The Mule Abides – Again

After ragging about the mechanical delays in getting The Mule back on the road, I thought it would be a good idea to take it for a ride and see if the darn thing works.

Yup.

I rode to Arlington by way of Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood. The weather was splendid. The Mule and I get along about as well as bike and rider possibly can. All the shifts were true. All the braking was bueno. (I had severely toed-in my brake pads. They were silent, but they were rather lame in the stopping department. Now I have stoppage.)

I even gave the granny gear a good work out by riding up South Walter Reed Drive, a steep hill that never, ever ends. I took a couple of big gulps of water before I started up the darned thing. Bad idea. Nearly saw that water again near the top. For the last 50 yards all I could think of was “Who’s idea was this?” It would have been wise to take a couple of hits of albuterol but clearly my brain function was not at optimal levels. Near the top I was hurting so bad that I didn’t even notice any pain in my ribs.

(Ribs update: the exterior bruise is gone but the area is still sore to the touch. At least I can roll over in bed without pain waking me up. I think I will begin doing my back and physical therapy exercises again tomorrow – oh, how I hate them. They are yoga-ish. Also, Monday I have a date with the weight machines at the gym.)

The rest of the ride felt a little off. I had moved the saddle forward just a touch because I noticed that I was riding on the nose of the saddle during my tour. I addition to stretching the leather on the saddle, I was compressing a nerve in my perimeum causing sharp stabbing pains after about 30 miles. This doesn’t float your boat when your riding 80 miles in a day, believe me.

Today I rode 32 miles and had no pains but now my lower right back isn’t happy. My working theory is that moving the saddle forward resulted in a slight up-tilt causing my back to bow a bit. So I adjusted the nose down one click on the saddle adjustment mechanism.

I did notice one thing that was off about the bike. The stem (the piece that connects the handlebars to the bike) is on crooked. I probably knocked it off line when The Mule and I took a tumble in La Belle, Florida. It’s pointing about 5-10 degrees left of center. This is easy to fix, except that I need to loosen the stem but and the stem bolt is rusty. Won’t budge. I sprayed it with some oil. Maybe it will free up.

Long story short, the bike is in pretty great shape. No additional work is needed. I might take Rando Mike up on his offer to install a generator hub/light system on The Mule. He’ll do the work. I pay for the parts. And buy the beer.

This could get expensive.

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BCBD – Bike Commute Brain Dump

  • On the way to work a bicycle commuter riding behind me in Old Town yelled “Excuse me!” I though that maybe I had dropped something. Instead he asked me if he could borrow my pump. He had tried to use a pump located outside a bike store a few blocks back but it did nothing but let air out of his tire. We completed the task in short order but this reminds me to remind new bike commuters that you have a list of requirements
    • A bike (duh) – you can use bikeshare or buy your own
    • A good lock – make you bike less easy to steal than the ones next to it. (This is kind of like the old joke: Q: How fast do you have to be to outrun a bear? A: Faster that the slowest person you are with.) Go with (at least) a beefy U lock like a Kryptonite (I have 2).
    • Tire repair stuff
      • a pair of tire levers (I prefer steel but you can find plastic ones at any bike shop)
      • a spare tube or two (patches are time consuming)
      • a pump (preferably one with a hose like the Topeak Road Morph – the hose will keep you from tearing off the valve while you are in pumping frenzy)
      • A $1 bill – fold it over, cover the hole in your tire (this is called a tire boot) and then replace the tube. This keeps the tire hole from chewing a new puncture in your tube
      • A multitool – to tighten loose parts and adjust ill fitting things
      • a saddle bag to put this stuff in
    • Lights – it’s a terrific idea to see where you are going. It’s even terrificker that drivers can see you.
    • Clothing – do not bike naked. The police will ruin your whole day. Also, don’t wear old lycra bike shorts. They become translucent. And always cover your butt crack.
  • Further along on my morning ride, I saw a woman on a CaBi (the local bikeshare tank) come to a stop. She peered into the trees along the river bank. As I approached she turned to me and with a huge smile on her face said “That was a bald eagle. It flew right past!” and she gestured its flight path.
  • There is a man who walks on the trail each morning. He carries a big stick and wears a dark jacket with a fur lined hood. He looks like an Ewok. He hasn’t said “Yub, yub” to me yet though.
  • The Mule is going into dry dock. It has gotten me through a winter (sort-of) of bike commutes. It deserves a rest. I will switch over to the Nellies for commuting over the rest of March.

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The Mule at Sunset

  • I have felt terrible on the bike and arthritic off of it for the last two weeks. It’s kind of interesting how this goes away when I don’t wear over-boots and rain pants. I think they slightly alter my pedaling mechanics much like long pants messed up my running gait back in the day.
  • I am volunteering at the Vasa ride in DC on Sunday March 19. You should ride it. It is a rain or shine event. Since it is likely that I will be standing around a lot, I expect a tsunami on the Potomac River. It will be caused by WABA’s new secret fracking operation on Hains Point. Would I lie about a thing like that?

  • There are two bike-related happy hours in Alexandria in the next two weeks. They are both on my way home from work. I’ll probably go to at least one. Sadly, unlike the Kardashians I don’t get appearance money. You can buy me a beer if you’d like. I ain’t too proud to beg.
  • I rode past some work being done on the trail. A backhoe had turned some dirt up. The smell of overturned dirt made me happy. Sorry if that’s too woo woo for you but it is what it is.
  • My boss rides his kids to school on a cargo bike. It’s a big bike. It’s so big it needs a masthead. Teddy says “Hi.”

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Latest Sunrise, No – Rise of the Ninjas, Yes

I thought today was the latest sunrise of the year but I got it wrong. We’ve reached the earliest sunset. Sunrises get later until the end of the year. Yeah well. Here’s the picture I took of The Mule at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the ride home, I nearly hit 5 ninjas – walkers and runners wearing absolutely no reflective or light colored clothing. In addition to it being too dark to see them, they are also backlit by car headlights.Good luck you clueless ninjas. I hope I don’t hurt myself when I clobber one of you.

 

TLC for The Mule

Given the fact that I’ve been riding The Mule 90 percent of the time since November, it’s not surprising that this bike is beat up. All that sand and salt and crud has taken a toll. I took in to my local bike shop for some TLC. Here’s what the to do list:

  • Replace the bent handlebar, brake levers, and bar tape  (damaged in a crash last winter)
  • True both wheels
  • Clean and adjust brakes (front caliper was sticking)
  • Replace the pulley wheels in rear derailer (they squealed like crazy. One has teeth that were worn to points)
  • Replace bottom bracket (I could feel crunchiness every time I pedaled)
  • Replace chain and cassette
  • Tune up whatever is left to tweak

Fortunately, the shop’s winter service deals were still going on so I got a break on the labor. I also put my WABA membership to use to get a ten percent discount on all the new parts. (Basically, the membership just paid for itself.)

The bike will be ready next weekend.

In the meantime, Big Nellie will do service as my bike commuter. Fortunately, we will be having a spate of springlike weather for the next several days. Just the thing for a little laid back riding.

 

40,000 Miles for The Mule

I read the other day that some fitness experts say it is a bad idea to keep track or your workouts. What balderdash.

I like numbers. By keeping track of my workouts I learned a lot. I learned that after 400 miles, running shoes (at least the ones I wore back in the day) that looked like they were in good shape lost the cushioning in their midsoles. If you rotated your shoes, they’d last a lot longer. And if you felt sore and listless, there was a good chance you hadn’t taken a day off recently. Finally, I found out that for me running 60 miles a week gave me the same or better running performance as running 70 miles per week.

You can get carried away. I became obsessed with running 3,000 miles in a year. Let me tell you the last month was a bitch. But I made it in the last week of December.

When I switched to bicycling, I had to figure out what was worth keeping track of. I counted the number of commutes each year, which bike I rode, how far I rode, and any other incidental information. I was a much more intense rider in the early years. Now I really don’t care much about the stats. But every so often a big one hits and it’s cause for celebration.

The odometer on The Mule hit 40,000 miles on my ride home from work25167767542_42cc5f4bd2_m. I have had this bike since 1991 so I’ve been averaging 1,600 miles per year on it. In the beginning, I rode a Trek 1200 for a few years. I sold that and rode The Mule exclusively until the early 2000s when I bought Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. I then started using The Mule as my back up bike. I bought Little Nellie and The Mule was ridden even less. And my Cross Check was added to the stable last summer. Somewhere along the line, I came full circle and The Mule became my go-to commuter once again. All together, not counting the Trek, I have about 96,000 miles on bikes since 1991. That’s 3,840 miles per year over 25 years.

The Mule has taken me to work hundreds of times and carried me on two bike tours. It’s slow, it’s weighs a ton, but it won’t die (knock wood). All that remains of the original bike are the frame and fork, the seat post, the cranks, and the rear rack.

So it gave me a sense of satisfaction to write 40,000 in my training diary today. I was 2 miles from work on the Mount Vernon Trail when 39,999 gave way. I had a strong tail wind.

The Mule goes to my local bike shop for some TLC. The pedals feel crunchy, oil refuses to stay on the chain, the handlebar is bent and plastic bits have broken off the brake levers (both from a crash last winter). It’ll cost some $$$ but maybe I’ll get another 40,000 miles out of this bike.

Big Nellie hits 38

Big Nellie is my Tour Easy recumbent. I bought it somewhat reluctantly in the fall of 2003. I had wanted to buy a conventional touring bike to supplement what I have come to call The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Sequoia. I couldn’t find any touring bikes to test ride so, with my gimpy back, I decided to test ride recumbents. The Tour Easy was the clear winner. I have since ridden it to north central Indiana, across New York state, and on hundreds of bike rides around the DMV. Today, we reached 38,000 miles. 17036292357_a5a6ae2002_z

I still have The Mule. Its odometer recently hit 37,000 miles. Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, is a baby with nearly 14,500 miles.

I am planning on going on a tour in a couple of weeks. I will probably take The Mule, unless I can get my act together and buy a new bike before then.

February by the Numbers

I thought February was going to be a big bust but it turned into a halfway decent month. I rode to work eight times, the same as January. All my commutes were done in the first half of the month on The Mule because the National Park Servcie steadfastlt refuses to plow or treat the Mount Vernon Trail. Their policy is that it is also for use by cross country skiers. This is bogus because cross country skiers rarely use it and it becomes unski-able once the snowpack turns to ice or starts to melt.

The most eventful thing that happened was my fall on the 10th. Also I was sick twice this month so I have excuses. (Lame.)

Oh well. I also did a 48 1/2 mile ride on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. Other than that there was were a couple of long hike/walks including yesterday’s in Arlington Cemetery. And an interesting evening of Thai massage and Reiki.

The total for the month was 439 1/2 miles. 247 was from commuting. 99 miles were done on Big Nellie indoors.

For the year I stand at 812 miles with 16 bike commutes. Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, has barely been used. Only 18 miles in a single weekend ride so far. The Mule is doing the lion’s share of work, covering 572 1/2 miles so far. Big Nellie is taking up the slack with 131.5 outdoor miles in addition to the 99 miles in my basement.

After the March 1 ice storm and Monday’s doctor’s appointment, I hope to up the mileage a bit. March offers the Pi ride. (On 3.14 there are two rides for pie. This is math humor. I intend to eat some apple pie for a friend who is on a retreat that does not allow pie. Oh the humanity!)  The Vasa ride is on 3/15 and I will do my usual 31 miles. I have never done the long ride, prefering to do the more social and less hilly medium length ride. (I will do neither ride if it is icy.)

On to spring!

Impending DOOM

Tonight, at approximately zero dark thirty, the Washington DC metro will become paralyzed with a dusting of snow. That’s right, supermarkets have been stripped of toilet paper, milk, and cilantro in advance of this cataclismic climatic event.

So I went for a bike ride.

(Truth be told, we should get a couple of inches over the next two days. Since the National Park Service refuses to treat the Mount Vernon Trail this will mean I won’t be riding until Wednesday. Hence the desire to get my two-wheeled ya-ya’s out.)

I took off on The Mule. I rode to my local bike store, Spokes Etc.  Unlike this blog they are not shy of a full set of spokes, or of bike knowledge. I asked them to look at the seatpost on The Mule and tell me if it is a setback seatpost. I have a Brooks leather saddle on The Mule and its rails, like all Brooks saddles, are short. This means I can’t push my saddle back farther which is, I thought, necessary for me to get ideal pedalling position. Not only do I already have a setback seat post but the store manager took one look at me on the bike and said, “You actually should be riding a bigger bike, but a simpler short term solution would be to raise your saddle because it is way too low.”

Doh.

So we raised the saddle about a centimeter (which is metric for “a little bit”). The saddle is connected to the seatpost which in turn is connected to seat tube. The seat tube is angled back. This means that raising the saddle also has the effect of moving the seat back. Genius.

Then I went for a 25 mile test ride. On the way I ran into Mr. TinDC of #bikedc social media renown. He was riding the Mount Vernon Trail with Rachel whom I had never met. We stopped to talk long enough to get cold. Then went our separate ways. My way took me over the Potomac River on the Wilson Bridge. I rode through National Harbor which continues to be the ugliest development I have seen in decades.  Then I rode up the long hill to Oxon Hill Road. The half mile+ ride was along side a massive construction site for a new casino. Personally I think it would be more usedful to have a giant Costco filled only with TP, milk, and cilantro but what do I know.

Once at the top of the hill, I turned around and rode back down because when it comes to designing lollygagging rides I am Mr. Creative.

Back over the river and through Old Town I rode. By this point I noticed that my left knee was not barking at me as usual. My arms were a little tense but otherwise the new saddle position seemed to be working out okay.

I made it to Four Mile Run and crossed over to Commonweath Ave. I rode through Alexandria and made my way back to the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County where I live on the incredibly coincidentally named Fort Hunt Road.

When I arrived home I was quite wet from perspiration. I checked the thermometer. It was 51 degrees. Not half bad for late January.

The skies are cloudy. The air is still. I await the doom.

Sleet and Other Gifts

Today was one of those days that everything seemed to lift me. A picture on Facebook of a friend who recently passed away was posted by her widower. She was dressed in winter clothes and smiling her signature radiant smile. A gift from the beyond.

I left the house ready to greet the day with the smile in my mind’s eye. The day had yet to break. The Mule and I rode off in the dark thankful that the 26 degree air was calm. Within a mile I was completely comfy in my layers of pathetic looking winter gear. If I wasn’t on a bike, I am pretty sure passers-by would give me money for a hot meal.

I arrived at the Mount Vernon Trail still before sunrise. About 1 1/2 miles into the ride, the predawn sky was an hallucination. I stopped to admire it and take a picture. A gift for the eyes.

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The rest of the ride just flowed. Without effort, I reached the 14th Street Bridge. Dawn had broken. The monuments, cathedral, and other DC buildings were reflected in the calm river. A gift on the water. I paused to admire the tableau then climbed the ramp to the bridge and headed into DC.

Riders coming towards me were bundled up so much that I could see only part of their eyes and noses. They all looked unhappy. Cheer up people it’s awesome out here!

I arrived at Swings House of Caffeine and bikes were parked everywhere. It was the third anniversary of Friday Coffee Club. The joint was packed with bike commuters. Coffee Club co-founder Ed had brought a cake and was handing out slices to the throng. Aside from Ed there was Lisa (who hasn’t been to Coffee Club in months) and Kirstin and Kristen and Reba and Chris and Ricky and Lawyer Mike and Michael and Ted and Brook and Jesse and Ryan and Jacques and Mary and Jeff and Sam and on and on. I even met a first time attendee, Jessica who commutes most days by bike from Capitol Hill. And so I enjoyed the gift of friends, old and new.

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The gift of cake for breakfast
Ricky with the 8-ball helmet and Jacques behind him
Ricky with the 8-ball helmet and Jacques behind him

The ride to work back across the Potomac was  serene. The river was ice free and I spotted a magnificent great blue heron wading next to the river bank on the Virginia side. A gift from the skies.

The workday was uneventful. Just before I left work a friend who had recently left DC  posted a short video of her feeding baby goats some milk. It was the first time I had heard her laugh in months. A gift for the ears.

The ride home began in a cold, light rain. The path downhill to the Mount Vernon Trail had been sprayed with brine. The Trail itself is never treated. Could I make it home if the rain started to freeze? The rain shone like tinsel in my headlight. Then sleet came down, stinging my face. I stuck out my tongue to feel the icy cold pellets. A gift for the senses.

As I rode along a cyclist approached. It appeared to be a woman but her face was covered in a scarf. She said something to me in passing. Someone I knew? No way to tell. [I subsequently learned it was Sam who was not getting this whole gift of sleet idea.]

I gingerly made my way home, taking what route the elements allowed. I stayed off the busier streets and arrived home intact, grateful for the gift of shelter from the elements.

Chill

I have said it many times before but I love my commute. It allows me time to think or to just shut my mind off. I do more of the former than the latter these days. It doesn’t much matter what I am thinking about. Mostly stuff that may be annoying me. I often talk to myself, sometimes out loud. These days you can get away with that sort of thing because people assume you are on your phone.

This time of year I often get a bonus on the ride to work. If the weather and my departure from home align I get to see the sun rise over the Potomac River. More often than not I stop to take a picture from the Dyke Marsh boardwalk on the Mount Vernon Trail. This morning the boards were covered with rime but I managed to come to a stop without slipping. After the picture I took a moment just to take the colors in. I guess this is what causes me, as @sharrowsdc once said, to be “chill”.

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I also like to take in the view of Washington National Cathedral, standing tall above the city as I make my way along the river between the airport and Rosslyn. It is such a beautiful structure. I used to gawk at  it when my kids went to school up in Woodley Park.

In the evening, my ride home usually coincides with nightfall. The monuments of DC are lit up, either by artificial lights or by the colors of the setting sun.

I suppose you can see these things from a car, but you really can’t appreciate them at a glance. Too often we are consumed with the goal of getting to our destination rather than enjoying the ride. That sentiment is a rarity when I commute by bike. I think we’d all be better off if we took some time to chill on the way to and from work.