Thursday, March 23, 2017

Adapting is Key for an Enjoyable Commute in an Evolving Climate

Last week I rode to work the day before Hurricane Stella dumped 29" of snow in our region. Then spring-like conditions prevailed, melting half of the storm accumulation. This week I've endured icy bike paths - which I walked a good deal to remain safe - and this morning I bundled up for a ride in heavenly sunshine, albeit in 3 degree, windless weather.

This is not fickle March weather in Vermont. This is the new reality of global warming, where extreme weather shifts means regular bike commuters must take precautions. Expect the unexpected. Pay attention to daily forecasts and morning conditions before heading out the door. Keep a range of outerwear handy and a back up plan for getting home, should daytime weather drastically shift, causing unsafe conditions for a two-wheeled commute.

I've accepted that I may need to overdress in a down parka for frigid morning commute, but leave it unzipped in the afternoon. It's all about adapting and being safe!

How has the changing climate affected your commutes? What is your back up plan?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rivendell's Clementine - A Brilliant US Market Move?

Rivendell's Clementine, a solid, tour-ready, step-over bicycle,
designed for those seeking long-term comfort on and off-road.

Intentional or not, the Clementine (aka Clem-L) is uniquely poised to capture folks that desire a reasonably priced (1500.00), strong step-through (or step-over) bike that can handle wider tires.

In my opinion, of course!

I believe there's a market for aging baby boomer cyclists, or for those with discomfort on a diamond frame. But only someone who is committed to research, will wade through US options and come to a similar conclusion.*

My own search for a step-through touring bike started with knowing I liked the frame geometry and low gearing of 1980's steel mountain bikes. There were a handful of models specifically marketed to women - Ross and Peugeot come to mind - but try finding those models today, especially in sizes larger than 19". Most are rarer than hen's teeth! So it was time to look beyond our borders...

The Swedish Pilen Lyx. Photo credit: Pilen Lyx

The stately Canadian Urbana. Photo credit: Lovely Bicycle

Intrigued with the Pilen Lyx, and to some degree, the stout Urbana, there was comfort in knowing that other folks were desiring a strong step-through commuter machine, if not a touring bicycle. This was in 2011, long before the Clementine's arrival in 2015, and just when I began to formulate the idea of transitioning to a step-through touring bicycle.

A couple years later, commuting regularly on Ross Mount Saint Helen's, and enjoying the ease of step-through design, this cemented my decision to seriously research my options. In early 2015, the Clementine model was pre-sold to buyers, some waiting nearly 6 months for arrival. I was skeptical of the pre-ordering concept, considering I couldn't test ride the bicycle, so I looked elsewhere, but still followed with interest the Clementine and eagerly waited riders' first impressions.

The Ross outfitted for a simple overnight camping adventure.
I looked into a custom built step-through, but as I suspected, models could not compete with my 1500.00 budget. (Calculating a "budget" based on the Clementine's pricing was a starting point - the last new bike cost me 350.00 in 1986!) However, it was interesting to note European options - none of which made sense within my price-point - but confirmed growing interest in the style, at least for Europeans.

Grant 's Clementine. Photo credit: Rivendell
It's no surprise that I eventually gravitated to the Clementine. Glowing feedback, unavailability in regional bike shops, and with much research and angst, I followed suit ordering the bike - sight unseen - and I'm now a proud owner of a Clementine. I don't regret my decision, but I'm still fine-tuning the fit and need to test the machine on hilly touring miles - a plan for 2017.

Rivendell is offering colors to please both genders, and indeed there's a growing male contingent (even Grant Peterson himself - I realize it pays to promote your own products!) who are finding the Clementine (or Clem-L) a versatile and practical machine. However, I had an interesting conversation with a Rivendell sales person who confirmed that only 1 of 5 Clems sold are the Clementine (or Clem-L) model.

Whether the Clementine becomes a sought after machine is another story. Rivendell's principles are built on producing small quantities, creating beautiful and practical bicycles, "bucking trends and making friends" without all the marketing fuss. There are only a handful of  US dealers, and unless you live in California or near Portland, Oregon, forget counting on a test ride - a deal-breaker for many people. Order online and taking a leap of faith may be your only option.

And I wonder if the model suffers from the stigma associated with a "womens'" frame, especially in the US. Baby boomer riders could benefit from this style, but it may be a big pill to swallow. And new bike riders wouldn't necessarily spend 1500.00 when they can purchase a beginner bike elsewhere for 500.00.

But for those aging regular cyclists, I believe the Clementine is the best of both worlds: a sturdy, comfortable frame with ample clearance for front and rear racks plus fenders, that can haul camping gear, water bottles. etc. - all for a reasonable price. I suspect this may be the last new bicycle I buy - at least I hope so!

*Is the Clementine the only candidate for this unique role? If not, let me know in the comments. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bike Blog Love - 5th Edition

Every year I seek out new bicycle blogs to follow. Here's my annual ode to a new (or at least new to me) batch of two-wheeled bloggers. Spread the link love!

Mr. Frivolous Cycling is a transportation cyclist in California and also enjoys unplanned outings. His goal this year is to complete a 45 mile charity ride. The heck with traditional training and hill sprints! Humorous and independent, I enjoyed his "tab" on bikes: he owns only one bicycle and it's my kind of color - purple!

Bikes For The Rest of Us

The blog has been around a while, but I've discovered it recently, stumbling on a Miyata Ridge Runner, which the blog describes as "RUB".....stands for Retro Urban Bike or Retro Utility Bike.
Bikes for the Rest of Us reviews practical bicycles - the blog title says it all.

Simply Cycle
I stumbled on this blog while researching Rivendell's Bosco bars. Marc hails from Michigan and is a part-time teacher. He taught some magic recently, opening teenage minds in The mouths of babes.

What This Bike Needs
Lizzie lives in England (I think) and has a penchant for sewing and cycling. She rides a step through bike - a woman after my own heart - and doesn't let hills stop her, last fall completing the Coffeeneuring Challenge.

It's All an Adventure
A long distance bus driver squeezing in rides wherever possible. I like his appreciation for wild life.

Riding the Mindway
Another Iowan, who rides as much as possible throughout the winter.

Citizen Rider
 A fellow New Englander, who loves the off season for skiing, works in a bike shop, and had the misfortune of thieves violating his home. While not a pleasant experience for anyone, I enjoyed his heartfelt portrayal of the awful day. May cafiend have a better 2017.

Max, the Cyclist
A gung ho young cyclist and bike packer who does his own hacks, uses practical gear and racks (basket packing), and has a spiffy blog. I discovered the Soma Lucas front rack through this blog, certainly a consideration for my Clementine.

Keep walking, even if it's steep
I've followed Jim's writing and adventures for many years. Jim owns three very practical bicycles and lives in Estes Park, CO. He's not a regular writer, but I enjoy reading his stuff when he does. Jim is not afraid to work on his own bicycles.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Breathing and Cycling

How do you breathe when cycling? Do you breathe strictly through your nose, your mouth, or a combination of the two?

The question came up one evening, the cold air feeling painful in my throat as I struggled homeward, still reeling from a lengthy bout of sickness. If felt great to be bike commuting again but I realized that my usual mode of breathing - inhaling through my mouth - was uncomfortable. I resorted to 30 second bursts of breathing through my nose, then resorted to gulping air by mouth, repeating the cycle until I made it home.

I compared "breathing" notes with my husband. He only breathes through his nose while cycling and with any intense effort, like struggling up a short hill, might he open his mouth for extra oxygen. Completely opposite of me! I rely on mouth breathing, mostly, but will momentarily close my mouth on summer evenings when pedaling through a cloud of insects.

There are certainly benefits to breathing through the nose: filtering particles like dust, and in the instances of tender throat, pre-warming, pre-moistening the air before it reaches your lungs. I suspect I probably suffer from light nasal congestion, perhaps allergens, etc. so I've never been able to feel like I get enough oxygen strictly inhaling through my nostrils. And when I think about it, even when walking. There must be something about being outdoors that causes me to react this way because when I'm indoors or sleeping I prefer to breath through my nose. Either way, I'm not too bothered by my reaction because I manage cycling just fine!

With a cursory search on the Internet it seems that pro cyclists breathe through their noses and expel breath similar to yoga techniques for optimal efficiency. Not that I hold stock with the pros, but it is interesting, nonetheless.

I'm curious though, for everyday cycling, how do you breathe?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Colchester Streets Challenge - The Beginning

Like two years ago where I completed Burlington's Streets, my challenge in 2017 is to pedal all of neighboring Colchester's public roads. I contemplated cycling South Burlington roads last year, but my heart wasn't in leaving Lake Champlain for trips inland. Most of my weekend rides begin from our family's lakefront camp, so it made sense to add Colchester to the list. Colchester is easily accessed by bike path - a northern continuation of Burlington's waterfront trail - plus Colchester has it's own growing network of trails. Because of it's sprawling land mass (58 square miles, 1/3 water views) I can also set off from home to get to the southern portion of the city.

My husband claims it will be a more daunting challenge without streets in close proximity, but I see the opposite. I see an opportunity to ride to one neighborhood and complete all streets in one trip, whereas Burlington's grid pattern meant I retraced my route numerous times to insure I completed every single street. Whether or not Colchester has more street miles than Burlington is unconfirmed, but I don't have a problem with the miles either way, and neither do I feel the urge to compare the two regions.

Colchester has long suffered from an identity problem. There is no core, but instead there are districts: Mallett's Bay, Airport Park, Porter's Point, Mallet's Bay Avenue, Kellogg/Severance/Blakely Road, Route 2A and 7, and a small northern hamlet that feels more like Milton than Colchester.  In the upper northeast quadrant of the map, there's a segment of Brigham Hill Road I may need to access from my mom's home in Essex to fulfill my quest.

I printed a Colchester street map from the city's website in 8.5 x 11" sections so I can easily read street names, plus I will only need to tote a few sheets at a time on my bike. I'm less inclined to document every street name like I did two years ago. I see this year's challenge as a looser arrangement, perhaps only highlighting each street finished on the map. For me, the framework is more about riding on roads I haven't been on in a long time and discovering new neighborhoods. The task itself should motivate me to see what's around the corner!