Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Rewind

Winter in Vermont can often provide a bike rider with snow-free bike paths.

What strikes me the most about 2017 is I added, quite unexpectedly, two more bicycles into my life, but of course January didn't start that way...

The year began with frequent snow-free winter bike commutes, punctuated by blasts of extreme weather, including hail in mid May plus I embraced a longer, cleansing ride in sunny, cold weather.

racktime topit

In the spring I added a front rack to Miss Clementine and later a specialized handle bar bag to complete her set up as a tour ready companion.

coffeeneuring, day, and overnight bike adventures

In the summer I went on an annual slow-roll with Adele in Canada, and also made a concerted effort to re-connect with an old friend, Paula, (who I'd forgotten liked to ride) plus made a new friend, Carmen, that led to a women-only overnight to Grand Isle State Park.  Carmen also joined me for a coffeeneuring outing and we regularly see each other at Queen City Bicycle Club rides. My husband and I also got out more, riding with Paula, an overnight in Canada, and exploring Groton State Forest, plus he accompanied me on several coffeeneuring trips. Now that our children are becoming responsible young adults, I love it when we can plan mini adventures or head out on a moments notice.

Dahon folder, step through Peugeot

I welcomed two bikes into my life this year: a white Peugeot St. Laurent as a replacement commuter bike and a Dahon Boardwalk 6-speed, both Craigslist finds, both stumbled upon with endless searching. I'd looked for years for a larger framed steel step-through, and coincidentally I located an inexpensive brand-named folding bike, something I've always wanted to try. In November, I also, excitedly, re-purposed my Trek Antelope into a dedicated winter commuter. 

Peugeot commuter bike near Le Champlain

Bike overnights hold the power to rejuvenate me like nothing else short of a week-long vacation. This year I discovered the beauty of lone nights at our family's nearby lakefront cottage during September and October. 5 miles from home and 7 miles from my workplace, I packed food, overnight gear and dress attire and often pedaled the circuit: camp to work along the lake shore path, work to home to resupply and greet family, then back to camp, often arriving after sunset.

After a solo trip hiking Hadrian's Wall Path in early September, that particular bike-less adventure has ignited a spark for future plans. Whether it's US travel or overseas, on foot or wheels, I've vowed to make exploration a more consistent part of my life.

Onward to 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Salt, Crosswalks, and Winter Riding Reflections/Emotions

Photo credit: Burlington, VT waterfront trail winter plowing policy.
As I walked to catch a bus ride this morning, my boots crunched over salt crusted sidewalks. Salt coats roads, walkways, everything! Salt is king in these parts, making roads safe, passable - at least in the travel lanes. That is, where automobiles rule the road. On the other hand, bike lanes are full of packed snow or slush, a far cry, in my opinion from safe bicycle conditions. As I entered intersections, the white striped crosswalks - specifically the white painted portions - are extremely slippery when wet, surely a major failure!

As I continued on I realized how I would never feel safe riding when lanes are narrow, when paths are unplowed, when I would be subjected to riding with traffic, literally, in the lane with an automobile in front and behind, to justify riding through out the colder months, during frequent and regular snowfall.

I admire those hearty folks who can ride in all conditions, unafraid, with studded tires, on fat bikes, in heavy traffic, squeezing by cars on congested highways. It takes a special kind of gutsy determination to claim their space, however minimal, on narrow, New England roads.

As much as I would like to embrace this lifestyle, if only to support the growing winter riding culture, I realize this is beyond my comfort zone. I'm fine with occasional rides on dry pavement side roads, paths, or sidewalks - if I can link a route to work - otherwise, I'll leave the snowy roads to heartier riders.

More power to you!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winter Solstice 2017, 15F

I welcomed a bike commute on a brisk 15F morning. Bike paths are still treacherous after regular snowfall and precipitation, but roads are dry so I pieced together a route that's similar in length on low trafficked neighborhood streets and back roads to arrive at my workplace. Due to conditions, it had been two weeks since I'd felt safe enough to ride a bicycle and with a brief window of weather before tomorrow's predicted storm, I'll take what I can get. After all, it is winter.

Later that evening I joined an amazing turn out, some 40 strong, well-lit, like-minded souls who cruised around the city for 45 minutes, before I turned toward home, picking up the pace to stimulate warmth into cold fingers. Group rides can be fun when weather is agreeable, but I have trouble keeping warm on long, slow strolls even with handwarmers tucked inside mittens. It was interesting though, to catch up with a few friends.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brakes, Brakes, Swapping a Wheel, and More Brakes!

The Trek gets a brake adjustment and a "new" wheel.

After spending 1.5 hours to replace a brake cable and housing on my Peugeot St. Laurent, (frozen brakes on a frosty morning!) including the painstaking fine-tuning  required to adjust cantilever straddle cable in cramped space between fender and rack, I took advantage of attending a class on brakes, hoping to learn a few tips. I've fiddled with canti-brakes for 30 years, but until a few years ago I had never replaced my own cables so I was hoping experts could shed some light. It turns out, just as I suspected (but of course hoped I was wrong), cantilever brake adjustment requires time and patience, and, according to the mechanic, perhaps a beer. I had to laugh at his last comment because I knew exactly what he meant!

However, I did learn a few things related to brakes:
  • My Peugeot doesn't have barrel adjuster screws like my Trek Antelope. My adjustments have to be spot on, whereas with the Trek I can get things close then make minute adjustments with the screws above the straddle wire and at the brake levers. Often, it's little features like this that make some bikes much easier to work on. 
  • Cantilever straddle wires are set at a 45 degree angle. This optimum setting would've saved me some frustration. Now I know! 
  • You can lightly sand rims to alleviate squealing brakes. I knew about roughing up brake pads, but not rims. The mechanic demonstrated with 80 grit sandpaper, though I would likely use a finer grain. As the mechanic pointed out, you might avoid this technique on a fancy, expensive bike, but any commuter bike should be fine.
  • You can clean rims with alcohol. Hallelujah! I'm pretty fastidious with rims, but as I later learned, rubbing alcohol (and not the kind you ingest, the mechanic joked) does a bang up job at removing grime.
Funny thing is, less than two weeks after I went to the class, I had to swap the rear wheel on my Trek Antelope winter bike. Adding chunky tires to narrower rims was an experiment, and the rear tire started shifting, rubbing on brake pads (I was nervous about potential failure so I called for a car rescue as I discovered the problem after I pedaled to work) so I swapped the rim to a wider Araya version saved from the dismantled Ross. The rear wheel carries all my commuting weight, so better safe than sorry! The front wheel seems to be fine, but I will keep an eye on it.

The downside is gearing isn't optimal, going back to a 28T freewheel, but certainly doable for the approximately 4 months of winter riding. However, the silver lining could be that if I desire, my main commuter bike, the Peugeot, could have super low gears. The narrower wheel should accommodate my favorite commuting 1.75 tires.

Shiny rims! I took advantage of lightly sanding and cleaning the "new" wheel, per the mechanic's suggestion. Who cares if the rear wheel is wider than the front?

Back to the Trek. Swapping wheels meant another session of brake adjusting angst, one which I took my time at to get things pretty perfect this time around. I didn't want the slightest rubbing, which required finesse but I'm quite confident I made the right decision. The Trek is a fun bike, and with wider rubber it rides some where between my Peugeot commuter and a fat bike, so I've been seeking out single track, often short cutting paved bike path to ride on a trail through a frozen, harvested cornfield. If that isn't a testament to adding wide tires, I don't know what is!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Decorating the Trek's Handle Bars

When I completed the Trek's makeover recently, I'd intended to cover up the odd feeling, jelly-like grips to provide extra cushion and style, yet at the time, couldn't envision exactly what that was. I went to the fabric store to get inspired and brought home red wool and giraffe-print fleece. I slipped tubes of fleece over the foam bar ends, that benefited one shabby grip, then tightly wrapped strips of both materials so my hands felt better - albeit gloved hands - in the neutral position. I secured the material with waxed thread.

This is bicycle love.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Magic of Riding Dugway / Wes White Dirt Roads

My husband knows how to get me out of a riding rut. Because I've never liked the complications of loading the car, determining the route, and well, driving in general, I tend to ride loops from home, which, of course, limits where I go. My husband (and A-1 riding partner) drove us 20 minutes from home but a world away from the busy city to enjoy riding on dirt roads. Much like our Groton State Forest adventure, it's worth exploring further afield.

Gillett Pond was iced over. We watched something dance across the ice and determined it must have been
 a leaf carried in the breeze.
I expected the scenery would be ugly -it is November after all - but the afternoon sunshine cast golden hues on barren hillsides; we discovered an iced-over pond, ancient mossy old stone walls deep into the woods above the road, and smooth, dirt roads.

An old stone dam contains the water in Gillett Pond.

My camera couldn't capture stunning snow-covered Mt. Mansfield on the horizon.
Wes White Road climbs to reveal open vistas and old pastures with new houses (commute distance to either the capital or busy Chittenden County). I am reminded that Vermont in the early 1900's was 90% sheep farming economy and one can imagine its historical past in late autumn. As I walked the English countryside recently, among stone walls, dodging sheep and cows, I remember reflecting then, that Vermont once had a similar landscape.

November riding can have a magic all  it's own. Leafless trees appear purple in the distance. Water trickles in brooks. A dusting of snow edges the road. Human sounds are there too: chainsaws or holiday revelers cutting Christmas trees, carrying them back to their cars. And we pedal by, smiling, because we've eeked out one more beautiful ride, in mid 40s temperatures, that feels like a gift.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 - Seventh Cup at the Intervale

It was too chilly to take off my helmet.
For the grand finale of my Coffee Without Walls episodes, my husband and I headed for the Intervale dirt roads and trails along the Winooski River. I've thought of these brew up spots as "episodes" because I need pretty lake or tributary scenery, a comfortable place to sit, and a means to "film" each installment that includes coffee or tea. I've been fortunate that my husband has tagged along on 3 occasions and a friend on another, which has made the "filming" and my role in it relatively easy. Have photographer, will travel!

A peaceful spot. A flock of geese circled overhead. Cows on the opposite shore were hidden among the trees. All this only 2 miles from busy downtown Burlington.

My "photographer" and riding partner.

Despite the barren November landscape, there were reflections in the calm river for pretty landscape
 This time around, I made a perfect if somewhat scalding thermos of coffee.

More of my husband's artsy photography, displaying the beaver action taking place.

Parting thoughts
After two years of using the Lake Champlain water view theme I am considering historical spots for next years challenge. I love cemeteries; we have nearby old woolen mills - there's plenty to keep me occupied and with the ability to discover more about each new venue, well, to me the spirit of coffeeneuring is the exploration that happens. And now that I have a trusty thermos I may periodically ditch the stove routine, especially if it opens up opportunities for interesting spots.

And not to worry. I live near Lake Champlain and it's still my favorite place to ride so I promise to throw in some lake view images en route.

The Place: On the Winooski River banks of the Intervale
Date: Saturday, November 12
Drink: Cafe Bustelo
Observation:  It's getting pretty chilly for coffee without walls outings. I'm happy to be done!
Total Miles: 8 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 - Sixth Cup at Mayes Landing

I paid homage today to an often overlooked park, Mayes Landing, at the mouth of the Winooski River where it empties into Lake Champlain. Water views, baby, water views!

The lawn space also overlooks the beautiful bike/pedestrian bridge, site of many stops, destinations, and otherwise awesome views looking west toward New York. But, upriver there is a special beauty in enjoying the swiftly moving current as it collects and moves debris, sometimes eddying before sweeping underneath the bridge.

Today's outing included a maiden voyage of my recently renovated Trek Antelope 830 that now sports 2" tires, the first outdoor use of a new Stanley coffee press, and to celebrate another wonderful ride with my husband.

The stove fuel was running low, even with my husband's panniers shielding the wind. I made the mistake of premixing coffee grounds, milk, and a squirt of chocolate syrup which had jostled on the ride, and then was difficult to press, though I eventually was able to enjoy a lukewarm mocha. I am impressed with the Stanley thermos: It seems to be well-made (I previously experimented with it at home), and can double as a regular thermos by leaving out the plunger/press apparatus. The width does not fit in my water bottle cage as suggested by a Facebook coffeeneur. Nonetheless, I'm glad I bought it because it makes excellent coffee and will fit in my commuter bike's basket.

My husband got a little artsy with the camera. Where's Annie?

There she is!
I'm happy to report I am in love all over again with my Trek.

The Place:
Mayes Landing

Date: Saturday, November 4
Drink: Cafe Bustelo & Hersheys Syrup for a mocha
Observation:  Surprisingly, autumn colors are still vibrant along the waterfront bike path.
Total Miles: 15 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Freedom is a Down Coat

With frosty mornings now common I've been using my new down parka for instant warmth. Not usually one for bicycle-centric garments, I picked up this discounted jacket at a Louis Garneau outlet to replace a drafty 20 year old black, puffy, down sweater. I love the long sleeves with thumb-hole cuffs, longer jacket length, fuzzy pockets, high collar, bright red color, and most especially, the roomier cut. There are drawstrings inside the pockets to cinch to prevent drafts. After a mild October, temperatures now plummet to 30F or less at night so morning commutes are somewhere between Autumn and Winter Riding. I find the jacket less confining, thus with freedom of movement, it's easier to get out the door!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Montpelier-Wells River Rail Trail in Groton State Forest

Miss Clementine doubles as an easy riding trail bike.
In late October my husband and I celebrated his birthday by taking Friday off work and heading east to explore a section of the Cross Vermont Trail in Groton State Forest. 

My husband and his Bridgestone MB-3.
Groton State Forest is a unique area that encompasses several state parks, hiking trails, and beautiful ponds that have campsites, some of which must be accessed by boat. The Montpelier-Wells rail line used to bisect the region but was converted to a beautiful rail trail, a part of the overall Cross Vermont network.

I'd ridden the main paved Route 232 through the forest many years ago on my first bike overnight, but the late hour at the time had prevented me from exploring the rail line so this sunny autumn day was a welcome opportunity to be with my husband, doing something we both loved.

Pedaling beside Ricker Pond.
We parked mid-way at Kettle Pond then rolled southward. At higher elevation than where we live in Burlington, most of the leaves had fallen, covering an often rutted and rocky trail. But in spots the surface was smooth, especially beside the ponds. I enjoyed Clementine's long wheel base that soaked up most of the rough terrain. I'm not completely sold on the current Terry saddle - it's certainly better than the stock Rivendell one - so an optimal seat is still a work in progress.

My husband performs roadside emergency bike repair on a gravel island.
We had the trail to ourselves! Turning around at the town of Groton, we pedaled back to Kettle Pond and headed the other direction toward Marshfield Pond. A few miles before our turnaround point, we gingerly rode through a flooded area when my husband's bike picked up a stick that had wedged and bent his front fender. While he dealt with the adjustments I wandered around and discovered a culvert had drained an uphill pond beneath the road, but beavers had created a dam above the culvert, creating a personal swimming pool.

Soon we were riding again, enjoying more lake views filled with boulders, rounded mountains with golden foliage on one side with cliffs on the other, then retraced our route at the point where the trail begins to drop a lot of elevation into Marshfield.

I was tired when we returned to the car, but glad that we'd made the journey to enjoy a quiet 22 mile bike ride in a lovely forest.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Trek 830 Antelope Makeover

I have always liked the looks of my red Trek 830 Antelope and now that it once again has wide gumwall tires, the bicycle visually resembles the way it was when I bought the bike in 1986.

Testing my Blackburn commuter pannier to see if I have ample heel clearance.
There are very few original parts on the bike, and I forgot that the current rims are not my favorite (and original) Araya wide beauties, but a narrower replacement, having used 1.5" tires for over 20 years. I struggled putting the Kenda 1.9" fatties on the rims, wondering if I'd made a mistake buying wider tires, but I eventually seated the rubber and so far (after 15 miles) the wheels haven't given me any trouble.

Of course, fitting wider tires meant adjusting brakes and fenders to accommodate the extra rubber.

My overall goal was to simplify the accessories so the bicycle will be easy to clean, simple to ride with bulky clothing, and accept my handlebar light with an unobstructed front view in complete darkness, because, alas, the plan is for the Trek to be my main winter bike.

In addition to installing new tires, I removed the front lowrider rack, replaced extra long bar ends with a shorter version, removed the 25 year old black foam grips and squeezed on red gummy-bear like hand grips (which feel a little weird so I may cover them with fabric). I kept the cushiony foam bar end wraps as extra insulation between mittened hands and metal in sub-freezing temperatures, which I find extremely helpful. The bar ends also serve a functional purpose: the frame is slightly small so I like extending my reach when safe riding allows.

I'm glad the brake levers are still covered with grippy rubber - very helpful in fair or inclement conditions.
I suspect this item is no longer available. 
And because I had an extra rubber kickstand foot, the Trek now sports one too.

I am digging the frontal handle bar view, even though there is less room for bell, mirror, and light. In this case, just enough space is fine!

I didn't need another seat, but my husband has been troubled on an uncomfortable seat on his MB-2, so I offered up the Trek's gel seat and went so far as to swap it for him, then using his seat on my Trek. And I suppose I was also curious about the larger hole cutout and matching red/black color scheme and willing to try it on my own bike. Truth be told, I am also the type of person that sometimes buys fabric because I like a particular pattern or texture, then figure out later how I will use it!

Near as I can tell the saddle may be an older Terry model. I think it's leather, and if it is I wonder if I should
be concerned about leaving it outdoors in the winter at my workplace....dang.
Maybe I should replace it with a cheapo seat from our parts stash.

I removed one of two water bottle racks - no need perhaps, for even one during the winter.

Now that I enjoy flat pedals, it was a no-brainer to ditch the toeclips and pedals. I used a plastic pair that came with the white Peugeot St. Laurent, my commuter bike, A black pair was stock on Miss Clementine and I used a similar pair when I borrowed the Yuba Boda Boda. In spite of seeking out metal pedals because of looks and the ability to service the bearings, I appreciate the functional and quite adequate composite/plastic pedals, especially the type with recessed reflectors.

All in all, the shakedown 15 mile ride aboard the revitalized Trek (on a coffeeneuring run!)  was a real pleasure. The new tires provide a super comfy ride and any difficulty climbing hills was offset by the Trek's low range gearing. After a few more minor adjustments for comfort, the bicycle is ready for winter commutes.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 - Fifth Cup at the Salmon Hole

A lovely spot to break out the chair.
For my fifth Coffee Shop Without Walls installment I hooked up with Carmen, of rogue beerenuering fame, at Lone Sailor Park then we pedaled to the Salmon Hole on the last warm afternoon before high winds knocked down trees and created power outages all over Vermont.

Once my coffee is brewed, Carmen pours her coffee flavored stout.
The Salmon Hole is a tributary to Lake Champlain, thus satisfying my water view theme, which, this year, has included rivers. The ledges are sheltered in warmth and we have a fine view of the old Winooski Mill buildings and bridge. Carmen also reminded me there's a fish elevator, or lift, on the other side that aims to restore fish populations.

Carmen displays her "Always Be Coffeeneuring" patch.
I mentioned to Carmen that I have to be careful about location because my stove functions best in sheltered spots. I didn't realize that Carmen also has concerns. She must be discreet with her beer in public, thus the brown bag disguise. Once her drink is poured into a glass, however, her beer could easily pass for root beer.

 Cheers to coffee and coffee stout!

Annie pushes her bike back up the trail. (Carmen, thanks for the photo.)
The Place: Salmon Hole
Date: Saturday, October 28
Drink: Cafe Bustelo
Observation:  Coffeeneuring is more fun with a friend.
Total Miles: 7 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 - Fourth Cup at Lone Sailor Park

With breezy weather and a short time-frame, I gambled that I could find a sheltered spot to brew tea at Lone Sailor Park.

Squeezed between a working dock and ECHO science center/ UVM research facility, the statue and narrow strip of land has always attracted me to it's peaceful presence and heavenly views.

Erected in 2004, the naval statue is a replica of the original Lone Sailor in our nation's capital, and dedicated to naval battles past and present in our region. Circling the compass are plaques commemorating early naval admirals George Dewey and Henry Mayo, both naval commanders born in Vermont, Revolutionary Battle of Valcour and 1812 Battle of Plattsburgh Bay. The whole park was erected in honor of former governor Robert Stafford, a captain in the US Navy and first commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Center, site of current park.

Art depicting lake, plants, and fish.

Beyond Burlington's breakwater, foliage on the New York shoreline.

Miss Piggy tugboat.

ECHO Science Center (glass building) and UVM Lake Research building (brick).

Stove is somewhat sheltered behind a granite block.

A couple from Florida took my photo.
Who knew this area held so much history? I was pleasantly surprised that tourists eventually wandered around because the park is hidden. And I thought only locals knew about this gem!

The Place: Lone Sailor Park
Date: Friday, October 27
Drink: Bentley's Cranberry Blood Orange Rooibos Tea
Observation:  I had forgotten that this was a replica of a statue in Washington, DC. I had no idea the parklet attracted so many visitors.
Total Miles: 4