Car Repairs, Bike Repairs, Lock Repairs

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Yesterday, my son came home from a week at the beach. Son: “Dad, there’s a problem with the car. Gas comes out the side when I fill the tank.“ Dad: Slaps own forehead. 
Today’s commute began by me stuffing Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist folding bike, into the trunk of the Millennium Falcon (a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer).  This required some persuasion as the Falcon’s boot isn’t exactly capacious.  (Hey, that’s two obscure words in two days. I’m on a roll.)
I arrived at the car dealer which is high atop a hill in Alexandria city.  The dealer took the car and I took Little Nellie and started to ride.  The chain made a hellacious noise. (I’ve got chain cooties, I swear.)  I got off, fiddled, noise, got off, fiddled, noise. This just wouldn’t do. I could not figure out why the front derailer was not allowing the chain to move freely.  After about five minutes I finally got the chain moving freely in the middle chain ring and headed down the 1/2 mile hill to Four Mile Run and the bike trail.  Despite the mechanical problem and a chain that seemed to skip at random over the cogs in the rear, I made it to work early.
The dealer called at 10 a.m. to tell me they can’t see anything wrong so, after selling me more repairs (the battery was 5 years old and the air filters were, um, original equipment), I sent them on their telephonic way.
Someone at work needed a parking space.  I didn’t remember the number so I went to the garage to find out. The space was already filled by a trespassing SUV. I got the number for future reference. On my return, I walked by the bike rack and saw Little Nellie’s chain hanging oddly.  I bent over to unlock it and the lock wouldn’t work. Fiddle, diddle, fiddle.  Finally, after several minutes the lock released. 
 
I finally figured out that the trouble with the derailer was caused by my lousy Ortleib handlebar bag which had snagged the front shifter cable.  I took the bag off, freed the cable, problem solved. Now what to do with the lock. Well, I thought about my options and decided it was better to take a chance on not getting the lock off than on having the bike stolen. 
Tonight after some friendly persuasion and a couple of f bombs, I unlocked the bike.  The ride back to the dealer started with 5 miles along the banks of the Potomac River.  In the sun. With a nice breeze. I am so spoiled by my commute.  
At mile 8, I hit the 1/2 mile hill.  I was worrying about this all day. It was gradual with a steep section near the top.  I had no trouble at all with the hill. I normally suck at hill climbing so I was pretty pleased with myself. I briefly considered changing my name to Claudio. In reality I’m a hopeless Phred.
Little Nellie went in the trunk without complaint and we drove home.  

I brought my bike lock into the house intending to set it aside for shipment back to the manufacturer in hopes of a free replacement.  Then it occurred to me that there was a slight chance that the problem wasn’t the lock but the key. I dug out the spare key that came with the lock. It worked like a charm.  I did the same thing with my other u-lock. Same result. I looked at the used keys and noticed significant wear that caused the teeth of the key to have rounded edges – not unlike a worn cog on a bike.

Looks like I am keeping the lock after all.  
Once I put my bike toys away, my son informed me that the radio in my daughters car died.  

Car repair isn’t something you finish. It’s like an iterative loop. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like bike commuting. I’ve ridden nearly 1,500 miles and I haven’t gone anywhere. Kind of frustrating when you think about it.
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Baseball Cap Tuesday

Some cyclists around these parts have taken to wearing fancy bike caps on Tuesday. They cleverly call it Bicycle Cap Tuesday. I have only one bicycle cap. I picked it up at Bike Virginia in 1991. It is, how can I put this, scuzzy. I only wear it as a last resort in pouring rain to keep water out of my eyes.

If you see this man on a bike trail, don’t laugh as you pass him.

Lately, I have eschewed wearing my bike helmet. (Do I get points for using the word “eschew” in a bike commuting blog? Indubitably.)  Instead I have been wearing a baseball cap. Most of my ball caps are pretty clean so I have been wearing my official 2004 Red Sox Championship cap.  It has a little holographic sticker to prove its authenticity. I’d never be caught dead in an unauthentic Red Sox cap. I have worn it so much that it is almost as scuzzy as my Bike Virginia cap.  Its best feature is the smug smile I get while wearing it and riding past people in Yankee caps (which I did on my way home tonight).
 

Click on picture. Grab magnifying glass. See the ducklings?

On the way in to work I stopped and took a picture of the ducklings near the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. My siblings tend to be naturally gifted photographers and golfers.  My utter lack of talent in both areas raises the specter of me being the offspring of Mike the mailman.  I am also the only math geek in the family (or was until I passed my math mental peak at the age of 23). I understand our mailman was awesome with differential equations.

I felt pretty good this morning after yesterday’s ride in the heat and humidity.  Except I had no oomph in my legs at all today.  Later in the day I felt a little woozy, so the ride home was a crawl.  It’s pretty sad when you are riding a huge long wheel base recumbent and everybody and I mean EVERYBODY is passing you. Ah, but they did.

When I arrived at home my son, back from five days of vacationing at various posh homes of college buddies, announced that “his” car leaks gas whenever he fills it up. “His” car needs to go in to get this fixed. Tomorrow I do a modified utilitaire bike commute. I drive the car to the dealer in Alexandria and ride to work from there.  The dealer is on a big hill near Fairlington so the ride back to the garage is sure to be a workout.  The Mule will get the call because I don’t want to muck about with Big Nellie on the back of a compact car at rush hour.

I’m not looking forward to tomorrow’s commute.

I Need a Cabinet Bad

Today was what people from Pawtucket call a scorchah.  It was hot and humid and just generally unpleasant to be outside. It was the kind of weather my friend Flor loved to ride in. She however is freezing her rock climbing, biking, running, Thai massaging, acroyoga-ing butt off in Argentina, so I was left all alone to endure the inferno.

Actually, local bicycling superheroes @gypsybug and @dailyrandonneur asked me to come with them on a ride to the far reaches of the known universe (which ended up being Sugarloaf Mountain) somewhere beyond Poolesville. Poolesville is a 45 mile bike ride from my house – I know because I done rode it last year. Beyond Poolesville is what my body calls fantasy. By the time they left their place in the city (15 miles from the Rootchopper Institute of Bicyclist Slumber), I was just waking up.  So a gang of three just wasn’t going to happen. I decided to head in that general direction and maybe see them on their return.

After an unsuccessful utilitaire ride to the dry cleaner (closed on a holiday, “Pshaw!” I say), I headed out.  The superheroes are no dummies. They were on the road during the relative cool of the morning. I, being a cyclist of very little brain, waited for the furnace to get good and hot. My delayed departure also meant that I’d be dealing with considerable traffic on the Mount Vernon Trail.  I made it 11 miles to Gravelley Point near National Airport in one piece and pulled over to check on the superheroes. They were apparently hammering the bejesus out of the roads of Monkey County Maryland because there were no traces of their progress in Twitterland.

After watching a plane land (it never gets tired), I headed out. I looked left, then right, saw nothing, and took off. Somehow nothing to my right was a speeding bicyclist. She yelled at me and I apologized. I do wish she’d ride without her invisibility cloak though.

As I came across the 14th Street Bridge, I did a switchback turn to get to Ohio Drive which runs along the river, Two Japanese (?) tourists had their cameras ready so I waved as Big Nellie and I swooped by.  They were very excited. They will probably post my stupid smile and wave on the Internet for all their relatives to laugh at. My work here is done.

The ride to the Capital Crescent Trail was uneventful, other than being slowed by the bike and pedestrian traffic and the gawdawful riding surface near the Kennedy Center.  At Fletcher’s Boat House I stopped at the porta potties which were too disgusting to use.  Then I proceeded up the nasty hill to MacArthur Boulevard. Once on MacArthur and over the hill near the reservoir, I could finally let Big Nellie rumble. We took the downhill at 30 miles per hour and let the momentum carry us to the Cabin John Bridge.

Cars were pretty patient with Big Nellie and me. Thank you Monkey County folks. At the Old Anglers Inn,  the high speed fun ended and the 10 minute grind up a long hill began.  Recumbents don’t climb hills very well, particularly when they are carrying a heavy, inefficient engine (that would be moi). This hill is mercifully shaded and windy and ideal for decending on a recumbent (see below).

At Potomac Village I stopped for lunch in the shade at Au Bon Pain.  After buying a water bottle I headed out, taking a little loop through Avenel, a golf course with a shitload of tasteful mansions sprinkled about. I worked my way back to the top of the hill I had climbed earlier. 

Time for some street luge.  Long wheel base recumbents are obscenely fun on down hills, especially curvy ones. For the next several minutes, Big Nellie and I kept pace with the cars and then some.  Swoosh! Unfortunately there are parking lots on both sides of the road at the bottom of the hill. A BMW driver in need of some situational awareness pulled out in front of me. I slowed to a crawl as he looked for parking along the road. I could have passed him on the right and was glad I didn’t as he made an unsignalled turn into a parking space. Death to yuppies.

Once I got rolling again I  could tell that the heat was really building. About a mile after the Cabin John Bridge, I saw some parking that indicated access to the C&O Canal. I decided to ride back on the canal towpath in the shade along the river. I had to walk Big Nellie down a narrow dirt path and carry her over dozens of cross timbers. To get to the towpath I’d have to wrestle Big Nellie down a steep flight of about 20 stairs. They was a channel along the side to put the wheels of a bike on so I turned Nellie around (not easy) and carefully made my way down to the towpath.  Hill climbing is one draw back to long wheel base recumbents. Portaging is another.

Thankful that our little hiking adventure was behind us, we took off for DeeCee. The towpath was a muddy, rocky mess so it was slow going. I went through two groups of Canada geese.  Their goslings were much more mature than  the ones I’ve been seeing near my home.  They had tail feathers and were only a couple of weeks from fledging.

Somewhat desperate for a rest room, I stopped at Fletcher’s Porta Potties. I was willing to deal with disgusting, but not with no TP. (There was no TP because this is a national park. National parks don’t have money for TP because certain members of the Tea Party don’t want to fund them. I invite the members of the Tea Party to come to Fletcher’s Porta Potties with their kids. Enjoy. Especially the ride home. Use your imagination for this part. This is America. In America, we use toilet paper, you idiots. Fund the park service properly. A few bucks for some TP won’t end the republic. End of rant.)

Miffed and uncomfortable, but undaunted I rolled out on the Capital Crescent Trail which runs parallel to the towpath.  At the end of the CCT I spotted some people with incredibly muddy mountain bikes taking their bikes apart for transport on a motor coach (a bus with nice seats, a porta potty, and TP). It was probably a group who rode the towpath from the other end in Cumberland Maryland, 185 miles west.  Judging from all the mud all I can say is “better you than me.”

I slalomed through crowds of tourists all the way to Gravelley Point. Here, for some reason, nobody would move out of the way. Bell ringing didn’t help. “Please” didn’t either.  Next time I’m bring my bicycle death ray. Fair warning people.

By this point I was also out of water.  A cloud passed in front of the sun and the temperature dropped ten degrees or more. Wow, did that feel good! At Daingerfield Island I finally found a rest room. Wow, did that feel good, too!  And some water, too!. Ooh la la. Nine miles to go.

As I rode, I poured some of my now ample supply of water over my head.  Since my barber scalped me last weekend, I have been experimenting with ways to keep from getting sunburn on my now nearly barren head. Yesterday and today, I wore a baseball cap in stead of a helmet.  Taking my cap off now and then was refreshing. Spraying water on my head was doubly so. (I really hate bike helmets and wear one 95 percent of the time, mostly because that’s where I mount my headlight and as an example to my kids. They don’t ride bikes and don’t listen to me anyway so it’s kind of pointless setting an example.)

Despite the heat I had a good time.  Thanks to @gypsybug and @dailyrandonneur (they have real names, or so I am told) for giving me a nudge out the door.  

So what does this blog have to do with cabinets. In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a cabinet is a milk shake. God only knows why.

A Walk in Huntley Meadows Park

Trailside Flower

A Walk in Huntley Meadows Park, a set on Flickr.

My aching back was telling me to get off the bike and do something else. One of my favorite places to go to relax is just a couple of miles from my house. It’s a wetlands, what we called a swamp when I was a kid. Huntley Meadows Park looks different every time I go. The time of year, water level, time of day, and migration patterns of birds dictate the amount of greenery and animal life you’ll see. Go visit. It’s rarely crowded.

Get Back

Last night after getting home from work my back felt a little stiff. I took some ibuprofen and went to sleep. As I was getting out of bed this morning, I felt a stabbing pain in my lower back. Since Mrs. Rootchopper was neither awake nor armed with a knife, I could tell that this was the return of an old and unwelcome friend. 

I have had back issues since college. I came home from school one year for Columbus Day, sat down in an easy chair, and couldn’t get up – even for dinner.  You know it’s serious when a 20 year old can’t get out of a chair for a free meal. I was young and the pain went away in short order without problem.

At the end of my first year of graduate school, I had one more exam to take when my back went into spasm.  I could barely move. I managed to use my bike as an improvised walker and made it to the college clinic for treatment.  I recovered in time to take the exam, but it was clear that the problem was getting progressively worse.

These episodes increased in frequency until one day I had the mother of all back spasms. I had ruptured a disk and I was unable to stand without mind blowing pain.  After four weeks of doctor visits and scans, I had surgery to remove a disk and make more room for the offended nerve. In  four weeks I was back at work and in six months I felt fine.

I went about ten years before my next back episode. I have been having them every year since.  So this morning is no surprise.

Long ago I concluded that no single thing causes my back problems. Rather, an accumulation of shocks and the daily grind build up tension until I have pain.  I think of it like a body quake; pressure builds along the fault line until SNAP!

I went back to bed after the stabbing and waited for my back to calm down. Then, ibuprofen in hand, I went downstairs.  I spent the morning on my deck reading.  After four hours of chilling, I pulled Big Nellie out of the shed and gently rode to Old Town to pick up my now repaired camera. 

Big Nellie on the Mount Vernon Trail at the Morningside Bald Eagle Nest

On the way there I stopped to chat with Adam known in the Twittersphere as @ajfroggie. He’s a local bike commuter who does volunteer work for the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling. He (and a woman from the National Park Service whose name escapes me) was taking traffic counts on the Mount Vernon Trail near the Washington Street deck. 

Away from King Street, the main drag, Old Town was empty. King Street was crawling with tourists wishing it were not 85 degrees.  I picked up my camera. It works like new (yay!). 

Sherwood Gourmet makes good sammiches

I gently pedaled back home stopping for a sammich at my favorite sammich shop.  I sat on the patio and ate my sammich and let the tropical air pull the sweat out of me.  Some people (my wife, for one) hate summer in DC. I love it.  I used to hate it when I was a runner, but it’s really terrific for cycling.  The breeze from bike riding is the perfect cure for the muggies. I have also learned that it the perfect way to get head exhaustion.  That’s an affliction for another day and another blog.

As for now, there’s an ice cold Yuengling waiting for my personal attention. It’s hot out. I need to keep hydrated.

Are You Official?

The Friday before Memorial Day I expected light car traffic and a low turnout at the Friday Coffee Club at Swing’s coffee emporium near the White House.  The Club is a get together of area bike commuters many of whom are also bloggers and twitterers. Or is that tweeters? Tweeps? Twits?  Whatever…

The joint was jumpin’.  Despite the absence of a few regulars the place was filled with over 20 people for whom work is more important than the beach. Yes, these are the dedicated people who make the nation’s capital what it is today, a hopeless pathetic mess. 

As usual people came and went. It was Adam’s last time at coffee club as he is moving to Norfolk to take over a nuclear powered doppler radar station.  It was actually Adam’s third last time (it’s a long story) so if he shows up next Friday, folks, he’s buying. (Would I lie to you?)

Adam (center) in his 2012 Bike to Work Day t-shirt
Caffeine addicts get their fix
Parking was tight. Big Nellie’s on the left

One of the cool things about this group of bike riders is the variety of bikes they ride. Several kinds of folders – Raleigh, Dahon, Bike Friday – were seen.  My recumbent. A big cruiser with pink bags and streamers coming out of the handle bars. Single sped bikes. Conventional touring bikes like the Surly Long Haul Trucker that Mary rode in on.  And more. The bikes stretched the length of the front of the coffee shop in some places two deep. There were also bikes locked to parking meters on both sides of the street.  

I had an extra large Americano during my stay at Swings. With a fierce case of the caffeine jitters I lit out on Big Nellie for my office. I took M Street to Georgetown and had a brief conversation with a fellow bike commuter in the West End.  In Georgetown, a couple about my age came rolling down from a side street.  They came up beside me at a stop light and asked, “Are you official?”  I said, “No” not having a clue why these obvious tourists thought a guy on a recumbent would be official anything. They asked if I could take them to the Mount Vernon Trail. I said I would for $20 and off we went toward Key Bridge which was where I was going anyway. (Okay, okay. I lied about the $20.)  I stopped to allow them to take pictures of the view from the bridge pointing out the Watergate complex and Kennedy Center. At the Rosslyn Circle of Doom, I pointed them to the MVT and sent them on their way.

In the locker room at the office I took of my shirt. It was my dark blue 2012 BikeDC shirt that had a white logo with the Capitol dome on the left side of my chest.  That’s why they took me for “official”.  I hope the DC tourism board appreciates my good deed of the day. Show me some love, dudes.

For me to get to Friday Coffee Club I need to get out of bed at 5:30. This makes for one tired commuter going home. And so I was. The Mount Vernon Trail was not crowded and people were being more civil than usual.  I saw some ospreys soaring overhead near Daingerfield Island. One of the benefits of riding a recumbent is the view. I can see much more riding Big Nellie than on my other, conventional bikes. About 10 miles into the ride, I rode through Belle Haven Park.  There were far more geese than people.  I rode gently through the gaggle so that the geese did not turn on me and poo me into oblivion. The geese on the trail waddled away.  They were probably so full of grass that they couldn’t chase me.

I stopped at the Morningside bald eagle nest.  The foliage is now so dense that it’s hard to see anything, but I did see some wings flapping over the top of the nest.

I just had a margarita (from a bottle).  It’s the weekend. Enjoy and remember.

Bolllards R Us

I hate bollards on bike trails. They are dangerous as hell. The creative team working on the renovation of Jones Point Park has decided that one downhill into two bumpy transitions and a 90 degree turn in to  a sahded area with oddly protruding curbs was not challenging enough for trail users. So they decided to add three bollards at bottom of the hill.  They have big red lights on them, probably to blind you at night.



Big Nellie and the Three Bollards



I understand that the modifications have been made to keep evil doers from attacking the underside of the Woodrow Wilson bridge.  This is laudable. The bridge’s underside has been unprotected for the better part of 40 years. With 40 years of planning, you’d think the folks in charge could think of a way to protect the bridge that is not hazardous to cyclists. This apparently is asking too much.

 I am not opposed to bollards in general.  In fact, if Alexandria wants to tear these out I know of a great place for them, the Jefferson Memorial. This national treasure has been surrounded by Jersey barriers lined up in a haphazard fashion since shortly after 9/11.  It is a disgrace that the federal government has left them there for so long. Most other memorials and important buildings in DC have long since had their environs re-designed for protection, but Thomas Jefferson remains protected by a concrete highway wall. Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!

They Call Me "Mr. Buzz"

Woke, up, fell out of bed.  Dragged a comb.. no. No need for a comb. I went to the barbershop on Saturday and told the barber I wanted my hair to be this long all the way around. I held my thumb and index finger about1 or 2 inches apart.  As he began cutting he started asking me baseball trivia.  He had no way of knowing that I am a Red Sox fan.  Not so much these days, but I went to BU and lived 3 blocks from the green monster of Fenway Park my sophomore year. Tony Conigliaro was beaned on my birthday.  I know Bucky Dent’s middle name.  So he asks me who was the last major leaguer to win the triple crown and I said Carl Yastremski 1967. He couldn’t believe I knew. So he asks some more. I missed one about Teddy Ballgame.  Long story short, he pretty much forgot about “this much.”  I have a crew cut. The upside is that my big bald spot no longer feels lonely. And I can shower much faster after I commute by bike. One of my co-workers has taken to calling me “Buzz.” He thinks it’s funny. 

It had rained just before I left the house so I had to take care on the wet pavement.  At Belle Haven Park I spotted something I’ve been eagerly awaiting, goslings. One of the pure joys of bike commuting is watching goslings grow.  These were already pretty big, but still in that cute fuzzy stage. I tried to take a picture with my iPhone but it’s pretty useless for these kinds of shots. (I broke the screen on my Nikon Coolpix camera over a month ago. I took it back to Ritz Camera under the warranty I bought. They sent it out to be repaired instead of just replacing it. Someday I may see it again. If I had known it would be gone for five weeks, I’d have skipped the warranty and bought replacement camera instead. Lesson learned.)

Pedal. Pedal.

I came upon the DCBD  (Detour of Certain Bloody Death) at the Wilson Bridge. This morning the crew was jackhammering near the gravel transition.  They had no clue when bicycles were passing. I can’t believe that Bicycling Magazine calls Alexandria a Bicycling Friendly City.  Then again, Bicycling is the worst magazine about bicycling.   (I get it as part of my League of American Wheelmen – I’m old school – membership.)  I did my best Fred Flintstone imitation to get through in one piece.

Under the TR Bridge I spotted a small patch of mud in the river below.  There were duckings nearly invisible on the mud next to Mother Mallard. I stopped to take another iPhone picture. Useless. In the shallow water next to the mud patch I spotted a 3-foot catfish.  I was feeling like Marlin Perkins.

A few minutes before 5, some workers kicked me out of the office to repair a water leak in my wall.  I moved into this spanking new office about a month ago.  It’s newness was nice while it lasted.

As I left the office I checked the #bikedc Twitter feed. There were a series of tweets about thunderstorms in the area.  I hit the street and was immediately buffeted by wind gusts. Dark clouds were churning above. In five minutes I was on the bike trail and some sprinkles were hitting my fairing. Two miles later as I approached the 14th Street Bridge rumbles of thunder gave way to huge rain drops coming down faster and faster.  They were cold raindrops, too.  I could barely see but, since I was already wet, I kept riding. And the cold rain kept cold raining.

Just past the airport, the rain gradually came to an end. I was soaked.  I passed by the bog north of Slaters Lane and spotted a gorgeous great blue heron.  After Old Town I saw a rabbit.  I figured with all this wild life I’d see a little bald eagle action. No such luck.

I diverted to the drug store to pick up some sinus medication (why don’t they call it the Medication Store?) Flonase is to DC like quahogs are to Rhode Island.

From the looks of things the storm clouds were following me.  I hurried home to avoid a second soaking.

[Insert long piano chord]

Let Sleeping Bras Lie

Another morning, another commute in the spitting rain.  It wasn’t so bad really. The rain stopped after 20 minutes. I rode tense all the way expecting that my chain would break at any moment.  It didn’t. In a way I was disappointed.  I am sure Woody Allen or Eeyore would have some words of wisdom about this.

The only notable thing that happened on the way to word was my second bra sighting of the year.  I was just past the Slater’s Lane connector on the Mount Vernon Trail when I saw a beige (or do they call it biscuit these days?) bra lying on the trail. I’m no good at sizing but it was substantially smaller than the bra I saw near the airport during the winter. This new bra was dry and clean so it hadn’t been there long. I didn’t stop to pick it up. I’d have felt like a pervert. Let sleeping bras lie.

I made it up the Rosslyn connector in one piece for a change. A bike rider was walker her bike up the hill. I asked if she was okay and she replied, “Oh, I’m fine. Just resting my bum.”  I don’t know about you but when I want to rest my bum I find a nice easy chair. (This reads like Andy Rooney. We went to the same high school. He got paid to blog on TV. I get bupkiss.)  To each his or her own.

During the day, fellow bike blogger Gypsybug  sent out a call to the Friday Coffee Club  for teammates in the National Bike Challenge. This is some sort of friendly online competition in which teams log rides and miles and blow on vuvuzelas. Actually, I don’t have a clue what it is so, true to form, I signed up. Bike shit happens.  Que sera sera. Obladi Oblada. Hakuna Matata.

The ride home felt odd. There was this glowing orange ball in the sky. It seemed to be generating heat. What is this strange orb? It didn’t go away. It just stayed there. Looming.

I rode all tensed up, KNOWING that damn chain was going to pop at any second. It held just fine. I even shifted into my big chain ring and everything worked fine.

On the way home I pulled into Spokes Etc. at Belle Haven. I had found a mess of chain in the Rootchopper Institute’s vast Bike Parts Warehouse.  Chris the mechanic dove into putting four chain links back onto the Tour Easy’s chain.  Neither he nor I had a clue how to thread the new chain through the tensioner. We consulted photos on the Internet.  We thought we had it right but a test ride resulted in the tensioner being upside down.

Another mechanic stepped in to help. During my recent chain escapades, a spring that provided resistance to the tensioner had become dislodged, probably when I disassembled it to free Flor’s pant leg.   The mechanics figured out how to reset the spring, then they pulled down another photo of the tensioner from the Internet.  In just a couple of minutes, Big Nellie was back in action.

The whole repair thing took at least a half an hour and cost me less than $10.  Time and money well spent. Having a local bike shop that will do simple (and sometimes not simple) bike repairs while you wait is invaluable to a bike commuter. Spokes at Belle Haven has bailed me out more times than I can remember. My helmet is off to them.

I rode Big Nellie home, grinding all the way up the biggish hill on Fort Hunt Road without the slightest chain problem.  Everything seems to be working fine. (Of course, the remaining spare links are staying in my seat bag forever.)

I entered my miles for the month of May: 525 miles over 16 days of riding so far.  That’s over 800 points. I could win a prize. Maybe some Gojo to get the chain gunk off my hands.

I Don’t Like Mondays

It was a Geldofian day.  Rain was coming down with just enough purpose that nothing I could do would keep my face dry. It was like having someone standing in front of me with a spray bottle of water. 

My plan today was to ride Big Nellie to work and then stop at my local bike shop to take the kink in my chain that I had installed after yesterday’s pants affair.  The chain was skipping in the small sprockets but seemed to be operating fine otherwise. Before I left for work, I searched the Rootchopper Institute of Spare Bicycle Parts for some chain links. I knew I had some, but I couldn’t find any. Hopefully, my local bike shop would have some when I stopped on the way home.

The ride in was rather moist and all those annoying people were gone so that I could ride on the Mount Vernon Trail in peace.  Before I get to the trail I ride down a short steep hill on Park Terrace Drive. Normally this is a 35 mile per hour descent but this morning the recycling truck was doing its thing smack dab in the middle of the street at the bottom of the hill.  No jollies for me.

I managed to survive the detour of death near the Wilson Bridge and the dance of the SUVs lining up to take Muffy and Wilfred to Saint Mary’s School at the southern edge of Old Town. I managed not to hit any SUVs or fledgling Catholics and should be awarded two gold stars for my efforts.

On the north end of Old Town I rode across the long boardwalk through what had been a drained stretch of wet land. Two workers were in waders mucking about. They looked somewhat unhappy.

I was riding carefully taking care not to put too much pressure on the chain which was skipping every now and then to remind me what an incompetent bike mechanic I am.  At the airport I lost another opportunity for high speed riding when a skinny girl passed me on the uphill side of the second flyover bridge. She was no match for Big Nellie’s downhill abilities but I wasn’t about to pass her on a blind curve on wet pavement.  So I rode my brakes and watched her pedal out of the saddle on flat land. She needs to work on her spinning technique.

As I approached the 14th Street Bridge one of my regulars, a middle-aged Asian man wearing a yellow jacket and carry lots of stuff on his bike, came my way. Normally, I see him near the Roosevelt Bridge about a mile closer to my destination in Rosslyn.  Babying the chain was really slowing me down.

My last challenge was to climb the connecting bridge up to Rosslyn. I shifted to my middle chain ring and began shifting to my big sprockets to ease the pressure on the chain when the chain snapped.

Not good.

I walked the bike up to a landing and started inspecting the damage. The broken link would have to be removed.  As I worked away at taking the link out, commuter after commuter came by asking if I needed help. When they saw it was a broken chain, they owned up to mechanical ineptitude and rode on.

I continued to work on the link, actually two since they are oriented in male/female pairs. For the uninitiated, a chain tool holds a chain link in place while you turn a handle that screws a pin pusher into the pin on the chain link. The idea is that you push the pin through enough to take out the bad chain link. You should never push the pin all the way through, because it is next to impossible to get back into the hole in the chain. Never.

Then Jason stopped to help. He had a sort of British accent (could be from Auckland for all I could tell) and was riding a single speed bike. As it turns out he has some familiarity with using a chain tool. As I turned to say hello, I took my mind off the chain tool for a second and the pin popped out. [Insert F-bomb here].

Jason and I worked for several minutes on getting the pin back in to no avail. He was getting a sore back from squatting and my shorts were soaked through from sitting on the ground.  We were not having fun. We dropped the pin and it disappeared somehow. We now had only one choice take two more links out and re-assemble a significantly shorter chain. Jason pulled this off with surgeons precision.  The link was a little stiff but he had done a terrific job. Thank you, Jason.

I arrived at work about 1/2 hour late and spent about 20 minutes getting chain lube and assorted black gunk off my hands and legs.  Fortunately, my boss is a bike commuter and understands these things.

For the ride home, I decided to leave the chain in the granny gear and ride ever so gently.  Pedal, pedal, pedal, repeat.  I had no problems and could detect no chain skipping. Jason done good.  I registered each passing mile – 10 to go, 9 to go – as I rode.

I approached the boardwalk north of Old Town. The wader guys were gone. I think they may have been damming up the stream because the former wet land was now pretty wet.  Better still, several of the small trees in the water were topped with downy egrets.  When I see an egret or heron in a tree I think of  Dr. Seuss.  Then my bird watching was interrupted by a passing cyclist. It was Jason, proud to see that his handiwork was successful. 

After once again surviving the detour of death and a walking crossing of the George Washington Parkway, I rolled into my local bike shop. One of the best things about Spokes Etc. is that they will do on the spot minor repairs while you wait.  They have saved many a bike commute for me over the years. Unfortunately they didn’t have any SRAM 9-speed chain links lying around so I was out of luck on a repair. In the process of looking my bike over they determined that Jason’s repair was sound and that the chain was still long enough for me to use all my gears. 

I rode up a big hill to test their theory and the chain performed fine. It skipped a couple of times but that may have been the result of my gear shifter being one click off.  I got home in good shape and immediately cleaned my chain. It was a mess.  Then I looked around for spare chain links. I have a translucent plastic box with spare parts in it. I held it over my head and looked in the bottom. There it was:  a red box with the word SRAM on it. I put the box down, reached in and pulled out the box which contained about 2/3rds of a 9-speed chain.

Tomorrow I’ll ride Big Nellie again, this time armed with my chain links.

Tuesday’s child is full of grace. Let’s hope.