All posts by votsek

About votsek

A bicycle tourist since 2010, I enjoy sharing my experiences and advocating for bicycle touring. My bicycle is a Surly Long Haul Trucker that I have owned since 2012. I have done both self-supported and supported tours.

Why I am Ditching My Brooks Saddle

In July 2019 I did my annual Cycle the Erie Canal ride with Parks and Trails New York. There was no need for me to hail “On your left” or “Passing” because my Brooks B17 was squeaking loudly with each pedal stroke. It sounded like a new pair of leather loafers. I was willing to endure the squeaking until maintenance unrelated to the saddle informed a different opinion.

That happened later in the year long after the Erie ride when I replaced my wheels and hubs because my rear hub bearings were gone. As a result I was very conscious of bearings and aware that I have never serviced my bottom bracket. On the test ride with my new hubs I heard another new sound, a metallic creaking noise that came from under my seat. Since it happened in rhythm with my pedal strokes my mind immediately turned to my bottom bracket.

I rationalized that it may be something that was easy to repair such as my pedals. That was quickly dismissed when I realized that the pedals spun easily and quietly. The bottom bracket also seemed smooth and quiet when operated on the rack. I was not going to take anything apart or spend any money until I confirmed a legitimate problem.

It was not long before I discovered the culprit. As I was riding a local trail I was experiencing the creaking noise. I stopped pedaling for a moment and adjusted my position on the saddle by moving slightly to one side. As I did the saddle made the creaking sound. I shifted back and forth and got creak-creak-creak-creak.

Now I am thinking that I may be done with this saddle. My son and I both experienced Brooks seat rail failures where the supporting rail cracked and broke, making it necessary to replace the saddle. Sending an email to Brooks only had the effect of getting me onto the Brooks email list.

I replaced my saddle with another Brooks and I have been riding it for about two years and about 6000 miles. It has been regularly treated with Neatsfoot Oil to condition the leather. It has always been covered as needed to protect it from moisture. Although I cared for the saddle, I now have the continuous sound effects that distract from hearing things that may actually be wrong.

It may be possible to fix the problem by taking it off the bike and doing some things to it. For example, I thought of soaking the underside of the leather with Neatsfoot Oil. Perhaps I could oil the mating metal parts. You know what? That is too much trouble to go through for a stinking saddle. Besides, I have never been convinced that it is the most comfortable saddle in the world.

My plan at this point is to leave the Brooks cult and go with the Terry Liberator. The shape of the Liberator is very similar to the Brooks B17. I have many stationary trainer miles on a Terry Liberator and I find it as comfortable as my Brooks B17 for long periods of time on the saddle. It will no longer be necessary to condition the leather or tighten the screw thingy. It will not be necessary to cover the the saddle religiously to protect it from rain or dew. Most importantly I will be able to ride in peace and quiet.

Bicycle Wheel and Hub Replacement

It was time to replace the chain on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I replace the chain every 2000 miles based on personal chain wear data. The distance between chain changes is probably different for everybody based on riding and lubrication habits. For me this distance has extended the life of my cassette.

Since the cassette had 6000 miles on it I decided to inspect it carefully. From the side the cogs had nice square tops and the spaces in between the cogs were not worn. From the top, however, I thought that the cogs were worn thin. When shifting gears the chain slides up the sides of the cogs, causing wear after some time. In my opinion it was time to change the cassette to avoid potential cog breakage. That would be cogs snapping off due to the wear.

After removing the wheel I spun the axle with my fingers and to my surprise I found that the hub bearings felt rough and had significant drag. I was surprised because I had myself convinced that just spinning the wheel on the bike, observing the spin duration and smoothness, was good enough to test the bearings. The problem with that is the rim, tire, and tube have enough mass that the wheel will spin and look fine even with bad bearings. The best test is to remove the wheel from the bike and to turn the axle with your fingers so that you can feel any roughness or drag. The axle should turn freely and there should be no side play. Mine felt like they were grinding. It was time for new wheels and hubs.

I have been criticized for my lack of interest in periodically taking the hubs apart, cleaning them, and re-greasing. I have never done that. My approach is still defensible. I have 17,000 miles on my worn hubs. In addition, the rim walls are worn thin by the rim brakes after all this time. Rim failure due to this wear is possible and after a long period of use the wheels and hubs should be replaced anyway.

Servicing hubs regularly seems like a big waste of energy since they last a long time. The challenge is to find someone who was able to extend the life of their wheels and hubs to, say, 30,000 miles by taking them apart every few thousand miles. With rim brakes there is a very good chance of rim failure before reaching 30,000 miles.

Now my Surly LHT has new wheels and hubs. I purchased wheels with Shimano Deore hubs, which are the same Shimano product line that came as original equipment on my LHT. The initial ride with my new wheels was unremarkable. I could not feel any difference in performance. The real difference is that I will not need to worry about hub failure for some time to come.

This episode has me thinking that after 17,000 miles, maybe I should take my bottom bracket apart to inspect it in detail. Stay tuned.

C & O and GAP Bicycle Tour 2019

This route is familiar to me since I have done it once from Pittsburgh to DC self-supported and three times from DC to Pittsburgh with Adventure Cycling. One of the tour staff asked my why I like the route. There are two answers. First, at 73 years old this ride is one of my benchmarks. From year to year I am able to complete the ride and my performance on the ride is similar each year. Performance is something that I measure each time that I ride, including average moving speed and elapsed time. Moving speed is the best performance measurement for me and I have been consistent year after year, averaging nearly 11 miles per hour. Decreasing elapsed times only indicate that I am less interested in the stops along the way and more interested in riding.

The second answer is that it is a beautiful route and is almost completely off-road on trails, even accounting for the poor quality of the C&O trail in many places. The route follows the Potomac, Casselman, Youghiogheny, and Monongahela rivers all the way to Pittsburgh. Most of the route is quiet and heavily wooded with the only sounds being the wind and the running water. The exception is the occasional sound of the CSX trains running on the tracks that parallel the trails. With Adventure cycling we also stay at some wonderful campgrounds, including the Brunswick Family Campground, Snug Harbor KOA, Little Orleans Campground, Husky Haven Campground, and the Uniontown KOA.

The Adventure Cycling tour began on Sunday and that left Saturday for me to accomplish something that I have tried and failed on previous trips. That is to ride the Mount Vernon Trail all the way to Mt. Vernon and back. One year the attempt was interrupted four miles into it by a call from my wife asking me to come home because we had a flood in the basement. Another attempt was interrupted within two miles of the objective by a heart arrhythmia event that I have since brought under control.

My Bicycle on the Mount Vernon Trail

The Mount Vernon Trail is a mixed bag of features. Much of the ride is a lovely route along the Potomac. As many trails, however, this one is in disrepair along several long sections. Tree roots and frost heaves make it a very rough ride in spots. On the plus side, you go through Old Town Alexandria and end at Mt. Vernon. The ride through Old Town Alexandria is on road, but the distance is short and it is reasonably safe for bicycles. The end of the trail at Mt. Vernon has plenty of place to lock the bicycle while touring the park. I spent over an hour there walking the grounds and watching the people. The ride to Mt. Vernon from the Hilton in Crystal City and back was a little over thirty one miles.

The Adventure Cycling tour began on Sunday and the weather was beautiful all the way to Pittsburgh. There was one small detour on the first day due to the Potomac River and tributaries flooding the previous year. The detour was a short walk down to a creek bed, over the creek on a temporary wooden bridge, and back up the other side. In general, the C&O is in surprisingly good condition given the flooding last year.

The Potomac River

The Western Maryland Rail trail was a welcomed stretch of paved trail parallel to the C&O that took us over 20 miles on the third day to our camp at Little Orleans. The trail has been extended about five miles since the last time I rode it. It is always a treat to get off the bumpy C&O for a few miles. I pushed my speed a little to hard on this stretch and needed to deal with some leg soreness for the next two days.

Pavilion at Little Orleans Campground

The worst part of the C&O in my opinion is the forty mile section from Little Orleans to Cumberland. While it didn’t deter my speed, it has many bumps from tree roots, muddy holes, and uncomfortable dips that are sometimes difficult to detect. For me it is a tedious stretch of bad trail. It is surprising that the National Parks Service has prioritized resurfacing on southern sections of trail. It is surprising because most bicycle tourists ride from Cumberland to DC rather than DC to Cumberland. Their first experience with the C&O is on that rough section of trail. It would be a better strategy to give riders a good experience for the first forty miles rather than a bad one.

Trail through Cumberland

Cumberland to the Continental Divide is a 1.4% grade for twenty two miles. Riders on the tour anticipate this grade with some anxiety, although that is unfounded. The advice is always to find a comfortable pace that you can maintain for that distance. Very few people actually struggle when they finally ride the grade. It is not that bad. The reward is that once past the summit it is mostly downhill to Pittsburgh.

The final fifty six miles from camp near Connellsville to Pittsburgh also gets people nervous, but nervous about the timeline rather than the grade. The goal for Adventure Cycling is to depart Pittsburgh at two in the afternoon for the trip back to Crystal City. Most people use Crystal City as the final end point for travel back to home. If you average ten miles per hour and leave Connellsville by 7:30 AM and if you do not stop along the way, you get to Pittsburgh at about 1:00 PM. You will probably want to stop at the two rest stops along the way for hydration and some food. Those stops begin to cut into your one hour margin.

Riders use a number of personal strategies to get to Pittsburgh in plenty of time. One of them is to get driven to or from one of the rest stops by the ride staff. The first time I did the ride with Adventure Cycling in 2015 this approach led to an interesting situation.

That year I left camp in Connellsville at about 7:45 AM and I thought that I left a few riders behind at camp. At the first rest stop I passed another rider or two. At the second rest stop I passed at least two more riders. When I was about ten miles from the end in Pittsburgh, Don, the Adventure Cycling sweep rider, caught up with me. I was the last rider on the trail!

This year I arrived in Pittsburgh at about 12:50 PM and when I arrived I noticed riders who were already there that I had left at camp. After changing clothes in the changing tent that was set up in the parking lot I called Uber for my ride to the airport to pick up my rental car ride home. I locked my bicycle to a guard rail in the parking lot, picked up my rental, and returned to get my bike.

For me, every multi-day tour that I complete is an achievement. My Surly Long Haul Trucker established another mileage milestone on this tour, passing 17,000 miles as I rode toward Pittsburgh. I have recorded every mile ridden on that bike since I began touring on it in 2013.

The familiarity that I have with this route from DC to Pittsburgh is somewhat satisfying. For that reason I have a feeling of loss when the tour comes to an end. It has repeatedly been a memorable experience for me and I highly recommend the route for bicycle touring.

For more details on the route, see my YouTube GAP and C&O Towpath Travelogue.

Water Proof Your Old Tent

I have had my tent, an REI Quarter Dome Plus, for about seven years and it has been used on many tours during that time. This summer when I was camping in Rome, NY, I experience a heavy rain and some water leaking through in some places on the floor of my tent. It was pitched properly and it was on a hillside. The problem was that the water proofing in the tent floor and ground cloth were showing their age.

At first I thought about buying another tent. A tent of similar quality was going to be expensive. After some research I decided to treat my tent using some cleaning and water proofing products from NIKWAX.

I used NIKWAX Tech Wash for cleaning and Tent & Gear Solarwash for waterproofing. To clean the rainfly I threw it into our front loading clothes washer with about 3.5 ounces of Tech Wash. I used cold water and slow spin. I used about 1.5 ounces in a bucket of water in the sink to wash and rinse the ground cloth. I also mixed about 1.5 ounces in a bucket to do the tent floor. Placing the tent with the bottom up on our patio, I used a sponge to wipe the bottom with the Tech Wash solution. You want to wipe, not scrub, to avoid damaging the material. I used a garden hose to rinse.

The tent floor is about 8′ x 4.5′. That is important because the size determines how much Tent & Gear Solarwash is needed. I used almost all of two 17 ounce bottles. Instead of using the squeeze spray that came with the bottles, I used an airless sprayer to coat the outside surfaces of the tent bottom, ground cloth, and rainfly. While not necessary, the airless sprayer made application much easier and provided an even coat.

The Solarwash is applied while the materials are wet from washing and rinsing. Beads of Solarwash form as the materials are drying. The directions recommend wiping up those beads as they are drying. That is a good idea since the beads would take quite some time to dry and since wiping with a sponge also acts to spread the Solarwash coating.

The process did not create much of a mess and everything dried quickly in the sun on a 75 degree day. Of course, I still need to do a quality check by actually using the tent on a tour. I’m confident because NIKWAX has a good reputation.

Erie Canal Ride 2019

Each year I find new ways to enjoy the annual Cycle the Erie Canal event provided by Parks and Trails New York. This was my seventh year on the ride with PTNY. In past years I have enjoyed the history, sights, and towns on the route. This year my emphasis was personal performance. I wanted to decrease my elapsed time each day on the route and improve my average moving speed for the week.

This was the fourth year that my son, Eric, joined me for the ride. We have a lot of fun together and we have several ride traditions that we try to maintain. He rides much faster than I do, but we have a lot of time in camp in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

As usual, we arrived in Buffalo on Friday, 5 July, before the Saturday registration. We planned to park our car in Albany on Friday and drive a one-way rental to Buffalo. The approach supported by PTNY is to park in Albany and take the PTNY shuttle to Buffalo on Saturday morning. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but it led to an interesting series of events for us.

The parking situation in Albany changed and PTNY didn’t anticipate Friday arrivals. The PTNY email gave an address for parking and directions to follow signs to the “Dutch Quad”. When we arrived at the address we could not find the Dutch Quad and nobody knew where it was. Eric happened to find a phone number as he searched the Internet for answers. The number was for the campus parking office that luckily was open on the day after the holiday.

The woman in the office gave us a new address that was at least three miles farther out from downtown Albany. The new address was a general address for what happens to be a large SUNY Albany campus. Once we arrived we called again to get directions to the parking office..

Once we found the parking office we explained to the woman at the desk that we were told that there would be a $35 fee to park for the week. She didn’t have any knowledge of that arrangement, but shared that parking enforcement and tickets were suspended for the week. The only fee that she could collect was a $5 for the current day. We left the car parked on the Dutch Quad parking lot with our one-day sticker, thinking that when we returned the car might be impounded.

In Buffalo on Saturday we arrived at the camp ground at Nichols School and I returned the rental, hopping an Uber back to the camp ground. We set up our tents just before the skies opened up and poured rain until mid afternoon. In previous years Eric and I have taken the Buffalo tour to pass the time and enjoy the sights of Buffalo. Each year the tour has taken a slightly different route, always ending up at the water front to relax and eat. This year the tour departed on time at 10 AM in driving rain. There were about a dozen riders who didn’t mind getting soaked, but we reasoned that if we got that wet, we would not be able to dry our clothes until we arrived in Rome. We sheltered under the large dining tent that was set up at the site.

Under the tent we met Volunteer John. John talked about his folding bike, purchased for $200, that he would ride as a bike SAG person. Conversation turned to food and he vowed that he would try roast beef on weck while in Buffalo. According to him, roast beef on weck is as Buffalo as wings.

Roast beef on weck lunch in Buffalo
Roast Beef on Weck

The skies cleared slightly and John went to a meeting. Eric found a deli a few blocks away. We decided to try it since it had good reviews and we were hungry. To our delight the menu included roast beef on weck and we both ordered the same. The first bite revealed the unpleasant fact that it was extremely salty. The weck was like a hamburger bun, but a little more firm, and caked on the top with rye seed and salt. Neither of us will endorse roast beef on weck.

On Sunday we rode to Albion for the first leg of the route. On the way through Medina Eric and I stopped at one of our favorite diners, The Country Club Diner on Main Street. It has always been one of our favorite stops and we had a breakfast meal at about noon. After eating we rode the last four or five miles to the fairground in Albion, home of the world’s largest apple pie, where we would camp with the group.

Annual restaurant stop in Medina, NY
Country Club Family Restaurant in Medina NY

On Monday we rode to Fairport with a mandatory stop in Pittsford at Artisan Gelato. On Tuesday the route took us through Clyde before turning south toward Seneca Falls. This was the first day with significant miles on the roads. I dreaded the first hill out of Lyons until I got there and zoomed up at a good speed. Eric and I remember riding up this and other hills, passing other riders struggling to pedal up. There were only a few other riders around as I made my way up and down the hills to Seneca Falls. My guess is that since I was riding a little more aggressively, I was near the front of the group and traveling among better riders.

After turning south I stopped at a lemonade stand run by two young Amish women. As one poured my lemonade the other held up a small black notebook and asked if I knew anybody who might have lost it. I said, “No” and asked “So, somebody left this earlier today?” She replied, “No, last year. The woman who left it mentioned that she was on the ride before and that she was taking notes so that she could talk about things that happened.” I volunteered to take the notebook and to try to find the owner at camp.

The first official ride person that I saw in Seneca Falls was Suzanne, a car SAG volunteer. I told her the story about the notebook and she took my name. She said that I could talk about this at the meeting on the final evening of the ride. I wasn’t sure what this meant and found out days later.

Rider luggage in Seneca Falls, NY
Rider luggage in Seneca Falls, NY

At dinner time we hopped the shuttle to downtown Seneca Falls with our friend of past rides, Cape Cod Mike. Our destination was Parker’s, a favorite among Erie riders. There we met Marty, a semi-retired child psychiatrist in his eighties, and his companion, John, a retired trauma neurology surgeon, also in his eighties. There was entertaining conversation, especially since Marty had a number of colorful athletic accomplishments from his early years, including playing Italian professional baseball.

Sadly, the following day after arriving in Syracuse we learned that Marty and John dropped out, finding the ride too demanding. I couldn’t help but think that an electric assist bicycle is perfect for people like them who want to remain active and experience a ride like this. That’s my plan, although at present I am very able and don’t feel the need for an assist.

In camp in Syracuse, NY
Mike, Eric, and Me in Syracuse

Leaving Syracuse always tests your abilities as a cyclist. The route to rejoin the trail features several relatively steep hills. Since I have experience this before on other trips, I rode conservatively on the first few hills, being passed by at least two overly enthusiastic riders. It delighted me to pass them riding up some of the later hills.

We arrived at Fort Stanwix in Rome in early afternoon. As usual, Eric arrived about an hour before me and I could always count on him to carry my bags to our camp site. We both used the coin laundry near the park to refresh our riding clothes. Eric bought a pizza and we decided to save half of it for breakfast the next morning.

At about 5 PM Eric, Mike, and I strolled to the Savoy for dinner. We were all stoked to try chicken “riggies”, a Rome specialty. All three of us enjoyed a plate of chicken riggies and each of us took a box of riggies left overs back to camp.

Dinner in Rome, NY
Chicken Riggies in Rome NY

Breakfast in Rome is usually served in a YMCA that is not far from camp. We looked forward to our alternative before we left the camp site. Eric and I had a slice of pizza and our left over chicken riggies before leaving camp. The pizza was a little dry, but the riggies were excellent! We were well fueled to hit the trail to Canajoharie.

Once in Canajoharie everybody must face the ascent to the high school that is at the highest point in town. The hill up to the school has grades of over 6% for a distance of half a mile. I chose a “sneak” path that stretches the distance by about a quarter mile,. moderating the grade somewhat.

At the school a local group was offering ice cream sundaes and root beer floats. I enjoyed a root beer float while cooling off before my shower. Eric and I sat under the pop-up tent near the welcome tent until it was time to hop the shuttle to the Arkell Museum for dinner. The barbecue chicken dinner at the museum by Brooks BBQ was excellent.

It was under the pop-up in Canajoharie that I learned that I was an act in the talent show that is always a part of the final evening activities. I laughed because I didn’t have an act: I had a lost black notebook and I promised to try to find the owner. The show announcement poster called my act “Lost and Found”. Suzanne, the person that I told about the black book in Seneca Falls, happens to be one of the principle organizers of the talent show.

On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the high school. This was probably one of the better breakfasts. What I like best was the server by the bacon with the tongs who asked, “Load up?” Of course! He grabbed about eight slices of freshly cooked bacon and dropped them on my plate. We watered at the water horse and departed for our last camp in Niskayuna. The trail from Canajoharie to Niskayuna has been improved a lot during recent years. Still, there is some significant maintenance that needs to be done. We encountered rough pavement and about five miles of rough horse hoof prints on part of the stone dust trail.

The high point of this Saturday ride is the cookout at the Pattersonville Volunteer Fire Department. Eric passed the site so early that they were not yet set up. I arrived in mid-morning when they were just getting started. I enjoyed a hot dog and a drink before topping off my water bottles and getting back to the route.

Lock 8 on the route to Niskayuna NY
Lock 8 Near Schenectady NY

Eric and I both arrived at our camp, the Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna, very early in the day. As usual Eric arrived an hour before me averaging about 15 miles per hour! The family that runs the food concession at the JCC set up a table and sold pulled pork, pulled pork cole slaw and corn chip salad, and chicken wings. Eric and I ate our fill. We enjoyed their food so much that we ate little of the catered dinner that evening.

After dinner there were a few announcements and credits to staff and volunteers. When those were completed the talent show started. I was finally called to “perform” late in the show amd I began by telling the story of the lemonade stand. I read one of the notes in the book about someone forgetting to put film in a camera and shooting filmless frames for a day. The notebook also had a story about the author making a bad turn and ending up in a bank drive-through teller lane. The writer went on to say that the lane had a notice that the maximum vehicle height was 10′-5″ and the windshield of the truck she was driving warned it’s height was 10′-6″. I realized that the author must have been a ride volunteer driving one of the rest stop box trucks. They have a height of 10′-6″. She wrote, “I wonder of Al bought damage insurance.” Al is the ride director. One of the show principles rose and said, “That’s mine!” She snatched the notebook from my hand and I quickly got the hook.

Later, Eric, Mike, and I discussed our plan for Sunday, the final day of the trip. All of the end-of-ride arrangements in Albany were new. The parking situation and the end point were unknowns. It seemed there was the possibility of a lot of congestion and confusion. We talked about alternatives. Mike had the idea of riding his bicycle to the parking area, 13 miles away, instead of the finish point, 26 miles away. We retired to our tents after discussing alternatives.

In the morning Eric and I decided I would hop an Uber to the parking lot and he would wait for me at the JCC. We found Mike and he joined me for the ride to the parking lot. He figured that the bicycle ride to the parking lot might be risky since it was a route that was new and unknown.

We arrived at the Dutch Quad and my car was still there. I managed to park for the week for $5 and not get impounded. It was a short ride back to the JCC where we packed and headed home, saying goodbye to Mike until next year.

My average elapsed time on the route this year was five hours each day and my average moving speed was 12.3 miles per hour for the entire ride. Total miles this year on the ride was 357. My mileage usually exceeds 400 because of the Buffalo tour and the ride into Albany on the final day. The mileage on my Surly Long Haul trucker advanced to 16,190 miles and still going strong.

I look forward to doing it all again next year.

Apollo Bicycle Memories

Today I was reminded of my very first bicycle tour in 2012. It was a self-supported ride from Buffalo to Albany along the Erie Canal. All of my camping gear was new, purchased at REI after careful research. The weak link was my bicycle.

I was nostalgically attached to that bike because of the history that I had with it. At the time I bought it in 2010 I was living and working near London in Uxbridge. I purchased it for about $200 and toured around London with it every Sunday. It was an Apollo, a brand carried by Halfords, one of the UK auto supply chain stores. This was not a carefully researched purchase and at the time I didn’t know that bicycle touring was a thing.

After working in London for three months I moved back to the United States. I had the Apollo shipped back with me. While in Uxbridge the bike took me along the Grand Union Canal towpath into London, north past the M25, and southwest through Slough into Windsor. My Sunday day tours were all around 40 to 50 miles round trip. There were a lot of memories built around travels on that bike.

Early in 2012, two years after retiring, I began to research travel by bicycle and discovered the Erie Canal route. My camping plan and my camping gear were thorough and I had backup plans for any problems along the way. The only thing that I did to the bike was to add the bar end extensions and a rear view mirror.

Niagara County Camping Resort
Niagara County Camping Resort

The image shows my camp site at the Niagara County Camping Resort, my first encampment of that tour. The bike is featured up front in the photo as the star of the tour. The stock saddle was ill suited for touring and 50 or more miles per day. By the third day I was slathering Desitin(R) on my raw thighs. The worst problem was that the rig was very top heavy when loaded with two large Ortlieb(R) panniers and my tent on the rear rack. The tour stressed the low-end components on the bike and at the end of the tour I found that two or three teeth had snapped off of the cassette.

The tour was a smashing success, the experience itself rising above the problems with the bike. I overcame the problems and learned a lot about touring. It was a confidence builder that left me wanting more.

Late that year I bought my stock Surly Long Haul Trucker. As of this moment I have over 16,000 training and touring miles on that bike. I plan many more miles before hanging up my clipless pedals.

Cycle the Erie Canal 2019 Coming Soon

Cycle the Erie Canal 2019 is less than two months away. I look forward to my seventh ride on this wonderful route beginning on 7 July. My son, Eric, is joining me for his fourth ride. I can’t say enough about how well Parks and Trails New York organizes the ride for about 700 riders each year. The cost of the trip includes breakfast, two rest stops, and dinner on most days. Plus, they truck all of my stuff between campgrounds. Can’t beat that!

Bicycle Safety Reminder – Again

Cary G. Coovert was 71 years old when he died from injuries sustained in a head on collision on the Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington, Massachusetts, on March 24, 2019. The other cyclist survived. Both were wearing helmets. The exact circumstances of the collision have not been reported.

Memorial to Cary G. Coovert

It doesn’t matter who was responsible for the accident. It is clear that since this was the result of a head on collision, one of the cyclists or both of them were engaging in risky behavior. Of course, these kinds of events are called “accidents” because neither intended to cause harm to each other or to themselves. Yet many cyclists take risks on bike trails that can cause bad things to happen. The memorial to Cary G. Coovert is on the Minuteman near the location of the accident and near the trail, but few understand the significance.

Cary G. Coovert May 22, 1947 – March 24, 2019

Both on the trails and on the roads there is plenty of risky behavior to observe. Almost every time I ride a trail I see cyclists passing where there is little room. They swerve around pedestrians as though they were slalom obstacles. Sometimes they pass with little regard for oncoming cyclists, putting themselves, pedestrians, and other cyclists at risk.

I have taken a defensive posture to protect myself and others when I ride. I try not to pass when there is oncoming bicycle or pedestrian traffic that will pass at the same time I will. It is almost impossible to avoid riding on the street at some time. On the street I use my rear view mirror to watch cars that are approaching me from behind. If I see a large truck or a wide trailer behind a pickup truck, I try to find a place to pull over and stop until they pass. On narrow streets I often bail out to the sidewalk rather than stake out my rights as a vehicle against vehicles that are much larger. I try to anticipate bad situations as, for example, a car approaching from behind and another from ahead on a curve.

I’m in a bad place right now considering this death on the Minuteman. It is a good time to acknowledge that there are many cyclists on the trails and roads who ride carefully and respectfully. There are probably more of them than there are daredevils. To all of you: be careful out there.

Bicycle Hub Maintenance Debate

Recently I made a post on the Facebook Surly bicycle group that talked about passing 15,000 miles on my Long Haul Trucker. I mentioned that it was a stock bike. Some people took issue when I said, “The stem, bottom bracket, and hubs have never been unsealed and are in great shape for the next 15,000 miles.” Several recommended regular servicing of the hub bearings. I found an old post by Sheldon Brown that also recommended regular servicing. On the other hand, a mechanic at my bike shop recommended no action at about a 10,000 miles when I asked about hub and bottom bracket maintenance on my bike. Further research found that this is an unsettled issue in my opinion.

The brand and quality of the hubs may be a factor. That said, there are wide ranging opinions concerning the efficacy of various hubs. For example, my hubs are Shimano LX hubs and there are some detractors. There is a broad opinion that they are as good for touring as more costly hubs.

Next I tried to find evidence of hub failures. There is evidence of freehub failures on certain types of hubs, but those are not bearing failures. They are failures of the ratchet that locks the cassette to the hub when pedaling forward. I found one video that documented hub bearing failure on a fat bike. The type of hub is not identified and other actions that may have contributed to such catastrophic failure are not discussed. Component quality and brand may be a factor in such failures.

Here is my take. Modern hubs of moderate quality are sealed and there is evidence that they do not need regular disassembly, cleaning, re-greasing, or adjustment. There are some people on the Internet who talk about having similar mileage on their bicycles as I do and have not serviced their hubs. I am only one data point and other data points are rare.

There are things that you can do to compromise the hubs, such as pressure washing. The seals are designed for an environment where they are not exposed to high pressure. Submerging a bicycle hub in water or other liquid can also compromise the seals. Under normal circumstances and use, water cannot get into the hubs.

People who service their hubs use differing maintenance schedules. Their recommendations include maintenance after each tour, after replacing tires, every 400 miles, every thousand miles, etc. My opinion is that if people feel more confident in the reliability of their equipment using this approach, that is fine. I am not a believer. Modern seal designs and lubricants have inherently increased hub reliability.

Moreover, hubs can be inspected without taking them apart. I put my bicycle on a rack and rotate the wheels. I listen for sounds coming from the hubs and look for free rotation. During free rotation, a wheel will usually spin to a stop and reverse as the heavy side seeks the bottom of the rotation. On the rack I also check for side play. There should be no side play when you grasp the rim and try to move it laterally. I use both slow motions to try to feel large side play and rapid motions to try to feel slight amounts of play.

I share the opinion of some that the rims are more likely to wear out before the hubs, bottom bracket, and stem. That observation has me thinking about my rims. They are steel rims, but it is time that I measured them with a micrometer to see what remains of the material where the brake pad friction is applied. In the meantime, I am determined to continue to ride my LHT without maintenance on the sealed bearings.

Find Your Next Bicycle Tour with Heat Maps

When I did my day tours in the Memphis area, Josh at the Peddler Electric Bike Shop on South Main Street introduced me to a useful Strava feature. I have been a Strava member for several years and long ago upgraded to a premium membership since I liked it so well. I was not aware of the heat map feature.

Heat maps are used to graphically display data as an aid to interpreting it and turning it into actionable information. The idea is simple. Large amounts of data are aggregated and plotted on a graph or a map as in the case of the Strava heat map. The places were the data density is low are shown in a cool color and as the density increases the colors get warmer. The the coolest color of the Strava heat map is blue and the colors get warmer through purple, red, yellow, and white, which is the hottest.

The Strava heat map carries a copyright, so I can’t show screen shots. You can follow along by going to https://www.strava.com/heatmap. To see only bicycle traffic, you need to use the Global Heatmap control panel to select the cycling icon as the Activity Type. You will see a dark outline of the United States with areas of heat map showing the density of bicycle traffic in every corner of the country. You can pan to see other countries and you can zoom to get more detail. The detail goes down to the street level, but only if you are a registered Strava member.

Josh showed the area around Memphis to me. It is clear that most of the bicycle traffic is east of downtown. I was hoping to ride into Mississippi, but Josh explained that there is no easy way to get there and that is indicated in the map. You can see some light activity going north, but the density of the traffic is much lighter.

As you pan toward the east coast, you can pick out the C&O and GAP trails going from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. The sharpness and the whiteness of the heat map trace validates my opinion that the route is one of the best in the country. If you pan up into Canada, you can see the route around Lac St-Jean, the Veloroute de Bleuets. Panning back to the center of the U.S., there are two routes across Iowa that pop out. Surprisingly, neither is the route of RAGBRAI ( The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa).

Of interest to me is the apparent route in Canada that runs from Toronto along the shore of Lake Ontario and along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City. From there the route seems to cross the St. Lawrence and circle the Atlantic Ocean side of the Gaspe Peninsula. I have read about bicycle tours along that route and wondered about the viability. I may be planning a Canada tour this summer.

The Strava heat map is another tool for tour planning. For the Canada tour I would of course supplement the heat map information with detailed route planning, including camping and lodging along the way. The heat map is a good way to get started, identifying the best possibilities by studying the most popular choices of other cyclists.