This and That

I just ordered new tires for my road bike.  I’ve been running Continental GatorSkins on it for the past several years, and the front tire has lasted almost 4500 miles, with the back not too far behind.  I’ve had maybe 2 or 3 flats on these tires the entire time I’ve had them, but the sidewalls are starting to wear through to the threads, which means they’re about done.  I’ve been extremely pleased with the longevity, durability, and ride quality of these tires.  I’m replacing them with a very similar tire, the Continental Gator Hardshell.  The Hardshell purports to have even better flat resistance, so we’ll see how they do.  The GatorSkins set the bar pretty high.  Size-wise, I was initially going to go with 700c x 25, but I ended up staying with 700c x 23.  I’m running full fenders on this bike again, and it’s enough of a challenge keeping them from rubbing with 23s.  Wider tires would only make it worse.

I’ve had to shelve my fixed-gear bike for a while.  I think I threw out my hip riding it.  My left hip has been bugging me for a while now, and I noticed that riding the fixed seems to aggravate it.  My doctor says it’s a muscular thing and not doesn’t seem to be joint (arthritis) or nerve (sciatica) related.  I can manage it pretty well by stretching and paying very close attention to my riding form.  Lowering my seat a bit also helped.  I stopped riding the fixed altogether for around 6 weeks, and the hip was improving.  I tried the fixed again around a week ago, and it immediately flared back up.  Not a good sign.  We’ll see where it goes from here, but I may be looking at some time off from riding to rehab the hip, and possibly getting rid of the fixed gear bike.

Rain and Routes

Today was another one of those mornings where the weather radar failed me.  Usually, weather radar is a valuable ride-planning tool.  Today, although rain was predicted for most of the day, things looked fairly dry for my morning ride.  As soon as I got on the road, though, the rain picked up, and it rained pretty hard for the entire ride.  It tapered off as soon as I got to work (isn’t that how it always works?).  I didn’t pack any rain gear except a rain jacket.  I stopped about ½ way into the ride and put the jacket on, but by that time, it was too late.  I arrived at work completely drenched.  It seems like I have a ride or two like this every year, although they mostly happen in early Spring or in October or November.  It’s somewhat unusual to have a grey, drizzly day in mid June.

Anyhow, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying out some new routes to get from UMBC to my home in Elkridge.  Here’s a route I tried a few times last week.  This route avoids the Shelbourne Rd./Sulphur Spring Rd. intersection by cutting through Arbutus Middle School.

  • Exit UMBC via Poplar Ave. turn right onto Shelbourne Rd.
  • Just before you pass Arbutus Middle School, there’s a walkway that leads around the side of the building to the parking lot in the rear.  It’s just beyond the tennis courts.  Turn left onto this walkway and follow it to the parking lot.  You will need to turn a little early and ride a short distance on the sidewalk to reach the walkway.
  • At the lot entrance, turn left onto Sulphur Spring Rd.
  • Turn right onto Dolores Ave.
  • Turn left onto June Rd.
  • Turn right onto Oakland Rd.  Follow Oakland to the intersection with Selford Rd.
  • Proceed straight at the intersection.  Oakland Rd. turns into Cedar Ave.
  • Follow Cedar Ave. until it ends at S. Rolling Rd.  Turn left.
  • Follow S. Rolling awhile.  It will turn into South St.
  • Turn right at the entrance to Patapsco State Park.
  • Ride into the park and turn left on Glen Artney Rd.
  • Turn left onto River Rd. and exit the park.
  • Turn right onto Lawyers Hill Rd.

One of my objectives with this route was to avoid traffic on Shelbourne and Sulphur Spring Rd., and it does do that.  This route is OK, and I’ll probably ride it every now and then, but it’s not going to become my everyday ride home.  It has a number of disadvantages:

  • Cutting through the school property is not ideal.  The sidewalk doesn’t have ramps in convenient spots, so you have to either hop curbs, or follow the sidewalk all the way to the parking lot exit where there is a ramp.  The alternatives to cutting through the school are (1) following Shelbourne all the way to Sulphur Spring and turning left, which is a blind turn in traffic; or (2) continuing straight on Poplar out of UMBC and riding through the neighborhood there, which lets you out near downtown Arbutus, where there is a lot of traffic.
  • The route crosses Sulphur Spring Rd., Elm Rd., and Francis Ave., all of which are busy during rush hour, which means a lot of stop-and-go.  Granted, given the choice, I’d rather cross busy roads than ride on them.
  • The route is much hillier than my usual route home.  It runs through a lot of established neighborhoods, so there are a lot of opportunities to vary the route by riding on different side streets, but they all involve a lot of up-and-downhill riding, and some of the hills are pretty steep.  This is not really a disadvantage, but as I have to go up Lawyers Hill at the end of the ride, I prefer the rest of it to be a bit flatter.

I can envision taking this route once every week or two.  If nothing else, it’s a change of scenery, and it’s given me a new appreciation for my everyday route, which follows Sulphur Spring and Selford Rd.  Selford is flatter, and bypasses both Elm Rd. as well as the busier (and hillier) part of Francis Ave.

New Month, New Routes

I rode 16 times in May 2012.  We’re now into June.  After an exceptionally warm winter and early spring, June has started off with a spell of cool weather.  I’ve actually ridden with long sleeves on two mornings this week, which is almost unheard of in June.  It’s not ideal weather for enjoying our newly-replastered swimming pool, but it’s been great (albeit a bit wet) weather for biking.  And given how rare it is to get cool weather this time of year, you’re not going to hear me complaining.

After 4-odd years of riding essentially the same route home every day (from UMBC to Elkridge), I’m starting to look for some alternative ways to get home.  My primary motivation is to find routes with less traffic, but there’s also a desire to shake things up a bit.  My one requirement for a ride home is that it not take me more than 45 minutes.  I’m not interested in taking long rides home in the afternoon — I just want to get home, eat dinner, and enjoy the evening.  I also strongly prefer routes that don’t require me to get off the bike.  If the route is 100% roads, this is not usually an issue.  But to avoid traffic, sometimes I’ll consider cutting through an area that doesn’t carry vehicles.  That might mean brief detours onto sidewalks, curbs, fire roads, etc.  If I have to hop a couple of curbs, it’s not going to be a show stopper, but it won’t work if I have to walk the bike a significant distance.

My “usual” daily ride home takes me through Arbutus via Shelbourne Rd. and Poplar Ave., right on Sulphur Spring Rd., left on Selford Rd., right on Francis Ave., Left on S Rolling Rd., into Patapsco State Park via South St., out of the park via River Rd., and up Lawyers Hill Rd.  Total distance is roughly 8 miles.  There’s a reason I’ve stuck with this route for so long:   it works.  It’s quick, not too hilly, and the traffic is not too bad.  If I could skip one section, it’d be Sulphur Spring Road, because it’s very narrow and traffic can get heavy there.

I’m working on refining two alternate routes from UMBC to Elkridge.  One takes a different route through Arbutus, which skips out on a lot of traffic at the expense of a few more hills; the other bypasses Arbutus, Halethorpe and Relay entirely, by going into Patapsco State Park via Foxhall Farm Rd. in Catonsville.  This route requires riding a short distance on an unpaved fire road, and the beginning of the ride leaves a bit to be desired, traffic-wise.  Over the next few days, I’ll post in greater detail about both routes.