Thursday, May 28, 2015

Testing, testing .. surviving and enjoying the prelude to an overnight trail ride

The above post by @OverlandBasecamp says it well.  We did have a great group, even if you count me in, despite me usually being the laggard - the one carrying a pannier with a lock on a dirt road ride at night.  There was a reason for that lock, especially considering the august company of cyclists I found myself riding with.  I considered the possibility of me bailing and maybe needing to hold my bike somewhere while someone in a car came to rescue me or I got back to my car to rescue my bike.  But that didn't happen.  One rider, @jennywo3, who I respect a lot and who will ride more this month than I rode this year so far, said I rode like a champ.  I did try hard to not get lost or fall down or fall behind.  I did fall back a few times but mostly because I couldn't keep the pace that the rest of the group was keeping on what I would normally call suspect terrain.  And I'm lucky in that I have been able to get some decent longer rides in this year (9 rides and 360 miles on my road bike so far) so, while not being exactly fit, I wasn't in bad shape.  Maybe I could have pushed harder and stayed safe but the point here wasn't speed but was what Overland Basecamp called an equipment test ride.  And that was, in part, exactly what I was doing, seeing if my equipment, and me, could handle an all night ride on mixed terrain, something Rob Vandermark called the Dusk To Dawn Ride (or DUTODARI).  I heard about the ride last year and even scheduled a test ride that Rob eventually had to bail on.  And soon the ride was cancelled.  Who has all of those lights, anyway?

So I signed up for this ride and heard back from Rob and showed up at the door with 10 minutes to spare.  I had some trouble getting out of the house - I wanted the kitchen clean so I didn't have to do it when I got home or the next morning.  There were some familiar faces in the small crowd - Patria from the Studio, Matt from Seven, Jenny, Dan, and Roger.  And there were some unfamiliar but friendly faces: Cris, Jonathon, and a couple of others whose names I can't remember now.  We covered ourselves up with bug dope and headed out.

The ride started like many of the other mixed terrain rides out of the Studio that I participated in the past.  Make our way safely across Mass Ave then head onto the bike path then make some random turn onto a trail.  Find yourself back on a road then make another random turn onto a trail.  And that is how the ride went, although the ride was much faster than the slow version of the Diverged ride that I did this year.  Riding at night was a special treat.  I started riding at night (mostly before dawn) a few years ago as a way to get out of the house without leaving my wife with our two young kids too long during the day.  I enjoy road rides before dawn and the traffic is lighter.  I've done night rides over the past few years as well but never anything more challenging than Battle Road and the Reformatory Branch Trail.  So this was a step beyond anything I've done before (which is probably why Rob wants people to check out the riding before committing to an overnight ride).

The first section off of the bike path was probably the hardest, with many tree roots to cross.  I always feel that my front tire might slip to the side, causing a crash.  In practice, with decent tires, the Clement USH 700x35, I managed to stay upright through that first section.  Jonathon was with me at that point and he voiced what I was feeling, that this was hard stuff.  He, like me, is more of a road rider and terrain like this seems to require some experience to know what you can handle.  I faced similar trails during daylight but it seemed like a new game at night and I didn't necessarily have the skills I needed.  At one point we hit significant sand traps, which were quite difficult to handle.  I managed to stay upright but I can't say that I kept the bike pointed straight ahead as I navigated them.

We did a lot of paved trails, particularly around Horn Pond in Winchester.  We also rode along the Mystic Lakes on hard dirt and along the Mystic Valley Parkway to the Fitchburg Cutoff Path on hard surfaces of various sorts.  Then we rode the Western Greenway on more primitive conditions.  I had been on most of those trails at least a couple of times so generally knew what to expect.  And it was as hard, in places, as I expected.  The ascent off of Route 60 was perhaps the hardest of the ride and was dotted with rocks to avoid.  The Western Greenway south of Mill and Concord in Belmont was a generally easier until the area near Metropolitan Parkway and Walnut Street.  A couple of us took tumbles on the slippery sections.  Nothing terrible but it demonstrates that rough terrain while tired is never easy.

The bikes people rode were primarily cyclocross plus a couple of Seven Evergreens and other Sevens.   I liked seeing Matt's Seven with a steel fork, front rack, and room for wider tires.  I've seen and admired his bike in the past.  In fact, it's sort of the bike I would like next (gotta wait for my 60th for that one) and will be talking with him more as I get closer to ordering one.

I think I was the only person who rode with dynamo powered lights.  I had a 600 lumen Nite Rider on my helmet, which I used sparingly.  Otherwise I felt that the Busch and Mueller IQ CYO (last generation) was great for the roads and was fine on most trails supplemented with a 2 watt inexpensive battery powered headlight, which lasted the ride and still has battery power left.  I'd like another longer lasting light.  I'm now looking at the Light and Motion Urban series and would get one before the  overnight ride, if I were to do it.

I asked Rob before the ride started where we would go.  He responded with a vague north and then by a river (what river?  rivers have names!) and then Arlington.  Well, I'm a geographer and names and places are important and help me to understand where I am and what I am doing.  But I had to drop that thinking on this ride.  At one point, as we were passing Horn Pond, Jennie asked me if I knew what pond it was.  I initially had no clue but eventually figured it out, having walked there a few times with my family.  Despite my training and inclination, it was fun not knowing where we were and where we were going.

And about that "dusk to dirty" in Overland Basecamp's post?  Yes, I was dirty.  It being dusty and not muddy, my bike wasn't all that dirty but I did clean it this evening.  However, when I got in the shower after the ride, I saw that my legs from the bottom of my shorts to the top of my socks had a coating of dirt.  I would have sprayed my legs off with a hose if I saw what a mess I was.  But Overland Basecamp was right, it was a great group and a perfect evening. Hats off to Rob and Patria for another great ride.

So ... will I ride the overnight ride?  I don't know.  I was able to pull off this ride and still have energy for the following day.  But the overnight ride will be 65 miles longer and it might be necessary to keep up the same pace for the entire night, which I'm not sure I could do.  I could imagine quitting early and taking roads back at some point later in the ride. I'd like to think that I could do two or three more 60 mile rides before the overnight ride, which would get me closer to the conditioning I would need to feel like I could finish the ride, or at least come close to finishing it.

There are logistical issues at play as well.  There is a fee for the all nighter (although my experience with rides put on by these folks is that they are well worth the money) and you have to rent a SPOT GPS device for the ride, which seems like a smart thing to so on a ride like this.  So all of that is money well spent.  But a Garmin 1000 type machine is required.  I'm not all that sure I could borrow one and I know it would be hard to afford one.  And it's not the kind of machine I feel I'm missing in my life.   Having worked in geography all of my life, I've used great GPS equipment since before selective availability was ended by President Clinton in the late 90s.  I see the point of the Garmin 1000 but beyond the long ride, it's not something that I would miss not having.  But, for point of reference, I don't mind getting lost or navigating with a paper map, both of which I managed a lot in the past.  Not everyone might feel that way.

So the short answer is - maybe.  If I am in better shape and I find a device that I could afford I just may do it.

Sort of what the ride looked like.  The average speed was pretty good - about what I manage when I commute:

As you may imagine, circumstances weren't optimal for taking a lot of pictures.

Patria getting a picture of the group getting back on the trail.

Break time near Broadway and Alewife Brook Parkway.  There was time for a bathroom break and a place to buy water and snacks, if you needed them.

Picture time in a field just south of Concord Ave in Belmont, near McClean Hospital.  I'm sure Rob's group pictures will be better than anything I took.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Mitch Pryor, Brent Steelman Randonneur project bike in the wild

I saw a great bicycle on my commute into work today, a Mitch Pryor/Brent Steelman Randonneuring bike.  It was signed by the builders.  The bike is of a now classic style with 650b wheels, wide tires, low trail, a very curvy) fork, and front rack, including lowriders.  It's all TIG welded.  John, the owner is a tall guy and the frame is quite large but still aesthetically pleasing.  You can see the pump attached at the left seat stay here.

The bike is equipped with an SP dynamo hub powering a Schmidt headlight and an integrated seat post mounted taillight.

The headlight is mounted on the front rack, which includes a deccaleur.

The bike is signed by both Mitch Pryor and ...

the Brent Steelman.

It's an amazing commuter with longer rides planned for this great machine. I haven't heard of these builders before.  John told me that he found Mitch Pryor through a review of a Mitch Pryor in Bicycle Quarterly.  I've read through several issues of this magazine although I'm not a regular reader.  I did read their most recent comparisons of generator hubs before I started down that road in 2012.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Commuting stories #2

This one is more than a couple of lines.  In Cambridge yesterday on my way home I was passed by a car weaving on Birch Street.  I caught up to the car at the light at Mass Ave and observed the driver and her son furiously texting. I took the corner first and again was passed by the same car and this time I could see that the driver was indeed texting with her left hand on the wheel with her phone propped up on the steering wheel so she could sort of look forward as she texted and drove.  Thanks for being so careful.  I pulled up to the car at the next light and said, through the closed window that texting while driving is illegal.  They didn't roll down their window and feigned not understanding me in any case and that was all I could do.  The car is a newer black full size Mercedes with tinted windows.  Watch yourself around this car.

I saw multiple other cars weaving while the drivers were texting.  I really think all cities and towns should have undercover police on bicycles enforcing the no texting law.  People haven't got the message and current strategies of catching active texters involve stationary police officers at red lights.  What we really need, however, is a no phone use law and a distracted driving law, all three (including texting) with enforcement and significant fines that will discourage doing dumb things in cars.

After I wrote my first commuting story last week, there were some comments in related tweets about how drivers were texting, particularly at red lights.  One of the noticeable results of this activity is the heavy traffic due to less throughput at lights, as people aren't aware of the light changing and other cars around them.  They continue texting until another driver, frustrated by the wait beeps their horn.  I have been watching since I read those texts and, indeed, it seems like texting, or other phone use, is a significant part of our traffic problems.  Car traffic was awful this week and I'm thankful that I was able to ride each day.  And I can't help but wonder how much of that traffic was caused by people who just couldn't wait to check their messages/Twitter/Facebook/email or whatever.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Commuting stories

I've been thinking of compiling these stories, of life on two wheels commuting in traffic, for a few weeks now.  Maybe this will be short or maybe I'll add to it over time.  If I add more stories, I'll add them in here or in other posts.

Today I watched someone behind me, at a light, checking her phone.  She had to take off her glasses to do it.  I saw someone checking her phone in the same spot a couple of days ago.  I had the chance to glance in that car as she passed me (on the right, I was taking a left turn).  Her phone was conveniently located over her speedometer.  That seemed convenient.  Who needs to see your speed in city traffic anyway?

A couple of weeks ago I decided to ride through Belmont.  It's always useful to see that people put up with such horrendous traffic to live in what seems otherwise like a nice town.  Going slow, I watch a car weave at slow speeds.  I passed it on the right cautiously.  The guy driving was doing something on the phone.  I told him that texting while driving is now illegal.  He said he was looking at the map for directions.  Later that same ride, in Cambridge, I saw a women driving and texting in her expensive new Audi on her ancient flip phone.  Really?  Couldn't you get a smart phone and use the voice to text converter rather than a numeric keypad for texting?

That same week, I was waiting for the green at the first light on Somerville Ave.  A guy in a Verizon truck thanks me.  For what?  For stopping at the light.  Right, it's the law.  He said that he'd try to avoid hitting me, which I guess means that he might hit cyclists who don't stop at red lights.

Three weeks ago I was riding on Webster towards Cambridge St at Prospect.  I was riding through the intersection and saw a car that might be gunning for a left turn in front of me.  But I closed the gap with a van in front of me and went through protected.  The car eventually went through nearly cutting off a cyclist behind me.  It turned out that cyclist was someone I talked with on at least a couple of occasions in the past.  I couldn't imagine talking with people in other cars when I'm driving but I get to talk with people while I'm riding.

This morning I stopped for a couple waiting at a crosswalk in Cambridge.  I yelled "STOPPING" since I couldn't brake and signal with my hand with such short notice.  I looked back and apologized for the quick stop to the 4 people behind me.  Almost in unison they all said way go, right thing to do.  Earlier in the commute a woman riding just behind thanked me for my precise signaling, not that I do anything unique.

Today on my way home I had at least two drivers stop for me instead of making me stop to avoid a right hook.  They did the right thing but it didn't stop me from thanking them.

So, there is some good, some bad.  That's life on the road, in a car or on a bike.  Just go slow and make sure you are following the rules, especially if you have 2 tons of metal surrounding you.

One thought for the Arlington police: do your texting enforcement by bicycle, undercover.  You would be amazed what you see from that vantage point.