Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yet another bike goal reached just before year's end

Sometime back in the summer when I started biking regularly, I thought it would be a fun activity for Scott and me to ride out to Purcellville, stay in a B&B, and ride back home the following day. I mean, it's nearly 23 miles from our house to the end of the trail; there's no way we could possibly ride there and back in one day!

Except, we can. Or rather, I can. And did. Today. As part of my race to ride the distance to Mom's house before Rose's and my six month anniversary, I hopped on the bike and rode the 45.95 mile round trip to Purcellville and back. According to my new computer, the trip (minus stops) took 3 hours, fifty minutes (the full trip time was just over four and a half hours). Less than five miles shy of fifty miles, y'all. I'll totally be riding half centuries with ease next year. But first, I need to chase down that 850 miles by January 11.

I took lots of pictures and have some shout outs for great gear which will go up in a separate post.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Today I am grateful for wool glove liners, insulated boots, and helmuffs. I am also grateful for not wiping out on the icy parts on the W&OD trail. I'm not sure if one should traverse ice slowly or at speed; I chose slowly.

It was 27F with little wind when I left home this morning. My winter ride clothing choices are improving and I had a nearly perfect layering system today. Unfortunately and despite the vents on my helmet, my head is still getting too hot and my hair is pretty damp when I get to the office. I think my only option for keeping my hair dry is to go helmetless and that's not really an option if my husband and my lack of grace have anything to say about it.

Oh! Something cool (in the fun way, not the temperature way) happened this morning. I've never been able to ride hands free. I've lifted both hands off the handlebars for mere seconds, but that's as far as I've gotten. This morning, while pedaling through the neighborhood before the trail, I reached up with both hands to adjust my scarf. It wasn't until I put my hands back on the handlebar that I realized I'd just ridden hands free. Whoo hoo! I tried a few more times on the trail and kept losing my nerve, unfortunately. I guess, for me, hands free will have to be one of those things I don't realize I'm doing until I realize what I'm doing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bike crazy

You know, I keep thinking that I'm the bike crazy one in my relationship, but it turns out that Scott may be as rabid as I. Since his new job puts him back in Herndon next week, he's going to start bike commuting. I suggested he wait until spring, but if the warm winter holds he's going to start as soon as he feels comfortable with the route. He plans to join me on the half century route of the 2012 Backroads Century. He's also started talking about triathlons. And with the thoughts of increasing mileage and tris, we're beginning to talk about road bikes.

Rose and his unnamed bike are comfortable enough, but they're getting heavy with the additions of the commuting/transportation gear. While I would LOVE to get an aesthetically pleasing loop-frame Dutch bike, that style is completely unrealistic for my current lifestyle. I believe that a lighter road bike would help me increase my speed and distance. I want to get up to centuries and trundling along at 10mph won't cut it. And while I know of a woman who bikes centuries on a pink Hello Kitty cruiser with no gears (and in skirts, corsets, fishnets, and four inch heels, no less!), I don't think I'm that hardcore. :)

For now, I'll start researching and plotting and planning and continuing to ride my beloved Rose and stretching out my mileage in preparation for next year's organized rides and then I'll buy a road bike after Rose's one year anniversary. Maybe.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

So spoiled

Can those of you in the mid-Atlantic region believe these temperatures? 50F and 60F in the days leading up to Christmas? Holy cow! It certainly makes this "winter cycling" thing so much easier. ;)

Something that wasn't quite as easy as it should have been, though, was last night's commute. Specifically, illuminating last night's commute. The first rule of winter bike commuting is LIGHTS. The second rule is BACK-UP LIGHTS. The MiNewt.600 let me down when I got to my bike and hauled it out of my bag. Despite allegedly charging all afternoon, it wouldn't turn on for love or money. My back-up light was still attached to Scott's handlebar from our last Christmas light tour. I did have my two white blinky lights which I attached to each side of my front fork in steady mode to provide a teensy bit of illumination and, with the combination of my basket lights, allowed me to be seen by oncoming traffic.

Luckily, I left work about twenty minutes earlier than usual and there was a little bit of sunset reflecting on the cloud cover. Plus, the clouds reflected back a fair amount of the light pollution from the shopping center and car dealerships. But the tree-lined, dark parts of the trail were DARK. I took it easy and had no mishaps. Happily, the deer encounter happened in the light-polluted area and the black cat which crossed my path shot across the trail before I got too close.

My headlight is now fully charged and I will be sure to pack the backup before hitting the road tomorrow.

In non light-related news, I had another realization of my increase in strength last night. Not only did I ride up the 28 overpass in a higher gear, I actually gained speed climbing. Dude, that's huge. I also powered up the last hill to my street. That's also huge. And I wasn't a total sweaty mess when I got home. That's not huge, but it was a nice surprise.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Everybody's biking for the weekend

Okay, maybe that's just me. Anyway, when last we left our intrepid heroine, she had cracked her trusty steed's right pedal. Still, the commute home was easy-peasy. I stopped by Eastern Mountain Sports, since it's on the way, but they didn't have anything that satisfied as I am neither ready nor coordinated enough for clip pedals. Scott and I set off for the Ashburn Spokes, Etc where the store manager led me to the pedal section and made recommendations. I selected the spiky metal ones. He warned me about misthreading the pedals, showing me which was left and right, and said that we could bring in the bike and they'd install them for free if we had trouble.

We had trouble. Neither I nor Scott could loosen the plastic pedals to remove them. Saturday morning we bundled Rose into the back of the truck and took her and the new pedals to the shop. It is both heartening and a little embarrassing that everybody in the shop recognizes me and my bike on sight. The mechanics LOVED the lights woven in my basket and turned them on while swapping out pedals (OMG, what a quick process that is when one has the right tools!) and adjusting my squishy back brake. Scott was looking for something (I can't remember what) and I wound up chatting with another clerk who was impressed as all get out that I commute by bike. I mentioned how pleased I was with my MiNewt.600 headlight and he unpacked a MiNewt.1500 to show me the latest and greatest in headlamp warfare. The battery pack alone was the size of a mini meatloaf but was surprisingly light. I don't know how one would keep their head upright if they used the helmet mount for the light, though.

The rest of Saturday was spent exploring new stores such as Potomac Running (where Scott found a pair of minimalist shoes with a solid upper so he can have warm toes now that it's too chilly to bike and run in his Vibram Five Fingers) and Bicycle Outfitters in Leesburg. Wow! They had a great selection of clothes and jackets and bikes. We both tried on convertible jackets with back vents; unfortunately, they were out of our respective sizes in the colors we wanted. They had an adorable step-through Giant. Seriously adorable. And a beautiful used Raleigh diamond frame with fenders and Brooks B17 saddle for $399. I nearly spazzed and Scott got wistful as his first bike was his mom's Raleigh. It was a good visit.

Sunday was sunnier and touch warmer than Saturday. I layered up, pointed Rose west and rode to Leesburg. Unfortunately, my leg warmers kept slipping down my thighs and I had to keep hiking them back up. Eventually, I found a fairly secluded spot where I was able to swap around my bottom layers. Unfortunately, my legs no longer had that wonderful windbreak from the leg warmers and they got chilly. The rest of me, including my toes, stayed comfy and not too sweaty. Lots of joggers and bikers smiled at my basket with its twinkling lights, hee! At Raflo Park, I left the trail for Market Station in search of a little warmth and maybe some hot cocoa. I found both at Dorner Bistro, a great little German pub, and treated myself to cocoa and the second best fries I've ever eaten.

Suitably resustained, I phoned Scott to let him know where I was and that I was on my way home. Oh, and I might call to be rescued in case I got too cold. Happily, I wound up not needing rescue and the trip home felt much faster than the trip out. I decided to treat myself to a little music and, when my external speaker decided its batteries were dead, plugged an ear bud in my right ear and listened to my Road Trip playlist. I pseudo drafted behind a guy for a while. He kept looking over his shoulder, expecting me to pass I guess, but I couldn't pass him while we were on an incline. Eventually, we got to a downhill portion and I zoomed past.

The Rte 28 overpass is still a bear, but I climbed it without dropping into the granny gears despite being at mile 22 of my ride. Huzzah! I felt pretty darn good when I got home, no huffing and puffing, and I wasn't a sweaty mess. I guess mid-30s with a 10mph wind is my perfect cycling weather.

Friday, December 16, 2011

You take the good, you take the bad

I'm going to start with the bad: I broke Rose's right pedal this morning. Must've taken off too hard at the stoplight. I felt a sickening crunch, looked down, and saw a chunk of the pedal missing. Bugger. She's still rideable, hopefully; I mean, I got to the campus and parked her just fine. Ah well, it's been about a month since I was last in my local Spokes Etc...

The good: Rose is decked out for Christmas.

Christmas rose

I found two sets of battery-operated, old-fashioned looking lights at Target last night and remembered about the wreath-looking candle rings amongst my Christmas decor yesterday. A third of a pack of tiny black zip ties later, et voila: Christmas Rose! The two guy commuters I passed today didn't notice, but the girl commuter smiled at my cheerful basket.

I haven't gotten brave enough to wear a Santa hat over my helmet. Maybe next week.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More cheer!

I keep messing up my husband's gym plans. When I left the orthodontist last night, I noticed how warm the air felt and decided that I needed to get on my bike before the rain and cold front came through Thursday night. I called Scott and suggested we go for a ride through the neighborhoods across the boulevard (which are NOTORIOUS for tacky [as well as pretty] Christmas light displays).

It really was a perfect night for a ride. No wind, mid-40s temps, little traffic, and great light displays. Scott usually suffers with decent humor my desire to drive around looking at lights; I asked if a ride wasn't a much better way to view the lights. His only complaint was that he couldn't drink while riding around.*

*It's how my stepdad gets through touring Christmas lights with Mom and me. He'll have a Sheltie on his lap and a Miller Lite in his hand. It's a family tradition!

Monday, December 12, 2011


On Friday, Scott was trying to muster up enthusiasm to go to the gym. I suggested that he instead meet me on the way home and we could bike through a few neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. He liked that idea and that's exactly what we did.

He didn't want to wait at the proposed meeting place and instead met me a little further than halfway. We nearly passed each other on the trail, but he recognized the Christmas lights adorning my basket. He also mentioned that he could see my headlight from the time I turned off the street onto the trail, a distance of just over a mile. And that was on medium power! Heh heh heh. Another fun thing was that I was able to keep up with him as we rode up the Rte 28 overpass. I've never been able to keep up with him. Yay!

We jumped off the trail at Church and rode the sidewalk down to the next neighborhood. We (okay, I) oohed and aahed at the pretty lights and amusing yard displays. I wish I'd taken my camera, but I'm not very good at taking night shots anyway. The funniest set-up, though, was a yard full of inflatable penguins, snowmen, and a Frankenstein monster with a jack-o-lantern at his feet. Scott didn't notice the monster as we passed and did a u-turn so he could boggle at it as well. On the way home, we passed a Santa on a Harley. Our neighborhood is lighting up even if our street is still pretty dark. If we get another warm snap, I'd like to tour through the neighborhoods on the other side of the boulevard. There's some seriously tacky stuff other there.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


As of last night's commute, I have put 620 miles on Rose in the five months I've had her. Wow. That's almost the distance from my house in northern Virginia to Nashville, TN. Another 230 miles would be the door-to-door distance from my house to my Mom's in Germantown, TN. I don't know if I can get that mileage in before our six month anniversary, but it'll be fun to try.

The funny thing is, earlier this week I thought my mileage was 400, maybe 450 miles. Scott argued that I was way above 500. And that's just on Rose. My total mileage since May -- I was on CC the Schwin from May to 10 July -- is 662 miles. Oh, wait. That was only since I started using MapMyRun/MapMyRide for calculations. There were a LOT of one and two miles in early May as I was getting the hang of being on a bike. So I might be closer to 675. Wow. And to think I was struggling to get out of and back into my neighborhood only seven months ago.

Friday, December 09, 2011

What a feeling

New head- and tail-lights paid for themselves last night. Cars passing from behind gave me a wide berth and cars ahead which would turn left in front of me waited until I passed. I figured that I looked like a (slow moving) motorcycle or something. I waved to the cars who yielded to me. Lighting up the trail was pretty darn awesome, too. I made sure to dim the headlight and dip it a bit when passing joggers and other cyclists, but there weren't that many out last night.

I noticed an odd thing last night. I spent most of yesterday feeling sick to my stomach from either a touch of food poisoning or a side effect of a new medication. In fact, I nearly called Scott to ask him to bring me home. But I decided to power through, and I was a bundle of happy, perky energy when I got home. The perkiness wore off as the endorphins dropped, but physically I felt much better.

The air temperature this morning was about ten degrees colder than yesterday, but with no wind it actually felt warmer. Scott's leg warmer thingies helped keep my knees warm and the only cold spot was the few inches between my elbows and where my t-shirt sleeves ended. Yes, I'm wearing a jacket over the shirt and arm warmers.

I don't do much in the way of daydreaming or fretting during these rides; I am completely in the moment. Watching out for other cyclists and joggers, watching out for cars, watching out for kamikaze wildlife, feeling the chilly air, focusing on cadence. I feel like I'm getting sluggish and the commute is taking longer. I'll chalk that up to the cold and the three layers of clothing on my legs and heavier shoes. Okay, I guess I do daydream about something: if I'm able to keep cycling through the winter, I'm going to be FLYING next spring when I can shed all the layers.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Good buys

My toes have been chilly on rides to work despite wearing two pairs of Smartwool socks inside my boots. I'd ordered a new pair of brown fashion booties from which arrived Monday and were way too small for even one pair of Smartwool. Off to DSW they went last night and I exchanged them for a pair of waterproof, insulated rain/snow boots (by Totes, the umbrella people) that aren't nearly so bulky as my real snow boots. They even sort of look like fashion boots when my jeans aren't tucked in. And my toes (and ankles!) stayed toasty warm with only one pair of Smartwool on this morning's windy commute.

While I was in the shopping center, I was morally obligated to stop by Target to look for navy and dark brown cardigans. No love there, but I did find a pair of wind- and water-proof ski gloves by Champion. The bike-specific gloves I purchased in October are less wind-proof than I'd like and the ski gloves also had wicking material inside. My hands felt FANTASTIC this morning despite the icy wind. I am super duper pleased with that impulse purchase.

"You rode TODAY??" exclaimed a colleague as I passed his cube.
"It's a gorgeous day aside from the wind," I replied. "The only cold parts are my knees."

The fluorescent jacket/wind-breaker and an UnderArmor shirt kept my core warm, long johns and jeans did a fair job for my legs (need to add leg warmers for my knees tomorrow), and my elbow-length fingerless gloves kept my forearms comfy. Wool cap and helmuffs did the trick for my head and ears and the wool cap kept my sweat-soaked hair covered during the exposed-to-elements walk from the garage to my building (and then kept the messy hair covered until I could sneak into the ladies room with my hair dryer). I had to remove my scarf after I got off the trail because my back was finally to the wind and I began to overheat, but it did a very good job when I was out in the open and getting blasted by gusts.

Oh, and the best part about today's commute? No icy patches left over from yesterday's torrential rains. I guess the wind blew everything dry.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Winter biking just got easier

The Nite Rider MiNewt.600 and Radbot 1000 head- and tail-lights arrived Friday night and I finally got to test them out last night.

Oh. My. Gosh. The first phrase that comes to mind is "Do not look into laser with remaining eye". Yeah, 600 lumens at point blank is kind of intense. With that important safety lesson under our belts, Scott and I took the lights outside for a test. I pointed the headlight at the woods across the street. Even with the local street lamps, I could still see the illumination created by the headlight. Scott climbed the hill into the woods for me. The reflective bits on his helmet stopped reflecting at 275 lumens but I could still see the glow at 400. At full blast, I'll be lighting up deer in the next county!

I put my old head- and tail-lights on his bike and we took off for the trail so that I could road test the new lights and also see what my bike would look like to an oncoming vehicle/cyclist/pedestrian. When we got to a fairly dark patch, we swapped bikes and I had Scott ride up a quarter of a mile or so and then ride back to me. Thing the first: my little Bell WO blinkies are NO match for the Radbot on steady. The blinkies disappeared in after only a few feet. Thing the second: damn, that MiNewt is powerful when pointed straight ahead even at 275 lumens. Thing the third: my Planet Bike Blinky 3 DOES stand up to the Radbot's steady glow; I was happy to see some blink action in addition to the steady. Thing the fourth: other commuters (we were passed by four as we stood off the paved trail adjusting and readjusting lights) are using dazzlingly bright headlights so it may just be a part of the commuting game and I'll be giving as much as I've been getting. I'm not especially happy about that last point and I'm going to do my best to keep my headlight from pointing directly at other cyclists' and pedestrians' eyes. On the other hand, I'm thrilled to bits that a whole new world of night riding has opened up for me. This is very exciting.

Something else that will might make a winter bike commute doable is the NVRPA's purchase of a snow plow for the W&OD. Whoo hoo! When I was jogging last winter, I had to change my route from the trail to neighborhood streets when we got snow because it took FOREVER for VDOT (or the local authorities) to send a plow down the trail. I'm not sure how (or even if) all of the forty-five miles of trail will be plowed -- my guess is that it will be for the inner suburbs -- and there's not much info aside from the mention of the plow purchase. To be perfectly honest, I'll most likely stick with the 4WD truck when the snow flies and ice attacks, but it would be nice to have the option of going out for a ride. We'll see if the late January/February winter crazies drive me to purchase studded tires. ;)

Friday, December 02, 2011

UPS wants me to hit deer

UPS is keeping my assumed-to-be-beloved new bike lights and me apart. Woe is me. Woe, I say. I would have used them tonight had they been waiting on my doorstep last night as promised offered up as the earliest delivery date and if I'd ridden to work. It was not the cold (although, it was a bracing 28F when I got up, which would have been my usual bike departure time) that caused me to drive today; nay, it was my poorly chosen dinner beverage of Vanilla Coke Zero that kept me from slumbering soundly into the wee hours just before Scott rose and my own alarm lit up the room.* I was simply too tired to buck up and power through. Ah well.

This weekend, though! This weekend I will light up the darkness and blaze through my neighborhood streets like a crazy blazy thing.

*I have one of those sunrise alarm clock thingies. It's changed my life.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Sunshine on my shoulder

I've been biking to work this week. Yes, it's been cold, but the sunshine on my back, my scarf, and my helmuffs are keeping me warm -- a little too warm, in fact -- on the morning ride. Let's just say that the hair dryer in my desk drawer has been getting a lot of use.* For the evening ride, I swap my cardigan and scarf for the fluorescent jacket and am fairly toasty with that arrangement.

The worst part of the evening ride is the darkness; my little 2 watt lights can illuminate the trail directly in front of my tire and reflective items along the trail, but they're not sufficient for cutting through the gloom. In fact, I almost hit a ninja jogger last night (not even his SHOES had reflective bits). A 600 lumen MiNewt and a more robust tail light should be on my doorstep when I get home tonight. I do think that 600 lumens is overkill and I don't want to sear the eyeballs of oncoming cyclists (or motorists, for that matter), but I like the option of having that much candlepower on my handlebar. I'll probably keep the light at 250 in traffic and then bump it up to 400 when I'm in inky blackness (or perhaps the reverse...). And I'll keep the less sufficient lights in my pannier as emergency back-ups if something goes awry.

*Although, I worry that the woman who keeps using the restroom while I'm changing my base layer and drying my hair may think I'm homeless.