favorite places to ride in the area are around Concord, Bedford, and Acton, where I go on shorter weekend rides.
One of my favorite regular transportation routes would be the new-ish gravel/boardwalk path along Alewife Brook. I call it the "Magic Path" because it magically circumvents part of Mass. Ave. in East Arlington, when I'm heading into Cambridge.
Thanks for sharing your experience with other riders, Emily. We're looking forward to seeing what you are up to at WMOS this weekend.