Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Thousand Miles!

I put the monkeys down for a nap and jumped on my bike and went for a nice 22 mile ride.
About half way into the ride, I realized that my bike wasn't handling very well at all.  I stopped, and sure enough I had a flat rear tire.  It took me about 15 minutes to get the tire changed (actually, it went pretty smoothly) and back on the bike.
 
With this ride, I am over 2,000 miles on my Cruzbike Sofrider in the 9½ months.  It's definitely had it's ups and downs (particularly since there are hills here - ha ha!).  I've ridden a bit more than 70 miles pulling my big monkey (or my nephew monkey) on the trail-a-bike, another 60+ miles pulling both of my monkeys in the trailer, and another 120+ miles pulling just the small monkey in the trailer (for just over 260 miles of pulling monkeys).  Not bad for an old man.
 
Considering I probably haven't ridden a total of 2,000 in all previous years combined, I'm quite pleased. I have been very impressed with the Sofrider and definitely would recommend it.

My year-to-date stats on my Sofrider.

It's still been cold and dark in the mornings, so I haven't been biking into work.  It certainly won't be light for a while, but I do have hope that we might get a break on the cold.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bar Mitts and Bar End Mirrors

I have been lazy as far as commuting to work in the last couple weeks. It's always dark (even with the end of daylights savings time) and hasn't been above freezing in the mornings for several weeks now.

 During the Thanksgiving holiday week, I had a short week at work (only Monday and Tuesday). Wednesday, I went out for a 12 mile ride pulling the little monkey in the trailer (his sister was in school at the time). Thursday, I pulled both monkeys for just under 10 miles in the trailer to the park to let them run around and get tired. I'm getting closer to 2,000 total miles this year, but haven't broken through yet.

 One problem that I've had with the cold are my extremities, my hands and my feet. The biggest problem with my feet is that I wear mountain bike shoes that aren't completely sealed on the bottom because of how the cleats attach. This is worse on a recumbent compared to a regular bicycle because my the bottom of my feet are basically facing forwards into the wind. I think I'll try lining the inside with plastic bags just to act as a wind barrier.

 Today I went out for a quick 13 miler with it above freezing, but not by much (36 degrees Fahrenheit or 2 degrees Celsius). I wore two pairs of socks, two layers of long underwear under my tights, an undershirt, another long undershirt and long sleeve shirt under my jacket and ear muffs. I wore my long fingered bicycle gloves which are supposed to be wind and water proof, but aren't. But I wasn't worried about cold hands today.

 I've seen a few pairs of bar mitts for sale in the past. I had two problems with them. First, they are expensive (these sell for $45). Second, I have bar end mirrors and I didn't see how that would work. Recently on the winter forum on BikeForums.net, somebody mentioned scooter bike mitts for $16 (shipped).  For that price, I was willing to experiment.

And I'm glad I did; it turned out well.  I ripped out the seams near the corner and glued and sewed in velcro.
Bar mitt showing the velcro that I glued and sewed on the inside.

Same mitt with the velcro closed.

This allows me to slip the mitt over my mirror and then close the hole.


The bar mitt on my bicycle with the mirror poking through.

Both mitts installed.

This clearly was not a profession job.  My wife Kate, on the other hand, makes purses and other bags out of antique silk:

One of Kate's bags on Bombyx Botanica.

so clearly somebody in my family actually knows how to sew (and it isn't me).  But the bar mitts worked extremely well and kept my hands nice and toasty warm.  If it had gotten 5 degrees warmer, they would have worked too well.

It wasn't too weird riding with the mitts either.  I do miss being able to see what gear I'm in (yes, I have indicators on my trigger shifters), but that wasn't too bad.  I was able to get my hands out and signal and get them back in with no problems.  And there were no issues with either shifting and braking.  This experiment was definitely a success.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fall, Winter, and Spring in Connecticut

What a grand title.  It sounds like I'll be talking about several months.  Nope.  Just this last week.

Most people have recovered from Sandy.  Before the paint was even dry (or all the electricity was turned back on), we got hit by a Nor'easter storm.  One friend of mine had his power restored for just over 36 hours before he lost it again (luckily it was restored that same night in his case).

With Sandy, we had very Fall weather.  It rained a lot and the ground was covered with leaves.  With the Nor'easter, we had several inches of snow.  This was on Thursday of this week.

A photo from outside my work in the middle of the storm.  Instant winter.


By Friday, the sun was back out shining and the snow was already starting to melt.  The weather this weekend was (partly to mostly) sunny with a high of over 50 degrees on Saturday and into the 60s today.  I didn't get a chance to ride to work this week, but was able to go out for rides both Saturday (yesterday) and today.

The same location at work a day later.  What a difference a day makes.

Saturday was a nice ride.  I put both my monkeys down for a nap and went out. I even managed to get back before they woke up.

I've been trying to explore new areas on the long rides and managed a new path for the end (although I think Andrew and I have ridden parts of this new path before).  There were more hills than I would have liked in the latter part, but they're good for me, right?

At work this last week, I mentioned to Andrew that I'd love to get the big monkey out on one of our rides.  We decided that he could pull the little monkey in the trailer and I'd take the big monkey on the trail-a-bike.  While it probably takes less (leg) energy pulling the trail-a-bike, balancing it does take some practice, so it makes sense for me to pull it.

Today, Andrew came over and I had my comfort bike hooked up to the trailer, the trail-a-bike hooked up to my Sofrider, and two eager kids.  We went just over 8 miles and everybody had a blast (I should have thought to take pictures, but I didn't).  Andrew did very well for his first time out pulling a trailer (he has a very little monkey at home that will be ready for a trailer next season), but we did avoid the bigger hills in the area on his first outing.  We stopped at the local park on the way back.  My big monkey was o.k. with just a short time at the park (she'd been pedaling the whole time), but my little monkey wanted to stay longer.  He was grumpy for a little bit, but wasn't too bad.

It was a good week.  What an array of weather we've had here.  So far, since February I have ridden my Cruzbike Sofrider 1915 miles.  I very much want to hit 2000 miles by the end of the year and assuming the weather doesn't go crazy, I should be able to do just that.  Of course, if the past couple weeks are any indication, I might be in trouble.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

An Accidental Upgrade and Sandy's Visit

Due to many different circumstances, I haven't had as much opportunity as I would have liked to ride my bike since the Tour de Bronx 3 weeks ago. It all started off well enough.  I took the Monday after the tour off to rest my legs.  On Tuesday, the weather wasn't good so I skipped commuting by bike. On Wednesday, the stars aligned so I rode my bicycle to and from work.  It was a short ride as I did my short routes both to and from work.  But it was a good start after the tour.

On Thursday, October 21st I had every intention of riding my long route to work.  As I was riding up Flax Hill, I noticed my derailleur occasionally grazing the spokes of the front wheel when I was in the biggest cog (lowest gear).  As I made it to the top, I (very cleverly) decided to see if I could "fix" whatever was wrong. As it was still dark outside, I stopped under a street light and took a look.  (If you're reading this wondering how I could be so, well, stupid, don't worry. You're not alone.)

To me, it looked as if the derailleur itself was slightly bent.  So if I could apply just a little bit of pressure... SNAP! Oh, that didn't sound good.  The derailleur was completely folded on itself.  I tried to see if I could still pedal, but I couldn't turn the cranks more than a quarter turn before it jammed.  The bad news was that I was still two miles from work and it was still dark.  The good news is that after climbing Flax Hill, it was mostly down hill.  So I "Fred Flinstone"d to work as best I could and locked the bike up.

I didn't want my bike to be out of service for too long, so that morning I ordered an SRAM X.9 long cage derailleur as well as a Cygolite Hotshot 2-Watt USB Rechargeable Taillight (of which I had read good reviews and of which I have nothing but good things to report; I recommend this tail light).  I got the two items on Saturday and got to work Saturday night.

When I got my bike on the workstand, I saw exactly what I had done.  I hadn't actually broken the derailleur; I just managed to is detach the rear shifting cable so that the derailleur moved so far away from the bike that it was no longer possible for the chain to run through the bike.  I could have returned the new derailleur I ordered, but since I had been toying with the idea of upgrading, I decided to install it.  The old one was an SRAM X.5.  With just about 90 miles on the new derailleur, I can't really tell the difference between the new one and the old one (part of me thinks the new one shifts better, but I can't decide if it really shifts better or I just want it to). In any case, I guess I now have a spare rear derailleur.

On Sunday October 21st, it was a gorgeous fall day and I got to sneak out of the house and go for a ride while the monkeys were napping.  My Garmin GPS wasn't charged, so I used my phone instead.  This almost worked although it stopped recording four miles from home for some mysterious reason.  Since it was such a beautiful days, I did stop at just about the half-way point to take pictures.


Where I'm going.

From where I came.

A nice example of a New England stone wall.

The week starting Monday, October 22nd did not give me many opportunities between the bad weather or having to take my corgi to the vet for minor surgery. I did manage to get 30 miles in two days commuting to work during the week and a very short 8 mile ride taking my little monkey to the park while his sister was at her cello lesson. At this point we knew Sandy was coming and I realized I wouldn't be riding for a while.

On Monday, October 29th, we already knew that school was cancelled for our monkeys.  We had stocked up on water, candles, and food in preparation of the storm. I went to work and we were sent home just after noon. The weather looked gloomy but it was not yet raining; the radar showed a huge storm, but so far Norwalk was mostly being bypassed. 

At 6 p.m. that night as there was light rain but heavy winds, Kate asked me if I knew where the flashlights were.  "Yeah, yeah, I know.  Don't worry about it." and as if on cue: Pop! No more power. Luckily I really did know where the flashlight was and was able to get it using the flashlight on my phone.

There were several people who stayed overnight at my work for fear that there  nobody would be able to make it in the next day.  It turns out that these concerns were not ridiculous.  A friend of mine wanted to leave work at 7 p.m. to go home and eat dinner for a couple hours but was unable to get home and had to return back.  

I left for work on Tuesday later than usual (since we had no good way to see in the house until the sun came up).  Instead of my usual 8 minute drive, it took closer to 45 minutes. There were many roads blocked because of fallen trees and the wires that they brought down with them.   The neighborhood in which my office is located was also without power. We have a generator to power our necessary computers at work, although not everything is powered. 

The financial district in New York city soon after Hurricane Sandy hit (not my photo).

While we had food, our house (a rental) has an electric stove and electric oven.  I do have a portable BBQ grill, but it is electric too.  So while we have food, we had no way to cook it (for future events, I've ordered a camping gas stove that will be here soon).  The roads became more and more passable, but up to Wednesday morning there was no evidence that there was any work being done to restore power (this is not meant as a critique; the problems were serious enough it makes sense to assess them before trying to fix them).  The weather was getting colder and colder.  Thursday night, we accepted a very generous offer from our friends (Thanks Diana and David!) to stay at their house since with no power, we had no heat.  Our bags were packed and we were waiting for Kate to come back from our big monkey's cello lesson when our power came back on.  As far as I can tell, Mother Nature decided that since we had effectively solved our problems (going to a place with heat; ordered portable gas stove), it was no longer as much fun to mess with us, so she let the electricity be turned on again.

Even in Norwalk, there are still many people without power (just over 10% still have no power almost a week later). And since we didn't get much rain here, we were actually very lucky.  The flooding we had was due to storm surge and it would have been much worse if we had a couple of inches rain on top of that (which was in the original forecast). New York and New Jersey both have many places that were hit much worse than we were. So as annoying as it was to be without power for three days, we did not lose water and most of us did not sustain damage that was too bad.

Yesterday, my friend Andrew and I got out for a short ride.  We had to take many detours of our planned route due to many crews actively working to clear fallen trees and get power restored.  I got out myself for another nice ride today and found that several of the roads that were passable yesterday were closed today by crews. Hundreds of very old trees came down during this storm.  It is going to be a while before the areas affected fully recover from this storm.  The weather these last two days has been gorgeous - quite the contrast from the storm.

When my wife came home from a shopping trip, she told me there was a crew from Quebec just down the street.  I walked down and thanked them for coming (they even understood my french!).  We also heard of crews from such near by places as Massachusetts and as far away as Washington state.  

I'm sure that if I were without power, I'd be less philosophical (and more bitter), but these events really do put things in perspective.  Stay safe.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Bronx, The Ocean, and A Bridge

I should probably start by warning you that the title of this post is somewhat misleading.  But never fear.  All will reveal itself in good time (and probably not be worth the build up I'm currently giving it).

Since my last blog entry three weeks ago, I had been sick and got very little riding in.  I had been hoping to ride the 40 mile Tour de Bronx, but was getting quite worried that I wasn't going to be healthy enough in time.  Last Friday (four days ago), I was finally well enough to get back on the bike and got almost 17.5 miles commuting to and from work.  This was by far not the fastest ride I have ever done, but both the morning and afternoon rides themselves went well.

As it is now fall and daylight savings time has not yet ended, I start out my commutes in the dark.  About half way into my Friday ride, the sun was finally coming up and I stopped to get a picture of the sunrise.

The sun rising over the Long Island Sound.


When I got of my bike to take a picture, I realized how quiet it was.  All I could hear was the ocean. I enjoyed it enough that I took a short (10 second) video where really the only interesting thing is the sound.



Short video where you can hear the ocean.  Corny, but I like it.

A few posts ago, I mentioned a technique called bridging.  This is basically where I plant my shoulders against the rear of the seat and lift my butt off of the seat while pushing on the pedals.  This technique allows me, for a  short period of time produce a lot of power and either really zoom ahead if I am riding on a flat bit of road or zoom up short but very steep hills.

This is a technique that many recumbent riders use.  Reading about it, it sounds like this is usually done on bicycles with a lower seat angle than I have on my Sofrider - I have heard you need an angle of 30 degrees from horizontal or less (my Sofrider angle is closer to 45 degrees). While I was on my commute ride, I realized that when I am bridging, I am also pushing myself up against the handlebars.  

The reason this is relevant is that unlike upright (err.. regular) bicycles, on most recumbents they are not designed to support much stress on the handle bars at all.  Cruzbikes, because they are front wheel drive that have the bottom bracket (where the pedals are attachted) that swings with the front wheel, have handlebars that can sustain much more force.  Without well braced handlebars, I wouldn't be able to bridge on a rear wheel drive recumbent.

Back, to our regularly scheduled blog entry,  I hadn't gotten the miles I would have wanted for the last three weeks, but the ride went well enough that I thought I was ready for the Tour de Bronx on Sunday (two days later).

One of  the 'Bent Rider Online Forum readers, Pat, posted about the Tour de Bronx and organized a meeting for recumbent riders. One difference about this ride compared to others I have done in the past is that the start and the end of the ride were not at the same place.  Pat was clever enough to tell everybody to park at the end.  So following his directions, I was at the meeting point with by bike put back together and ready to go with 30 minutes to spare.  The weather was cool and it was drizzling slightly.  The rain stopped completely within 30 minutes and never came back.

I was the first recumbent rider there, but most definitely not the last.  The second to arrive also lives in Norwalk (how's that for a nice coincidence!).  Within 30 minutes, I saw more recumbent bicycles in one place than I have ever seen before in my life.  Long wheel base recumbents, short wheel base recumbents, some with under seat steering.  There was even a family that showed up where the teenage sons rode mountain bikes and the parents rode tandem recumbent.

We left the parking lot as a group around 9:30, arrived at the start around 10:15 where we had to pick up our event numbers.  The start was so busy that we got separated.  A handful of us found each other and were (almost) ready for the start at 10:30.

Andrew and I rode the Bloomin' Metric Century in May, this was the most bicycles I ever saw at one place. We were also impressed at how homogeneous a group of people were riding that event.  Almost everybody was fully spandexed, riding a road bicycle where I estimated that the average bike there probably cost around $2,000.

The Tour de Bronx was much more heterogeneous, both in terms of the racial make up of the event, but also in terms of the bicycles.  There were many many fully spandexed riders here on nice road bikes.  Unlike the Bloomin' Metric, I saw several folding bicycles, a lot of fixed gear bicycles, a few pre-teen children riding mountain bikes with knobby tires, and even a BMX bicycle with 20" wheels and no gears.  Most bicycles seemed to be working fine, but the average bicycle price was well less than the Bloomin' Metric.  And where as the Bloomin' Metric Century was capped at 2,500 riders, this news paper sets the attendance at more than double at 6,000 riders.  There were several places where I was not able to ride as quickly as I would have liked because it was so crowded.  The atmosphere of this event was unlike that of any I have yet ridden.

A view of the first rest stop.

At about 14 miles (including our trip to the start), we got to the first rest top. It was crazy busy, but there weren't problems getting food.  Pat knew about a "secret toilet"; otherwise it would have taken 30 minutes just to visit the facilities.  I was supposed to meet the rest of the recumbent riders outside the rest area, but I lost them and continued on by myself.

During the ride, the sun came out in full force. In between the first and second stop, I pulled over in some woods to change my pants into shorts and remove two long sleeve shirts.  I was very well served having my Camelbak water bladder attached to my bicycle.

The route for this tour (as you can see below) really was all over the Bronx.  It was nice getting back to City Island (to where Andrew and I rode in April).

The Tour de Bronx Ride.  Since I started recording in the parking lot, the start and the stop are the same on my recording, which was not true of the actual ride.

As the ride progressed, the population of bicycles got thinner and thinner.  At the beginning of the ride, the police closed several streets and were directing traffic to allow the hoards of bicycles through.   Several spectators came out to cheer us on our way, and as usual, children really enjoyed seeing my recumbent bicycle - when we were a group of recumbents the reaction of the crowd was often quite lively.  After the third rest stop, the marshals that had been ever-present became quite rare indeed.  Within a mile after the last stop, the group of bicycles I was with no longer knew where to go and we were officially lost.  Between miles 43.5 and 44.5, I rode up a large hill (yes, they do really exist in the Bronx), just to realize that that wasn't the right way and to ride back down.

Because my GPS records a path of where I had been and because Pat was ever so clever (thanks Pat!) to tell us to park at the end, I effectively had a very good compass to help me get back to my car. At mile 45, with another rider following me, we came across a large steep hill.  She stopped at the bottom to walk up; I rode up 1/3 of the way before I quit.  The hill was definitely climbable, but I was tired enough that I just didn't want to push it.

A few miles before the end, I picked up a group of a half a dozen riders who were also lost relying on my GPS to get us back.  We made it back largely without incident, although I'm willing to believe that the official route would have been on much less busy streets.  I'll be curious to see if I can find the GPS track from somebody who rode the ride correctly so I can compare it to mine to see where (and how badly) I got it wrong.

As promised, I've covered everything the title of the post said I would, albeit not necessarily as expected.
It was a long three weeks getting over my cold.  I'm not completely better, but I'm much better off and very glad that I was able to ride "the tour." 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Success, Failure, and a Cold

In the week after my last entry (two weeks ago), I rode just over 30 miles commuting two days. It is definitely getting both colder and darker in the mornings as we are moving into fall.  It has been almost completely dark when I've been leaving for work.  On the plus side, I've been getting some very nice sunrises over the sound.

The sun starting to rise over the Long Island Sound taken from the bridge entering Bell Island.
A view on the other side of the bridge.
One of my wife's bride's maids, Pam, came to visit us for a few days.  I borrowed Andrew's folding bike so that Pam, Kate (pulling the little monkey in the trailer) and I (pulling the big monkey on the trail-a-bike) could go for a ride.  We ended up going over 8.5 miles on a very nice ride around where I work.

On Sunday, Andrew and I went for a longer ride (I ended up going around 25 miles total). At 17.5 miles, Andrew and I were once again in front of the biggest hill I ever saw.  We had not yet decided which way to go.  Andrew wanted to turn left at the intersection avoiding the hill.  "Unless you have unfinished business with that hill."

The last time we tried, Andrew made it the whole way up, but I only made it 3/4th of the way. So, straight we went towards the hill.  As many make battle cries before heading into battle, I thought I needed one too.  "I'm a moron" was the last thing I shouted before heading up the hill.  I lead Andrew and we both made it the entire way up the hill.  Success at last!  I was tired, breathing hard, spent, but happy.

At the top of the hill, we consulted Google maps and decided on our route.  We couldn't quite decide what to do and remembered (incorrectly as it turned out) that continuing on the path on which we were headed lead us into some not-so-nice-on-which-to-ride-a-bicycle roads.  So we turned around and then went down that monster of a hill.

I like going zooming down big hills as much as the next guy.  And just as this was a monster of a hill to climb, this was the steepest hill I've ever descended.  This hill was extreme steep, on a not very wide street that had a fair amount of traffic, and had a stop light not too far from the bottom of the hill.  Because of this, I rode my brakes down and still hit close to 40 mph.  A hill with the same decent but with better conditions, I could easily imagine hitting 50 mph.

We turned right and started climbing a small hill that was easy enough.  But within a mile we were at the base of yet another monster climb.  This hill I only made it up about half way before my front wheel started slipping I had to stop.   Nary 10 minutes after my big success, and it's capped of with a climbing failure.  Ugh!

I entered the bit of route I didn't manage on Ride with GPS.  The two hills are actually very similar as far length of climb, maximum grade (> 12% in both cases, probably more), and elevation gain. When my front wheel slips, I can often pull myself up using the handlebars moving more of my weight to the front (drive) wheel, but I was too exhausted to do this on the second climb. So it isn't a failure of the bike, but rather just the rider.

Within a couple hours of getting home, I had succumbed to the same cold Kate had been fighting.  No fever, but lots of crap in my lungs, etc. Here it is a week later, and my symptoms keep morphing back and fourth, but I still have the same bloody cold and haven't ridden since that Sunday.  Hopefully I'll get this cold licked soon.  Part of me thinks that if I hadn't gotten sick I could have made it up the second hill.  Wishful thinking?  Maybe future rides will tell.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Good Couple Weeks

In the two weeks since my last post, I've done nine rides for a total of just over 130 miles.  Five of the rides have been commuting to work and back for a total of 60 miles.  Admittedly since I live only 3.25 miles from work, I wasn't always going the direct route.

Ten days ago, I got two rides in on the weekend.  I first went for a ten mile jaunt pulling the little monkey in his trailer.  It was starting to rain as I got to the base of the big climb on that ride, so I chickened out and turned around.  I won't even try to convince you that if it wasn't starting to rain that I would have climbed the hill.  On Sunday, I did a nice 25 miler just over the New York state line and back.  I tried to something different on the way back, but ended up on the same route a little too soon.  Maybe I'll have better luck next time getting lost.

This past weekend the weather was gorgeous.  This time of year is my favorite as we still get lots of light, but the heat is starting to recede.  On Saturday, Andrew and I went for a quick ride with me pulling the little monkey in the trailer.  There was no rain so I had no excuses.  We tried to find a new loop, but decided it was on streets that were too busy to pull a trailer, so ended up doing a big loop that had me climbing several hills.  Pulling that extra weight up the hills really does give me a good workout.  I noticed that it was significantly easier than last time, largely because it was just enough cooler that my body wasn't terribly over-heating.


A nice park in the middle of our ride.

Ducks Geese  on the pond.  If you look closely, you can see some of the geese with their heads underwater and their butts up in the air.  I really find that position quite funny.

The little monkey holding his sunglasses in his trailer.  You can make out his water bottle stashed in the pocket on the trailer on the left and his "cell phone" in the right pocket.  They both seem to keep him quite content.

On Sunday, I got a chance to go for another ride with my friend Tom.  Just under 18 miles total and about a mile or two from the state line, it was another gorgeous day. On our way back, we saw a father on a road bike and his son riding a mountain bike with knobby tires.  As I was passing them going down hill, I told the father that changing his son's tires for something smooth would let him go a lot faster on his bike.  The father asked if he could get such tires and seemed very excited when I told him that my Sofrider had the same size wheels as his son's bike.  I've never sold tires while riding down a hill before.

All-in-all, a very nice couple of weeks. All of the upgrades I talked about last time are working well and I can report that the air horn does indeed get drivers attention when needed. Hopefully I'll have another upbeat update coming soon!

Monday, September 3, 2012

New Toys
(or Show-and-Tell)

First, for those regular readers, I've been a bit lax updating my blog in the last couple of weeks.  To make up for it, I wrote an entry yesterday talking about recent rides as well as today's entry about upgrades. That entry has more exciting less tech-y pictures than this one.

A few weeks ago, my front derailleur shifter cable broke.  I bought a set of SRAM X.4 trigger shifters to replace my current shifters.  I installed the front derailleur shifter three days after the cable broke.  I didn't get around to installing the rear derailleur shifter until two weeks ago.

The old front shifter. Note the ever-present gap between the shifter and the grip.

A couple of hours before my ride with Andrew to New York State line and back, I started work to upgrade the shifter.  I was a little concerned that I wasn't leaving myself enough time to get the new shifter installed and tuned, but I had no problems.  In addition to installing the shifters, I also installed SRAM locking grips and a second Mirrycle bar-end mirror.  The old grips would often separate from the grip shifter leaving an annoying gap; the new grips alleviate this problem completely. I very much like the mirror I already had on the left side handbars, so I bought a second for my bike (as well as one for my wife's bicycle).  Mirrors are a good idea on any bicycle, but are particularly important on recumbent bicycles since it so much harder to turn around and see what's behind you.

Particularly important on front-wheel-drive bikes, to help stabilize them when parking if you can set the front brake.  The bike brake is a very cheap way of doing just this.

A view of the finished upgrade, including a second mirror and the bike parking brake.


A close-up of the grip, the shifter, the bike brake, and the mirror.

For the rear derailleur, I very much prefer the trigger shifter to the grip shifter.  For one thing, when I would pull myself up by the handlebars, I often found that I would accidentally shift.  For another, when I'm shifting into my granny gear, I generally go from the middle chain ring on the crankset and the lowest gear on the cassette to the granny gear on the crankset and the fourth gear on the cassette.  I want this switch to be as simultaneous as possible.  Before, it was largely guess work.  Now, I just plink-PLUNKplink-plink and I'm there.  (The plink is the shifting of the rear derailleur and the PLUNK is the front).

There are two downsides to this new setup.  The first of which is that the twist front derailleur actually had more than three positions which would help avoid situations where the chain likes to rub on the front derailleur; I can't really get into the fifth gear or above on the rear derailleur when I'm in the granny gear. The second issue is knee clearance.  Having the shifter live below the handlebars reduces this clearance. This doesn't affect me because I installed an adjustable stem as well as moved my seat as far forward as possible.  I am not a big fan of twist shifters and am pleased with the upgrade to trigger shifters.

After this ride, I installed two other new toys.  First, I installed Kool-Stop dual compound mountain pads on the front brake.  I don't know if it just because because the original pads were quite worn (they had almost 1,500 miles on them when they were replaced)  or because the new pads are really just that much better (or most likely, both), but the new brake pads help me stop much more quickly.  Another worthy upgrade.


Kool-Stop front brake pads.  The two colors are two different compounds are for tuned for wet and try stopping.

I've had a couple of close calls with cars where my only recourse has been to, well, basically shout at them to get their attention.  Especially since I am often riding with my children, I've decided that I wanted a loud horn.  I've just added a Delta Cycle Airzound Horn.


Airzound horn (surrounded by lights) with bottle reservoir.

The horn is air-powered and has the ability to (somewhat) control the volume.  The reservoir is refillable with a regular air pump (up to 80 psi).  I (fortunately) haven't yet needed to use it in traffic, but I'm convinced it will get me noticed when I need it.  On trails and with pedestrians, I'll continue to use my voice as this horn is too loud for pedestrians and other cyclists.

The last two pictures are toys that I've already had and talked about.  But since I was taking pictures, so I snapped a couple of shots.  I used an Axiom seat collar with rack eyelets to attach the rear rack.  I bought 29.8mm size which wasn't quite large enough to replace the seat collar that was there.  I decided that this was a good thing and I used a piece of rubber to line the seat post and attached it.  The reason I decided this was better is that I didn't want to directly connect the the rack (which is attached to the rear triangle) to the main body of the bike (since there is a rear shock).  I really ought to bring up a metal piece from the rear triangle so that the rack isn't attached to the main body at all, but I found that how it is works well enough.


Rack attached to the seatpost. You can see the Trek trail-a-bike mount attached to the seatpost as well.

The final picture is showing how I mount my 100oz Camelbak Unbottle to the back of my seat.  I use two straps that go under the upper seat pad to hold it in place.  In my case, it sits on the braces for the rack, but I'm sure if the rack wasn't there, I would figure out something to make sure that it didn't drop too low and interfere with either the wheel or the brake.

I've never gone for a ride longer than 20 miles without this water reservoir and I recommend it highly.


Camelback Unbottle attached to the back of my seat.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Several Nice Rides

I've done a bit of both riding and upgrades since my last blog entry; I'll talk about the upgrades in another entry here. In the last two weeks, I've been on nine rides (counting commuting to and from work as a single ride) and my total on my Sofrider is now just over 1,500 miles (since the middle of February).

First, my friend Andrew and I went on a very nice 25 mile ride to just inside New York state and back.  This was Andrew's first big ride he and his wife Amy had their baby 3 months ago (and since his rear wheel was being rebuilt, he rode it on my comfort bike instead of his bicycle).  We averaged over 12 mph with 1200 feet of elevation gain.  Given that it was his first long ride since the Bloomin' Metric Century in May and it wasn't on a bike he had ever ridden before (and given that he had thought he'd want to ride "five to ten miles"), it was huge success.

I had several very nice commuting to work rides.  This ride, for example,  had a nice 9.7 mile loop in the morning with an 7.7 mile loop home with an average speed of both laps of just under 14 mph.  On another ride in to work, I saw a family of deer crossing the road.  Most of them ran off before I got out my phone, but you can almost make out of two of them.













Two of the family of deer I spotted.  The others got away before I got out my camera.

Apparently summer is coming to an end because I'm getting on the rode while the sun is still waking up.  Here is a nice shot of the sun rise over the Long Island Sound.
























A nice sunrise. It isn't actually as dark as it looks; the light from the sun triggered the auto-light level in the camera.


On my ride to work this Wednesday, as I was finished climbing a small hill and about to turn onto a nice stretch of downhill, I caught a glimpse of something blue.  In my mirror, I saw a fully spandexed road bicycle rider in my mirror, complete with his Team Garmin jersey.  Since I had a slight downhill (about 1% grade), I decided to go for it and try and hold him off.  I was huffing and puffing (unfortunately, I let the Garmin batteries die so I don't know how fast I was going) and making pretty good time. But I saw him gaining in my mirror.  After about half a mile, he passed me and said: "Impressive!  Very impressive!"  to which I replied (with a big smile on my face): "I tried!"  For the next mile, he lead, but he didn't drop me.  I was within 10 meters or so until I turned off to head to work.

August was a busy month for us.  My parents came to visit us in the beginning of the month.  Kate and the monkeys went up to her parents house in Vermont.  When they got back, my sister Debbie, her husband Alex, and her two sons came to visit last week.  And during all of this, my big monkey just started kindergarten!

My bigger nephew wanted to try Julia's trail-a-bike.  He just turned four and he is just a little bit shorter than my big monkey.  So when she was at kindergarten, Alex and I went for a ride.  Alex rode Kate's bike pulling my little monkey, and I rode my Sofrider pulling my nephew (since it's harder balance with a trail-a-bike since I have experience pulling one).

Although my Alex is originally from Maine, he and my sister now live in Illinois, where it is flat.  I did try to point out that here in Connecticut we have hills ("I'm from Maine, I know hills.").  So off we went. The ride turned out to be a little tougher than either of us expected.  We did a total of 8 miles. Alex might have grown up riding in hills, but this was his first time pulling a trailer up them.  And he's grateful that he was pulling up my little monkey who is significantly lighter than his big monkey.

In my case, I've been riding pulling my big monkey on trail-a-bikes since she was three years old (first using a gator bar pulling her 12" bicycle with my folding bike and now her Trek trail-a-bike), so she understands how to balance very well.  My nephew had never ridden one before, so he wasn't nearly as experienced as how to balance.  And he's a lot heavier than his cousin.  Being on my Sofrider, my center of mass is a lot lower than it would be on my comfort bike, and so it was sometimes quite a bit of effort to keep everything balanced.

At first, he wasn't pedaling at all and even without that complication, I was spending a lot of energy making sure we were well balanced..  When he first started to pedal, I was surprised by how much effort it took on my part to keep us balanced (my arms were sore a couple days later, so it was quite a workout for me).  By the end of the ride, however, we were going up one last hill where not only did he pedal, his pedaling helped.  And most importantly, he had a blast.

Yesterday, while my big monkey was at her cello lesson, Andrew came by and he and I went out for a ride (he rode on my comfort bike, and I was riding my Sofrider pulling my little monkey in the trailer).  We rode a total of 11.5 miles, including the biggest hills up which I've ever tried to pull a trailer.  After reaching the peak of the last hill (almost 90 feet in 0.3 miles or an average grade of 6%), I was ready for a rest.













The little monkey and me taking a quick breather before continuing on our ride.  That little monkey really likes his cantaloupe. 

The ride home was quite a bit easier since we had a net drop of about 200 feet.  We averaged just over 10 mph, of which I was really quite proud considering everything.

All in all, I rode just over 125 miles and really had a blast!  As I mentioned, I've now put on just over fifteen hundred miles on this bicycle.  I'm very happy with the Sofrider and would highly recommend it to people who think they might be interested.  In a couple years (read: when I might be able to afford it), I can easily see upgrading to one of the higher end Cruzbikes like the Vendetta or Silvio.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Onward and Upward

I successfully replaced the front derailleur shifter after the cable snapped two weeks ago. I bought a set of SRAM X.4 trigger shifters but have only installed the front derailleur shifter so far.  For the front derailleur, I might actually prefer the twist shifter but on previous bicycles, I prefer the trigger shifters for the rear derailleur (which is why I bought trigger shifters), so I will change the other shifter as well..  I'll have more updates after I swap out the other shifter, hopefully soon.

I was only out of commission for a couple of days with the broken cable and still managed to get 85 miles in during the last two weeks.  Almost all of which are from commuting to and from work, although admittedly I often take routes that are very much not direct.  For example, on Friday my total distance was just under 17 miles instead of the 9 the direct route it would have been (they've been doing construction so I've been taking a slightly longer route).

One new thing I've been trying is a technique called bridging (talked about both Ak-tux in the comments of this blog post and in this 'Bent Riders Online (BROL) Forum post).  The basic idea is that I plant my shoulders into the seat, push hard on the pedals, and lift my butt out of the seat. It almost looks like I'm standing up like one would do on a regular diamond frame bike.  Well, when I say almost, I should point out that my butt barely gets out of the seat.  So, it probably doesn't really look like somebody standing, but that's how I like to imagine it.  It is worth pointing out that I've read that it is easier to bridge when the seat angle is lower (closer to horizontal).  I was not successful before I lowered my seat angle.

I can't bridge for very long as it takes core muscles that apparently I don't really have.  But when I am doing it, I find that I am able to transfer considerably more energy to the pedals.  I've been able to power up some small to smallish-medium hills using this technique and I find that I can do it much faster and therefore in a much bigger gear than when I just sit back and spin my way up.

Unlike other regular or recumbent bicycles, the pedals are directly hooked up to the steering.  One advantage of this is that when climbing hills, I can "pull myself up" by the handlebars which means that I can get my upper body involved in climbing.  I have been using this technique since the beginning.  I find that bridging helps me climb better than this technique (although I can't do either for very long).

There's another post on BROL where a rider came up with an idea of using a blood-pressure cuff as an inflatable bladder that he uses to help him bridge for long periods of time.  On this entry, I hypothesized that in order for this to work, it needs to be the case that when one is sitting on the air bladder, one is not as stable as when just sitting on the seat and this instability leads to the hips being able to move in a more unimpeded fashion.  I don't know that this theory holds any water or not.  In any case since it is not very expensive to try his technique, maybe I'll do that in the future as well.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bad Bike-Ma?

July has been a tough month for bicycling.  First, my front wheel almost fell off. Next, I fell over (scraping up my pride and my elbow).  Last week between constraints with Kate out of town and the weather, I didn't ride in to work a single time.  And, to top it all off yesterday, the shifter cable running to my front derailleur broke while I was on a ride pulling the little monkey in the trailer. I did ride the remaining 2.5 miles home using only my granny gear up front, but in an effort to hit the lap button on my Garmin, I accidentally hit the stop button.











See if you can spot the wild turkeys?  I took the picture and it still took me a couple of minutes to find one.

Before the cable broke, it was a nice ride.  We saw a family of wild turkeys (although when I stopped to take a picture, they had pretty well hidden themselves).  This is my longest ride pulling a monkey so far (16.3 miles) and I felt pretty good at the end of it (I could have gone further if it weren't for the broken shifter cable and the monkey starting to get cranky).

In any case, I've ordered new shifters so that hopefully I'll be up and running mid-week.  And since that will be August, so maybe my bike-ma (and karma) will be on the up and up.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Trips To the State Line (Almost), The Park (Definitely), and The Dirt (Unfortunately)

There was rain this week so I only got to ride into work twice (although I did manage to stretch it out to 21 miles instead of just 13). Kate and her father are in Oregon visiting her grandmother.  Kate's mother is staying with the rest of us to watch the monkeys while Kate is gone.  Since the monkeys really like their grandmother, they are behaving better than usual (which, believe you me, is a very good thing).

My mother-in-law needed to go back up to her house yesterday, but graciously held off leaving until 8:30 a.m. so that I could go out for a quick ride.  I rode most of the way to New York state, turning around in Bethel, Connecticut.  It was almost 650 feet in altitude gain with some pretty serious hills just before I turned around.  I only averaged 12.7 mph, partly because the hills slowed me down so much climbing, but because they were in town, I couldn't safely zoom down them when I came back home. I was going to finish the ride with a pass up Flax Hill road, but I ran out of time (No, really, I ran out of time or I would have.  Stop snickering.)



















A view of the rode in Bethel just after I turned around.

Today I packed both monkeys in the trailer and took them to a nearby park.  Last week I ended the ride pulling the little monkey in the trailer and I found that it wasn't much more (if any) effort than pulling the big monkey on the trail-a-bike.  But pulling them both in the trailer was actually kind of demoralizing as it was a lot harder than I remembered.  This ride only had 400 feet of elevation gain, but apparently we've been feeding them too much because I really felt it today. 


The monkeys had a good time being monkeys at the park (we even ran into other monkeys that we knew).  On the way home things were going well enough.  It was mostly uphill to the park, so it was mostly downhill on the way home.  Apparently that wasn't good enough as a mile from home, I decided to (er.. well..) hit the curb and fall over.


The trailer arm has a spring in it designed to make sure that it stays upright even if the bike falls over (I've unfortunately verified this feature works well in the past).  I fell onto the grass, but did it hard enough that I scraped up my elbow and arm somewhat.  The bike was mostly ok with the exception of breaking part of the plastic chain guard.  The crankset was half-buried in the dirt and it took me a couple minutes getting everything clean.


The broken plastic chain guard.


You hear a lot about how people in cars are a real problem for bicyclists.  I'm very pleased to report in this time I had the exact opposite experience.  I had several drivers pull over and make sure everybody was o.k.  To anybody who is ever in that situation, please do stop and ask. It's nice to know that most people out there will do the right thing when they need to. 


I picked myself off and dusted off my arm and my leg.  On the way home, the big monkey asked if I fell down just like the people on the TV (we have been watching the Tour de France).  "Yes baby girl.  Exactly like that."


The last couple weeks (with this fall and having issues with my front wheel last week) have been more exciting than I would have hoped.  Let's all be careful out there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lots of Commuting Rides
(or, How I Almost Lost My Front Wheel)

Since getting back from our trip to Vermont, I've ridden just over a hundred miles (almost all of which to and from work).  Most of it hasn't been too exciting, but it's still a nice way to start and end a work day.  I modified my to work extra loop to add a couple of very short but quite steep hills.  The more the merrier, right?

Last Saturday I went for a ride after I put the monkeys to bed.  At about 9 miles into the ride I was going down a hill when suddenly the bike started to wobble.  I pulled it over to a stop and took a look at the bike.  Everything seemed fine. As I was already started up the next hill, I decided to walk the bike up and start riding again.  I went just over a mile and had started climbing (the dreaded) Flax Hill road when my front tire locked up.

I lifted the bike over the guard rail for the sidewalk and flipped the bike so I could take a proper look.  The front wheel had come loose and was basically jammed against the frame.  Definitely a little scary.  I have been using quick release wheels on bicycles for about 30 years off and on (probably a lot more off than on since I wasn't riding much until recently) and I've never had any such problem.  I had taken the wheels off the bike when transporting it to and from Vermont, but I had been riding the bike for a week since putting it back together.  I don't know if I really just didn't tighten it enough or if it got bumped at the bike rack at work or what.  In any case, the moral of the story is, please check your quick release levers regularly to make sure they are good and tight.

I made sure the wheel was properly attached and safely rode the rest of the way home (without climbing Flax Hill road the second time).

This weekend Kate and I went out for a ride with the kids.  We didn't leave early enough in the morning, however, and it ended up being a bit too hot (and humid), I left Kate and one monkey by the side of the road so I could go home and get the van with the other monkey and pick them up.

The scenery here in Connecticut is much nicer than what we had in Illinois, although not quite as picturesque as Vermont.  But since it's boring to read a post with no pictures, I'll leave you with a shot of the sun rising I took this morning on my way to work.











A view overlooking the Long Island Sound as the sun rises taken on Bell Island in Rowayton, CT.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Vermont, The Green Mountain State

Last week I took a vacation from work.  Kate and I packed my bike, the dog, and the kids in the car and and we went up to her parent's house in Vermont.  We had our niece and nephew stay with us the night before we left, and they and their father (Kate's brother) were also up for the first few days with us (his wife wasn't lucky enough to get vacation for the week).

Her parents live in Lunenburg, which is on the New Hampshire border an hour south of Canada.  It's a very picturesque and rural area.  There isn't too much close by, so we didn't really have any plans except for Kate helping out in their garden and me going for an occasional bicycle ride.

Until last year when we moved to Connecticut, we lived in (very flat) Illinois. Illinois is a great place to learn how to drive a stick-shift cars because you never have to worry about having to start on a hill.  It also makes riding a bike very easy.  In Connecticut, it is hard to find a place to ride where there isn't a large change in elevation.  I'm originally from Illinois and am not used to hills (either walking or biking).  I've been working hard to get used to the hills and been slowly making progress. At least I thought so, until I rode a bicycle in Vermont.  And, to be fair, I really shouldn't be surprised that Vermont isn't flat since its name literally translates from French to English as Green Mountain.

When I plan rides, I prefer to get my climbing out of the way early so I can start of working hard and have an easier time of it at the end of the ride.  Unfortunately for me, my in-laws live close to the top of a big hill.  For my first ride in Vermont, the first two miles I dropped over 480 feet in elevation and averaged just under 25 mph (with a maximum speed of 35 mph) and, boy, was it fun!  And the whole way down, I realized I'd be paying for that decent sooner or later.

The scenery of the ride and the weather were gorgeous.

A gorgeous view of the Connecticut River (which flows very close to our house in Connecticut).

The road.

After the big decent, there was a climb at the 6th mile of about 180 feet over 0.4 miles.  It is not the steepest hill I've ever climbed (average grade over 8.5%), but it was quite long (or so I thought).  I stopped about half way up the hill for a couple minutes to catch my breath and kept going.  Except for this hill, the rest of the route was quite flat.  Until the accent back up to the house, that is.

The climb back up was along the same route as the decent.  I averaged 5.8 mph for the last two miles.  I stopped once to catch my breath (this time for a few minutes).  The average grade wasn't that large (under 4%) and my new granny gear was very useful herebut the length of the climb was unlike anything I had tried before.  I made it, but it really was hard.

On Monday, I worked on fixing up my in-laws extra bike so my brother-in-law, Alek could go for a ride with me. I had my tools but not my stand, so it wasn't as easy as I would have liked, but I got the bike moving. Alek runs and plays soccer, but hasn't regularly ridden a bike in years.  There was a break in the rain, so off we went.  It turns out I didn't do as good a job tuning the gears as I would have hoped.  At the bottom of the first hill (about a half-mile down), we realized that we should tune it up more. So we turned around and went back up. This was just under 140 feet in half a mile,  This is an average grade of just over 5% and is definitely noticeable (although much less in this case where we hadn't gotten tired doing a long ride first).

When we got to the top, Alek realized that he didn't really want to do that again, so we didn't bother tuning that bike any more.  As I mentioned earlier, they live near the top of the hill.  But not at the top.  So I figured, I'd ride up to the top.  The hill right in front of their house has a 9% incline and the road was still quite wet.  I tried several times but could not get started (front wheel slipping).  I have dual-sided pedals (meaning I can clip in one one side but don't on the other), so I unclipped my left foot and tried one last time.  Unfortunately, I accidentally clipped in my right foot and since I didn't have any momentum, over I went.  The worst thing was being embarrassed that fell down.  I scraped up my left arm a bit, but not too badly.  And I scratched up the plastic on my mirror, but the rest of the bike was fine.  Clearly starting on wet steep hills is something I need practice with.

On Tuesday, I rode almost the same route I had done on Sunday, except that I did the bottom loop clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.  The weather was a lot gloomier this time, but it was dry so there were no traction problems.

The same road as above two days later.

The Connecticut River several miles closer to my in-laws house.

The road.

The advantage of doing this is that I didn't have an intermediate large climb to make (instead had a gradual climb and a quick intermediate decent where I hit 39 mph).  My overall time was a couple minutes slower over the 16.5 mile course (1 hour 19 minutes compared to 1 hour 17 minutes).  

On Thursday I rode a completely new route.  This one didn't start with just a straight drop but had a couple ups mixed in with the downs.  Again once I finished the decent, the rest of the route was really quite flat (flatter than what we have here in Connecticut).  This ride was a total of just over 26 miles.  The first 24 miles were a breeze.  The climb of the last two almost did me in.

On Friday, I did yet another completely new route, this one with proper rolling hills.  So unlike all of the other rides, this one was challenging right off of the bat.  It wasn't until 8.5 miles that I had finished the hills and ended up at the bottom altitude.

After my first ride, Kate and her mother suggested that they meet me at the "Covered Bridge" so that they could take my picture while riding the bike.  So instead of climbing back up the hill, I called up Kate just after mile 12 to have her meet me at the bridge.  And after the photo-shoot, I just packed the bike in the van and we went back to the house so I could get ready to take my father-in-law out for his birthday dinner (Happy Birthday!).  

A view of me riding just after leaving the Covered Bridge.

A close-up.

All in all, it was a great week.  Got to spend more time with my family and got a lot of riding in.  I'm still not very good at riding up hills, but since practice makes perfect, I'll keep trying.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How Low Can I Go, Part II

A couple weeks ago I wrote about putting a 22T granny gear on my bike.  It is still taking me a while to get used to it as I now have to shift both front and rear derailleurs at the same time so that I am not just spinning when I drop into the tiny gear.  I've found that because of this, I use the granny gear less, but that it really does nicely lower my range.

One problem with this gear, also because the large difference in size between the granny and middle gear (38T), is that the chain will fall off the granny gear when I'm shifting down to it.  To stop this problem I bought a (34.9mm) N-Gear Jump Stop Chain Guide.  Because of the pulley near the bottom bracket for the front derailleur, I couldn't get it quite as far down as I would have wanted, but it does seem to have stopped the problem.




Chain-stop from the front.

Chain stop from the side

When I originally put the triple crank on the bike, I found that the chain actually fell off the crankset less frequently than with the original double. With the small granny gear, the problem was worse than with the original double.

In the same vein as the last post, I moved the seat on my Sofrider as far forward as possible as well as lowered the angle of the seat. Lowering the angle means I've reduced my cross section to the wind.  Moving the seat forwards means that hopefully my center of mass is now closer to the front wheel to help with wheel slippage when climbing.

You'd think that when somebody is writing about this in a blog called The Recumbent Quant, there would be a quantitative measurement about how much forward the seat has moved, or by how much the angle has changed.  Well, don't worry.  I'm disappointed in myself too for not having these things.  My guess is that the seat angle changed from 50 degrees to about 45 degrees.  Part of me would like to be able to lower the seat even more, but given that I use it to pull a trail-a-bike, I think this is about as low as it can go.

New seat position.  It few centimeters further forward and probably about 5 degrees more horizontal.

 I've been riding this way for about a week.  I guess the biggest surprise is that there really isn't much of a difference while riding.  The handlebars are further away and feel a bit less "cramped" (although it was never really a problem before) and the viewing angle to my bike computer is a bit worse.  And I had to extend the boom so the bottom bracket/crankset moved a bit more forward. So I can tell that the seat is in a different position, but the bike basically feels the same when I'm riding it.

Another possible difference is that by tilting the seat back, I'm able to ride further without "recumbutt" (which is having your butt fall asleep (this is much better than having your "what-what" fall asleep)..  This is a problem that I used to have on longer rides.  I haven't had any symptoms yet, but I've only ridden for just over 16 miles since I made the change.  I'll probably eventually add padding to the seat bottom as well.

I do feel as if I am cruising at a little faster on flat terrain and on my maiden voyage, I hit 39 mph on a course that I've ridden on before without realizing I got anywhere near that fast.  And the next day was my fastest every time commuting to work.  All of that being said, I'm not really yet convinced how much of a difference it has made (although it's pretty clear that it hasn't gotten any worse).  Time will tell.