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.

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 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.

Bicycle Riding in Memphis

My wife went to Memphis to play in a bridge tournament and I tagged along to bicycle and to do some street photography. During our week in Memphis I did three rides on a bicycle that I rented from the Peddler Electric Bike Shop located on south Main Street in Memphis. Josh at bike shop was very helpful in recommending routes. My rental was a Trek 7.3 FX hybrid. It is a decent low-end bicycle that is light and reliable enough for day trips.

My rides totaled about 120 miles. The first was a short 15 miles along the Mississippi River due to my needing to drive to the airport to pick up my lost luggage in the morning. My next was a 58 mile ride that took me east on Madison Street to pick up the Shelby Farms Greenline trail. I rode the trail and took an excursion through the park. I picked up the Germantown Greenway along the Wolf River and rode to the eastern trail head.

The most fun ride was the last one of about 48 miles that took me north toward the Meeman Shelby State Park. The Strava route was given to me by Josh at the bike shop. The route was helpful, but in the future I would use a phone mount on the handlebars. I was stopping frequently to check the route on my phone, keep my bearings and avoid missing a turn.

The route began at the hotel on Main Street and ran north along the river, using the same trail that I explored on my first day in Memphis. At the end of the trail I hopped onto a local road that took me past a small airport. The route wound through a poor residential neighborhood where I was  chased by a dog. Usually they go after your ankles, but this dummy decided to try to cut in front of me. He got a fine tire burn on his rear quarter before squealing and running away. He will either change his tactics in the future or stop chasing bicycles.

A little later down another block three children delighted in chasing me. I wasn’t going very fast and they had fun racing with me. We came to the imaginary line drawn by their parents and they suddenly dropped behind and stopped. I waved and said goodbye.

After leaving the neighborhood, I rode through countryside with a mix of farms and residences. Both varied significantly in quality. There were both shacks and gated estates. I wanted a grocery store or something where I could purchase a snack. I brought a package of cookies, but longed for something more. I passed two places that were closed and boarded, a possible testament to the economic heath of the Memphis area.

The ride was enjoyable and the rolling countryside was fun to ride. The roads were in great condition and the traffic was very light, especially since it was a Saturday in late March. I was watching the clock, the mileage, and the weather since rain was forecast for the late afternoon. After studying the route during one stop, I decided that it would be prudent to take an alternate route to cut my ride short by a few miles. A little later that turned out to be a good decision.

With about twenty miles to go I discovered the Shelby Forest General Store. The place was hopping and all of the guys wore baseball caps. Everybody was friendly in the nicest way and happy to strike a conversation if you looked at all interesting. Of course, my cycling gear including my bright green jacket made me stand out. After I ordered a hamburger and placed my name on the order, everybody who worked there remembered me as “Ed”.

Shelby Forest General Store

After my food stop I rode another five miles or so and had a flat tire. I was very happy that I carried a tire repair kit and necessary tools. The amber glass shard causing the flat was easy to find. I got the tube out of the tire and prepared it for the vulcanizing cement. My little tube of vulcanizing goop had never been opened before. I pierced the seal and began to squeeze. Nothing came out. I rolled up the tube and found it empty.

When I began to work on the bike I had noticed a truck pull into the driveway next to the patch of grass where I was working and drive to the barn about fifty yards from the entrance. I decided to walk down there and ask for some of the vulcanizing cement. The entrance to the barn was strewn with beer cans and cigarette butts. One guy was standing near the door smoking. Another guy came out and approached me. He was filthy and had greasy smudges on his face. We spent some time defining terms because I couldn’t remember what to call the vulcanizing cement.

“I need some of that glue stuff to repair a tire,” said I.

“What stuff? What are you gluing?”

“I have a flat tire and I’m trying to patch it.”

“Oh. Wait here.”

He disappeared inside for a while and came out with a can of vulcanizing cement.

“Don’t use much. Bring it back when you’re done.”

It worked fine and a got the tube patched. I walked back down to the barn to return the can. This time there was nobody outside. I called out something stupid like, “Sir? I brought your can back.” Reluctantly, I entered the barn to find the two of them “praying” over the engine of a beat up wreck of a car. I handed the can to the guy and left quickly.

Back on the road I pedaled for about five minutes and felt rain drops. I had ridden through a couple of passing squalls, but this rain felt different because the sky was much darker. I stopped and put on my rain jacket over my cycling jacket.

It rained heavily during the final fifteen miles of the ride. I didn’t care that it was raining. I was satisfied with myself since I was prepared to fix the tire and to protect myself from the rain.

This was the first test of my rain jacket and I found that it is the best rain jacket I have ever owned. It’s a Marmot jacket that cost a couple hundred dollars. It rained hard, but I was only getting soaked below the waist where the jacket didn’t cover me. To my good fortune, the wind had shifted and I was riding a brisk tailwind.

I dropped the bike at the shop and wasted no time getting out of there when I saw a trolley in front of the store. That is the spot where they turn around and head back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the trolley engineer was not ready to head back and I stood at the stop freezing before he finally started toward me. Thankfully, the trolley was heated and I found a seat right above one of the heaters.

At the hotel I found out how cold I was. I stripped down out of my wet gear and got into bed under the covers. After a while I realized that my fingers were numb and not responding quickly enough. I got up and wrapped my hands in a wet, warm towel. It didn’t take long for my fingers to begin to tingle as normal blood circulation returned. A warm show completed my recovery. I realized that if I didn’t have the rain jacket I might have suffered hypothermia.

Overall, I found Memphis to be a bicycle friendly city. My rides were all memorable. There are some crazy busy streets, but there are also alternatives with less traffic to get you where you are going on a bicycle. Josh at the bike shop gave me a Memphis & Shelby County Bike Map that is available for free online and from visitor centers around town.

These are some other great places that my wife and I enjoyed: Graceland, Sun Records, the Bass Pro Shops pyramid, the Peabody Hotel duck march, Huey’s for great hamburgers, Westy’s for great pub food, and B.B. King’s Blues Club for the best ribs that we had in Memphis. Be sure to ride the trolley on Main Street. Beale Street and Mud Island Park are great places to just hang out.

If you have the opportunity, try Memphis.

Handlebar Fail

Recently I had a handlebar fail and the experience reminded me of all of the things that can go wrong on a bicycle. One of the key factors in this failure is the age of my bicycle. As of the time of this writing, my Surly Long Haul Trucker is six years old and has 10,000 miles on it. It’s not clear that many people hang on to their bikes that long. This is something that probably can happen only to a bike that has had as much use.

My problem surfaced due to the poor design of the street crossings on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Newer sections of the trail have little islands in the middle of the trail at these crossings. They are about three feet long and a foot wide, made using brick pavers surrounded by a granite curb that is about three inches high. If you happen to get your wheel up against the curb, there is little chance for recovery and you can go down.

That’s what happened to me. I was clipped into the pedals and I went down, making contact with the ground almost simultaneously with my thigh and my shoulder. I was fortunately moving slowly since I had stopped for traffic at the crossing. I was also fortunate that the force of impact was evenly distributed, limiting the injuries. I bruised my shoulder and thigh and had a scrape on my knee and pinky finger.

Aluminum Handlebar Failure

As I took an inventory of my condition I noticed that one end of my handlebar was dangling by the bar tape. It wouldn’t be possible to ride the bike in that condition and I began to think of options such as Uber. As I stood the bike against a rail, a man who had been maybe a hundred yards behind me crossed the street and hailed, concerned that I was injured. He heard the crash and it was loud enough that he thought I had been hit by a car. He was kind enough the give me a ride home.

Aluminum Handlebar Corrosion

After a quick shower, I loaded the bike onto the van and drove to my bicycle mechanic at Harris Cyclery in Needham, Massachusetts. The mechanic made an observation that was astounding to me.  Over the years and miles, my salty sweat had corroded the handlebar. The corrosion was a major factor in the break. The side without the break had corrosion that made a visible hole in the aluminum. The handlebar was close to failure on both sides.

There are two failure scenarios that come to mind in addition to my fail. The first is cranking up a hill, both hands pulling up on the bar ends. The second is leaning on the drops while speeding downhill. In both of these cases a handlebar failure can lead to a bad crash.

To avoid the problem, I suppose the handlebar tape should be replaced more often than i was doing it. I’ve decided to re-wrap my bar each time I replace the chain. I do my chain every 1,000 miles. The handlebar should be rinsed with clean water after removing the old wrap. A layer of electrical tape under the new wrap may mitigate against salt damage. While my experience is with an aluminum handlebar, steel ones may also be a concern. The effects of moisture and salt on steel can be equally bad.

As I pile up the miles, I continue to be surprised by the things that can go wrong with bicycles. When you ride long and hard, almost everything on the bicycle can fail. If I inspect every component on a regular basis, I’m not sure that I would always know how to recognize symptoms. The best practice is probably to maintain the things that predictably fail such as tires, chain, and brake pads while letting the other things sort themselves out as they happen.

Neatsfoot Oil for Your Leather Saddle

Eight fluid ounces of Huberd’s Neatsfoot Oil can be purchased for as little as $8.99 on Amazon. I have been using it on my Brooks B17 for two years. It keeps the saddle leather supple and somewhat water resistant.

One of the best features of the product is that it does not leave a residue that will come off on your riding clothes. I usually use it after a ride so that it has a chance to penetrate before my next ride. Even though I apply it generously, I have never had a stain on my clothes.

If you happen to check out the topic on the Internet you will find as I did that opinions vary all over the place on treatment of leather bicycle and horse saddles. There are some magical formulas that people use. The problem is that it is difficult to prove hypotheses about the goodness of these potions because there are no long term study results published.

For what it’s worth, I use Huberd’s and I’m happy with the stuff.

Cycle the Erie 2018 Another Great Ride

This year was my sixth ride on the Erie Canal with Parks and Trails New York and I update my ride review after the ride. Each time the ride has been a wonderful experience for many reasons, including the people and the scenery. My son has been with me during the past three years and last year one of his daughters joined us. Each time I do the ride , I try to set a unique objective and this year it was to experience the towns along the way in more depth.

Since I’m a street photographer, I tried to capture life in the towns. That turned out to be a difficult thing to do because of the short time that I had in each. My style is to capture people doing the things that they do. In most cases, the sidewalks were almost empty and I didn’t have time to wait for things to happen. Most of the images that I captured were architectural shots of classic upstate New York buildings.

One thing that I noticed after riding this route for six years is that many of the towns seem to be experiencing a revival. For example, in Buffalo neighborhoods that were blighted just last year are undergoing renewal. Many defunct buildings are gone and new ones are rising to take their place. Medina, our first overnight, has a beautiful main street with fewer empty storefronts each year.

Each day Eric and I left camp at between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning. Eric rode far faster than me and was usually one of the first to arrive at camp each day. Even with my stops in the towns along the way, I managed to arrive at camp myself in early afternoon.

Our thanks to the staff and volunteers who make this great ride possible each year.

Display Your Bicycle Tours Using Open Source Maps

As I was writing my latest blog posts, I started looking for a way to show my bicycle trip tracks without running into map copyright issues. I use Strava to record all of my rides and the Strava maps are good, but they are copyrighted. I also have Garmin BaseCamp, but the maps are too crude.
With some searching I found uMap. It is a tool that overlays open source maps. My open source map account is with OpenStreetMap. When logging in to uMap, you are asked to specify your map provider. It is easy to import GPX files from your device or from recording apps such as Strava to create a track on a map. The map with the track can be embedded into a blog or web page using HTML provided automatically by uMap. The track can be annotated with points of interest. Once embedded, your user can browse the map for more details. I used uMap in my two latest blog posts.

Cycling on Long Island: Montauk Point Excursion

This was the second of two day trips that I had on Long Island, New York. The first took me to Shelter Island, a 50 mile ride that was a nice way to spend a day. This 45 mile ride to Montauk Point was better in terms of interesting places to visit in addition to the views of the waterfront.

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This ride took me from Amagansett to Montauk Point. Route 27 east was busy, but there is a generous bicycle lane all the way to Montauk Point. Still, I was looking for opportunities to use side roads as an option to get away from Route 27. That opportunity came when I found the fork in the road that took me down Old Montauk Highway.

Hither Hills State Park looked interesting, so I took a spin around the camp sites and did some people watching. I propped my bike against a rail fence and hiked over the dune to see the beach that stretched seemingly for miles in both directions. It was a somewhat chilly and windy day, so there were only a few people walking the beach. There were some lifeguards trying to keep warm and chatting at the lifeguard stand.

Hither Hills State Park Beach

From there I rode into Montauk and picked up Route 27 once again for a short distance to the entrance of Camp Hero State Park. This looked like a good place to explore. The entrance road took me to a parking lot on the sand cliff. As I looked back toward the northwest, I saw a radar tower and I wanted to learn more about it.

Camp Hero dates back to World War II when it was both a defensive position and a training base. As a defense, it had large cannon bunkers aimed over the water to defend against German submarines or warships that might approach the coast. As a training base, it was used to train soldiers to operate antiaircraft weapons with live fire at unmanned aircraft.

When I got to the base of the RADAR antenna, I learned that it was built much later in 1960 as a part of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system in place at the time to provide air defense for the United States against Soviet bombers. This particular site could detect and track targets up to 200 miles away. It was decommissioned in 1980.

RADAR at Hero Camp State Park

From there to Montauk Point was a very short ride. The lighthouse there is picturesque, but they charged an entry fee to get close. I didn’t see a need to do that. Instead, I spent my money at the small restaurant at the point. There is a great selection of food and I had a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with a soda. The outdoor seating was nice, especially since the sun had broken out and I was able to bask in warm rays as I ate.

Montauk Light

On the way back to Montauk, I spotted a road that I had mentally marked on my way east toward the point earlier. I swung right and headed toward Block Island Sound on Old West Lake Drive. This was another side trip that happily took me away from Route 27 once again.

I was getting hungry for some ice cream. A marina with a small store seemed to be the ticket, but all they sold was bait. The person behind the counter was able to point me toward a Ben and Jerry’s that was a little further up the road. I happened to pass a boat ramp where two men were taking a 30 foot commercial fishing boat out of the water using a trailer that had hydraulic bunks to lift the boat up and out of the water. That was something to think about as I ate my Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

I hung out at the area near the ice cream shop for a while, soaking in the ambiance of the docks, boats, and water. Then it was time to head back to my lodging. There was a hill to climb on Route 27 that rose about 140 feet over two miles with grades up to 6%. The reward was 3 miles downhill after the summit.

The remaining ride west on Route 27 was uneventful and it didn’t feel as long as the ride in the opposite direction in the morning. I had a slight following breeze pushing me toward home. I was moving along so well that I almost missed my turn.

At the end of the day I was happy with my travels. The time that I spent at the beaches, the parks, and the waterfront were rewarding and the food was good. I would recommend this ride to Montauk Point if you are willing to put up with a few miles of Route 27.