Friday, March 23, 2012

Taco, anyone? (AKA breaking the chain and more)

Last Friday looked like it was going to be a great day. First of all, it was Friday. Hard to complain about that. It was also the day some of my coworkers were throwing a baby shower for me at work... there's only about a month left now until I become a dad. So, naturally I was excited about that, too.

Otherwise, it was a day like any other weekday I've had for the last three years or so. I loaded up my panniers in the morning in preparation for my regular bike commute to work. It's a nice seven or seven and a half mile ride to the office, and it's always one of the highlights of my day. About two miles into my ride, two of the bike paths along my route intersect. This is where things got interesting last Friday.

There's a small incline up from Four Mile Run to the Mount Vernon Trail. I stood on the pedals to ride up it. In a matter of a split second, I was lying on the ground on my right side, my bike still between my legs, but obviously no longer upright. My feet had come unclipped from my pedals, so getting up was pretty easy, and the adrenaline masked the pain of the cuts and bruises that were already forming.

A cyclist behind who had been riding close behind me and obviously saw me fall stopped and made sure I was okay. After I assured her that I was fine, she pedaled on, and I began to look over the condition of my bike to try to figure out why I had fallen do suddenly and what damage, if any, had resulted. This is what I saw.

My wheel had gone from a nice straight, true wheel to an item of Mexican food, severely tacoed. The only other damage to the bike was a broken chain. The only hypothesis I can come up with to explain what happened is that the chain gave way and somehow whipped it's way into and among the spokes in such a way as to compromise the wheel, damage it irreparably, and bring me and my bike crashing to the ground. I'm still not sure how even that could have wreaked such havoc, but I am at a loss for all other possible explanations. (I do, by the way, clean and lubricate the drive train fairly regularly, so I'm not quite sure even what caused the chain to go...) Remarkably, the fork and rack seem unscathed.

So, I had to make the dreaded call of shame, have my poor pregnant wife get out of bed earlier than I know she would have liked, and ask her to pick me up at the nearest convenient road for me to walk my wounded bike and body to so I could throw my bike in the back of the car and get a ride to work. Thanks again for coming to my rescue, babe!

Not how I had hoped that Friday would go. And my bike wasn't all that was damaged, as you can well imagine. I had a couple bumps and bruises, largely not too visible, except for this, the back of my right leg. 

This picture was after two or three days of healing. I'm pretty well healed  up now, though.
It's been a long week without bike commuting. I've had to readjust to taking the metro this week, a bit of a painful process since it almost doubles my commute time and makes me susceptible to crap like this, which is what I had to contend with for the commute home/to class on Monday. Took me nearly an hour at the station just to to get myself on a train that day. When Belna's (my bike) in working order, I can more or less make a round trip to the office and back in that same hour.

I have placed an order for a new front wheel and chain, which I should have in my possession by early next week. So, my bike and I will be back up and at 'em soon, once again able to relish the joy that is my bike commute.

Oh, and the wheel's a special one, so more to come for sure about it here, but for those who want the inside scoop in the meantime, it's got a Shimano Alfine generator hub. Very exciting...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Going the Distance (Bengaluru)

As I've perhaps mentioned before, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to keeping track of the number of miles I've ridden on my bike. It's helpful when it comes to remembering to do routine bike maintenance and having an idea of how often things like brake pads, chains, and gear cassettes wear out. 

I also find that it's motivational to be able to look back after some time and see how far I've gone. For instance, looking back in December to see that I've ridden over 3,100 miles on my bike just commuting to and from work over the course of the year does give me a bit of a sense of accomplishment.

Yesterday, I tallied up the miles I've ridden on my bike since I started commuting about three years ago. The tally, for commuting miles alone, was just over 8500 miles. 

With that in mind, I decided it was time to take a stab at an idea I've been kicking around for a while for a series of posts - highlighting some general information and some things about bicycles and cycling from a distant location. Using Google Maps distance measurement tool, I found a spot on the map that is the same distance away from home as I've ridden so far on my bike (in the year, say, or in this case the commuting miles I've accumulated since I started riding again a few years ago). Today's result: Bangalore, India.

So, without further ado, I present to you the inaugural post in the "He's Going the Distance" series.

Bangalore (Bengaluru)

The name Bangalore is an anglicized version of the city's actual name, which, in Kannada, the language spoken by around 38 million people living in that part of southern India, is Bengaluru. In much the same way as Bombay is now better referred to as Mumbai, Bangalore is more appropriately called Bengaluru or so it seems, so I'll refer to it as such for the rest of this post.

Bengaluru's situated at an elevation of nearly 1,000 meters, yet despite its relatively high elevation manages to average high temperatures of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. It is India's fastest growing metropolitan area, and now has a population of almost 8.5 million, more than five times its population 40 years ago. It was the first Indian city with electricity and it is home to the Indian Institute of Science, "the premier institute for scientific research and study in India". It is a high-tech hub and has been referred to by some as the Silicon Valley of South Asia, which makes its sister city relationship with San Francisco all the more logical. I suppose San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View, or Cupertino would be a better pairing in that respect, but I, for one, am willing to accept San Fran as a proxy for Silicon Valley, USA.

But I digress... Let's move on to a few cycling-related tidbits about Bengaluru.
  • Since Bengaluru is a sister city with San Francisco, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to have found this post from the SF portion of StreetsBlog. Bengaluru, at least as of 2009, saw regular critical mass rides, just as many major US do.
    Unlike US cities, which by and large have seen an increase in cycling in the last 10-20 years, Bengaluru's mode share is decreasing. It's down to 6% (as of 2009) from 16% a decade prior. 
    Picture of girls riding to school from the SF Streetblog post
  • While its website appears somewhat dormant (look at the pot calling the kettle black), there is also an organization called Ride a Cycle, that's a more mainstream advocacy group working to improve conditions and promote cycling, seemingly along the same lines as WABA in the DC area, at least in terms of approach if not level of activity
  • *Apparently, there are more than a couple bike shops worth checking out in the city. This account of a guy's research and decision making process when buying a new bike sounds not unlike what someone here would go through if they hadn't bought a bike in a while. At least one of the shops mentioned has a website, and appears to have been the first Trek dealer in Bengaluru, if not all of India.
  • That same bike shop seems to be an active participant in the BBCh (Bangalore [sic] Bicycle Championship), a series of competitive rides, both on and off road. The 2012 season is underway, and the second race was held last weekend. More details here. 

    At the first race of the BBCh 2012 season
  • Now, I'm no fan of heat, so the idea of a hot, often dusty city is not necessarily appealing to me. The bicycle touring journal website Crazy Guy on a Bike has more journals including Bangalore (or Bengaluru) than I have time to go through, but one journal by two Canadians who cycled 2000 km around India with Bengaluru as their start end end point had this insight in their journal: "It's amazing how perspective changes with time; when we first arrived, we thought Bangalore was a huge, dirty, unpleasant city, but upon our return we found it to be a huge, dirty, and pleasant city!"
On that intriguing, and I suppose complimentary, note about Bengaluru, we'll end our virtual sojourn of a place far, far away. Hope you enjoyed it, Keep your eyes peeled for more posts in this series as time goes on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Urgent: I-81 Exit 150 Public Comment — Affects US Bike Route 76

***Repost of a message on the Virginia Bicycling Federation blog.***

Please submit a comment and help support bicycle accomodations in this project as is required by official VDOT policy. Bike Route 76 was established in for the 1976 US bicentennial and runs all the way to the west coast.

via Virginia Bicycling Federation by admin on 3/13/12

The existing I-81 Exit 150 redesign project at Cloverdale does not include bicycle accommodations. This is a critical interchange for cyclists. The project includes portions of U.S Route 11 which is heavily used by local cyclists as well as by cyclists on U.S. Bike Route 76 to access Roanoke and other accommodations. The only opportunity we have to request that the project include bicycle accommodations is for you to comment by e-mail BEFORE MIDNIGHT THIS COMING SUNDAY, MARCH 18, which is when the public comment period closes. Comments must be submitted to and must include the subject heading "Interstate 150 Exit 150 Public Hearing Comment". You may use the following suggested comment if you wish:
Route 11 is heavily used by bicyclists traveling between Roanoke and Botetourt county and is also used by bicyclists traveling on US Bike Route 76 to access Roanoke and other accommodations. The present design does not provide any accommodation for bicyclists despite VDOT's policy that it should.

I request that representatives from VDOT meet with the Bicycle Advisory Committee of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, and other stakeholders, to discuss how bicycle accommodations may be included in the I-81 Exit 150 project.
Thanks to Dave Harrison of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club for this alert.

Monday, March 12, 2012


No, not the store. The Great Allegheny Passage, a rails to trails project that connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. So if you're looking for a review of a pair of khakis and a polo shirt, this is the wrong blog post for you.

Anyway, there was a good write up about it in the Washington Post travel section about it this weekend which I read over my lunch break at work today. The reviewer did credit card touring, staying in hotels and B&Bs. While a bed and climate controlled environment would be nice every once in a while on a long tour, I'm more interested in bringing my tent with me and camping out most of the time.  Fortunately, there are lots of opportunities for camping along the GAP, too.

(From the Washington Post slide show associated with the article linked to above)

Now the nice thing about the GAP, of course, is that it connects with the C&O Canal Towpath in Cumberland, which runs all the way to Georgetown and the heart of Washington, DC. The other nice thing, as the article points out, is that all the climbs and descents are at railroad grades, meaning generally 2% or less. That makes the trip up and over the Appalachians a lot easier.

I went on an overnight bike trip on the C&O from  Alexandria, VA to around Harpers Ferry last summer. I stayed at the Huckleberry Hill hiker-biker campsite, right about milepost 63 of the C&O. That put me about 1/5 of the way to Pittsburgh, which is about 320 miles of trail riding from  DC. I hope one day to do the whole ride from Pittsburgh to DC or vice-versa. Allowing time for a little sightseeing along the way, I think that would make a very nice week of riding and camping, don't you?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hooray for BuBi!!!

And no, that's not some cheap adolescent humor about women's breasts! Get your mind out of the gutter!!!(Although blog entries around the Interwebz seem to be quick to make bodily puns with the name...)
Anyway, hooray for BuBi is, in fact, elation at the fact that two things I have a strong personal interest in are coming together!
The two things? Budapest, where my grandfather was born and where he immigrated from, is setting up the first public bike sharing program in Hungary!!!
I should have a different way to get around downtown Budapest if I go back again! :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wind, anyone?

Some days are better than others for riding. This week has generally been beautiful riding weather. It's been unseasonably warm - warm enough even to forgo the fleece I normally wear for a little added warmth on my morning rides to work and instead wear long sleeve tee shirts in the morning and short sleeves even a couple of the afternoons.

Today is no exception. The weather this morning was gorgeous. Temps in the mid to upper forties for the ride to work. Highs today expected to be near 70. It was a little breezy on the way in to work, but only pleasantly so.

And then... I get to work and see the rest of the day's forecast. I'll let the pirctures do the rest of the talking. Suffice it to say, I'll be dealing with quite a headwind heading home!!!

Mashup image of the forecast conditions for today from the National Weather Service website.

This will likely be me this afternoon going home from work...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In honor of Black History Month

Marshall "Major" Taylor

Before Jesse Owens, before Jackie Robinson, there was Marshall "Major" Taylor.

Who, you might ask?

Only perhaps the first athlete to challenge racial boundaries and participate in the mainstream of an American sport. The sport was track cycling, which was big at the turn if the twentieth century.

Major Taylor's story is a compelling one, as he fought through prejudice, injustice, and actual physical assault to compete, and win on a rather regular basis, in the sport of track cycling. According to his autobiography, he apparently had some very conflicted feelings about writes, harboring disdain (understandably) for those competitors who games up on him to try to keep him from winning only because he was black while at the same time crediting other whites for making his career possible. Sadly he passed away, largely forgotten at the young age of 53 during the Great Depression.

I recommend everyone look through his bio and a little about him on Wikipedia. There's also a Major Taylor Association with lots of resources and info, including information about the statue of him in his home base for racing, Worcester, MA.

As we take time this month to remember specifically the contributions of African Americans to our society, it's worth remembering Major Taylor.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Contador Stripped of 2010 Tour de France Title

It doesn't get much bigger than this, folks. First, there was Floyd Landis, whose 2006 Tour de France title was taken from him after the fact for having injected testosterone.
Now, the "heavy hand" of the law (in the form of the Court of Arbitration for Sport) has come down on Alberto Contador. His 2010 Tour de France title, mired in doubt for years due to a positive test for a substance called clenbuterol, has now officially been stripped and he will spend most of this season serving out the remainder of a "backdated" two-year suspension, set to end in August of this year.
Not sure what a "backdated" two year suspension means, but it seems basically to boil down to a 6 month suspension, since Contador's actually been racing the whole time this case has been in the various courts and panels and appeals in the governing bodies of cycling and international sports. My initial reaction, based on the information I've seen so far, makes me think to myself, "why not just call it a six month suspension", but maybe backdating it even though he was competing has other ramifications I'm not aware of.
Of course, losing his 2010 Tour title is already a huge blow. As for Contador's reputation, I think that those who doubt the validity of the charges against Contador will continue to do so, and those who feel he doped intentionally will feel affirmed in their opinions. I've been on the fence about it much of the time, but this kind of ruling lends credence to the validity of the charges. So maybe people like me will be able to lean off the fence a little more, if not just get off it entirely.
What does this verdict mean for pro cycling? Kind of a double edged sword, I'd say. It shows that cyling is a sport that will police its own, even the big names. On the other hand, it's another sign of the deeply rooted issues involving doping and perfromance enhancing drugs that cycling has to confront. If one in every four champions of cycling's highest profile event is going to be diqualified for doping, it certainly casts a shadow of doubt over any stellar performance in the race.
For me, I love pro cycling and I will continue to watch it regardless of this decision. In some ways the possibility of doping is just part of the mental equation I calculate when watching the peloton flow through the hinterlands of France and disintegrate when they hit the hard climbs of the Alps and the Pyrenees. It would be nice if they could clean up the sport and make it so that one can be more sure that only chemicals influencing the outcome of the race are the blood and adrenalin naturally coursing through the riders' veins, though.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Montgomery County - You Suck!

Montgomery County has stricken all funding for the Metropolitan Branch Trail from its budget until at least 2018. The trail is supposed to provide a link between Union Station and Silver Spring. DC has been taking great strides to build its part of the trail and it currently runs from Union Station all the way north to Brookland. DC still has some work to, but at least it's doing its part.
From the comments in the post linked to above:
"For a county that sells itself as environmentally conscious and progressive, this decision is nothing short of a betrayal."
My thoughts exactly. Shirking its responsibilities and its commitments to a project that involves other jurisdictions, too. And definitely shying away from improving infrastructure for cycling or walking. Sad, very sad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Road rage is nothing new...

What is it about getting behind the wheel of a car that seems to affect the behavior of some otherwise generally well disposed, kind people? I assume it has something to do with the anonymity driving in major urban area (or anywhere far from home) seems to provide. The safety of a two ton-plus cage of steel around them probably plays a role as well.

In any case, this Disney video from 1950 shows that the ugly behavior often associated with some motorists is nothing new.

Please note the repeated use of the term "some drivers". In no way do I mean this post as an indictment of an entire class of road users. Just a segment thereof. Just as most drivers in the film are kind and respectful, I find that 95%+ of drivers take care to make sure they can pass safely and are willing to wait the five extra seconds it will take them to get around a cyclist safely.

It's interesting that the video is over 60 years old, yet still so pertinent. You may be thinking, were the roads really like that already in 1950?! The answer is yes, in many places they were. 

The battle with congestion is nothing new, even in its suburban incarnation. GM naturally hailed the massive expansion of the road network and a reliance on cars as the greatest thing since sliced bread at its 1939 World's Fair at the Futurama exhibit/ride. 

From GM's 1939 World's Fair exhibit/ride Futurama
YouTube Futurama video (pt. 1/2)

YouTube Futurama video (pt. 2/2)

Decades letter, victims of our own sprawl and poor planning, we know better, or at least we should. But, apparently some things are very slow to change.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What a stud!

Last things first... I have lots of catching up to do, but I thought I'd start with news from today.

I was pleasantly surprised last night to see that OPM had already announced a two hour delay for this Monday morning due to anticipated icy conditions on the roadways thanks to freezing rain and drizzle overnight.

So, I gladly slept a little longer this morning (I'm not a morning person), and then mounted my studded Nokian bike tires first thing after getting dressed.

They're Nokian Suomi Ice Speed tires (700 x 35) with 100 studs per tire. They were easy to install and fit very nicely on my wheels.

I'd never ridden studded tires before so I didn't know exactly what to expect in terms of ride quality, etc.

Off I rolled for work mid-morning. The streets were actually in really good shape. None of the big patches if ice anywhere I'd been led to expect by local forecaster scare tactics. But knowing that if I went over a patch of black ice that happene d just to look like wet pavement gave me serious peace of mind.

The ride on the tires was not bad at all. Sidewalls recommended 49-72 PSI. I went with 65 since I'm a heavier rider and knew I didn't need it real low. The tires are knobby, so they ride like MTB tires, but the studs make for a noisy ride. I noticed people on the sidewalk looking over like, "What the heck is all that racket?"

I did encounter a couple overpasses and bridges along my route where the tires were of great benefit. It was slushy ice by the time I went through after ten o'clock, but the added grip of the studs was noticeable.

I like the new tires. I used to dread reports of possible snow and ice because it meant I would possibly have to ditch my bike in favor of taking the train, especially some trails don't always get the same anti-ice treatment that roads get.

Of course the forecast calls for much warmer weather the rest of the week so they'll probably come off as quickly as they went on. But I thank the weather gods for a little extra sleep this morning and a chance to try out the new tires!

Here are a couple quick pics I took at lunch of the new tires on my bike.

Sample size limited, but so far two thumbs up for my new Nokians!

Bring out your dead!

For those of you who are, like me, fans of Monty Python, this post title hopefully elicited a chuckle.

I'll post a link to a video of the scene when I get a chance, Here's a link to the scene for the uninitiated.

In the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an old man, supposedly a victim of the Plague, but not really ill, fights to make the undertaker realize he's not actually dead, and that he is, in fact, feeling better.

I was thinking of that scene the other day, and it made me think about the way I feel about this blog. I got off to a flying start in the fall, but it's laid dormant for a few months now. Well, it's feeling fine and thinks it wants to go for a walk, er, bike ride. (reference scene)

I've got plenty of ideas for new posts and content that have been bouncing around in my head all this time... I just haven't gotten around to posting any of it. Well that is about to change so keep your eyes peeled for actual new posts in the coming days and weeks!

"I feel happy!"