No guts, no glory

The universe tested my new resolve to bike through winter by dumping 8″ of snow on Manhattan. (Far less than the historic blizzard predicted, still a mess.)  The city was shut down on Monday, and other factors kept me home yesterday too, but this morning I suited up and wheeled Monty into the sun and c-c-c-cold (24ºF, 9 mph wind).

I keep his tires pumped to 100 psi. Many experts recommend lower pressure for better traction in winter; however, I realized I have no idea how to let air out. (Brady? Belichick?) No matter – my boy’s Schwalbe Marathons cut through slush like buttah, even over cobblestones.

As I entered the park I could see that the Hudson River Bike Path had been plowed, but a layer of snow and ice remained.

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Once I was out of the shade, though, the path was quite clean. There were a few other hardy souls on foot, and I passed two on bikes.

It’s a beautiful day. I’m so glad I skipped the subway!

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A repurposed cowl kept my head and face from freezing.  I knit it in qiviut, a yarn spun from the downy undercoat of musk oxen, supposedly the warmest fiber for its weight around. The cowl is thin enough to fit under my helmet, just lacy enough to let me breathe freely, and quite warm.

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We made it! Stay tuned for Part II: The Ride Home.

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How to bathe your Brompton

Pop him in the shower!  Much more convenient than lugging out the garden hose. There’s a lot of salt on the roads; I wanted to wash off any stray bits before they harmed Monty’s lovely complexion.

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Don’t think. Just ride.

I had an epiphany on the subway home last night, as I endured yet another dig in the ribs* and backpack in the face. If I’m going to be miserable in winter, I might as well be getting some exercise and fresh air.

So this morning I pumped up Monty’s tires, swathed myself in various toasty fabrics,** and rode to exercise class. It’s not frigid cold here. I stopped feeling chilled within 5 minutes. By the time I got downtown I was already warmed up for an hour’s workout, my mood vastly improved. Yay me!

I suffer from SAD, which is getting worse as I get older. Self-medicating with excessive amounts of coffee and dark chocolate*** isn’t working very well. I’m giving myself a new prescription: BIKE. Stop coming up with reasons not to. While winter cycling can be a tad arduous, I’ve never regretted doing it once I reach my destination.

*I can knit lace on the subway without jabbing anyone. Why can’t people keep their sharp elbows to themselves?

**Icebreaker merino underlayers are great – warm, breathable, comfortable.

***Here’s the upside of working for a restaurateur: Yesterday he asked me to go taste our chef’s new chocolate truffle (bittersweet chocolate shell filled with black olive caramel – sounds outlandish, tastes delicious). Hey, someone has to do it.

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Grey. Winter. Blech.

Poor Monty. I’ve ridden him only once in the past week! When the temperature dips below 32ºF, I just can’t face the wind off the Hudson River. (“Face” being the key word – balaclavas make me claustrophobic.)

So it was a minor thrill to register for the 2015 Five Boro Bike Tour. Last year it marked my first organized long ride. This year, I look forward to doing it again with all I’ve learned, and all the confidence I’ve gained, since. And, of course, to riding with 6 gears instead of 3! My goal is to make it all the way across the Verrazano Bridge.

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Spring isn’t that far off, right?

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Beauty in the Bronx

Waaaay back in October, Monty and I had a wonderful time at the 20th annual Tour de Bronx, billed as the largest free cycling event in the state. Although I’ve lived in NYC for decades, I can count the number of times I’ve visited the Bronx on one hand – and my mental image of the borough owed more to old movies like A Bronx Tale than to the current reality. There are still crime-ridden streets and abandoned buildings, I’m sure, but the Bronx also offers lush parks, stunning water views,  and pretty neighborhoods.

I chose to ride 25 miles rather than 40. The longer course features punishing hills at the end, and I’d been fighting hand issues.  To pad my mileage, I rode there and back, through East Harlem and past Yankee Stadium.

I arrived at the county courthouse in plenty of time to stroll around and find a cup of coffee.

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A nice couple with Bromptons, both toting large front bags, were intrigued by my mini O. We chatted about accessories and city riding.

I spotted Patty Chang Anker, a writer who learned to bike just in time for last year’s 5 Boro Bike Tour. Her courage and humor helped me confront my own anxieties about that ride. (Wow, was it only seven months ago? Look how far I’ve come!) I introduced myself and told her so. She and her husband were delightful, warm and friendly and interested in Monty. Both had ridden Bromptons, but the friend with them had not, so I offered her a spin. It’s always fun to watch someone experience a B for the first time.

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Monty got a lot more attention throughout the day. Two gentlemen peppered me with questions about him and his gear at the first rest stop.

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Near the end, a man called out that his other bike was a Brompton. He asked how I liked the Brooks saddle and admired the Carradice bag. Then a young woman came over to say she was considering a Brompton: Did I think it was worth the price? I encouraged her to go for it.

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The route was varied, a nice mix of urban and pastoral. We rode in traffic, with occasional navigational aid from police officers.

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Isn’t this shore path lovely?

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La Guardia Airport, and the Manhattan skyline behind it.

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St. Raymond’s Cemetery has well-tended topiary and a footnote in history: per Wikipedia, Charles Lindbergh met his son’s alleged kidnapper here to deliver the ransom money.

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Crossing Westchester Creek on the Bruckner Expressway

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Autumn golds

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The ride’s no-cost status was a mixed blessing. Amenities were scant: food and water had to be grabbed fast, before stores disappeared, and toilet facilities were limited to a handful of public restrooms. I’d gladly pay a fee for a little more comfort. The event’s popularity has also grown a bit large for its structure; at several points, the route narrowed to essentially a single file, creating congestion and bottlenecks. It was such a pretty day, though, and the mood so convivial, that I didn’t really mind.

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I’ve learned that I don’t enjoy finish festivals; too loud and crowded. I passed on the commemorative tee shirt, but claimed and devoured my slice of Domino’s pizza. As I was leaving, a man ran after me to talk about Monty’s leather handle. I told him I loved the aesthetics, but suspected the Off Yer Bike handle was more practical. He’d heard that before.

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When I pulled out my cell phone to map the ride home, it was dead. I must have left the camera app open. Amazingly, I was able to find my way with only a little aimless wandering.

The best part of the day was an absence: My hands didn’t hurt! I’ve trained myself to keep them open and relaxed on the handlebars. If not for longish rides, I might not have become aware of the bad habits developed during a short commute.

That’s why I love these events. They offer fresh chances to challenge myself, explore new terrain and  meet new people. I’m looking forward to more in 2015.

Posted in events, my town | 8 Comments

We don’t melt.

That’s my stock reply when anyone says, “You’re riding in this?” 

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Monty and I are not water-soluble. We do, however, get utterly, thoroughly, you-can’t-get-any-wetter soaked. (Jeans may not have been the best choice today. Why is wet denim so…icky?)

We paused at the front door this morning, pondering whether to leave Monty home and take the subway instead. I’m glad we didn’t! All the wimps go underground, and we have the bike path to ourselves.

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So what if I have rain dripping from my nose?

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Love the one you’re with

I’m with my folks at their place in Carbondale, Colorado. Monty is in Manhattan.

Fortunately, my sister keeps a bike here.

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So we took a spin along the Roaring Fork river.

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The swans have been known to attack people passing by, but they were too busy diving for fish to notice me.

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It felt good to be on two wheels, even if they were 24″ instead of 16″.

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I’m sure Monty will forgive me.

A few bonus shots of the incredible scenery…

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Pink Flamingos and a Chocolate Fountain

That’s how we roll in Springsteen territory, baby. Both were on display at the last rest area before the finish of the Twin Lights ride, a tour of scenic New Jersey. Kudos to Bike New York and a team of hard-working volunteers for organizing a terrific day!

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Monty and I left home in the dark and subwayed down to Wall St., where a chartered ferry awaited. (Forgive the blurriness – I was undercaffeinated.)

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While everyone else jostled to park their bikes on the deck, I folded Monty, found a seat and a cup of coffee. It was a beautiful morning, and sunrise over the bay was lovely.

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So was the dawn-lit Verrazano-Narrows bridge.

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The ride started from a park in Highlands, NJ. I had some time to stroll around, eat a donut and chat with other riders, including the only other Bromptoneer I spotted all day. Monty drew a lot of attention and questions; I should start carrying some NYCeWheels business cards.

Bike New York’s communications manager snapped a photo of us.

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The 75- and 100-mile groups started first, and at 8:30 we 55-milers set off.

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I took a cue sheet, but one of the volunteer marshals (all very friendly and knowledgeable) assured me that I wouldn’t need it; the course was well-marked with bright pink arrows, and police were stationed at major intersections to wave us in the right direction. Even during long stretches of riding alone, I never lost my way.

The route was moderately hilly, mostly well-paved and beautiful. I crossed the Navesink River…

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admired the early fall foliage…

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and passed farms, ponds and lush green fields.

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There were rest areas every 10 miles or so, all offering a choice of snacks and a route map with encouraging you are here markers.

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I ran into the Bromptoneer I’d met earlier, and we rode together for a few miles. He’d had a flat tire patched by a mechanic but it flattened again; fortunately, I was able to give him a spare tube, and wished him well as he returned to the previous rest area for help.

Monty’s tires held up admirably. I, on the other hand, started to flag during the last 10 (steep!) miles, and had to walk part of the final big hill, as did many other riders. And therein lies the chief lesson of the day: Pre-ride training is important! (I knew that, but now I know it.) Work and life have been so hectic recently that I missed the long ride I’d planned for the previous weekend and didn’t eat/sleep/exercise as well as I should have. I finished my 55 miles but felt completely knackered by the end.

Second biggest opportunity for improvement: My hands, despite Ergon grips and gel-padded gloves, are still numb and weak a few days later. I tend toward a death grip when riding downhill or over rough terrain; I also clutch the brake more often than necessary. I’m working on behavior modification, keeping my hands looser and more open – and keeping in mind that the habits I develop during a daily commute must serve me during long rides as well.

This was my third big ride, and the most challenging to date. I have so much to learn! But I’m enjoying the journey. Next up: the Tour de Bronx.

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Scenes from a bike commute

Observed on the Hudson River Bike Path –

Woman wearing a bra as a top. (No sign of Jerry or Elaine.)

Man with a toddler in the child seat. He has a helmet; kid does not.

“Look ma, no hands!” guy flies over his ungrasped handlebars. (Yes, I stopped.)

Woman chatting on her cell, bike parked across both lanes of the busy access to Chelsea Piers.

Huddle of people (several carrying American flags), all in green shirts except the one wearing a Chewbacca costume.

Man on a Brompton with a child on his back. Not an infant. Not a toddler. A child.

You can’t make this stuff up.

 

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The Ride of the (Half) Century

I did my first NYC Century on Sunday! It was a perfect day for a longish ride and a fine opportunity for Monty and me to flex  our muscles. I’m happy to report that we both did great.

The 55 mile option seemed like the best choice for me: challenging, but achievable. It was a good decision.  My goal for next year is to be ready for the full 100.

I left home at 6:30 for our 7 am start from Central Park. By the time I arrived, so had the sun.

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I spotted several Bromptoneers I know from NYCeWheels‘ Saturday rides, including Mr. NYCe himself, shop boss Peter Yuskauskas. He invited me to ride with them, which made the day much more enjoyable and kept me on track. There were cue sheets, and Transportation Alternatives volunteers had painted guiding arrows on the streets, but I am directionally challenged and needed all the help I could get.

Look at all these Bromptons! The gent on the left is Peter’s dad Gerry, a lovely guy and experienced cyclist. (It’s in the blood.)

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Monty and I were raring to go.

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We sailed across town and down Riverside Drive. I hit several red lights and lost the NYCeWheels group, but found my way to the Brooklyn Bridge. Riding over this historic structure was a thrill! I’ve done it once before, on a clunky 3-speed cruiser; now that I know how well Monty can handle it, I’ll be spending more weekends exploring Brooklyn.

After a brief detour (did I mention that I’m directionally challenged?) we arrived at Prospect Park, site of the tour’s first rest stop.

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Here I learned the day’s most important lesson: A folded Brompton fits neatly, if snugly, inside a port-a-potty.

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If you want to fit yourself in there too, it helps to be limber. Onlookers were impressed, I think. They were definitely amused.

I found the Bromptoneers again, and we set off  for Brooklyn’s Shore Parkway. No photos of the glorious view, but I did snap these fellas showing off their folders – and their sartorial splendor.

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That’s Peter on the right, Newton in the middle and, on the left, Abel with a bike of his own design (on which more anon).  Note: Friend and bike guru Saul tells me this is a Pacific Cycle CarryMe. Abel’s enhancements appear to be custom detailing, plus training/handholding for his fitness clients. 

We stopped at Coney Island, where several of the group refueled with hot dogs. I ate an energy bar.

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Newton’s tire wasn’t holding pressure. As soon as we reached the Marine Park rest area, Peter demonstrated how to replace a tube in the field. He made it look easy.

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The break gave me a chance to look over Abel’s intriguing bike. At just 17 pounds, it can go anywhere. I took a brief spin; it’s fun to ride, although the light weight and little wheels feel odd. (So did the Brompton when I first tried it.) Abel did 55 miles on this contraption, wearing ankle weights! Astonishing.

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We had ridden around 30 miles. Half the Brompton gang split off to complete the full 100, while the rest of us continued with our 55. The route seemed steeper and less well-paved from this point, but that may reflect my own tiring muscles.

One of the pleasures of the tour was riding along quiet residential streets. The crowd was small enough, and the pace leisurely enough, to get a fleeting sense of each neighborhood. Passing motorists stopped to banter; kids waved and cheered. A man told me my seat needed to be higher. I glanced at my leg, almost fully extended, and assured him that my seat height was fine, thank you.

The Pulaski Bridge took us from Brooklyn to Queens, and on to Astoria Park, our last rest stop. Another rider looked Monty over and said it must be exhausting to pedal so far on such tiny wheels. He’d ridden folders, and he knew. Had he tried a Brompton? No. Well, then. Gerry handed him a NYCeWheels card and we encouraged him to stop by the shop for a test ride. Brompton evangelism, friends! It’s a calling.

Our penultimate bridge loomed. To get on the Triborough, bikes had to be carried up several flights of stairs. I tried not to look smug as Monty and I skipped past people lugging full-size wheels.

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The lift-and-carry routine was repeated on the other side. A brief ride on the beautiful Randall’s Island bike path, a jaunt over the 103rd St. Bridge, and we were back in Central Park.

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I inhaled a strawberry-lemonade ice pop, claimed my finisher’s tee shirt and water bottle, bid farewell to my companions and cycled the last few miles home, stopping for a large iced coffee on the way. What a terrific day!

Post-tour observations:

  • Sixty miles was a good stretch for me.
  • Long rides are best done with company, especially if navigation is required.
  • I was happier without the padded briefs that fit under my cycling shorts. (TMI? Sorry.)
  • Good nutrition, exercise, hydration and sleep are essential. My prep paid off.
  • The next day my legs felt fine, but my hand strength was nil. I need to relax my grip.
  • Six gears are most welcome when climbing hills.
  • NYC has more than one borough. There’s a lot to see in Brooklyn and Queens.
  • That port-a-potty thing. Another reason to ride with friends!
Posted in my town, NYC Century | Tagged | 7 Comments