Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cold Weather Dilemma - How to Ensure a Child uses Bike Lights?

We have a plethora of lights; these are all mine!

In a New England winter, when it's dark and roads are slick, frosty, and I worry about keeping warm, well, I don't ride a bike. It's that simple.

But our hardy son is unaffected by adverse conditions and rides to school, everyday. And it's been recommended that he should have lights.

Hold on a minute. Easier said than done.

I'd be remiss, especially as a bike riding parent, if I'd never considered equipping his bicycle with lights. That's not the problem.

The problem is he's 12 years old and it's frigging cold here.

He has the gumption to get out there, but he's hellbent on getting to school before the school bell rings. So, I have not approached the lights issue with him. I know our son, obviously, and safety is, unfortunately, an afterthought. December and January are, quite frankly, the darkest period when lighting is cause for concern, and only in the late afternoon.

And then there's the issue of what kind of lights. Handlebar and rack mounts, where the lights would freeze for hours? (Every middle school kid should have a conscientious gnome sitting on their shoulder.) The only solution I can think of is helmet and backpack lighting where items are taken indoors. But I'm not holding my breath that my son would remember to switch lights on and off.

The good thing is, it's plenty light out there in late January and the issue is behind us, for now. Thank goodness for his orange helmet!

Just stay on the sidewalks, kid, and watch out for cars. And quit telling me how many jumps you get air on, while cruising to school.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Embarking on a New Adventure, New Commute

A holiday gift from my old employer: a fun costume jewelry rendition of a step through
 bicycle. After 15 years of employment, plus parking my bike inside their garage, 
you might say they knew me well!

I'm teetering between employment opportunities, about to embark upon a new challenge, and with it—once the weather starts to warm—a totally new commuting routine.

Like a friend mentioned, it's the beginning of a new era. And I couldn't be more excited!

A pretty birthday card. Get your own at Trader Joes.

I leave behind an 11 mile (each way) commute. In its place will be an easier 5 mile one-way jaunt with multiple route options, which includes a mix of separated bike path, bike lane, and neighborhood streets. Best of all, I can extend the commute as I wish, pedaling along Lake Champlain's waterfront path, or snaking through woodland parks. It can be a "loop commute", going to and from the office.

And it gets better.

Another advantage: because of safer road conditions—90% off road route, and what minimal interaction with traffic I encounter, has an ample bike lane—I should be unaffected by Daylight Savings Time. Using lots of lights, I look forward to a longer commuter season, riding before late March and well after early November.

Ill be sharing this year's ride aboard the Mount Saint Helens. With shorter distance involved, it's not necessary to shave time, riding my speediest bicycle. And instead of standard black panniers—since saving weight is not an issue—I may explore using alternative baggage options: floral pannier and/or upcycled messenger bag. I made these bags: might as well put them to good use!

Goodbye long commute; hello sweet, early spring riding.

To my new co-workers: I hope to see you on the road!

Thoughts on the ultimate commute length
I've often thought that five miles is the perfect distance. (And I speak from experience.) Five miles is long enough to feel like I get exercise, but short enough to endure riding in almost any weather. A side benefit: less time involved means arriving home at a reasonable hour.

What is your optimal commuting distance?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Turkey - Priene and Hospitality in Altikum

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

Thursday, November 10 - 33 miles

We awoke to the storm gods still unleashing their wrath, but placated that we had a roof over our heads. The pansiyon owners knocked and entered, distributing several breakfast dishes on our tiny round table. There was the ubiquitous soft, white bread, salty cubed cheese, butter, black olives, and a reddish jelly. I cupped my hands around a small glass of tea, served with traditional sugar cubes, but noticed a teapot was not provided. I'm afraid I offended the proprietors the evening before, refusing a second cup.

Priene theatre. Photo credit: Wikipedia
We set off amid showers, but they lightened and eventually stopped altogether by the time we reached Priene's ruins. Unlike Ephesus's crowded site - and as we would later learn - visitors are allowed to wander among the ancient stones, unhindered, without regulation or entrance fee. Especially in November, we had historic sites to ourselves. At Priene we hiked around toppled stone columns: they looked like large gear cogs. We climbed sandy paths between pine trees, emerging near tall pillars, and surprised upon a small amphitheater - my favorite – whose inner seating retained it's beautiful decoration, sculpted to resemble paws on chair arms and legs. And like other historic sites, Andy and I couldn't understand Greek writing, amply displayed. However, we'd come to understand our role: to observe, delight, wonder, and see, but keep pedaling. Ours was not an historical adventure, but to capture the flavor of a country; immersion was not possible with a whirlwind agenda.

We pumped across the flat, fertile Menderes River delta, again struggling into a headwind that seems to come out of nowhere, a constant nemesis in Turkey. Andy and I suspect it's payback for the tailwinds across Europe.

The colossal well-preserved Theater of Miletos rises to our left, appearing like a bleached stadium rather than snuggle into the hillside. But understandably, the complex was once a port, much like Priene's ruins, both were confluence communities in ancient times, before sea level receded, now leaving both ruins inland on the Menderes river plain. We made a cursory inspection, but decided to ride on. We longed to reach Altikum beach, a resort community we hoped housed hotels or pansiyons where we might stay a couple days.

Temple of Apollo in Didim, ripe for exploration. It will have to wait for the following day.
By day's end we filled panniers with groceries in Yenihisar and headed for Didim Altikum. As we headed down dusty street in Didum, a colossal temple appeared. Overgrown grasses, lack of fencing, all indications of untidiness or perhaps lack of money for upkeep, which was becoming the norm in Turkey. I longed to explore but the seaside beckoned. We promised to visit the following day.

Entering Altikum beach, the community looked deserted. We hadn't anticipated that every hotel would be closed, so we asked around. Pretty soon, a man smiles, ushers us to his hotel. He hefts my 75lb. bike up several stairs, before I can interrupt and help; he's shorter than I am. I have a lump in my throat; the Turkish hospitality never ceases to amaze me. He promises us a room in his friend's hotel - indeed interrupts the proprietor's dinner to make arrangements - then takes my bike up and down more stairs until we arrive at the building next door. Sheref, the hotel manager, opens the door for us. An hour later he brings hot cups of Nescafe to our room.

Sheref is a balding man who attends fix up projects during off-season at the hotel. Soft spoken, a nice gapped-tooth smile, he loves American rock and roll, even offering to go for a walk with us after dinner. Sheref speaks wonderful English, learning it from the hotel's summer crowd. After strolling in the humid evening air we relax on the rooftop, sipping more Nescafe, listening to his beloved rock and roll music, thankfully at a tolerable level. Sheref explains he may not manage the hotel the following year; he wants to help his brother farm cotton then sell at a market where he'll enjoy speaking with tourists. Eventually he bids us goodnight.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

When Riding Through Winter is the Easiest Transportation Alternative

I should feel so lucky. Our youngest boy shines when confronted with anything physical... but if truth be told, when he chooses to ride to school, it's not out of love for biking. He has options: walking or taking a bus, but both require planning and that cuts into his morning routine of watching Youtube videos and eating breakfast. Instead, he takes the fastest transportation—driving him is not an option—which happens to be stumbling outside, lifting the garage door, and hopping on his bike. It suits his preteen personality, gives him independence, and surely impresses the other kids at school. He is often the only student who arrives by bike out of 400 children.

We had to have a heart to heart about winter bike maintenance: wiping off salt with warm soap and water, and re-oiling chain, all of which took place in the kitchen last night. However, he still complains that his bike doesn't shift very well. No wonder, when he rides in smallest front ring and smallest freewheel cog, stretching the chain. "But it's my favorite gear!" he whines, and no amount of reminding him makes any difference.

I suppose that's a minor quibble in the scheme of things. Like I said, I should feel so lucky.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Grips - Personal Preference and Functionality

It's often said that paying attention to seat, handle bars, and pedals are the biggest factors in fitting a person to his or her bicycle. You can adjust, replace and/or fiddle with these components to your hearts content to make almost any frame—barring an oversize or ridiculously small frame—suit your transportation needs.

The biggest obstacle may well be your wallet; you must weigh how much to invest in your bicycle's makeover versus what you hope to accomplish. Do you have extra parts on hand? Can you locate suitable used parts? How invested are you in the frame?

Ask me how I know.

Through trail and error, numerous work sessions, replacing parts, many miles ridden, even tears—I didn't give up on the Ross Mount Saint Helens. Because I loved the frame style. It's now very serviceable transportation, a bike I hope to keep for many years.

But that's not the main focus of this blog post, except to illustrate that bike love takes time.

Once you've dialed in your machine fit, and put some miles on your bike, your next consideration may very well become handle bar comfort. There is a direct correlation between time spent in the saddle versus distribution of weight upon handle bars. There will be an inevitable outcome, whether it's immediate comfort, pain, or numbness, which is unique to the individual.

There is no science involved in comfortable grip selection. Much of it is trial and error, pertaining to your handle bar style, or preferred material. Do you require more padding beneath your palms? A double layer of bar tape to accommodate larger hands? Do you like the comfort of cork, rubber, or foam? Rounded or ergonomic grips?

Perhaps you are not sure where to start.

That's okay. I discovered there are less expensive versions of all options. My Trek's bar ends sport cheap foam grips (see photo above), which does the trick, providing comfort and insulation for cooler weather. I'm sure there are many ingenious solutions that other's have come up with. You just need to explore.

Whether it's a drop bar machine or upright bicycle—trust me—comfortable and functional grips go a long ways towards making your riding adventures into dream trips.

But maybe you need to discover that yourself.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

-10F and Our Boy Rides to School

He wouldn't let me take his picture as he set off this morning on his mountain bike.
The above picture is from fat biking in Stowe.
Our youngest boy is a hearty soul. We ride together a lot in the warmer months, whether going to camp, for creemees, or to pick up the latest Nerf Gun. It's how we get around.

Rain or frigid temps don't set him back one bit, especially for his mile ride to school. Winter coat, sneakers, Pikachu hat, Nutcase helmet, and thick gloves, plus a heavy backpack and he 's off.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fat Biking in Stowe

Having missed the first opportunity to try a fat bike locally, I vowed to attend the second event in Stowe—the remaining events in the series are held further afield in eastern Vermont and Canada. Unfortunately, I'm still healing from a leg injury, so I couldn't participate in the fat tire fun. However, I took my job as instigator/family fun manager seriously, and brought extra mittens, socks, and multiple packs of chemical hand-warmers—teenagers being forgetful and ill-prepared in 15F—to keep extremities comfortable.

I signed up 4 of us on event day (including our son's friend). The fee entitles each person to lunch, a local beer, bike demos, and entry into a race.

Youngest son with his rad Nutcase helmet (Christmas gift). He practices on nearby humps.
Arriving an hour later than most participants, meant bike selection was limited. My husband, son, and friend snagged bikes immediately (only large bicycles still available) and took off on their own adventure while it took another 20 minutes for riders to return and our younger son could locate a suitable bike.

Our young guy is the one who loves to ride so I felt bad that he was left behind at the get go.

Of course, he tested the bike's abilities.

And, eventually, the group returned to include biker boy in the mix. Apparently the loop in the woods was icy so all set out on the Stowe Bike Path. Our youngest was disappointed, however, and didn't hold back his opinion upon completion: if it's not dangerously fun single track, well, what's the point?

It was lunchtime, time for a break and to fill bellies at the Asian buffet. The teenagers went back for second helpings while I nursed beer number one.

Many participants stayed behind in early afternoon, citing slippery trails, preferring to hang out in the cozy warmth instead. Two oldest boys bowed out also and accompanied me at a window seat. And thankfully, my husband braved the single track with our kamikazee boy to burn off some energy.

I nursed a second beer (paid for with event ticket - might as well use it) while watching antics outside the window. People were still navigating the roller-coaster hump; a family with two youngsters took turns on a smaller framed bike.

It started to snow. When my husband and son came back they were jazzed. The woods' trails were slippery going uphill, but coming down was a blast.

Someday, I'll ride a fat bike.

Event impressions: it was fun to do as a family, however it felt like we were the only family in attendance (other than the two youngster spied through window). It was too expensive (35.00 each) to afford more than once. We, unfortunately, missed the cheaper event in early December.

And whatever happened to the "race"? Never heard anything about it.