Bike Commute Notes

Today was most likely my penultimate bike commute of 2023. Unless I decide to go to the office an extra day somewhere, my final commute this year will be on Wednesday, December 20. The morning leg of today’s commute was pretty nice, with temperatures hovering in the low 30s and light winds. We’ll see how the afternoon leg goes. I was initially considering commuting by mountain bike, but ultimately decided to stick to pavement, mainly because we got a lot of rain this past Sunday, and have had a couple of freeze-thaw cycles since then. I figured that the combination of the two would be a recipe for muddy trails this morning. I am pretty sure I made the right call. The one or two areas in the park where I ride over dirt were not completely frozen, and rather soft. While other areas that see less sun were still frozen, this afternoon’s upper-40s temperatures will likely make them muddy for the afternoon commute. For optimal winter off-road commutes, you either need solid below-freezing temperatures all day long (rare, and even then, areas that get a lot of sun will still turn muddy), or you need several days with no overnight freezes and no precipitation (also rare). As a result, I end up braving the salty roads in the winter more often than not, and getting my mountain biking fixes in during “dawn patrol” sub-freezing rides before work on telecommute days. If it gets cold enough tonight (the predicted low is 26), and I can get myself out of bed, I may see if I can do that tomorrow morning.

Cold Commute Notes

Very cold day today for November. It felt kind of like January. I remember one year back in the late ’80s or early ’90s when we had a November cold snap and temperatures stayed below freezing for several days. Today started out in the low 20s, and looks like it’s going to max out at around 40, which pales in comparison, but is very cold by recent standards. Being a Wednesday, it’s my usual day to go in to the office. While I used to bike in cold weather all the time (and still do occasionally), and I have biked in colder temperatures than today’s and lived to tell the tale, I have to admit that nowadays, it’s no longer my first choice. I considered going to the office tomorrow (Thursday) instead, as it’s supposed to be a little bit milder (upper 20s). Ultimately, though, I opted to stay with today because it fit my schedule better.

The ride was not bad. I could tell the temperature was above 20, because the condensation from my breath was not freezing inside my nose. The wind was fairly calm when I left the house at 7:30, but it picked up during the second half of the ride. I wore three layers on top, and tried out a new REI brand PolarTec hinged balaclava. Although the fit is snug with my current helmet, I think it’s a winner. I have another fleecy balaclava that I’ve frequently worn on sub-20º mornings, but it doesn’t do the greatest job wicking perspiration, and as a result, gets quite damp over the course of a ride, which is not something you want on a frigid day. The PolarTec seems to do a better job. Although I got the sense that my head was beginning to sweat towards the end of the ride, the balaclava was mostly dry when I took it off. My feet got a little bit cold, as they always do, but warmed up as I climbed out of the Patapsco River valley. My trusty Gore-Tex winter cycling gloves, combined with Bar Mitts, kept my hands reasonably comfortable for most of the ride. I rode a shade under 14 miles, which is shorter than my usual morning commute, but not bad for a cold day. The afternoon commute home promises to be about 15º warmer, so I’ll shed at least one layer, and switch to lighter gloves and a lighter balaclava.

On an unrelated note, 7:30 seems to be a good time to leave the house when I’m commuting via road bike on school days. While there’s still occasional foot traffic for the middle school, it’s not really a problem. The biggest issue this year has been dealing with school bus traffic on Lawyers Hill Road, but by 7:30, they all seem to have finished running their routes. It’s also early enough that I don’t have to deal with a lot of traffic for the elementary school in Relay.

Another Monday

  • Beans: “Cold Brew Blend” medium roast (Guatemala/Colombia) from Local Coffee Roasting Co. in Roxana, DE
  • JX: 2 turns plus 6 clicks (Grind setting 22)
  • 90°C water
  • 13 grams coffee / 180 grams water (about 1:14)
  • One new paper filter (pre-moistened)
  • Recipe: 13g that makes you happy (inverted: add 30g water, stir 5x, top up to 180g at 0:30, stir 5x, flip at 1:30 and press very slowly, finishing at 2:30)

First stab at brewing a (hot) cup with these beans in the AeroPress. This is a recipe I’ve used quite a few times before, but recently, I’ve been using more coffee than the recipe calls for, in an effort to get richer-tasting cups. Based on my experience with pourover, I think there should be a way to achieve this without using so much coffee. Today, I went back to a 1:14 ratio, which is what the recipe calls for. According to my notes, I have previously used a JX grind setting of 24 or 25 (around 2.5 turns) every time I’ve brewed this recipe. For today’s cup, I went with 22, which is a lot finer, and similar to what I’ve been using for a lot of my pourovers. This cup was not bad overall — it still was not quite as rich as a pourover at the same ratio, but it wasn’t weak, either, and had no bitter or sour notes. One thing I have noticed with these inverted AeroPress recipes is that after steeping for a while and then flipping, a bunch of coffee grounds frequently end up stuck to the plunger. I could prevent this by briefly stirring right before flipping, or by flipping immediately after the initial stir and letting it steep in the “standard” orientation. I might try one or both of these next time, just to see if it makes any difference.

I had a fairly routine bike commute to the office this morning. I woke up at 5:30 to another pre-dawn deluge, but it cleared out of the area in time for me to get out of the house on time. I have found that 7:20 is the absolute latest I can get rolling if I don’t want to deal with foot and bus traffic for the nearby middle school. If it had rained much longer, I likely would have ended up telecommuting. The Patapsco River was running higher and faster than I had seen it all summer, and a lot of the little feeder streams were really raging. The areas to the west of us have gotten hammered with rain over the past few days, and this morning’s downpour hit those areas as well.

Update (9/12): I brewed the same AeroPress recipe again, slightly finer (grind setting 21) and I flipped right after filling to 180g and stirring. It made no discernible difference. If anything, it tasted slightly weaker — again, not unpleasant, just lacking in body. I did notice that, while the plunger started out clean, grounds started getting stuck to it as I was plunging. So, it appears that the issue isn’t that they get stuck there during steeping, but more so that they just accumulate there while plunging. Seems like this would be unavoidable, and given that the finished product wasn’t an improvement, there’s no need to use a different technique from the recipe. I may try one more AeroPress experiment with these beans (not sure exactly what yet) and then I’ll just switch back to pourover to use them up.

New Brew

I finally opened the last of the three half-pound bags of beans that I bought in Delaware in early July. These beans are from the same roaster, and the same countries of origin, as my recent bag of light roast. I’m wondering if they took the same blend of beans and just roasted them a little longer.

  • Beans: “Cold Brew Blend” medium roast (Guatemala/Colombia) from Local Coffee Roasting Co. in Roxana, DE
  • 18g coffee / 250g water (1:14)
  • JX: 2 rotations (20 on the grind chart / 60 total clicks)
    • 9/7: Grind setting 18 (54 total clicks) had better flavor
    • 9/8: Bitter today at 18. Will try 19 (57 clicks) tomorrow
    • 9/9: Still bitter at 19. What is going on? Maybe I am swirling too much…
  • Water at 95°C
  • Recipe: A Better 1 Cup V60 Technique (see below)
  1. 0:00: Pour 60g of water to bloom
  2. 0:10 – 0:15: Gently Swirl
  3. 0:45 – 1:00: Pour up to 100g total (40% total weight)
  4. 1:10 – 1:20: Pour up to 150g total (60% total weight)
  5. 1:30 – 1:40: Pour up to 200g total (80% total weight)
  6. 1:50 – 2:00: Pour up to 250g total (100% total weight)
  7. 2:00 – 2:05: Gently swirl
  8. Drawdown should finish around 3:00

This was a perfectly pleasant, if unspectacular, cup. It was a good strength, and well-balanced, with no bitter or sour notes, but not much in the way of complex flavors, compared to the beans that I just used up. I’ll probably try grinding the beans a little bit finer next time, just to see what happens. Also, I’d be remiss not to try using them for cold brew, so I’m going to do that soon (likely tomorrow afternoon). Could be there’s a reason they’re sold as a “cold brew blend”. 😀

Another ridiculously hot early September day on tap, but this morning’s ride to work felt like any other summer morning commute. In spite of dry conditions, I opted for the road bike, because I figured it’d be easier to avoid overheating during the ride home later this afternoon.

Update for 9/9: For some reason, the past two cups I’ve brewed using this recipe (setting 18 yesterday, 19 today) have been on the bitter side. Not sure what I’m doing differently, except to note that on 9/7, I’m pretty sure I forgot to “swirl” the V60 after the initial and final pours, and the cup turned out better. Could it be that the “swirling” is leading to overextraction? If that’s the case, I can try to either skip the swirling, or make the grind coarser. I may try door #1 first, and I may also try making a cup with the AeroPress, just for kicks.

Threading the Needle

It’s the first day of school in Howard and Baltimore Counties. The past couple of years, I have telecommuted on the first day of school, but I decided to ride to work today to get an early start on fine-tuning my routine for the school year. There are certain times when it’s bad to leave the house due to school traffic, and certain routes that need to be avoided as well. My route passes through several school zones, so I have to take several bell schedules into account, and different schools affect me in the afternoon than in the morning. This year will require some adjustments to my routine, as HoCo has tweaked the start and end times for most of their schools, and also expanded the walk zones near where I live. This morning, I rolled out at 7:20, and it worked well. I think any later than 7:20-7:25 will cause issues with car and foot traffic heading to the nearby middle school. That should clear out by 7:45 to 7:50, but last year, when I left that late, I ran into issues with school traffic in Baltimore County. So, I think 7:10 to 7:20 might be the sweet spot this year.

I killed the last of my light roast coffee beans this morning. Next, I’ll work on using up my remaining half-pound bags I bought in Delaware, which are both medium roast. One bag is sourced from southern Mexico, and the other a is blend from Guatemala and Colombia. The light roast I just used up was from the same roaster and also from Guatemala and Colombia, so I suspect it might be the same blend of beans, just roasted differently. It is labeled a “cold brew blend”, and I’ll try it that way, but I suspect it’ll make good hot coffee as well. Since both bags are medium roasts from the same general region of the world, I’m hoping I can find a single recipe that works well for both, whether it’s pourover, AeroPress, or French press.

Morning Notes

After alluding to it yesterday, I brewed a cup of pourover coffee this morning using this recipe, with the same beans and a slightly finer grind. I went back and forth over whether to try it coarser or finer, eventually settling on finer just because of how my earlier pourover cups have tasted. I used a setting of 18 on the JX grind chart, which is two rotations minus 6 clicks (54 total clicks). I think this was the right call. The cup had a little bit more fruitiness than the cup I brewed with the AeroPress, with more body to balance out the fruity acidity than my previous pourover cups. Now I’m wondering how fine I can go before it starts to taste bitter.

The weather was quite pleasant this morning, and the past several days have been dry, so I hit the trails and commuted to work through PVSP on my mountain bike. It was my third bike ride in 4 days. On the HoCo side of the river, I rode Belmont Trail to Morning Choice to Lewis and Clark to Garrett’s Pass, which is a route I take frequently. It was a great ride, except something stung me on my arm at one point. I am wondering if maybe I ran over an underground hornet’s nest, and one of them got me. If that’s the case, I’m glad I was moving fast (and I’m not allergic)!! We’re still in heavy summer growth season, but with a few exceptions, the trails I rode were not overgrown. Upper Soapstone Trail, which is on my route home, may be another story, so I’ll see how that is doing later this afternoon.

Ride to work

I rode to work through Catonsville this morning, for the first time in two months. I went through Patapsco Valley State Park on the Grist Mill Trail, then out to Ellicott City via River and Frederick Rds., and into Catonsville via Oella Ave. and the #9 Trolley Trail. This route is roughly 15 miles, and back when I commuted by bike almost every day, I used to ride it about once a week. Lately, I haven’t done it much, mainly due to the recent long-term closure of the Grist Mill Trail (there are other ways to get to Catonsville by bike, but they’re not much fun to ride on weekday mornings). I’ve always liked the route as an alternative to my usual ride through Halethorpe/Arbutus, and it’s not bad to do even on school days, so it was kind of nice to ride it again for the first time since the trail reopened. Going forward, I’d like to get back to riding the route once or twice a month, so we’ll see how that goes.

Bike Ride

I had been hoping to ride my MTB to work today, but I woke up to unexpected rain showers that hung around for 3 hours. No complaints, as it was a nice, gentle, beneficial rainfall (in contrast to our usual summer deluges) and, in spite of recent flooding elsewhere in the region, our area has been relatively dry over the past couple of weeks. The rain let up around 8:30am, and I headed out on the road bike just before 9. It was my first ride to work in two weeks. I got to check out the newly-reopened Grist Mill Trail in PVSP. The trail had been closed since last October to replace two bridges which had been washed away by floods in 2018. The trail was originally scheduled to be closed for a year, but reopened after 9 months. The new bridges look great. I was able to see some of the work in progress as I biked by on the other side of the river, during the winter when the leaves were off the trees. Based on the size of the drilling rig they used for the footings, I’d say the bridges should withstand any future flooding. Most of the trail has been repaved as well. I only rode as far west as the second bridge, but next time, I’ll ride all the way out to Ilchester Rd.

Ride Notes

2023 marks the 15th anniversary of when I started using a bike as my primary method of commuting to work. Nowadays, I only go into the office once or twice a week, so I’m not bike commuting nearly as much, but I’m happy that I’m still doing it, and I almost never drive my car to work any more. In fact, I’ve been able to save some money by ditching my annual parking permit in favor of pay-as-you-go daily permits.

Today, I rode through Catonsville, which I haven’t done much lately due to the Grist Mill Trail closure in PVSP. With school out for the summer, there’s less traffic on the roads, so I rode through Ilchester and out River Road to Oella, where I picked up the #9 Trolley Trail. I then rode Edmondson Ave. out to Ingleside Ave., found a geocache off Harlem La., and headed to UMBC via Prospect Ave., Short Line Trail, Kenwood Ave., and Wilkens Ave. I’ve ridden on all of these roads before, but never this exact route. The weather was cloudy, windy, and drippy. I wouldn’t call it rainy, but it sprinkled almost the entire time I was out. I ended up putting my rain jacket on when I stopped for the cache, as I was actually getting chilly. It definitely was atypical weather for the first day of summer. My watch tells me I rode 17.33 miles, which is a couple miles longer than my usual commute through PVSP and Halethorpe/Arbutus. All in all, not a bad ride.

Greetings Earthlings

I took a look at my long-neglected blog this afternoon, and realized that it has been about 2.5 years since I posted anything here. That’s right around the time I picked up geocaching as a hobby, and ever since then, I’ve been using my geocaching logs to get my writing fix. Still, it sometimes feels like I lost something when I abandoned the blog. There’s something to be said for just stopping to write whatever comes to mind, whenever the spirit moves me. It’s kind of like a public diary. Maybe I should return here every now and then. I’m here now, at any rate.

I am still commuting by bike regularly, although I’ve dropped from 4-5 days per week down to 2-3 days per week. The lack of bike infrastructure in my area, combined with the realization that no one is really doing anything to improve matters (in spite of talking a good game), has left me a little jaded. It actually seems like the area is getting less bike friendly over time. I no longer find myself looking forward to riding, although I’m sticking with it because it’s become routine, and it keeps me in shape. I hope the situation changes, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe it’s time for a new bike; that might improve my outlook. Moving would also help. You can bet that when we eventually move, we’ll be taking a close look at walkability and bikeability of the areas we consider.

On the positive side, a year or two ago, I discovered that I can hike to work. I have to allow about two hours each way, so it’s not something I can do every day. But recently, I’ve refined and improved my route a bit, and am doing it about once a week. The majority of my route takes me through Patapsco Valley State Park, which is a really nice walk. The route is strenuous, and complements the biking nicely. I’m hoping that the cross-training will keep me more balanced, and help to stave off injury.

I also bought a kayak in late 2014. I’ve yet to figure out how I can incorporate that into my daily commute, but not for lack of trying. 🙂  In the meantime, it’s been a fun recreational activity, particularly when combined with geocaching.

Hopefully will write more soon. In the meantime, keep moving!