The Woodrow Wilson Bike Academy, or I Wanna Ride My Bike

I am a parent. I have two kids who are of the age where a bicycle simply can’t compare to a car.  They both learned to ride on the street in front of our house. My daughter was almost swallowed up by a storm drain (her helmet kept her from going in), but teaching them was otherwise uneventful. I do remember the look on my wife’s face when I told her that I let my son ride around the block by himself.  Ten long minutes later he arrived unharmed in front of our house with the biggest smile in the world.

Kids learning to ride a bike are trying to master several complex tasks simultaneously.  They are learning to balance, steer, pedal, and brake.  This requires lots of motor skills and the use of muscles that they’ve probably never used before.

I grew up on a dead end street.  There were no curbs. I learned to ride in the street with training wheels, because that’s how it was done back in the day. I was terrified as I teetered back and forth and tried to pedal and steer and brake.  My first solo ride without training wheels ended up with me t-boning a 58 Chevy, but I digress.

There is a new train of thought that says training wheels are a waste of money and make learning much more difficult. I agree with it.

My sister Margaret is 2 1/2 years younger than me.While I was busy with second grade, my five year old sister taught herself to ride on my bike without training wheels. She pushed my bike down the driveway, jumped on it and glided onto the lawn across the street. She rode up the neighbor’s grassy front lawn and when she lost momentum she crashed. Then she got up and did it again. She was having a blast.

She was mastering balance and steering. She did nothing with the brakes or the pedals. Once she had the first two skills figured out, she practiced the second two. 

Do a web search on “without training wheels”. I got over 1 million hits.

Since I was known among the parents of my kids’ friends as the dad who rides a bike, I was often asked where to take a kid to learn to ride.  The first words out of my mouth were always met with incredulity.

DO NOT TAKE THEM TO THE MOUNT VERNON TRAIL!!!!

Or the Capital Crescent or Washington and Old Dominion or any other trail with significant trail traffic.

Taking a kid to a busy multiuse trail around DC is like teaching a kid to drive by taking him on the Beltway.  It’s not going to end well.

Woodrow Wilson Bike Academy

I have discovered the perfect place to take your kid to practice bike riding (with or without training wheels).  It’s the newly paved section of Jones Point Park under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria.  There’s all kinds of new, smooth pavement.  It’s deserted.  Your kid can ride in circles or up and down the big wide lanes under the bridge. If it rains, no problem. There’s a huge bridge overhead remember?.  And it’s a cool looking structure too.  The Mount Vernon Trail does cross the paved area near the bathrooms but there’s so much room it shouldn’t be a concern. (Don’t even think about putting your kid on it.)

There is also a water fountain and bathrooms. When junior gets tired, take her/him over to the river to look at the boats or over to one of the play grounds.

Play ground and parking beyond the bridge

You gotta have a potty and a water fountain

Then take them to Old Town and get them an ice cream cone. 

Back to Back to Backroads

It’s five o’clock on a Sunday. It’s dark out. My legs are dead.  I know, I’ll jump in a car and drive 90 minutes to a bike ride. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Cresting the Blue Ridge at Daybreak

And so I did. I loaded The Mule on the Millennium Falcon, grabbed some tunes (Crowded House, Wilco, Le Vent du Nord) and headed west to Berryville, Virginia and the Backroads Century.  The Backroads is the annual century of the Potomac Pedalers Bicycle Club, a DC area bike club for riders of all skill levels.

Berryville Sunrise

Jeff Heads Out for 100 Miles
Carbon Faired Gold Rush
Leslie, A Friday Coffee Clubber
The Start

I hoped to ride with one or more of my friends. Paul, Jody and I rode Bike Virginia together in 1991.  This was to be our 21st (and only) reunion.  Paul emailed me the day before saying he had a hockey championship game that morning so he was going to come much later, too late to do a long ride.  So he told me to contact Jody.  Not seeing her phone number at the bottom of the email, I sent her an email telling her to meet me at the high school in Berryville around 8-ish.

Another Faired Gold Rush
Kirsten (c) with the Hubz (r)
Looks like a splendid day for a ride
Bike Friday Tandem Traveller
I Could Ride This All Day, so I Did

I arrived in Berryville at 745 and was at the start 10 minutes later. I picked up the cure sheet for the 65 milers (called a metric century because it’s about 100 kilometers) from Leslie, a Friday Coffee Clubber.

Hay, Sky, Trees, Field

It Was Sooooo Nice

I met up with Jeff who was armed with an Eddy Merckx road bike to do the century (100 miles).  Adios, mon ami. Too rich for my blood.

Jane
Say Neigh, Somebody
White Folks Rockin’

Kirsten, another Friday Coffee Club regular and ultramarathon runner, appeared with husband and Friday Coffee Clubber Tom – a.k.a. the Hubz – and some friends to do the half century.  Adios, mes amis.

Lisa, another Coffee Clubber, showed up.  She was doing the metric century with her husband Robert and her friend Jane and her husband.  They waited for me. I waited for Jody. At 8:10 they left. I waited 20 more minutes and checked my email. At around 8:30 I noticed Jody’s phone number at the bottom of the email. I called her.

Hellava Lot of Apples

“Where are you?”

“At home. I’m coming later with Paul.”

I was feeling like Cool Hand Luke. (What we have is failure to communicate.)

They’re Gaining on Me

I left.  I wasn’t mad, but, boy, The Mule was. He left at an impressive gallop, determined to catch up to Lisa and her crew.

I rarely ride faster than 15 miles per hour.  My bike is heavy and old and so am I.  You’d think after riding the 50 States Ride the day before I’d have nothing in my legs. My legs, however, were ready to boogie. And so we did.  The first rest stop was 12 miles away. No problem.  You might say we hauled ass. (Sorry. It’s the only mule joke I have.)

Robert and Lisa

Beautiful country side and a slightly chilly breeze were the order of the day. I didn’t care. I was cruising.  I passed a heap of riders on this mad dash.  They weren’t in any hurry.  I arrived at the first rest stop. It had all kinds of good food, a trio playing string music by a creek, an old mill,. and Lisa and her crew.

We Fanned Out a Bit

After a few minutes we headed out together for 53 miles.  The next 20 miles were hill and windy.  We stopped after about an hour at a second rest stop. Lisa who, like me has asthma, was having breathing problems. I gave her my albuterol inhaler and she was instantly feeling better. Feeling a bit like a ’70s college student, I took a hit. Does albuterol count as a performance enhancing drug?

The Mule Pulled Them in
Just Like This for 65 Miles

Off we rode. For the most part the downs were followed by ups so we could do a decent amount of hill hopping.  That’s when your downhill momentum carries you up to the top of the next hill.  Every few miles, though, there was a long uphill, the kind that keeps you humble but doesn’t kill you.

Cool Rocks along the Road

For every one of these difficult uphills, there was a scary fast descent.  The scary part came mostly from the fact that the roads were chip seal, a surface just rough enough to put some fear in you.  If I had more bike handling confidence, I could have easily broken 40 miles per hour. Instead of bike handling confidence I have fear. Fear is a good speed governor.

Jane and Lisa at White Post

The five of us rode in ever changing formations. Sometimes Jane’s husband took the lead with Jane and I several hundred yards back and Lisa and Robert pulling up the rear. Then we’d reform and break off in another arrangement.

You Pretty Much Can’t Stop Taking Pix on a Day Like This

At the final rest stop, Jane and her husband took off.  We met up with Leslie, who was enjoying a ride she called Tour of the Rest Stops after volunteering at the start.  Lisa was taking a long time so Robert told me to head out.

Leslie at our Last Rest Stop

Off I rode solo.  10 miles left. Some challenging hills remained but I was familiar with the course and nothing surprised me. That’s not to say I was bored. Even after 60 miles the countryside of the northern Shenandoah Valley never loses its appeal.

The last two miles are on Route 7, the main drag through the town of Berryville.  It’s a big comedown from the previous 63 miles.  The houses and shops are quaint but the trucks leave a lot to be desired.

When I finished I felt fine.I met up with Jeff and told him I could have done the century. He had 100 miles behind him to add to well over 70 the day before. He was cooked. I felt fine except for an achy left foot.  I need to get stiffer shoes for these long rides.

Rene Magritte Phone Home

Jane and her husband and I milled about. I tried a pulled pork sammich but I’m not much of a barbecue fan. I took off for home, and stopped at a pie place near Round Hill called Hill High Orchards.  Their pies, I am told, come from a Sara Lee factory.  The blueberry slice I had was heated up and had a big scoop of vamilla ice cream on top.

I filled my pie hole with it.

Blurry Reward at Hill High Orchards

So ended a long weekend of riding. 132 miles, all of it on The Mule.

Click on Lisa’s and Kirsten’s names above to read their accounts of the day. My full set of pix (yeah, I know about the smudge on my lens) is over on my Flickr site.

249 States and Counting

I met my friend Charmaine one year on the 50 States Ride.  This is an event put on by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The ride is 65 miles, 500 cyclists, 7 pages of directions, innumerable stop signs and stop lights, car traffic, 4 rest stops, and many, many, many hills. The idea is to cover all 8 wards of the city and ride on every road named after a state. (Please don’t make Puerto Rico a state. Please!)

Crossing Calvert Street at Sunrise

Charmaine has a rule: she only does an event once. I have no rules, and far less common sense. This year was my fifth 50 States Ride.  (One year, I missed Vermont Avenue somehow, hence the 249 States in the title.)

Lisa (R) is all smiles
Registration

This year I teamed up with members of the Friday Coffee Club, a group of caffeinated, two-wheeled, bi-pedal,  bike commuters whom I have come to know over the past year. Many of these desperadoes also blog. (DC bike commuters are blogaholics.) Our cast of characters began with Lisa, Ed, Mary, John, Kevin, and my non-blogging friend Jeff. Jeff and I have done several rides together. (Which may mean that Jeff has less common sense than I.)  Just a minute before we left, Justin and his wife Katherine showed up. 

Pre-ride Yoga
Mary and Ed before the Start

This May Take a While

While waiting for the festivities to begin, we chatted and took pictures. Lisa even participated in a group yoga session. These folks were all kinds of flexible, but the ride would soon fix that.

At 9 a.m. we were led en masse down a long windy path to the side of Calvert Street where we waited patiently for the walk signal to cross the street and begin our journey to Wyoming. Once underway, in no time (about 3 blocks) I became separated from my peeps and was assimilated into a borg-like cluster of cyclists led by Dolores, a volunteer course marshall. Dolores, a blonde haired black woman had been trained by WABA in the mysterious art of following the cue sheet from hell.  She had the perfect attitude to lead a group through spirals of city streets to pick off state after state, which is to say, she is a hot ticket. We had a great time riding through downtown DC, laughing all the way.  Somewhere behind me my peeps were assimilated into their own rolling borg. Ed and Mary, who routinely skip the streets they ride every week, went hunting for coffee.  They would re-appear between cups.

My Peeps Are Back There Somewhere

Ed and Mary (across intersection) Seeking Espresso

At one point on Capitol Hill I lost track of Dolores. My new bike borg was led by two rather serious, silver haired, white male marshalls who promptly managed to screw up Washington Avenue at the base of Capitol Hill.(Note to WABA: clone Dolores!)  Back on track the two old dudes guided us down the left lane of Independence Avenue for a half mile with buses passing us on our right. I ride in the city all the time and found this to be – let me use a technical term – INSANE!

A Little Crowded at the Intersections

We turned up toward L’Enfant Plaza and I split off from the group to use a rest room.  After returning to the course, I rode down the side path on the Case Bridge. This runs above the Washington Channel alongside I 395.  At the base of the bridge was another cluster of literacy challenged cyclists. They were executing a switchback turn instead of going straight. NOT ON THE CUE SHEET!!!!  I reached Buckeye Drive, our next turn, and there was Dolores. “They turned, didn’t they?” she said with a laugh.  (They figured out their error without too much trouble.)

On Case Bridge over Washington Channel

Justin and Kevin on Ohio Drive

A couple of turns later I was on Ohio Drive along the Potomac and joined up with Justin, Katherine and Kevin. We got to talking and missed a turn but recovered without much trouble. We soony crossed the Anacostia River where we made it to the Anacostia Park rest stop. Ed and Mary, by now sufficiently fortified with caffeine, were there to greet us.

Kevin at Anacostia Park Rest Stop

Our reassembled team headed out to conquer the hills of Anacostia. Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Massachusetts and Minnesota were going to be painful.  As we climbed the bumpy hill on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a Metro bus driver pulled up behind us and started honking his horn at us. This went on for several blocks, and it made us all wonder how this idiot has managed not to get fired.

Little Bike Leads the Way

While our bus affair was going on, Lisa was making like Claudio Chiapucci. She flew up the hill. Um, Lisa, I meant to tell you that this is the first of three. About a mile later, Ed and Mary led us up Alabama Avenue, or, as it’s know to local cyclists, the Hillary Step. Ed and Mary climb like goats. I climb like a manatee. Somehow we all came together at the top. Ed was breathing normally. I could have used supplemental oxygen. A woman in a parked car gave us enthusiastic high fives as we rode past. While I was suffering on the incline, I did make note of all the new houses and a spiffy new library we were passing. Nice to see that Anacostia is growing. 

Lisa just before the Hills Begin

I took over at the summit to lead us through the tricky Texas Street section. Texas is a short side street in a dead end neighborhood. Here, new construction of another sort reared its head. Speed humps! Every 100 yards a speed hump spanned the road.  Pedal. Wham. Pedal Wham. All I could think of was why would anyone speed on these dinky side streets. They don’t go anywhere!!!!  Later in the ride we were treated to brand new rumble strips. What joy. 

Somewhere on Alabama Ave (Dolores on Far Right)

After we got humped, we cruised through the silken roads of Fort Dupont Park and were soon zooming down Mass Ave toward the Anacostia River.  What bliss after all that climbing.

The New Anacostia Trail Bridge Looks Spiffy

Soon we were back on Capitol Hill and eating burritos at the lunch stop, where we met up with Rachel and Laura, two Coffee Clubbers. Rachel was working the event for WABA and Laura was casually riding around town and decided to pat us on the sweaty back for moral support.

Rachel Doing Her Paparazza Thing at Lunch

The burrito was tasty but not exactly what you want slogging around in your stomach during a bike ride.  After lunch I headed out with Jeff, Jeff’s friend Erica, and Lisa to conquer the second half. The constant tweaking of riding partners is normal for the 50 States Ride.  After twisting and turning we hit Montana and Hawaii Avenues. Steep, bumpy and hard were they. There is no try, only climb.

The northeast and central northwest parts of the city is where the ride opens up a bit. The streets are less inviting (particularly South Dakota Avenue). The turns seem less frequent; speeds increase. Idaho stops become the rule. Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, Georgia all fall by the wayside. We picked up Ann, a young woman rider on a Trek 520 touring bike. As we were riding, the temperature gauge on my bike computer passed 90 degrees. My water bottles were emptying. This ride was getting serious.

Somewhere in this blur of heat and hills, we found a rest stop at a house owned by friends of Mary and Ed. I seriously needed some water and they had it in abundance. Perfect. At this point Lisa headed for home. She (and Jeff and I) were doing a ride the next morning so she wanted to leave something in her tank for that ride.
 
After resuming, Jeff and I nearly missed a turn. We were distracted by a tall woman with legs up to there walking down the side walk. This was decidedly not a glamorous part of town. She stuck our like Manute Bol at a Munchkin reunion. A rider behind us called to us and we made the turn to stay on course.

Soon after that I nearly missed a turn up near Silver Spring. No Manute, just fatigue. Dolores reappeared. Just what I needed.  I followed her up a long hill. Down Alaska we sped toward 16th Street. We flew into Rock Creek Park which was shady and much cooler.  What goes down definitely goes up, however, and we were out the other side of the park and climbing again.

A little boy ran up Beech Street and said “LEMONADE! NAME YOUR PRICE!”  We couldn’t refuse his offer.  Cold. Wet. Sweet. Chug. Ahhh!

Fortified we wound our way through Chevy Chase, Tenleytown and AU Park. When we reached the AU rest stop, we could see clouds building. We made our stop a short one.  Nebraska sloped down to a left on Arizona.  The downhill route continued, but in short order we took an abrupt left and began a steep, bumpy climb back to AU.  With legs of lead, we sucked it up and carried on.  About 20 minutes later we had mastered our last three states, New Mexico, Idaho and Connecticut.

Ann and Jeff at Calvert and Connecticut

We returned to the park which had been long abandoned in favor of an after party at the Mellow Mushroom pizza place in Adams Morgan. We pedalled over to the party where  we met up with Ryan, whom I had met a few days before at a Bike Arlington happy hour. Rachel was there still working. Laura showed up. Ed. Mary. Justin. Katherine. John. And many, many others.

Calvert Street 1/2 Mile from the Finish

We had made an honest effort. We had earned our refreshment and our t-shirts.

Cheers, mates. On to the next ride. Up before the sun at 5 for the drive to Berryville.

Additional pix can be found on my Flickr page here.

Don’t Touch that Dial

I took beaucoups pix during the 50 States Ride and Backroads Metric Century this weekend.  I would have posted a blog about the rides but I was busy stuffing my piehole and sawing logs last night. 

Today I am in shock because I drove my car to work. No, not because I am tired. I have to fly to Raleigh for a business trip and, well, cars sometimes come in handy on days like today.  Car tunes today are provided by Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  (Is it me or does the lead singer sound like Ray Davies of the Kinks?)

So, no worries, I will post a couple of blog entires on the weekend’s proceedings when I return later in the week. If you can’t wait you can read Mary’s, Kevin‘s, or John‘s write ups on the 50 States. Lisa’s will be coming sure, no doubt. 

For what it’s worth, aside from some tightness in my legs and a sore left foot, I feel fine today. 

Bicycle Death March

“I like my cigar but I take it out once in a while.”

Groucho Marks is alledged to have said this to a contestant’s husband on You Bet Your Life, after she told Groucho she’d had 11 kids in 10 years.  I am begining to get the idea.

I rode 50 miles on Sunday.  Then 30 each day this week. Last night I went to the Bike Arlington Happy Hour at Capital City Brewing Company in Shirlington because, even though I was pooped, $2 pints are hard to pass up.

I got home in the dark last night at 8:30.  As I rode along the Dyke Marsh boardwalk on the Mount Vernon Trail I looked into the reeds. At the edge of the water, two eyes beamed back at me. Either that or I was hallucinating.

I had a nice tailwind this morning.  I needed it. I skipped Friday Coffee Club because I had a 9:30 meeting across town at the Federal Communications Commission. As it turns out, the meeting started late. I could have gone for an FCC double header.  (Which sounds pretty neat until I realize that @rcannon does this all the time.)

Speaking of double headers, I plan on riding both the 50 States Ride and the Backroads (Metric) Century this weekend.  Too bad I can’t be like a baseball team and call in a reliever for the end of the ride.

Speaking of baseball, in 1967, I became a Red Sox fan.  That year Tony Conigliaro, the bestest young phenom evah was beaned on my birthday.  I was destined for despair for the rest of my life.  In 2004, I lost my mind watching the Sawx win it all for the first time since forevah.

Around that time the Montreal Expos left the great white north and decamped to DC and San Juan, ultimately becoming the Washington Nationals. My father drove us up to Montreal to see a ball game when I was a teenager. The Expos, led by Rusty Staub (Le Grand Orange), were hosting the Giants with Willie Mays.  Willie didn’t play though. The game was held in Jarry Park which had only one tier and held fewer than 25,000. Ken Henderson of the Gi’s hit a monster home run that bounced into a swimming pool in the park outside the ballpark. So I may be one of the few Nats fans who actually saw Les Expos back in the day.

Last night they clinched a playoff spot. It was the first time since 1933 that a Washington baseball team has made it to the post season.  It’s not exactly up there with the Sawx 2004 comback against the hated Yankees, but it’s pretty cool regardless.  Congratulations, Nats.

Getting back to cycling, by the time Sunday’s ride is over, I should have about 330 miles in 8 days.

I will be dead. Like Groucho.

We’re All Gonna Die – NOT

Today was supposed to be the end of the world in DC.  Anytime we have bad weather the 48 local weather services go to DEFCON 1.  Bulletins flash across TV screens. Emails from local governments clutter in boxes.

So, of course, I rode my bike to work. You wouldn’t want to get your car all messed up in weather like this now, would you?

Hey I survived the Great New England Blizzard of ’78, Snowmaggedon, and the Derecho. (Okay, we lost power for 5 1/2 days on that last one but it only got up to 94 degrees in our livingroom.)
 
I stepped out the front door, saw gray skies with fast moving clouds and felt some sprinkles. Oh no, this is gonna suck.  Then I got on my bike, the sprinkles stopped and the wind was a mighty tailwind all the way to the office.   

Awesome.

The Mount Vernon Trail was curiously devoid of its usual commuters tho. (Although I understand there was at least one interloper on a circus bike.) And there was the woman who runs three steps at a time. (Damned, if I can figure her out.)

All day long my co-workers, many of whom have cubes near the windows, were freaking out about the weather outside. I was parked in my interior office oblivious to it all. Around three in the afternoon, I pulled up the local radar. There was a storm from Charlotte to Poughkeepsie.  In the middle of the storm was a long, red line. The long red line went right through the DC area. Gulp.

Realtors will tell you that it doesn’t matter what your house is worth now. It only matters when you sell it.  The same is true for storms. It doesn’t matter that a tornado just touched down in the suburbs, it only matters if it touches down on the MVT when your riding your bike home.

At 4:45 I check the radar again. There was a gap in the storm that corresponded almost exactly to my route home. Time to boogay.

As I hit the road I noticed that my handlebars had rotated forward. This is not a good thing, especially if they rotate forward at a time you need to control your bike. Did I stop? You can’t be serious.

The trail was littered with small tree branches but there were few people about so I just rode around it all. It sprinkled a bit here and there but considering the fact that THIS IS THE BIG ONE!!!! I was pretty pleased with my progress.

I came to the railroad bridge underpass, the last of the underpasses at the 14th Street Bridge-o-plex.  I was in my usual commuting trance when I heard a voice. I looked to my right under the bridge and I saw a cyclist changing a tire. The voice said, “Do you have a pump?”

Now if I was a wise guy I would have said “yes” and kept riding, but I stopped and asked him if he needed help. His name was Eric and his pump had ceased to exist, it had expired, it was defunct. It was like a Pythonian dead parrot.

He thank me profusely for my ancient black Zefal XP frame pump and began pumping away. To no avail. His spare had an inch long slice in it. Good think his name wasn’t Bruce Banner or he’d have turned green and smashed me.

“That’s okay, I have a patch kit,” he said.

Not wanting to wait for open tire surgery, I pulled a spare tube from my saddle bag and gave it to him.  Earlier this summer I was waylaid by a broken chain and a bike commuter stopped and spent 20 minutes working on my chain. My roadside assistance deficit is now expunged.

Eric said his original flat had eight punctures in the tube, but he only found one piece of glass in his tire. Eric’s math was less than inspiring. I’d have looked that tire over like a hawk but he nimbly put my tube right in and pumped it up. It seemed to hold.

With my pump back on my bike, I wished Eric well and rode off.

Alas, my time with Eric had cost me my opening in the storm. The remnants of today’s Storm of Certain Death were actually rather wimpy.  It was just your basic gloomy rainy ride home. Nothing special.

When I got home I rotated my handlebars back to their proper position. I dried off The Mule and called it a day.

I was alive.

Take that Bob Ryan.

Take My Wife,,,,, Please


I should have known that my first long foray on my recumbent would mess me up the next day.  Not to disappoint, my body rolled out of be like Billy Ray Cyrus’s heart, achy and breaky. Even though recumbents are much easier on the body, they use slightly different muscles, or, maybe, they use the same muscles in slightly different ways.  This is why I normally go all in on a particular bike, riding it for many days in a row so that my body adapts.
One of the differences with bent riding is that you need to get bent legs.  Since you can’t pull on the handlebars or use gravity to help you push the pedals, you have to spin in an especially efficient manner.  This takes some adaptation.  Because of the threat of rain today, I decided to ride The Mule instead of Big Nellie this morning.  The Mule is my oldest bike, and has a saddle that has seen its better days.  The first few miles were a bit of a slog as I dialed out my bent legs and dialed in my Mule legs.
About three miles into my commute, I intersect with the Mount Vernon Trail. Just a few yards after getting on the MVT it becomes a boardwalk through Dyke Marsh, a natural area along the Potomac River.  I like to stop at a bump out in the boardwalk to take a picture of the sun rising over the river. This chilly morning there was fog hanging over the river so it looked particularly inviting.  The bump out, however, was occupied by three cyclists, one of whom is one of my regulars, a spry, petite woman rider whose hair fans out from the rear of her helmet. I see every morning on my way to work, she coming toward me with her glasses on and a big I-love-my-bike smile.
I continued to ride and found my Mule legs in short order. My usual trance overcame me and somehow I managed to ride another mile and a half before I came to a slight rise in the trail as it climbed to a bridge over a creek.  The trail at this point is bounded on the right by the stone side of the bridge and on the left by the Parkway.  There is not a whole lot of room for error.  As I neared the top of the rise, I could see a bike approach me from up ahead. Just then, my regular passed me on the left. I don’t know if she called a warning but her pass was so fluid that it didn’t startle me in the least. After the approaching cyclist passed, another cyclist passed. As he did he said, “Passing left. I apologize for my wife.” I cracked up.
Another mile slipped away and I turned left under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to take South Royal Street into Old Town, Alexandria.  The SUVs of parents dropping their kids off at Saint Mary’s School were clogging up the street with their drop-off-and-dash routine. One parent dropped her daughter off on the near side of the trail so that the little girl would have to cross in front of the cyclists to get to the sidewalk.  Situational awareness is apparently not a requirement for the modern day, upper class Catholic parent. I managed to avoid hitting the girl as she darted in front of me.
After weaving through the SUVs (why can’t they all stay to the left of the lane so I can get by without passing in front of them?), I cruised north on Royal Street using a Lexus (Mrs. Rootchopper calls them Locusts) as a shield against crossing cars.
By the time I returned to the river the fog had lifted and the temperature had risen about five degrees. It was now perfect bike commuting weather, the kind that tempts me to ride right past the office, across the river, and up the C&O Canal towpath. Sadly, I need the money to edjumacate my kids so that they don’t become modern day, upper class Catholics parents with Locusts.
I approached the underpass to the Memorial Bridge. Here, the MVT narrows to a single lane. I could see a bike coming fast on the far side of the underpass so I pulled over.  As he came through he held up his hand and index finger and said, “There’s one more.” This kept me from turning back onto the trail and getting run over.  I tip my bike helmet to you, sir.
After 8 1/2 hours of doing the government thing, I hopped back on the mule and moseyed on home. I must have been tired because apparently my mouth was wide open. About a mile into the ride, a big bug flew straight down my throat.  GAG!!! SPIT!!! GAG!!! ACK!!! He wasn’t coming back out so I rinsed him down with a swig from my water bottle.
Despite the flying protein, I didn’t set any speed records on the way home. 
By the way, I would never apologize for my wife. She’s never wrong. 
You can put the gun down, dear.  

50 Miles for an Empty Bag

After yesterday’s exciting repair fest, I deserved a nice long bike ride. I needed some fuel. Mrs. Rootchopper had purchased some organic steel cut Irish oats yesterday. (I get the organic part. And I think I get the steel cut part. Irish? I mean could you tell the difference between Irish oats and Norwegian oats?)  I sat down to cook them and quickly learned (cuz I read the destructions) that they take 35 minutes to cook.  I guess my forefathers have time to kill in the morning. I suppose the repair the thatch in the roof while the oats are cooking.  Anyway, I read the paper while my oats simmered.  A front page article about the fall of a local entrepreneur caught my I, because I know him and his son. DC is a small town.

After adorning my fancy pants Irish oats with raisins and cinnamon, I snarfed them up and headed for the door.  Big Nellie was the steed of the day. We took off down the street. The stiffness of the new seat back made for much more powerful and efficient propulsion. Unfortunately, in my haste to get rolling I forgot to bring some water. Oops. Reboot!

Once I had my water bottles it was time to get rolling again.  The ride to the Mount Vernon Trail was swift and comfy.  This new seat rocks!  I picked up the trail and slalomed around the weekenders.  As usual for a fair weather Sunday the trail was crowded but users were playing nice and I managed to make it all the way past Old Town with a smile on my face.  As I cruised north of Old Town I got stuck behind a guy on a hybrid who was riding fast, then slow, then fast. Dude, you are starting to piss me off!  Then he stopped dead in his tracks. No warning. I nearly rear ended him. As it turns out, he wasn’t the problem. A guy on a CaBi was in front of him and CaBi was giving hybrid fits. Capital Bikeshare recently expanded to Old Town so I expect to see more noobs on the trail gumming up the works. They’ll fit right in with the running clubs, the little kids learning how to ride, the rollerbladers, the stollers, and the occasional bird watcher.  I shouldn’t complain since I get the MVT pretty much to myself on the weekdays.

Soon I was heading west on the Four Mile Run Trail.  I made it all the way to Shirlington where I resisted the call of the Weenie Beanie and jumped on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.  Over the course of the next couple of miles I was shoaled by a hybrid rider repeatedly.  Once clear of the busy George Mason Drive intersection, I put the hammer down on Big Nellie and dropped the queen of shoal far behind. 

The W&OD is gradually uphill heading west so Big Nellie and I endured a frustratingly slow pace.  Once we crossed over I-66, a downhill launched us over 30 miles per hour.  Soon we arrived at our destination, Bikes at Vienna, a specialty bike emporium.  B@V stocks Arkel seatback bags and Big Nellie needed one badly.  Her old bag was torn and tattered and held together by duct tape. 

I tested the Arkel bag to make sure it fit on my seat and bought it without hesitation. In transferring stuff from the old bag to the new, I realized that I was carrying a ridiculous amount of crap. I had to fiddle with the bag to get the zipper to close. I was carrying four different nut drivers, two brake cables, a spare chain, three tire irons, ten zip ties, three tubes (in addition to two in a bag on the front of the bike), a cargo net, a nine iron and a sand wedge.  I’d keep the sand wedge but the rest had to go when I got home.

On the return trip I stopped at a trail side Whole Foods to grab a bite to eat.  A ready-made tuna sammich was just what I needed so I bought it and sat on a bench next to the trail for a bite.  The marker on the bench gave me pause.  Be careful out there, dudes and dudettes.

Tuna devoured, I jumped on Big Nellie for the ride home. The long uphill grade now became the thing that recumbent riders dream of, a long steady downhill. Yee Ha!

But for a stop to refill my water bottles, I made quick work of the ride home.  I would guess that the average speed on my return was five miles per hour faster.  Thankfully, the MVT was back to normal, no doubt thanks to the fact that the Redskins were playing. Hail to the Redskins.  (Clearly the MVT and the shopping malls at Christmas is about all they are good for.)

I pulled into the driveway at 50 miles (thanks to the 1.5 mile false start).  Did my neck hurt? No. My shoulders? Nada. My arms? Surely, you jest. All I felt was a warm feeling in my legs for an honest effort on a late summer day. I looove my recumbent.

As I put Big Nellie away, I emptied the bag and took out all the extra junk that I had been hauling around. Including the sand wedge. 

World’s Slowest Bike Repairman

The new seat for Big Nellie came this week so I decided to devote today to bike maintenance.  It was a beautiful day outside and I really would rather be riding, but sometimes you have to call time out to get the fleet in good working order.

The first order of the day was the new seat for Big Nellie. Big Nellie is my Tour Easy long wheel base recumbent. The seat has two parts, a seat base that attaches to the bike’s frame and a mesh seatback that attaches to the base and to the rear triangle of the bike by means of some seatback stays. 

The seat base is a cushion made of three kinds of foam. The foam is covered by a thin black fabric. It will last me a good 15-17,000 miles.  The seat back is an aluminum tube shaped like a U. Filling the inside of the U is a mesh backing that is tied to the U with a cord of some sort.  The foam in my old seat was compacted.  The seat mesh – which was attached with zip ties in the old version – was torn and sagging.  (When I threw it in the trash I discovered one other lovely aspect of the old seat. It stunk!)

It took me about 45 minutes to get the old seat off and the new one on.  Positioning the seat and seat back on a recumbent is every bit as important as positioning a saddle on a conventional bike. On a Tour Easy it takes three times as long because the fore/aft position, the tilt of the seat back, and the orientation of the seatback stays all are interdependent. And all take different tools to adjust. 

I did a couple of trips around the block and was satisfied that Big Nellie was vastly improved.  Unfortunately, I forgot about putting on my underseat rack. This is a present I got from my wife a long time ago and never got around to putting on the bike. The advantage of an underseat rack is that it puts the weight of any load you are carrying well forward of the rear of the bike. This improves the fore/aft weight distribution of the loaded bike and, with it, the bike’s handling.

My first task was to remove the fender mount that secures the rear fender to the frame. The mount is attached with a small Allen screw under the seat back. For the life of me I couldn’t get the damn thing to budge. Reluctantly I removed the seat to get a better angle on the screw. No luck. I sprayed the screw with WD40. Nothing doing. I drove to the hardware store looking for an Allen key that had a grip of it so I could get some oomph into the removal of the screw.  After discussing the matter with the hardware guy, it became apparent that maybe my problem was the fact that I was using a US Allen key instead of a metric Allen key. I drove home and found a set of metric Allen keys. Now I could get the screw to turn but it wasn’t backing out of the frame. I turned it a few dozen more times then got the bright idea to look underneath the bike to see if the screw was hung up on something.

It turns out the screw was threaded through a nut on the underside of the frame.  I used a wrench to hold the nut and finally after well over an hour the screw came out. My son, who is mechanically inclined, would have had this figured out in five minutes. Unfortunately, he’s away at college learning useful stuff like marketing, accounting and economics (assume a screwdriver).

The underseat rack comes in pieces and it’s quite a puzzle. There are instructions with a few pictures so I should have been good to go.  It took some doing and some trial and error but I finally got the rack on. Next I put the seat back on, fiddled with the positioning again and took it for a test ride. Success!

Then it occurred to me to test the rack. Somehow the rack was oriented to closely to the underside of the seat. I couldn’t get the top of my pannier between the rack and the bottom of the seat.  So, it looks like I’ll have to take the rack off and remount it a little lower on the frame. (This is the second option in the instructions so I should be able to get it adjusted in a half hour or so.)

I put Big Nellie away, ate lunch (it was now 3 p.m.) and started to work on The Mule’s brake pads. The Mule has cantilever brakes and they don’t work very well.  When I took off the brake pads, I could see why.  There were all worn down. One of them had a ridge along the length of the pad, meaning that it had been oriented too low causing only the top portion of the pad to make contact with the side of the rim.

I hate doing brake work because you really need three hands and good vision to do it and I have two hands and my vision sucks (I have two ophthalmologists; one for my retinas and one for my cataracts. I’m thinking about getting a third for my astigmatism.).  None the less, I had all four brake pads swapped out in about an hour.  I took it for a test ride. The braking was somewhat better and there were no squeals during my test ride. Good enough.

I was pretty pooped at this point so rather than go for a ride, I decided to mow the lawn.  This frees up tomorrow for a ride on Big Nellie. I think I’ll go out to Bikes at Vienna and buy me a new seat back bag.  My old one was all torn up. One of the advantages to Bikes at Vienna is that it is about a 45 mile round trip from my house. Just the distance to test out the new, improved Big Nellie.