April in review

April was my first “light” riding month of 2012.  I rode only 11 times, compared to 14 times in April 2011 and 16 in April 2010.  I did beat 2009’s total of 10, barely.  The blame lies entirely with my schedule over the past month.  I was on vacation at the start of the month, followed by a business trip the second week, and another business trip at the end of the month.  I spent a grand total of 11 days in the office.  My goal for 2012 is 180 rides, which is an average of 15 a month.  Despite a torrid start to the year, I’m now 1 ride off that pace.  I should be able to make it up in May.  Then I’ll want to bank some rides in August, September and October, which are traditionally my most active riding months, because November and December are usually light.  But barring injury or some other issue that prevents me from riding, I should be able to hit 180 pretty easily.

This year, I’m trying to get better about logging mileage for every ride, so I can get an idea of total miles ridden at the end of the year.  I typically only log rides at work after my morning ride, and then I figure out mileage for the afternoon ride by reading the bike’s odometer and subtracting.  It’s accurate enough for my purposes.  I’m trying to maintain an average of 20 miles per round trip ride.  If I ride 180 times in a year, that works out to 3600 miles.  I’ll see how it goes I guess.


I’ve gotten some good hill work in over the past couple of days.  Yesterday, I took a quick tour through the Glen Artney area of Patapsco State Park.  This area is accessible by taking a right turn near the Grist Mill trailhead, and following the road under the railroad tracks.  The road forks, and if you take the left fork, it winds up some serious hills, past some shelters, and then loops back down.  At the very top, there’s a fire road that appears (on the map) to lead to Foxhall Farm Rd.  Next time I come through here, I’ll take it and see where it goes.

Today, I got a late start, but decided to ride out to Rockburn/Ilchester anyhow.  Typically when I go this way, I’ll go through the park and out via the South St entrance, then ride through Relay to UMBC.  Today, I rode up Gun Rd instead to save some time.  Gun Rd is a quick way to get from the park to UMBC, but it goes straight up the river bank, so it’s very steep.

It had been awhile since I had ridden any really steep hills like this.  I was on my mountain bike both days, and its gearing is low enough that I was able to make it up both hills in the middle sprocket.  With these kinds of climbs, it’s important to keep weight on the front wheel, because it will want to pop off the ground.  This is particularly true when carrying a load on the back of the bike.  I do this by standing on the pedals and shifting my weight forward.  When riding like this, the big challenge is keeping a smooth pedal stroke.  On steep hills, my pedaling motion tends to get jerky, as I throw my weight into the down-stroke on alternating sides.  This is tiring, and harder on the knees and hips.  I find that if I make a concentrated effort to pedal in smooth circles, I’m not as winded when I get to the top of the hill.  The important thing is to keep the bike moving forward, and if all else fails, there’s no shame in getting off and walking.

Anyhow, now that I’m on a hill climbing kick, maybe I’ll try tackling Ilchester Rd again sometime soon.

New Route Through CCBC Catonsville

After 4 years of bike commuting from Elkridge to UMBC, you’d think I’d have found all of the possible routes, but I’m still finding more.  I consider that a good thing, because it keeps me from getting bored with any one particular route.  Also, these days I’m finding myself less willing to ride regularly on Montgomery Rd in Elkridge, because of the traffic.  That cuts down on my route options, so new routes that avoid Montgomery Rd are always welcome.  Today’s route was 14 miles and change, and moderately hilly.  I liked it, and will likely ride it again:

  • Take Lawyer’s Hill Rd to River Rd
  • Enter Patapsco State Park via access road, take River Rd out to swinging bridge
  • Cross swinging bridge, left onto Grist Mill Trail
  • At trail end, turn right onto Ilchester Rd
  • Go ½ mile, turn right onto Thistle Rd
  • Follow Thistle Rd to end, turn right onto Frederick
  • Go 1 mile, turn right onto Seminole Ave
  • Follow Seminole to a connector street (there are a couple), turn left and go 2 blocks to Hilton Ave
  • Turn right onto Hilton Ave
  • Follow Hilton Ave about ½ mile, turn left onto McCurley
  • Follow McCurley to end.  Take trail onto CCBC campus.  Turn right onto Campus Dr.
  • Follow Campus Dr awhile and turn right onto Collegiate Dr.
  • Follow Collegiate 2 blocks and turn right onto Foxhall Manor Dr.
  • Follow Foxhall Manor to end and turn left onto Vineyard Hill Rd.
  • Follow Vineyard Hill to end and turn left onto Foxhall Farm Rd.
  • Follow Foxhall Farm until it ends at Rolling Rd.
  • Proceed to UMBC via either Wilkens Ave or Sulphur Spring/Shelbourne Rd.

This was the first time I had ridden on Foxhall Farm Rd since the 1990s.  It’s a nice, secluded road with no traffic.  The CCBC cut-through is a great way to get through that area of Catonsville, as it avoids an extremely congested stretch of Rolling Rd.

Google Maps is becoming a very valuable tool for plotting bike routes.  It now includes a lot of trails.  Interestingly, it’s showing an access trail between Foxhall Farm Rd and Glen Artney Rd in the park.  I’m not familiar with this trail as I never ride on that part of Glen Artney Rd (you get to it by riding through the viaduct under the train tracks near the Grist Mill trailhead), but I’m going to have to check it out.  If it’s passable by road bike, it could be a very useful route (although it looks like it could be a steep climb).


Just got my road bike back from the bike shop the other day.  I wore through my second drive train.  The bike is 11 years old now, and has a 9-speed cassette, and the new ones are all 10-speed.  To make a long story short, it seems that the chainrings for my old Shimano 105 triple crank set are no longer being made.  At the shop’s recommendation, I ended up switching to a compact double crank set.  The front derailleur and cassette also needed to be swapped out; I was able to keep my existing front shifter.

For those not familiar with compact crank sets, compared to a triple, they typically use a 50-tooth large chainring and a 34-tooth small chainring, and the cassette has a slightly wider range of gears, at the expense of slightly larger jumps between gears.  Compared to a triple, the small chainring splits the difference between the middle ring and the “granny” ring, and the largest cog on the cassette has a few more teeth.  You lose the very lowest and very highest couple of gears, but in theory, the setup is lighter, the chain lines are better and the drive train is less “finicky”.

I took my first ride with the compact this morning.  My biggest complaint with the triple was that the chain would rub the front derailleur cage in a lot of gear combinations, making them unusable.  The shifters have some extra index positions to allow for limited “trimming” of the derailleur, but with 3 rings, there wasn’t a whole lot of tolerance to work with.  With the compact, I found that I still need to trim the front derailleur, but with only 2 rings, I’m able to trim it more effectively and predictably.  Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off with a friction shifter.  It might be old-school, but it would allow infinite fine-tuning of the front derailleur to match the position of the chain.

Anyhow, the jury is still out on the compact double, but it seems like it’ll be an improvement.  I’m still getting used to it, so stay tuned for further reports.