Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why Surely, I'm Looking for a Surly

A Surly LHT, drawing cannibalized to suit my needs.
Pedaling home today, it occurred to me that what I really want is a step-through Surly. According to Surly's fans it's the functional beauty, durability, hauling capabilities, reputation, and bang for the buck that keeps it's riders happy. That's exactly what I'm looking for in a step through bicycle. I also want a touring machine, the bicycle that will take me into my later years. Unfortunately, Surly fails to offer anything remotely close.

Truthfully, neither does Soma or Velo Orange, two other highly regarded companies that have similar reputations. Soma offers a Mixte style, but it's cost and untested touring potential, or for that matter without an opportunity to swing my leg over a frame, are factors that have me looking elsewhere. And frankly, I'm afraid any Mixte will not have the step-over height like I'm currently used to. And as tempting as the Rivendell's Clementine is, again, if I can't take it for a spin I would be silly to purchasing it sight unseen.

With my purse, a custom bicycle is not an option. The Rodriguez Makeshift is pretty. I love the step over height of the Pilen Lyx (more transportation than long distance tourer, but mass produced frame) and style of True North's version. Well beyond what I can afford; however it's fun to look.
Photo credit: Specialized
But hey, what about the aluminum Specialized Source Step Through Bike (phew, what a name!) so new that it's not yet reviewed? I'm not fond of straight forks (and ugh, it's available in only black) but it sports braze on for a low rider rack, supplied with fenders, rear rack, triple crankset and comes in a large size. Intriguing. I am giddy to think manufacturers may offer more step through machines. Or is it only a glorified commuter bike? I suppose only a test ride will tell.

Test rides are the crux of the problem. In our little city, burgeoning with riders, there is limited bicycle supply, and with the variety of bikes offered, as G.E. succinctly describes, that are so many styles offered that new riders are confused, but of course, bike shops must handpick what they think will sell, while experienced riders like myself are searching for a specific niche product.

So, as I pedal my Ross Mt. Saint Helens homeward my thoughts eventually drift back to the 1980's...where early mountain bikes boasted rugged frames, some with fork braze-ons as standard equipment. A few companies offered the step through frame.

If my readers ever spy the Peugeot Saint Laurent Express Step-through in 21" (white frame). A rarity for sure, but at the moment I'm in dreamland anyway, Give me your best shot.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Technology Can Empower and Encourage Cycling


Doing long distance cycle tours in the 1980's and 1990's meant I read maps, followed signs, and relied on asking strangers for help with directions. Interaction with locals was important. Sometimes my partner and I rode father than we had intended just to locate a campground, or relied on the goodwill of others who offered lawn space for our tent. Sometimes we dashed into the woods and stealth camped. Often we did not know where we'd rest our heads for the night, which became part of the adventure.

Isn't to explore the unknown why anyone heads out bicycle touring? To set one's sights to cross a state, a country, or the world?

But in this day and age must this also include using tech gadgets? Does anyone really need to know where every store, road detour, or bike store is en route? Or, say you are traveling long distance without a tent, using Warm Showers' hosts, and send out mass e-mails in one region, planning on one generous host to bail you out with a comfortable bed? Except you send your regrets to 10 hosts while all you really needed was one. Ask me how I know.

Where is the adventure in that?

Until recently I used to believe it makes us emotionally stronger to disconnect from technology and be forced to rely on one's wits, whether it's dealing with headwinds, mechanical problems, or finding a night's lodgings, all without the aid of a digital device.

Until Willie Weir—a skeptical, tech gadget-resistant cycle tourist of my own generation—marveled at the wonders of the Internet connecting a 13 year old precocious boy with savvy travelers to make this child's dream come true. And secondly, I personally saw technology motivate our son to ride 25 miles with his friend.

Okay, so if I was a dog, my tail is between my legs.

I'm talking about e-mail and cell phones primarily, providing the contact necessary for planning. And while admittedly I've seen users go overboard, digital gadgets can actually be a huge help.

In the case of Willie Weir's teenage acquaintance, the use of technology helped secure seasoned cyclotourists to accompany an underage traveler on a 1,000 mile journey. Think of the piece of mind that gave the boy's parents.

With our son, he decided to set out with a friend on a one-way journey, crossing the causeway, then instead of returning by car was coaxed by the friend's parents to head back because there was enough daylight. Both boys couldn't change a flat, nor had they brought any tools—not that they would know how to use them—but they could call in an emergency. And though as parents we are continually after our 16 year old to get off the Internet at home (the 21st century parents' never ending battle), this was an instance where technology empowered a teenager to keep on pedaling or at least know they had back up for a rescue—though I wonder if any 16 year old consciously thinks about it in advance.

So, if technology lends comfort or motivates cyclists to give long distance riding a try, when they otherwise wouldn't, then who am I to judge what constitutes an adventure?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Riding Acadia National Park's Carriage Roads

A perfect blend of loop roads, gradual inclines and descents, over and under beautiful old stone bridges, beside ponds. Safe, alluring, and teasing also. Do I have time to circle one more gravel path?

Making family memories. Bike dates. Pedaling into the park from Bar Harbor.

Taking pictures over my shoulder.

Everyone has big smiles.

Our GoPro loving son captures a descent.

Later, I ride solo on paved park roads, stop for expansive ocean views...

...admire an unusual dwelling, then return on public road to town.

There is so much more to do in the region, of course, other than cycling. We stayed in Bar Harbor, a very walkable city. Twice, we hoofed it to the "bar"—the "bar" that named Bar Harbor—where low tide reveals a half mile long sandy causeway, which now leads to a national park island.

A great place to visit tide pools.

I can't help but notice a bikey window display.

Acadia National Park in Maine deserves a week of exploration. There are numerous hiking trails, light houses, more carriage roads to pedal, test your lungs and legs on a ride up Cadillac Mountain, endless possibilities for a future vacation.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Burlington Streets Challenge - The Little Things

Another installment in the series to ride every public road within Burlington's city limits in 2015.

My rides around town are often punctuated with chipmunks and squirrels darting across the road. However, I am also treated to sweet cottontail sightings - this particular one along a bike path. There is a proliferation of wild bunnies this year. Perhaps next year we'll see more foxes, and thus less of the former animals, which seems to be a cycle here in Burlington.

I've noticed that people often attach personal messages to public signage.

One neighborhood has a private beach house and sandy beach.

Meandering along streets in the evening then scooting back to camp, anticipating a spectacular sunset, is often a special highlight.

Heading north on the bike path to meet up with a friend, I stopped to inspect a new sign, then was struck by the increase in bike signage. One year Cycle The City displayed their new logo, just last year the Bike Path Rehabilitation sign appeared, and now Bike Rentals are offered at popular North Beach. If there is anything that exemplifies the uptick in our cycling population, this is it.

My maps to date, Completed streets marked with red marker. North End of Burlington at left; Central and South
End at right. Due to elongated city limits, maps are divided but do not correctly align.
Burlington hugs the Lake Champlain shoreline, north to south.

Along with the little things I've discovered, I have a new buddy who's happy to tool around the north end of Burlington with me. She rides a leisurely pace, loves looking at houses, is as delighted as I am to explore most anything because she's new to Burlington and absolutely loved my idea of riding all city streets - and didn't look at me like I was attempting something weird. In fact, she loved the idea. She also recently bought a house that's convenient to our summer camp on the lake, plus she rides a blazing yellow cruiser bicycle. It's funny and fortuitous, our initial connection being friends who live in Colorado, who recommended we hook up because we both love the outdoors.

Completed Streets (I'm logging and quantifying street names because the city did not offer a total list. Part of the fun is wondering how many names I'll end up with.)
  1. Prospect Parkway
  2. Highland Terrace
  3. Riverside Avenue
  4. Hildred Drive
  5. Hillside Terrace
  6. Colchester Avenue
  7. St. Mary Street
  8. Walnut Street
  9. Rose Street
  10. Park Street
  11. Pitkin Street
  12. Blodgett Street
  13. Drew Street
  14. Strong Street
  15. St. Paul Street
  16. South Union Street
  17. North Union Street
  18. Beaumont Street
  19. Lake Street
  20. Leddy Park Road
  21. Northgate Road
  22. Woods Street
  23. Intervale Avenue
  24. Hickok Place
  25. Isham Street
  26. Saratoga Avenue
  27. Village Green
  28. Brandywine Street
  29. Bennington Court
  30. Hale Court
  31. Revere Court
  32. Rivermount Terrace
  33. Morrill Drive
  34. Van Patten Parkway
  35. Billings Court
  36. Rockland Street
  37. Temple Street
  38. Brook Drive
  39. Convent Square
  40. Berry Street
  41. Green Acres Drive
  42. Staniford Road
  43. Grey Meadow Drive
  44. Oakcrest Drive
  45. Woodridge Drive
  46. Institute Road

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Neighborhood Trail in Two Seasons


While scouting possible routes last March to my workplace I discovered a trail tucked away between a private school and a neighboring street. Invisible, really, to all but those who regularly walk or someone like me who are continually seeking faster and or safer bike routes from one place to another. The trail was covered in snow, but excitement, level ground, and chunky tires made the passage fairly easy. However, I didn't return until winter's grip finally loosened and Spring breathed life into the land.

Indeed, I was pleased that it's a cut-through used year round, providing ample shade and a little wilderness in a South Burlington neighborhood. I picture children riding back and forth, weaving around trees, yelling and having fun all summer long—all within the safe confines of a block-long forest.