15 Riding Days ’til Christmas

After not working a single 5-day work week in November, I have 3 straight full weeks of work between now and the extended Christmas break, starting today.  Weather (and health) permitting, I’m hoping to turn that into 15 rides.

This morning was my first ride of the season that truly felt like winter.  It was sunny and in the upper 20s.  I rode around 17 miles, out to New Cut Rd. and through Patapsco State Park.  I wore a head band for the first time of the season.  There were a couple spots where my chin got cold (mainly going downhill) and I could have used a balaclava.  I did bring a balaclava, and almost stopped and put it on, but most of the ride was comfortable enough without it.

It’s been a bad autumn for jackets.  One of my main winter jackets is a Performance “Transformer” hi-vis shell with zip-off sleeves.  The zipper on one of the zip-off sleeves broke, and no longer engages, so the jacket is only good as a vest now.  It’s a cheap jacket, but all the same, it’s only 2 years old, so I’m a bit disappointed with it.  Over the break, I may dust off my sewing skills and try to see if I can replace the zipper.  In the meantime, I’m getting by by wearing the vest over an old dark green windbreaker, which works OK but adds an extra layer that I don’t always want.  On top of that, I lost my Marmot rain jacket last month.  Yesterday I went to our new REI and bought a Patagonia Torrentshell jacket to replace it.  It’s a similar jacket, maybe slightly better made, and it was also available in a brighter shade of green than the Marmot, which should help with visibility on the bike.  Based on the weather forecast, it’ll likely see its first action tomorrow.

Fixed Gear Comfort

I’m beginning to notice a trend.  The more often I ride my fixed-gear bike, the more comfortable it seems to get.  Last week I took my first ride on it in about 3 weeks, and my shoulders and wrists were bothering me after the first half hour.  Now, a week and about 5 rides later, I’m not having the problem any more.

Here’s my theory.  On a fixed gear bike, it’s impossible to coast.  On a bike with a freewheel, you can “take a break” and coast when going downhill.  When coasting, you can support most of your weight with your legs, even if you’re tired.  On a fixed gear, as you get tired, most of that weight ends up going to your arms/shoulders and rear end, particularly when spinning downhill.  As you start to get “used” to riding fixed, your legs start to pick up more of the slack, so the bike gets more comfortable.  My observation is that I start to lose this conditioning with any significant time off the bike (say, more than a week).  So, more so than with other bikes, it’s important to keep riding fixed regularly to maintain conditioning.

Single Track

I rode on single track Sunday for the first time in around 15 years.  I had forgotten how different it was from road biking.  I woke up Sunday morning with a bit of an upset stomach, so I didn’t want to do anything too strenuous, but I wanted to get out and test-ride my newly rebuilt ’93 Specialized Rockhopper, and I was hoping to find a trail connection between Belmont and Patapsco State Park.  I hopped on the bike and rode from my house out to the Morning Choice Trail head on Landing Rd.  I rode around a mile on the trail, out to just past the northern end of the Belmont property, then turned around.  It was a successful test ride, but I wasn’t able to find a way through Belmont from that area.  It’s all fields.

Compared to my road bikes, the mountain bike felt small, particularly on pavement.  Once I hit the trails, it started to get a bit more comfortable.  I think the frame is a little small for me.  For road riding, I may want to think about a longer seat post.  I rode with standard pedals and Power Grips straps, the same setup I use in snow.  The brakes worked fine; the Kool Stop pads did the job nicely.  The new fork worked fine, although with no suspension, the ride was a bit punishing in spots.

I did some more reading online trying to find out about the Belmont trail connection.  Local riders call it the “farm loop.”  Apparently one end of it intersects Morning Choice right near Landing Rd, and the other end ties in with Rockburn Branch Trail further to the east.  It’s an unofficial, un-blazed trail, and the Patapsco trail map has stubs in the spots where the trail appears to intersect “official” park trails.  It looks like the trail cuts across Belmont Woods Rd, so my next time out, I’ll ride down Belmont Woods and try to find the trail from that direction.  All of this is on the south side of Belmont, which explains why I couldn’t find a connection on the north side.

Warm November

November hasn’t been a very prolific month for riding to work.  Looks like I’m on pace to top February, but that’s not saying much.  I was out the first 2 weeks of the month, and it’s already a shortened month due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  As a matter of fact, weather permitting, I may actually be able to ride more in December, which is saying something.

Still struggling with my fixed-gear bike trying to get it more comfortable.  I’ve been pretty happy with the Forté Classic saddle on my road bike, so I tested it with the fixed, and it seems pretty good.  So I think I’m going to swing by Performance and pick one up.  Then there’s the issue of seating position.  I suspect that with this bike, I’m going to be more comfortable with a more upright seating position.  To that end, I’m going to try raising the bars up a few inches.  To do that, I’ll need a steer tube extender, which can be had for around $20.  And at that point, I’ll probably want to swap out my bullhorn-style bars with a set that has a bit more drop.  I’m considering trying a set of mustache-style bars.  Soma Fabrications makes a nice-looking mustache bar that looks similar to the popular Nitto bar, for around $40 less.  The bike is also going to need a new chain and new tires soon.  It currently has Bontrager Race Lite 700c x 23s, and I’ve been happy with these.  However, considering this is my main winter bike, I’m thinking about switching to a set of Specialized Armadillos, and maybe going up to a 25.  Armadillos are about the most flat-resistant tire on the market.  They’re on the heavy side, but weight isn’t really a concern with me with this bike.  The only concern is whether a wider tire will create clearance issues with my fenders.

Mountain Bike Almost Ready

Got my old ’93 Rockhopper almost to the point where I’m ready to ride it.  To recap, I’ve replaced the fork, headset, stem, chain, brake shoes, and brake cables, and cleaned and adjusted the hubs, derailleurs and brakes.  I also put a rear rack on it.  This weekend I’m hoping to take it out for its maiden voyage, with the two-fold goal of testing the bike out and finding a quick way into the Patapsco State Park trail network from home.  According to the trail map, it looks like the Morning Choice Trail runs along the back edge of the Belmont property, so the initial plan is to ride into Belmont and try to find the trail.  My eventual goal is to plan a commuting route to UMBC that is mostly single track.  I also want to be able to use the bike for commuting in wet and/or snowy conditions.

Once I get a feel for the bike and re-acquaint myself with the local trails, I’ll add a set of fenders, swap out the platform pedals for SPDs, and possibly also swap out the tires.  I would like to find a set of tires that rides well on both road and dirt, although I’m not sure such a beast exists that doesn’t compromise one for the other.

In other news, I’m back to a weekly commuting routine, at least for the next week and a half, until Thanksgiving.  Today will be my first ride home in the dark, although it’s still early enough that it’ll be mainly dusk/twilight.  The headlight and flashers are ready.

Peeling Onions

Among the many joys of home improvement projects, are the little complications that come up and make a project take longer, cost more, etc.  Certain kinds of projects are more likely to result in this than others, and a prime example is installing replacement windows.

I decided I was going to install 6 replacement windows this fall, to take advantage of the 2010 Energy Tax Credits.  I’ve installed replacement windows before, and it’s generally a pretty quick job.  My first 2 windows went in without a hitch.  The next 2, not so much.  When I took off the old storm windows, I found that one of the sills was rotted out, as well as a piece of 2×4 that sat underneath the sills.  Day 1 was spent digging out the old, rotten 2×4.  Day 2 was spent repairing rotten bits of (non structural) framing and brick mold around the window, and cutting and fitting a new piece of pressure treated 2×4 bottom trim.  Day 3 was spent cutting out and repairing the rotten part of the sill.  On Day 4, I finally was able to install the replacement windows.  But now, I still need to add flashing and weather-seal the whole mess.  Plus, I’ve decided to replace all the wood trim around the windows with PVC trim board.  The old wood was in decent shape, but the paint was peeling badly, and at some point someone had covered all the peeling paint with really ugly aluminum trim.  All in all, this was an amazing example of project scope creep.  The scary thing is, I still have 2 more windows to install after this, and who knows what I’ll find there.

Aah, the joys of home ownership.

Back in the saddle

After 2 weeks of business trips, I’m ready to get back into the riding routine.  I managed to sneak in a quick ride around the BWI trail on Monday.  I have today and Friday scheduled as vacation days, but I decided to go in today because it was a good excuse to ride my bike (and I also need to turn in my expense report).  I got an early Christmas present from Baltimore County today..  they re-paved the really bad section of South Rolling Road in Relay that I was always complaining about.  That was always my least favorite part of the commute home (it wasn’t as bad in the other direction, partly because it’s uphill), and I’m sure my rims weren’t crazy about it either.

We’re now officially back on Eastern Standard Time, which means my commutes home will be in the dark until around mid February.  My headlight is charged and I put a few extra blinkers on the bike, so I’m ready for it, but today I’ll probably skip out before it gets dark, as I’m not officially on the clock.