Saturday, March 31, 2012


Been riding the new touring bike to work most of this week. Three days of commuting. One day of driving (with a 2hr mtb ride afterwards) and one day of driving (rest day). 85 miles so far this week. Far more than I typically ride.
The bike feels good. For a 30lb bike it does not feel like I am dragging much whilst riding it. I am not sure how much I like the bar end shifters though. I find myself either over shifting or smacking them with my knees when I come to a stop sign or stop light. I also think the 120mm stem is a shade too long. Today, I swapped the stem out for a 105mm stem I had on my track bike to see how a shorter stem feels. Will be trying that out tomorrow.

Today is a cold and rainy day so I am just doing things around the house. One of the items on my list is to plan my route for my ride tomorrow.
As a mountain biker, I can't seem to stay on paved roads no matter which bicycle I ride...

Monday, March 26, 2012

where we are going, we don't need automobiles

Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington last year for the 2011 National Bike Summit helped get my mind back on track thinking about bicycling more than just fitness and competitive racing. It took until near the end of 2011 for me to realize the full meaning of what Tim and his com-padre's were doing. That experience and the cause for what they were riding for got me thinking again about my past and my future.

Taking that experience in early 2011, as well as my many other experiences throughout the remainder of the year, got me thinking about what I wanted to do in 2012. My day job has been one large rollercoaster lately, starting last year and this year is on track to be worse. The day job does not allow for proper riding and rest so my fitness suffers. I felt like I was yo-yoing all year last year. I need something more consistent. How will I get my riding in?

One observation I did have last year surrounds my time spent riding/racing my mountain bike for eight straight days. In the various mountain bike stage races I have done over the past few years I have noticed that I seem to get stronger towards the end of the races. As DAN DURLAND said to me, I could start the stage races a few days early. Good idea but I think its time for a break from stage races. 

It was sometime in late 2011 when I decided I wanted to ride my bicycle to the mountain bike races I plan on competing in during 2012. I figured that would build upon my stage racing experiences but on a different level. The only thinking about this I initially did was along the lines of

"I've [raced] multiple days in a row before so this isn't that much different"

"It'll be an adventure."

"If I do anything, it will be turning heads and getting people to think about the bicycle and why we do what we bicycle racers do."

At first blush it sounds both awesome and like a far fetched idea. Hmm, must put some feelers out and see what I get (knowing once I say a word of this to anyone I pretty much have to commit). As a result, I started asking some friends of mine. Almost instantly I received a unanimous

"Yes. Do it!"

followed by

"You are crazy, but I like it!"

With the help of a carless friend (Tony) and the inspiration from another carless friend (Salem, whom never ceases to amaze me with his fitness) and many others I figured out a plan. Carry the mountain bike, race gear and camping equipment via a trailer. Tony found me a trailer for free at the town dump. It was missing the other half of the piece that attaches to the frame so the trailer sat for months while I casually researched how it works. I eventually realized all I was missing was a $9.00 part. My trailer started life shaped such that it can carry one to two children.
I ripped everything off of it except the frame and mag wheels. From there I started thinking of what to do. Tony has a similar trailer with plywood for a floor but I wanted something lighter and more weather resistant. Enter a donated sheet of 12ga aluminum (thanks Rob!).
From there the floor began to take place. I kept the floor as low as possible to keep the center of gravity low. Bolted in place by an assortment of stainless steel screws that go through the metal frame.
Now that I had a plan for a floor. How was I to carry my gear?

Adopting one method of transporting my bicycles on my car I figured I could install a fork mount bicycle tray to the trailer. I could also mount a rubbermaid container to carry my gear like Tony has on his utility trailer. The one problem was all my bike trays are designed to clamp on round cross-bars and I didn't want to add any cross-bars as the more stuff I bolt on the heavier it gets.

Some internet searching and an inquiry into my local bike shop revealed a donated Yakima bike tray (thanks Pedal Power!). While I was at Pedal Power picking up the bike tray I also bought a pick-up truck fork mount block. Trimmed the bike tray to clear the disk brake and I was golden. A toe strap holds the rear wheel in place on the tray.
Next up was fitment. Where do I place the rubbermaid container and where does the singlespeed's front tire go? The Rubbermaid container was mounted as best as I could get centered over the rear axles. It is also biased to the bicycle's nondrive side so I can clear the singlespeed's pedals. It is bolted directly to the aluminum floor with four stainless steel machine screws and fender washers to spread the load out.
The singlespeed's front wheel can then sit on the trailer rail alongside the bike. Three toe straps tie it down to the trailer and to the singlespeed so it will not move and interfere with the trailer tire. The axle skewer is less than a centimeter from the singlespeed's crabon downtube but an aggressive offroad and onroad shake-down ride proved this was adequate without any contact between the two.

The next dilemma was what do I tow this trailer with? My road bike has regular chainrings (39/52) and a 12-27 cassette. That sounds like a steep set of gearing for towing a loaded trailer well in excess of 70miles to an event. After some discussions with friends I decided I needed a touring bike to take advantage of the long wheelbase and wide ratio gearing. Enter the Trek 520 with some full length fenders from High Gear Cyclery.
Given the rear rack and fender mounts on the 520, I had to modify the trailer bracket slightly. I probably did not need to be so generous with clearancing but oh well. It works.

For safety I bolted two reflectors onto the trailer and opted to mount one of my Planet Bike SuperFlash rear tail lights to my singlespeed's seatpost. This places the light in an easy to view height for automobiles. I can also attach my other SuperFlash light to the back of my helmet. I have a Planet Bike Blaze 2watt headlight as my main stay. If I feel I'll be riding late into the night I also have an HID light as a back-up. The wheel reflectors on both the Trek 520 and the trailer mag wheels were rtained as side visuals are equally as important.

Time to ride.

The initial shakedown ride included some offroad terrain as my method of simulating long term pavement durability.
We passed the test with only one action: add one floor bracket near the rubbermaid container as the floor likes to flex under load. That will be as simple as a 4inch long L shaped piece of aluminum bar tied to the trailer frame and one of the rubbermaid mounting points. Minimal added weight.

With this endeavour, time and distance would limit me on the races/events I partake in this year. Distance mainly as I can take vacation days from my dayjob for travel but the longer the distance, the harder it will be on my body. As a result I am not traveling beyond the northeast. No stage races this year. I've pretty much made my own.

The events I plan on riding to thus far are as follows:
~ Up to Boston to do a 70mile dirt/pavement ride/race with T-Hom Parsons (97miles to T-Hom's house)
~ Out to southern NY to the Darkhorse Cycles' Singlespeed-A-Polooza (100-110miles)
~ Down to the northwest corner of New Jersey for the Bearscat 50 (probably 140miles)
~ Non trailer but a bike ride to the CT coast to hop a ferry to Long Island for the Ride on Montak
~ Back to southern NY for the Darkhorse 40 (100-110miles)

VT Gravel Grinder and SSUSA we will drive up to. As much as I want to, I don't have 10+ days of time off this year to ride to Burlington VT and back.

I have a few other events tentatively planned for later in the summer but before I commit I want to get through some trips with this set-up to see how it works for me.

That's the next thing. I certainly won't be 'fresh' for the events but the more I think about this the more I really do not care how well I place in said events. This is about something different. This is about the experience of riding across CT, Mass, NY and such... Racing mountain bikes with friends and then hoping back on the bike to ride home. It is also about changing the way people think about transportation in this country.

Monday, March 19, 2012

bikes belong!

Starting this past Friday up in Boston, Tim Johnson and a posse of fellow cyclists embarked on their second installment of a five day bicycle ride from Boston to Washington DC to raise awareness for bicycle usage and bicycle friendly byways and spread the word of Bikes Belong. You can read more about the history of such a ride here.

When I first heard of this in early 2011 I knew it was something I had to be a part of in some form or another. Not because Tim Johnson was at the forefront of such an endeavor but because of what it stands for. It stands for the freedom of riding your bicycle anywhere you want to go. It stands for the recreation we all enjoy whilst walking or pedaling around our neighborhoods. It stands for a healthy lifestyle and a lifestyle I have continued to come back to throughout my life.

In the mid 1980s I was one of those kids walking and/or riding my bike to elementary school in the central New Jersey suburbs. Throughout my pre-teenage years, my neighborhood friends and I rode our bmx bicycles everywhere we could; through yards, down the sidewalk, through trails we cut in the woods behind our houses to the trails behind our local schools. We eventually graduated to riding our bmx bikes 3 to 5 miles into the closest town for pizza. That first ride into town opened up many doors for us. We found that we could ride longer and further. We also found the most enjoyable path to town: through ATV trails in the woods. The freedom to go anywhere within our means while enjoying the outdoors was the best feeling in the world.

This continued up through high school. First it was riding our bicycles to places to skateboard. Then the bicycles slowly became hung up in the garages in favor for automobiles so we could go skate at the local strip malls or schools. I was drifting away from bicycles and more into rebuilding 1960s/1970s cars. What kept me on a bike was the mid 1990s peak of mountain biking. I rode less but my car took me to some great trails to ride. During this time I also noticed the bicycle rack at the local elementary school was not full as when I attended ten years earlier but now an empty space outside the school. The kids walking to school was nothing but a ghost. Cars lined the streets as parents anxiously waited to pick up their kids afterschool. Something was happening. I even saw it within my own family as my youngest brother and sister rarely made it to school by means beyond my mother driving them.

Away at college, my parents did not let me keep my car my freshman year yet I did keep my mountain bike. As an only means of transportation, I used my mountain bike to get around campus. I found that freedom once again, the freedom to go anywhere I desired. Bike racks were full as I was not the only one who was riding a bike to class. In the remaining years of my undergraduate studies I lived a few miles off campus. I had my car but insisted on riding my bicycle to campus just about every day. It was exhilarating to not have to open up my wallet for gasoline while braving the cool southern Virginia mornings on my BMX bike with a backpack overflowing of books. It was those five years spent riding around southwest Virginia that my love for the bicycle came back.

Ten years later, I am riding my bicycles more than ever and even using them once again as transportation (in addition to fitness and competitive racing). I am not as diligent riding to and from work as I was going to and from class in college but I am trying to ride to work more often. I am reminded by this when I see fellow bicyclists pedaling their way into Hartford in the morning for their day in the office. I am also reminded by this when I log onto Facebook and see blurbs or photos from friends of mine who commuted to work on their bicycle that day.

A year has passed since Tim Johnson's first ride from Boston to Washington and I was not going to let them ride past my house [again] on their way to the US National Bicycle Summit to lobby for more bicycle friendly roads and pathways without me being with them. While I did not sign up to ride the entire distance to DC I did have a goal of at least seeing them to the NY border. Just as quick as the 6am alarm clock rang, I was on my bike riding the four miles into Hartford to join Tim Johnson and the crew who was behind him to ride across CT this past Saturday.

Saturday's start in East Hartford CT

The turnout this year was unbelievable! There easily were over 30 bicyclists leaving East Hartford on a cool, overcast, Saturday morning. Amongst those in attendance were Rebecca Rusch and Greg Martin. I have not seen them since the Transylvania Epic MTB Stage Race last year and they were all the way out here from Idaho. It was exciting to give them a tour of the roads I ride and even part of my bicycle commute to work. It was also a pleasure to accompany them as they rode, out of their element, through urban environments like Hartford and Hartford proper.
Waiting to turn left onto South Quaker Lane in West Hartford CT
The rest of our group at that stoplight.

As we continued west we would lose a few individuals and gain a few more. Riding through Southington I explained to Greg and Rebecca about the East Coast Greenway and its vision to have a bike path stretching from Maine to Florida as well as my usage of said bike path to ride from Hartford to New Haven for my haircut. Greg could not believe such a thing would exist. It does exist albeit not a 100% complete bike path but quite a bit of it is bike path. [Someday we should ride its entire length.] Shortly after Southington we found our first 'real' climb just east of Waterbury.

This time of the ride last year I was quite a bit out of shape and also managed not to eat nor drink much within the first three hours. When the hills came in and around Waterbury so did my energy and spunk to keep up with the group and I often saw myself falling off the back. I did not want that to happen this year so I paid attention to my eating and drinking. Halfway up the first climb coming into Waterbury I realized I was playing the right cards as the climb felt as if it was not there. The hills from Waterbury into Newtown felt the same, like they were not really there. Coming across Newtown into Bethel I felt great and knew I could keep going. While the group did lose some people it was still quite large, mainly the core individuals from Boston, and I felt we were riding very well for such a large group (mostly two abreast with quite a bit of single-file on the busier roads).

With two nature / food breaks behind us we were in Bethel converging on Bethel Cycle. If you have not been here I suggest you stop by one day. A refill of the waterbottles, some food and smiles with Sean, Scott and Greg of Bethel Cycle we were back on our bikes. My friend Dave from Cannondale also joined us as we pedaled a fast rolling pace out of Bethel and towards the border near North Salem NY.
Photo By Bethel Cycle
I think this stretch was my favorite part of what I rode as the sun was out, temps were climbing into the upper 60s and my legs liked the fun filled pace we maintained through the rolling back roads of Fairfield County. Dave and I started planning out our options for ending our time with the posse and taking a train back to Bethel was high in the stack of cards. With Dave's fresh legs and my 70 mile legs I knew it was I who was to make the decision. By now the NY border was so close I had to achieve that milestone just to prove to myself I can do it.

NY came and went by way of a short mile or so stretch of dirt road followed by lots of potholes and what seemed like an eternally busy back-road around a small reservoir. Dave was confident there were plenty of options near us for a rail so I had no qualms with continuing on with the team. At one point we stopped for food and water and were told from there on into Manhattan it would be bike paths. Having just crossed over 684 I knew where we were. We were knocking on the northern outskirts of White Plains. How cool was that? A bike path from northern White Plains down into Manhattan? Part of which is the East Coast Greenway.

This was the point of no return as Dave and I thought the bike path would take us quite far from train stations. Do we carry on into Manhattan or do we turn around and ride back to Bethel? After some deliberation we made the painful decision to leave Tim Johnson and his posse and ride back to Bethel. Painful because the atmosphere surrounding the ride was so positive and no matter how tired you felt you just wanted to carry on with them to Manhattan and share the same experiences as they.
somewhere en route from NY back to Bethel CT

Nevertheless, we said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for letting us tag along and we started riding back to Bethel trying to retrace our path. Once back in Bethel I hung around Bethel Cycle eating some more food from my stash in my jersey pocket and was mentally preparing myself for another 30 to 60 minute ride to home of Ginger's parents where she would pick me up from. Before my body cooled off too much I was back on the bike and heading east. Final destination via bicycle for the day: Newtown CT at about 5pm. Ten hours, somewhere near 130miles, out and about riding and hanging out with fellow individuals that share the love of all things bicycle. What an amazing day! One I will not forget for many years to come.

Last year's ride and this year's ride have changed me in a way. One of those changes I have shared with a few people and will share with you later this week as it affects my mountain bike race season this year. These rides also help bring me back to one reason why I ride/race my bicycle: for fun. My many bicycles over the years have taken me to places I never dreamed I would have gone and shaped me into who I am today. I ride with friends of all ages and look up to just about everyone I ride with in some way or another. This is bicycling! This is fun!

If there is one thing you can do, get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. In a speech given in downtown Hartford Friday evening, Former US President Bill Clinton even urged everyone to put down their electronic devices and go outside. Coincidence with Tim Johnson's arrival in Hartford the same evening? Perhaps.. I tend to think it is a common theme we are seeing here and must follow. After you go outside for a walk or bicycle ride please read some about the organization Bikes Belong and their vision and quest. Please also read about the National Bicycle Summit and how you can make a difference.

With that, I think I am done here for one evening as I must go pack my bike's panniers for my ride into work tomorrow morning. Enjoy!

NOTE: As of this writing Tim Johnson and his crew of fellow bicyclists have made their way to Baltimore MD and will be riding into Washington DC tomorrow morning.

Monday, March 12, 2012

more than just racing

This year we're doing more than just racing.

This spring starts off with two events which are for a good cause.

The first one is Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington. This coming Friday Tim Johnson and a bunch of fellow bicyclists will be leaving Boston on bike enroute to Washington DC. What is in DC? The National Bicycle Summit is next week in DC and they felt it was more prudent to ride their bicycles to Washington. The other intent of the ride is to raise awareness of bicycling and bring attention to the needs of transportation via bicycle and the infrastructure associated with.

I will be joining them on Saturday riding from Hartford CT to wherever I feel like turning around and coming home. Last year I made it pretty much to the CT western border (Cannondale Headquarters in Bethel). Not sure what this year will bring but I plan on riding my bike to at least Bethel. Perhaps I'll make it all the way to NYC? We will find out.

If you feel this is a worth cause and would like to contribute a monetary contribution please click on this link. Thank You!

A few weeks later, Ginger and I will be heading out to Martha's Vineyard to do a 30 mile ride around the island in support of Multiple Sclerosis. She did this on her own with a team of friends last year. I have decided to join her and her friends this year. We are doing this ride in support of Ginger's mother, whom was diagnosed with MS a few years ago.

The ride is on May 5th. I am looking forward to this more than I am the Tim Johnson Ride. Most likely because it hits close to home and I am participating with someone that means the world to me. If you would like to support us via a monetary contribution please click here. Thank You!