I’m easing back into biking regularly after taking most of July off to rest my hip.  It’s still not 100%, but it’s manageable.  I honestly don’t think the time off the bike made much of a difference.  The soreness is in the front part of my left hip, and it happens on downward pedal strokes, as the hip is extending.  Lowering my seat a bit made a huge difference with this.  If the seat is too high, I get discomfort almost immediately.  With the seat lower, it seems to put less stress on the hip joint.  Occasionally it will bother me when I’m at rest, i.e. sitting at my desk or lying in bed; when this happens, a heating pad helps to relieve it.  I’m pretty sure I caused the injury riding fixed gear with my saddle too high.  It’s looking like my fixed gear riding days may be over.  All you 20-something hipsters out there, enjoy it while it lasts.  🙂

On a positive note, the downtime from biking has allowed me to rediscover running.  After about 6 weeks, I’m to the point where I can run around 2 miles, barefoot or with minimalist running shoes, 2 to 3 times a week.  I’m hoping to be up to around a 5K distance by the end of the year.  This time of year, I have to run in the morning, so on days I plan to run, I’ve cut back on my morning biking mileage so I can get to work earlier and run.  This has worked out really well.  The reduced biking has helped with my hip, and the running works different leg muscles (calves in particular) that don’t see much action on the bike.  I’m hoping I can keep it up over the long term.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

So.  We were without air conditioning in our building for awhile today.  Fortunately it’s a nice day out with unseasonably low humidity and a breeze, so I was able to open the window to make it tolerable.

It’s amazing how much beeping you hear in populated regions (like college campuses) nowadays.  Seems like all day long, there’s beeping somewhere from a truck backing up.  There’s so much of it that it just kind of fades into the background with other stuff like birds chirping.  After awhile you don’t even hear it.  Something about the sound makes it carry over really long distances, and it’s also very non directional, making it hard to tell where it’s coming from.  It could be right around the corner, or it could be a mile away.  You can’t tell.  It’s just sort of “there.”

Last fall I put fenders on my road bike, which I use daily for commuting.  They work great, but they make the bike really noisy.  Now that summer is here and the weather is drier, I decided to try to figure out why the fenders are so noisy.  I took the front fender off and rode to work with just the rear fender.  The bike was TONS quieter without the front fender.  I think that’s the culprit.  The fender itself doesn’t rattle, so apparently something is vibrating against the bike frame.  My front fork doesn’t have dropouts to mount fenders, so I had to use zip ties to attach the struts.  Could be the struts vibrating against the fork, or the front of the fender vibrating against the underside of the brake, or who knows what else.  If I can’t figure it out and make it stop, I may end up getting a clip-on fender to use on the front.  Or I could replace my front fork, or I could forget about fenders on the road bike and get a hybrid or cyclocross bike (with better clearance for fenders) to use in wet weather.  One can certainly never have too many bikes…

Today’s Ride

I got an early start on the commute this morning, so I decided to try an alternate, longer route to get from Elkridge to UMBC on the bike:

  • West on Montgomery Rd
  • Right on Rockburn Dr
  • Right on Montgomery Rd
  • Right on Kerger Rd
  • Right on Ilchester Rd
  • Left on Beechwood Rd
  • Left on Bonnie Branch Rd
  • Right on Montgomery Rd
  • Right on New Cut Rd
  • Left on College Ave/St Paul St
  • Right on Frederick Rd
  • Left on Oella Ave
  • Left onto Ellicott City Trolley Trail
  • Straight onto Edmondson Ave
  • Right on Melvin Ave
  • Left on Frederick Rd
  • Right on Mellor Ave
  • Bear right onto Hilltop Rd
  • Ride onto campus

Sort of a 1-hour tour of Elkridge, Ellicott City and Catonsville.  Total distance around 18 miles.

Almost all of my morning commutes take me through Patapsco State Park, so this was kind of a departure from the routine.  I’m looking for options for longer rides, and I wanted to see what the traffic was like on this route.  Turns out the traffic is not too bad, except for Ilchester Rd between Kerger and Landing, and Frederick Rd in Ellicott City.  But Ilchester is only busy on school days, and I’m only on Frederick Rd for about ¼ mile.  So all in all, I’d say this route is a winner.  Other observations:

  • The route has some challenging hills, but not until more than halfway in, when I’m fully warmed up.  Also the descent into the river valley on New Cut Rd. is much nicer than my usual white-knuckled descent down Ilchester Rd.
  • I swear I must have gone over at least 30 speed humps.  Next time I’m going to keep count just for kicks.  Maryland: Traffic Calming Capital of the World.
  • Not sure I’ll be riding on the Ellicott City Trolley Trail again.  Parts of it are pretty torn up by roots.  Not too road-bike-friendly.  The alternative is to take Westchester Rd, which shouldn’t be bad.

Today’s ride

It was my coldest morning commute of the year today.  14° with a wind chill of 2°.  I usually check the temperature before getting on the bike, so I can figure out what to wear.  Didn’t bother today..  already knew it was going to be cold, so I just bundled up.  In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t check, because it would have made the ride seem colder, and may have deterred me from biking at all.  Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

Stuff I wore..  Head: balaclava, helmet and Uvex glasses.  Torso: short sleeve exercise top, arm warmers, Under Armour long sleeve top, PolarTec top, outer shell.  Legs: thermal tights under cycling shorts.  Feet:  SmartWool socks, “toasty toes” chemical toe warmers, cycling shoes, slip-on toe covers, and neoprene thermal shoe boots.  Hands: thick winter gloves.

I kept pretty warm with the above.  My hands and wrists were a little sweaty at the end.  This was the first time I tried the chemical toe warmers, and they worked pretty well, that is to say, my toes weren’t numb at the end, unlike the last time I rode when it was south of 20 degrees.  My face got a little cold when riding into the wind, but not unbearably so.

20° seems to be the magic ice-in-the-water-bottle cutoff temperature.  I’ve had ice on both my sub-20 rides, but never anything when it’s 20 or above.

Last but not least..  I’d recommend staying away from the “Zero Xposur” brand.  They make various kinds of winter outerwear.  I’ve had the zipper break on a winter coat, and the stitching is coming apart on a pair of heavy gloves, both after relatively light and infrequent use.  Might just be a coincidence, but I’m going to be avoiding them in the future.

Aargh, I hate winter

Forces of nature are conspiring to keep me off my bike lately.

I managed to bike to work twice last week in spite of the big ice storm that hit the Baltimore/Washington area.  Then I went out for a quick 20-miler this past Sunday, and promptly broke a spoke on my back wheel.  This was the third broken spoke for me since last fall.  The first, I replaced myself.  After the second, I dropped the wheel off at the bike shop.  They replaced the spoke, trued my wheel up and informed me that my rim was bent and this likely wouldn’t be the end of my problem.  Sure enough, they were right.

So…  the bike spent Monday and Tuesday in the shop getting a wheel rebuild with a new rim and spokes.  Naturally, the weather both days would have been fine for bike commuting, if I had had a working bike.  Tuesday evening I bring the bike home from the shop, anxious to ride in this morning.  And of course, this morning I wake up to a “surprise” 2-inch snowfall.  Bummer.

The snow prompted UMBC to delay opening till 10am (caution on their part because of all the bad press they got after the ice storm, I guess).  By 9:45, conditions had improved to the point where I probably could have biked in, but I had a 10am meeting scheduled, which didn’t leave me enough time.  So I drove in, and found out the meeting had been cancelled.  And now it’s beautiful out.  A Murphy’s Law day if there ever was one.

It looks like the snow is out of the forecast for awhile, but tomorrow is going to be arctic with a high of 28 and a wind chill of probably half that.  Damned if that’s going to stop me, though. 🙂

Back on the bike after ice storm

I rode my bike to work today for the first time since the ice storm that hit the Baltimore/Washington area this past Tuesday and Wednesday.  My usual commute takes me through Elkridge, Relay, and Arbutus, MD, including a short trip through the Patapsco State Park Avalon Area.  Today, the roads were fine for the most part, actually a little drier and less salt-strewn than I expected.  The park, however, was still a massive sheet of ice, and being that I was on a road bike with skinny non-ice-friendly tires, I skipped the park and did a short detour onto U.S. 1 instead.  Biking on U.S. 1 is never my first choice, but it was only 1/4 mile on a stretch that has adequate shoulders.  All the same, it was the first time I had ever biked this stretch, and fortunately it wasn’t too bad (aided, I’m sure, by the fact that it was 9:30am and traffic was thinning out).  Nice to know that I have this option available in the future on days when the park is impassable.

The roads weren’t too bad on the UMBC campus (my destination) either, other than maybe a little more salt than the county roads.  The sidewalks were passable.  On the roads they use what appears to be the same salt the county uses, but for the sidewalks they use this weird white foamy-pellety stuff that sticks to shoes and tires, and gets tracked all over the place inside the buildings.  Thanks to full fenders, my bike stayed pretty clean for the entire ride, until the very end when I rode on the sidewalk.  Now the tires are covered with this crap, and I’m sure there’s a long trail of it leading from the front door to my office suite.  (Update — apparently this is Calcium Chloride, and come to think of it, it looks suspiciously similar to the Calcium Chloride “Hardness Plus” pellets I put in my swimming pool.  Wonder if it’s cheaper per pound…)

The ride home should be interesting.  It’s sunny right now, but apparently it’s supposed to cloud up through the afternoon and there’s a chance of snow showers.  We’ll see how it goes.

The Joys of Winter Biking

Took my first fall of 2009 yesterday.  We were coming off two straight days of rain, it was 7:45am and the temperature was right around freezing.  All of that adds up to (you guessed it) ice on the road.  Most of the roads were treated and in pretty good shape, but in my infinite wisdom I decided to extend the ride with a lap through the State Park.  And in the park, the roads were..  not good.  Long story short, I was coming down a hill, braking a bit, hit a previously-unseen patch of black ice, and the bike promptly came out from under me.

Falls happen so quickly and suddenly that it’s often hard to tell right away what happened and if there’s been any damage.  Sometimes it doesn’t become apparent until you try to get back on the bike and resume the ride.  In my case, I ended up completely undamaged (yay for slippery ice and multiple layers of winter clothing) but my front wheel was knocked out of true.  Turned out to be a loose spoke.  A quick twist with a spoke wrench got me back on the road.  I also had to re-position my front fender, which I did after the ride.  So apparently my front wheel must have taken some kind of impact, although the fall was so smooth that it’s hard to picture how it could have happened.

I guess I should count myself lucky that this was such an easy fall and it happened in the park where there’s no traffic.  It’s been north of 20 years since I last did any regular riding in the winter, but this was enough to remind me of the perils of icy roads..

Fenders on a Road Bike, Part 2

This is part 2 of my story about how I put fenders on my road bike.  Read about my motivation for doing this in the first installment.

There are a couple types of fenders made for road bikes.   “Full” fenders cover the back wheel all the way down to the bottom bracket, and the front wheel from below the cranks to just past the front brake.  There are also “clip-on” quick-release fenders made specifically for road bikes.  An example of these is the SKS “Race Blade.”  These work, but they are smaller and provide less wheel coverage than full fenders. I knew that full fenders would be a bigger job to mount on my bike, but I figured if I absolutely could not get them to fit, I could always fall back on the clip-ons.  With that in mind, I went shopping for a set of full fenders.  The two biggest names in inexpensive road bike fenders seem to be SKS and Planet Bike. I read up on both, and eventually decided to go with a set of Planet Bike “Cascadia” fenders, which I ordered from Niagra Cycle Works.  The fenders arrived after a few days and I went to work putting them on.

Full fenders typically attach to the bike in two places.  The top of the fender attaches to the front fork or rear brake bridge, and the back of the fender is supported by struts that attach to threaded holes in the bike frame near the hubs.  The rear fender is usually also attached to the “seat stay bridge,” a short horizontal piece between the bottom bracket and the rear wheel.  On a road bike with caliper brakes, the fender goes between the brake caliper and the tire, and typically shares the same mounting hole with the brake.  So, to accommodate fenders, the bike needs:

  • Adequate vertical clearance underneath the front fork and between the brake calipers and the tire
  • Threaded holes on the front fork and rear seat/chainstays, near the hubs
  • Some way to attach the tops of the fenders to the front fork / rear brake bridge (possibly sharing the brake mounting hole)
  • A seat stay bridge piece to attach the front end of the rear fender

My bike met some of the criteria.  All of the clearances were adequate, and it had a seat stay bridge and the necessary mounting holes for the rear fender (although I was currently using them for my rack).  The problems:  It had no mounting holes on the front fork, and no easy way to attach the tops of the fenders to the brake mounts.  So I would need to work around these limitations somehow.

I began by mounting the rear fender.  I unbolted my rack and attached the fender struts underneath the rack supports.  Conveniently, the rack’s mounting bolt was long enough to accommodate both the fender struts and the rack supports, so I bolted them both to the same hole.  The front of the fender attached easily to the chain stay bridge using a zip tie.  For the top, Planet Bike uses a snap-on plastic clip.  The clip has a bolt slot that’s intended to mount behind the rear brake, but as mentioned above, there’s nowhere there I can bolt it; the rear brake is attached with a recessed hex nut that does not have threads to accept a fender bolt.  However, I was able to use zip ties to attach the mounting clip to the seat stays (this is covered in Planet Bike’s instructions), so problem solved there.  This mounting method does slightly reduce the fender’s clearance underneath the brake, though, so it may not be usable on a bike with extremely limited clearance.  Once the fender was mounted, I adjusted the struts until it didn’t rub the tire, and I was done.  That was pretty easy.

The front fender was more of a challenge.  My fork doesn’t have holes to mount the struts, so I had to improvise.  A couple of web sites recommended using metal or nylon p-clamps, but I can’t use these on my fork because its arms are not round enough.  Instead, I opted to just zip-tie the struts to the fork.  This is not an ideal solution, but it works well enough.  the quick-release skewer caps keep the ties from slipping off the fork, and the ties seem to stay in place otherwise.  But I’d still like to come up with something more elegant.  On to the top.  The front fender has a permanently-attached metal bracket instead of a plastic clip.  The front brake uses the same type of recessed nut as the rear brake, so there’s nowhere to attach the bracket behind the fork.  But unlike the rear, there’s nowhere on the fork to zip-tie the bracket either.  So my only option was to remove the front brake and mount the bracket between the brake and the fork (actually behind the lock nut that retains the brake spring — otherwise the bracket didn’t clear the steering tube).  I did this, and wasn’t happy with the results.  It made it impossible to adjust the fender’s position without also affecting the brake, and it also made it impossible to easily remove the fender.  I needed a better solution, so I went web surfing again, and found out about Problem Solvers Sheldon Fender Nuts.

Sheldon Fender Nuts replace the recessed nuts that hold the brake calipers in place.  The difference is, the Sheldon nuts are slightly longer, so they protrude outside the brake mounting hole, and they have a thread to accept a fender mounting bolt.  The front fender can then mount behind the fork as intended, and the fenders can be adjusted independently of the brakes.  The nuts come in sets of 2 (one for back and one for front).  I ordered a set from Jenson USA.  The front nut was an extremely tight fit in my fork.  Initially, I had to tap it with a hammer to seat it enough to mate with the threads on the brake, but eventually it “broke in” enough that I could thread it on and off the brake without too much trouble.  I was worried I’d torque it apart or otherwise destroy it, but it turned out to be pretty sturdy.  The mounting bolts that came with the Cascadia fenders did not fit the thread on the Sheldon nut — I had to scrounge up some matching bolts and washers from my parts drawer.  After that, though, the fender went on easily and was a snap to adjust.  So far I’ve only used the Sheldon nut on the front fender.  Eventually I’ll take the zip ties off the back fender and remount it with the Sheldon nut, but the nuts were worth the price just for the front.

Initially, I couldn’t get the front wheel to stop rubbing the fender.  No amount of fiddling with the fender seemed to help.  Finally I figured out that my wheel was not properly centered in the fork.  I undid the quick release and centered the wheel, and suddenly the fender no longer rubbed.  There’s not a whole lot of side-to-side tolerance with these fenders, so buyer beware.  I’m a little worried at what might happen if I break a spoke..

After the fenders were on, I didn’t have to wait long to test them out.  I took the bike out shortly after a storm, and the fenders worked like a champ.  I hit my first puddle and watched all the water squirt out the front of the fender, instead of up on the bike, my clothes, etc.  In normal riding conditions, I don’t really notice the fenders except for maybe a rattle here or there when I hit a bump.  The fenders don’t get in my way at all.  The instructions warn that my foot might touch the front fender during slow turns, but I haven’t had that problem.  All in all, even if the installation was a bit of a pain, the fenders were well worth it and I highly recommend them for all-weather commuting.

Fenders on a Road Bike, Part 1

I’ve been an occasional bike commuter for a little over three years.  My commuter bike is a 2001 Giant OCR-1, a road bike with an aluminum frame and a carbon fork.  Back in the big 1980s, I spent my teen years delivering newspapers, and went through a seemingly-endless string of cheap 10-speed beater bikes.  I rode the bikes year-round in all kinds of weather conditions.  Every one of them had fenders – the big, heavy, metal kind that start to rust after a couple days in the elements.  The fenders may not have been stylish, but they did their job, keeping mud and grime off the bike and its rider.  Of course, back then I didn’t appreciate them.

Flash forward to the 1990s.  At some point, bike manufacturers stopped putting fenders on bikes.  I bought a mountain bike in 1994 – no fenders.  Ditto for my road bike, bought in 2002.  Nowadays, most bikes in the U.S. are sold for recreation.  Road bikes, in particular, now seem to be mostly geared towards racing and weekend club rides.  And indeed, when I bought my bikes in the 90s and 00s, I first used them for recreation.  I took the mountain bike out on trails, and used the road bike for weekend club rides.  I only rode the bikes in good weather, so I never missed the fenders from my old bikes.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot about the more utilitarian uses for bikes – commuting, errand-running, etc.  I had a college degree and a desk job, and no longer needed a bike for work, or so I thought.

Flash forward another few years.  With young kids, I no longer had as much time for leisure riding.  I wasn’t in quite the shape I was a few years before.  I wanted to find a way to do some more riding, so I decided to try riding my bike to work.  Gas prices were high at the time, so I figured I could save some money on gas and improve my fitness at the same time.  My ride to work is only about 8 miles, which is long enough to get a decent workout, yet short enough that it doesn’t take too long (with small children and a busy family life, time is at a premium).  I tried commuting by bike a few times and discovered that I enjoyed it, so I kept it up for 3 years.  At first I rode only in the summer, and then only when it was sunny and dry out.  It wasn’t until 2008 that I took the plunge into all-season bike commuting, and it wasn’t until then that I missed fenders.  Summers here on the east coast tend to be pretty dry, with occasional thunderstorms providing most of the precipitation.  That all changes in the Fall, when we have lots of damp, misty, drizzly weather.  After my first couple of wet rides, my fender-less bike (and most of its cargo) was completely covered in mud and other junk that splashed up from the road.  Not only was this bad for the bike (bottom brackets don’t like road grit), I had to spend an hour or so after each ride hosing the bike down, wiping off the grime, and re-lubing everything.  It was a major hassle, and I quickly reached the conclusion that cold-season commuting wasn’t going to happen regularly if I couldn’t come up with a better alternative.  That’s when I remembered fenders.  If I could somehow retrofit fenders onto my bike, they should solve most of my problems.

My next post will describe the process I went through to research, choose, and mount a set of fenders on my road bike.  It was a tricky and occasionally frustrating exercise, but the end result was well worth the effort.

New road bike tires

Last Friday I broke a spoke on the back wheel of my road bike.  Murphy’s Law #1 of broken spokes says that they will always happen on the back wheel, so you have the extra fun of removing the gear cassette to replace the spoke.  But that’s not really my point..  Since I had to take the tire off the wheel, I seized the opportunity to install a new pair of Vredestein Fortezza SE road tires that I picked up at Performance Bike a couple months ago.  The tires had a lot of good reviews, and the price was right, and my old tires were pretty badly worn down, so I couldn’t resist.

Mounting the tires was a mixed bag.  The back tire went on easily, but I had to use my “Quick Stick” plastic tire lever to help get the last bit on the front.  Never had to do that before, but it could just be that the tire was new and still needs to stretch out a bit.

My old tires were a mismatched set.  A Hutchinson on the front and a Specialized “Armadillo” on the back.  I ran the Hutchinson at 110psi and the Specialized at 120psi.  The Vredesteins are rated at 160psi max, which is considerably higher than my old ones.  I decided to try the rear at 140 and the front at 125.  So I pumped them up and headed out for my first ride, a short 8 mile commute to work.

During the ride, it seemed apparent that the new tires had a lot less rolling resistance than the old ones.  It seemed like I was going faster on straightaways and not getting out of the saddle as often.  I didn’t really turn it loose on the downhill sections..  new tires and all that, I need to give them a couple rides before I fully trust them.  At the end of the ride, I checked my computer and I couldn’t believe it..  I was almost full 1mph over my usual average speed.

This is my first set of new tires on this bike.  The old ones have been on the bike since 2002, but the bike has seen only occasional use (under 500 miles/year) up till this year.  But I really had no idea a new set of tires would make that much difference in overall speed.  We’ll see how well they wear, etc., but they certainly seem nice after one ride.