Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Rewind

As I peg another calendar on the wall, here's a quick recap of 2012.

Wacky Ride in a Hail Squall.
January. Without significant snowfall, I rode all but two weeks throughout the winter.

February. Thoughts on Girly Bike Touring, and dreaming of cycling in France.

Hands Off, it's My Toolbox.
March. Cabin Fever, escaping with my favorite riding partner, and trying my hand at humorous writing.

April. I learned new bike skills while adding different handlebars on my Ross. Take One, Take Two, Take Three. I also explored a new trail while visiting Baltimore.

May. It pays to be on the lookout for free stuff.

June. Lake Champlain sojourn.

July. It's okay to turn 50 years old. An anniversary bike overnight.

August. Enjoying sunsets. Lots of them! And planning and leaving for Europe.

September. Once settled back into a familiar routine, I began to recount adventures in Switzerland and France. Follow Europe 2012 as I continue the chronicle into 2013.

October. Enjoying the onslaught of autumn color.

November. Besides completing my mileage goal, it's nice to give thanks for what we have and not forget to help others.

The last bike ride with my husband before we stored bikes for the winter.
December. Colder weather saw me starting on indoor projects, plus wishes for a snowy winter. Time to put away the bikes.

Do you have a bucket list? If there's anything I learned in 2012, it's that life is fleeting. Appreciate family and friends—tell them how much you love them—then carve out time for yourself. Remember, life is all about balance. I'm looking forward to sharing 2013's big outdoor adventure with my husband.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Rubber Spider

After observing firsthand the versatility of cargo nets, I vowed to get one. I put it on my Christmas list. But I felt odd having to describe this unique object that someone would have to go to a bike shop to get. I couldn't do that to non-biking relatives, especially for a 7.00 gift. Instead, I asked for an Amazon gift card.

But I shouldn't have worried. On Christmas morning I unwrapped gifts from my dear friend and Provence buddy, who surprised me with my very own cargo net! I had to laugh, too. Tacked to the box, was her apt nickname "Rubber Spider"—Patty's reference as we bike toured in France.

As you can see by her use on the bike, the cargo net can stretch beyond what seems probable. Besides, there's always room for a baguette. Need I say more?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Embrace the White

I came home to my husband moving bikes from the garage to our back porch in preparation for our first northeaster. Our vehicles must be off the street to allow snowplows to do their job, otherwise automobiles are towed, and well, that unpleasant scene happens only once to remind car owners to check city alert signals when a storm is expected. I felt a bit wistful as I held the front door open as my husband wheeled our bicycles inside and through the rear kitchen door.

He must have noticed the sad look on my face. "It'll be easy to bring your bike back outside," he said.

He's right, of course. My helmet is in a hall closet. Boots are handy. A choice of gloves are in a basket, ready for walking, skiing, or cycling. All I have to do is heft the bike outside, and if I'm alone I manage by holding the screen door with one hand (lock on shock hinge slips) and scoot down the steps before the door slams into the rear tire, or worse, clips my ankles.

Ducks and walkers use the waterfront path.
It's change that's difficult for me. Any kind of change, other than going on vacations. I get used to cool Spring bike riding weather then Summer brings heat and humidity. I hang onto jobs probably longer than I should, but it's what I do. The uncertainty, insecurity. A new routine. Moving is the worst, yuck. Children growing, needing us less. Inevitable. My husband calls it "the glass half empty" syndrome, which I admit weighs me down. I have to remind myself that every life change has been for the better, so seasonal shifts should be the easy part.

Some one's been riding dirt trails along the lake shore.
So, while the bikes remain indoors, I'm shoveling 15" of white, fluffy snow. A quietness envelopes the city. On the backside of the solstice now, it's lighter past four o'clock. But mostly, chock that up to mother nature's new blanket. Hallelujiah! I feel like I'm in a snow-globe. I run through my mind where my ski gear is stashed. Time to embrace the white, trade two wheels for two beautiful, wooden boards.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Attraction

For a number of years I've admired a handful of bike models. And like a true aficionado, of course, they are not bicycles I currently own. Nor are the picks exactly similar either, so it's really confounding what I find especially alluring about these four styles.

1. Raleigh One-Way
2. Breezer Uptown LS series (upper right)
3. Jamis Commuter
4. Betty Foy (lower right)

I used to think that all were bikes with great utility, resembling a mountain bike in some form. In other words, they'd make great commuters, which after looking at the grid above you easily could see that's true. Each example could be outfitted to ride to work or haul groceries. In fact, there are endless bikes that would fit the mold. So it must be more than that, I think.

Raleigh One Way, Photo credit: Raleigh Bicycles
The above iteration of the Raleigh One Way certainly doesn't fit my idea of a practical commuter. One speed bikes are not ideal for hilly Burlington, yet I'm repeatedly drawn to this machine. And, to be fair, I've seen this bike with a front rack and upright handlebars, which adds more functionality. After checking out the Raleigh website, and admiring a few more models, I believe it's the simple, and beautifully retro paint scheme that does it for me.

Case in point:
Raleigh Port Townsend, Photo credit: Raleigh Bicycles
Like the One-Way, the Port Townsend is black—my least favorite color—yet I still find it irresistible. Sweet front rack, too. Single gear or multi-gear, I'm in love.

Raleigh Clubman Mixte, Photo credit: Raleigh Bicycles
Even the Clubman Mixte is appealing in boring white. I'm definitely smitten with Raleigh's paint job, plus fenders, and leather toe straps with clips that round out the overall retro look.

Uptown 8 LS in Gloss Port Wine, Photo credit: Breezer Bikes
Uptown Fleet LS in Gloss Silver Slate, Photo credit: Breezer Bikes
And it's not only the thin steel-tubing frame that has its appeal. The Breezer line is based on fatter aluminum frames with chromoly fork. I'm attracted to their Uptown step-through models. I like the upright style, the complimentary fenders, the nice-looking chain guard. And, you can get internally geared options and lighting. All models come with a rack. There's something about the short bracing above the crank that not only, I presume, provides frame strength, but visually enhances the stylish curve, similar to a loop frame bike. I also like the 26" wide wheels, testament to Joe Breezer's roots in mountain bikes. I'm pleased they are once again offering sporty colors, though I'd like to see kelly green and orange added for more variety.

Jamis Commuter 1, Photo credit: Jamis Bikes
Jamis Commuter 1 step-over, Photo credit: Jamis Bikes
I normally shy away from sloping top tube models. It's more difficult to fit fenders, racks, and have ample space for large water bottles—not to mention two containers. But that's because I usually compare these models to my Trek or my husband's Bridgestones—older mountain bikes that we've adapted for touring. When I throw out that line of thinking and study the Jamis Commuter bicycles with an eye towards style and function, I now understand why I admire this bike. It comes equipped with rack, fenders, easy grip shifting, a simple front crank shield, and larger wheels for zippy commutes. With it's seemingly longer wheel base, it looks like a comfortable ride. The sloping frames are common around Burlington, sold at nearby shops. I definitely prefer this to the step-over model, for style. Jamis offers 4 models in their commuter line, a testament to the growing popularity of bikes for the commuting masses.

LGRAB's Betty Foy. Photo credit: Let's Go Ride a Bike
I like that the Betty Foy fits taller women. With my 5'8" leggy height, it's the one caveat with my current step through bike—the Ross's 19" frame is a tad small. I'm not especially tall compared with many women, but older step-over mountain bikes were not made to fit comfortably for longer rides. The Betty Foy is designed for a broad spectrum, and because it's made in the U.S. you can build it with components of your choosing for a proper fit. I love the color. Much like the Bianchi mint green that is a recognizable brand, aqua defines the Betty Foy. But make no mistake, this is a well-built bike too, one of many Rivendell signature styles. I especially like its Mixte style, swept back bars, ability to handle beefy tires. Racks and mustache bars are a must on a Betty Foy of my choosing, plus cream Schwalbe tires.

What do all these have in common?
In retrospect, all these bikes are equipped with racks, fenders, wider tires—my preference for sure. It's not a major revelation, but it's the style of each that time and time again I come back to. Each of these models—and in many cases more than one from the same brand—has panache that speaks to me. I presume my impressions would change, if I ever jump on for a ride, but it's an interesting concept to ponder. With so many designs to choose from, initial responses are very important and hold the power to sway multitudes.

Are there certain bicycles that captivate your psyche?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Snow for the Holidays

I haven't been on my bike for two weeks. I've thought about it, but rain falls on my days off, or the temperatures dip into the 20sF and I can't make that leap to wearing snow boots. And if truth be told, my heart is not in cycling through the winter this year.

I've walked everywhere. Enjoying Christmas lights. Humming carols to myself. Picking up gifts. Collecting pine cones in the woods to make peanut butter birdseed treats.

But more than ever, I want it to snow this holiday. And for it to be the beginning of a normal Vermont winter.

I got my wish on December 23rd.

As a family, we went swimming, then emerged from the YMCA to snowflakes floating. Suddenly a festive mood enveloped our quartet. I suggested we go to a cafe for hot chocolate.

Afterwards, our youngest son stands in the center of the pedestrian mall and opens his mouth to the sky. Such unbridled joy! We joined him, making a game out of gobbling the fattest flakes we could find.

 "Snowflakes glistening, are you listening?" plays through my head. Shoppers pick up last minute gifts. Youngest son proclaims, "Winter is my favorite!" as he continually scoops snow and packs snow balls. Sometimes my husband and are are pelted in the back. But how can we get mad?

Snow-lover boy creates an angel in front of our house.
We're due for good wintry weather. I'm looking forward to cross-country skiing out my door. And as they say, "Tis the season." And while cycling is never far from my mind—after all it is my first love—it can wait for a while. I'm okay with that.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Epiplectic Bicycle

Photo credit: Little Stour Books
I was introducing my youngest boy to a local music store—the kind of place that's an institution—reachable by descending stone stairs into a basement. I hadn't been in for some time so we wandered, leafing through used LPs, checking out that original Beatles records were fetching hundreds of dollars, and nearly stumbling over the uneven cement floor. Unfortunately, the ambiance of this otherworldly place was lost on my son. "Don't they have any new music, Mom?" There were new CDs, though not predominantly on display. I'm sure he'd rather be in a Barnes & Noble or f.y.e. store.

A book shelf near the counter captured my fancy. Among them was this sweet little book called the Epiplectic Bicycle. Of course I thought it said "Epileptic" but nonetheless I leafed through and read the entire book—it being all of 20 pages or so. The illustrations are very quirky and sweet. In fact, I need to look at this book again. It's that kind of book. One that demands further study. I appreciate Dr. Seuss-style made up words, so the title itself is fascinating. And, there's something about two color printing, much like Jenny and The Cat Club series reprinted by the New York Review Children's Collection, that in its simplicity, allows original pen and ink drawings to shine.

This book came out many moons ago, so humor me if I've just discovered this wonderful artist. Edward Gorey has numerous titles in print. He's developed quite a following among children—most of his books are of that genre—but the Epiplectic Bicycle is appealing to adults too and certainly worth a look to any cyclist who appreciates the marriage of art and the bicycle.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Bike Friendly Jacket

I added fleece half-gloves to my coat.
I like to sew. It fuels my creative juices. I have a wall hanging in progress and only recently discovered how to incorporate the next step—a technique for applique. I also enjoy exploring how to reuse or retrofit garments and or bags into something that's bike-friendly.

Grren coat before adding new cuffs.
 It's a nice style. Another view here.
I bought this green jacket a couple years ago because it was on sale and I couldn't resist. Inside the neckline, a lightweight bag is attached. The jacket can be stuffed into a tiny package—ideal for traveling and/or camping. It's synthetic too, which I approve for it's washability. The only hitch is the coat is sized for a large boy. It fits well, except for the sleeve length. It's a bit short and when extending arms over the handlebars, well, my wrists are exposed. I'm downright chilly at times.

I knew that someday I would enlarge the length, but I put it off because I wanted something more than functional cuffs. It finally came to me. I wanted thumb holes, for when it's chilly and hands could use a bit of warmth. Roll the hand-warmers and voila, they're a cuff that coordinates with the blue zipper!

The new cuffs fill the gap, warming former exposed wrists.

Some projects do not work out, as in this skirt. 

The pattern would've coordinated with my sweaters.
I copied the idea from a catalog that sells skirts created from old uniforms. I liked the technique, using contrasting stitching with seams on the outside—very unusual and contrary—which often represents my personal style. (I can be a non-conformist, much to my family's dismay.) The construction resembles pleats. I've always wanted a wool tartan skirt, especially one I could wear over tights while walking or tooling around on my bike.

So, with an abundance of wool scarves, I pieced the strips together. Unfortunately there weren't enough sections to wrap the fabric around my waist! I'd also bought yellow ribbon which I'd planned to edge the bottom of skirt. This would coordinate with the yellow thread. Oh well. It's a clever idea and I'll apply it someday...I have stacks of cotton fabric that could work for a summer weight skirt.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Switzerland - Nyon and The Swiss Way

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Click here for the Introduction.

Annie admiring geraniums in Nyon.
10 miles - Friday, September 23

With Katy and Martin at work, we did laundry and let it swing on the spider web-type clothesline while we pedaled the five miles into Nyon. We locked our bikes to a rack full of others. It’s quite common to see a tiny cable lock securing front wheel to frame. Many bicycles stand all by themselves, propped on kickstands. Even in this small city we find 50 bikes, mopeds, and motorcycles lined up beneath shelters at a train station. Nyon is close to Geneva and also on the primary line around large Lake Geneva, connecting several communities. Local commuters are comfortable leaving their secondary transportation behind. So, like them, we give little thought to the safety of our bikes and set out on foot.

View from the castle in Nyon. Photo credit: Panaramio by 
I enjoyed walking around town through narrow streets, poking inside stores, drooling over pastries in boulangerie windows. Andy and I follow a stairway winding downhill past a turreted castle to the waterfront. As with all Swiss towns we pass through, we imagine what it’s like living there – Nyon is no exception. Waterfront homes have always attracted us, but after inspecting signs in real estate windows, we have to chuckle at the multi-million dollar views. But still, it’s fun to look.

Back in Borex, it’s lovely to catch up with Belgium born Katty (old girlfriend of Andy’s brother) and husband, Martin.  We get a peek into the Swiss lifestyle.

A vineyard maison in Borex. Photo credit: Panoramio by Fonky Gecko
Housing is expensive in Switzerland – not only along Geneva’s waterfront. A single detached home goes for over a million; homes with lake frontage, for 11 million. Less expensive are the attached homes, like Martin and Katty’s, which would be classified as condo living in the U.S. Katty says the Arabs tend to own the shorefront property; the land is the costly part.

The Swiss pay 12% in government taxes –  living is okay – their wage higher than most countries. Small farms are subsidized. Farmers’ income is dependent on weather and crop prices. Our friends can’t imagine Switzerland joining the European Community. Farmers would then be on their own – a condition of the E.C.

Martin, Katty, and little Anabelle
(a mix of Swiss German and Belgian roots.)
Before dinner, we take a stroll to a neighboring village on flat, cement access lanes, In places the way is clogged with manure and dirt clumps. I help them push their daughter Anabelle in her stroller until she eventually falls asleep. The sun drops and haze settles over the vineyards and orchards. Towards the end of the walk we pick a few apples from trees. As we get to know Martin, I can see why Katty returned to Europe and is content with life in Borex.

A Swiss-style bunker. Photo credit:
There are grassed-over humps – obviously man-made – as we cross roads. The Swiss maintain these bunkers in case of nuclear war. There is one near Katty and Martin’s home. Inside are enough beds to house the people in their area. The Swiss require one year of military service from each male with 3 weeks each year thereafter. Martin laughed at the dichotomy. The country is the most peaceable country in Europe, claiming neutrality in both World Wars, yet they retain a military presence and underground bunkers. The government is strict with its service requirements too, he explains; skipping out can land a person in jail. A friend of Martins tried to reschedule his time because his wife was due with their first child. But the best the government will do is try to get him to her hospital (across the country) when the labor begins.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Necklace Completes the Set

I met my Girl's Night Out friends for our monthly get together at a restaurant. We laugh a lot, catch up on family events, kid happenings—the usual girly things. We swap gifts in December, a ritual I look forward to every year. My lady friends are pretty creative. A couple years back one friend had these wonderful earrings made for me. This time she presented the matching necklace. I'm still amazed at the artististic talent and patience required to intricately wrap all that wire to form spokes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dear Santa

I promise you, I've been really good this year. If you can't bestow world peace, what I really want for Christmas is:

1. A week of bike mechanic school. Not that I love to work on bikes, mind you, but in the right setting with a masterful teacher, (preferably good looking male, tall and thin) I would thrive. I know just the one: it's in Ashland, Oregon. Taking a class means I have to attend, thus I'm more apt to learn something. After the week is over, I plan to load up the panniers, head to the Pacific Coast, and ride north, then swing inland, following the Columbia River until I get to Portland. I aim to visit old friends and microbreweries.

2. A bike maid. In a perfect world my maid would retrieve my bike from the garage, wipe and lubricate the chain, dust the road dirt from frame and fenders, then knock on my front door, ready to hand my impeccably maintained machine to me. All I have to do is ride.

"Two large mocha lattes, please."
3. Endless cups of good coffee. With that I'd also need the ability to drink bottomless caffeinated drinks without getting the shakes. Jitters and spinning the dials on a combination bike lock equals not good.

4. Footwear that really keeps me warm. By that I mean shoes that fit in toe clips yet have built-in heat. I can never, ever keep my feet warm in the winter beyond a 30 minute ride. From the moment I get on the bike it's a steady decline, so if I start out with cold feet, it gets progressively worse. Nothing like frosted feet to relegate the bikes to storage before I really want to.

5. Santa, if you can't manage #1, I'd like a bike mechanic at my disposal. I was thinking about stowing the school instructor—Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome—in my closet. That way, he'll be handy when I need him. I promise to only use the guy for his intended purpose.

Your forever fan,
Ms. anniebikes

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two Halves Make a Whole

Searching for an alternative route behind Colchester High School.

I am lucky. Whether it's for a day ride or tour, I'd choose my husband over anyone for a companion. He taught me that to travel is to be, to explore. Not that we don't have goals, but the primary reason is the journey. There is no competition between us, which is the way I like it. I've always been on the slow side. He's the one tending the camp stove, pitching the tent, packing the car for extended trips. Standing still is torture for him so he does more than his share when it comes to getting us out the door.

I am into the details: deciding on food, water, enough stuff to keep me warm, worrying about accommodations. I teach my husband to notice flowers, birds, unusual trees, shapes of trunks. Or at least I look at it that way. I'm more verbal. Sometimes a veritable chatterbox and when we're alone he often gives me that look, which says "needing to talk, huh." It's a recognition, something only longtime companions understand. If I was to classify our relationship it would be that we began as a couple of adventurers and are still living out a lifelong trip.

Leaving the kids alone for a couple hours, my husband and I set out on a loop.

Once equal halves,
half of a cycling pair.
Two halves content for years,
but then while two halves
often spawn,
two extra halves.
All become quarters
of the pie.
Two young quarters branch,
chase horizons of their own,
no longer cradled in the dish.
So, bigger quarters set off
on brisk December ride.
once again
what it's like
to be two halves of a whole.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Switzerland - Ripe Vineyards and Views

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Click here for the Introduction.

Endless vineyards along Lake Geneva.

25 miles - Thursday, September 22

We hung out in the campsite for the better part of the morning, enjoying the warmth and solitude.  Andy and I had only a few miles to pedal before arriving in Borex, Katty and Martin’s town. We presumed they both worked and had received our postcard, so it seemed impolite to show up before late afternoon.

Andy and I eventually set out, following a bike route along Highway 1, the closest road to Lake Geneva. The water shone a dull blue in the haze; the surface rippled, whipped by a blessed tailwind.  With indoor life teasing us onward, hugs from an old friend, meeting her husband and young daughter for the first time – the miles in the saddle promised a sweet ending.

We lunched in a tiny village on a hill under a large oak tree, surrounded by grape vines. Andy and I munched a day old baguette. Nearby, a Saint Bernard strained his leash. He longingly eyed us – no doubt because of the food.  He was lanky, thin and muscular, unlike the portly variety seen in the U.S. When I finished, I went over to pet him. He liked my shoes and rolled over, bracing mighty front paws on my leg. He posed in that stance until Andy tried to take his picture. What a lovable creature. Then he lay on his side, holding one fore and hind leg in the air. I scratched his dirty belly. When I finally left him, I noticed that my black pants were covered in dog hair and grime. Poor dog needed a bath. And hopefully, I’d be doing some clean-up of my own.

A friendly Saint Bernard.
After lunch we continued on a narrow back road, cruising by sweet smelling apple and pear orchards, but for the most part through vineyards in harvest. Green netting protected the plump grapes from hungry birds. Wagons park beside the road, mounded with grapes. Row after row stretched downhill toward the lake, while uphill it’s a pleasing extension of more of the same endless, beautiful vines arching to higher villages. We were completely surrounded by grapes. The tanned pickers greet us with smiles and a friendly “Bonjour!”

Eventually we meander back to Highway 1, riding a separate bicycle lane into Nyon. From this lakeside city we turn inland to Borex. The community’s population hovers at 800. It’s located in a valley that rises up to the Juras, a 6,000 foot mountain range, shared by Switzerland and France. By way of three inquiries: at a post office, a store, and someone outside a home, we arrive at Katy and Martin’s residence, one of 8 connected houses, reminding me of condominiums.

A Philippino woman was taking care of blonde-haired Annabelle, who bore a smashing resemblance to Katty. It was a bit awkward with our limited French, but she expected our visit, so we made ourselves comfortable in the sun on the patio.  We’d been looking forward to reading our mail. Katty’s address was the first fixed place on our itinerary where family and friends could get in touch with us. Annabelle’s caregiver showed us our pile of mail and we spent an hour in delightful reverie.

Katty arrived first, then Martin, her tall, handsome husband. He has the large forehead of a European with intense blue eyes. His family is from the German speaking part of Switzerland, but moved to California when Martin was 7 years old. He spent 20 years in the States, and thus he surprisingly speaks like Andy and me without a trace of European accent. The two met while working at Proctor and Gamble in Geneva, where Katty is still employed, though Martin has since moved to an engineer’s position at a tobacco company.

Their home is comfortable. Our bikes are stowed in an unlocked garage below the house. It’s a safe place. The houses are nestled between a farm and a few buildings in central Borex.