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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.