Practice Run

Saturday we loaded up our panniers and headed out for a 30 mile ride. We wanted to see how tour-ready we and our gear are. My new Swift Short Stacks performed well. I did pretty well myself, even hauling the extra weight. In fact, I realized my ANT bike, built for fully self-supported touring, seems to handle best, even a little faster, when loaded. At least it did with the light load I had that day.

The year I got the ANT we went on a self-guided credit card tour. I was so worried about my ability to do the trip, I don’t think I noticed much about the bike’s handling. Since then, I’ve ridden the bike a lot. I’ve commuted on it, ridden for fun, and done two supported tours. It took until this weekend’s ride to appreciate how it’s optimized for touring. Good to know!

The Swift panniers were easy to attach and detach, stayed in place, and in appearance are fun, jaunty and visible. They’re a great design, with one large open pocket with a drawstring closure, a detachable pocket lid and a small zippered side pocket. They hold a lot. There is also an elasticized pouch on each pannier, perfect for carrying a water bottle. That’s an excellent feature if like me you are small and so is your bike. My bike frame can only hold 1 water bottle cage and I am always fussing with ways to carry a second bottle. These panniers take care of that hassle I have yet to find out how the panniers perform in the rain. This test ride was on such a beautiful day. I have a feeling that by the end of the tour I’ll be able to comment on that. Stay tuned.

Hiatus Over?

John posted earlier this month about an early winter riding hiatus. There is something about the colder weather and darkness falling earlier that subdues my energy for riding. Since November I’ve been riding a lot less than I had been all year, even though this so far has been a mild winter.

In part this is because as of November 30, I am self-employed. Among the many changes the new workstyle brings (freedom to write a quick mid-day cycling post being one), biking isn’t a built-in part of the day’s routine. I need to regroup here. I did ask the boss to let me take a few bike riding breaks per week. I made the case that it would make me far more productive.

Yes, I had that conversation with myself. Apparently I have an internalized ok-meter that needs to be adjusted. Having granted myself permission, I’ve started creating  new routine and took a few short rides each week during the past couple of weeks.

This weekend  we wrested some time for a 15-mile ride from a rather too-busy schedule. It was a great day for it, temperatures in the high 50’s, sunshine included. The first half of the ride involved a significant headwind. There was surprisingly light car traffic, perhaps due to people preparing for the evening’s Ravens-Patriots game.  I can report that both my ANT’s new components and my under-exercised body performed well. Maybe I can work my way back to the 40+ miles/week I’d been averaging last year. That’s the goal!

Why I Like My Bikes Better than My Car

My love of cycling and of my bikes mystifies many of my noncycling friends. They  see my enthusiasm for bike commuting and travel as amazing/quirky/cute/crazy/difficult.  I think it’s none of those things. I do think getting around by bike is more fun (usually) and more sound for body, mind and environment than travel by car.

I  do own a car and use it when weather, distance, time constraints and hauling capacity make it the more practical way to go.  I like my car, but I don’t love it.

Here are my top 5 reasons for loving my bike:

1. Biking makes me an active participant in my surroundings. Even when those surroundings are adverse, that connectedness is a good thing.

2. Biking can be either  a solo or a social activity, or both at once.

3. I presently own 4 bikes. Added together, they cost far less to buy and operate than 1 car.

4. My bicycles keep me fit as a natural part of commuting, errand-running or travelling.

5. My bikes take up little space and don’t pollute.

6. I have to add one more. Bikes are elegant and aesthetically pleasing.

Banking by Brompton

Biking makes part of the surroundings: one week after the derecho.

ANT mixte and Atlantis – elegant and beautiful!

I could keep going – there are lots of reasons I love my bikes.  What do you most love about bikes and bicycling?

Columbus Day Meander

A hot dry summer ended with a bang here. A hurricane, a torrential rainstorm and a month of gray rainy days. When all that ended in early October, fall was with us. The sun returned, along with  a spell of weather cool enough to require cycling in layers if riding in the early morning or evening. The past few days have been much warmer, more typical of fall in our region. Today brought summery heat and humidity coupled with the earthy smells of falling leaves, an interesting sensory juxtaposition.

It’s a day off and I decided it should include a meandering bike ride to some favorite spots in town.  First, I had to get the ANT cleaned up a little. She’s been through some rough weather and has a costing of dirt and grease to show for it.

Next I wanted to try out a new way of fastening my Wald basket to the rear rack. I love the basket, but when it’s attached, I can’t use a trunk sack or panniers. I’ve been fastening it with zip ties, which are cheap and easy to use. But after tightening them up enough to hold the basket securely they’re a pain to remove. Plus it’s a bit wasteful to have to throw away zip ties each time I swap out the basket for the Trunksack. Those drawbacks mean I hesitate to use the basket even when it would be the best way to carry things. A month or two ago, I picked up a package of 3″ NiteIze GearTies from REI thinking to try them as reusable basket fasteners. Since then I came upon a product that looks like reusable zip ties from Crate and Barrel. I ordered them, because they’re longer and might work better.  They should arrive pretty soon. In the meantime, today was the GearTie try out.

The GearTies were just a little short, the ends barely winding together. The basket seemed reasonably well attached, but I wondered if it would hold with weight in it. I added one of my Rivendell Irish straps as one more fastener to counteract the image of the loaded basket leaping suicidally into traffic. Time to take off!

I headed out for a favorite neighborhood meander through side streets to the Hilton entrance to Patapsco Park. Having previously discovered a road there that leads to a hidden small, woodsy campground, I decided that would be a great ride for a warm fall morning. The road to the campsite was barricaded, making it impassable to cars. All the better! I was on the only vehicle of any type, allowing me to roll down the steep hill with abandon. The climb up to the campsite is steep but short. I rode past the now empty “campground host” site, complete with a trailer and a screened in canopy. This reawakened a fantasy of spending summer living being a campground host in a lovely spot somewhere. The fantasy involves having ample time for biking, hiking, reading and relaxing. I don’t know if it’s really like that or if you are required to be available to campers 24-7.

This small campground has a few tent sites and some cabins.  The cabins are tiny, probably sleeping room only. It’s kind of an odd location for such a campground, perhaps .5 mile from a suburban residential neighborhood. Just guessing at the distance, as I don’t have a bike computer. I wonder how people find out about it? And what makes them want to camp here?

Cabin, Patapsco Park Family Campground

Back on the road to the main part of the park, I now had a short, steep downhill followed by a longer climb back out, enough to provide a bit of challenge.

I arrived back at the road that loops around a “recycled playground.” Much of the play equipment is made from old tires. Aesthetically it’s not much to shout about, but it’s a terrific repurposing of materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill, and children have a great time there. I spotted several bikes, some with child trailers.

Leaving the park, I rode Hilton to S Rolling. Right at the intersection of these two roads, I saw this armillary sphere. Just last night I surfed the internet looking at armillary spheres. I’d love to get one for our garden, but haven’t seen the one I want yet. I love the way they sculpturally represent how the universe was once imagined to be.

Riding S Rolling to Frederick has a scary spot, where the road both narrows and curves, making you feel that you could easily be struck from behind. But today there was not much traffic so no worries. I went through the elementary school grounds and rode up Summit to Beaumont to Edmonson, taking a left there to go to Scottino’s. This was the practical part of the ride and the reason I had attached the basket before leaving. There’s no bike parking available, even though the store is directly across from the entrance to the neighborhood bike/hike Old Trolley Trail. I cable-locked the ANT to a tall signpost in front of the store, taking care to position her so that nothing leaned out over the curb.

I rode the Trolley Trail for the return trip home, riding past a mural of Catonsville as it looked when streetcars used this route. So here was the test. Would the GearTies/Irish Strap fasteners hold up with a few pounds of cheese and deli meats in the basket? The suspense is killing you, I know, so I won’t keep you waiting. The basket stayed in place, a successful finish to a pleasant meander on a warm fall day.

Bon Ton Roulet: Exploring the Finger Lakes

We enjoyed this afternoon’s thunderstorm from the comfort of wicker chairs on our front porch. With it came a break from the heat. We relaxed, chatted and sipped chardonnay fron Wagner’s, a winery in New York’s Finger Lakes. Two weeks ago saw us relating to a thunderstorm in a very different way. We were on the Bon Ton Roulet tour of the Finger Lakes and midway into the second day’s ride. John had gotten a bit ahead of me and I fell in with two women who rode closer to my speed. As we chatted and made our way up a long hill, we noticed the horizon darkening and lightning flashing in the distance.   The storm’s and our trajectories intersected about 4 miles from Wagner’s, the second rest stop of the day. John had waited for me and we pedaled together through increasingly heavy rain with lightning that was striking ever closer. By the time we reached the winery we were thoroughly soaked. While there we did a wine tasting, picked out a half case which the Bon Ton Roulet sag vehicles would carry back to Cortland for us (very convenient!) and sat out the worst of the storm on the covered deck. Fortified with snacks and having waited an hour, we decided to continue on, even though it was still raining.  The rain let up, but when we arrived at camp, our duffel bags and the things in them had gotten pretty wet.

That was one of two rainy days we encountered on our 7 day trip. The second one was an all-day rain that at times pounded so hard it hurt our skin and made it hard to see. That one overwhelmed our waxed canvas bags and caused some damage to some of  the small electronics we were carrying.  Outside of those two days we were so lucky with the weather. It was sunny, the prior week’s heat wave had passed and the humidity was low.

This trip included several firsts for me. First group tour, first time to combine camping and cycling, first out-of-state tour and the first time I spent 6 consecutive days riding in such hilly terrain. What was that like for me as a novice/intermediate cyclist? It was beautiful, challenging, fun, exhausting, exhilarating and unpleasant all in one trip. Would I do it again? Yes, with at least one change.

The trip was beautiful. Each day’s scenery included wildflowers, lake views, waterfalls, historic towns, wineries. Some involved ice cream stops, very significant when cycling on hot summer days. The cycling was certainly challenging for me. Each day, I did it, though. I climbed the hills, and there were plenty of them,  one so steep it was out of category. I rode through two big storms.

My bike never broke down, I had no flats and I never sagged – though I did have a road-side meltdown one afternoon. It was hot, and after a long climb we were having to pedal downhill because of a strong headwind. I just got overwhelmed emotionally and physically. After a few minutes of rest and cooling down, I picked myself up and went on, aided by John transferring the things in my Saddlesack into his bag and showing me how to draft behind him.  Possibly I could have managed this trip as a solo rider within the group, but it would have been much harder without John’s consistent support each day. No doubt the ride would have been more fun for him if I were a more experienced cyclist, or if I had liked the camping (see below). He never complained and said that he was enjoying the trip, which I am sure he did. Still, I think it had to have been trying at times.


It was fun to meet new people and to share each day’s experiences with John.  We ran into some friends of his from previous rides, Arnie, Jim, Dale, Celeste and Pat. I even bumped into someone I knew from contra dance. We also met an 80+ year old man from Vermont, a guy from Pittsburgh, another from New York and a woman from Ithaca. We enjoyed our camping neighbors, two women from Ohio there with their young adult daughters. It was great seeing the Finger Lakes region from the vantage point of a bicycle. It was fun people and bike-watching.  One favorite was the young father and 5-year-old boy traveling together by tandem. They were both having a great time.  We had a brutal series of hills to climb when leaving Hammondsport, and as I made my way to the top of the last one, the young boy was at the top, calling “You can do it!” I told him I made it because of him and truly his encouragement was a delight.

Our bikes, my ANT and John’s Atlantis, along with their Sackville canvas bags got much attention, some favorable and friendly and some a bit condescending. There were a few others with bikes like ours, and 3 or 4 Bike Fridays. Most riders were on road bikes and the majority of those looked like carbon frames. The day of the all day rain, we saw 30+ people changing flats and the bike repair service ran out of tubes. Our Schwalbe Marathons lived up to their bomb-proof reputation and neither of us had flats all week.

We started in Cortland, and went to Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Hammondsport, Geneva, Skaneateles and back to Cortland. My favorite towns along the way were Ithaca, Hammondsport and Geneva. I’d have loved to spend more time in Seneca Falls, but it was really raining hard when we got there, so we just got some snacks at the rest stop and moved on.

I was impressed with how well everything was organized. The route was well-marked, the cue sheets accurate, the rest stops were well stocked (though I don’t think I will eat a banana again for at least a year) and the wineries we visited were fun. Most of the towns we stopped in were nice places to visit and the roads we cycled on were great, with a few brief exceptions. So what was the unpleasant part?

The camping experience on this trip just didn’t work for me. To begin with, I dreaded the thought of setting up camp in football fields, using port-a-potties, showering in a truck,  and sleeping on a thin camping mattress after riding 50 miles each day. I lobbied for staying at hotels like we did on our self-supported Tour du Shore last year. John agreed to that, though he didn’t really like the idea. He wanted us to be a part of the community that develops during a tour, which we’d be cut off from by staying in hotels.

It turned out that the hotels were surprisingly expensive, with an additional cost each day for our bags to be delivered to the hotel. So we went with a compromise, paying less (but still plenty) for a company called Comfy Campers to set up a tent and provide us with mattress, chairs and towels each day. That sounded good  and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. The result? It didn’t work so well (to go into detail here gets to be too long, but let’s just say the “comfy” part was quite inaccurate) and I wouldn’t do it again.  

I look forward to my next group tour.  My one hesitance is not  because of the cycling but because of the camping. John thinks I would like it better with our own tent that we could set up in a spot of our own choosing. Well, maybe.  I am far from convinced of that but I would be willing to give it a try. Really, though? Give me the tour that goes from one B&B to another.  That I would really look forward to!

No Rapture, One More Bike Month Ride

Saturday passed uneventfully and the rapture billboard on Rte 40 came down. Gas prices came down a little, too. Coincidence? Since the world as we know it was still here, we figured a bike ride would be just the thing. Two rides, in fact. The first, to the local farmers’ market was short but sweet. It was nice to be able to cycle to the market, joke and chat with the vendors then stop at Atwaters on the way home for bread. My son’s girlfriend works there, and we had a chance to talk with her for a bit. This ride was probably less than a mile each way.

It was a friendly (and eco friendly) experience. Going to the Baltimore market is a whole other thing. We take the car and often there’s no small hassle parking it. The Bmore market is an event, and a crowded one. There’s more of everything: vendors, variety, shoppers. I like it but the local market is a nice alternative.

Surly and ANT: One more ride together

Then we headed out for a longer ride, my longest since last fall: twenty-five miles with a combination of rolling and killer hills. I got to try out my new VO touring pedals, which we put on Sweetpea, my ANT, just before heading out. Since John will soon sell the Surly, this will be one of just a few more rides for Sweetpea and the Surly together.

I measure my fitness level by how well I can manage Ellicott Mills, a heartbreak of a hill that comes up after about 2 miles of gentler uphill through Old Town. It is steep for about half a mile, sort of levels off, and then ends with a super aerobic though short final peak. The first time I tackled it this spring, I had to stop and rest 3/4 of the way up. Last time, I made it to the top but was winded and needed a long break. This time the rest at the top was shorter. So the additional riding I am doing is clearly making me stronger. John pointed out I still could have gone 2 gears lower! I had thought was in granny gear. So that was pretty cool!

It was rather humid, but overcast and much cooler than predicted. We stopped about 3/4 of the way through the ride at a coffee/ice cream stand for a bit of refreshment, and met a couple of other cyclists there while we rested. None that were actually riding at the time though. A few minutes after taking off, John realized he had left his helmet. He headed back for it and so with that extra bit, his ride was a little over 25 miles in all. The ride back ends with 3 tough hills though none as challenging as Ellicott Mills. It was a nice ride, complete with a sense of accomplishment. I can see myself feeling more than ready for our end of July tour.

Oh, and the pedals? They were fine. They are maybe a little lighter than the MKS’s that I had, and I think a bit grippier, but that’s not really why I got them. The Nishiki had dismally bad pedals, so I got new ones for Sweetpea and gave the MKS’s to the Nishiki. So a bit of an upgrade for Sweetpea and a major upgrade for the Nishiki.

Celebrating Daylight Savings Time with a Ride

We took off for a Sunday ride around town on this first day of daylight savings time.  John rode his new Brompton, curious to see what  the 2-speed bike would be like on the hills around here. I rode Sweetpea, my ANT mixte touring bike. With her new chain and clean derailleur, she rode like a dream. I may not be in the best of shape but she sure is.  This ride was a test drive for my new Boure Womens Classic bike shorts. 

Here’s my opinion of the shorts:

Comfort: Terrific. The leg elastic grips without binding. The waist band is comfortable.  The padding which feels a little too bulky off the bike is fine while riding. The chamois provides the essential protection and comfort and feels “just right.” The seamless inner thigh prevents chafing.

Looks: Close-to-the-body fit. The eight-panel seaming creates graceful lines. They are made of nylon/lycra and come in 2 color choices, blue or black.

Fit: The small fits perfectly. I normally wear size 6 or 8 petite pants. The leg ends about 3.5″ above my knee, which suits me fine. The waistband is described by Boure as 1.24″ drawstring. Can’t say I see a drawstring anywhere, but I don’t need one.  I think it’s just 1.25″ flat elastic.

Practicality: These shorts are winners for comfort. I am sure they will be easy to hand wash and will dry quickly, important on tours. There are no pockets, typical of this type of short. 

Bottom line: I like them and will order 1 more pair. They will be great for longer local rides and for touring.