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Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Fender Update

If you've ever ridden with me on wet roads, you are acutely aware of my feelings about fenders (or "mudguards," as my editor calls them). My rants about lack-of-fender spray are pretty unambiguous. Apparently, there are one or two non-political topics about which I can get quite animated. For example, one could easily substitute "flashing tailights" with "lack of fenders" from a previous rant and get the point.

If you are one of those folks who refuses to even try fenders because you think they look dorky, let me show you how dorky you look with a muddy stripe up your backside. (Sorry John!)


Photo by Natalia Boltukhova
www.pedalpowerphotography.com

www.tinyrussianstudio.com

And if you go on a group ride on wet roads without fenders and spray crap in the face of your friends, you really aren't much of a friend, now are you? If you say you don't need fenders because you never ride in the rain, I will point out that roads are likely wet long after the rain (or snow) has stopped falling from the sky. Around here, in the winter and early spring, roads are often a wet sloppy mess on bright sunny days thanks to the melting of snowbanks that line the roads. In more rural areas, there may be other stuff on the roads that you'd really prefer not to have sprayed on you or your water bottle either!

But if you still refuse to even consider fenders, be on your way now. Or as Scottish comedian Billy Connolly might say, just go away, exclamation mark!

Otherwise...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Bikes for winter

When I last revised this article (winter of 2015), we had more than three feet of snow on the ground with a couple more feet on the way. Rumor had it that the groundhog was so fed up that he just packed his bags and moved to the other hemisphere. Sky high snowbanks lined our roads and sidewalks. In fact, that winter was so severe, that we gave in, packed up and moved to Western Massachusetts, where we now get even more snow! Yes indeed, we opted for more winter! I guess this means we must really enjoy winter!



A proper winter brings all sorts of challenges for cyclists who insist on riding their bikes outdoors! Each time the roads are plowed, more and larger potholes emerge. Although emerge may not be the proper word, as these holes are often hidden under puddles filled with slushy, sandy salt water. Then as the sun goes down, taking the temperature with it, scattered patches of ice make walking or riding a game of chance where suddenly you may find yourself Slip Sliding Away.

Now take a good look at your fancy lightweight racing bike with its smooth narrow tires, shiny anodized parts and carbon rims. If nothing else, the lack of fenders makes it less than ideal for riding on wet, mucky, salty roads. Those high pressure, skinny tires lack grip on ice, bounce around on the uneven pavement or get swallowed up by deep ruts, cracks or potholes. The salt and sand will destroy the shiny finish on those anodized parts and grind away the carbon bits. Better just save that bike for dry rides on pristine pavement in warmer weather.

You need a winter bike! 
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Dressing for Success in the Winter

It is often said there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.



Both Fear Rothar and I are year-round cyclists, and have been for more than 30 years. In that time, technology has evolved and we have changed a few things to take advantage, but the fundamentals really haven't changed - dress in layers, starting with a light wool (or other wicking fabric) baselayer, add additional layers as temperature dictates and top it off with a wind/waterproof jacket with underarm pit zippers for wet weather and additional warmth on descents. Complete the ensemble with good gloves, warm winter shoes and a proper hat. That's it. Nothing complicated. Nothing else to see here. Be on your way now.

What? You want more details >>

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Double Studly and Fat for Festive 500 - 2016

Let me start out by apologizing right away to my neighbors for all the cold, snowy and sometimes downright miserable weather that we had between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. I will take full blame for the excessive snow. You see, I've been hoping for some nice snowy photos to use for our annual exhaustathon, where we document 500 kilometers of bike rides between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

We've been taking part (and completing) the Festive 500 every year since 2011 *see links at the end. Somehow, though (until I reread the prior year's reports, while putting this one together) the rose-tinted glasses had me remembering all those previous challenges as mild and snow-free. I distinctly remember seeking out an ice rink, to get a shot in front of some Zamboni snow. I also remember a snowy ride one year when Rapha reps came to join us and quite a few bitterly cold days, as well as some rides that tested the limits of my rain gear. But still this time, I really wanted lots of photos with lots of snow!

So, I was elated when The Farmer's Almanac predicted a snowy winter. Despite making our mini-tour of Vermont a bit more challenging than we had hoped, I was pretty happy when winter arrived super early, with our first snow coming in October!

We've had a few more - as the news/weather folks call them - plowable snow events since, so this year's festive 500 was really shaping up to be rather promising for some good snowy photos.

I will say that we are well prepared for these conditions, having ridden and commuted year round through snowy Boston winters. Our bikes have fenders and lights and studded tires. We have all manner of warm clothing, hats, gloves, boots, overshoes and toe warmers. 

However, as more and more snow piled up in December and the forecast for the week included a couple of big storms, we decided to prepare even more and add a couple of FAT BIKES to our fleet! Luckily, the weather for the whole week wasn't so epic that we actually had to push 5 inch studded tires through fresh deep snow for 500km, but our new fatties would see a bit of use during the challenge.

So... Enough teasing, onto some snowy photos. 

Day 1 - A slight change of plans


Despite all the talk of snow, Christmas Eve started out wet and dreary, with the most miserable of all possible conditions: rain combined with temperatures just above freezing! However, the forecast was for it to clear at mid-day, so despite all my boasting of heading out into the most challenging conditions, I decided instead to make waffles and then stalled until the rain actually stopped.

We had planned to make proper use of our studded tires and head north out of town on some icy dirt roads. We'd both been out these roads the day before finding roads to be icy but dry, conditions where our studs provided good grip and traction. However, after all the rain, even with studs, there was a bit of sliding. Skating about on wet ice was a challenge neither of us was willing to undertake. So we turned back onto pavement and headed down the valley on paved roads. This proved a great choice as the sun even popped out for a while.



Friday, December 16, 2016

Vermonster - Day 4 - what is that bright thing in the sky?

The final day of our four day tour left us wanting for more. More of this blue sky and sunshine, for sure. This was the weather we had hoped to have for the whole trip. But then the story wouldn't have been as interesting and the trip wouldn't have been as memorable!

We packed up and rolled out of our Airbnb and headed into Putney. Our first stop of the day was at the Co-op to get some (excellent) breakfast. Despite the second "B" in the name Airbnb, breakfast isn't part of the deal, due to regulations!

So it was into town for breakfast sandwiches and coffee. While waiting for our sandwiches, I took the time to do what I should have done the day before. I pulled out my iPad, remapped a section of route and reloaded it onto my GPS. One of the cool things about the Wahoo Elemnt GPS is you can wirelessly load routes from online tools like RideWithGPS. So while the Wahoo is missing the critical panning feature that makes changing your route on the fly easier, I have used the ability to alter a route online (mid-ride) using my tiny iPad and then re-upload to the Wahoo on more than one occasion, most notably when the original route proved too busy, or after taking a detour to somewhere interesting and then not wanting to backtrack. In this case, it was to avoid backtracking after breakfast.




Vermont is known for its covered bridges and we had several on each day. I'd like to say I planned to hit the ones we did, but it's actually hard not to see lots of them in Vermont.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Vermonster - Day 3 - I'm not certain the road I mapped out is really a road

We woke to the sound of silence. This was a good thing. There was no noise from rain or icy sleet on the roof. After checking the morning forecast, it seemed that we might actually get lucky. A milder day was predicted. Of course at this stage, I didn't have a whole lot of faith in weather forecasts, so don't ask me why I trusted this one!

And while we might have a hope of milder weather, it would definitely not be an easier day. Our route planner, SadiB, had plenty of great dirt climbs mapped out for us, with one very special climb, planned for right after lunch, just in case we needed extra help warming up again!




Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Vermonster - Day 2 - A Day for Badasses

Remember the soundtrack that plays when you are watching a scary film and you find yourself screaming out loud to the foolish person who is about to open the door, "Turn around!  Get back into the house!  Don't you know what's waiting outside?  Do NOT open that door!"

So, now that we've established the mood, let me tell you about Day 2 of our Vermonster ride.


When we left off, our six protagonists had turned in for the night, dreaming of good fortune, believing the worst of the weather was behind them.


Yes, there was snow on the ground, but Day 2 was to be an improvement on Day 1 and Day 1 really hadn't turned out that badly.

(Music from Law and Order - dun, dah, dun)




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vermonster - Training and Day 1

Back in the last century (I love saying that), skiers and cyclists could use the Amtrak Vermonter to travel with their bikes and skis from Washington, D.C. and points north so they could ski and cycle in various spots throughout Vermont. Sadly, after 9/11, the Vermonter removed its baggage car with little fanfare or publicity. I say "with little fanfare," because John and I only discovered the discontinuation of the bike service as we were planning a bike touring trip in Vermont in 2006. We had planned to cycle to Brattleboro and take the train to the northern terminus in St. Albans and then cycle back home to eastern Massachusetts. Unhappily, when I called to book our tickets, I learned we could not take the bikes after all. Don't ask me how removing a baggage car on a train to Vermont prevents terrorism! So instead of a trip covering the length of Vermont, we set out from home and did a round trip bike tour into southern Vermont. Have I mentioned that we did not own a car at the time?

The benefit of a remote start is skipping out on some of the nearby stuff we have ridden a million times already and it allows us to cover more ground farther afield. So, while we were bummed to miss getting into northern Vermont, we took the opportunity to ride areas in the south that we hadn't explored before. And it was an amazing trip. As a bonus, we happened to meet two ladies along the way with whom we have become best friends. We have biked together on numerous weekends ever since and taken a couple of trips overseas together also. So I am quite happy with how that trip turned out, but still hoped that someday bike travel in Vermont with Amtrak would be possible.

We have travelled with our tandem and single bikes on trains throughout Europe with ease. But in the USA -with Amtrak - ease is not the word that comes to mind. We've managed to get our coupled tandem onto the train in Eugene, Oregon, but not without a bit of hassle and warnings that there would be complaints about our lack of box from conductors at journey's end in Portland. We've also used the Downeaster service to get back to Boston from Portland, Maine, but the Downeaster baggage car disappeared earlier this year, and there is still no news on a return date. On the plus side, if you live someplace called Portland, you're in better shape than most!

As you might imagine, we were thrilled recently when roll-on bike service was announced for the Vermonter, which has a stop near our home in Greenfield. Various articles appeared in my news feeds promoting train/bike tourism in Vermont. This was set up as a trial, so we figured we should take advantage ASAP, before the trial might be terminated.

Well, loyal blog readers know that I was off in Ireland all summer, so we only got the chance to try it out this fall.


We'd heard success stories from friends in Vermont who had used the service, so we were optimistic. Then I looked on the Amtrak web site and saw that tandems were not allowed... And that only three bikes in total were allowed per train and there is only one train per day. Also bikes must be hung in a special bike cubby, with the front wheel removed, which sounded unnecessarily complicated. I surmised if we decoupled the tandem and bought two bike tickets that we could just hang each section by a wheel in an individual bike cubby. So we booked our tickets for a weekend away in mid-September. 

We planned to take the train north on Friday afternoon and then cycle back home over the next two days. However, given the mileage and just having two days with limited daylight, we decided to head for Montpelier, rather than going all the way to St. Albans. We could go up to St. Albans on a future trip.

Friday afternoon arrived and we pedalled our lightly loaded tandem the mile and a half over to the station. A short delay meant we had plenty of time to decouple the tandem as we waited on the platform. We were using a frame bag, seat pack and bar bag. We left the frame bag in place and removed the others. The tandem was also equipped with lights and fenders. 

The conductor was not happy with us and didn't see the humor in our claim of two touring unicycles when telling us that tandems aren't allowed. Surely the reason for this is the length. Since we'd decoupled and paid for two bikes, it seemed reasonable to me to allow these two bike parts. He let us on, but not without major grumbling on his part. 

Once on the train, the first thing we discovered when trying to make use of the bike cubby is that the hooks are tiny, and will not accommodate even mildly fat tires. Ours were 50mm. Don't think of bringing your fat bike or even your mountain bike. It is not going to fit! I don't know what they are thinking. No mountain bikes or fat bikes in Vermont? Really? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Packing List - Ireland 2016

OK. I am on an airplane, so I finally have some downtime to complete my long awaited packing list for my two month tour in Ireland. If you followed me this past summer on Instagram or the blog, you likely noticed that I was traveling quite light. You might have assumed that I was doing day trips, given the lack of panniers. But I am proud to say that I travelled around with all my gear neatly stored in my Revelate Terrapin Seatbag and my Dill Pickle Gear handlebar bag

John and I started in Dublin together. We rode down to Carlow for his brother's wedding, then continued south to the coast. We headed west for a week before taking the train from Killarney back to Dublin for a concert. We returned the next day and continued to Galway, where John again hopped on a train back to Dublin to fly home. I pressed on alone and made my way up to Donegal before turning back south and more inland to wind my way back to Carlow and then Dublin. 

Here's a map of the area I covered. 

 


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Coolies - Ireland 2016

My last real riding day had the best weather of the trip. I'd been apologizing everywhere I went for the cool summer, certain that my mere my presence all summer here had caused the less than summer like weather. I assured locals that things would improve on August 19. Luckily for me, awesome conditions arrived days before my scheduled departure.

Our friend Declan knows every small road around and can always be counted on for a great ride. So I asked him to put together a ride for us on Tuesday. He graciously drove down to Dublin to pick me up and we head up north to Dundalk for a loop around the Coolies.

 


 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Glendalough to Dublin - Ireland 2016



My final day into Dublin would have me climbing up the Wicklow Gap and then finishing off on the Sally Gap. It was a brilliant crystal clear day for it, with endless views and blue skies. It seems I finally remembered I had a camera and was inspired by the glorious weather.

 



Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tullow to Glendalough - Ireland 2016

Well enough of those gentle DaveB routes. Time to let SadiB back at it. Although she can't fully take credit as she took most of the route from JohnBs brownstuff 400km, but in reverse.

The route headed south first taking in the climb up to the Nine Stones on the shoulder of Mt Leinster. It then crossed over into County Wexford briefly to tick off another county before climbing over the Shay Elliot with the final descent down into Glendalough.

 


The tearoom at Huntington Castle fueled me for the climb up to the Nine Stones. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tullow - Humewood loop - Ireland 2016

As usual one can never trust the forecast. It called for sunshine, but I had a mix of showers and clouds for my short loop out to Humewood.

This was another DaveB route and one designed to give me a break before heading into the Wicklow Mountains tomorrow.

Don't let the lack of photos fool you. The scenery is splendid.

 


 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tullow Lumpy Loop - Ireland 2016

Today, I decided to take advantage of local knowledge and got my brother in law, Dave, to create a couple of loop routes for me to do in County Carlow. Most of John's extended family live in the area, so we visit here a lot. It is a gorgeous and underrated part of the country. It ha nice rolling hills and lovely views of mountains.

Dave called the route lumpy. I was nervous that DaveB might design routes like SadiB, seeking out roads crossing closely spaced contour lines. But he was very kind and plotted a gentle route with several coffee shop options. It was nice to have an easy day after so many hard ones. And the loop meant I didn't have to carry all my gear.

 


 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Clonmel to Tullow - Ireland 2016

Wow, suddenly time is speeding up. I'm getting close to the end of the trip. It seems like ages ago that I was in Tullow at the wedding of Dave and Siobhan, and now here I am on my way back to Tullow with plans to have dinner with the newlyweds and catch up with family.

This has really been an awesome trip. I've had the chance to explore so many areas, but have really just scratched the surface. I now have a long list of places to come back and explore even more. One of the purposes of the blog is for me to look back and see routes and photos to jog my own memory and provide launching points. I have 10 years worth of tours already planned. I missed so much!