Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Pie Fix

Bring on the pie!
The week after I arrived home from Europe, despite pleasurable autumn-like commuting weather, I didn't feel quite back to normal. Jet lag, for sure. I was tired by mid-afternoon, unfocused, and uninspired, not to mention out of sync with job demands after a fruitful, wish-I-was-still-there type of vacation. To complicate matters, for several nights I dreamed I was still bike touring, stopping in Roman villages, soaking up the joie de vivre.

Back at work, I wasn't yet fully attuned to the value of afternoon snack time. For a couple days, it went okay without the extra energy. I arrived home in normal fashion, the ride taking an hour. By the third day, things didn't go so well.

I labored, eventually slowing...which coincided with approaching The Mill. The site was a former cider mill, but is now part convenience store, gift shop, and deli. It continues to sell homemade pies, however, which is what drew my attention. Dreaming of flaky pastry—anything, really—I steered the wheels across the store’s gravel lot. When I get food on the brain, better get out of my way.

Inside, I chose a blueberry pie. It would be a nice surprise for my family too. I contemplated getting something to hold me over until dinnercan’t dive into a beautiful pie without utensilsbut decided the expense was enough. I should be able to pedal the three remaining miles home. After all, I am an adult.

Just hauling that pastry box gave me a boost. Anticipation. A container of whipped cream in the refrigerator. A snack as soon as I arrived home to curb hunger. Helping with dinner. Then yummy pie.

And what do I find on the dining room table? Two copies of current magazines with Lance Armstrong featured on the cover, this time, unfortunately, not for winning the Tour de France. Oh Lance. But I try and find the humor. What if professional cyclists used pastry instead of performance drugs? Anyone for CamelBak with blueberry filling? Grab and go with pain au chocolat? Oh, the possibilities…

After all, it works for me.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A New Bike for My Little Guy

Number two son's new ride.
When I was in Europe I'd heard that our youngest son got a "new" bike from a neighbor's sale. I could picture his excitement, too. He's our scrappy, gung ho, no holds barred, fling himself into a new sport kind of kid. Always willing to get exercise and sometimes begs us to accompany him, he reminds me of myself, craving that physical release.

Half a world away, I wished I was there for his first adult-sized ride. Or maybe not. He's the type that would put the bike through a battery of tests, jumping curbs, cruising backyards, whizzing down the street that is more hill than quiet road, which flattens into a runway in front of our house.

The history of this particular bike is colorful. New from another neighbor (we pass things, or sell cheaply, items between families) it had been in an accident. The guy was riding with his children to school when a dog caused him to go over the handlebars, thus breaking his arm. With bad memories associated with the bike, he couldn't get beyond that and gave it to a nearby family.

We know this guy pretty well. Since that time he's gone back to bike riding (at least on family outings) and is a regular runner, entering races. He also doesn't skimp on anything he buys, so after close inspection, my husband decided that accident or not, this bike was just fine. So, as providence would have it, my son now owns a decent bike.

I rather like these platform pedals with grippy rubber surface.
I wonder  if  I could locate a pair for my girly bike, ones that
would accommodate toeclips.
Jet lag still weighing me down, my first foray to my son's school was by bicycle. Toeclips were still attached, which caused him a bit of trouble, so my afternoon project was to spiff up his bike. Unable to detach the plastic clip (no space to squeeze a tiny wrench around the nuts) I swapped the pedals with spares (never throw out any usable parts!). I was pleased with myself. It's been years since I've removed pedals, yet I remembered to loosen the left pedal clockwise. With the aid of my grandfather's rubber mallet to initially free the nut, it left a wistful smile on my face. Grandpa would be proud.

I went on to transfer his bell and replace his license plate with an older green version modeled after the Vermont State car plate.

And so it was that last weekend my son was game for a ride to the apple orchard. Buffeting headwinds, he made it most of the way, determined to keep up, but no quite getting the knack of drafting. To be fair he also was riding on knobby tires. After a particularly chilling half-mile descent, he started slowing down. "How far do you think I went," he asked, before deciding whether to hitch a ride with my husband, who was driving the same route and had caught up with us. When I told him it was probably 10 miles, he seemed satisfied and got in the car.

The next greatest toy

I love our neighborhood. Unbeknownst to me, neighbor #3 (in a long list of awesome people in our 'hood) had been observing my son grow wide-eyed at a visiting friend's new long-board (those elongated skateboards currently popular). The next thing I know, this neighbor knocked on our door and loaned an older style long-board to my son. The board had been gathering dust in his basement. My son scampered outside with his friend. The two proceeded to cruise the street. Faster. And Faster. Well, by now, you understand the scene. Gotta love my youngest's enthusiasm...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hinting Fall

Pedaling in refreshing Fall crispness. 
Arriving home from Europe felt like I'd entered a separate time zone, literally and figuratively. When I left in late August, the humid air was stiflingly hot. I thrive in cooler temps so I was looking forward to Switzerland's mountain air. Then, three weeks later, back home, with kids now in school, the trees quickly changing, the basil harvested and made into pesto (thanks, my love), a bumper crop of tomatoes, geese honking their way south, and my youngest boy holding a woolly bear caterpillar in his palm, well—the significance was overwhelming.

A tunnel of change on the street near home. Long shadows.
I've never felt the passage of time as much before. But of course, this was a first for me: disconnected for 21 days (except for a few e-mails). In that short span, next door neighbors put their house on the market. It was disconcerting, but not unexpected. On the upside, my youngest boy scored a new bike from their moving sale.

Neighborhood color.
Riding has been sublime. I am in my optimal element. A splash of autumn color, black tights, a vest or fleece jacket, and socks with sandals. All this plus a lip-smacking huge, tart Macintosh apple for mid morning snack.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Slalom in the Bike Lane

I'm not sure what to make of the complete streets improvements along busy Colchester Avenue. On one hand I'm grateful to have a separate lane, albeit very narrow. It's littered with sand, trash, and raised drain grates, pipe end covers, all of which are hazardous to pedal over. As you can see in this video, navigating this bikeway requires constant attention, often weaving around obstacles.

I was excited to see this thoroughfare transform from four auto lanes to two, with a center turn lane and the piece-de-la-resistance: adding bike lanes. Overall it has helped, allowing more space for cyclists, even with riding the slalom course. But after a year of use, I truly wonder about the quality of the space allotted to two wheeled transit. Why aren't grates and pipes flush with road surfaces? Really, you would think this would also help with road plowing in the winter.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hungary - Loving Esztergom

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Click here for the Introduction.

42 miles – Sunday, September 11

I crawled from the tent, automatically inspecting the sky. I smiled. Another sunshine filled, crisp morning. Too tired the evening before, Andy and I strolled at 6 a.m. through the vast dewy grounds, not only to stretch our legs, but also investigate the campground/swimming park. As we’ve discovered, swimming is a favorite sport. This area housed 4 huge in-ground pools.

Often the earliest risers, we left before other bicycle tourers had unzipped their tents. We dream of pedaling alongside like-minded adventurers; cycling can be lonely, but I doubt whether anyone would like our schedule. Our days are rather like a job; getting a jump on the day allows ample daylight to shop, navigate, sightsee and move a significant distance before nightfall. I presume this is not relaxing for those on a week’s holiday. Also, there is the language barrier. But, we remain optimistic. There must be others who are on an extended tour.

Danube River view from vineyards.
We climbed a small hill through vineyards to a sweetened view of the Danube. A smoggy whiteness hovered along the river’s bottom land. The blue waters flowed toward a hillier East. Until now we had glimpsed the slower waters, disappointed we had yet to encounter cliffs and hillside castles commonly in photos of the Danube. But, not long thereafter we entered Esztergom, a picturesque community perched like a dream.

View from Esztergom

I immediately liked Esztergom; the name itself is exotic, easily identified as of Eastern European origin. A fortress loomed above the city with green domed church. The need to keep moving often monopolizes our thoughts, so this time we resolved to wander and observe.

We walked the outer walls, stopping for red roof views that patchwork Esztergom’s dwellings. Across the now very wide Danube, in Slovakia, another puzzle of quilted houses spread for an equally stunning vista. A barge moves slowly upriver while a white tour boat moves faster. We lingered, mesmerized by the panorama. The calm and quiet Danube, at this height, stretched eastward toward Budapest, somewhere on that distant horizon.

St. Stephen's Basilica. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Eventually we stepped inside St. Stephen’s church, largest edifice and tallest building in Hungary. Grey and red marble adorn the walls, ceilings, even the crypt. It’s more airy compared with older, gothic style edifices. I appreciate the English translation at the entrance; we are often left on our own to imagine a site’s significance. Several churches were built and burned, until the recent 1850s completion of the current structure. As with all churches, there is that peace among muffled footsteps. A whisper. I gaze upward into a vast void. Faithfull to no particular religion, I’ve come to appreciate the solitude, the grandeur of any theological space.

We cruise a busier highway, but now we’re pedaling along the Danube, water keeping us company. A large castle suddenly glowed, the afternoon sunlight casting an ethereal presence 1000 feet above Visegrad. Luckily, it’s the town where we rest our heads tonight.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Swiss View

As previously mentioned, part of my European trip encompassed hut-to-hut hiking above Zermatt. I won't drivel on about the Swiss alpine scenery, but if you must know, traveling by foot was just as grand as cycling around Provence.

To acclimate we spent the first day above a village in the Berner Oberland walking paths between villages and uphill to a ski area. It's civilized hiking - that's what I love about Switzerland. Walks are measured by time and not kilometers, because as I soon discovered: the trails are steep.

I kept eyeing bike signs until several big-wheeled scooters cruised by on the dirt road that intersected our trail. Inspecting these machines revealed fenders, a kickstand, brakes, a rear rack, and a multi-positioned handlebar, suitable for all heights. It looked like fun!

An hour into our walk we stopped at Vorsass, a mid station packed with strudel, dogs, and lots of hikers. It housed a half-dome structure, storing hundreds of these "kick scooters."

Note the white sign advertising kick scooters.
As we meandered part way down the access road until our trail diverged, several scooters went by, some tentative and cautious, others frighteningly fast. We walked single file.

People on scooters, gliding the switchbacks.
A break along our walk.

Waiting at the bus depot the following morning, several kids cycled by carrying backpacks. They were on their way to school. In fact, a few children got on the bus with us, toting small Razor style scooters. Admirably, Swiss children make their way around quite well, even on steep, narrow roads.

Several days later, after rigorous climbs in the alpine air, we parted ways with the guys and took a funicular into the heart of Zermatt to make a train connection. I spied another scooter-for-hire set up. It must be "the" thing to do among a certain crowd. While we descended snow slopes (had 12" fall one night) a hearty mountain biker had ridden up and was taking a break, letting the clumps melt from his wheels.

Celebrating with wine and food on the train.
And we're free, leaving a day earlier than planned for France. We toted Alpenzeller cheese, Swiss wine, and chocolate (plus two heavy duffle bags) for the 3-train journey around Lake Geneva, connecting with a fourth: high-speed train from Lyon to Avignon, France.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is Your Color?

Are the colors of a bike important to you? I've thought about this a lot lately. I dislike the black color of my Ross. Sure, it's not a desirable enough make or color for someone to steal—which has it's obvious merit—but the blah finish is having an adverse effect. I'm tired of its utility. I want a screaming, in-your-face color that speaks "I'm riding a bike!"

So, I went on an Internet search, hoping to prove that 1970s bikes had more style than recent bikes. For the purpose of this exercise I highlighted Raleighs and Schwinns, makes that had an impact then and now on the bike industry.

Thanks to for many of these images.

There were some pretty colors back then. I owned a Schwinn Varsity and Continental: the former a bright yellow, the later a soft blue. Raleigh made a statement with its olive green Grand Prix and Superb. But what I also discovered is that color reigned in the 1970s, with ubiquitous shades, yet color is still going strong today. Red is a staple, no matter the year, as it's unisex. Metallic colors were common, thought not nearly as much since 2000.

Compare this collage with the previous one. I was surprised. Schwinn and Raleigh are still making colorful bikes, even in a wider array of colors. I was hard-pressed to locate black or white frames. Surely, color still wins out. It's also interesting to note that retro frames are now commonly available with matching fenders. While this isn't new information, it is a sign of our times: we are desiring bikes that can be ridden for transportation, in the rain, to the store (racks are often included on many models).

I'm happy for all the choices. I still don't know what I'm going to do regarding my transportation bike color. Nor am I ambitious/and in love enough with the frame to attempt a paint job. For now, I'll ogle the orange and the purple bikes on our city streets and haunt garage sales because, just maybe, something will catch my eye.

What influence does a bike's color have on your choice of style/and or frame? If storage and money were not an issue, would you boldly add a particular color to your stable (I admit I would)? And, lastly, what color/style are you attracted to?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Back in a Familiar Saddle

Back from Europe, I am back to my old habits: drinking coffee in a cafe
and blogging, while keeping an eye on my bike.

I was happy to arrive home last Saturday, at 1 a.m. After a marathon layover in Newark, and talking my husband's ear off, I must have fallen asleep around 2:30. All too soon I felt the presence of someone beside me. At first I thought I was still in France. The pine boards on our sleeping porch resemble narrow French streets. I was pedaling with my two girlfriends, but then a banner said "Happy 50th Mom". Egads, isn't that sign in my house? I groggily came around. Then I squinted (can't see without my glasses) and recognized my youngest boy standing beside our bed. I smiled and pulled him under the covers with me for a while.

It's good to be home.

I have gobs of photos and a journal full of memories. Switzerland. France. High speed trains. Plane flights. Good cheese, wine, and baguettes... every night! There is so much to tell. No regrets.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hungary - The Back Roads

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Click here for the Introduction.

Hungarian man soaks up sun. Photo credit: Adam Jones
56 miles Saturday, September 10

Early morning Andy wished me a happy anniversary­-we celebrate minor events too-the 11th year of our first date. I thought of my brother-in-law, Phil, (his birthday also on September 10) for it was on that special day that Andy and I went canoeing on Lake Champlain, returning to the family camp for Phils cake and ice cream.

Leaving the wide blue waters of the Danube, our route took us inland through vineyards, farms, and villages. Bicycle tourers are suddenly common. Before exiting the campsite we wished two German cyclists a good trip back to Prague where one has plans to attend a semester of school.

Of special note: this is our first suggested and pre-mapped ride so far on our world trip. I welcomed the special itinerary as it frees us from day to day logistics (route planning, campgrounds)-all of which can be emotionally draining.

Market Day in Gyor. Photo credit: Vagabond Journey

Gyor on a Saturday morning was aflutter with activity. Streets filled with vendors-a usual sight throughout Europe on market day-hawking vegetables, fruits, wine, and bread. We stocked up on two days of food, a practice we’ve grown accustomed to with Sunday store closures, once again weighing down my front panniers. Though I dread the added bulk, pedaling without sufficient food leaves me anxious; rationing calories is not an option for my crazed hunger-obsessed bod;, the joys of travel are directly tied with a full belly. I even carried a bottle of Hungarian red wine. The $1.35 (U.S.) price was too good to pass up. What we couldn’t consume with dinner, I’d share with others in the campground.

Hungarians are friendly. Twice today, while pouring over the map, locals approached, asking if we needed help. The first was in Gyor: two senior high school students, with excellent English and cycling skills, escorted us out of town and wished us a good journey. The second happened at a crossroads. And elderly man stopped his moped, and with a mixture of Magyar (Hungarian) and German confirmed the turn off the main highway. Meanwhile, he insisted we visit a Catholic church en route.

“Hallo” means “hello”, the greeting shared by all as we move along. As pedaling provides a rolling, personal experience, it’s rather like a mail person on wheels with front porch exposure. A wave; a few words to those tending a garden; cutting the grass; a smile and a single exchange goes a long ways in a world without language. It doesn’t take much to learn “please” and “thank you” in any country-the simplest gestures paving the way to a rich experience.

Local bicycle travelers. Photo credit: Dan Heller
As I pumped up a short incline I passed an older woman, in flowered dress, who walked her one speed bike. I smiled. A young boy accompanied her. I crested the hill, switched gears, and glanced in the mirror. She helped the boy onto her rear rack, and positioned her ample body onto the seat. They initially were a dark speck in my glass, then eventually growing larger as they gained speed.

It never ceases to amaze me the use of bicycles as everyday transportation. Not a conscious choice, I realize, but the only choice in rural villages. And yet, the image is appealing, the mechanics of bike travel open to everyone. It may seem idyllic in my own mind, though I’m under no pretenses. Given the choice in the U.S. most would opt for a bus ride or hitch up with a coworker. Yet here in Europe, rainy days seldom stop the same travelers. Instead, they carry an umbrella in one hand, popping it when needed. The whoosh of its flight sends a smile to my face. It’s all rather Mary Poppin-ish but matter-of-fact in this land.

A reoccurring pain has plagued Andy’s lower back/groin. He’s not sure if it’s due to bike position or a “bug” he might have picked up. He feels well enough to continue to Budapest, then, hopefully, rest on the train ride back to Austria may clear up his discomfort.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Did You Know...about Western Union Couriers?

1911 Western Union messenger boy, Norfolk, Virginia Photo credit: Library of Congress Collection
When I think of bike messengers, I picture the craze of the 1980s in New York City. Riders needed simple lightweight machines, which led to the popular single speed/fixie rage. While this is all good, it's not where delivery by bike got its origins. For that you need to go back to the 1890s when all the world—okay, maybe just the United States and France—was a flutter for two wheels.

Western Union delivery boys began zipping around New York City. It caught on in other regions of the U.S. also. My favorite image is of a boy in 1913 (rights owned.) 

In 1920s Paris, delivery boys plied the streets in hordes, hauling newspapers on front racks, thus the origin of the porteur rack. They also made good criterium racers and enjoyed massive popular support for 50 years.

In the world of cycling it goes to show you that everything cycles (pardon the pun) back around. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tricycle of the Future

My children breezed by this display in favor of early Star Trek toys.
Made in Japan in the 1950s, this tricycle was part of the Shelburne Museum's Time Machines exhibit. I like the tractor-like handlebars with bell. The hubs are space-agey, the chrome seat support and step plate all shiny, suggestive of designers' fascination with space-related concepts.

*I will be unplugged for the duration of my adventure.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Up Front and Personal

I find I'm attracted to baskets, wire or wicker, and simple front racks that hold homemade containers. More to the point, it's the ability to haul goods and store items where you can keep an eye on them. It makes a lot of sense to me, especially when I do errands.

It's easy to grab my cable lock from the front handbag, lock the bike. Then it's a simple process of unbuckling two straps. I grab the leather handles and go. My wallet, book, camera, and other items are within easy grasp. I have enough space to stow a grocery item or even an iced coffee—sipped so the contents won't slosh and spill. I often place a water bottle there; the cage is in an awkward position on the Ross. Of course, it takes nice weather to make my set-up work. I find that panniers in this situation are cumbersome, more suited to a longer commute.

My Ross with basket on front. In my situation it's unwieldy to use the basket
 as  opposed to the green bag in the  previous photo.
This style seems to be catching on too: a basket secured with leather straps or bungees. I spy three speeds, single speeds with some carry-all contraption hanging from the handlebars or secured to a stable rack. Upright handlebars beg for that personal style.

Do you utilize a front rack or a basket with bracket/straps?

*I will be unplugged for the duration of my adventure.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Loving Burlington's Bikes

I spied two Bridgestone bicycles in one morning. Here is an RB-5. I see this one all the time.

And then there was the MB-5 in front of Dunkin Donuts. My children were with me, waiting to cross the road. They think I'm a crazy mom for photographing bikes, especially our 13-year-old.

I like the innovative use of a non-bikey wire basket. Although it has gaping holes, it's functions well as a place to toss a backpack or a grocery bag. It's secured with string to the rack.

I've admired this lovely for a month. It has style a smile-wide. Balloon tires, cute basket, sporty chain guard, spring saddle, sweet metal fenders. It even comes with multiple gears. I fear for it's safety though. It's been parked for a month like this, between curb and sidewalk, secured with simple cable lock. Sad to say that in this college environment, it won't last long.

*I will be unplugged for the duration of my adventure.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lauren's Bridgestone MB-2

A while back reader, Lauren, sent in these amazing photos of a 1985 model she "found" at her local bike shop.

The logo.

Interesting handle bars.

Original tires. I imagine she'll replace those, but it shows how little the bike was ridden.

The inside of the rims are anodized in gold color. That's pretty unique.

Love those wide forks that can accommodate fenders.

The frame is in impeccable condition.
In Lauren's own words:

Anyway, like I said, I was sitting at my desk at work last Thursday and around 1:13pm I said, "You know, after work I'm going to sell my road bike.  The road biking scene isn't for me, and I want a grocery fetcher."  Just like that.  (I've got two single speeds in the bike stable, and then I had that road bike).  So I take it in to my LBS a few hours later and as I hand it over to them to appraise, I see a bike that catches my eye.  Now, people don't go to an LBS to find a quality used Bridgestone anymore than people go to the grocery store thinking they'll come home with a soul mate, but oh em gee, as the kids say.  The color of the bike drew me in, and when I wheeled it out from its rack and realized what it was, I about fell over.  Not only was it the exact type of bike I wanted, but it's an effing Bridgestone!!  In excellent condition!  The TIRES are original.  I'm probably going to swap them out, as I'm not necessarily comfortable riding on tires that were manufactured before Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's (they may not be that old, but the joke works so you gotta gimme that one), but just the principle of it astonishes me.  I mean, this bike is almost as old as me, and likely in much better health than me.  Unbelievable.

For more specifications on Lauren's particular model, refer to this Bridgestone catalog.

*I will be unplugged for the duration of my adventure