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.