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, 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.