Sunday, May 1, 2016

Not quite 30 days of riding in April

There is a pledge you can sign is to let the world know that you intend to ride your bike for 30 days in April.  Besides being a good idea, it's also a fund raiser for World Bicycle Relief.  I didn't pledge because I knew that guaranteeing to ride every day in a month would be difficult, especially on weekends when my free time is often committed to my kids.  But I did do my best to get on my bike in April.  Besides getting out on one or more of my bikes on 20 days, I also rode all three of my bikes:
  • Four road rides on my IF (131 miles)
  • Three commutes on my 3 speed bike (27 miles)
  • One off road ride on Surly (45 miles) and Thirteen commutes on it (185 miles)
That's almost 400 miles last month.  While I didn't win any competition, I feel like I got out as much as I could, given my other commitments. I rode to work most days and somehow I don't feel all that much of fair weather cyclist anymore.  That said, a hard rain as I'm about to leave my house may give me pause.

Thinking of fair weather cycling, I remember the one time my wife and I rode the King's Tour of the Quabbin.  This was in 2002 or 2003.  We were coaxed into going by a friend who apparently checked the weather forecast and didn't show up.  We headed out with far too little foul weather gear for the weather we encountered.  My wife had a light fleece jacket and I had a short sleeve polypro shirt under my jersey.  The rain started around 20 miles into the ride.  We made it to the turn around in the rain and simply turned around and headed towards our car.  I don't remember all that much from the ride except for the cars passing us and spraying water from the puddles onto us.  I also remember finishing and trying to get to the car to change into dry clothes while I was chilled to the bone.  It was a miserable experience that would have been easier to take if I carried the gear that we needed (and left at home).  But I'm pretty sure that a ride like that would have been less than pleasant with any gear.  That may be part of why I call myself a fair weather cyclist.  And I'm not ashamed of that.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Diverged 2016 - by road and trail to Concord, MA

Ride Studio Cafe and Overland Base Camp put on the 4th annual Diverged Ride on Saturday.  Unlike past versions of this event, this one stretched reasonably far from the Cafe, heading west to Concord and traversing some familiar and some unfamiliar trails, and some new to me side streets in Concord.   This was my fourth Diverged - I've manged to ride them all, not that I road all of the routes each time, including this one.  The ride was quick as promised by Rob Vandermark in the description:

"No Drop Ride", riding hard at times but not over your head, getting your heart rate near maximum a few times, taking a few blurry photos."

And we did go too fast for taking pictures.  That was a shame - there were dozens of places that I would have liked to stop and take pictures but since I was almost always last in our group, there was never time to do so.  No matter, the ride was quite memorable without having pictures and I'm sure I'll ride some of these trails again.  And I did get my heart rate up a lot, especially on the steep pitches that slowing down on was an option that included falling over.

I found myself on a great team led by Dan, who I hadn't met before.  In fact, everyone on the team was new to me.  Dan set a reasonably fast pace and while they didn't lose me, I was often the last one in our group.  I occasionally was in the middle of the pack but the fact is, I was slower than everyone else.  That didn't seem to matter to how quickly we finished.  We were passed by Bradford Smith's group but his was a faster group so no big surprise there.  In the end, I did leave early, realizing that if I left when I did (on the Reformatory Branch Trail, just east of the Rte 62 crossing), I could make it home by 2 PM, which is when I promised my wife I'd be home.  And I made it.  That said, I was tired out by the ride.  We did stop for snacks at Haute Coffee in Concord.  I'm pretty sure that the Diverged ride accounted for a lot of their business on Saturday.

One thing that the Rob and Patria did on this ride that worked particularly well was staggering the rides and sending some clockwise on the loop and others counter clockwise.  We passed a couple of groups heading in the opposite direction (including Michelle Smith's Hub team at the Route 2 below grade crossing) and were passed by another group at the crossing.  Otherwise it felt like we were a team alone in the woods, which was the best way to do this ride.

[edited 4/25/2016 - added this paragraph on the weather]  My wife asked me about the rain before I left the house.  I said that I wouldn't be doing the ride in the rain and didn't have to worry since the rain was ending and mostly south of us and was expected to stay south of the ride.  I did bring my raincoat and helmet cover, just in case.  And it's a good thing I brought them - a light rain started minutes before our starting time (9 AM for my group).  I got them and got on my bike and managed to start the Garmin but failed to find the correct course - I can't see much without my glasses.  Still, I managed to catch up with the group and not get all that wet on the ride.  The only issue was with my sunglasses fogging, which happened whenever we stopped.  I gave up on the glasses somewhere near Walden Pond and put them back after lunch when the world dried out some.

Some notes on the trails:
  • I've been on the trails between Bedford Road and Sandy Road in Lincoln before (on my road bike) and enjoyed that section.  It was even easier on my Surly with the 35mm Clement USH tires (still functional with almost 5,000 miles on them).
  • The section west from Sandy Pond Road and circling back to Walden Pond, ending at the Route 2 crossing was my favorite.  The crossing is below grade - again no pictures but check out Bradford Smith's Instagram feed, he has a picture and posts fun pictures frequently.  There were sections of meadow crossings, wide paths, and winding single track, with some steep pitches.  There wasn't much that I didn't try to roll over here and managed to stay upright in this section and on the entire ride.  One person on the trip described this as one big patch of woods and while that wasn't strictly true, this is a wild corner of eastern Massachusetts, not all that far from Boston.
  • There was a great section of woods road, just west of Lowell Road and separated by the Concord River from it.  I thought it would be a great, quiet road to bring my boys for a bike ride.  And I would have looked around for Egg Rock, which we didn't see on this ride.
  • Not surprisingly, Rob and Patria skipped most of the east section of the Reformatory Branch Trail, opting for a large network of side trails.  We did ride the western section of the trail and, while it was straight as expected for a rail trail, the woods were a bit wild.  And it reminded me to go check out the herons at the heron rookery we passed to the south of the trail.  I did ride almost the entire east section of the trail but was apparently channeling Rob when I diverged from the main trail and took the Yellow Trail to South Road.
  • All of the trails were worth riding again and some could provide short cuts on road bikes.  There were definitely sections that I was happy to see how roads could be connected.

I'd like to say that I've been riding off road a lot but this was most of the off road riding I have done so far this year.  Most of my riding is commuting and I've rode a couple of hundred miles on the road.  I enjoy this kind of riding but when my time is limited and I need exercise, I prefer a longer road ride.  That said, it's nice when I get the motivation to get out in a group to ride in the woods.

The motivation included a great breakfast and promises of coffee to buy.  I was pleasantly surprised that Ride Studio Cafe again offer decaf pour overs.  While that may sound treasonous to some, I'm mostly decaf these days and sometimes prefer coffee over an espresso.

I did take a couple of pictures at our one extended 10 minutes) stop on the trails:

Dan, our leader for the day.  While he claimed to have not been on the whole route before, he did a great job keeping us on track and enjoying the day/

Sudbury River at a brief stop.

My ride on Strava.

Miles for the day: 45, miles for the month: 278, miles for the year: 988.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Faraday Electric Bike in the wild

I ran into Chris on my Friday AM commute and asked to check out his Faraday Porteur, an electric bike.  This is the first Faraday I've seen around town.  It's a nice bike on the surface and he loves it.  As he said, it gets him out riding on errands, commutes, and for pleasure.  You can't beat that kind of motivation.  From a distance, it doesn't look like an electric bike but one with a big front hub, like it has drum brakes.  But it also has disc brakes so the front hub is a bit busy but otherwise that's all you notice on the outside.  That and the rear light, which looks like the battery enclosure, though I'm not sure of that.

OK, if the battery isn't behind the seat tube, where is it?
Rear dropout.  Not fancy but it looks like it does a good job supporting the rear disc brake.
The porteur rack is supported by the frame, not the fork.  You can also see the front headlight.
Chris has an uncomplicated cockpit on his Faraday.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

An unofficial freezing saddles entry, and the end of the winter of 2015/2016 (sort of)

The winter is over in two days.  That said, the temperature this morning was below freezing and a big snow storm was in the forecast for tomorrow evening, although that forecast is now in flux, fortunately.  Besides winter officially ending tomorrow, so is the Freezing Saddles contest.  I haven't been participating it officially, but it was fun measuring how much I got out on my bike this winter using their point system.  Officially I would have had to use Strava, which I barely do, despite a great argument in favor of using it shared by one of my favorite bloggers.  Besides not using Strava, I wasn't part of a team, so I really didn't qualify.

My results: 605 miles in 40 rides for 1005 points.  Most of those rides were commutes to work, 37 of them.  Five of the 37 commutes were short trips to Alewife when I didn't want to ride in the city (it was snowing all day on two of those days).  I also took three road rides totaling 114 miles.  I did manage to get on my road bike once in each of the three months of the challenge.  Those 605 miles are the most that I ever rode during this time of the year.  It helped that the weather was far more cooperative this year than it was during last year's snow-pocalypse.  I had intended to ride through that winter but an unfortunate but minor accident kept me off my bike for the worst of the snow.

Another measure of winter riding for me is counting how many days I rode to work during daylight savings time.  That's an important measure since I need lights for those days and it's usually much colder during that time (most of the period is during meteorological winter).  Of the 76 days that I went to work, I manage to ride 63 of those days, which is pretty consistent for me in fair weather (I'm a fair weather cyclist, after all) and quite good for less than fair weather.  I'm pretty sure I was a slacker and skipped riding in the rain or cold on most of those days but a few were for errands (usually picking up the boys) that I simply can't do with my commuter bike, or on any of the bikes I own.

Overall, I believe I rode more than 1,200 miles during a time of year that I didn't ride at all in the past.  Not bad for the freezing saddles season

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

Friday, March 4, 2016

Getting through the winter on my bike

I'm still riding my bike, despite the season.  While it's been a warm winter, there have been some very cold days and snowy days along with some very mild ones.  In February I rode 210 miles.  Most of that was commuting but I did get out for one very nice road ride last Sunday.  The previous weekend was spectacular but I was spectacularly sick and spent most of it in bed.  I was 14 of 20 days for commuting for the month.  That includes three days that I rode only to Alewife and included two snowy days.

My numbers for Freezing Saddles are pretty low, 360 points for last month and about 760 points for the season.  Translated to miles, that's about 450 miles.  I'm still barely on the leader board but I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing.

Monday, February 1, 2016

January riding: not quite freezing saddles

BikeArlington (the Arlington in Virginia not the one where I live) is running a friendly competition called Freezing Saddles.  The point seems to be about getting out riding when you might think that you shouldn't, or your friends who don't ride in the winter think you shouldn't.  I'm not competing since I'm not part of a team (which seems to be important) and because I don't compete except against myself (and I usually win though I sometimes lose) and because I don't really use Strava, which is how they are keeping track of winning. I have a Strava account for checking out other peoples' routes, which I don't do often enough.  But I am keeping track of my rides on a spreadsheet somewhere.  I hear that you get 10 points for every day that you are ride at least a mile and 1 point for each mile you ride.   So for January I have 303 points.  I just checked this Freezing Saddles leaders list and I'm not leading but I'm pretty happy about how much I have been on my bike in January.

Almost all of my rides have been commutes.  I ride about 14 miles each way and I rode to work 11 times in January.  So far I skipped 3 days of bike commuting (it doesn't add up to your work schedule because of a work trip to the desert - no cycling there).  One was that very cold Tuesday morning (1/5/2016) when the morning temperature was 8 degrees.  I was fighting off a cold and I didn't need the added stress.  I was out riding the evening before when it was 17 degrees and very windy so while I wimped out, I was definitely pushing my definition of "fair" weather cycling from riding on sunny and warm days to the continuum: poor, fair, good, very good, excellent.  I also missed a day when I had to pick up the both boys but had to stay late at work before I picked them up (yes, I can get home from work faster by car than bike since I live just far enough out of town).  And I missed a day last week when I was exhausted after a travel day that ended well past midnight (yes, you can call me a wimp - I won't care).

I also went for one road ride.  It was a late afternoon into evening ride with the temperature ranging from 39 at the start to 34 at the end.  I rode in the dark for a while but it seemed pretty safe to do since there was no ice on the road.

But while it was cold on a few days in January, it was hardly a bitter cold month.  I think the local National Weather Service office called it an above normal January.  And today is February 1st and it was a really warm day (I think the afternoon temperature reached 60 degrees), although the temperature started to fall before I left work and the ride home wasn't all that warm.  So I'm sort of competing in the Freezing Saddle competition but the freezing part hasn't been all that appropriate, yet.  February is usually the coldest month in Boston (last year it was the coldest and snowiest month of the winter) so it could be a long month and my 24 points from today might be a big part of my February total.  We'll see.

From NWS Boston:

And now I need to lube my chain.  Nice winter though it's been, my bike is not quite pristine.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I knew it wouldn't be easy: starting to ride in the snow

If you read what Peter White has to say about studded tires, you might see why I picked the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires (the 700x35mm version) for my commuter.  They are for people like me - commuters who might ride in the snow but are most worried about slipping on ice and maybe getting stuck in an icy rut.  I bought a set of these from Peter last month and mounted them soon after,  waiting for a chance to try these out.  My chance came this morning.  There was a ride out of Ride Studio Cafe (first snow of the winter, which happened at 3 AM today) which was too early for me.  In any case, I knew that I would be outclassed on my "dad bike", a Swobo 3 speed, and headed out around 5:30 AM.

Since I knew I would be riding in the dark and with snow falling, I mounted a few lights on the bike for the purpose, an older 600 lumen Nite Rider on a Paul Components Gino mount at the front hub and a generic battery powered flashlight/headlight on my handlebar.  I kept a Light and Motion Urban 350 in reserve (and for pictures, as it turned out).  For rear lighting, I had Portland Design Works Radbot and a generic red/blinky rear light.  (Both of the generics were handouts on a Bike to Work day in the last couple of years.)  The Marathon tires have reflective sidewalls and I had my usual assortment of reflectors on my person.

So how did it go?  It was fun, pure and simple!  I can't say that I was fully in control at all times, especially in the deeper snow (thanks to plows - although most streets that I rode were not yet plowed).  But I could move through the snow and felt that I was stable as long as I was moderate in my speed and direction changes (as Peter White preaches).  I could ride through snow as deep as 2 inches with not much difficulty, although riding in a complete straight line wasn't easy and at times even possible.  That kind of performance seems expected based on reviews and the advice on Peter's web page.   I rode on some trails and the bike did fine, as long as I was riding downhill or on the flats.  The bike had a lot of difficulty moving up snow covered hills.  I suspect that this has something to do with the gearing, it may have been easier on my Surly Cross Check with a 30/30 gearing.  My Swobo has the stock cranks and chainring and Shimano 3 speed IGH and that's usually good enough.  In fact, I had to walk a hill on snow covered dirt that I could pull my 40 pound son up on a trail-a-bike.  I also had to walk a couple of steep sections of paved road.

That said, I think the tires excelled in the kind of riding that I got them for: minimally plowed paved surfaces.  I could ride at a reasonably fast pace safely.  The bike path in Arlington was paved an hour or so before I first rode it (there was more snow on my return trip) and the going was safe.  If you know anything about me and commuting, you'll understand that safe is better than fast.  And these tires in these conditions are anything but fast.  It was fun to hit slightly deeper snow (2+ inches) in Lexington, where the path isn't plowed, but it was remarkably slow.  Having to get home to shovel out my wife's car (although changed plans later and worked from home), I was relieved to get back on the plowed Arlington bike path and made great time getting back home.

While the tires made riding possible for me, it wasn't easy.  At times I felt like I was riding moderate hills on the D2R2, except that I was on the gentle uphill grades on the paved bike path.  Surprisingly, they felt suddenly fast under the 3 bridges on the path that we still clear.  That contrast is telling for me: studded tires and riding in snow is not going to get you there faster, but it will be more fun than waiting for a bus or driving.

Should you try studded tires?  If you are a fair weather commuter like me, then you might want them if you plan to ride this winter.  I understand that some  experienced year round riders don't believe that studs are necessary.  But it was clear this morning that I would not have been out without studded tires.  And I certainly would be less than enthusiastic about riding the next few days with snow and icy patches on the edges of the roads I will be commuting on without studs.  They gave me some measure of confidence.  But I'm not entirely sure that I want to ride on the narrow streets of Cambridge, if we have anything like the snow that fell last winter.  I'll hold off on a decision until we get there. It's not that I don't think that the tires could help me control the bike, it's because there are a lot of cars that might be in less than complete control of their drivers.  Your mileage may vary.

Oh, and Ride Studio Cafe had a great idea of getting out early for the first snow of the year.

Tires tracks in the snow at the beginning of the unplowed Lexington section of the Minuteman bike path.  I hear it was the Ride Studio Cafe riders.  I was here around 6 so they were long gone by the time I arrived.  But I did see two cyclists following me back into Arlington, although left the path before they overtook me 

I tried so trails in Arlington Great Meadows.  They proved to be impassible  for me when traveling up a steep enough hill.  I passed through here on my road bike with 700x25mm tires last weekend.