Give and Take

So, an after-work commitment kept me from biking yesterday, on what turned out to be a pretty nice day.  I made up for it by riding in today, on a day where I thought I wouldn’t be able to ride.  We’ve got yet another storm riding up the east coast, but this one is slamming New England and barely clipping us.  Still, I expected a few inches on the ground this morning, and when I woke up to nothing, I decided to ride in.  We’ll see what the weather has in store for the ride home, but so far it’s looking pretty good.  This storm has a lot of wind with it, but it’s coming out of the west, and will be mostly at my back.

Today’s ride gives me 7 rides for the month of February, matching last year’s total.  Last year it was the flu that slowed me down, this year it was the weather.  This may be my last ride of February, as we’re once again expecting a couple inches of snow overnight, but they said that last night too, so I’m still holding out hope.

Bike First, Ask Questions Later

Rain in the forecast for later today, but it was nice this morning, so I packed the rain gear and rode in.  You gotta ride when you can in February.  Murphy’s Law says that if I don’t ride in, the rain will hold off until after I get home.  So if it’s not raining, I’d rather ride in and deal with the weather later.  If worse comes to worse, I can always call for a ride home.

Today I detoured onto US 1 to avoid the arduous River Rd hike into the park.  This makes for a roughly 6½ mile ride in, which is about the shortest possible ride I can take.  With the park impassable, it really limits the routes I can take to get to work.  If I want a longer ride, my only alternative is to ride out to River Rd, then through Catonsville.  Before I try that route, I want to drive it to make sure the road conditions are OK.  In the meantime, short rides are better than no rides at all (or the trainer).

Today is my second ride with “Power Grips” toe straps.  I bought these to use in snowy or icy conditions where there’s a chance I’ll have to walk a lot.  I started out with toe clips, but the clips were too small for my hiking boots, and the fixed gear wasn’t kind to them either..  I broke one of the clips on my 3rd or 4th ride.  I’m still getting used to the Power Grips, but I think they’re going to work out fine.  More on the Power Grips after another ride or 2.


Took my first post-Snowmageddon ride in this morning, and it wasn’t too bad.  I wanted to do it yesterday (Thursday), but on Wednesday I decided to go jogging for the first time in, oh, around 6 months.  Then on Wednesday evening, I ground out another 10 miles on the trainer.  So yesterday, the executive decision was made to rest my legs, as I knew I’d be feeling the run, and I’m not 25 any more.  But anyhow..

It’s interesting how being on the bike changes one’s perspective of the road vs. driving.  For some reason, the snow-narrowed roads look a lot less daunting from the bike than they do from the car.  I felt a lot more confident biking on the roads than I thought I would based on driving them the past few days.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, and it raises an interesting point: it’s a good idea to drive your bike routes every now and then in various conditions, as it helps provide a sense of how drivers see and react to you on the bike, which in turn helps you learn how to ride defensively and safely around them.

I decided to bypass US 1 and attempt to hike into Patapsco State Park via the Howard County side access road.  It was doable, but it wasn’t fun.  There was about a foot of snow on the road and not much of it was packed down.  I ended up half-carrying, half-dragging the bike through it, which was very slow going and tiring.  Even so, it still may be preferable to battling traffic on US 1, even for a short distance.  Not sure what I’ll do on the way home.  If I’m going to hike this on any regular basis, it might make sense to lighten the bike up as much as possible, and maybe use a backpack instead of a rack trunk and panniers.

Desperate times…

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  The snow has kept me off the bike for 2 weeks, so last night I broke down and used the trainer.  I’ve never much cared for the trainer.  It’s exceptionally boring and unrelentingly grueling at the same time, which is a pretty unappealing combination.  I lasted 30 minutes and 10 sweat-drenched miles on it, which is pretty good for me. Using a trainer is a much different workout than riding a bike under real conditions.  It’s essentially a full-time grind, with no breaks that you would ordinarily get from riding down hills.  It seems like a good way to build endurance, if I could somehow force myself to use it more regularly on days that I don’t ride.

One little bit of weirdness..  when I first went to shift gears, the bike wouldn’t shift.  I looked down and realized that the rear derailleur cable was loose.  At first I thought it had broken, but it was just loose.  I have no idea how or when it happened.  The only explanation I can think of, is that the cable slipped at the spot where it’s bolted to the derailleur.  The bolt wasn’t particularly loose, but maybe the clamp wasn’t “clamping” it as well as it should have.  At any rate, I reattached the cable and readjusted the tension, and all seems well now, but I’ll need to keep an eye on it.

I may attempt to ride to work tomorrow.  Road conditions are not ideal, but they are slowly improving, and I think they’re finally at a point where I’d be comfortable riding.  That, and I saw a guy riding through Relay yesterday on the way home, and I figure if the conditions are good enough for him, they’re good enough for me.  Either that, or we’re both just nuts.  Stay tuned.


Unfortunately, Snowpocalypse 2010 has put the brakes on bike commuting for the time being this winter.  If I can’t do it safely, I don’t do it, and the roads are not in good shape for biking.  I’ll be back out as soon as some of it melts, and/or I can find a safe route to take.

Over the past couple days, I’ve driven along some of my favorite bike-commuting routes, and here are my observations.

  • Lawyers Hill Rd and Levering Ave: Bare pavement, both lanes, a little narrow.  Doesn’t carry much traffic, so I would have no problem biking this.
  • River Rd between Lawyers Hill and Patapsco State Park: bare pavement, 1 lane wide.
  • River Rd park entrance: blocked by a giant mountain of snow and will probably be that way for a long time.  Access road hasn’t been touched.
  • US 1 between South St and Levering Ave: pretty good shape in both directions, but a couple spots where icy slush blocks the entire shoulder, which would necessitate riding out into the right lane.
  • Montgomery Rd between US 1 and Marshalee Ave: not too bad in most spots, but missing shoulder in places.  Would not feel comfortable biking this during rush hour.
  • Montgomery Rd between Marshalee Ave and Rockburn Dr: no shoulder.  Non-starter.
  • Rockburn Dr: one lane, poorly plowed and icy.
  • Kerger Rd: bare pavement, a bit narrow.  Could bike here.
  • Ilchester Rd between Kerger and Beechwood: Similar to south Montgomery.
  • Landing Rd: glanced at it while driving by on Ilchester, and what I saw did not look good.
  • Beechwood, Bonnie Branch and River Rds: single lane clear.  Could bike in a pinch, but not ideal.
  • Hilltop and Thistle Rds were both unplowed and closed off at River Rd.
  • Frederick Rd between River Rd and Oella Ave (Ellicott City Side): best of the lot.  Shoulders fully clear.
  • Oella Ave: single lane, not plowed very well.
  • Wilkens Ave from Rolling Rd to UMBC: decent shape, shoulder clear.  Bikeable.

On the way home, I’ll check out the conditions through Relay and Halethorpe.  But it looks like any route I take is going to be non-ideal, so I will have to pick the lesser of the evils.  Currently, that appears to be Lawyers Hill to Levering to U.S. 1, to South St and through Relay and Halethorpe (depending on what shape those roads are in; I’ll find out later today).

UMBC is cleared out as well as can be expected.  The head-in parking on Hilltop Circle works in my favor in these conditions, because to allow for parking, they have to clear the “buffer zone” between the road and the parking spots, which provides room to ride out of the travel lane.  Most, but not all, of the loop is clear.  But all the same, there are enough walkways clear that I can just cut through campus on foot if I had to.  All in all, they did a pretty good job.

On a totally unrelated note..  The other day I noticed that Home Depot was selling 50lb bags of Calcium Chloride “ice melter” pellets for around $17.  Calcium Chloride is among the more expensive alternatives for ice melter, and it’s not common to find it being sold as such at retail around here.  It is common to find it at swimming pool stores, where it’s sold as “Calcium Hardness Increaser”, often at prices of over $2 a pound.  So while $17 may seem like a lot to pay for 50lbs of ice melter, it’s an amazing bargain for 50lbs of  “Calcium Hardness Increaser.”  So, I picked up a bag to use in the pool this spring.  I would have bought more, but apparently I got the last bag in the store.

This morning’s ride

Being that this may be my last ride for a week or so, considering the weather forecast, I decided I’d depart from February tradition and try to do a longer morning ride.  I took the fixed-gear and rode out to the park entrance at Ilchester Rd, but the Grist Mill Trail was still too snow-covered to attempt on road tires.  So instead, I rode up Thistle Rd. and through Catonsville via Oella Ave.  This is a hilly route and is not my favorite to do with only one gear, but I don’t have many other options for a longer ride when the park is snow-covered, and it’s still too wet to take my geared bike, which lacks fenders.  A mountain/cross bike with studded tires would really fit the bill here.  Maybe next winter..

The chain on the fixie was getting a little floppy, so last night I tightened it up.  I also remounted my back fender so that the front of it extends all the way down to the chainstays.  The bike doesn’t have a chainstay bridge, so I wrapped a zip tie around the stays and attached the fender with a second zip tie.  It actually stays in place better than I expected.  The back of the fender also fits better this way..  previously it extended down a little too far, and the tire was too close to the mud flap even with the struts adjusted out as far as they could go.  As a result, mud and other crud was always getting stuck there.  Tightening the chain (by pulling the wheel back) would have made the problem worse.  Now there’s lots of tire clearance all the way around the fender, so rubbing shouldn’t be a problem.

Riding while the riding’s good

Trying to get my rides in while I can this week..  more snow forecast for overnight into tomorrow and then again this weekend.  Conditions this morning almost identical to yesterday, maybe a couple degrees warmer.  We may have rain/snow for the afternoon ride home, so I packed some rain gear.

I rode into the park today to see what it was like.  The conditions were reversed from the last time it snowed.  Today, River Rd was in good shape (relatively speaking of course) and the Grist Mill Trail was still snow covered.  Rather than try to ride it, I just doubled back on River Rd.  Still made for a pretty good ride, all things considered.  In these conditions, I tend to stick to shorter, more direct rides.  Today’s total was 11.3 miles, which qualifies as a long ride in February.

I rode into UMBC via Wilkens Ave and Hilltop Rd, steering clear of the campus loop and all of its road salt.  The funny thing is, if I had done that yesterday, I would have been complaining about the salt on Rolling and Selford Rds, not realizing that UMBC’s roads were 10 times worse.  Everything is relative, I guess.

Repair Stand

On the ride home today, I cut through the middle of the UMBC campus and stayed off the roads as much as possible, sticking to sidewalks and watching for pedestrians.  Never my first choice, but it kept most of the salt off my bike.  The rest of the trip home was uneventful.  It’s much lighter out during the ride home now..  if I leave at 5, it’s still twilight when I get home around 40 minutes later.  The darkness is a cool novelty in November, but it starts to get a little old after a while.  So, no complaints.

I received a Park PCS-9 repair stand as a birthday gift last month, and already can’t figure out how I got along without it.  It’s great to be able to just toss the bike up on the stand after a ride, clean off all the road grime and oil the chain.  It seems to take half the time it used to, the stand puts the bike at a convenient height, and there’s no need to flip the bike upside down on its handlebars.

Happy February

We got around 5 inches of snow on Saturday, so I kicked February off with a ride very typical of February.. snowy and salty.  The roads were actually in really good shape until I got to UMBC.  Mostly clear of snow and ice, and not too much salt.  In the park, the access road was unplowed as expected.  Before the ride, I switched to toe clips and regular shoes (same high-top suede shoes I used last time I rode with clips) so I could hike this stretch.  The roads inside the park had a bit of snow and ice on them, but were rideable.  All in all, not too bad, except for UMBC.

I made the mistake of riding into UMBC via Shelbourne Rd and Poplar Ave, which requires me to ride about half of the campus loop to get to my building.  UMBC’s roads were so oversalted that they were almost completely white.  It was the worst I had ever seen them.  I eventually moved over to the sidewalk, which was in considerably better shape (at least the stretch I rode on), but not before my rear fender got completely caked up with salt and crud.  I cleaned the bike up the best I could when I got to the office, but it’s going to need a hose-down when I get home.  Is it summer yet?

I think I’m going to be avoiding UMBC’s roads, and cutting through campus dodging pedestrians, until we get some rain or something to wash all the salty crap into the Patapsco River.  I’ll know it’s happened when all the fish die.  Only half kidding here..