Closing out November

As hoped, I’m finishing November with a total of 13 rides, smashing my previous record of 12, set in 2009.  I almost always take the first week of November off work, which combined with the Thanksgiving holiday, cuts down significantly on the potential ride total for the month.  For November 2011, out of 14 total work days, I biked 13 times and took the car once.

I rode north on Landing Rd.  this morning for the first time since June.  Landing is a great workout, and it’s a good shortcut to Ilchester Rd., but every time I ride it, I’m reminded why I don’t take it very often.  It’s very narrow, and the traffic in the morning is almost as bad as the traffic on Montgomery Rd.  If I’m going to deal with the traffic, I might as well do it on Montgomery, which is relatively flat.  There are other, less traveled back roads that I can ride on if I want to do hills.

Of course, another reason I avoid Landing is the fact that I wiped out there last February.  Today was the first time I rode it with the same bike I was riding when I crashed.  My crash was caused by ice, which wasn’t a factor today, but I’ll still admit to being a little nervous, and going really slowly, past the spot where I crashed!

Last weekend I recharged the batteries for my Planet Bike “Blaze” headlights, and I noticed right away on Monday that they were noticeably brighter.  I had ridden them quite a bit in “flash” mode during early autumn, and I guess I went a little too long without recharging them.  I’m going to try to make a point to recharge the batteries every weekend, just to keep them fresh.

We’ll see what December brings on the riding front.  I have 13 work days in December, so I’m going to try for 13 rides, weather, schedule and health permitting.

Mileage milestone

I always find it noteworthy when one of my bike’s odometers turns over another thousand miles.  Given that I have three bikes that I ride regularly, it’s kind of a meaningless stat.  Nonetheless, it’s a good excuse to note where I was when it happened, go back over previous ride logs, etc.  Anyhow, this morning I hit 3000 on my single-speed.  It was on the way to work, likely on the Patapsco State Park entrance road near the South St. gate.  I say “likely” because I didn’t actually see it flip over to 3000.  I noticed I was at 3002 while I was riding up Selford Rd, around 2 miles from the park entrance.

It took almost a full year to log 1000 miles on this bike.  I hit 2000 back on December 13, 2010.  After being my go-to bike for 95+ rides in 2010, it was out of commission for a good part of early 2011 due to various issues, but lately it’s been seeing a lot of action again.

If I can ride on all 4 of the remaining work days in November (excluding today), I’ll finish up with 13 rides for the month, which will be a new November record.  The previous record of 12 was set in 2009.  I’m currently on pace to finish 2011 with 156 rides.  That’s significantly fewer than last year’s 174, but it’s still enough to to put 2011 in second place for total rides since I began keeping records in 2006.  Not too bad, given all the setbacks I had this year with injuries etc.

T-Day Week

Well, our unseasonably warm and wet autumn has lasted into Thanksgiving week.  The weather for this morning’s ride was around 58° with fog.  I took a longer ride this morning, because it wasn’t raining, rain is predicted for tomorrow and Wednesday, and I actually managed to get out of the house before 8:00am.

Last Friday I took another ride on my mountain bike, with its new Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires, to finish the break-in period for the tires.  Considering that they’re studded, the tires ride pretty well on dry pavement.  They are 1.75″ tires, slightly smaller than the 1.95″ Kendas I use on this bike during warm weather.  This works out great, because there’s more clearance between the tires and the fenders, making it less likely that the fenders will clog with snow and other kruft.  Looking forward to trying these tires out under “real” winter conditions.

I finally got around to winterizing our swimming pool this weekend.  The most important thing to do when winterizing a pool is to blow as much water out of the circulation pipes as possible, then plug the lines to trap air inside.  This protects the pipes against freeze damage.  For the past 10 years, I’ve used a small air compressor to blow air through the pipes.  This year I decided to try something different, and used my wet/dry shop vac instead.  I was amazed at how good a job the vac did.  Air compressors are designed to deliver a small volume of air at high pressure.  This is great if you happen to be running a pneumatic nailer, but it’s not ideal for blowing out pool plumbing.  That calls for a large volume of air at relatively low pressure.  It turns out that a shop vac, even a small one, is perfect for doing this.  The compressor would always blow in fits and starts as it struggled to keep up with the demand for air.  The shop vac blew a steady, strong stream of air through the lines, and I’m sure it did a better job.  Not only that, the shop vac weighs a lot less, and is generally much easier to deal with, than the compressor.  Looks like I’ve found a better mouse trap.


So it’s mid November again.  We all know what that brings..  chilly mornings, dark commutes home, and G.I. bugs.  I used to get GI bugs maybe once every 3 years.  Ever since I had kids, I seem to catch them all the time now.  I’ve often joked to myself that if I only rode on days when I didn’t have a mild GI bug, I would never ride between November and April.  Anyhow, I’ve got my first one of the season now, and was seriously dragging for this morning’s ride.  Still glad I did it, though, and glad I’m able to resist taking the car even on days when I’m not feeling 100%.  After a while, it just becomes routine.

I’ve had two commutes home in the dark now with my new headlights.  I have a Planet Bike Blaze 2w and Blaze 1w mounted on the bars on either side of the stem, and a Blaze ½w on my helmet.  So far, I’m liking the setup.  The bar-mounted lights illuminate the road out to a pretty good distance.  They light up reflective signs that are several hundred feet ahead.  They have a low setting for twilight, high for full darkness, and flashing mode for visibility during the day.  The helmet light does a great job lighting up the road closer to the bike, or wherever I happen to point it.  This is my first time riding with a helmet-mounted headlight, and I think it’s a good addition.  Without it, I was constantly adjusting my bar-mounted headlight up or down to illuminate farther out or closer in, depending on conditions.  With the helmet light, I have the best of both worlds.  I can also use it to read my cyclecomputer in the dark.  If there’s a drawback, it’s that the light dances around as I move my head, which can be a little distracting, particularly when climbing hills out of the saddle.  But all in all, I’m happy having one.  Other great things about these lights: they take standard AA batteries, they’re self contained, and their mounting brackets allow for easy removal to move them between different bikes.  What remains to be seen, is how well they will stand up to bad weather.  I’ve taken them out for a couple of rides in light rain and drizzle, with no problems, but I’ve yet to test them in a downpour or a soaking mist, so the jury is still out.  I’ll report back on them later in the season.

Grips and Spikes

We had a few early-season snowflakes fall over this past weekend, so to get in the spirit, I mounted my new Schwalbe “Marathon Winter” studded tires on my mountain bike.  They were a bit of a pain to mount, but I was able to wrestle them on eventually.   Unfortunately, my “bead jack” tool is not designed for larger tires, so it was no help with these.  I also installed a new set of grips on the bike.  My old setup was a set of standard-issue 1990s-vintage handlebar grips with metal bar-ends.  Looking for something more comfortable, I replaced them with a pair of Ergon GC-2 grips with integrated bar-ends.  Yesterday, I took the bike out for a spin to try out the new tires and grips.

Most manufacturers of studded bike tires recommend “breaking in” the tires for 25-30 miles, so this was the start of my “break in” period.  I just wanted to see how the tires rode; there was no ice or really any reason to ride with studs.   The tires ride fine, and as expected, they’re noisy, because the studs chatter against the ground as the tires rotate.  It sounds kind of like riding on a road that’s been over-treated with road salt.  On the trail, pedestrians can actually hear me coming.  I could get used to this.

The Ergons seem like they’re going to be pretty nice.  I still have to play around with the positioning of the grips, to get the most “natural” ergonomic hand position.  One tip: make sure the grips are pushed ALL THE WAY onto the bar.  Initially, I didn’t get one of the grips on far enough, and it kept slipping on the bar.  I unscrewed it, made sure it was fully seated, and re-tightened, and no more slipping.

I’ll be posting more on this stuff (particularly the tires) as the winter wears on, I’m sure.

Bike Commuting from UMBC to West Catonsville

Once every year or so, I have occasion to bike commute from UMBC to the western part of Catonsville, MD, during afternoon rush hour.  I’m still trying to find a route I like, that doesn’t require dealing with really heavy traffic.

The first time I did this, I took this route:

  • Exit UMBC via Hilltop Rd to traffic circle
  • Proceed through circle and follow Hilltop straight through to Bloomsbury Ave intersection
  • Proceed through Bloomsbury intersection onto Mellor Ave.
  • Follow Mellor to Frederick Rd. light and turn left
  • Turn right onto Winters La. and follow to Edmondson Ave. light.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.
  • Follow Edmondson to end.

This was OK, but there’s a lot of hill climbing at the beginning of the ride.  Traffic is really bad at the Hilltop Rd./Wilkens Ave. traffic circle leaving UMBC, and at the intersection of Edmondson Ave. and Rolling Rd.  Traffic backs way up at the light, and due to the lane configuration, there’s no way to “filter” past it.  You just have to sit in it, and it’s an uphill grade to boot.

This year I tried the following alternate:

  • Exit UMBC via Walker Ave. and turn left onto Wilkens Ave.
  • Turn right onto Rolling Rd., then make an immediate left onto Collegiate Dr.
  • Go about ½ mile and turn right onto Campus Dr.  then make another left to stay on Campus Dr.
  • Turn right towards McCurley Ave.  There’s a paved path here that leads from the CCBC campus to the end of McCurley Ave. in Catonsville.
  • Follow McCurley to end and turn right onto Hilton Ave.
  • Ride through Oak Forest community to Montrose Ave.  Follow Montrose to Frederick Rd.
  • Cross Frederick and turn onto the No. 8 Streetcar Path.
  • Follow the trail until it ends at Dutton Ave.  Turn right onto Dutton.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.  and follow Edmondson to end.

This route seemed OK on paper, but was a net loss.  Leaving UMBC via Walker is better than taking Hilltop, because it avoids all the traffic queued up at the circle.  However, you still have to cross the circle from Wilkens, which is a pain.  A better alternative might be to turn right onto Wilkens and then left onto Valley.  Westbound traffic on Rolling Rd. is just horrible, even for the minuscule distance I’m on it.  Taking the lane here is mandatory, or you’ll be sitting forever waiting to cross.  I was hoping cutting through CCBC would avoid some of the up-and-down hills on Hilltop Rd., but Collegiate Dr. is just as hilly, if not more so.  The trail out of CCBC also has a steep grade.  The traffic at the Frederick Rd. crossing at Montrose is really bad too.  And to top it off, the route doesn’t avoid the Edmondson Ave/Rolling Rd intersection either.  The route does have a couple bright spots:  the stretch from Hilton Ave. to Montrose Ave. is a nice ride, and the Streetcar Path, though a bit bumpy, is pleasant and bucolic.  Unfortunately, these aren’t enough to overcome the negatives.

Rolling Rd. and Frederick Rd. are the two big trouble spots on both of these routes, and there’s no way to get through Catonsville without riding on them or crossing them.  Next time I do this (likely in another year) I’m going to try the long way, and ride through Patapsco State Park to Ilchester/River Rd., and then up through Oella.  This takes me 5 or 6 miles out of the way, but I think it’ll be a much better ride.