Saturday, January 23, 2016

Test Riding Possible Step-Through Touring Bicycles - The Beginning

Specialized Vita.

Last summer as I waited for my son's bike repair at a local shop, I began my search for my ideal bicycle, deciding to look at what was available on the shop floor. My basic requirements for a possible touring machine: fork eyelets, rear rack capability, low climbing gears, and clearance for fenders. Beyond that I was open to any type of shifting and braking system.

I test rode the Specialized Vita, climbing Burlington's hills and zipping along the flats. After 20 minutes of experiencing more road vibration than I've felt in years, I headed back to the shop. I'm not enamored with aluminum bikes in general - I know they present a rougher ride - but neither am I opposed to their looks. I don't mind the fatter tubing and they often come in snazzy metallic colors (Cannondale mountain bikes comes to mind). The Vita's gear system was just okay - I needed lower still. I'll give it kudos for a fast ride though. But another deal breaker was the upright posture and I kept wanting to reach about 4" further forward. It was then that I realized where my hunting difficulties would lie - fit will become a major obstacle. Any step-through bike would have to have a more elongated frame geometry (for lack of correct terminology) for me to consider as a possible touring machine.

And just because there was a Raleigh Eva 1 in my size, I took this one out for a spin. It's inexpensive, steel, and classified as a cruiser. After riding a stiff bicycle, the Eva was comfortable, more like my Ross Mt. Saint Helens. It was cushiony, but sluggish on hills. I could live with the fit, but would need to customize the handle bars. After further investigation, it would require major renovations, new fork to handle front panniers, specialized rear rack (frame doesn't have braze-ons), etc. I was excited at first, considered these renovations, but had to admit that drastically altering a bike might only unearth more problems. I was only beginning my search and accepted that this would be a long haul.

But as I'm slowly learning, variety of affordable (1500.00 or less), step through touring bikes available to US consumers is very hard to come by, especially if you want a true step-through* (I'm spoiled with the Ross's 22" step-over height) and not a Mixte, plus the ability to test ride your dream bike before spending money.

The hunt is on. However, I'm jealous of all the options available to Europeans.
*Step-through bike frame construction is supposed to be less stable than their Mixte counterparts, especially for loaded touring, however, with lighter racks and gear choices these days, I believe step-through design is adequate. One can always pack ultralight like this guy...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Used Bicycle Tube Project - Replace Tool Handle Grip

Sometimes a little ingenuity goes a long way. At my workplace, we often use this tool to cut and bend wire binding. The tool's red handles had cracked and repeatedly fell off, rendering the grip nearly useless. With regular use, the metal handle began to hurt my hands. So with heavy duty thread, used bicycle tube, large needle and thimble, I created replacement grips in 30 minutes. It may not be an attractive solution, but the new rubber gets the job done.

A coworker commented, "It's steampunky!", completely taking me by surprise. Now that I look at it, he's right.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Motivation and Personal Growth - A Forward Journey

In November and early December's mild weather, it was easy to get outdoors for pleasure rides. My goal was to be aware and present, enjoying my good fortune.

I discovered things like new signage, explaining the importance of the river's estuary and it's ecological connection to Lake Champlain.

Or a unique bike rack in a neighboring Colchester park.

Sometimes my observations were subtle, turning down a familiar path. I loved the colorful leaf carpet juxtaposed against the grey, leafless trees. Autumn remembered.

And who knew that the waterfront skate park wouldn't open until December—we've been watching it's construction all year—but in only 3 days had already attracted hordes of users, aged 4-70?

The leaders in the Santa Run. I later learned there were 2000 participants. 
I marveled at my luck one morning as I began a granny gear spin up a hill toward home. It's not every day that I encounter Santas running down the street. I had to laugh, not once, but twice because I scooted across the road through a gap in their ranks only to be stopped three blocks later by the same red-suited contingent.

A foot wide clear lane is just enough width to lend comfort. It helps that
South Burlington plows their bike paths.
A few days after Christmas, snowstorms dropped several inches of white stuff. Plow trucks lumbered by our home, scraping and salting slippery streets, the vehicle's back up sirens alerting the neighborhood to their presence. I stopped commuting by bike and began riding the bus or driving to the office.

But the interesting and often unknown fact about a Vermont winter: it lacks moisture. Of course, a certain amount of precipitation causes snowfall, but with prolonged dry spells, evaporation begins and surfaces dry up. Once I cleared the cold and darkness hurdle (using a good light and wearing appropriate winter outerwear), dry roads and bike paths meant I could consider commuting again. And so, I donned down coat, balaclava, and winter boots and pedaled, sporadically, to work in January.

Lucky me that our son out grew his winter footwear! 
I know that I won't become a full fledged winter commuter—I refuse to buy studded tires or a fat tire bike—but if the conditions are just right, I won't pass up the opportunity to ride to the office. I'm still a slave to the weather station, obsessively following the forecast to the point of vacillating whether to ride or drive minutes before heading out the door, which effectively rules out the bus as a viable option. Only if nasty weather settles in for prolonged periods can I plan out extra time to walk to the bus stop. However, the bus is back up security should an unexpected storm blow in. I am lucky to have transportation options.

My new balaclava won't win any fashion awards, but it's brilliant design, which includes
ample neck length and multiple adjustments, keeps me warm in variable temperatures.
Over 20 years ago, my husband broke his hip while riding his bike on black ice. Since then there's been an unwritten rule that neither of us would ever take that chance again. But since returning to Vermont, I've grown to respect his decision while diverging down my own path. I crave riding bicycles more so now that I'm unable to run through the colder months. I must have goals, and if that means trying to ride more throughout the winter, then so be it. I am cautious and have my limits, however, so if path conditions become treacherous en route, I'm prepared to push my bicycle homeward.

We are all on our own bicycle journey...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pannier Repair, Camping Kit Additions, and Looking Ahead

Flimsy pannier hooks slowly uncurling under repeated use.
Winter is when I tend to catch up on projects in general, and so I finally got around to updating my newer panniers. Two years ago when I toured on GAPCO, I noticed the inexpensive panniers' single flaw: the hooks are cheaply made. Still, I continued to use the panniers on more bike overnights, but when the bags were stressed by adding wine bottles to an already full load while touring in Quebec, it became apparent that I should replace the hardware before I set out on any adventure in 2016.

My husband and I collect bike parts, knowing there will be a use, someday, on our own fleet, if not to fix something on our children's bicycles. So, when panniers eventually fail, we also strip the hardware and put the parts away for any future repair. Such was my luck when I eventually found a tuna can—my husband's idea of storage—filled with four beefy, lightweight hooks.

I removed each nut and washer on inside of pannier then located longer screws to fit the lock nut.

I love this simple awl, acquired from my grandfather's tool collection. It gives me great pleasure, knowing his hands touched the tool and, from years repairing his own bicycles, has burnished the wooden handle.
I am learning to keep a couple used tubes on hand because they have many uses. In this instance I cut four to encase each aluminum hook, which will protect the bike rack from scratches. Afterward, I punched each hook with an awl to allow longer screws to fit the opening plus accommodate the much thicker and stronger hooks.

Now my panniers are all set for any upcoming tours.

Santa stuffed my Christmas stocking with outdoor items, primarily socks, but also with a nice lightweight bowl and plastic wine glass. I wonder if Santa knew I'd been using a waterbottle cap for nightcaps on camping trips. Both items will come in handy, especially if I head back to the Canadian vineyard region later this year.

This time of year I start thinking about vacation possibilities so I have something to look forward to. I'd like to return to Acadia National Park again. My husband's dropping hints of returning to ride the C& O Canal. And, I'm pondering local bike overnight destinations, something that I've grown to love for their easy preparation and ability to leave when the weather is fine. Plus, I can't beat a bike overnight for a rejuvenating mini-vacation. Just pack the bags and hit the road.