Off-Road Commute

On a complete impulse this morning, I decided to try out some single-track commuting for the first time ever.  I live in Elkridge, MD, and work at UMBC.  Directly between my house and work stretches the Avalon area of Patapsco State Park, which is known as one of the premier mountain biking destinations on the east coast.  So it only figures that I should try commuting through it, right?  The biggest thing holding me back from single-track commuting has always been my bike setup.  I typically ride with a rear rack and two panniers, which weighs down the back of the bike and also makes it wider.  This is fine for riding on paved roads and is also OK for unpaved fire roads.  For single-track, though, it seems like you’d want to keep the bike lighter and more maneuverable, which would favor a backpack over panniers.  For today, though, I found myself with less “stuff” to haul to work than usual, so I replaced the panniers with a smaller rack trunk, and off I went.

My house is less than a mile from the nearest entry point to the Avalon trail network.  I rode out Montgomery Rd. to Elibank Rd., turned onto Belmont Woods Rd., and followed it a short distance to the trail.  I followed this trail out to the Rockburn Branch Trail (purple blazed), which I then followed to the Ridge Trail (red/orange blazed), which took me out to River Rd. in the park.  A short ride, but enough to remind me that my off-road biking skills are very rusty.  I spent almost as much time walking the bike as riding, partly due to obstacles such as rocks and roots that I didn’t feel confident riding over.  The other big factor was all the mud from the recent rain.  My current tires have a smooth profile with some knobby tread on the sides, good for pavement, fire roads, and dry trails, but really bad in mud.  I had to be extra careful to avoid slipping in the mud, and I kept wishing I had tires with a more aggressive tread.  Fortunately, my ride was predominantly downhill.  I would have had big problems with traction going uphill.  I was also wishing I had front suspension.  There’s a really steep, rocky descent from the Rockburn Branch to the Ridge Trail, and I think I may have rattled a few teeth loose.  🙂

The other problem I had was with my Ergon grips.  I’ve mentioned before that they occasionally slip on me; on the road, it isn’t enough to be bothersome, but on single-track they were slipping all over the place.  As I mentioned before, I think preventing this is just a matter of roughing up my bars a bit to make them less slippery; this will need to become a bigger priority if I decide to ride off-road more regularly.

All this being said, it was nice to get off-road and away from traffic.  This was a nice “first stab” at commuting off-road.  If I want to do this more often, I should consider:

  1. Getting a cycling-specific backpack so I can ditch the rear rack for off-road rides;
  2. Getting a set of off-road specific tires with more aggressive tread, or limiting my off-road riding to times when the trails are dry.
  3. And if I REALLY decide to get into it, a front suspension fork would be nice, or even better, a dedicated bike for off-roading, maybe a 29er.



Crash Diet

So..  I lost a quick 5 lbs over the past weekend.  It’s all thanks to the amazing “stomach bug” diet.  The idea is, you catch the stomach bug one day.  Then for the next two days, immediately try to resume a regular diet as soon as you start to feel better, thus ensuring at least two relapses, and dragging the illness out three times longer than necessary.  It works great, except I’ve now missed 3 days of biking, while I attempt to regain my strength and get all of the (ahem) plumbing back in proper order.  With any luck, I’ll be back in the saddle tomorrow, in time for “Bike to Work Day” on Friday.

It seems to me I used to shake these stomach bugs faster, but it might just be selective memory.  In any case, a couple days of the “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) seems to have done the trick.  I “probably” could have ridden to work today, but figured I’d give it one more day out of an abundance of caution.  Rain yesterday, heat today, and perfect weather predicted for tomorrow and Friday, didn’t factor into the decision at all..  honest.  🙂

Ironic Flat

It’s been a sloppy start to May.  Almost every day has been cloudy with off-and-on drizzle.  Plus it’s been warm and muggy.  Not exactly ideal biking weather, but it hasn’t kept me out of the saddle yet.

Yesterday I was all set to ride my mountain bike to work, when I discovered the rear tire was flat as a pancake.  Lacking time to change it, I moved all my gear over to my road bike and took it instead.  This morning, I wanted to take the mountain bike, because it has fenders and the roads were wet, so I took a look at the tire.  This tire has a plastic liner in it that is designed to guard against flats.  This liner is a “Slime” brand.  “Mr. Tuffy” is another popular brand.  Well, it appears that the edge on the end of the liner was rubbing against the tube, and it was just sharp enough to eventually cause a puncture.  The liner had been in for around 2 months.  The tire itself was not punctured, and there was nothing else inside the tire that could have caused the flat.  So ironically enough, it appears that the liner, which is in there for the sole purpose of preventing flats, ended up causing a flat.

I took a pair of scissors and rounded off the end of the liner a bit, to get rid of the “point.”  Then I put a new tube in and put the tire back on.  We’ll see if that does the trick.  If it doesn’t, the next step will be to try taping down the end of the liner, and if that doesn’t take care of it, I’ll try a different brand of liner.

The fun never ends!