Aftermath and Decisions

Just popping in to report that we weathered Hurricane Sandy fairly well. We ended up losing power around 7pm Monday night and didn’t regain it until 9pm on Tuesday night. Our damage is limited to two downspouts being ripped from the gutters and plenty of small limb debris in the yard. Cable and internet service finally came back last night; our cell service provider is still on the fritz in our area. We learned a few lessons along the way: camping gear and a propane grill mean hot food and cocoa; next time stock firewood for heat; don’t have Halloween candy readily accessible because you will end up eating it mindlessly.

We are thankful for our limited inconveniences and send positive vibes for our friends and neighbors who are still without power, heat, or have significant damages (like the neighbor with a massive tree resting on their roof). Our thoughts are also with our fellow brothers and sisters in New Jersey and New York.

* * * * *

This week was to be my glorious return to bike commuting since my husband is back in town but after the storm, I have been knocked off my rocker a bit. The kids haven’t been in school all week and I’ve spent my time trying to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Yesterday was our 15th wedding anniversary so my husband and I went out for an anniversary dinner for the first time in a VERY long time wherein he shared with me his concerns about my cycling habbit. Mostly time spent away from the family and other obligations, but also that it’s cold and dark now and often my bike commute leaves me physically exhausted (and essentially useless for the remainder of the evening).

He has valid points – as a team, we have to work together and find the areas of opportunity to ensure harmony. I have my own concerns with commuting/cold-weather cycling.

1. I have most of the gear I need for cold-weather cycling but need to invest in a few key pieces to be viable long-term: winter gloves, winter-weight socks, shoe covers, second pair of thermal tights and another thermal (or wool) jersey. A bike light that I can use to See AND Be Seen. A balaclava. Nothing major or seriously expensive but key to layering and staying adequately warm. I dislike being cold very much.

2. I dislike being so exhausted after bike commuting. Heavy Bike Is Heavy. I’ve done the commute on my carbon-fiber bike (which I don’t find approproiate for commuting in that it’s too light) and there is a 15-20min decrease in time spent commuting per day. The toll on my legs is significantly less (although the sweat factor remains constant). And honestly, it’s more fun to go a little faster or to not feel like you are dragging an anchor up a hill.  I’ve groused about this at length so I’m trying not to bore you about it – but it remains my #1 adversary outside of my schedule.

3. And there is my schedule. I’m trying to look ahead and see where a pattern opportunity exists so I can build momentum. I’m rapdily determining that maybe I need to just chill (HA HA) and resume biking to work in the spring. I have a lot going on. I don’t want anything to be half-assed. I need to be able to commit myself to key things for now and allow the bike to be a Nice Weekends kind of thing.

Because my bike will still be there in the spring. And my love of cycling will still be there as well. And hopefully a little disposable income as well to round out my gear. I admit it’s hard to say “yes, I need to stop trying to shoehorn riding my bike into my life right now.” After devoting so much time to this hobby, it hurts to put it on the shelf for a bit. I love the freedom of setting out with friends and not even thinking for a second about where we are going or how we are getting there. I get to be a follower for once!

And no, I’d prefer not to invest in a trainer to try to ride inside. I have a gym membership at work – if I feel the need to try spinning, there is an opportunity already paid for on Tuesday nights.

We have an older home that could use a little cash to repair and improve (little by little), a car that should really be taken in to the shop, kids who outgrow their clothing and shoes before you want them to, and pets. I’d also like to spend some time working yoga back into my life and actually having unscheduled down time. So important in our hectic lives.

 

Anyway, hope to see you on the road soon!

And it’s been a while …

After I posted about giving ourselves permission to not be on the bike for two weeks, I have been taking advantage of being too busy to ride my bike for that purpose. It’s been wonderful, really. I don’t feel anxiety about not riding my bike because I’m getting other important things accomplished as well – like cleaning the house, paying bills, grocery shopping, shuttling the kids places, leading my daughter’s Girl Scout troop meeting and a three-day business trip to Orlando. But I do miss it. It being riding my bike.

The weekend after I posted, I met up with five guys from Philly Bike Club (BCP) for a greasy-spoon breakfast run out to Skippack. It was a lesson in proper layering – while I did good with layering my base, jersey, armwarmers and woolly (with my windbreaker stuffed in my back pocket), I opted for thermal tights. The tights got very warm once we were done with breakfast and the temps were in the mid-60s. The lesson being if you are going to overpack bring your own backpack and next time opt for capris instead of thermal tights. 😀 55miles with 3800’+ of gain means breakfast was well-deserved.

This past weekend my girl friend and I decided to get brunch at Royal Tavern in South Philadelphia. I drove to the art museum district where we met up and then we biked over. I can say an easy three miles each way was as delicious as breakfast. Urban riding is decidedly different from my usual weekend rides – and it’s easier to slip into a mode of rolling stops. Bike lanes make you feel safer than sharrows. And assholes in pickup trucks honking at you are more prevelant. Fortunately I am a fan of being kind to drivers who are not as progressive.

This morning I was contemplating my bike commute. My commuter friend and I were talking about how much routine plays into motivation to ride. If it’s your routine to get up and ride your bike to work every day, it’s less of an issue to simply get out of bed even though it’s dark and cold. When you are sporatic and occassional, it’s more difficult because you don’t have the momentum of routine behind you. To make bike commuting permanent, I would need to fundamentally alter my existing routine. I’m not sure that’s possible right now, no matter how much I’d like it to change. My husband travels for work, the kids are still school-age and I feel strongly that being there for them in the morning is a small way to show them their importance in my life. I’m hoping that will pay off as they get older.

Also, I haven’t been running like I should be. The Lemon Run is in 3 weeks and I’ve been out twice for no more than one mile. I need to focus my time to running or this 5k will eat me alive.

So this post isn’t so much about cycling as enjoying the time off and focusing on other things that are also important for a bit. I’m looking forward to next week, when I will have time to bike commute again. Next weekend is the Philly Bike Expo as well, which I will be riding to with my BCP friends and then volunteering at their booth Sunday morning. Come by and say hi!

Until then, see you on the road.

Baby It’s Getting Cold Outside

Autumn is in full swing and the weather is staying cooler, it’s staying dark longer, and the thrill of riding my bike is being weighed against burrowing back into my down comforter for another hour (or more on the weekends). I have to be honest here friends – it’s becoming difficult to get up early in the morning to ride my bike.

Fear not, my good reader – I haven’t thrown in the towel for the year yet!

My casual rides are going to be gradually diminishing over the next month or so. I still have a fall foliage ride scheduled in two weekends and will be riding with friends to the Philly Bike Expo (I’ll be volunteering at the BCP booth – come say hi).

I’m planning to keep on bike commuting. It’s fun and I really do enjoy it once I’m up and dressed and sipping my coffee. My ability to actually bike commute is hindered by other employment and familial obligations – I am the assistant leader to my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and my husband and I both travel for business. So I’m looking at other opportunities – perhaps I ride to the train station that’s a bit further from my house but totally achieveable in regular clothing – to keep riding (albeit at a significantly reduced distance).

And when a rare unscheduled day comes up, it’s delicious to indulge in sloth. Sleeping in, relaxing in my pajamas and reading a newspaper (gasp!) while enjoying my morning coffee is a most excellent moment. I try not to think about how I really should be riding my bike.

Which may not be a bad thing! I just got this email newsletter from my favorite Center City bike shop, Breakaway Bikes:

You Have Permission to Stop Training
 
We’ve hit October and for just about all multi-sport athletes and road cyclists our seasons are over. Some of you might be mourning the end of competition, while some of you are excited about adding those training hours back to your week. Regardless of your personal position, this is the time to let go and put your training to the backburner for a few months. I know the reality of not training can be anxiety inducing; but, trust me, you’ll be better off for it. Here are just a few things I want you to keep in-mind as you head into your off-season.
 
1.       Rest:  You had a great season. You trained your butt off, your fitness skyrocketed, so you believe that you’ll keep improving if you keep training. Right? Wrong! Your body and mind need time to recover from the stresses of a long season.  Think about how sleep is your body’s way of recovering from the stress of the day; an extended break allows your body to recover from months of training and competition. If you fail to give yourself enough time to rest, you’re signing-up for some serious early season burnout next year.
 
I usually recommend that people take at least two-weeks completely off from their sport. Yes, put your bike, goggles, and running shoes in the corner and don’t even look at them. This might be hard, but I know you can do it. Instead of working out, find some other activity to fill that time. Training got a lot of your attention during the season; now it’s time to let some of the other parts of your life have you back. Believe it or not, taking a break will actually be laying the foundation for training in the upcoming season. Start to integrate other forms of activity back after those two-weeks. Coach Charlie would usher in the off-season with the quote, “you’ve got to get slow to go fast.” These are words to live by during this time of the year. You’ll be back to training soon, so enjoy the break.
 
2.       Eat: Did you regularly pass on dessert during the summer? How about your favorite dish? If so, it’s time to indulge a bit. Please note that I said a bit. You were meticulous during the season when it came to your food. You managed portion sizes and balancing your nutritious meals. I don’t want you to forsake your good eating habits; I just want you to be a little less regimented. It’s ok to add a few off-season pounds, just don’t go too crazy.
 
3.       Cross Train: You took your time away and now you want some activity. Use the off-season to find other ways to stay active. Our sports are very muscle group specific and repetitive in motion. I mean, think about how repetitive pedaling a bike can be. Find activities that will challenge opposing muscle groups. It really doesn’t matter what the activity is, just find something that’s fun and keeps you active and motivated: run, swim, play soccer, golf, walk, rock climb, or go to the gym. Your sport will still be there when you come back.
 
4.       Miss it: A lot of people will ask when they should start back to their sport and I think that can vary for many people. I personally tell people to use a mental test. Do you genuinely miss your sport and are you excited to get back to it? If you can honestly answer ‘yes,’ then it’s time to bring your sport back to your life. I want you to be excited to do your sport and not have it feel like a chore. If riding your bike or going to swim feels like an obligation, you’re not ready. This is the off-season, this isn’t the time to make yourself workout. I think this time of the year is great because you get to rediscover why you fell in-love with your sport…..because it’s fun. Just remember that this is the off-season, so keep the intensity low.
 
This is just my $.02 on a positive way to approach the offseason. I know the pressure to just stay on the gas, but remember that rest and recovery are just as important as any workout.

 

See you on the road!

Urban Adventures

Thursday I decided to join my commuting buddy for the Moveable Feast, an evening ride around Fairmount Park after work. The registration fee went  to benefit the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports (PCAS) and we had several riders from PCAS on tandems joining us on this inaugural, unsupported ride. Because it’s getting dark early, lights were mandatory.

We rode in the morning on our usual commute and it felt good – rarely do my legs feel nimble and light when I’m riding my commuter. He said its because I took two days off the bike; I maintain that it was because I had a cup of coffee before leaving my house.

THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW.

After work, we had about an hour to kill so we rode out to the Ben Franklin Bridge via the buffered bike lane on Pine St. to enjoy the view. I had no idea there was a pedestrian/cycling part of the bridge … turns out it is above the roadway and a marvel of old school architecture.

Panoramic view of the Delaware River and the Philadelphia Skyline from the Ben Franklin Bridge

Dark clouds were looming over the Philadelphia skyline and soon fat drops of rain were falling.

image

The trains shuttling commuters from the city back to New Jersey rumbled below us.

View of New Jersey from the Bridge

On the way back to the start point for the evening ride, we saw a laundry valet by bicycle – a girl towing three 30+ gal laundry bins. Such a cool idea! We arrived back to the ride start in time to check in and chat with some of the riders from PCAS. There was maybe twenty of us. Unfortunately there was also a major auto accident on the adjacent street (up the road) so there was some last-minute scouting to ensure the multi-use path was still open. The 10 mile loop was low-key and fun, if challenging to see the buckles and heaves in the path on the west side of the river.

After the short ride we teamed up with two others from the ride and rode over to the Night Market, which was being held in Chinatown. Night Market is a fun street fair-type atmosphere where local restaurants ply their delicious goods to the hungry masses. It was packed – lots of good people-watching, a DJ on one end and a live band on the other! We were able to find an alcove big enough for four bicycles and devoured some Vietnamese cuisine from Vietnam Restaurant (me the chicken spring rolls with rice noodles; Commuter Friend the tofu sandwich). Then we explored the area in search of a cupcake truck  which we eventually found at the very end of a side street (Jimmy’s).

By this time it’s about 8:40pm and we still have to ride home (which takes an hour and a half and is uphill). We bid our fellow cyclists adieu and headed out back to the path. (On a safety note, I would not have ridden my bike home this late at night by myself. The park is VERY dark and as a female, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable alone.)

This is where you learn that most bike lights are not meant for riding outside of urban environments. My bike light is small and clearly is more for Being Seen not Seeing. My commuter friend has a comparably huge light that cast an adequate amount of light for the two of us to ride closely once we were out of the city and into the black curtain that had enveloped the Wissahickon Park.

Riding at night by the river and the creek was very cool – the water is still, reflecting the boathouse lights and the headlights of cars zipping by under the cover of night. There’s no one around except us and we were able to slide through intersections with ease. We rolled up to our parting point about a mile or so from each of our houses and agreed Friday would be a train commute day.

And that’s how I got over 50 miles on my commuter bike in a single work day. That’s probably the longest distance I’ve ever done on that bike in a single day. Even last year I rented a road bike for a 50-mile day. Muscles still felt good – had some very minor stiffness the next day but not enough to need an ibuprofen.

It was very cool to see different parts of the city from two wheels. It’s so frustrating to try to drive in Philadelphia – but on a bike, you can keep moving and see so many other cool things.

In other news, I am about 278 miles short of my friend Matt’s challenge to hit 1,800 miles this year (triple last year’s total mileage). This feels so achievable as long as the weather holds out and I can keep riding.

See you on the road!

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Super Secret Cool People Club

 

I managed to bike commute twice this past week on consecutive days, which always makes me feel like I’m part of a Super Secret Cool People club. As much as I hate my alarm clock blaring at 5:30am, the dark still cloaking the neighborhood, I know I’ll love the ride in. The cool air, watching the sun come up as we cross the bridge, fellow bicycle commuters with their panniers giving each other the knowing nod of solidarity.

I’m sure part of this is the novelty – I am a total noob in terms of bike commuters having only done it a couple times a week for about a month. The solo commute with two flats definitely tested my resolve … if I didn’t enjoy riding my bike so much, I would have totally used that as an excuse to stop.

This week also featured some drivers who were not using their best manners, of which I’m sure their moms are very proud of them.

The mornings are getting cooler and the dark sticks around a little longer each day. Arm warmers are becoming mandatory. One day I rode in with a base layer (no arm warmers) but was very warm by the time I got to the office. May not need it just yet? Although today’s ride was worthy of both arm warmers and a base layer in the morning … it was chilly!

Starting to think about winter riding and keeping the general fitness level throughout the winter. I’m not a fan of indoor cycling (hence why I have never gone to a Spinning class) … but I don’t want to hang up my cleats completely this winter. This past winter was super mild, which was great but also sad. Every winter needs some doozy of a snow storm.

(wow – I think I totally just jinxed us out here)

* * * * *

Today’s ride was 52miles of hilly happiness, an emu farm, a stunning view of the city from a distance, and a pit stop in the woods. Low speed but good company and a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

 

Recommendations Requested

 

As you my faithful readers are acutely aware, I’m looking to acquire a different commuter bike.

I’ve oscillated between both ends of the spectrum – from “I HATE THIS BIKE!” to “Maybe I’m coming at it all wrong! The bike is fine, it’s just my attitude and perception!” And there is truth to both statements – the bike is a solid bike but is not built to be ridden the way I have been riding it. It’s for cruising bike paths. That’s what I bought the bike for too – to ride with my kids.

Then I developed a fever and the only prescription was MORE RIDING.

Photo credit: kgradiner (Flikr)

The bike has been a little over 790 miles in the past 16 months. She thankfully has tires with a bead that comes off easily so flat repair has been relatively quick. And she’s heavy so I feel pretty stable with my fully loaded pannier. But that heaviness is a killer on the uphill commute home – even with a triple.

I’ve been looking all over for a new ride to add to my stable – the primary use would be commuting and group riding whenever I didn’t feel like taking my carbon road ride out. I’m looking for relatively cheap (i.e., USED) but sturdy; takes fenders and a rack and wider tires for the few miles of off-road travel on the commute. Nothing flashy though – I will be taking her to downtown Philly regularly. Thinking a touring bike may be best?

(I won’t lie – the current bike is AWESOME on those dirt/gravel areas with her wide tires and heft.)

Everything I’ve seen that I think “wow, that’s cute!” ends up being just as heavy as I’m riding now. Let’s be clear – I’m not looking for an ultra-light bike! I want to be able to commute and not kill myself physically every time. Being able to pick it up and get it onto a train easily from a low platform, should I need to, is a bonus.

What would you recommend as a solid commuter bike for a hilly 15-16mi commute?

(You can also tell me I’m just a whiny person and to suck it up but that’s not very productive. I’m going to keep riding my current bike until a suitable replacement is found.)

 

Commuting

This past week I decided to ride my bike to work not once but three consecutive days. This doesn’t seem like much until it’s considered that I generally do not ride on consecutive days based on my other obligations. Next week is my century ride and this seemed like an easy way to keep my miles up without spending my weekends away from the family.

I have to say I love commuting by bike in the morning. At this time of year, the sun is just barely peeking over the horizon, the air is fresh and cool. And the ride is predominately downhill (save for the hills getting out of my neighborhood). The ride in is just a really awesome way to start the day.

The ride home, while still nice, is predominately uphill and therefore more challenging. I look forward mostly to riding with my commuting buddy, not the hills that await us. The conversation is always good.

The first two days this week I rode on my Specialized; the third day I rode on my Felt. Ordinarily I wouldn’t take my most favored bike into downtown without explicit plans to have it with me the entire time, but by the end of Day Two my quads were feeling a little sore and I wanted to have an easier ride. I slept over 12 hours last night. A product of staying up late catching up on season two of Walking Dead this week or sheer consecutive day exertion? Not sure. But I know if I continue to ride on consecutive days, I will get stronger.

I learned that my 17 pound bike felt too light to be riding with gear – but I shouldn’t have a ride that is more than 25 pounds or so because my gear adds another 10 pounds to the ride (Matt, you were right and I was totally wrong). I need some heft to manage my gear and still feel nimble and confident. The search for a replacement ride continues.

I also noticed I make consistently healthier food choices when I’m riding regularly. Skipping soda pop in favor of water and unsweetened tea; spinach salads with lean protein, veggies, and moderate dressing; fresh fruit or nuts as snacks.

I’m sad that my bike commuting will be significantly decreased in the next week or so. With school starting, I want to make sure the kids get the right start in the morning and attend as many evening school events as possible. Hoping to be back to bike commuting two or three times a week by mid-September and as long as the weather holds out.

* * * * *

One of the topics that come up this week was relationships, particularly how to balance between Cyclist and Non-Cyclist. Not everyone feels the same joy on a bicycle as we do – and that’s OK! It comes down to how we manage the times when the non-cyclist thinks we’ve been spending too much time on the bike, too much money on gear, and not enough on them or our other priorities. How does this factor in with the things that are important to them (which may cause friction because you feel similarly that they spend too much time/money/effort on their hobby)?

As much as I want my husband to have a bike so we can ride as a family, I don’t want him to be a cyclist too. It’s not his gig for one. And two, I feel like I spend a lot on cycling now, I can’t imagine doubling it to keep both of us happy. He can keep his gaming habit; I’ll keep my bike.
See you on the road!

 

Maintenance

Because our family has been separated by travel so much over the past six weeks or so I turned down an invitation for a lovely 50mi ride on peaceful roads that included a mid-ride sit-down breakfast this past weekend. But another week off the bike means I am jonesing for a ride like nobody’s business.

So what do you do when you can’t ride? You read about riding.

I recently picked up “Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling” by BikeSnobNYC at my local library (on my bike, of course) and am enjoying it immensely. His wit and humor bring levity to the often pretentious world of cycling and frankly, makes me feel better about myself for not being Super Fast, Super Skinny or my quad’s lack of effective rippling when I walk.

That wouldn’t be scary or anything.

So I get to the chapter that talks about maintenance, specifically the bare minimum any cyclist should be able to do:

  • Flat Repair
  • Chain Maintenance
  • Saddle Adjustments
  • Handlebar Adjustments
  • Wrapping Bars
  • Brake Adjustment
  • a list of your Must Have Tools.

These include a set of Allen keys, a floor pump, and a correctly-sized wrench if you don’t have quick-release wheels. Which of course, prompts me to think about my bike and the few minor adjustments I’ve been meaning to make since my last ride.

As I’m tweaking my handlebars and seat post – in the middle of my living room, much to my husband’s amusement – I’m reminded of a recent thread on the local bike club listserv that became very heated over group ride leader responsibilities and more specifically, should club riders on lower-level rides (D through C+) be required to know how to change their own flats or at the very least have adequate supplies for basic repairs?

(SIDE NOTE: The thread was charged mostly because there was a dispute over whether the group should have waited for the broken-down rider to be picked up or if they were correct in going on after securing contact info and another rider volunteering to stay behind. And before you jump in, keep in mind I am withholding a lot of facts/speculation because a) I wasn’t there and b) am somewhat confused by the whole situation. Interestingly, I had considered going on that very ride but decided I didn’t want to go to the end destination and instead went on a wonderful 40mi ride for coffee with a new cycling friend. That whole weekend was whack.)

I digress!

Can we realistically expect new riders (or low level riders) to know how to do these repairs? Should there be a requirement to attend a basic bike maintenance course when purchasing as a new rider? Many shops in the area host basic bike maintenance clinics once a month … So it’s not that the information isn’t out there. And heaven knows The Google will bring forth most information you seek.

But I’m not really one to talk, right? I am certainly guilty of buying a sweet ride and not knowing how to deal with flats or anything else for that matter. And I was fortunate to be with a great group of riders when I did experience my first on-ride flat. I asked the more experienced cyclists to guide me, since I’m a hands-on learner, and in the end it worked out very well. Can I change a flat quickly? No … But I’ve done it once and that’s more than I have previously. And I always ride prepared with an extra tube, levers, patch kit, and CO2.

Also, in taking with the guys at my shop, I’ve picked up a few things too. Like how to clean and lube my chain and at what intervals. How to adjust my handlebars, cleat position, seat post and saddle. They even showed me how to adjust my brakes and to some extent how to adjust my chain guide thingy. And that’s really where the value is … in developing a relationship with your favorite bike shop. Learning the tricks of the trade so you can maximize your enjoyment. Because the shop wants your business – not your ride in their maintenance queue.

 

In other news, I am pleased to report I am attempting my first bike commute this week. I outfitted my hybrid with a rack and pannier; the fenders and new lights will arrive this weekend. The local shop was having a huge sale so I prepaid and just need installation. Yay! I’ll let you know how it goes …

Specialized Crossroads Sport hybrid
now with sexy new rack and pannier!

See you in the road!