Catonsville Route Tweak

Today was my last day at the office, and my last bike commute, until November 15.  Lest I go into serious withdrawal, I’m going to try to work a couple of recreational rides in over the next couple of weeks.  Come the 15th, my afternoon rides will be in the dark again, so I’ll need to remember to load my bike up with even more flashers than it’s already sporting.

I switched back to the road bike today and rode out Landing Rd., down Beechwood and Bonnie Branch Rds. and then out to Oella Ave. via River and Frederick Rds.  I tried an alternate route to get from Catonsville to UMBC, and it looks like a winner.  In the past, starting at the intersection of Mellor Ave and Bloomsbury Ave., I would go straight onto Hilltop Rd.  Then at the Valley Rd. 4-way stop, I would either continue straight and go into UMBC via the Wilkens Ave. traffic circle, or turn left on Valley, right on Wilkens, and left on Walker.  I always hated taking Hilltop because of the terrain, traffic, and nonexistent shoulder.  Last time I rode it, I noticed another biker cutting through Spring Grove, and I figured I’d give it a shot.  From Mellor, I turned left on Bloomsbury, then right on Asylum and into Spring Grove.  The roads in Spring Grove can be confusing to navigate, but I just kept bearing right and ended up coming out the entrance onto Valley Rd.  I made a left on Valley and then right on Wilkens, and left on Walker.  It was much, much, much nicer than taking Hilltop, so much so that it may inspire me to come in through Catonsville more often.  The only real downer to this route is crossing Bloomsbury at Mellor Ave., where you can’t see very far either to the left or the right.  I’ve always thought there should be a 4-way stop there.  I have a couple ideas for ways to avoid this intersection, which I’ll try out and report back on soon.

Saddles for Fixed Gear

Faithful readers (all 6 of you) may recall that I’m still trying to get the fit right on my fixed-gear commuter bike (a Masi Speciale Fixed).  The initial problem was that I was leaning too hard on my wrists, and they were falling asleep after about 1/2 hour of riding.  Raising the bars 1/4″ or so helped a bit, but not enough.  Next I tried angling the seat back a bit more, to keep me from sliding forward.  That actually helped quite a bit with the wrist numbness, but the stock Masi saddle was uncomfortable in the new position.  I tried swapping it out for a Selle Italia “gel” racing saddle I had lying around, and it was marginally more comfortable, but still not quite what I was looking for.  This morning I tried the saddle from my road bike, a cheap Forté (Performance house brand) “Classic” saddle which I’ve always found comfortable.  The jury is still out, but it seems like we’re getting closer with this one.

One thing to consider, is that the same saddle that’s comfortable on a freewheel bike might not be comfortable on a fixed gear, and vice versa.  With a freewheel, it’s easy to shift weight to the legs while coasting downhill, whereas with fixed gear, the legs spin rapidly downhill and more weight gets shifted to the saddle.  So if anything, saddle comfort is more important with fixed gear than with a freewheel.  I’ve often wondered whether a leather saddle, like a Brooks, might be the thing for fixed.  I’ve hesitated trying one because I’m not crazy about taking an expensive leather saddle out in the rain.

Still also working on the rebuild of my old ’93 Specialized Rockhopper.  It has Dia-Compe 987 cantilever brakes on it, and my initial thought was to swap these out for V-brakes.  However, after some consideration, I think I’m just going to stick with the cantis.  There’s nothing functionally wrong with them, and switching to V-brakes would have also required swapping out the levers.  However, my new fork didn’t have the cable stop needed to use standard cantilevers.  Some net surfing revealed that there are essentially 2 options:  A bolt-on stop that attaches to the brake hole in the fork crown, or a stop that clamps to the steerer tube.  I ended up going with the former, because it puts the stop in roughly the same spot as it was on my old suspension fork, so I should be able to use my existing brake cable housing.  The part is on order and I’ll give it a shot when it arrives.

Wet Leaves

This morning’s ride featured rain and leaves..  an autumn institution in the Mid-Atlantic.  Seems like every time I ride in these conditions, I end up getting a leaf stuck in one of my fenders.  Initially, the leaf will stick to the tire, and I’ll get a periodic squeak-squeak noise as the leaf brushes the fender.  The pitch varies with speed.  Then eventually, the leaf will either wash off the tire (riding through puddles helps), or it’ll get lodged in the fender, usually near the clip that secures the fender to the brake bridge.  When that happens, the noise changes to a constant irritating whistle-squeak.  The only way to get rid of it is to stop, locate the offending leaf, and remove it, sometimes with the help of a stick or other handy object.  Then, hop back on the bike and wait for it to happen again.  The fun never ends.

Still working a bit on my old Rockhopper.  I’ve decided I’m going to get it to where I can ride it, then swap out parts as the need arises.  Initially, all I should need are a chain, a couple of tubes, and possibly a pair of pedals and toe clips.  I’m thinking about converting the bike to single speed, but before I do that, I want to make sure a single speed setup will be practical for single-track commuting through Patapsco State Park.  There are some pretty serious hills on some of those trails.


Just hit 7000 miles on my road bike computer this morning.  I was on Selford Rd. heading west, just before the I-95 overpass.  Looks like I’m doing 1000 miles every 6 months or so.  Multiplied by 2 bikes, that comes to roughly 4000 miles per year, 2000 per bike.  That’s a lot of wear and tear on the bikes.  One of my bikes is about due for a new chain, and could probably stand a new set of tires too.  I am going to try to stagger things out so I’m not replacing parts on all of my bikes at the same time, because tires, chains and brake pads do start to add up.  But I have no problem spending the money, knowing how much I’m saving on gas and other car-related expenses.

Been doing a little bit of hill work lately.  It started out as a way to stay out of morning rush-hour traffic.  A lot of the less traveled roads in this area just happen to be hilly.  Last week I did a climb up Ilchester Rd. and followed it up by going up Gun Rd.  Today I did Landing Rd. followed by College Ave.  I figure the more I ride on the really steep hills, the easier the less-steep hills will seem.  Time will tell I guess!

Fork’s on

A sure sign of Fall:  I nearly flattened a squirrel on my ride in to work this morning.  Squirrels have this infuriating habit of darting in front of you and suddenly reversing direction just when you least expect it.  I also had to brake for some deer in the park.  Good times.

Did some more work on the Rockhopper yesterday evening.  I cut the fork steerer down to size, installed the star nut, and put the headset together.  To cut the steerer, I started the cut with a tubing cutter, and finished it with a hacksaw.  The notch left by the tubing cutter helped guide the saw, and I also put a couple of hose clamps on either side of the cut.  The result was a pretty straight cut, which is saying something, because I’m really, really bad at making good cuts with a hand saw.  After cutting, I used a file to clean up the rough edges, and proceeded to attempt to install the star nut.  The first attempt went badly.  I threaded the bolt in a few turns, and used a mallet to bang the nut into the steerer.  It went in really crooked, and I couldn’t get it straightened out, so I decided to start over.  I scrounged up a 15″ length of old ground rod, and used it to bang the nut the rest of the way through the steerer until it came out the bottom of the fork crown.  Then I hit the Internet for ideas for how I might do this without a special tool.  I came up with the following, adapted from an old post I found on

Start with a 11/16″ socket, or whatever size will fit inside the steerer tube with a little bit of clearance.  The longer the socket, the better.  Drop a small washer through the end of the socket, so it sits against the square hole where the driver normally goes.  Then, drop the star nut’s bolt through the washer so that it sticks out the square hole.  Add a few washers as spacers, and then thread the star nut tightly onto the bolt.  You want enough washers to keep the star nut’s prongs from touching the socket.  Then, drive the star nut into the steerer tube by tapping on the socket with a rubber mallet.  Hold the socket securely to keep the nut straight until the socket enters the tube.  Drive the nut into the tube around 1″ (2cm).

Using this method, I was able to get the nut into the steerer tube perfectly straight.  With that done, I was able to install the fork and stem.  Now I just need a new chain and some tubes, and I can put the bike together and see how it rides.

Odds and Ends

We closed our pool this past Saturday, 10/2, and not a day too soon.  Less than 24 hours after we put the safety cover on, it was completely covered with leaves.  Our final swim of the season was Sunday, 9/26, which although a couple weeks shy of our all-time record, was still pretty late, considering we didn’t use a solar blanket this year.  We had a late-September heat wave that got the water temperature back up to a fairly balmy 80 degrees.

Took advantage of some dry (albeit cloudy) weather this morning to take a 20 mile ride into work on the fixed gear.  I have been having some problems with my hands falling asleep on this bike, so last week I made a couple of minor fit adjustments: first I raised the stem about ½”, which helped a bit, but not enough.  So next I tried tilting my seat back a little more, and that seems to have helped a lot.  Apparently I was putting too much pressure on my hands and shoulders trying to keep from sliding forward on the seat.  The down-side of this is that the seat is now slightly less comfortable.  It may make sense to try a different saddle.

My kind of rain

Now this is more like it.  If it’s going to rain, I’d much rather it be chilly, so I can wear rain gear and actually be comfortable in it.  This morning was 50 degrees with a nice, misty drizzle.  I wore full rain gear, which includes a Marmot rain jacket, hi-vis vest, Novara rain pants, and shoe covers.  Ideally I’d like it maybe 5 degrees cooler, but this wasn’t bad.  I was comfortable enough that I extended my ride a bit and did a loop through the park.  My rain jacket is about a year old now, and I really like it.  It normally runs around $90-$100 at REI, but I believe I got it on sale for $70 or so.  It’s been worth the money.  I recently found out that an REI is going to be opening in Columbia, around 10 minutes from me.  A convenient REI could be dangerous for our bank account.  It’s much safer having the REI on the opposite side of town, 20 miles away, in a direction we never go.

Rockhopper Fork Crown

I ordered a new front fork for my ’93 Specialized Rockhopper last week and it arrived yesterday, so the next step of the rebuild was to drive the headset bearing ring onto the fork crown race.  I used a length of 1-1/4″ PVC as a driver.  I needed to ream out a bit of the inside of the pipe to get it to fit over the bearing ring.  I did this with a pipe reamer and a circular file.  Then, I greased the fork crown, set the fork on the edge of a 2×4, slipped the PVC over the steerer, and attempted to drive the bearing ring onto the crown.  Initially, I was unsuccessful..  the ring wouldn’t go on straight, and I couldn’t get it started.  Eventually I gave up for the night.  Before I went to bed, I stuck the fork in the freezer.  The next day I took the fork out, and heated the bearing ring up with a heat gun, and tried again.  This did the trick.  The heat expanded the ring just enough to make it seat on the cold fork crown.

There’s definitely something to be said for using the correct tools for the job.  I’m sure a bearing ring setting tool would have gotten the job done without any fuss.

Next step is to pick up a stem and some spacers.  Then I can test-fit things together and see where I’ll need to cut the steerer tube.  Getting closer!