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..