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:

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

 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

Mapping the finishers of the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge:  Mary from Chasing Mailboxes will be updating the base tables that will fill in the map.  We added a new map this year, the coffee shops where we all stopped at for this year's coffeeneuring challenge.

Coffeeneurs in the US by state:

DC is the epicenter for coffeeneuring  and it is small relative to the rest of the country so here is a detailed look at it:

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 the first two maps.

The communal coffee shop map:

How we are making the coffee shop map.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Riding an abbreviated version of the Honey 100

Saturday the 13th was the Honey 100, a ride that has the intent of getting you off road as much as possible and, in this instance, of getting you to ride east of Lexington and not west.  The ride was sponsored by Ride Studio Cafe and Honey Bicycles, with the ride starting in Lexington at RSC.  I missed last year's version, which went north and west of Lexington and was more of a long linear pursuit.  This year's version looked more like the Diverged rides that RSC has sponsored.  That is, you never get all that far from where you started but you sure get to find many trails along the way.  I speak from someone who rode the 50K version (and didn't even finish that).  Those who did the 100K might have other opinions.

My ride, with the group, is in red, the complete 50K ride is in black, and the towns are in blue.  I wandered home along the Mystic Lakes to Arlington solo.

The cafe was hopping when I arrived around 7:45.  The fun (that is, the slowest group) 50K group was scheduled to head out at 8 but in the chaos of 140 cyclists in and around a small shop, we didn't leave until close to 9 AM.   Lesli Cohen led the ride with Dan, who lead the RSC Pioneer ride I did in June.  They did a great job keeping us moving and generally keeping everyone within their limits.

I rode my Surly Cross Check, which I was very happy with.  I appreciated the 30/30 gearing, which kept me moving up loose, rocky paths that I thought I were beyond my previous limits.  It was useful riding the Clement USH, a 700x35mm, a tire intended to move between gravel and pavement.   The Surly is my commuter and it felt quite stable on this ride.  One can easily be seduced by the beautiful (and well designed and built) Honeys but this humble Surly build does the job for me for now.

The ride starts out on now familiar trails and roads to Winchester center and then into Middlesex Fells.  Cycling is legal on certain trails in the Fells and while I walked there in the past, this was my first time cycling there.  The trails, as promised, where rocky and rough after the washout of the previous weekend but there were a lot of relaxed stretches of dirt paths as well.  The part of the Fells east of I93 were even nicer than the west side.  There we were passed by a group led by Chip Baker.  In his group where were a lot of folks in orange from Philadelphia, led by Lone Wolf Cycling.  They were at the break at mile 16 or then raced on ahead of us.  The break was great with light snacks, enough to keep my energy level up.  I hear there was a nice lunch for the 100K riders that the 50K riders missed.  And there was likely great food at the finish, which I didn't  get to.  After a precarious start getting out of the house in the morning, I decided to cut my losses and promise to get back earlier than I should have, causing me to bail earlier than I would have liked.  After leaving the group in Winchester, I picked up lunch for my wife and me at Arlington Town Day, then rode home.

Surface conditions

"Washed out access roads:  The rain from last Saturday caused some new washing out of access roads and single track.  This means trails can be a bit rockier and looser than some people may expect.  Take extra care on these types of descents, ride slowly and well within your abilities; or, walk your bike if that makes more sense for you.  Riding slow on these is also wise because somewhere along that descent is probably a quick turn onto some other trail so you don't want to risk overshooting the turn.  Take these descents as opportunities to regroup.  Warning:  The most washed out section of the entire ride is in the Middlesex Fells between mile 10 and 12.  If you're more comfortable, please walk the rockiest sections."

We were warned - the road and trail surfaces were as advertised (the above is from one of the emails participants received before the ride).  I still consider myself a novice on this kind of riding.  My bike works my much better these days with my Clement USH (700x35mm) tires and a little bit of confidence.  This ride added to that confidence.  There were a large number of rocky descents and ascents.  It seemed like there were more hard ascents than descents, but maybe I'm better at descents, though I don't think so.  I generally was near the back of our group, which was about 13 people for much of the ride.  People seemed to ride confidently and not need to walk the gnarlier sections (gnarly to me, that doesn't correspond to any kind of universal rating system) so I pushed myself some.  And I was surprised.  After a cautious start, I started trying to get up and down every hill, despite the rocks cluttering the paths.  I believe Rob Vandermark mentioned that the side of these trails were best and often you had to take one side then cross over to the other side of the trail to find the smoothest sections.  I hit a lot of rocks but my wheels carried me over them and I wasn't forced off my bike.  By the end, I felt pretty good about my ability to travel over this kind of terrain, but I certainly won't be doing it solo, or at night, any time soon.  I heard of one crash that shortened one person's ride but otherwise I believe our group finished intact.

Some pictures of the ride

First bridge of the ride, a boardwalk through Arlington Great Meadows.  These were some faster riders doing the full 100K version of the ride that passed our group a few miles into the ride.

Regrouping along the way on a very easy section of the ride.

The route took us around the Middlesex Fells Reservoir.

We were passed by a faster 100K group in the Fells east of I93. They were largely from the Lone Wolf Cycling posse and were a lot of fun.  That's Charlie from LWC in the orange helmet.  He was riding a beautiful single speed Hanford and was handing out chocolate.

Charlie's Hanford.

Chip, from Honey and riding his Honey, who lead the LWC posse and did a lot to make the ride happen.

Break time.  Coincidentally, these are the two bikes with generator lighting in our group.

The last of the LWC group taking off from the break.  The drivers of the cars we encountered on the route were very polite and would stop for a group of cyclists making turns and crossing roads.

This was a pretty fancy bridge on a trail that crossed between a couple of backyards and ended up on a city street on the other side of the bridge.

Yes, I rode my commuter and carried my son to school on it the day before the ride.  There is a reason for those front racks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bear Notch and Hurricane Mountain Road, New Hampshire

Two New Hampshire Rides, Bear Notch and Hurricane Mountain Road

Bear Notch

By now I have rode over a number of White Mountain notches (or passes or gaps or whatever they may be locally known as) including:

Franconia Notch (once)
Kinsman  Notch (twice, once touring)
Kancamagus Pass (once, touring)
Crawford  Notch (twice)
Jefferson Notch (dirt road, once, touring)
Pinkhan  Notch (once, touring but I slept at the Lodge there, after climbing Mount Washington)
Dixville  Notch (once, touring)
Bear  Notch (seven times)
Hurricane Mountain Road (twice)

(Please remind me of others I should try in the comments.)

It's no accident that I have been up Bear Notch so many times.  First, it's a short ride.  You could do a loop that includes Bear Notch in less than 40 miles.  Second, it's hardly the steepest or longest climb in the Whites.  Third, it's pretty road and probably the least traveled of the southern notches in the Whites.  And the pavement is decent for a road bike.  I first rode the Notch in 1998 coming back from a conference at Sunday River.  I had my bike with me for the conference and I rode a couple of times in Maine, mostly in the middle of nowhere.  On the way home I thought of riding in the Whites, not having done so in 11 years and here was my chance.  I recall finding the routes from a state highway map but it worked for me.  I left my car near the Eastern Slope Inn and found a great route for cycling.  I recall that the ride was in early October and the higher elevations on the north side was leafless while the south side was already past peak foliage but a lot of leaves remained on the trees.  No problem - it was still a lovely ride.  I stuck to that route for the several times I rode over Bear Notch.  Here is the route, with a narrative from my most recent ride over the notch, last Friday.

We were staying north of North Conway with my wife's family.  My wife came late and my fabulous mother-in-law (and many others) offered to take care of my boys on Friday so I could ride, an offer I couldn't refuse.  After breakfast and some playing, I took off.  I rode south on NH 16 until the lights and then took River Street to West Side Road to Route 302 and then Bartlett.  Route 302 has a wide shoulder but is quite busy and the cars are fast so Westside Road is worth taking, despite the rollers that slow you down as you get closer to Route 302. I met a couple, Christine and Barry, on 302, after seeing them head north on 16 as I headed south.  They were doing Bear Notch and then Kancamagus Pass in training for a fall triathlon.

From Bartlett, I took Albany Avenue, which turns into Bear Notch Road in the national forest.  The climb is about 4.5 miles and not all that steep with a couple of turnouts with nice views looking north.  The road is closed for the winter. 

 This is New England, where we are coddled with guard rails everywhere and signs that warn us that we are further than a gallon or a gallon and a half of gas from the nearest service station.

My White Mountain bike.  I had my lights on and had one rider stop me to ask about my lighting system.  No problem climbing 10 MPH up Bear Notch with the generator running.

From one of the turnouts, looking north.  The Presidentials are the peaks in the distance.

Here is the summit.  No signs mark the spot.

From a turnout on the south side of the notch.

The descent on the south side isn't quite as fast, nor as consistent as north side.  But the good thing about this is that you have a long, mostly steady descent into North Conway.  Most of your elevation is lost on Bear Notch Road but you lose a lot on the Kancamagus Highway, NH 112, which you are on for about 6 miles.  (Sorry, no more pictures of the Bear Notch ride - my iPhone froze.)  You leave the highway at the covered bridge near Blackberry Campground, which takes you to Passaconaway Road, which follows the Swift River on the north side, with the Kancamgus on the south side.  Passaconaway is a narrow road but with little traffic (although it had the foreboding sign, "Yield to logging trucks").  Passaconaway is all downhill and it is a fun, fast section of the ride.  You leave Passaconaway on Allens Siding Road, which takes you back to Westside Road.  This section of Westside, up to River Street, is fast, with few uphill grades. The speed limit is 35 MPH and there is a marked bike lane.  It's a great alternative to getting into Conway and then taking NH 16 to North Conway.

I rode this fairly fast for me, 15.5 MPH and the ride was 40 miles according to my Garmin.  The ascent is obvious in my Garmin stats.

The Bear Notch route.

Hurricane Mountain Road

After a family day on Saturday, which included a ropes course at Cranmore Mountain Ski area, I had the chance to get an early ride in on Sunday.  I was interested in riding over Hurricane Mountain Road, which I climbed in 2007 as part of a collegiate club ride which included Bear Notch.  I knew from this experience that the Hurricane Mountain Road was not to be taken lightly.  I was in pretty good shape when we rode this in 2007 and I'm not quite in the same shape today.  I was reminded of what an unusual road this is on the extended family vacation a couple of years ago when we drove up it to walk the trail up to Black Cap, which starts at the summit on the road.  Everyone was shocked that their cars could make it up the road, which is twisty and very steep with short sections approaching 20 percent grades.  This sounds like my kind of road when I am fit.

I left the house at 6 AM with lights on for safety.  I took 16 down to Route 302 then East Conway Road, which eventually took me to Route 113 and into Maine.  Traffic was very light on the main roads, thanks to my early start,  The landscape changed markedly on the east side of the Whites, looking more like Connecticut River farmland with lots of agricultural land in active use.  The road was pretty flat from 16, to 302 to East Conway Road to 113.

Entering Maine on 113.

The West Fryeburg Cemetery.

Fish Road, at the intersection with ME 113.  I liked the alternative sign post.  There was a more standard one nearby.  There was also a church at this intersection, which had a much needed portapotty.  I forgot how hard it is to find a place for a bio break in farm country.  Also, note the skid marks on the pavement.

There were significant rollers between  Route 113 and the turnoff to Hurricane Mountain Road and then I saw  this and I knew this was a cycling road.  At least for those of us who don't mind hard to climb hills.

And yes, it is closed during the winter.  I couldn't imagine this road plowed successfully.  What did surprise me were the several homes I saw on the east side of the summit.  There are no homes on the closed section on the west side of the summit, like there are on the east side.  They clearly are summer homes, although one closer to the road looked like a year round residence.

I thought that the east side was the easier ascent, until I saw this sign.  Yes, it was very challenging to me this year, although I that this was due mostly to my diminished fitness level.  And yes, I stopped a couple of times for rests.

The road is narrow.  It was twisty enough, and steep enough.  Despite the steep pitch, I never tried to pick up significant speed on the descent.  Again, notice the skid marks on the pavement.

I finished this ride inside of 3 hours, with several stops, many of them for looking at a map.  My Garmin was playing very funny tricks on me.  I didn't know this route well (obviously) and wanted to rely on the Garmin, with the Ride With GPS app as reserve, and my memory as  a second reserve (there weren't all that many turns so this was possible for me).  The Garmin never thought that I was on route, except near turns.  This was frustrating and I couldn't figure out if the route (a GPX file downloaded from Ride With GPS) was at fault or if the Garmin was.  In the end, the Garmin route that I rode was properly located on the map, showing were I actually rode so the Garmin was working fine.  I'll check the GPX file that I downloaded by plotting on Google Earth in the next few days.  Has anyone else experienced anything like this? (Update: I inadvertently downloaded the GPX file with turns by accident - don't try this at home on a Garmin 200!)

The Garmin stats show the one significant hill pretty clearly.  By the way, I did turn off the generator for the big ascent.  I needed all of my effort to get up Hurricane Mountain Road.

It was great fun riding through some small towns and rural areas in Maine.  This was one of those days that I wish I wasn't so constrained on my riding time, which I wish could be exploring time as well.  Still, having two boys and being on a family vacation, I was very pleased to get out when I did.

The Hurricane Mountain Road route.