Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ultimate Urban Commuting Bicycle?

The Bike Design Project. 
Five Teams. Five Cities.

The Ultimate Urban Utility Bike.

None of the entries are my ultimate commuter bike, for various reasons: only one style takes into account a low step-over height (many ladies wear skirts) and designs are usually by men, for men. because well, let's face it, males are the predominant riders and frame builders.

Males love black bicycles. Nothing new there!

A Chicago reporter who briefly rode one of the entrees in the parking lot commented, "It's a pretty aggressive position, not for an aging rider". Good point.

But do check out all five entrees. Then vote. Contest ends August 3. The videos are cool. The style is quite sleek, using innovative design. I would've liked to give my input along with my vote. But you know, I am the minority.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bike Empowerment in Burlington

Climate Change events in July.
I returned a book to the library and was met by two posters advertising bicycle events. 

I attended The Ramble ride a few years back.

And what's this? Will wonders ever cease? It's a bicycle commuter workshop flyer pasted on the library doors!

Way to Go, Burlington!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hopeful for Better Pedestrian/Bike Access

The busiest intersection in Vermont.
I frequently navigate, cross, or ride the sidewalk beside this four lane highway. It connects to a shopping district and is the only route over an interstate, of which there's a cloverleaf style of on/off ramps - the nemesis of bike and pedestrian access. This region has been the bane of cycling advocacy for years. Band aid "green lanes" fill a block long section, but as with the nature of cloverleaf design butted to shopping centers, cross points double, creating dangerous pedestrian/cycling transportation. Most of the time I ride cautiously on the sidewalk.

I was hopeful to find road construction in early summer on a particularly dangerous section, leading to the cloverleaf. The sidewalk was a horrifyingly narrow 3 feet, bordering heavy traffic on one side and a hip high concrete wall on the other. Needless to say, pedestrians waiting for a bus vied with bicycles for minimal space. However, I often negotiated this sidewalk in both directions, favoring the lesser of two evils: it had less entrances/exits to be wary of.

Red marks construction zone.
The concrete wall is gone and heavy equipment operators are digging deep trenches. I stopped and chatted with a lady construction worker. Unfortunately, this whole mess will extend one exit ramp to alleviate traffic congestion back up onto the interstate. In the future, I'll have to cross five lanes of traffic to get to Staples Plaza. However, the worker confirmed the sidewalk will be put back against the treeline (in first photo). Whether it has a green strip buffer, this time around, or creates safer zones for cyclists, is anyone's guess. Construction is due to finish in November.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What's Up with Black Caps on Bicycle Tubes?

For a pretty price you can order all kinds of interesting Schrader and Presta caps.
Most of these are courtesy of Amazon, in case any in this collection appeal to you.
A hula girl on your bike, perhaps?
It's inevitable that whenever I pump a tire or change a tube I misplace the black valve stem cap. The cap is camouflaged on asphalt or, in the case of on the road repair, lost among grass. I'm often in a panic, running late for an appointment so I extract the stand up pump (heaven forbid I leave without adequate air pressure!), unscrew the cap, toss it on the garage floor, and quickly inflate my tires. It's no wonder caps are lost.

I understand why tubes are black. But could suppliers provide colored caps? They wouldn't have to match between wheels, just be offered in another color, not black or grey. And, for that matter, would you pay extra—presuming colors cost more to manufacture—for this option? I'd gladly pay 50 cents more per tube to keep caps on my bicycles.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Women's Ride on the Causeway

Picnicking in  the shelter of a bridge for a brief reprieve from the wind.
I didn't know what to expect for attendance for the second event in the Women's Ride Series. It  was a gorgeous morning for the inaugural ride. However, two ladies appeared but were uncomfortable with a small group. They decided to ride by themselves - which left just the co-leader and myself. Undeterred, we picnicked, pedaled an hour together, chatted, realizing that other ladies' events may be held on the same day.

I was prepared this time around.

Each leader invited a friend, then three ladies pulled up, making a cozy group of seven. And it was a blustery day, promising to be a challenge on the nearly treeless causeway.
But oh, the conversation! We paired up. I introduced my sister-in-law to my co-leader, who lives a stones' throw from her house. Brunch was delightful with eggs, muffins, fruit cups, and coffee. Clearly, some women had already eaten.

The 20 mph gusts were too difficult for a couple ladies so they retreated back to their vehicle. However, the rest forged ahead with wind at our backs. At the turnaround, we had our first glimpse of the new ferry, capable of hauling 20 passengers and 16 bikes. Operating 7 days a week this summer, I plan to use it for an overnight in the Champlain Islands.

I'm curious: is 231 miles to Boston by major highway or back roads?
My sister-in-law talked with a  ferry volunteer; she was signed up for a shift later that week. I chatted with a new found lady friend, a bike overnighter and tourist like myself. (I can never have enough friends like that!)

A new sign greeted us when we pointed our bikes into the wind. Mileage to local points is helpful, though you may want to pack a pannier or at the very least, a credit card if you plan to cycle the distance to Boston!

Cycling on the causeway is popular.

Pedaling a raised pathway, with water on both sides, for 3 beautiful miles makes me smile. And smile. And smile. I'm sure Canadian travelers will love distances measured in kilometers, and if they need to use a restroom, well, it's all there on the sign.

The causeway regularly has windy days and knowing you just need to use easier gears one-way is part of dealing with headwinds. I said goodbye to the main group at our meet up spot then set off with my new pal, pleased as punch to have grown my network of like-minded, adventurous souls.

Next Women's Ride: Garage Sale Ride, August 24

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Sunset Ride

Mailboxes lined up at entrance to camps.
When we stay overnight at camp I steal moments of alone time. Nothing like a short jaunt, after dinner, just before the sun sets. It's that in between time when I'm restless; dinner dishes are washed and it's too early to go to bed. My in laws are parked in front of the TV; kids are on digital devices; husband deep into a project or ensconced in a chair with a magazine, too relaxed to head out with me. 

On this evening I spied the warning signs along the path.

And relished the ethereal light. Leaves dotting the cement portion. There are other folks who ride in the evening also. Like me they ride by themselves. We are solitary souls, seeking the last rays of sunshine, together.

Turnaround point is the entrance to the causeway.

The sun dips lower. I love the sound of my tires rumbling over the bridge; they rattle, pleasingly so, as boards rock within their framework. It's become the Winooski River Bridge alarm. If a person is standing on the bridge, staring at the lake, their peace is momentarily interrupted by the clatter of a passing cyclist.

There are other riders that momentarily pause at several of the overlooks, waiting for their own personal view of sunset. At the camp, if my timing is right, I roll onto the deck and plant myself westward, enjoying a quiet calm before mother nature lends her spectacle. Then all is right in my universe.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Family Ride and a Big Surprise

Big surprise: a hot air balloon is about to land.
It was a perfect evening for a family bike ride. But to where? My husband's been contemplating replacing an aging Honda, so a Mazda dealership became the destination. No better time than the present to check out the Mazda 3, a car we've all admired for many years. After hours is the best time to look in windows and ponder sticker prices. Nothing like the prospect of a new automobile to entice boys—big one included—to get out on bicycles.

As we neared our destination, we spy a beautiful hot air balloon, low in the sky. The air is pretty still. The balloon's engine roars, blasting minimal air to raise the balloon over one last bank of trees.

We follow a few cars, plus the balloon crew's two vehicles and trailers to where the balloon lands, amazingly in a grassy island between a road and a building. The landing is so tight that one guideline hangs up in a tree. There are 10 people on board. One couple remains in the basket for photos; the two became engaged during the flight. I wish to hang around, watch the balloon deflate, see if they open the traditional bottle of champagne—a balloon ride is on my bucket list—but we must continue our own journey in the fading light. - pretty obvious where I can make my own hot air balloon ride happen!
We got to the dealership, oohed and ahhed over shiny chrome—four wheels instead of two—then went the quickest route home, following my husband's diversions through parking lots, on sidewalks, dirt paths, lush lawns, and behind stores—his own obstacle course to bypass riding beside a busy highway.

Pedaling, pedaling, I dreamed of that balloon...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How Much Attention Do You Give to a Child's Bike?

New saddle for a reluctant commuter.
Since I often ride with my children, I listen when they complain about their bike woes. Sometimes it's a simple fix: oil the chain, tighten the front quick release, loosen and realign the handlebars. I'll do most anything—barring buying them a brand new expensive bicycle—to upgrade their enjoyment and safety.

Our oldest son whined about his sore butt so, at his request, I got him a wider, more cushiony seat.

This bike now sports the traditional short bar ends.
Our youngest son is a daredevil: jumping curbs, descending a rooty, narrow dirt path—I can't watch him perform some of his stunts. I am thankful that we've, so far, escaped a trip to the emergency room. I'm forever inspecting his bike, making sure quick release hubs are secure and stem is tight. When I spotted that his bar ends were dangerous, lacking end caps, and one bar was misshapen, I offered to remove them altogether. However, he liked the alternative hand position. The crooked bar didn't bother him or me, frankly, but the sharp ends were, unfortunately, oval-shaped—not easily plugged with standard rubber caps or corks. So, I replaced those longhorn cattle spikes with more traditional bar ends.

Now, if I can only get this same active kid to stop stretching his chain (smallest front chainring to smallest freewheel cog) he'll figure out that his chain will quit rattling and skipping. Ah, the challenge of raising a 12-year-old!

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Favorite Hot Weather Cycling Dress

When the dog days of summer arrive, I gravitate towards wearing sundresses. Sundresses at work. Sundresses on weekends at our family's summer camp. Forget a t-shirt and shorts. Riding in a sundress, well, that's the best.

My favorite sundress is a button-front tank style affair. It's pretty unusual also, and elicits numerous comments just about every time I wear it. With dark blue background, madras colored flower print, pleats down to waistline, and a flowing skirt, it billows when I wear it on the bike.

It's long enough for ample coverage, (I don colored underwear just in case an errant gust of wind comes my way) doesn't require a slip underneath, and the neckline exposes only my collarbone.

Probably the best part is the open back with ties, which someone else must fasten. I often wear a colored bra to blend in with the fabric, or, to at least not stand out. So many people have asked me where I bought the dress and I have to explain that it's easily 25 years old, purchased at a Filenes (I think) bargain basement in Portland, Oregon.

This dress begs to be paired with sandals, perfect for flip flop rides.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tour de Ticonderoga Bike Overnight

My smiling friend, Adele. She's game for rides, especially if they involve
eating good food and stops for garage sales.
In early June, I wanted to visit Mount Independence and cross on the tiny Ti Ferry - two things on my Vermont "to do" list. There's nothing like regional goals to keep bike overnights fresh and upbeat. I also like to exclude the car from the equation to minimize logistics; I'm more comfortable using ferries and/or alternative transportation for a one-way or loop adventure.

I've been on several overnights alone, so having a companion—other than my husband—was a first. Adele is semi-retired. With my light work schedule, we've ridden a few times together and shared a room on organized tours. More importantly, we are like-minded: interested in reading signs, admiring flowers, stopping for lawn sales, and/or something that piques our interest. Adele is also a foodie: she's a great cook, teaches cooking classes, brings treats to my house, totes luscious snacks on rides (think pear tart or healthy cookies). Food is a priority. I knew we'd get along well.

So unsurprisingly, on our first day, as I admired wild roadside phlox, their white and pink blossoms bending in a light headwind, we stumble on an outhouse titled "Bikers Rest". It comes complete with classic crescent moon cutout on the door. And a lawn chair, just in case there's a line. But really, I imagine it's a welcome sight for cyclists on this popular route. Insects starting nagging me so I was ready to get moving, however, inquisitive Adele had to peek inside.

Plastic jug placed upside down functions as urinal. 
She laughed. "Look at the urinal!"

Indeed, it's a classic outhouse, complete with wooden bench setup and makeshift urinal. Which makes sense, considering more cyclists are male. I was more curious about the history of the outhouse and why the owners placed it beside the road.

After a shortcut on a dirt road, and a quick stop to photograph a sign, (it's my son's name), then riding up and down a few hills past farms, we arrive in Vergennes, just in time for lunch.

Of course, Adele has a restaurant all picked out. Indeed, there are cyclists congregated at an outdoor table. It's a French bakery. We split smoked salmon on crusty bread, plus a salad. Extra bread is served in a cloth basket. Cloth napkins and a milk bottle of water complete the ambiance. I can't resist an iced latte and eagerly suck it down.

I recognized the Blackburn rack. You go, Adele!
Afterward, Adele chats with acquaintances—she's incredibly connected—then steps inside a nautical store, while I remain with the bikes. I had to capture the extra bike rack atop her panniers. Earlier, only 15 miles south of Burlington, eagle-eyed Adele had spotted a rack in a "free" pile beside the road. I had to hand it to her. We both knew what a find it was. It's a lightweight Blackburn model. She planned to lug it for the next two days to get it home. The rack is for the custom bike she's promised herself this year, which I found amusing—to acquire accessories before the actual bicycle!

Twenty miles later we cross the Champlain Bridge and camp at Crown Point State Park in New York. I'd brought two lightweight 2-person tents, though they are better suited to one person plus gear. This allowed us privacy. We consumed deli salads and I heated tea for the cool evening. Later we sip Merlot and watch the sunset. I'd wanted to investigate nearby Crown Point Fort ruins—it's prominent lakefront location is breathtaking—unfortunately, wine and conversation go down easily and before I know it, it's dark.

The campground was surprisingly empty. We had our pick of campsite.

The next morning is bright and sunny. We pack early and wander, searching for a park employee to no avail to pay the camping fee, nor provision at the entrance to self pay. It's strange, but we take off, knowing we attempted to do the right thing.

A quick ride back over the bridge to Vermont and we eat breakfast at the aptly named Bridge Restaurant.

Snapping turtles are a pretty common sight in Vermont.
By the time we finish our eggs and toast and start heading south along Vermont's shoreline, the headwind is strong and gusty. A snapping turtle is crossing the road on a blind corner. I stop, hoping to protect the creature, but it lifts it's head, mouth gaping. A bit frightened, I let the turtle go about it's merry way—it was heading to the safe white line anyway—and better off without my help!

The wind is tough. Adele is falling behind. With thunderstorms predicted for the following day we planned to pedal 20 miles, visit Mount Independence, then head back north and ride as far as possible to allow less miles in foul weather on the third day, returning home. However, I realized the route was too ambitious. If we cut out the Mount Independence leg we could still cross on the cable ferry and easily save 20 miles. With the alternate plan settled, we enjoyed the dairy farms, and eventually headed inland on a Class 4 road—my idea to save hill climbing closer to the lake. It was an adventure! The road was doable even with cracked, rutted tracks. It bisected huge farms fields. I think Adele was skeptical—her bike has narrower tires—but she eventually smiled and exclaimed, "this must be what Kansas looks like!"

Later, Adele admitted to loving our alternative to Lake Champlain Bikeways
Route and passed the information to a touring cyclist.
After several miles, and smoother dirt roads, past apple orchards, we turn onto a paved road and zip downhill to the ferry dock.

We arrive just as the boat was pulling into shore. However, it's only a six minute crossing. The boat operates frerquently, whether loaded to capacity or not.

On board there are hand lettered signs and, of all things, a maple syrup corner. A quart of Vermont's finest sells for 15.00—a typical tourist price.

Day 2 - Adele still lugs the new found bike rack.

The summer home has fallen into disrepair. Note the chimney
bricks tumbling to the ground.
Within a minute of disembarking back on New York soil, we arrive at Fort Ticonderoga's entrance. Adele's lived in Vermont for 30 years yet she's never had occasion to visit (her daughters weren't into guns and military stuff like my boys), so we make a whirlwind tour. It seemed appropriate that since bypassing Mount Independence we could make time for a quick visit. Views atop the rebuilt fort are spectacular.

Included in the ticket price is admittance to adjacent King's Gardens—more our style. Once upon a time, the wealthy Fort Ti owners built a grand summer home, complete with English style walled garden. Today, the plants are lovingly tended, while the home is sadly falling apart.

Iris and columbine are in bloom.

Amtrak station in Westport,  a hop, skip, and a jump from the hotel.
Then we happily turn our wheels north, flying on a hot tailwind. There are hills, but we crest them easily even though the temperature is brutal. But nothing that a creemee can't fix!

I drank a Dark & Stormy with my tasty burger and fries.
By late afternoon, I can't convince Adele to spend another night in a tent. Instead, she springs for a hotel in Westport, which is a welcome treat. Newly renovated and nicely appointed, we shower and relax on a lovely front porch and order dinner. The only uncomfortable part—the hotel is right next to train tracks. However, the location is historical; the hotel is 100 years old, built when passenger rail brought city travelers for country fresh air.

The third morning is humid, yet the storm is predicted for late afternoon so we might escape it's wrath. The lake road north is tough. Up one mile, down one mile.

Waiting at the top of one hill, I spy a face in a tree.
Adele is struggling. She's a strong lady, yet my bike has lower gears. I finally convince her to let me haul her tent and ground pad so we can ride together.

Eventually the route followed a gently graded ridge with more expansive views. Considering this started as an historical tour, it seemed appropriate to stop for a moment and admire the farmhouse where my husband's grandmother grew up. A half mile later, we visit the family cemetery, across the road from where she attended school in a one room schoolhouse—now renovated into a house.

Then we hung out in Essex, New York for a half hour before the ferry arrived, then a 20 minute ride brings us to within 15 miles of home. We were both running low on water. Adele knows a church where we top off our bottles—it's still blazing hot—suck down as much water as we can hold, then meander on a gravel trail, which is a delightful diversion from asphalt.

Double rainbow lights up the sky after the storm.

We got home around 1 p.m. Adele fed me lunch—I couldn't pass up that opportunity, of course. And did you know that freezing extra coffee in an ice cube container makes for flavorful iced coffee? Oh, the things I learn about cooking from Adele...

Storm clouds rumbled so I skedaddled home. The only trip casualty: I'd lost a water bottle somewhere during the last five miles. Oh well.

For a map of our route, refer to Tour de Ticonderoga route.