The Big 3-0 for Big Nellie

Lots of people ride their bikes more than me. In fact, there are several members of the elite Friday Coffee Club here in DC who ride more.  I just tend to ride the same old bikes forever. Ten years ago, in search of a touring bike that wouldn’t destroy my back I made the leap to recumbentcy.  (It looks just like the leap to light speed only not.)

I bought a Tour Easy recumbent that I named Nellie because of an unexpectedly fast ride down an aptly named hill in western Maryland called Big Savage Mountain. As I zoomed past 45 miles per hour fully loaded with touring gear, it occurred to me that one false move and I was doomed. So I yelled “Whoa, Nellie!”, hit the brakes and the name stuck.  (After reaching the bottom of the hill in one piece, I returned to Dagobah for additional training.)

I’ve been beating on this bike for ten years and after some unpleasantness this spring (a crash, snagging a friend’s pants in the chain, a broken chain), I finally reached a milestone that, I have to admit, leaves me chuffed.  Four miles into today’s commute Big Nellie hit the big 3-0. Now if I knew how to operate my crappy little digital camera I would have a good picture to prove it, but you’re just going to have to believe me. Maybe someday the picture can be digitally enhanced when they induct Big Nellie into the lawn chair hall of fame.

No Decimals, I Swear

My plan is to switch over to Little Nellie (no relation), my Bike Friday New World Tourist, while I contemplate some serious TLC for Ms. Big. 

Here’s the to do list.

Fairing with Black Duct Tape Trim
Scratches in My Line of Sight

Replace the fairing.  The fairing or windshield is entirely optional but it makes the bike ride like a missile on downhills and helps hold the front wheel down on slippery roads.  This fairing has about 27,000 miles on it because I bought it after about nine months of riding naked. (Nellie, not me, that is.)  It’s made out of Lexan and it’s pretty expensive.  North of $250 last time I checked.  I have had so many crashes and tip overs that the fairing is literally held together with duct tape. It’s scratched so badly that I can’t actually see through it anymore. 

Wearing through the Seat Cover
Torn Seat Back

Replace the seat: There are several parts to the seat. Most of them are shot to hell.  The seat base comprises a dish or pan (the bottom part), three layers of foam, and a seat cover. The pan is in good shape but the foam is no longer cushy where my tushy goes. And the seat cover is wearing through at the front.  The seat back has an aluminum loop that’s squared off. Tied inside the loop is a mesh seatback. Zip ties are used to secure the mesh to the loop.  The loop is in good shape but the mesh is all torn up and stretched so that it doesn’t support my back much any more. It’s cheaper to buy the whole seat rather than individual pieces so that’s my plan. In the bargain, I get a parachute cord to replace the zip ties that seem to break whenever I push back into the seat for power.

Replace the seat bag:  The seat back slips over the seat back. It holds a whole bunch of stuff but mine is torn top and bottom.

Tears in Top of Seat Bag

Install the underseat rack: Mrs. Rootchopper bought me an underseat rack several years ago. It will allow me to put panniers beneath my seat, and well forward of the rear axle. This shifts the weight distribution of the bike forward and greatly improves handling.

I think the tab for the three new parts will run about $700.   A new bike would cost $2,800 or so.

So now I turn my attention to getting the new saddle on Little Nellie set up just so. And to going to see Norah Jones at Wolf Trap tomorrow night.

Saving Muffy and Chad

Big Nellie was awoken from her three-day slumber a little after seven this morning.  She was ready to rumble but three days off the bent had robbed my legs of their bent energy.  The ride in was a bit of a slog as a result.  Not that it was boring. The good folks at VDOT saw to that.

A detour blocked the ramp that I normally take to the bollard farm at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge underpass.  Instead, I rode down the apartment access road that runs parallel to the ramp.  This used to be a named South Street before the new bridge was built. The first step in that process was to take down one of the three apartment buildings and knock out South Street. This seems like it happened a lifetime ago, but it was only 13 years ago.

When I reached the bottom. my only choice to access the underpass was a dirt transition back to the base of the ramp.  Curiously, this very transition had been removed late last week.  The previous version was tamped down and rideable. Transition 2.0 was an accident waiting to happen, especially for my recumbent the front wheel of which is lightly weighted and prone to sliding out.  The construction crew had neglected to tamp the dirt down so that it wouldn’t support the weight of a bicycle. Having been treated to many, many other incompetent detours in the past, I slowed to a stop and then walked the transition.  I wonder if VDOT would ever consider doing this sort of thing on a roadway.  I’d love to see motorcyclists pushing their bikes through loose dirt, say, on the Beltway. 

Anybody care to crash?

Having survived the detour, I made it under the bridge and encountered an electric sign. The sign was aligned toward the underside of the bridge at the end of South Royal Street so that no car driver could see it. It was intended only for bicyclists. “Stop at All Stop Signs” it said in two alternating flashes. Thanks for the update and the insult.

I rode through Old Town with its typically light summer morning traffic.  Pedestrians quivered with fear as I approached stop signs at my usual 10 miles per hour or less.  “Run for it, Muffy!” Chad called as he cowered behind his Volvo in his plaid shorts, button down Oxford shirt and sockless Docksiders.  “Oh, Chad!  That bike looks fearsome. Pour me a Dewars!”

I was really tempted to turn this sign around.

I managed not to hit any of the high and mighty denizens of Old Town. but I did manage to watch about 90 percent of the cars roll through stop signs from one end of Old Town to the other. I suck at physics, but I am pretty sure that a Mercedes SUV at 8 miles per hour will exert a whole lot more hurtin’ than a bike at 10 miles per hour.   I do believe the difference in force is 6 or 7 fold.  So, maybe they should move the sign to King Street, the main drag of Old Town, for the remainder of the week to even things out. Sadly, this would probably slow Chad and Muffy down as they both drove their matching Mercedes SUVs to their environmental law offices two miles away.

Nothing else pissed me off on the way to work.  In fact, just north of the airport, the Park Service was removing the remains of the tree they cut down late last week. I would hate to be in bicycle advocacy around here. Some jurisdictions are pretty bike friendly. Others are downright hostile. And within the National Park Service there are small groups that are complete neanderthals (some of our Park Police officers could star in  a Geico commercial) and others are downright enlightended (the tree crew cleared the tree that fell across the path within hours).

On the way home, karma ruled as I was treated to low humidity (mighty rare here in Camp Swampy) and a blustery tailwind.  Bicyclists blew by me (most of them calling out their passes for a change) and I just cruised along breathing as if I was sitting in my office.  The fairing on Big Nellie was catching the wind and propelling me along nicely. At one point as I was cruising along at 18 miles per hour, I could hear the theme music from Jonny Quest all around me.  Okay, maybe it was a rogue earworm, but wasn’t that Race Banner on a Trek that just went by? When I reached the Wilson Bridge an additional detour was available and I avoided the dirt transition altogether. Maybe the construction crew has finally given up trying to kill me. Or maybe tomorrow they’ll just attack me and eat my flesh. Stay tuned.  

Little Nellie Gets New Leather

There are few things that can make you more miserable on a long bike ride than a sore butt. Many a bucket list cross country bike tour has been abandoned because of saddle sores.  I hate them myself but I rarely get them.

My pre-emptive cure for saddle sores is a Brooks leather saddle.  About the time of the 1970s cycling boom, leather saddles fell out of favor with bicycle manufacturers. They are heavy, expensive and feel about the same as any other saddle during short rides. When you are on a bike for several hours, however, the foam in these saddles loses its cushiness and your butt pays dearly,  Ideally, what you want is a saddle that disappears under your behind in the sense that you don’t notice that its there.  

After using a couple of plastic and foam saddles for several thousand miserable miles, I finally broke down and spent the bucks for a Brooks B17 saddle for The Mule, my 1993 Specialized Sequoia.  Some people find these leather saddles really uncomfortable, but I’ve liked all of mine right out of the box.  I rode the B17 for 7,000 miles. I was coming down a long hill in the Catskill mountains one day and I heard a snap under my butt.  One of the rails of the saddle (there are two that connect the saddle to the bike) broke.  Generally speaking, you don’t want parts of the bike snapping off when you’re going 30 miles per hour. It’s just not a good thing.  In this case, the other rail was sufficiently strong that I had for the rest of the ride a pretty darn nice suspension thing going. 

I replaced the B17 with a Brooks Champion Flyer, which is a B17 with springs.  This one lasted another 7,000 miles or so before one of its rails broke. (I am told this breaking rail thing happens because the clamp on my seat post is a little too narrow for the rails of the saddles. I have tried to replace the seat post to no avail – this is one of the short comings of riding a 19 year old bike.)

I put another Flyer (they dropped the Champion from the model name) on The Mule and it has lasted probably 9,000 miles.  Somehow I managed to break the tensioning bolt – which adjusts the leather so that it doesn’t sag – within the last couple of years, but the saddle still feels fine.  That is to say, I don’t even notice it when I am riding,

When I bought Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, a few years back, I was concerned that using a Flyer would not provide enough cushion. Little Nellie has smaller wheels and a stiffer frame than The Mule.  This time I bought a Brooks B67.  This saddle has a textured surface and a wider seat area.  For a long time I was distracted by the noises this one made. It squeaked whenever it flexed. (It has since stopped doing so.) It was otherwise comfortable but its width has been a problem. It’s too wide in the back for my legs to move freely or for me to slide my butt back to get more oomph into things when the going gets hilly,  (It’s actually designed for a more upright seating position so these short comings are a consequence of using the wrong saddle for the job at hand.)

I’ve put up with this saddle for over 7,000 miles and, finally, decided to spring for another Flyer.  I figure if I don’t like it better I can just switch it to The Mule. So I rode Little Nellie into DC to pick a saddle up at BicycleSpace, a new shop that caters to people who use their bikes for practical pursuits.

After a 15 minute saddle-ectomy and resection call me Dr. Moreau), I was good to go. The difference was amazing.  I had been fighting that B67 saddle for years and now my legs were free to pedal efficiently. I was suddenly 10 percent faster that before. Sweet!  All of a sudden, I have a new bike.

I rode to Eastern Market for a lemonade and pretzel to celebrate.  Then I explored the Anacostia River Trail.  After heading north a couple of miles along the acres of parking lots at RFK Stadium, I turned around and rode over the super nice bridge that was recently constructed to take the trail over the railroad tracks that run up and down the eastern seaboard. 

The ride home along the Mount Vernon Trail was noticeably easier with the Flyer.  I did notice some soreness in my arms and shoulders but this just means I need to tilt the saddle up a little to put more weight on my fanny.

B67 on left,Flyer on right

Here’s a picture of both saddles.  Notice how the old saddle has pronounced dents in it where my sit bones used to go.  It will take a few hundred miles to get those on the new saddle.  Think of them like the pocket on a baseball glove; the glove still works without a pocket but once the pocket is formed it becomes and extension of your body. That’s how dents in a leather saddle work.

One of the ironies of this whole leather saddle thing is that I, and pretty much everyone in my family tree, have a bony butt. I am forever having slacks taken in in the seat. Comfort on a saddle is not about how much padding you have on your anatomy, it’s about supporting your sit bones. Leather saddles are superb at this.  

I am eager to see how this new saddle works when I switch to Little Nellie for commuting next week. (Big Nellie is about to celebrate a big milestone. She’ll get a new seat, too, but it will cost over $350.  Such is the price of recumbency,)

Selective Competence

Dealing with the local bicycling infrastructure around DC drives cyclists and cycling advocates up the wall.  Call and complain to Mr. X at agency Y and you get nothing but bureaucratic intransigence. Call Ms. Z at agency Q and you get fast action.

I have been complaining to various agencies a lot over the last couple of years. This is because I have empirical data that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they are trying to kill me. The Humpback Bridge project included some seriously nasty detours that only a masochist could have planned and executed.  Week after week the construction crew invented new ways to take me out. When the project was completed, however, the trail was vastly improved. The Wilson Bridge and Jones Point Park projects give new meaning to the term willful negligence.  The creativity of the detours was amazing. Gravel, soft tar, raised manhole covers in the shade. The project is almost done, but this time the end result is much worse than what existed before the project began. In 1999!!!! It’s been 13 years of  detour whack-a-mole..

Ah, but when it comes to storm related damage, the folks at the National Park Service which maintains the Mount Vernon Trail are surprisingly competent.  Hurricane Isabel wiped out an entire neighborhood on my route to work. The Mount Vernon Trail nearby was an absolute mess of heaved boardwalks, fallen trees and other debris. I thought it would be out of action for a month or more. In less than two weeks. the NPS had it back to normal.

Today was another, albeit smaller, example of the NPS working their maintenance magic.  As I rode on the trail north from the airport, I encountered a fallen tree that completely obstructed the trail. A small opening on the right provided narrow passage. (The passage on the left looks open but the approach from the far side was not passable on a road bike.)

Morning: Ruh, Roh!

(True to form just after I was took this picture, a cyclist came up behind me at speed, intending to ride around the tree, for some reason as far to the left of the gap as possible.  Suddenly, a cyclist coming from the other direction appeared exactly where he was supposed to be and directly in front of Mr. Speedy. Emergency stop. Dirty look. Washington DC has the highest percentage of adults with graduate degrees in the country. And the lowest percentage of adults with common sense.)

Evening: Sweet!

On the way home the tree had been cut up into pieces that were placed off to the side of the trail. I’ll bet the wood is gone by tomorrow night. The task of cutting the tree up in near 100 degree heat was probably not a whole lot of fun. Thank you, NPS. 

Too bad we can’t sic the NPS tree crew on the bollards down at the Wilson Bridge.

Mandatory 8 Count

Today was one of those days that TV weatherpeople go nuts over. It’s going to be hot. And humid. And dangerous. And we’ll have another update in five minutes. This just in: it’s hot and humid and dangerous. Drink lots of water. More after the break. It’s going to be hot and humid and dangerous…

That’s right, folks. You MUST panic because we said so. 

Shut your pie hole, Roker.  Can’t you see I’m sweating?

Actually, it was downright nice out when I left home at 7 this morning.  It did get warmer and muggier over the course of the next hour and a half but not dangerously so. The Mount Vernon Trail had most of its usual runners and cyclists.  Since school is out, the Catholic SUV parade at Saint Mary’s School in Old Town Alexandria is gone for a while.

Roker and friends said today would suck, but for nearly my entire ride it was suckless. Until I got to the last half mile of my ride.

I was climbing up the connector bridge from the MVT across the George Washington Parkway to Rosslyn with my usual recumbent sloth.  As I reached the bridge I could see a group of male cyclists at the far end of the bridge. I pulled over and there sitting on the ground among them was a young woman. As I approached, I could hear her conversing with the men. One look in her face and I could tell she was not quite right.

She had come down the hill from Rosslyn in her bike and crashed near the edge of the bridge. I didn’t see any blood but she was covered in dirt and grime. I overheard one of the others say that she crashed, stood up, and fell straight down like a tree. Fortunately, she was wearing a helmet.  (If you’re planning on passing out and falling like a tree, wear a helmet.)

I hung out for a few minutes trying to think of a way to make myself useful. One of the other cyclists was on his cell phone calling for medical assistance.  It occurred to me to go up the trail a ways and direct the bicycle traffic.  I saw her stand and she was saying she was alright.  I turned my back and one of the men said, “Grab her.” I turned and saw her slumping, clearly losing consciousness.  Not good. The other cyclists braced her and guided her back to her sitting position.  Three falls is an automatic TKO in bike commuting. You’re going nowhere, young lady.

(All I could think of was what the nurse said to my wife when she came to after getting hit by an SUV last May. DON’T MOVE.) 

She stayed seated and I went back to being traffic guy.  I heard sirens and in a few minutes I could see the EMTs walking down the hill. I waved to them and they yelled at me to come tell them what was going on. I gave them the scoop and they calmly went about taking her vital signs and evaluating her.  The other cyclists left. I set to work writing my contact info on a business card as I was going to offer to take her bike to my office if she ended up going to the hospital.

For the next several minutes she chatted quietly with the EMTs and drank from my water bottle, They asked her where she was headed and she said, “Foggy Bottom.”

“Do you want to go to the hospital?”


They told her she needed to walk with them to the ambulance to fill out some paperwork.  I suspect this was also another test of her condition. One EMT grabbed her bike and the others escorted her up the hill to Lynn Street.  I left for work.

I hope she is okay.

Many thanks to the cyclists who obeyed me without complaint and slowed down. Thanks to the cyclists who took care of her, kept her calm, and called for the ambulance. Good on you. Thanks to the Arlington EMTs, too. My helmet’s off to you guys.

(By the way, what do the EMTs do with your bike if they take you to the hospital?)

There was some speculation online that she crashed trying to avoid a plastic bollard and traffic cone in the center of the trail at the start of the bridge. The trail comes down a brief steep section then turns sharply to the left where it reaches the bollard, the cone, and the bridge across the Parkway.  Since the bollard and cone can’t stop a motor vehicle, I have to wonder why they’re even there.

The ride home was mercifully uneventful. I rode what I thought was a blistering pace in 97 degree heat. A young woman in gym shorts passed me on a road bike. I tried to give chase. I failed. Here I am going 18 miles per hour and huffing and puffing and feeling my oats. There she goes like a bullet. I don’t even think she was breathing hard. Dang. You go, girl.

Six miles later, I reached the bollard farm.  The world’s most incompetent and creative construction crew was at it again. Under the bridge, a fence obstructed half the trail. The sidewalk bypass with 3 bollards had an added traffic cone apparently to ensure that skinny evil doers on bikes could not ride under the bridge.  I stopped to take a picture. From what I could tell the cone was serving no purpose. I suppose if you have one lying around you should put it in front of something. You might cause a bike accident.  I think this contractor gets a bonus for every cyclist he takes out.

Evil Doers Beware

Once I cleared the bollard farm, I rode the rest of the way unscathed. Remarkably the National Park Service has resisted putting a single bollard on the Mount Vernon Trail for the next 3 1/2 miles of my commute. What’s up with that:?  Didn’t they get the memo?

Did I mention that it was hot and humid and dangerous? 


Tomorrow’s supposed to be worse.

Post-Safari Recovery Ride

I just spent the last four days driving farther into the heart of Dixie than I ever thought I would. My daughter is interested in colleges far from home so this was our first long drive. We hit six colleges and two time zones in four days. Total distance driven was something like 1,800 miles.  Interstates 85 and 95 leave a lot to be desired. There’s a whole lot of ugly from Durham NC to the western outskirts of Atlanta. When Alabama seems pretty by comparison, you know you’ve been through some seriously harsh looking terrain. To add to the fun, there are billboards every 100 feet.

Maybe they had a few bollards left over?

After lolling about on the deck for most of the day, making sure that my sandaled feet were good and sunburnt, I hopped on Little Nellie for some light riding. I rolled through the suburban streets near my home eventually ending up on the top of a hill on Fort Hunt Road.  Little Nellie did me proud by taking the hill at high-ish speed.  Our route took us to the Washington Street deck above the beltway on the Mount Vernon Trail. There yet another construction crew was busy making a mess on the trail.

I rode down through the bollard farm and rolled through Old Town Alexandria. An impatient driver in a convertible with a University of North Carolina bumper sticker surged passed me only to be absorbed by a hoard of pedestrians one block up the road. I take it that Mr. UNC wasn’t Phi Beta Kappa.

After some more fun with cars, I rejoined the Mount Vernon Trail near Slaters Lane north of Old Town. The trail was shockingly empty for a perfect Saturday afternoon.  No Volksmarchers. No Lancelots. No kiddies on their training wheels wobbling back and forth across the trail.

As I made my way past the satellite parking lots at National Airport, Captain America rode by on a bike. He looked rather puffy and tired.  You’d be tired too if you had to carry a damned shield around all day.  And don’t even get me started on that sidekick named Bucky.

I took the Crystal City underpass and rode by a security guard who was making a cell phone call next to the railroad underpass. This could be the worst place in the metropolitan area for cell phone reception which probably explains why he is a security guard and not a lawyer specializing in intellectual property.

Lovely ladies

Once in Crystal City I came upon two groups of girls dressed to the nines. I am guessing that they were part of two quinceanara celebrations. Or maybe I had stumbled on a new sport.  The girls in the bridesmaid dresses were the offensive line and the tall girl in the flashy gown was the QB?  There were a bunch of guys in vests hanging about like a Paul Anka convention or something.

Was this a huddle before third and long?

My route took me through Long Bridge Park where I came upon the same woman runner four separate times. I wasn’t stalking you, I swear.

I rode back home via the still deserted Potomac Avenue that parallels US 1 along the railroad tracks.  I cut under US 1 to ride into Del Ray. A woman was standing next to a Subaru that had stopped after passing me. “SIR!”


I stopped figuring she needed directions.

She was interested in my Bike Friday. Did I like it? What was good and bad about it?

I have mixed feelings about my Bike Friday. It’s fun to ride but it is very hard on my back. I have a hard time going fast on it too. (I am thinking about putting a Brooks Flyer saddle on it which may help with both problems.)  I told her I didn’t have all that many miles on it, just a little over 7,000 miles. That got a laugh.

She thanked me and I rode off. In two blocks, I see a guy on another Bike Friday. I wonder if she stopped to quiz him.

The rest of the ride was uneventful except for the ass in a car on King Street that deliberately positioned the car to keep me from passing on the right.  No way this driver was going to let me win the battle of King Street. After all, if he had to sit at a light, then EVERYBODY else should too. As I see it, if y’all drove skinnier cars, traffic would move a lot faster. Eventually, I squeezed by him and never saw him again. He’s probably still stuck at a light near Columbus Street.

The rest of the ride home didn’t include a single super hero, girl in a fancy dress, or dipstick driving a car.  There’s always tomorrow.

Favorite Rides Part 4

Well, by the time you see this I hope to have either found the college of my daughter’s dreams or have eliminated four from consideration.  Here’s some other rides I like:

My Commute: I am incredibly fortunate to live among one of the nicest bike trails (okay, technically, it’s a multiuse path) in the country. After 3 miles of mostly mundane suburbia, I jump on the Mount Vernon Trail for 11 miles. I get to see and hear wildlife – deer, beavers, foxes, rabbits, geese, ducks, egrets, herons, ospreys, and, my favorite, bald eagles on the way to and from work. (I especially enjoy watching the goslings and ducklings develop over the course of the spring and summer.) The MVT follows the Potomac River, so every day I get a picture post card view of Washington and its monuments. Old Town Alexandria has quaint but outrageously expensive homes, old and new, hundreds of tourists, buskers including a man playing an organ made from wine glasses, even an old trolley tunnel. And to top it off I get to ride past the runways of National Airport.  I love watching the planes take off and land just a few feet over my head. A secondary runway ends behind a security fence only 50 yards or so from the trail.  It is unbelievably cool to be riding along in my commuting daze only to see a passenger plane roar overhead on take off or landing.
Event Rides: I am not big on event rides but I’ve done a few that have floated my boat.
My first event ride was Bike Virginia way back in 1991. I did it on my Trek 1200 and rode every mile I could possibly ride. The first day of moderate hills was a bitch. The second day we rode in a cold soaking rain. We wore garbage bags to fend off the elements. Our second stop of the day was at Natural Chimneys where there was a huge stone outdoor fireplace. Like manna from heaven.  Soon after that the rain stopped.  I did my first century on day 3 and followed it up with a massage that felt so good I laughed through the entire thing.
The Backroads Centuryis the annual fall century of the Potomac Pedalers cycling club. It traverses the Shenandoah Valley between Berryville and Front Royal VA, somehow avoiding any major roads.  The scenery is too nice for words. Farm after farm. Little churches. The Blue Ridge Mountains. Little churches. And lots of happy bicyclists. I’ve done the metric century for the last two years. Both days were the perfect romp in the countryside. On the way back I stop for pie at a place called Hill High Orchards. The pies are made in a Sara Lee factory but they still taste amazing.
The Fifty States Rideis held every September entirely within the confines of our nation’s capital. The streets are open to traffic so you have to have your wits about you. The ride spirals and weaves its way all over the city so that riders can brag that they rode on all fifty streets named after a U. S. state. (Texas Street is ironically pretty tiny, by the way.)  Originally, this ride was held in August, but it was just too darned hot and muggy.  I did it three times (the third after it was moved to cooler September). Each time I rode a different bike. Each time I cursed the hills and the stop signs and traffic lights at the bottom of every one.  I swore I would never ride it again, but was coerced into riding for a fourth time last year.  That’s when I figured out what is so special about the ride. It’s a social event on two wheels.  All the stopping shatters riders into clusters who socialize over the impossibly complex cue sheet.  And the people of the city urge the riders on like it’s a stage of a grand tour.  It’s somewhere around 65 miles (depending on how many wrong turns you make) but feels like 100.  I’m an introvert but I’m met more people through this ride than any other.  I’m pretty sure there is a fifth Fifty States Ride in my future.
Bike to Work Dayis the annual call for people to get out of their cars and ride to work, I commute by bike over 100 times a year, so Bike to Work Day to me is a bit like New Years Eve to W. C. Fields.  Oddly enough, I miss this ride more than any other because of work conflicts.  I still have managed to amass a drawer full of Bike to Work Day t-shirts (3 shades of green, plus red, blue, white, orange, and yellow).  The festive atmosphere and ample giveaways at the pit stops add to the fun. 

The Cat’s Away – Favorite Rides Part 1

I am away on a hunting expedition. We are seeking out the perfect college for our perfect daughter.  Why we are heading to South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, principally because they are theoretically driving distance away – which you can’t say for the 3 colleges in Scotland that are on her list.

Since you paid good money for access to this blog, I thought I’d better do some entries while I’m traveling. What? You didn’t pay? Dude, how am I going to afford my new tadpole trike?  I kid, of course. The blog is free, but please feel free to send some financial love to WABA in care of their Bollard Demolition Fund.

And so here are two of my favorite rides:

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Maui Downhill:  On our honeymoon, Mrs. Rootchopper and I got up at 2 am and took a van to the top of Halleakala crater on the island of Maui.  After the sun rise shot what looked like laser beams through the irregularities in the far side of the crater rim, we donned yellow suits (they looked like the kind of rain gear kids used to wear at the bus stop in the 1960s) and motorcycle helmets. We hopped aboard mountain bikes with seriously beefy disk brakes and rode down the mountain on the sole access road.  We went through dozens of switchbacks with our tour leader riding down the middle of the road swerving like a madman so that the bleary eyed drivers on the way up the mountain were sure to see us. About half way down we stopped for a breakfast feast (fresh Kona coffee is unbelievably good).  Stuffed to the top tubes, we used our pedals for all of 30 seconds before gravity took over as we left the restaurant parking lot We glided all the way to the ocean town of Paia. Paia is known for two things, wind surfing and Maui wowie.  It’s a one of a kind place. The ride was unique and very easy on our bodies except for our hands.  All that braking wore our hands out. My hands were fine in a couple of days.  We started on what looked like the moon and ended up with the trade winds blowing through the trees. Memories of this ride have lingered for a long, long time.
Golden Gate:  One summer long ago, I worked as government intern in San Francisco. It was the most boring job ever. I had never been off the east coast, however, so I was in for some culture shock. My summer started in Davis CA which was Biketown USA even back then. There were way more bikes than cars. And a casual vibe that only a California college town could offer. After a week of hospitality from Don Kanare, a college friend, I moved to Berkeley and worked in “The City.”  One Saturday I took my bike on a BART train to go exploring in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I rode all over the place but I remember most riding up Russian Hill and having to lean over my handlebars to stay upright. Can you say, “Legs on fire!”? At the top of the hill, I looked to my right and could see Fisherman’s Wharf waaaay doowwnnn there. It was scary steep so I rode in the least steep direction. I found my self cruising at speed under redwoods in the Presidio, which was still a military base.  It was a total rush.  I made my way to the Golden Gate Bridge and rode across it on the side path. Can you say, “Just plain awesome, dude!?”  My ride finished in the chi chi town of Sausalito. After hanging out, I took a ferry across the bay past Alcatraz and back to the City. 
More tomorrow. Don’t touch that dial.

Favorite Rides – Part 2

I’m still on the road. I hope to learn how to pronounce Wofford and learn why anyone would name a school Furman today.  Here’s some more cool rides:

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Lake Champlain:  My family and I took a vacation to Lake Champlain in late summer when our kids were little.  My wife took the kids kayaking on the lake and I rented a mountain bike.  The bike was a piece of junk, but I pumped up the nearly flat tires and hoped for the best. I rode north out of North Hero on the east side of the lake and just started meandering. I had never done any off road bicycling before so I was having a great time tooling around on dirt roads and single track. It was the week after Labor Day and most of the summah people were gone.  The weather was perfect.  I rode for about 4 hours and even joined some folks riding from Montreal to Boston on an AIDS ride.  I would love to go back and circumnavigate the lake by bike one day.
Erie Riding: In 2004 I rode from Niagara Falls to Albany.  From Freeport to Lyons, I rode along the Erie Canal towpath.  The day started in fog and I pedaled along the limestone trail with the canal to my right. Packets (canal boats) and other water craft drifted by so closely that I could chat with the people on board. I stopped in towns along the way for food and water. Everybody was so laid back.  This is New York?  The locals lacked the grating accent that everyone associates with New Yawkers.  After over 100 miles, I camped out along the tow path. Ducks quacked me to sleep. When I woke up, I could see that while I slept some boats had docked in the canal nearby.  Although the canal and Mohawk River are nice in the eastern half of the ride, they didn’t compare to the first 100 miles or so in the western area. The section of the canal from Freeport to Rochester was especially nice.  And watching a lock in action is worth the stop every time.
Ride like you mean it….

Favorite Rides Part 3

Here are a couple of rides that I enjoyed. One thing I hope you get from this is that great rides are often right out your door.  You don’t need to pay an entry fee to have a splendid time on your bike.

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Mind the GAP: The Great Allegheny Passage is a trail that runs from Cumberland MD almost all the way to Pittsburgh. I’ve done most of it twice and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  Actually, circumstances have conspired so that I’ve never done the whole thing in one go. My most ambitious attempt predated the opening of the section of the trail from Cumberland to Meyersdale PA.  So I did some seriously steep hill climbing instead. A few years later, my daughter attended basketball camp in Frostburg. I used the pick up and drop off as an excuse to fill in the gaps (so to speak). The trail is crushed limestone and can be ridden on a hybrid bike. I have used both my recumbent and my Bike Friday folder and they did just fine.  What makes the ride so nice is the variety. From Cumberland to Frostburg the trail runs alongside a train line that has a coal fired excursion train.  There are several tunnels from Cumberland to Meyersdale. I was shocked at how hard it is to ride in the dark of a tunnel. The panoramic views of the Laurel Highlands, also known as the Pennsylvania Dutch Alps, made me stop and gawk. I also stopped to take in the Eastern Continental Divide west of Frostburg.  It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something grand when you pass over it.  The Garrett Wind Farm is a series of immense white wind turbines on a ridge looming over the trail.  Every time I see those slow turning arms I feel like aliens have arrived.  Quick somebody call Gene Barry!  The Salsbury Viaduct is a laughably long railroad bridge over a valley.  There are more trestles ahead with views over mountain rivers with fly fishermen way down below. The town of Ohiopyle located in Ohiopyle State Park is small and funky.  Kayakers, tubers, fishermen, cyclists and tourist headed for Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater all mingle here. Along the trail, you’ll see wild turkey and deer and all kinds of other wildlife too as you ride through a tunnel of green.  The GAP is an east coast gem.
New England Kettle Ponds: Back when I was starving student, the city of Boston on a hot summer day felt like a prison. Having air conditioning was rare. Fortunately, when my sister finished at BU that spring, she left me her Peugeot racing bike with a warped rear wheel. My roommate John and I got the inane idea to ride 20 miles to Walden Pond to go swimming.  Other than the fact that the wheel kept rubbing the brakes, the ride was a great adventure.  Walden is a kettle pond. It has warm water on the surface, down to about your chest, below that is ice water!  Like the bike with the rubbing wheel, the roads to Walden left a lot to be desired back then (now there are rail trails out that-a-way).  I scared my friend Becca half to death on one trip.  I wised up after a while. I bought a Raleigh Grand Prix that had two true wheels and, as a bonus, a frame that actually fit me.  (Bike fit? What the hell did I know?) We later learned of another kettle pond called Farm Pond in Sherburne Mass.  At that point, we had access to a car, but the town wouldn’t let outsiders park at the pond.  Bikes to the rescue! Farm Pond was ours.  I continued to ride to kettle ponds after I moved to Providence.  They made for great destinations on hot summer days.     
And there’s more where that came from…