Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coffeeneuring # 2 for 2014 or riding your bike in the dark

Coffeeneuring #2 for 2014 coincided with my second road ride since the beginning of September.  I tried to plan an early morning ride with another coffeeneur that combined road riding with his desire to ride trails but that coffeeneur's family life leaves him even more time constrained than me.  For that route I had planned on riding my Surly, which is well equipped for dirt roads.  Instead, I choose a similar route that kept me on paved roads so I could ride my IF, which is well equipped with lights: a Busch and Muller IQ CYO 60 lux headlight and Specula Plus taillight, both powered by a Schmidt Son Deluxe dynamo hub.  I have a back up 600 lumen Nite Rider headlight and used a Portland Design Works Radbot tailight in steady mode (in the dark; I switched to flashing mode in daylight).  The wheels have reflectors and I have reflective material on my shoes, supplemented by reflective ankle bands and also wear a reflective vest.  I was safe as I could be riding at night.  I left at 5:30 AM, which meant I had an hour and a half of riding before sunrise.  It was clear when I left my house but clouds moved in, making it a dark morning.

I really like riding my Surly, which is a bit of a tank but useful for a lot of the riding that I do (read: mostly commuting) but I enjoyed riding my IF for the coffeeneuring ride.  It's a great ride for me - very crisp response and quick handling, as designed.  It also weighs almost ten pounds less than the Surly.

The route

I followed well known roads out to Great Brook Farm Park then south to Concord, coming back into town on 2A and then used the Mill Street cutoff.  I would have taken Old Bedford Road and Virginia Road but I was somewhat pressed for time and didn't want to be late so I took 2A.  On the way out I avoided the bike path since it was leaf covered and wet and I didn't want to slip alone in the dark (or any other time).  4/225 wasn't very crowded so I didn't regret my decision.  The full route is here.

Coffee stop

Since this is a coffeeneuring post. I have to mention where I stopped: Haute Coffee in Concord, MA.  I had been there twice before, once on a partially dirt road ride I did in the early morning last fall in advance of coffeeneuring season.  I came by before they opened but they saw my lights and let me in and served me a pour over.  The make a great cup of coffee and I later enjoyed another cup after my boys and I explored the Concord heron rookery this spring.

They continue to make great pour overs and have nice treats.  I had a granola bar, which was great, especially since I had just a couple of bars for sustenance, since I was out too early to eat breakfast at home.  There is a nice place to sit indoors but the weather was fine and they don't have great places to lock bikes (you might see a mini u-lock attached to my seat bag) so I sat outside in what became a communal table.  Just as I got my coffee, I small group of riders from the Blue Ginger (yes, that nice restaurant in Wellesley) cycling club arrived and eventually joined me.  They were great company and I ended up staying a bit longer than I intended but probably was more in line with the spirit of coffeeneuring.  The coffee was served in a small carafe making it all a bit fancy but I got over that.

Riding in the dark

I have to say that I enjoy riding in the dark, although it takes a lot of equipment and care to be nearly as safe as you are riding during the day.  I took a spin on the bike path one evening last week.  My wife doesn't quite get it but it is an interesting experience and not at all thrilling in a death defying way.  In fact, I wouldn't be riding in the dark if I thought it was unsafe.  I do prefer riding in the early morning when drivers are less likely to have been drinking and there are few people on  the roads rather than in the late evenings.

I have come to like the Busch and Mueller lights that I now have on both of my bikes.  It gives me a great light on the road when I am traveling up to 20 miles per hour and has a decent spread of lower intensity light so that I can see to the side, something that I couldn't do with my battery powered headlight.  In that case, I feel like I am riding through a cone of light, although the light is better for rougher terrain.  I have a Spannigo Pixeo rear light on my commuter (which someone actually told me it was quite visible on a later afternoon commute a couple of weeks ago).  I thought the Specula Plus would be better, more than a point source of light, which some people say is not as easy to gauge distance by.  The Specula, which is the light mounted just below my seat post on the picture at the beginning of the post, seems to do better.  I still like to have a second light whether commuting or riding out of town.  I think the prettiest light is just around sunrise and sunset and in  the summer and I prefer to not ride in the heat of the day so I occasionally end up riding before sunrise and after sunset.  I end up traveling a lot slower at night, but the effect seems similar to riding on trails in the woods - it seems like you are riding a lot faster than you are.

Be careful out there if you do ride at night!

At the Maple Street bridge in Carlisle.  Lights on for safety

West Street before it turns into North Street and goes into Great Brook Farm Park.

The foliage show is fading fast but there are still some nice color out there.

Despite all of the rain that we have had in the last couple of weeks, the area is still very dry.  This is the inlet of one of Cambridge's reservoirs.

Not quite retro, not quite modern.

A map of my coffeeneuring destinations so far:

Miles for the ride: 43, miles for the month: 200, miles for the year: 2428.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014 - #1

Now that it's coffeeneuring season, I realized, again, that getting out of the house on some kind of schedule is hard, especially when it comes to cycling.  First, you need to understand that I managed to get on my bike 27 times (including today) since the beginning of September and 23 of those times have been commuting and another of those times was a family trip by bicycle.  So riding for fun seems to have largely faded from view.  Having said that, I already have family approval for a coffeeneuring trip to Western Massachusetts next week and that includes 40 miles, 4000 feet of climbing, and somewhere close to 15 miles of dirt roads.  But generally it is hard to get out of the house and this coffeeneuring season is getting a slow start.  To be honest, a lot of it has been my fault.  I instigated a trip to Cape Elizabeth in Maine, accepting friends' invitation to spend what turned out to be a rainy Saturday and sunny Sunday in a beautiful corner of the world with great friends.  I could have squeezed a coffeeneuring trip in early Saturday before we drove up there but it would have been stressful so I didn't.  Yesterday, the Saturday of the second coffeeneuring weekend, found us driving again, this time to the Ashfield Fall Festival and visiting some of my oldest friends, from college back in the 1970s.  We all had a great time, except my wife was pretty tired after driving back late with the boys (late for boys, not adults, except adults with children).  Riding before the trip was impossible, especially with me trying to get the the boys hair cut, which was successful.  So today was my first chance.  And here is what it looked like:

My wife is now aware of this challenge and while she undoubtedly scoffs at it (and is reading this post), she did encourage me to get some paint after I got some coffee (unfortunately the paint store was already closed for the day before I left the house) and even mentioned the challenge.  So I got out for some coffee and a nice ride, even if it was on busy streets.  On to the questions.

1) Where do you live?

Arlington, MA

2) How did you decide to coffeeneur?

I like coffee and I like to ride my bike.  And I ran the Northeast Regional Office for Coffeeneuring last year, making the digital map and I'm making the digital map again this year.

3) What bike are you using as you coffeeneuring bike?  Tell us a little about it and why it makes a good coffeeneuring bike.

Well, it's a Suly Cross Check frame built up with Shimano 105 shifters/brakes and derailleurs along with a Shimano 3N80 front hub and a White Industries MTB rear hub.  It has fenders and racks, lights powered by the generator and others powered by batteries and it even has a bell.  It serves as my commuter and carries the boys and one day I'l go for a short tour on it.  The racks make it a good coffeeneuring bike since I can carry panniers and fill one of those panniers with locks so I can confidently lock my bike.  (The locks include two Kryptonite locks and two cables, one locking and one used with one of the u locks, so I can park it for all of 20 minutes without worrying too much.)  I guess being able to carry locks is what makes it a coffeeneuring bike.  That said, I intend to do a coffeeneuring without walls sort of trip this coffeeneuring season and I'm thinking that I won't be locking my bike on that trip.

4) Where did you choose to coffeeneur for your first trip?

Diesel Cafe, Somerville, MA.  That's where my wife and I met, 12 years ago.  It's a great place but my wife always complains when I go there by myself.  Maybe she worries that I'll meet someone else but it's more likely that she wants to feel like she has a life outside of work besides kids.  Believe me, no one was interested in me and I just wanted to enjoy a cup of espresso.  Expecting to meet someone wasn't on my radar, nor was talking with anyone - I seriously needed alone time.

5) Would you recommend the Diesel Cafe?

Heck ya!  I met my wife there and you might meet your future spouse there too.  And the coffee is good and the space is expansive and cool, although at my age I can't even be considered a hipster.  You can play pool while you drink coffee, if you happen to time it right.

6) Is there bike parking?

Yes.  The city of Somerville re-purposed a parking stall or two in front of the cafe and put in a decent bike rack.  I even found a spot there today although bike parking in the Davis Square hipster district is tight, given all of the people who ride bikes and like to hang out there.

7) Did I forget to ask you anything that you want to share?

Well, no.  I think you have it covered.

My coffeeneuring bike:

You may notice that I was carrying a tire on the bike.  I made a stop at a bike shop to get a new tire for my son's new-to-us bike.  So this could have also qualified as an errandoneuring trip, if you happen to know what that is.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Visiting Firefly

My trip to Firefly Bicycles started with my friend Carl taking pictures of people after they finished the D2R2 (and several people helping out at the start/finish).  I suggested that Tyler and and Josie, who I had just said hello to, might be great subjects.  And they came over, perhaps in part to check out the camera, a 8x10 inch format camera.  It's hard to not be interested in Carl's camera.  It's one of those that require the photographer to get under a hood to see the viewfinder, if you can call it that, and you focus from outside the hood and you use a separate light meter.  The process is quite long - I know because I posed for a picture that day.  In any case, Carl took a picture of them, which you can see here.  Tyler suggested a shop visit for Carl, who invited me along.  Carl was interested in photographing their shop.  I was interested in looking at the process and checking out the bikes they were working on.

Carl and I arranged with Kevin Wolfson to take a tour of the Firefly factory a couple of weeks ago and it was well worth the effort.  Their shop is clean and somewhat sparse.  They seem to have more room than what seems like is needed but that made moving about, while holding a frame, more comfortable.  And they had time for us, at least Kevin had time to greet us and show us around, and Jamie gave us a more detailed tour, including a great explanation on welding, and showed us a number of frames and bikes in process.  Then Tyler came back from lunch and talked with us as well and checked out Carl's more portable camera (more portable than his 8x10 but still much more substantial than my DSLR).

I think I got one clear message about Firefly and how they operate.  They seem to want the space and time to make each bike perfect for the owner, which, by all accounts, they do.  It was fun to see several bikes in process.  The frame for Jamie's new super commuter was in the tacking jig and nearly ready for tacking.  It was alarming for me to see him pull a piece out to show me and have to get it back in place but it was also great fun to see the details that aren't visible once the frame is welded.  I had the opportunity to check out how all of the complicated tube cuts fit together, and how tight the tolerances were.  We also got to see the new disk road dropouts before they were well known (there are beautiful and now well publicized).  We saw a bike in the welding stand, waiting for Tyler, who finished the dress welds for the big tubes and was about to work on the small parts.  Except for the discoloration from the welding and finish work, it looked ready to ride.  We looked at  a couple of mountain frames looking nearly ready to build into bikes.  We also saw a light touring bike with S and S couplers, waiting on parts but very nearly finished.  We also Josh Zisson's frame from Saila Bikes, ready for a bead blasting finish.  There was the shop Bones project bike leaning against the wall, and the shop Adventure team bike waiting for its next adventure.  We also saw a small collection of seat posts and stems and parts ready to make more of them.  We also saw  the waiting list on a white board.  I was tempted to take a picture of it but this wouldn't be something to share if I did.  It was a long list with lots of names, each holding a dream of a perfect bike, waiting its turn to come alive.  Their process seems very deliberate and their results are spectacular.

It was an inspiring visit, even if I'm a few years away from buying a new bicycle.  Having a custom made frame makes me want another and Firefly is certainly high on my list of local custom builders.  I already have a bike that Tyler and Jamie had a part in building so I would certainly trust them, and Kevin, to make another great bike for me.

Overall, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, with very expensive candy that was well worth the cost.  Just after we left Carl asked me if I wanted a Firefly.  The answer was obvious.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How do you carry your kids?

I've now gone the whole gamut of carrying kids on my bike (realizing that other bikes, such as mid and long tails and bakfiets, are out there, but I don't yet have one of these).  I started out with a Burly trailer, which didn't work out with my first child - he is a talker and I wouldn't hear him until he was crying and then it would be too late.  On the other hand, my second child enjoyed the trailer and sometimes prefers it to a bike seat.  Next came the bike seat, although I did carry the older child in a bike seat and the younger child in the trailer numerous times.  By the way, that is hard, especially up hill.  It's like an awkward touring bike, with, for me, a hundred pound load.

Next up, is the trail-a-bike, or third wheel, or whatever its proper name is.  In any case, I finally had cause to try it out this weekend.  My wife, whose schedule makes it harder to get outside, wanted to ride to the Wright Locke Farm, which has a pretty big raspberryfield.  The field is ancient, with some plants as much as 30 years old.  The picking is usually good and, if you are lucky and are interested in such things, you might see the Yellow Orb Spider (hopefully the link stays around for a while), which we saw a couple of years in a row.  Or you might not want to see it and still come across it.  Anyway, we knew we are outgrowing the bike seat for our oldest boy.  I picked him up after school one day a couple of weeks ago and realized that there is no longer a place for his knees, unless you count poking into my back.  So when we planned on riding to Wright Locke Farm, we also decided to install our hand me down trail-a-bike.  Unfortunately there is no longer a quick release (it seems frozen up so I couldn't pull it apart) but I managed to install it with the knowledge that I would have to take the bolts off before my next commute to work.  I recall that long ago I spec'ed a steel seat tube with the thought that one day I'd be hanging a trail-a-bike off my Surly and that day, five and a half years later, has come.

So, how do I like it?  First, let me say that my wife was a bit jealous that I would have my oldest boy helping me push the bike up the hills.  That didn't happen.  While we were taking a tour of my street, my child complained of his pedals being loose.  It didn't occur to me right away but what he was complaining about was that his gearing was so easy that as long as I was pedaling, he couldn't pedal fast enough to make any impact.  He eventually got used to this and my wife understood that she wasn't missing his effort.  Instead, she had our younger son in a bike seat and that was a known effort.  What I had was the big boy on what turned out to be a very challenging ride.  I urged him to not lean the bike, which I've seen to be a challenge for the rider, and he avoided leaning.  But he did turn around, something that amounts to a lean and it was hard to handle.  I constantly felt like I was being pulled into the street or the curb.  I never could let go with one hand and I was constantly ready to pull us back in line.  In short, someone ought to teach a class on how to handle this kind of rig.  I know it was pretty tough for me.  I can take hope that my child is now interested in riding his own bike, though training wheels seem to be part of the deal for him.

My wife had a hard day as it was, her first time riding this year - 470 feet of climbing in 6 miles, carrying a 35 pound boy on her bike.  But she was a trooper.

So how do you carry your kids, or do you?

Miles for the month: 314, miles for the year (2200).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: Clement USH 60 TPI

One thing I didn't mention in this post as it first appeared was my weight, which is 165 pounds.  The bike in its current state weighs about 30 pounds.  I routinely carry 20 pounds on my rear rack on my commutes.  Add that 20 to my front racks and 35-45 pounds (depending on the child) when I am carrying a child in a Co-Pilot seat.

Last year I rode a few rides that pushed me, a lot.  First I rode the Ride Studio Cafe Diverged ride.  Frankly, I shouldn't have been there.  It was a long ride through the woods, mostly on trails and I never rode on trails like that.  But I really liked the idea that Rob Vandermark has about finding places to ride where you don't expect them.  I also rode the Green River Ride (part of the D2R2 but far easier than the 100K version I rode in 2009).  While the slopes were easy, Green River Road, a dirt road following the Green River in Vermont, was in comparatively rough shape with a lot of decent size rocks that you had to roll over or around.  Then I missed the 2013 version of the Honey 100 and made up for it with a solo, early morning trip to Estabrook Woods in Concord.  If I didn't think I needed better tires before Diverged 2013, then I certainly knew I needed them after Estabrook.

I plotted and planned and decided what I wanted was either the Clement USH (700x35mm) or the Clement MSO (700x40mm).  Then I hemmed and hawed (or whatever that expression is) and finally just didn't do anything.  Then I went to the MM Racing end of season party and won these:
I sort of liked the idea of the wider MSO tires and I sort of thought that the 120 TPI tires would have given me a more supple ride but, hey, I had these in hand, so I was sort of all set.  Sort of, because my then current narrow fenders wouldn't fit.  In fact, the rear fender bounced off the tire on commutes so I knew I needed to change the fenders.  Money, as always, was tight so even though I really wanted the Portland Design Works fenders, it wasn't happening.  I had some money in my REI dividend remaining and they sell the SKS Longboards, which isn't a bad choice, just not as aesthetically pleasing as the PDW fenders.  And they came in the right size for my bike and wheel.  So I was ready to roll.  My new tires looked so clean and new compared to the Panaracer commuters I had been using:

But now they look like this, after 1200 miles:

Which really isn't all that bad.  The rear tire looks a little more worn but the central ridge, for riding on pavement, is still in decent shape.  In fact, one fellow rider on the 2014 Honey 100 said mine looked as good  as her new USH tires.  I have done a decent amount of dirt road riding on them.  That dirt road riding includes:

Diverged training:

And the 2014 Diverged ride.  It also includes a diversion on my way to work the week after Diverged:

I also did an extended version of the Green River Ride, including 4000 feet of climbing, a very shortened version of the 2014 Honey 100, about 5 miles a week on dirt and gravel on my daily commute, and this:

So, what do I think of these tires after 1200 miles and some off road riding?  I love them!  First, 60 TPI vs 120 TPI may make a difference but these 35mm tires, inflated to 65 PSI front, 70 rear when commuting or carrying one of my boys on a rear rack seat, and 60 front, 65 rear off road are comfortable for me.  Maybe there are other issues that come up but they are great for now.

These tires are great on the commute.  They are not noisy (and noise = energy lost) and I have not had a flat crossing the sometimes less than optimal roads of Cambridge and Somerville and a lot of very rough surfaces.  I'm knocking on wood now.

But where they really have helped me is off road.  I really enjoyed the 2014 Diverged ride and was amazed at what I could ride over.  In addition to their ability to climb over rocks, they were good enough (and much better than my old commuter tires) on muddy sections of trail.  They were fabulous on the Green River Ride, which for me included a decent amount of climbing on pretty sketchy roads.  I was alone, off route for a number of miles, and I rode confidently on these tires.  I relied on these tires for my solo night ride (in preparation of Rob Vandermark planned Solstice over night ride that didn't happen, yet).  I was moving relatively quickly over generally good dirt surface  on the Reformatory Branch Trail and found my footing to be confidence inspiring.

These tires really came through on the 2014 Honey 100.  The trail conditions in places was what, in the past, I would have called impassable.  But everyone in my "fun" group was riding over it and after a tentative start, I started to gain confidence.  I started to just gun it, if you really call riding as fast as you can in a 30/30 gearing gunning it.  And I made it up every hill I tried, which turned out to be the rest of the hills, and I made it down a lot of gnarly descents.  I think my test hill, if there was one, was a very rocky ascent with some pretty big flattish rocks.  I remember rolling over some big rocks that I thought - this is it, I'm tumbling over.  And I didn't.  The wheels just rolled over them and I smiled and thought, this is possible. Wow.  These are great tires and I have some experience and confidence that comes from that experience on good equipment.  I'm still a relative novice and while I'll tackle more dirt roads and single track, I think I won't do it alone and at night.

So I think I was lucky in winning these tires and I will definitely not be going back to a commuter tire anytime soon.  These Clement USH tires are too much fun and get me to places that I wouldn't easily get to otherwise.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trying to avoid the right hook

It happened twice today - two people didn't notice me riding beside them.  They passed me and turned right.  The first driver didn't even have her blinkers on.  But I could tell she was turning into the grocery store parking lot 50 feet down the road.  I think caution is the better part of valor when I'm riding.  So I proceeded very cautiously, slowed down, and let her take the turn.  Great.  It was my right to use the bike lane but I don't do battle with any size vehicle and this one was a medium size SUV and would have won handily.  I had the right to proceed but that doesn't mean that I had to use my right, especially if it meant a crash with me on the losing end.

The second time happened less than a half mile down the street.  This time the driver of a Mini was signaling to take a right turn just after passing me and then slowing down for traffic.  He might not have seen me and started his turn.  By then I had slowed to a crawl and shouted 'HEADS UP' and he turned to look at me and stopped.  I sure would have stopped if he didn't.  Again, I had the right of way according to Massachusetts law but that doesn't mean that I choose to exercise that right at risk of life and limb, for a second time in half a mile.

My wife describes me as being pretty cautious when driving and that carries over and is more evident when I ride.  That caution has been amplified as I hear of more and more collisions between cars and bicyclists.  I don't know if drivers are worse these days with smart phones taking up too much of drivers' attention.  As a cyclist, I get a good view of drivers as I pass cars waiting in traffic and I see a lot of drivers with smart phones in their hands.  I'd like to tell them all that they really should put their phones down.  Maybe the texting law is too limited.  I like the New York law, which I just noticed this weekend.  You can't use a handheld device while driving, period.  But what is happening here isn't necessarily distracted drivers on their phones (the Mini driver didn't have one in his hand).  It might be drivers who simply don't pay attention to bicycles and manage to not seem them.  Or it could be that one time when that driver didn't pay attention to their passenger side view mirror.  Who knows?  In one sense, it doesn't matter.  The message to me is that I always need to assume that I'm invisible or worse - that I'm a target.  I see an intersection and the light is mine and I look both ways to see if someone isn't paying attention to that light before I proceed into that intersection.  And I'm always slow.  I can't tell you how many people pass me on their Hubway bikes but I don't care.  All I want to do is get home.

So how do you deal with cars on your commute?  Do I sound too cautious or do you think I should just drive my car?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014

This is a place holder for mapping the finishers of the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  Mary from Chasing Mailboxes will be updating the base tables that will fill in the map.

Coffeeneurs in the US by state:

Cities where there was at least one coffeeneur.  Click on a point to see the city.  If there are links to blogs, you can click on the links to see the blogs.

From last year: the process we use for making this map.