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.