Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ode to Grandpa and his Oil Can

My maternal grandfather died many years ago, but his bicycle legacy lives on through his collection of tools. Grandpa was a mechanical whiz, having worked for Shell Oil on Burlington's waterfront. Being too young, I do not recall his working years, except for the boxes of yellow Shell Oil pencils that he magically retrieved from his storage room in their home.

My wonderful memories are of my grandfather in his "retirement" as a bicycle mechanic. In a huge garage at the back of their property Grandpa amassed rooms of bicycles. Spray painted frames and wheels hung from the rafters; rows of bikes stood ready to be sold; a wheel stood at the truing stand; a wall of Maxwell House or Folgers coffee cans collected screws and bolts and washers. And the smell of oil permeated the entire place, as much from the workings of a bike shop as to the oil burner furnace that heated the garage in the winter.

I revered my grandfather. I spent countless hours perched on a red metal chair (the kind that has fold-out stairs) and watched the inner workings of his bicycle sanctum. After some time he let me hand him tools, locate screws, but mostly I watched or wandered among all the boxes of parts, fascinated with his world.

And so it was that after he went to bicycle heaven my husband and I went through his garage and collected his truing stand, wrenches, a rubber mallet that I recall him always using, but most especially his oil can - a Singer oil can - that he used to lubricate all his bikes.

It's probably my most prized memento of grandpa and I use it all the time, always with a wistful smile.

But there is another facet to this man. My grandfather was not a bicycle rider, except for testing his work. He loved the mechanics of bikes and the extra income helped out in retirement for nearly 30 years. He provided bikes for each of his grandchildren throughout their childhood.

Here is one of the last photos of grandpa (and me) at about 86 years old. He lived to be almost 90. On his gravestone there is an etching of a bicycle.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Maintenance Log

Years ago I decided to keep a maintenance log for all my bikes. I track replacement of chains, tires, adding racks or bike bling, or anything else of note.

It also shows how much I ride a particular bike or, in the case of my Ross, the year I bought it from a neighbor's garage sale. You can see my titles at the top of each page - I called the Ross a "Green/Black Bike".

I can tell that I resurrected the Miyata in 2009. The Miyata also has a new back wheel and freewheel of which I've been increasingly unhappy with, so the added benefit of a log is that I can also monitor that arrangement.

Does anyone else do something similar to this?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bread Delivery by Bike

On Monday evenings a local bakery delivers fresh bread by bicycle to our neighborhood. I especially like the sourdough or jalapeno cheddar. The baguettes are baked at 3 pm to insure freshness for the evening rounds.  Knowing how difficult it must be to pedal the weight of the trailer all over town, my children and I always ask if the rider needs their water bottle refilled.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cows on the Mooove

I've been leaving a few minutes earlier on my ride to work this past week to beat the impending heat. My timing coincided with a herd of dairy cattle that crosses the road from the barn to pasture. 

One man opens the fence and prods the cows with a stick to get them moving while the older farmer holds up the traffic.

The farmer used to have 150 head, but sold off 100 cows and land to fund his retirement - a common practice for Vermont's dairy farmers. His son is set up well though, he points out, to continue the business and he is thriving.

As the herd moves by and I dodge the piles of manure on the road, I realize how lucky I am to have a dairy farm along my commute, especially in heavily populated Chittenden county.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our Own Family Adventure Tour

Another mom and I organized our own overnight Family Bike Adventure. It was a hot weekend, but we were pleased that we didn't need to cancel because of rain.

There were five families. We set off in two groups. After 5 miles we took a break on the Winooski River Bridge to gobble granola bars.

The children enjoyed watching the teenagers jumping off the bridge. (The parents took a moment to teach about the dangers of that activity.)

Another mile of pedaling, then a nice break for water, more snacks, and some play.

I doused my shirt under the bathroom faucet.

I overheard one child tell his mom, "Can we do more of this riding and camping?" It was music to my ears. We hadn't even arrived at the campground and the 8 year old already knew he wanted to do more of this!

Four more miles (a total of 10 miles) and we arrived at the campground. Parents monitored the pool while some adults pedaled back to retrieve the car or set up tents.

We called ahead for Italian food, patronizing a local restaurant. I love how family eating can be a simple affair.

It's a nice group of families that mostly know each other. Some had attended last year's Local Motion sponsored event. 

A city park is next door, complete with playground, skateboard park, tennis courts, basketball courts, and beach.

The beauty of having a vehicle -  the children got to bring their favorite toys.

Breaks were a prerequisite in the heat.

One family brought S'more fixings and sparklers for after dark treats.

Early the next morning my husband and I set out for fresh bagels, juice, and a jug of coffee for all.

More pool time and beach time. The kids discovered a water pipe emptying onto the sand. Creative engineering ensued...
...while parents cooled off in the lake or rested in a shady spot on the lawn.

By mid morning I drove our vehicle home and pedaled back towards our group. I almost made it to the campground, but was glad I was able to capture this image of 11 parents and children on bikes. They were just beginning the 1/2 mile stretch that was on-road.

Minutes later we comfortably pedaled Colchester's new section of bike path. Later some of us split off from the main group for a swim in the lake or to enjoy creemees. I heard that two families went to Ben & Jerry's for a Vermontster. After all, it was National Ice Cream Day.

We had initially hoped to have 10 families attend, but many had alternative plans or needed a quiet weekend. As it turns out, our small group was perfect and made for less organization.

A link to our route: <>

Friday, July 15, 2011

Clear the Mind

My Miyata has a flat tire so I grabbed my Red Trek for the commute to work. The spongy seat, springy seat post, and the lower gearing lent a new twist to my ride. I discovered that my mind was more apt to wander. Wild daisies are sprouting along the roadside. I waved "hello" to more bike riders than I normally would have. I wonder if the more stable Trek, or just a change in bicycle, had anything to do with it.

On the ride home I pondered how I used to compose whole sentences while commuting - this was a time in my life when I was writing a novel, 20+ years ago. Descriptions jumped out at me in those "Aha" moments. When I got to work I jotted them on paper and the same when I pedaled homeward. The mental clarity was amazing.

Shasta Daisies from my garden.
And so it was that I also needed to process the death of a 12 year old, a classmate of my oldest son. I discovered that my son knew him only moments before I had to leave for work. The boy drowned in a popular swimming hole, a place my children had been at the previous week. As a parent, the how and why of such a tragedy belly flips in my brain, scrambling rational thoughts into pudding. Pedaling home helped me calm down and decide how best to help my son through the grieving. We will go to the memorial service. And coincidentally, we are also pedaling to a campground with other families that same day, an event that had been on the agenda for weeks. I hope the cycling, swimming, and camaraderie will help all of us move forward.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dog Days of Summer, Maple Creemees

We spend summer weekends at our family's camp on the lake. It's only 6 miles from home, but a world away from traffic, sirens, and the bustle of downtown Burlington. The solitude is lovely. For a while.

I can only read so much or help out with projects around camp to a certain point. I get antsy and set out on  a ride. My oldest son agreed to go with me if we could put our bikes on the bus for the steep 4 block uphill to the Church Street Marketplace.

After an errand and lunch at City Market we cruised downhill for the 4 mile ride back to camp. Later in the afternoon when the heat of the day becomes unbearable, we dip in the lake to cool off then set out as a family for the two mile pedal to get maple creemees.

Photo credit: Andy Gimino

Ahhh, lick, lick, lick. There isn't much conversation as we devour the delightful dessert. I always laugh at how fast my husband eats his. In his amazing speed lick fashion, there isn't time for the creemee to seep into the bottom of the cone! He detests the cardboard taste and throws that part in the trash.

Then it's meandering back to the lake, pedaling on dirt diversions through the woods, and eventually arrive at camp. Soon it's happy hour and I relax on the deck with sangria.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ferry to Ferry Ride

83 F, slight breeze

With the opening of the ferry crossing from Burlington to Port Kent, New York it's possible to ride some beautiful 50 mile loops along Lake Champlain. I went with three friends on the loveliest of Saturday mornings.

Aboard the Burlington to Port Kent ferry. One hour crossing.

The New York side can be quite hilly, but the roads are very quiet and often tree-lined, providing a respite from the sun.

After a lovely lunch on the outdoor patio of a restaurant, the remaining miles to the Essex ferry were past huge stone walls, an 1812 cemetery, lovely gentlemen farms, and renovated stone and brick farmhouses - almost all on a gentle downhill grade. Wealth poured into this area, unlike other struggling small communities on the New York side of the lake.

Ferry crossing from Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT. 20 minutes.

With the ride half over, we crossed to the Vermont side, climbing up and down more hills until heading northward towards Burlington. Conversation turned toward food as we realized we were all "foodies" - one of our group is an amazing Italian cook. I can personally attest to her delicious cannolis.

After such a successful and fun trip, I look forward to another ferry to ferry ride, this time on a more southward loop.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Burlington Bike Map

Photo Credit: Seven Days

Bike Maps Are So Hot  reads the headline of the recent Seven Days online blog. This is Burlington's swanky and often talked about weekly paper. The rag has jazzy ads and is big on the arts scene. It often covers anything to do with bicycling so I was thrilled to hear about the recent article by Lauren Ober. 


Burlington has waited for months for this new edition, and just in time too, as cyclists and vacationers have taken to the waterfront trail in hordes. The map also covers surrounding cities so when the mood strikes one can venture further, especially on the lesser used, but equally nice, South Burlington network.


Kudos to the Burlington Walk/Bike Council for making this map available to the public for FREE.

Sample of the map. Photo Credit: Seven Days

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th

85 degrees, Muggy

Around 1pm I set out for a ride along the waterfront. I noticed that Parks and Recreation opened up the damaged part of trail. 

The Patriot Flag was raised and suspended from a crane.The flag will be hoisted in 50 states in 50 days to honor the 9/11 victims and first responders.

It's become a tradition for our extended family to go en mass for a 4-mile ride from our summer camp, following a bike path to downtown Burlington for the fireworks show. It's a mad scramble to pump tires, duck tape flashlights to handlebars and get out the door.

 Red shirts seemed to be the color of choice this year.

We have a favored place to claim before the show that sets us apart from the 30,000 others. It's close to a bathroom and a picnic shelter, near the water's edge where the kids like to climb on rocks. At 8:30 a bi-plane performed acrobatics.

 All 11 bikes are locked and propped together along the wall.

I bring glow sticks for the kids, but the adults dig in and decorate themselves too. It's my personal quest to have everyone well light up for the dark ride back to camp. Each year my kids ask if I remembered to buy glow sticks, so the tradition carries on.

Ah, the lovely fireworks...

The ride home is a treat with pedestrians and cyclists communicating in the darkness. It's a slow ride through a sea of people. The camaraderie is astounding with total strangers on good behavior. There are many people hauling wheeled coolers, strollers, loud teenagers not walking a straight line, etc. and many without lights, but that's part of what makes it an adventure. We alert while riding up from behind "Eleven bicyclists coming up on your left!" At one point our youngest son was leading and got too far ahead, so my husband picked up the pace to reign him in. Two teenage cousins in our group giggled and talked the whole way. Some of us accidentally went through puddles. I think I had a grin on my face the entire time.

My 9 year old seemed to sum up the evening perfectly, "I think I like the bike ride just as much as the fireworks."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sally's Bike, 1988 Peugeot U.S. Express

Three weeks ago I located a bike for my sister-in-law through Craig's List. It's a 1988 Peugeot US Express, one owner, barely ridden, with index shifting, 18 speed - all for 40.00.

The frame is in great shape - that's unusual for the age of this machine. It had been stored in a garage.

I love the pretty color and nice graphics.

The head label and white cables are attractive.

I hand-sanded some surface rust on the derailleur, wheels, and a few bolts. I discovered that 150-grit sandpaper works very well. Because the bike had sat so long in the garage, I lubricated every bolt, joint, pivot point, and chain until the shifting worked smoothly again. I also re-greased the wheel bearings and freewheel (had the bike shop remove the freewheel). The brake pads were still fine - I only ran some sandpaper over the pads. There wasn't any chain-stretch, but I reattached a disconnected side of a link. The wheels were perfectly true with tight spokes. The only thing I didn't mess with was the crank, other than running a rag along the cogs

I am a big fan of cantilever brakes, mostly because I understand the mechanics and feel I can adjust these on the spot. An interesting feature of the rear brake is this pulley system. I think it's there because of the frame angles and the brake needs to pull upwards, but maybe someone else can comment about this. I discovered that to adjust the seat (does not have quick release) I loosen and re-tighten the right hand bolt. This affects the brake positioning because the bolt is connected to the pulley - something you wouldn't see with modern cantilever brake systems. Sally and I figured that once the seat is in correct placement, it's a minor adjustment with the left-hand bolt to reset the pulley and brake pads. It's odd, I know, but she'll most likely never adjust her seat more than once.

She already has a nice rattan bag that I gave her last Christmas, but I couldn't resist this one too. Again, I added leather dog collars (cut to correct length, punched out more holes, and  Krazy-glued the cut ends to prevent fraying) to attach the bag to the handlebars or rack.

The blue flowers on the bag coordinate well. I replaced the spongy hand grips with black leather ones. I think it adds a bit of class.

With new, narrower tires she'll have a quicker ride. My sister-in-law is not an avid cyclist, but with their home now near a bike path, she's been riding considerably more. I added a back rack, water bottle holder, and fenders from our stash of bike parts.

Total Cost = 81.00, breakdown below:
  • Purchase of bike = 40.00
  • Leather grips = 8.00
  • Tires (Nashbar, two pair) = 24.00
  • Remove freewheel = 5.00
  • Bag and straps = 4.00
 Merry Christmas, Sally!