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!

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Random Biking Notes

It’s been awhile since I’ve been inspired to write anything here, but I wanted to sneak a post in for April 2013, preserve my streak of blogging at least once a month.  Twitter is largely to blame for my lack of blogging, as with my current schedule, it’s much easier to fire off a quick thought in 140 characters than it is to formulate several paragraphs.

I’ve burned through another rear rim on my road bike.  I broke a spoke earlier this month, and upon removing it, I noticed that the rim was cracked in several places.  So, off to the bike shop for a new rim and wheel rebuild.  I blame the trashed rim on Baltimore County’s crappy back roads.  I think I need to put some wider tires on this bike and ride at lower pressure.  The problem is, I can’t fit fenders on this bike with anything larger than 23mm tires.  Maybe I should lose the fenders and buy another bike that I can use in bad weather.  You can never have too many bikes.

While the new wheel is on order, I pulled out my single speed bike, which I hadn’t ridden since last summer.  I used to ride fixed gear all the time, until I threw my hip out spinning downhill, and then I gave it up.  I flipped the rear wheel around to the freewheel side and have been riding the bike that way.  When I first tried that a couple years ago, I hated it because the gearing was too low to pick up any speed going downhill.  Now, I’m not as speed-obsessed as I was back then, and I don’t mind it as much.  Sometimes it’d be nice to be able to build up a little speed in traffic, but it’s a fair trade-off in exchange for the simplicity and ease of maintenance of a single speed bike.

That’s all for now.  Hopefully my next entry will come before May 31.  :-)

Riding in 2013 – Another warm winter so far

So it’s 2013, and I’m still riding.  A lot has changed with my riding routine this year.  For starters, I’m no longer recording ride stats in a spreadsheet.  I am using RunKeeper instead, and it’s been a great time saver.  I still plan to keep track of mileage for each of my bikes separately, though, so I’ll know when to replace tires, chains, etc.

I am also commuting to a new office, on the 6th floor of the Administration building at UMBC.  This requires me to ride the elevator to get in and out of the building, a prospect I was initially dreading.  However, so far it hasn’t been too bad.  The wait for the elevator isn’t bad, because it tends to be going the same direction I’m going, that is, up in the mornings and down in the evenings.  Although the elevators are sometimes crowded, I can wait for the next one and it’ll usually be empty.  The elevators aren’t huge, but the bike fits inside just fine.  Granted, it’s winter session and the campus isn’t crowded to begin with.  My tune may change in a couple of weeks when the spring semester starts.  We’ll see.

And finally, I’m trying out an Osprey Momentum 34 backpack, in lieu of panniers.  I really like the pack so far, and will write more on it after I’ve been using it for a month or so.

This winter has started off warm, similar to last winter.  I’ve been riding my road bike almost exclusively.  The past few days have been wet and drizzly.  A couple days ago, my rear fender started making this insidious rubbing noise.  It sounded like a leaf was caught between the fender and the tire, but I couldn’t find one.  It kept getting worse and worse, until finally I took the wheel off to get to the bottom of it.  It turns out that the silver mylar lining on the inside of the fender (Planet Bike Cascadia) was starting to peel away from the fender, and the loose end was rubbing against the tire.  I pulled on it, and about half of it peeled off the fender.  Now I have a fender that’s half silver and half clear, but no more rubbing noise.  I wonder how long before the remaining mylar starts to peel away.  The mylar seems to be totally cosmetic, and the fender is 5 years old and still fully functional, so no complaints.

Bike Commuting from UMBC to West Catonsville

Once every year or so, I have occasion to bike commute from UMBC to the western part of Catonsville, MD, during afternoon rush hour.  I’m still trying to find a route I like, that doesn’t require dealing with really heavy traffic.

The first time I did this, I took this route:

  • Exit UMBC via Hilltop Rd to traffic circle
  • Proceed through circle and follow Hilltop straight through to Bloomsbury Ave intersection
  • Proceed through Bloomsbury intersection onto Mellor Ave.
  • Follow Mellor to Frederick Rd. light and turn left
  • Turn right onto Winters La. and follow to Edmondson Ave. light.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.
  • Follow Edmondson to end.

This was OK, but there’s a lot of hill climbing at the beginning of the ride.  Traffic is really bad at the Hilltop Rd./Wilkens Ave. traffic circle leaving UMBC, and at the intersection of Edmondson Ave. and Rolling Rd.  Traffic backs way up at the light, and due to the lane configuration, there’s no way to “filter” past it.  You just have to sit in it, and it’s an uphill grade to boot.

This year I tried the following alternate:

  • Exit UMBC via Walker Ave. and turn left onto Wilkens Ave.
  • Turn right onto Rolling Rd., then make an immediate left onto Collegiate Dr.
  • Go about ½ mile and turn right onto Campus Dr.  then make another left to stay on Campus Dr.
  • Turn right towards McCurley Ave.  There’s a paved path here that leads from the CCBC campus to the end of McCurley Ave. in Catonsville.
  • Follow McCurley to end and turn right onto Hilton Ave.
  • Ride through Oak Forest community to Montrose Ave.  Follow Montrose to Frederick Rd.
  • Cross Frederick and turn onto the No. 8 Streetcar Path.
  • Follow the trail until it ends at Dutton Ave.  Turn right onto Dutton.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.  and follow Edmondson to end.

This route seemed OK on paper, but was a net loss.  Leaving UMBC via Walker is better than taking Hilltop, because it avoids all the traffic queued up at the circle.  However, you still have to cross the circle from Wilkens, which is a pain.  A better alternative might be to turn right onto Wilkens and then left onto Valley.  Westbound traffic on Rolling Rd. is just horrible, even for the minuscule distance I’m on it.  Taking the lane here is mandatory, or you’ll be sitting forever waiting to cross.  I was hoping cutting through CCBC would avoid some of the up-and-down hills on Hilltop Rd., but Collegiate Dr. is just as hilly, if not more so.  The trail out of CCBC also has a steep grade.  The traffic at the Frederick Rd. crossing at Montrose is really bad too.  And to top it off, the route doesn’t avoid the Edmondson Ave/Rolling Rd intersection either.  The route does have a couple bright spots:  the stretch from Hilton Ave. to Montrose Ave. is a nice ride, and the Streetcar Path, though a bit bumpy, is pleasant and bucolic.  Unfortunately, these aren’t enough to overcome the negatives.

Rolling Rd. and Frederick Rd. are the two big trouble spots on both of these routes, and there’s no way to get through Catonsville without riding on them or crossing them.  Next time I do this (likely in another year) I’m going to try the long way, and ride through Patapsco State Park to Ilchester/River Rd., and then up through Oella.  This takes me 5 or 6 miles out of the way, but I think it’ll be a much better ride.

The Great Tire Showdown

Summer’s over, and that means that the joys of cold weather bike commuting are right around the corner.  I’m still trying to find an all-season commuting tire that provides the best combination of speed and resistance to flats.  And of course, nothing provides a better test bed for tires than Maryland roads in the winter.

The ultimate tire for flat resistance (at least in my experience) is the Specialized Armadillo.  I’ve ridden a set of these for over 3000 miles, until the sidewall wore out, without a single flat.  They’ve worked as advertised for me.  The only problem with them is they’re heavy and somewhat slow.  I’m not racing with them, so that’s not a huge problem.  But if I can find something a little lighter and faster with the same resistance to flats, so much the better.  If not, I have no problems sticking with the Armadillos.

Last winter I ran a set of Vredestein Fortezza SEs.  These are more known as racing tires than as all-seasons, and they also have the advantage of being relatively cheap at under $30/tire.  The Vredesteins rode well, but the back tire only lasted around 2000 miles before it started flatting on me regularly (the front tire is still going strong).

After buying a second bike this past summer, I now have 2 bikes to use for commuting, so this winter I’m putting 2 different tires through their paces:  Continental Ultra Gatorskin on the road bike, and Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase on the fixed gear/single speed bike.  Both sets are 700x23C, and both are new as of this writing.  I’ll be running both sets at 110psi, give or take.  NB – I never seem to get flats on the front tire, so I’m only comparing performance for the back tires.  The fixie has a set of 2 Bontragers, and the road bike has a new Continental on the back and an older Vredestein on the front.

It’ll take a little more time to get the results in, as I’m now splitting my commutes across 2 bikes, so it’ll take longer to rack up miles on the tires.  But I’m looking forward to seeing which tire lasts longer under similar conditions.  Took my first ride on the Continental this morning, and surprise surprise, it rides a lot faster than the Armadillo it replaced.  Stay tuned!