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.

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.

Cycling on Long Island: Shelter Island Excursion

My wife Marne had a bridge camp in Amagansett, Long Island, so I decided to go with her and bring my bicycle for some day trips. Our lodging was inexpensive because we had a room provided at the excellent rate of $100 per night by the camp sponsors. A friend told me that that area is rated as on of the worst in the country for cycling, but my research didn’t turn up those results. My experience was mixed, but I can’t say it was an awful experience.

To begin, I’m a distance cyclist, a bicycle tourist, so I’ve become accustomed to long distances between stops for interesting features. The busy roads are the major negative, but I rode in early June so that the high summer traffic was not yet in play. There are very few trails in the area that support the distances that I like to ride, usually 50 to 60 miles on a day tour. I did two rides during this visit.

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This was the first ride that took me from Amagansett to Shelter Island, a total of 50 round trip miles. Before heading west, I rode to the Devon Yacht Club where the bridge camp was being held. The yacht club is located in an area of Napeague Bay that is bounded on three sides by Long Island real estate. It is a picturesque site, although there were only two sailboats on moorings since it was early in the season.

Starting toward my goal, I pedaled Route 27 west to East Hampton where I turned north on Route 114. While Amagansett and East Hampton are charming little towns, it was good to turn off of 27 and ride on the more pastoral 114. There is an adequate bike lane most of the route.

Near Sag Harbor the New York bike route took me into a residential area where I found Havens Beach. I had my camera with me and I was taking pictures when a woman with a reusable shopping bag approached me and asked what I was photographing. I explained that I am a cyclist and street photographer.

We chatted and she explained her activities on the beach. As a member of the local historical society and sometime beachcomber, she was searching for artifacts. There had been a dredge operation in November 2017 and the tailings, mostly coarse sand, were dumped on Havens Beach. She comes out to scour the beach each time it rains to find shards of pottery and ceramics that are mixed with the tailings. Each rain washes away surface sand to reveal more of these treasures.  She showed me some of the pieces that she found, likely dating back two or three hundred years.

Havens Beach Beachcomber

After my visit at the beach, I spent some time in Sag Harbor enjoying the waterfront before crossing the bridge into North Hampton. I boarded the South Ferry and as we shuttled across the Peconic River to Shelter Island I asked the attendant on the deck about lunch recommendations on Shelter Island. Without hesitation, she sent me to Maria’s Kitchen, a place that serves Mexican cuisine.

Maria’s kitchen is about mid way between the South Ferry and the North Ferry on Shelter Island.  I ordered an enchilada and was invited to sit in the garden behind the restaurant to eat. It was a green and peaceful place to rest a while before continuing my ride. They were also kind enough to let me use their bathroom.

Garden at Maria’s Kitchen

I came to a point where Route 114 turns left and Route 37 takes off to the right. I decided to explore Route 37. Unfortunately, it was mostly residential with no access to the water. So, I doubled back and headed toward the North Ferry. There were quite a few great spots to stop and enjoy a view of the Peconic River.

The Mashomack Preserve occupies a large area of the island, but cycling is not permitted. If you are prepared to hike, this seems to be a popular destination. I was not prepared to hike and it was too late in the day for me.

Before heading back to Amagansett, I stopped at Marie Eiffel Market for some ice cream. I parked my bike and walked to the nearby docks as I ate it and rested a while longer for the 25 mile ride.

Peconic River at Marie Eiffel’s

The ride back to our lodging was uneventful, except that I found East Hampton congested. There are no bike lanes through East Hampton and the traffic was heavy in late afternoon at about four PM. I chose to bail out of the street and slowly ride the sidewalk through town to avoid getting squished.

It’s probably not for everybody, but I enjoyed my excursion to Shelter Island.

Bicycles and Bugs in the Mouth

Last week I was moving along smartly behind another rider I was using to set a pace. We were clipping along at between 18 and 20 miles per hour. Suddenly, something smacked the roof of my mouth. I felt a chitinous object in the back of my throat about the size of a bean. Instantaneously I hacked and spit it out. As it came out the only thing that I could verify for you is that it was black and that I was able to confirm the size as it accelerated toward the ground.

The roof of my mouth was throbbing with pain. I wondered whether or not to declare an emergency, but decided to wait while monitoring for some other side effect such as swelling from a sting. After all, it could have been a bee or a wasp.

Later in the evening, the symptoms evolved into something like a sore throat. That night I had some issue with breathing because the back of my throat was swollen. The symptoms persisted the next day, although it was getting progressively better.

There is a need, I thought, for bug protection for bicycle riders. Research on the Internet uncovered mixed results, as it often does. One solution that I found is a screen to cover your face, similar to the protection worn by fencers. That is something that I do not want to be seen wearing. A bandanna is also in that category. I had visions of a small mask to fit over the mouth with a screen to keep the bugs out. I must have been channeling Hannibal Lecter.

Other sage advice from the Internet included, “Keep your mouth shut”. That’s a problem if you are forced to mouth-breathe due to allergies or exertion. Another person suggested you will “learn your lesson” if you happen to suck in a bee or wasp.

I happen to have a theory about that to ease your fears, although not scientifically founded or proven. Some bugs are less likely to run into your face because they can sense the slightly increased pressure in front of you. Flies have that ability. They can sense the slight increase in pressure as your hand or the swatter approaches and escape just in time. Bees, wasps, and flies are maneuverable and they can get out of the way to save themselves, unlike a beetle lumbering through the air.

Today I “got back on that horse” and rode my usual 25 mile training run. I must admit that I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible. There were a couple of clouds of gnats that I rode through, but no more bean-sized suicidal beetles. The farther I rode I realized that there was no problem to solve. I’ll swallow a few gnats, but another collision with a black bean is unlikely.

NSAIDS and Cycling

Since 2011 I have been on an aspirin regimen to avoid stroke as prescribed by my cardiologist. The problems sometimes associated with aspirin such as bleeding and allergy have not been problems for me. That made it easy for me to unwittingly take a slightly higher dose than normally recommended with the feeling that more might be better. That is not so.

 

There was a recent post on the journeyonabike Facebook page on this issue that got me interested in researching the topic more. People were commenting on their use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) to prevent or minimize discomfort during a ride. Others were warning against that practice and I decided to look into it since it pertained to me. I am not a doctor and if you need more information as it pertains to you, you should consult with your personal doctor.

 

The overall concern is the effect of NSAIDs in general on renal (kidney) function, especially on people who are engaged in rigorous exercise, including bicycle touring and related training. NSAIDS and dehydration are a bad combination and the use of NSAIDs as a preventive measure is not recommended. That is, dosing with an NSAID to prevent pain during a ride is not a good idea. The long term effect of this can be kidney damage. There are other side effects on heart rate and heart health, but it has been difficult to find all of the pertinent and credible information in one place. A typical article is the one that I found at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It is straightforward to find much more information on this by doing searches on the Internet for topics such as “NSAIDs and hydration”.

 

Another personal finding is that the bad effects of NSAIDs can be mitigated by lower doses. It appears that at lower doses some of the enzyme and hormone activity affecting digestive and renal function are impacted less. The recommended dose of aspirin as a stroke prevention regimen appears to be 70 to 350 milligrams with many suggestions that 70 to 100 milligram dosage is adequate. I am pursuing this with the guidance of my cardiologist.

 

There are other concerns with the use of NSAIDs, including discontinuing an aspirin regimen and use of more than one NSAID at a time. There are studies indicating that discontinuing an aspirin regimen can increase the probability of a bad heart event. Using another NSAID such as Advil or Ibuprofen while on an aspirin regimen can increase the chances of bleeding. Use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead is recommended by some, which can have its own bad side effects on the liver when overused or used along with regular alcohol consumption.

 

All of that said, personal caution is the best course of action. NSAIDs should be used with moderation and regular dosing should be with the care and consultation of a medical doctor. This is especially important for people such as cyclists who tax their organs with regular exercise. Above all, do not use NSAIDs in an attempt to make your ride more comfortable. Instead, use regular training to build yourself up to what ever level of performance you need for your travels.

Stationary Trainer Time – Boring!

At this time I’ve started using my stationary trainer once again. I wrote about it in an earlier post. It is still working well after three years, although according to my records on Strava I only have about 360 miles on it. I record all of my rides, including the imaginary ones on my stationary.

This year I fell short by about 600 miles on my annual 3000 mile riding goal. That was for several reasons: bad spring weather, major home remodeling, and a bad cold. The winter is beginning to look like a cold and wet one, keeping me off the trail. I will ride my bicycle outdoors down to 20 degrees, but not on snow and ice.

So, here I am, back on the stationary trainer, trying my best to stay in shape for real riding and for life. I moved it to the front of my little room by the windows so that my neighbors can watch me go nowhere for nearly two hours, two or three times per week. One thing that is real is the sweat.

It is very difficult to maintain the discipline on something so boring. It does take close to two hours to get a good workout. That’s about the length of my outdoor training rides. I rarely ride less than 25 miles and average about fifteen miles per hour. I do the same thing on  my virtual rides. While I complain, I still recommend it for when the weather gets too cold and icy as long as you can muster the discipline.

Dave and the Electric Bike

Dave and I met two years earlier on the same ride from DC to Pittsburgh. This was his ninth time on the annual ride. My memory of him as a cyclist was that he was not the strongest, but had the stamina and drive to ride the entire route. Both of us were the last riders to reach Pittsburgh that year.

This year was different and Dave was sometimes among the first riders to reach camp each day. I’m 71 years old and Dave is about the same age. I didn’t think that it was possible to build endurance and strength at our age, so it was surprising to observe Dave’s performance given my past experience.

On the last day of our latest ride, Dave and I were among the top group to arrive in Pittsburgh. As we approached the city I was cranking along at 16 to 17 miles per hour and when I looked behind me Dave was right there. At one point he shouted something like, “You can’t get away from me!” It reminded my of the 1950s song “Beep Beep”:

While riding in my Cadillac, what, to my surprise,
A little Nash Rambler was following me, about one-third my size.
The guy must have wanted it to pass me up
As he kept on tooting his horn. Beep! Beep!
I’ll show him that a Cadillac is not a car to scorn.

I was motivated to keep up the pace and after some time I left him behind.

I reached Pittsburgh and the rendezvous point for the end of the ride ahead of him by a few minutes. When he arrived we began to talk and I realized by something that he said that he was riding an electric bike! It is a very stealthy electric by Trek with a relatively small battery and the motor in the bottom bracket. He had bought it several months before this ride. Dave said that it weighs about 45 pounds and offered to let me try it, which I was eager to do.

After a quick introduction to the controls, I pedaled down the trail. I must have laughed all the way because the sensation was fantastic. Up I slight incline, the motor kicked in to keep my effort and speed constant as I pedaled. It is an electric assist design rather than full-time electric. On the return ride, I began up a rather steep incline and pushed the button one or two times to increase the assist. I zoomed right up, applying the same effort that I used on the flat, giggling all the way.

When I returned to the parking lot, Dave and I talked a bit more and I learned things about him that I didn’t know or at least didn’t remember from our previous meeting. In the past nine years he has had a heart bypass, four stents, and a mechanical heart valve implanted. This remarkable person wants to stay active and the electric assist bicycle gives him that opportunity because he has much more control over exertion and heart rate. Everybody on the ride has internal drive that makes them strive for life. For me, Dave epitomizes that striving.

As I departed, I shook Dave’s hand and said, “See you next year.” Dave replied, “We’ll see.” At first I though that was a very fatalistic response. I came to realize that this is a man living every day as though it was going to be his last. I hope I have the pleasure of being with him again next year.