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.