Monday, April 30, 2012

New York City, Here We Come
(or The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Navigating with a Garmin Edge 305)

This week Andrew and I decided to go big.  Our goal: New York City.  O.k.  So not Manhattan, but City Island, which is part of  the Bronx.  Andrew had shown me that Google thought the bike route was pretty reasonable. And then he found a bike route online from Stamford (a couple towns over) to City Island, so we decided to go for it.

The idea was that Andrew and I would leave around noon and that while taking our time (and giving us a time buffer for getting lost), we'd meet our families at a Restaurant and then drive the bikes back home.  It's a little more adventurous than I usually am, but worse come to worse, we could get picked up in some random spot if we needed to, so why not try.

I have a (refurbished) Garmin Edge 305 bike computer.  It uses both GPS as well has sensors for wheel speed and cadence (how fast I'm spinning the pedals).  The newer Garmin bicycle computers can have maps loaded on and be used very similarly to how the GPS in your car works.  The problem is those GPS units cost several hundred dollars more than mine so I ended up with what I have now.  And I do bike with my phone which has GPS as well, so if I get really lost, I'm pretty well covered.

It does turn out, however, that there are some very basic navigation abilities with the Edge 305.  Frank Kinlan has this very nice blog entry about one option.  What I did was:
  1. Create a route using  I tried uploading the Google maps route into this site, but it didn't list the turns (which is the part that I needed to export).  It turns out that the route that RideWithGPS came up with was more or less identical than what Google maps did, so I didn't lose much having to do the route on that website.
  2. Export the GPX route (not the GPX track).
  3. Use GPSBabel to load the track onto the Garmin (after deleting all way points so that there is room).  Select GPX XML for input file type and device output with Garmin Serial USB protocol selected and click apply.
  4.  On the Garmin, under Navigation, chose Rouse and pick the route you just loaded.
The basic idea is that when you are approaching a turn, the GPS beeps and gives you a visual queue that lets you know which way to turn.  And it almost works as you would hope.  Except:
  1. You can only load up to 100 way points/turns so very long routes won't work well.
  2. It only saves the turns and not the roads.  When it draws the map, it connects all of the turns by straight lines (which can be quite different from reality).
  3. If there are several possibilities close together, then it can be very difficult to figure out which turn you are supposed to make.
There were several times that we missed turns and in almost all cases, I was able to get us back on track without too much trouble.

The exception is that at about 32 miles into our ride, we tried several times to figure out which way to go and we just could not find it.  After three tries, we stopped, took out the phone and used Google maps to get us on our way. If we hadn't had that option, I'm sure we would have made it eventually, but having a phone with GPS to fall back on is a great backup.  It is  interesting to compare where we actually went to where we wanted to go; we didn't do too badly for the most part.

The ride itself was a lot of fun.  We did just over 42 miles in just over 3 and a 1/2 hours.  There were some very scenic views during the ride (including an extra mile where I was too busy admiring the view and missed our turn) as well as some very urban places that weren't as much fun to ride in.  And it was truly amazing at how quickly it went from very run-down urban to very natural almost rural scenery.

City Island itself is also quite strange.  After thinking about it, it is pretty much what one might expect.  It feels both very urban as well as "islandy."  

The Long Island Sound and Brooklyn 

The view from the southern tip of City Island.

Me after 40 miles

Kate and the monkeys arrived just after we got back to the restaurant and locked up our bikes. Andrew's wife Amy arrived 20 minutes after that and we had a nice dinner at City Island Lobster House (warning, the site has annoying music) The restaurant was o.k.(not fantastic) but the company was great.  After a lovely dinner, we loaded up the bikes and heading home.  

All in all, it was a gorgeous afternoon for a ride (sunny and about 60 degrees),  Parts of the route weren't as nice as, say, what we did last week, but having a destination (and not having to ride home afterwards) was a great fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

To New York and Back

Andrew and I went for another training ride.  Today we went on the ride that we had meant to last time, which was start of similarly to what Tom, Andrew, and I did on our first training ride and just keep going north.

Almost 17 miles into our ride, we crossed the Connecticut-New York state line.  Neither Andrew nor I had ever crossed a state line on bicycle, so that was kind of a cool milestone.  It would have been quite a bit cooler if we actually knew where the state line was.  On the way back to Connecticut, we saw a sign saying we were entering New Canaan, Connecticut, but I still don't know if this is the state line or not.

Just before the state line and then again just before we turned around, an "experienced gentleman" on a road bike stopped to make sure that we were o.k. (we were just taking a map/Gatorade break).  It's nice to see people out there with a sense of community who do look after their fellow bikers.  Both this gentleman as well as another guy (this one inside a BMW SUV who rolled down his window at a stoplight) asked me how I liked riding my Sofrider.  Maybe we'll start seeing more recumbent bicycles (or even Cruzbikes) out here soon.

The total ride was just over 40 miles and we averaged 12.5 mph.Both of us felt much better at the end of this than at the end of our 32 mile ride last week (where we averaged just under 12 mph).  Last weeks ride felt hillier (although we gained more elevation this ride by about 500 feet), but we did a much better job  eating as well as we each had a bottle Gatorade.  And I did considerably better post ride this time than last week as well.  Very promising, indeed.

Like last week most of the ride was on streets that were not empty, but traffic was generally quite reasonable.  There were several very nice descents, including a nice long one where I managed to hit 39.5 mph.(!)  I almost certainly would have hit 40 mph, except that there was a stop sign at the bottom that I had to stop for.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.

Again similar to last week, the nice rural scenery is quite nice.  On the way up, we saw a humongous wild turkey.  We didn't stop to take a picture of it, but last week Andrew saw a turkey on his way into work and did stop and take a picture:

Quite impressive birds, aren't they.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Biggest Hill I Ever Saw

Andrew and I went for another training ride today.  We kind of had a route in mind, but we decided to start by going a different way and ended up gong a completely different route.  We did just over 32 miles averaging just under 12 miles per hour (almost a mile per hour faster than our last, shorter ride).

I'm not very good at climbing, but at least I recognize this.  So when we had choices to make, I'm glad to say that we never chose to avoid a hill.  (After today, I'm willing to believe that will change...)  We were about 21 miles into our ride when we crested a hill and saw what was before us.  I was a bit ahead of Andrew, so he just heard "Holy S..t!" before he saw it.  Andrew climbs better than I do, but he looked at that hill and suggested that we go another way.   "Nah.. Let's go for it."

The hill turned out to be about 80 feet of elevation in a tenth of a mile. The highest I saw my Garmin quote was an 18% grade.  And I even made it up the steepest parts.  Early on, I found that if I sat back, my front wheel would slip.  So I had to pull myself up with the handle bars for more aggressive climbing.  And I made it 3/4s of the way up before I just couldn't go any further.  It's possible that I would have tried a bit longer if my feet weren't clipped  into the pedals, but it's also likely I wouldn't have gotten as far as I did without them being clipped in, so I won't blame that.  And I was tired enough even after resting for a couple minutes that I didn't think I'd be able to start on that slope.  So, with Andrew at my side (he made it up to the top of the hill, parked his bike, and walked back down to make sure I was o.k.), I walked it up the last quarter of the biggest hill I ever saw.

(The picture really doesn't do this hill justice, but look how small the car is on top of the hill compared to the cars at the bottom.  When I went back to take this picture and was trying to drive up the hill in my car, it wouldn't go up in third gear and I had to downshift to second.)

I'm sure I've probably seen bigger slopes for longer distances at some point in my life, but I can't actually remember any and I've certainly never tried to get up them under human power before.

It did take me a few hours to recover from this ride.  I did drink (almost) enough although we probably didn't consume enough calories.  After a couple glasses of orange juice, a glass of milk, and a few ibuprofen, I'm feeling pretty good (although I think I'm driving to work tomorrow).  The climbs (more than 1500 feet) were hard, but except for the big hill, quite manageable.  And there were some very nice descents - one road had a 35 mph speed limit and I maxed out at 35.1(so I was technically speeding!) and the route had much less traffic than the last route we tried. It was a good ride and assuming my recovery keeps going, I'll be ready for more next week!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pulling a Trail-A-Bike

Today, Kate and I went for a ride with the monkeys.  Instead of putting both kids in the trailer and having me pull it, Kate suggested that I pull our daughter on the trail-a-bike and she'd pull our son.  She's been riding trail-a-bikes in one form or another since she was 3 1/2 years old, so she knew what to do.  But it was the first time I tried it with the Sofrider.

I can definitely tell that my center of mass is lower down and therefore it takes more effort for me to counter-balance her movements.  But after a minute, it was just like I was used to doing on my upright bike.

After riding 8 1/2 miles, both my wife and daughter survived quite well.  It was a good start to the spring riding season for us.

As far as yesterday's tune-up went, the bike was definitely riding better with the exception of the rear derailleur which still needs some tweaking.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More Training and a Tune-up

Yesterday, I went for a 24 mile ride with Andrew (we're training for the Bloomin' Metric Century).  According to our training schedule we were supposed to only do 17 miles, but since we did 21 last time, it just didn't seem right to do less this time.

This ride felt a lot harder than the last long ride.  Our average speed was just a little bit slower (just under 11 instead of just over 11 mph), but between the hills, the fact I didn't drink coffee before the ride, or because I had done a "hard" 14 miles the day before (averaging over 13 mph which is fast for me), I suppose this isn't to surprising.  (Boy! I'm good at coming up with excuses!).  It was a good ride with a very little off-roading (well, a mud path with some hills and some roots) as well as some gravel paths.  There was one gravel hill that I didn't make it up.  If I weren't clipped in, I might have tried a little bit harder, but I chickened out 10 feet from the top.

I'm just shy (less than 2 miles) of 400 miles on the Sofrider.  During the ride with Andrew, one of the bolts holding the rack to the frame came out.  I replaced it tonight (also adding lock-tight so that hopefully I won't have this problem in the future) and tightened all bolts on the rack.  I also adjusted the front and rear brakes as well as the front and real derailleurs.  I also found out one of the nuts holding the top of the seat had fallen off, so I replaced (and lock-tighted) that nut as well.

I'm not (yet?) as good at climbing big hills (my Garmin claimed one hill was 13% when I looked) as Andrew on his regular (diamond frame or DF), but I have no problem on the smaller hills and the flats.  On the big downhills, I'm regularly hitting just over 30 mph, so I'm making up for the slow climbs by being able to come down the hills faster (but still safely).

I'm still very much enjoying this new bike and as far as clipping in to the pedals goes, I wish I had done that sooner.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

First Training Ride for the Bloomin' Century

Today I went out with my friends Andrew and Tom for a "long" ride.  According to our training schedule, it was supposed to be 15 miles.  We ended up going for just over 21 miles (except for Tom who probably did closer to 29).

It was a little bit slower than what I've done on shorter rides, but that's almost certainly a good thing.  I have lots of evidence suggesting that I'm not great a pacing myself for a longer ride.  I still had more energy by the time I made it home (although the last two hills I climbed did take quite a bit out.

The Camelbak Unbottle that I have attached with straps to the back seat of my bike works quite well.  Since I have been used to smaller rides, I'm trying to get used to drinking before I get too thirsty.

Overall, I've ridden just under 350 miles on my Sofrider.  As you can see below, I've been riding pretty consistently this last month and have been steadily improving.  I am finding the clipless pedals to be very useful and the Sofrider to be what I had hoped it would be.  Onward and upward!