Monday, April 29, 2013

Italy - A Train Ride, Navigating Rome in Darkness

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Click here for the Introduction.

A Tuscan vineyard. Photo Credit: Tuscan Vineyard, Lillem Stone.
5 - miles, Thursday, October 13

All packed, we tootle through congested Florence, a bit frazzled when we arrive at the train station well ahead of departure time. Unlike the clear signage in Magenta, the Florence schedule lacks the symbol designating which trains allow baggage – or bicycles, in this instance – and we inquire with a conductor. We understood enough of his response to pick up “no trains”. Andy and I look at each other. We've already bought tickets. We must get on a train bound for Rome. We bug the man several more times – it's clear he's looking for a bribe, and we'd been warned that it's prevalent in southern Italy – but we're determined not to pay a penny. The official finally relents and we roll bikes on board, red-faced and exhausted, but relieved.

Despite the hassle, the train leaves on schedule. The rolling Tuscan countryside is idyllic. Vineyards, the hills, the chateaus, the dry climate - these are the perfect companions for a two week holiday by bike, the kind tour companies advertise. The three-hour ride was less than relaxing though. Traveling through numerous tunnels, we constantly yawn to alleviate pressure in our ears. Just when I think it's safe to close my eyes, my heart leaps when the roar of an oncoming train blasts by, sucking curtains out open windows. It's a noisy journey. By the time the train stops at the Roma Termini rail station we've arrived into a much drier and flatter climate, full of sandy soil. Conifers are a thing of the past. But, hopefully, so is the rainy season too.

The Tiber River at night. Photo credit: David Ever,
It's 5:30 by the time we assemble the bikes on the platform and walk through crowds in the station. It's rush hour in a new city. I take a deep breath, place the accident in Florence in the far corners of my mind, and try not to be intimidated. It's growing dark. Honking traffic is snarled, one way streets abound, and we need our wits to navigate 6k to a hostel.
With directions from pedestrians we work our way across old Rome to the Tiber River. Riding at night without lights is scary and takes a lack of brains, but we now fit in with the local traffic.  -Andy
There is a certain mystique about entering a huge city for the first time. Despite the frightening circumstances, I catch glimpses of Roman ruins, spectacular fountains, buildings with amphitheater-like steps cascading to street level. Much like Paris, antiquities are amplified by darkness, lit with spotlights, emphasizing their ethereal presence. Among all this beauty there are several accidents, one involving a moped. And suddenly there are thousands of people with placards, yelling, apparently on strike. Police in armored vehicles, or standing with riot gear and machine guns, control the crowds and divert traffic. It's a crazy introduction to Rome, loud and hectic, yet exciting too, even if I feel vulnerable on two wheels.
I have this test of “the system” and pushing the edge sometimes. I like going up to armed military and policemen to ask questions and/or directions. Maybe it makes me feel, in a minor way, like it breaks down the wall a bit between the average citizen and the guys who keep the bad elements in check. Yesterday in Florence I talked with the police guarding the US Consulate office. They carried machine guns and wore bullet proof vests. At the strikers' rally in Rome, I asked if we could pass through their police barricade or if we had to follow the auto detour.-Andy
Two hours later we reach the hostel, which is near the Olympic Stadium. We settle in, take a shower. Afterward, I'm keyed up. Florence in the morning; Rome at nightfall. Andy and I pour over maps and ready ourselves for exploring more of this ancient city.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Schwinn Must Go

Despite my initial excitement with the Schwinn Super Sport that I acquired a few months ago, I've decided to purge this bike from our garage. It requires a ton of work and money to restore it to its full glory. Better that someone more capable tackle this project. The 22" frame is too big for me. That's the clincher. I'll try advertising on Craig's List. I hope to trade for a bike, a nice seat, basket, panniers, tires—something for my trouble.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Ride at Hampton Beach

The Hampton Beach boardwalk, in high season it's a frenzy of sun-seekers.
On vacation with our children we took advantage of good weather to enjoy a brief stay at the ocean. Hampton Beach (New Hampshire) in the off-season is blissfully quiet. While the boys were occupied in the hotel one morning, The Hub and I headed out along the boardwalk, crossed a bridge into Seabrook for a couple miles, explored a ramp over a dune, then pedaled north, enjoying the solitude, the breakers, squawking gulls, unique beach cottage styles, and dodged walkers cradling cups of coffee.

Ah, sunshine at the beach in April.

Early morning long shadows.

Climbing over a dune for a view.

Turnaround point in North Hampton.

Morning temps hovered in the 40s F. but were pleasant enough. I braved it without full fingered gloves and then didn't need them when we headed back on a tailwind.

The East Coast Greenway is a marked long distance route from Maine to the Florida Keys.
I noticed the East Coast Greenway signage. After recently reading an article in Adventure Cycling about the ECG, I didn't expect that we'd suddenly be riding its path.

What's the difference between digging in wet and dry sand?
I love interesting signs, especially ones that don't make sense to someone new to the area.

There are signs with obvious messages...

,,,and ones that are downright funny.

An hour and a half later we arrived to find our children in the same position we left them in: all goggly-eyed over their digital devices, but now ready to east breakfast.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Riding with the Boy

That's our youngest boy on the left. He's full of energy, willing to try anything, and often accompanies me on a ride. Ringing his bell as he passes. Giving plenty of clearance. Holding a straight line. Finally, he's at the stage where he's safe riding in traffic, something me must do before we arrive at the waterfront path. He stays clear of the door zone though he skids at most every stop sign, just because he can.

Skinny legs, stained shirt, and mismatched socks, but full of raw, boy power. He does a momma proud.

*500th post. Wow. Where does the time go?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Montreal in March

Across the street from our hotel on Sherbrooke Avenue.
A late snowstorm hung around in Montreal in the form of snow banks, but that didn't keep the locals off their bikes. We as visitors, on the other hand, were on foot.

I saw guys on mountain bikes.

Bicycles are primary transportation for McGill University students.

 I love street art. This one was larger than life, a McGill student on an Apple laptop.

From the other side it got more interesting. There are remnants of a fast food lunch, half eaten by an enterprising squirrel. If you peer over the student's shoulder Apple's news of Steve Job's death is indelible on his screen. I recall that day quite clearly as the news splashed across my work Mac. A striking black and white image of The Man and tombstone dates. Pretty powerful stuff.

Disbelief written all over his face, which seems to say how we all felt.

A parting shot. A bike parted from it's owner. A bike parted out to thieves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bike Blog Love Challenge

Monday's regularly scheduled programming is preempted this week to spend time with our children.
We can all use a little bike link love. Time to explore new writing, pictures, adventures, bikes, and faces. My personal quest was to comment on one new blog a day for a week. Easy enough. There are plenty of options: check the Follower List, scan the Blog Roll, or peruse the Link Panel of other's blogs. Often a title piques my interest.

I discovered it's difficult to find male writers that inspire. I covet the one at the end of this list. For the most part guy's blogs are too gnarly, too much lycra, full of fat bikes and beer, or speed demons, rough language—too testosterone laden for me. I identify more easily with a circle of women.

The Betty Way of Things
I learned there are locking skewers. Betty likes "yardsailing"— love that term—as much as I do. She rides a bike named Lucy. Betty has an Etsy shop, selling refashioned jewelry and colorful, striking original paintings.

Books biscuits, and bicycles
A Sydney, Australia rider who often has children in tow. Title says it all. Books, yes. Biscuits, yes-the Aussie kind, which are unique to someone from the U.S. (and if he talks about Vegemite also than I'm in heaven. I confess to eating this strange gooey paste almost daily)

Lael's Globe of Adventure
Heavy on photography, I like the simplicity of this site. Adventure is paramount. Lael moves around on her bike and is a runner too.

Big Orange Bike
I love orange and would someday like to own an orange bike (purple too). She has a Yuba Mundo. The author is pregnant with their third child so I'm not sure how often she'll post. After all, family comes first.

Bikes, the Universe and Everything
From Saskatchewan, Canada, I like the collection of older bikes: Raleighs, Peugeots, a Raleigh Twenty. Down to earth writing.

America the Beautiful: A Circumnavigation
Stunning photography and expressive words by a woman traveling around the Untied States by car, but with a bicycle in tow. A journey of the heart and soul.

Pedaling in Place
Finally, a blog by a guy. From New York City. Descriptive, poetic prose. Lots of world adventures. Nice photography.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Is the Scooter the Next Commuter?

Alternative transportation is popular among the college age crowd in Burlington. A neighbor is reviving a 1970's Puch moped; snow boards are fitted with wheels and ridden like an elongated skateboard; it's common to see old 3-speeds and 10 speeds everywhere. With most students living within 1-3 mile radius to campus, even scooters are making a comeback.

I love this simple machine locked to a pole. At first glance, it's a big glamorous scooter. Take a second look and it becomes a bicycle with platform between the wheels. I couldn't tell if the scooter was fashioned from a bike frame—it has flat mountain bike-style handlebars, 26" wheels, and there are no decals. However, the paint job is pristine and the welds top notch. I can't imagine it's a hack job done in some one's garage. Possibly, it's a prototype.

On the transportation front, while it's not practical like the Razor-type scooter that can fold up into a package and tote into class, it has redeeming qualities. It's a marriage between bicycle and scooter. The posture is more upright than cramped Razor scooters, better suited to an adult. Kick for a long glide in comfort. Squeeze the brake levers to slow down or stop. Easily ridden. But it must remain outside, of course, locked up just like a bicycle.

So why choose this scooter over a bike? I presume it has something to do with it's novelty. A statement. Just like the student camp outs to raise awareness to world hunger, or fields of flags that resemble deaths in each U.S. war. Whatever the reason, I'd sure like to give that cool machine a go.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Let's Applaud the Street Sweeper

I get excited when the street sweeper has made its first pass through Burlington. It means I can pedal smooth, debris free asphalt—at least for a week until refuse and dirt convene curbside again. Instantly, the Hallelujah Chorus tune pops into my head.

If you haven't seen this surprise singing of the Hallelujah Chorus in a food court, take a peek.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Published! It Made My Day.

This week's feature in is our Anniversary Bike Overnight trip completed last summer. This version is shortened to fulfill publication requirements, so if you want to read the article in its entirety, click here.

Bike Overnights is a resource of Adventure Cycling. Not everyone can pedal cross country or may be overwhelmed with a week long adventure. This site is packed with information to inspire the first time bike traveler to try a one or two night trip. There are packing lists, ideas for an overnight close to home, photos and chronicles of others who've done it. If you want to explore by bike, but have questions or need encouragement, check out this valuable resource.

If you have an adventure to share, go ahead and submit your own article. The more we spread the word, the more bike overnighters on the road. That's a good thing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Italy - Florence and The Accident

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays.
Click here for the Introduction.

Photo taken from Plaza Michelangelo. Plaza Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore's
 red dome) in the distance.
10 - miles, Wednesday, October 12

I hit a parked car this morning.

I looked up and the vehicle was dangerously close. My right front pannier caught first, jerking it off the rack. Then the bar end scraped across the trunk top. My leg slammed into the bumper. I jolted to a stop, catching myself from falling into the heavy traffic. Egads. My heart thumped in my chest. I couldn't believe what just happened. In a second my leg began throbbing. I grabbed the dislodged pannier and somehow hobbled to the sidewalk.

I'd been following Andy through morning traffic along narrow streets. Andy said he'd heard the crash and had doubled back. Thankfully, I can walk. My leg doesn't seem too bad, but bruised for sure. The low-rider rack is warped, now listing left of center, but nonetheless, functional. The pannier is fine; it had unhooked and the hardware is still intact.

We discreetly checked the damaged vehicle. I had scratched the black paint. Immediately I was inclined to contact the owner, but there was the language barrier, time, and money. I could only imagine the hassle. The pannier and my leg took the brunt of impact. It really was just a scratch. Fortunately we hadn't attracted any attention. Probably not a huge deal in the scope of Italian driving. Andy and I decided to leave. I was still shaking though, and regained the road with caution.

Privately, I think this is Anne's guerrilla tactic of hitting the enemy when their defenses are down-unmanned parked cars. We feel vulnerable on the road. Cars cut our margin of safety. In cities, add parked car doors opening in front of us and our stress climaxes. After the accident, Anne was shaky, giving parked vehicles 8 feet of clearance. -Andy

Not long after, Andy suggested we stop for pastry. We nursed my confidence over a couple apple strudels, relaxing until I could rejoin the wits-about-you harried traffic. Then it was off to the rail station, and after shuffling through 3 lines we bought tickets for tomorrow evening's train to Rome. Rail travel with bicycles is reasonable, which is a good sign as we'll need another connection in southern Italy.

Florence is similar to other Italian cities: bustling, congested, noisy, designed on a narrow street plan it accommodates – just barely – all the traffic. A frenzy of cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, scooters, and bikes all vie for limited asphalt space, which must drive anyone negotiating the streets, a little crazy. Though I was still leery of traffic, by the time we navigated to the campground, I had shed any reluctance at leaving the scene of the accident.

We left the bikes double-locked at the campsite, a pleasing place with olive trees, conveniently on a hillside overlooking the heart of Florence. There were red-tiled roofs and white stucco walls as far as the eye could see. It was good to be on foot.

Florence is situated on the Arno River. First, we wandered along the ridge to Plaza Michelangelo to orient ourselves with the map and views of the city below. Then descended stairs and curved roads to Pont Vecchio, the only bridge Hitler's army didn't bomb upon retreat. It's a multistory stone structure with goldsmith shops at street level. Sculling crews ply the waterway as we entered the heart of Florence, wandering the promenade.

Replica of Michelangelo's David.
Streets are very narrow. It's a profusion of 4-5 story buildings. Top floors are homes, often with laundry hung from special racks beneath windows. There are old churches, palaces, and museums. Many overlook their own plazas; this space allows us to grasp the magnitude and charm of the lovely marble structures. I spy Michelangelo's replica of David outside a museum, but we bypass the chance to visit the real statue and art gallery inside. There are so many alleys to drift through that I don't want to be stuck inside for too long.

Plaza Duomo. We climbed to the top of the red dome.
The Plaza Duomo is the highlight of our day. We explore the 800 year old Baptistery of Saint John church then discover we can ascend Santa Maria del Fiore's enormous red dome. For 5,000 Lira each we duck into a short passageway and climb 463 worn stone steps, spiraling up the “exterior” of the dome. It's a bit claustrophobic, yet somehow the coolness of the stone is inviting. At the top we exit to a balcony for sweeping views. Giotto's Bell Tower, a square edifice with numerous windows and statues, is marvelously close - an enchanting vantage from this height.

Andy at the top of the dome.

Special view of Giotto's Bell Tower. My favorite picture of Florence.
Descending the worn stairway inside the dome.
Other insights by Andy:
Interesting Italian feature: two machine gun guards stand outside bank entrances. Apparently, mafia problems are dealt with seriously. I don't want to be around when those guns go off.
    Our Italian meal plan:
  • 6 a.m. Breakfast of polenta or oatmeal with fruit, coffee, maybe bread.
  • Mid-morning – bread and jam or margarine, yogurt and/or fruit
  • 11 -12 Lunch – bread, jam, cheese. Fruit and/or yogurt
  • Mid-afternoon – bread or cookies
  • 5-6 p.m. Dinner – pasta with tomato or pesto sauce, vegetables (onion,garlic, spinach) tea or coffee 
  • Late evening – snack, if still hungry.
Picked up the Herald Tribune today for our dose of international news. There's a major news story of renewed U.S.-Iraq sword rattling. During the Gulf War I recall U.S. launched airstrikes from Turkey too. That's of growing concern. We hope to travel to Turkey in a few weeks. -Andy

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why You Should Ride in Early Spring

1. Smile like you're having a good time, even if it's through gritted teeth. Don't let on that anything hurts, not the butt, quads, or that special spot between your shoulder blades. Holding a permanent smile (but don't forget to breathe) alerts automobile drivers, even other cyclists that you are confident, fit (fake it), and having the time of your life. Smiles are infectious. People will wonder what they're missing by driving a car.

2. Get your butt out the door and ride when it's cold. Grab a hat, warm gloves, dress in layers. If you don't own adequate clothing, raid your kids' crayon colored hand knit mittens, that raccoon or bunny eared hat. Long wool socks can double to look like leg warmers. Riding in cold weather isn't as bad as you think. I know from personal experience that I can ride for 20 minutes and have warm feet. Most commutes are no longer than that.

3. Drivers are more tolerant in early Spring. It's true. Practice those lane maneuvers, pace line riding, or short trips to the mall when drivers are more patient and give you a wide berth. Later, as bike handling skills improve you'll assert yourself and hold your head high—and in a better frame of mind to handle irate drivers.

4. Coast all downhills. What are you trying to prove in April?

5. Don't let uphills get you down. Shift early, spin a few revolutions then stand in the pedals before you crest the hill. A little oomph outweighs that steady thigh-burning early season angst. Plus, you can see over the hill a second earlier than if you remain seated. It's better for your psyche.

6. Shape up those legs before short's season begins. Do yourself a favor. Toned muscles are less embarrassing on pasty-white legs because—let's face it—someday we have to wear shorts. Better muscle definition will be easier to tolerate when that awful (but welcome) transition occurs.

Put your head down, carry on. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Red Armstrong Bicycle

I walk by this bike rack on the university campus several times a week. This Armstrong bike captured my fancy. I like red. This bicycle exudes RED, for one thing. There's more to it than color, of course. I like the sprung saddle, the simple chain guard, and matching red rack. The simple chain ring and rubber pedals are definitely old and classy and I imagine are original components. Chrome fenders and newer red grips compliment it's compelling style.

But for all its charm this is an abused bike, residing like many others throughout winter on campus. It sat hub-high in a snow bank. I find it laying on its side occasionally until someone strong-arms it (sorry, I had to use that term) back upright. And for all it's glory, I wonder how much it gets ridden. The chain is rusted. It never changes position in the rack. Possibly, it's abandoned for the remainder of the school year.

Fun speedometer, simple 3-speed shifting.

Art Deco decal.

Nice seat, interesting integrated rack with spring, nice lugged steel frame. Alloy wheels
are worthy updates. New gumwall tires blend in with the old school bike.

Noticing the yellow Old Spokes Home label on the down-tube is a reminder that this bike was at one time reconditioned and worthy—this shop does not fix up anything that's junk—and possibly could be a sparkling ride again. 3-speed ride anyone?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Gold Star for Me?

Love the card that came with the gift, also.
I'm tickled to receive this nice embroidered gold star for completing the Errandonnee Challenge put on by chasing mailboxes d.c. Actually, I'm honored that the host included me at all. I finished the mileage and prescribed categories, but failed at pedaling after dark.

The star is approximately two inches in diameter. I'd like to place it on a pannier or bag. I just need to figure out where it will look nice.

My ride entries:
Errandonnee or Cycling as Usual?
Errandonnee, Cold Feet
Errandonnee, Third Time = Success!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

With the Hub on His Commute

A dreamy ride along the Winooski River.
I mentioned to my husband how I'd like to ride with him someday on his commute. And just like that, the following day promised fine weather, our youngest boy felt okay with staying home alone for an hour (though that was a last minute decision on his part), until older boy arrived, and I scampered out the door to catch a shuttle bus to Waterbury.

I almost missed The Hub. He was pedaling away from me across his workplace parking lot, but I frantically waved and yelled. Thank goodness, he eventually noticed me. That's the last time I talk someone's ear off on a bus ride and forget to call ahead.

The fifteen mile ride from Waterbury to Richmond along The River Road is the quietest, dreamiest ride you could ask for. It makes my ride to work resemble a freeway. There are houses along the way: converted barns, one schoolhouse charmingly now a home, double-wide trailers, and also a few rundown places sprouting derelict automobiles, but thankfully, no subdivisions. Mostly, the road hugs the Winooski River, includng a nice 4-mile dirt section.

The Round Church in Richmond. Many weddings occur here every year.
I made The Hub stop for an obligatory blog photo, which turned out to be fortuitous. Just below where we propped our bikes against the guardrail, two beavers swam in the river. One promptly darted away; the other smacked his tail in warning and dove under water. Considering my husband's moose siting last year, I shouldn't be so surprised.

That's The Hub in yellow slicker behind the crosswalk sign.
Once in Richmond, we pedal across the red bridge and end our ride, then place the bikes on our car's rack for the 15 minute drive home.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Italy - Tuscany at Last

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays.
Click here for the Introduction.

50 - miles, Monday, October 10

We left Ferrara early. Andy and I felt as drab as the overcast sky. The weather affects us more than we might otherwise have guessed.

By noon we enter Bologna. I love the name, picturing lots of meat products, but we tend to avoid those items, not only because of Andy's diet. I wouldn't know how to preserve any leftovers, nor would I cook it in our shared pots. It seems best to avoid meat altogether. We both crave fresh vegetables, love cheese and bread, though the airy Italian bread is pretty lightweight and doesn't fill our bellies as much as we hoped. Andy says, “The crumbs alone might solve the world hunger problem.”

After Bologna we start climbing towards the hills. The change of pace feels good. It's been a long time since we spent hours spinning in granny gears. If our map is any indication, tomorrow's ride to Florence (Firenze) should be full of exciting, twisting roads.

I made a tasty zucchini and garlic red sauce, adding fresh basil for pizazz. We bought a Gaz stove in Venice. These are popular in Europe because you can buy fuel canisters most anywhere. It's incredibly easy too. A single match ignites the burner with instant blue flame. It's a quiet stove also. I now enjoy cooking, once again.

With days hovering around 60 F., we straddle seasons. More rain would be disheartening. We'll check into hopping a train from Florence to Rome.
52 - miles, Tuesday, October 11

Tuscany at last!

We left early after a disappointing evening at a 4-star campground. No hot water meant no showers. It was also expensive. Best to look ahead and pedal towards Florence.

We climb from one valley to another, riding along an open hillside. It's good to test our legs again. My fanny is less sore, pedaling hilly terrain. I tend to shift around on the seat, or maybe my mind is preoccupied, wondering what's around the next corner. It's a welcome reprieve.

Villages cluster on the horizon in every available open space. Red roofs. Tan or white walls. Newly plowed fields darken the landscape in a patchwork pattern. Tractor engines rattle. Wine bottles pile in a corner of a yard, like fisherman's floats. All the while, vineyards appear like umbrellas above and below us on the steep slope, or guard houses. The vines are barren; leaves edged in brown hang lifeless. Netting has been lifted, signaling it's past harvest.

The air grows considerably cooler as we ascend 1800 feet and stop at an obvious summit. A hazy skyline displays a church silhouette. I wondered how anyone could get to it, then was reminded of the network of roads, with steepness nary a concern. We tentatively let up on the brakes, testing our inertia. Going uphill on impossibly narrow roads wasn't a problem, but descending is another thing altogether. And then there are the drivers zooming uphill, engines strained, vehicles leaning, two outside wheels mainly gripping the asphalt. It's exactly like those sports car commercials where drivers screech around tight corners. Fortunately my heart no longer leaps to my throat. Driving fast in Italy is a way of life. We take it slow. Hold our line. Listen for honking drivers signaling sharp turns. We laugh on our lunch break as the honks echo up the valley. 

By day's end, after an incredible twenty mile descent, we leave the mountains behind. It is warm tonight, if not quiet. Our intended campground turned out to be within 100 feet of the Milan to Rome Autostrada, Italy's equivalent to an interstate. However, we can sleep most anywhere.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Paper Bag, Please!

I love to pedal to get exercise or to be near the lake. I might decide on a whim to peruse the re-use store, a church sale, or ride to the north end of town. When I set off I don't always know where I'll end up. So, I'm often caught unprepared to haul my purchases in the space of one bag.

Scenarios go like this: I fill the pannier with produce, including 6 tomatoes, which seemed plenty in a makeshift pannier (but the flowery print is nice, no?). Then I buy packaged goods at another source. This is where the mighty bungee cord saves the day. I request a paper bag at the check-out counter—plastic will not do—because its structure allows most anything to stay intact on a rack. In this instance, I carried tortilla chips and other goodies and fastened all, gently, but securely. All items safely made the 2 mile trip home.

How do you capture more cargo space?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Let's Ride

I rested my bike against the garage at my workplace. I had to laugh.
The snow shovel was still handy for fickle April weather.

It was a frosty morning, but the sun promised a splendid day. I shuffled our last boy outdoors (on the cusp of going to school by himself) to catch up with his older brother for a bus ride rather than my usual escort. Sometimes I'm lucky like that. A fightless morning. They knew how much I looked forward to my first ride to work this year and obliged me this simple time saver.

Then I was off. Chemical warmers kept my feet warm. Other commuters went by. I waved. Smiling. I was slow, of course, but enjoying the physical exertion. I was tired at mile 5 and I had 6 more to go. A headwind was building. My butt hurt. No getting around that. I felt every ache and pain, making a mental note to tip the seat downward a bit. This early in the season it's all about the body, though I chuckled at my first gutter gazing: an Almond Joy wrapper and a biker's water bottle. If I think of it next week, maybe I'll rescue that bottle and prop it in a conspicuous place.

Ah, but what a tailwind coming home! Let's ride.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Happened to Reflectors?

When my son accidentally busted the wheel reflector on my Ross I realized that the bike had no more reflectors. Period. I haven't seen many reflectors—if any—on new bicycles either. And the more I thought about it I realized something was amiss.

It seems we advocate wearing high visibility clothing, using lights, and defensive cycling. But barring all those, shouldn't all bicycles come equipped with—at the very least—wheel reflectors?

Jeesh, not one reflector on any of my dream bikes. Who knew? (Not me, of course.)

Pedal reflectors. Photo credit: Tamia Nelson

I recall the days when bicycles were covered in reflectors. The more the merrier. A white reflector on the stem, a red one attached to the seat post, one on each wheel, plus two on each pedal rounded out the collection, rendering a bike lit like a Christmas tree when a car's headlights shined. And sure, reflectors are only effective under certain lighting conditions, but for simple, low cost safety that doesn't need a battery, I believe reflective material goes a long ways towards making bikes safer for everyone.

While I ride the Ross around town, I better make sure I'm not out after dark, because I'm afraid I'll be invisible, even if I ride the sidewalk. Gotta put a blinkie in my pocket...

Our rental bikes in France. Michele's bike had two reflectors on each wheel. Look at that shine!

It seems we've lost a built-in safety measure in favor of simplicity. Sure, bikes look less cluttered, more streamlined—sleek even—which may appeal to a broader market. Or possibly those new to cycling. Why would a newbie want to ride a bike full of orange and red beacons that remind them of childhood rides? And, who doesn't like the simple single-speed? I betcha you won't find any reflectors on those babies.

Once you lose or break a reflector, they rarely get replaced. Out of sight; out of mind. I'm guilty of that. (Is that why orange vests became popular?) But still, I lament the fact that plastic reflectors have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Trek is Ready to Ride

Until I figure out the Miyata's chain problem, I plan to start off riding the Trek to work. It's ills are easily tackled—routine maintenance, really—and I got to it over the Easter weekend.

Our new Park chain remover tool. The rubberized mega handle and precision tooling
 works magic on a chain.
Deciding to swap a few parts seems daunting, but the impetus to start bike commuting motivates me like nothing else. First item: replace a badly frayed shifting cable. Loosen the allen bolt on the derailleur and remove the cable all the way out through the thumb shifter. There was nothing wrong with the current housing. Presto! Replace with new one, re-tighten, and the shifting is better than before. And though I put it off, I'm learning to not be so frightened of cabling. Now, if I have to adjust the freewheel travel or reset the index shifting, well, that might be a different story.

I have Hugh to thank for my new chain remover tool. The Hub and I've been using a Park tool for years, which worked adequately, even though my hands hurt when applying torque with the minuscule t-bar handle, but with the "Park" name I figured it was the best tool on the market. However, according to Hugh there are two Park chain remover tools. The larger version is precision and hefty and I literally pushed the pin through the links without a fret or feeling like a woman weenie! For home mechanics I can't imagine using anything else. Heavy, well-made tools are just that—heavy, with top-notch construction—and best kept at home. The old tool still has value and will remain an integral part of our touring toolkit.

One side of the tool is a half moon with teeth.
So, after I removed the stretched chain, there's no better time to go ahead and clean the freewheel, derailleur and pulleys. It's amazing the gunk you can extract from between the cogs, especially with a toothbrush and Park's two-side plastic tool made specifically for this purpose. I do this chore over newspaper in the basement or outside where I can sweep the tailings into the grass. No time like the present to get the drive-train as clean as possible before placing a new chain.

The other side presents a stiff-bristled brush.

I will never again buy a chain without masterlinks (there will be an upcoming post on the Miyata). I resize the new chain to the exact length as the previous one, allowing for the extra length of two masterlinks They come as separate pieces, but when connected form an additional link. These are critical so don't lose them as I did and ended up crawling around on the floor  searching for a time. At eye level, finally, I located one piece hidden beneath the work stand. First, wind the chain around the cogs and derailleur, then place each side of the masterlink in position. Set the pins through the oval-shaped holes, however, don't tighten completely. It's important to rotate the pedals and try out the new configuration, forward and backward before attempting a ride. I noticed some rattling. I studied the chain's path eventually discovering my mistake. I had wrapped the chain correctly around each pulley but forgot about the little guide. It's a small metal protrusion that keeps the chain from skipping off the pulley wheel. I was unable to force the chain into position, but with my hands I unhooked the master link and rethreaded the chain. Then I took the bike out for a spin. Gears worked quite well. The chain skipped a bit on each rotation, however I knew that riding would properly seat the masterlink.

Pristine weather. A lovely ride on the waterfront path. It feels like spring.
The next day was gorgeous. I itched to go for a ride. With one more task to do, I moved the bike outdoors. I replaced the rear brake pads. It's a simple solution for more efficient stopping power, yet I always struggle with cantilever brake adjustments. Loosen one side, tighten the other. When the fiddling moves the pads closer, I turn the screw above the upside down V configuration to fine tune it until I'm happy. My motto regarding replacing pads: wait until I'm willing to spend time to do it right, and improve the braking power. It's a crucial bike component that should work at optimal efficiency. And with brakes and rims working in conjunction, I also wipe the rims clean.

Let it be said. I'm not above letting my local bike shop handle the hard stuff—in fact if I'm unsure I'll happily let them assess or fix my work, but I do like to try when I have the time or inclination to learn. When I'm successful there's an immense sense of accomplishment and I feel like I'm one step closer to understanding the bicycle.

Now, she's ready to roll.

It was a wonderful 15 mile ride. The lake was beautiful too. People lined up for creemees at a stand that seems to open on a whim, capturing good weather and lots of walkers and riders. I also noticed the new Cycle the City signage. It's a big improvement, showing split routing through the Intervale. Hopefully, it'll steer more riders on this little used but pleasantly paved alternative to the dirt section.

Ah, a break at an overlook. The beach is wide here and people were walking along the shore.

All smiles. the Trek is ready to roll to work.
The bike is fit for riding to work though I'm disappointed in the forecast. It's supposed to turn colder with snow flurries.