Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Rewind

2016 was a spectacular year of many firsts. From a record number of bike overnights to a new bicycle purchase to B&B touring in Canada, it gives me great pleasure, emotionally and physically, to expand and explore this bike universe, one singular moment at a time.

At 54 years old, let it be said that my thoughts on cycling and motivation are still evolving, and have been affected by recent changes: the rise of winter commuters, broad acceptance of cargo bikes, fat bike craze, improved infrastructure, inexpensive and better light systems, and increasing number of local social events. And, of course, there is the impact of the Internet, not only for the spread of information but also for purchasing, which - for better or worse for LBS - opens up a world of choices and options to accessorize, maintain, and/or buy a bicycle. So, with that said, here's my recap of 2016.

In January and February I surprised myself by periodically commuting during an unusually mild and snow-free winter. I also repaired much loved panniers and re-used bicycle tubes for an interesting do-it-yourself project plus continued my annual ode to bike bloggers, now in it's 4th edition.

During March and April I completed the Errandonnee, started experimenting with my first, nicer poncho in place of typical rain gear, and got caught in an April snow shower. I also bought my first non-tour type pannier, which has fulfilled my needs, though I had to repair the bag later in the year. I completed my first intentional spin during my lunch hour.

In May, after much research, I ordered a Rivendell Clementine, my first new bike in thirty years. I am still getting to know this bicycle so expect to hear more in the coming year.

Adele and I started our September trip with a great cup of coffee.
In June I began the first of a series of four (one for each summer month, a record for me) bike overnight/adventures, two of which included staying in B&Bs (thanks Adele, for another first!): 4-days in Canada, 3-ferry tour,  Grand Isle State Park, and Salaberry de Valleyfield with Adele.

Are you getting sick of me saying "first"? 

View from Day Mountain with The Cranberry Isles in the distance, Acadia National Park.
In July we explored more of Acadia National Park's carriage roads plus two trails in Portland, Maine. We spent more time as a family at our camp, which allowed me the wonderful opportunity to experience what I consider as the ultimate bike commute.

Clementine and Boda Boda.
In August, at about the same time as my Clementine arrived and I installed fenders and a rack, I had an opportunity to try my very first cargo bike and couldn't help comparing the two.  As both bicycles used platform pedals, in September I removed toe clips on my commuter bike and have been happy ever since. Also of note, our youngest son, who gained confidence after taking a bike mechanics class, began fashioning an old mountain bike into a single speed. It's nice to see one of our children taking to cycling and exploration.

Coffeeneuring #7, Battery Park.
The autumn months were a whirlwind of Coffeeneuring adventures, experimenting with a lightweight folding chair, Girls Ride Out fun rides, exploring the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail with my husband, attending fat bike demo day, and, to come full circle, transitioning back to riding in colder weather. And somehow, I managed to surpass the 3,000 mile mark for the year.

Having a year of firsts has broadened my bike horizons. I now own two different helmets (another first), one with less ventilation for the colder time of year. I learned that someday, I would like to have a cargo bike to share with our family, and that winter commuting is only a process, and not a weird transport option. Though 2016 is nearly behind me, the year's events felt like the beginning of something very exciting, an awakening of sorts, and so I look forward to the events that unfold in the new year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Winter Solstice Bike Ride

The weather cooperated to attend my first Winter Solstice Bike Ride. Ideal conditions: mid-30sF, dry roads, and a windless evening drew a record 30 like-minded riders who came with bikes decorated like holiday trees.

With a stellar forecast, I still wasn't sure I'd make it because of an incident that had occurred earlier in the day. I arrived at my workplace bike rack in the morning and heard something metallic hit the ground. Fortunately, it was only my kickstand, which had fallen apart, with bolts, springs, and the kickstand arm itself, scattered beneath my bicycle. I laughed at the shear weirdness of the unlikely event, then collected the parts in a bag. (I'll deal with that minor issue on the holiday weekend).

We met on Church Street, a beautifully decorated and lighted outdoor pedestrian shopping district. There was much conversation, bike and light comparisons, and introductions. I was happy to find familiar faces, plus some Girls Ride Out buddies my own age.

My bike is just behind the bike trailer, leaning against a wall, now lack a functioning kickstand!
Thankfully, I wore my trusty down jacket, but I was still chilled when we eventually rolled out. However, we immediately chugged up a long steep hill that warmed my core and continued for many miles, swinging around downtown, looping south end neighborhoods, then returning to the head of Church Street for silly circuits around a huge holiday tree.

Photo credit: Mark Bowman

Interesting rope lights adorned bikes.

We ended the evening at a brewery for more conversation then I pumped up the hill back home. What a fun group of bikers and a great reason to get together, light up the night, and welcome the return of lengthening daylight.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

3F and Preferring to Be in Control

Loving the cold, crisp bike rides home on peaceful lanes.

I ride for transportation only, in the winter. Unlike last year's distinct lack of snowfall where it was easy to dip my toes into winter biking and avoid slippery surfaces, this December feels more like a normal Vermont winter with regular snow fall and so far, 4-6" of accumulation. If I'm to bike at all, I pay careful attention to the forecast, in-house weather station, and as last confirmation - peeks outside our window - before I decide whether to ride, drive the car, or take a bus 5 miles to my workplace. I can think of 3 times this month when my pannier was packed and just before I headed out the door a squall deposited enough snow to cover the ground.

I love the snow. I love to cross-country ski, which I've been able to do once already this season. But I also love to ride, and after having a taste of winter riding last year, I want to commute more when dry pathways prevail. The alternative is walking 30 minutes to catch a bus that takes another 20-25 minutes to drop me near my office. Driving our one available car takes 20-25 minutes, but I must share the vehicle with my husband (plus I feel guilty for using our vehicle when he is a regular bus rider). Riding my bike takes 25-30 minutes, plus I allow an extra 5-10 minutes to negotiate any dangerous areas.

I thought I would embrace bus travel. After all, part of working closer to home meant I could leave the car behind and take alternative transportation. But, after several bus trips and driving as many days this month, I've come to realize how much I dislike both modes of transportation for the busy region I navigate, especially the journey home which necessitates enduring stop and go traffic for a mile without an easy way to avoid the messy corridor. In my previous job, without a bus route, the decision was made for me, I had to drive during the darker months from November to March on rural roads, whether I liked it or not.

Now, with transportation choices (and I'm happy to finally have them!) I'd still rather ride my bike because I am in control: I'm free to ride on quiet residential streets, little used paths, through city parks and in open fields - away from noisy automobiles. And, I love riding in the dark with snow as my guide, edging the paved trail. I do have to be careful though and make responsible, safe transportation choices because I have a tendency to avoid car and bus travel even when it may be too slippery to safely ride a bike.

So, as we slide by the winter solstice and days become longer, and my personal bike barometer (temperatures 0F and above, 90% dry paths) allows me to bike commute, you can bet I'll be outside bedecked in balaclava and down parka, expanding my winter horizons.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Animated Bicycle

We have a son that is enamored with technology. From drones, to programming robots, to creating websites, to animation, he is all over this stuff like a duck takes to water. I will miss him (and his free tech advice/help) when he heads off to college. In his spare time last summer, he put together this animated bicycle for me.

And I'd be remiss if I also didn't share his amazing autumn foliage video, again. If you need a mood lifter, especially during these colorless winter days, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tipping the 3,000 Mile Mark and a Self-Healing Bicycle

My new helmet provides the only color in an otherwise black wardrobe.
I need to start wearing my reflective vest!
Deep into October at the point when I'm giddy with Vermont's foliage extravaganza, I tally my riding miles, just to get a hint of where I might end up for the year. To my surprise, 3,000 miles was easily attainable, and so, without fanfare, I rode home in the 25F dark last night, knowing I surpassed a special goal.

The mile marker, in and of itself, is not something I specifically strive for each year. After falling short for several years, I'd come to terms with my personal riding goals, preferring instead to set other forms of motivation: accomplishing more bike overnights, riding all of Burlington's city streets, and lately, pushing myself to ride more in the winter. As I grow older I am learning to expand my cycling horizons, which don't necessarily align with conventional wisdom. I realize I am anything but conventional these days, which suits me just fine!

The miles are a bonus. How I accomplished 3,000 miles still blows my mind because I didn't feel like I was riding more than usual. I believe it was a culmination of a mild winter, commuting as many days as possible, completing a record four bike overnights (of which two were multiple days adventures), test riding a cargo bike, coffeeneuring stints, and generally, riding. It's the riding and not the distance that puts a huge smile on my face.

Boots are necessary once the temperatures dip into the 20sF.
My Ross Mt. Saint Helens continues to be my primary bicycle. A sturdy, dependable friend that I keep fixing because I know it won't let me down. I continually search for a replacement in a larger frame size, but that's just an exercise on the rare chance I'll stumble onto the 1988 Peugeot models: St. Laurant ExpressU.S Express,  or Montreal Express, the only year, apparently that Peugeot sold an equivalent mountain bike in my preferred 21" size. Until then I will upgrade my trusty Ross.

Cosmetically, the Ross has seen better days, but that's why it's also the perfect experimental winter commuter. It's also the perfect year-round commuter. As such, the bicycle gets lots of maintenance. A new chain every year. Periodic wipe downs. New tires when needed. Local shop service for repairs beyond my ability. I baby this bike because, for obvious reasons, I need to keep it going.

However, an odd squeaky noise has been driving me bananas for nearly two years. It's been difficult to diagnose. The sound would come and go, in every gear, each chain ring, whether I stopped pedaling, stood in the saddle, etc., sporadically, nothing I could easily pinpoint. For a while I thought the noise stemmed from the plastic pie plate, seat post, or the older wheels. I couldn't even determine whether it was front or rear noise and would never exhibit itself once I put the bike in the stand. Talk about frustrating! During that time period the crank, seat, chain, and pedals were replaced in the course of regular maintenance, but the noise continued. But this past October, thankfully, the noise simply disappeared. Just like that. Now how can that be, I wondered. But by then I'd given up trying to find a solution; the noise never got worse and if and when the bike failed, well then I could tend to the problem. Now I don't have to!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Fat Biking Beneath Fat Flakes at Catamount

What could be better than Global Fat Bike Day Demos? At nearby Catamount Outdoor Center. Compliments of our local bike shops and hosted by Fellowship of the Wheel. I can't begin to name the two bike models that I test rode. Or cared that I got momentarily lost, pedaling in circles.

Fat snowflakes fell in a hemlock forest. On me. Coating packed leaf trails. Pure outdoor wonder, weaving, bliss.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter Riding is Here

"Bridges freeze before roads," something that becomes very evident once we experience the season's first snowfall. The pathway was snow free except for the two bridges on my commuting route.

Like signs of autumn commuting there comes a time when, unmistakably, winter commuting requires a different mindset. Now that snow has fallen and the thermometer hovers around 30F, it is not easy to get out the door, on time, and properly clothed. The transition, however, is only another hurdle, one that I will adjust to, with a few changes.

Consult the weather station
What are the daily highs and lows? Is it too slippery to safely ride or do I need to change my mode of transport?

Thicker tights are mandatory
I was using double layers, but once I mentioned that I wanted  my own pair of Performance's Triflex Tights for Christmas my husband gave me his. After borrowing his pair last winter, I swear by the warmth, windproof capabilities, and freedom of movement, especially in the knee area. Eventually, I will add another layer once the temps slip below 30F.

Headband is not quite adequate
Now where did I store my balaclava?

Add a scarf for extra neck warmth
A simple scarf bridges the transition from headband to balaclava.

I need to find alternative eye protection
My hardware store clear glasses don't fit well beneath my current helmet, especially with a helmet mounted light adding weight to the brim. I've unearthed a 25-year-old pair of amber snow goggles that I once used on Northwestern slopes that may work in colder temps.

Wearing boots is just around the corner
I'm glad I switched to platform pedals that will accommodate any type of footwear.

Allow extra time to navigate dicey paths and roadways
An obvious consideration, yet I often cut my commute times too close for comfort.
Windproof mittens are my go-to hand wear
I seldom use gloves any more. If it's below 40F, mittens are required. 

A down coat will keep me toasty
I haven't resorted to my down jacket quite yet, but I know it's available for instant warmth - the best kind of winter riding insurance.

A change of helmet?
For the first time ever, I've contemplated the switch to owning two helmets, one with less ventilation to keep my head warmer in colder temps. Helmets are discounted in late fall, easy justification to buy two helmets to replace my current, aging leopard print-covered Bell helmet. So I went for it. I now own two different Giro commuter helmets - both styles I had admired for nearly a year.

After managing to commute through much of last winter, I have the confidence, experience, and desire to continue riding on days when it's cold and trails are snow and ice free. I know my limits, but I long for those dry path days and crisp, cold and quiet night rides home that provide me with a sense of peace.