Sunday, July 13, 2014

My first flat tire: a photo essay

Observation: I enjoyed fixing my first flat tire in the same way that I enjoyed shoveling snow for the first time. That is to say, it was a cute adventure because it was novel experience during adulthood, and it happened in a context where someone else would have done it if I really didn't want to. However, I suspect that under different conditions (for either case), I would have ended up sitting at the side of the road in tears.

Introduction: It had to happen one day...
I think it's inevitable for all bike owners to one day get a flat tire, and I'm lucky that my first flat went down in the way that it did: 
  • I went two years before experiencing a flat.
  • When I did get a flat, it happened on my front tire, which was much easier to deal with than a rear one would have been. (For reference, see this NYCeWheels blog post on fixing a Brompton rear flat, coincidentally posted earlier this month.)
  • I wasn't dealing with a flat in the middle of the ride; obviously it must have happened sometime during my last ride, but I didn't get the full effect of it until after I was already home. 
  • I didn't have to get a lot of new equipment, and what I did get, I needed anyway now that I'm commuting on a more regular basis.
Required tools are surprisingly few
Auspicious circumstances aside, I wouldn't have been able to get through actually fixing the flat without a lot of help from the following, to whom I am thankful:
  • The BicycleSPACE staff, who basically told me exactly what to do and what materials I needed get to fix my tire (a patch kit and levers, that's it). They even gave me a little hand-written note about their Thursday "Fix A Flat" class, in case things went horrible wrong! 
  • D, of course, who talked me through the whole process via FaceTime from a couple states away, and calmed me down in various moments of panic.
I got through the whole thing, and successfully I think, but there were many steps along the way.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's the opposite of drafting??

I slept in a little yesterday, which meant that I left for work about a half-hour later than I have been the past couple of weeks. I wouldn't have thought that it would make a big difference, but the traffic along the Millennium Trail was noticeably busier. The part of the trail I ride is right next to a road with a 40mph speed limit, so in the mornings I'm going in the opposite direction of the cars next to me,  and I can feel the "headwind" as they pass by. The worst part is this long stretch starting at the bottom of a bend and going up to an overpass; I don't enjoy going uphill anyway, and adding wind resistance to that--I guess it's a good workout. Here's a picture of the general area (although this was taken in the evening, when it was much more placid):
In the mornings I head in the direction of the green arrows,
while cars are speeding next to be in the direction of the red arrows 
I actually remember dealing with the cars last year since I used to leave later, and I disliked it so much that I found some alternate routes for the first stretch of my morning ride. What is this called, anyway? Not even D could tell me, and he's my go-to source for bike knowledge:
I do know about D's drafting! I don't really mind though because I have calves of steel
I definitely plan on keeping my AM departure early to avoid this unnamed phenomenon!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Riding in the Rain For the First Time (On Purpose)!

Last year when I would do my multi-modal commute, I usually avoided inclement weather and took the shuttle from campus to the Metro. Today, I decided I would go for it, and went for my first real ride in the rain! Not that I haven't ridden in rain before, but that was usually for two reasons: 
  1. I'd get unwittingly caught in a storm, or 
  2. I had no way of avoiding the rain, but needed to be somewhere, so I'd suffer through it. 
I'm actually almost always prepared for the rain. My bag is built to be waterproof, my bike has fenders and mudguards, and my leather seat is usually covered; I keep bright lights with me at all times; I even pack my rain coat on days when there's any chance of rain, which is often in the summers here. I think what made the difference this afternoon was that I finally have a route that I like, so riding in the rain didn't seem like adding insult to injury (which is how I would have described a rain ride on last summer's route).

So, I set off into these conditions (right around the green line at the top, between the two thunderbolts):
I'm pretty sure I experienced the green, the yellow,
the orange, and a little bit of the red
The ride was actually enjoyable, in part because it felt like an adventure. I don't actually ride this route often in the afternoon, but it was pleasant, with minimal time riding with traffic. The worst part of the ride was getting my glasses wet, but that didn't impede my visibility as much as I feared. There was one potentially worrisome point when I was climbing, so I clutched my grips instead of my barends and watched out in case my foot slipped off my pedals; nothing bad came to pass.

My gear held up as warranted. I had never ridden with my coat in such heavy rain, but it performed well given that I had the vents and the top unzipped so I wouldn't overheat--the parts of my shirt that were completely covered stayed dry enough for me to wipe down my glasses. Everything in my bag stayed dry as well, including the items in the rear detachable pockets. In fact, I think the only equipment "fail" I had was the battery on my front light dying, but I had a spare so I was able to replace it (though the battery may be having re-charge issues). 

Anyway, I made it to the Metro and eventually back home, feeling unreasonable proud of myself the entire way.
Rain riding bona fides
Of course, one thing I hadn't considered was how to manage a wet bike in a studio apartment. I usually leave my Globe locked in the bike room, so this hadn't been an issue for me before. I had wiped down my bag and my helmet, and was starting on my frame when I remembered I had my winter boot tray hidden away--it's the perfect size for a folded Brompton! I did a little more drying (though probably not adequate post-rain maintenance, which I should probably figure out at some point), then stored my bike back in its usual corner.

Re-purposed, now a bike tray
Observation: The most reliable forecasters around here are the guys who put down the rain carpets in our elevators at work. I saw the carpets this morning and scoffed--little did I know!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Return to Bike Commuting!

Even though I'm all about errand/transport riding during the weekends, I have to admit that I hadn't really done any work bike commuting until this week. Long story short, I stopped taking the Metro/shuttle and started driving sometime in January, and I had been driving since. I'd been making noises about getting started with multi-modal commuting again, but I hadn't really committed until recently, when my cousin in Chicago started looking into getting a bike (his first as an adult). He asked my advice, got a bike last week, and was riding everywhere! And it just made me think, I can do it too!--which I knew, but I needed that push.

Though I hadn't been commuting, I was thinking about different routes to work. After a few dry runs, I had three-ish options:
  • Short bike commute: Last year I only rode between the Metro and work as part of a multi-modal commute, which is a "short" bike commute in the sense that it's the shortest distance riding (though longest overall in distance and time, if you include the Metro ride). There are actually several ways to go, so I did a lot of experimenting, and settled on a route that I like earlier this year; while it's the longest distance, it's the most pleasant ride, and I don't really lose much time because it has less long lights.
  • Long bike commute: I have this dream of riding the whole distance from work (~15.5 miles), so earlier in Spring I did a dry run (chronicled here). While I survived the ride, I'm not quite ready (mentally or physically) to do this during the work week. There's always next year though! 
  • Intermediate bike commute: I'd been toying with trying this route as an option that was longer than my "short" commute, but more reasonable than my "long" one. It's also multi-modal, where ~4.5 miles are done on my bike, while the rest is on the shuttle between main campus and the satellite campus where I'm located. I had issues finding the route the first time I tried it, but I worked it out over the weekend (described here). I made some slight modifications to the dry run, so I think this is going to work very well. 
Of course, now that I'm getting back into the game, I've got this hot hot weather to deal with!  

More than an hour after my ride, and it remains sultry out

Although I was worried the past couple of days, I've ridden home during what feels like the peak of the heat, and I've survived! (D laughs at me for being surprised.) I've even figured out the combination of routes that I like for the morning and afternoon. I know it's only been a couple of days, but I'm feeling pretty good, plus it's nice to know that I can change it up in the future if I really want to.

What's funny is that over the weekend, before I actually rode to and from work, I was thinking that none of my options were ideal. I was wishing for a bike-friendly street running parallel to either Wisconsin Ave. or Connecticut Ave., and thinking enviously of those #bikeDC commutes through the monuments or along the Potomac or on the nice bike lanes downtown. But today on the road, I really did feel like I had a great ride. I was surrounded by trees for most of the time, and had long and uninterrupted stretches of road almost to myself. Even the segments of my ride that I shared with cars weren't that bad--I've definitely ridden along worse, even when there was a supposed bike lane.

So, my goal is to keep this up for the summer. There are aspects of the bike commute I enjoy less, but that's for another blog post. Right now I just want to enjoy my bike commute high!

Observation: Riding along six lanes of traffic is never going to be pleasant, irrespective of whether there is a bike path/lane.