Lights: Because The Night Belongs To Us

Those in North America were struck by the return of standard time over the weekend. Those of us in fair Britain have already been oppressed by its tyranny for more than a week. Because of our northerly latitude I’ve been riding with lights quite a bit for a month now–and with the return to Greenwich Mean Time, our sunsets are almost as early as the earliest sunset in the Lower 48 states–affording me a chance to try out some new purchases.

For a taillight these days, I’m sticking with the DiNotte taillight that has served me well so far. On the front, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve put aside the DiNottes–which require me to faff about with recharging AA batteries all the time–and have gone to the NiteFlux Vision Stick Photon 4 Enduro. It’s a fairly ingenious design. The rechargeable lithium-ion stick battery attaches to the frame with a bracket that screws into your water-bottle bosses, like a mini-pump. The bracket can hold two of the stick batteries, one on either side of your water-bottle cage. A partially-coiled cord then runs up the downtube to your light on the handlebars. And if you need it, you can screw the stick battery directly into the light, making it a very useful flashlight.

At its brightest, the four-watt LED lamp has a claimed runtime of six hours. With a second battery, that would be easily enough to get a rider through a full night of riding, making it a useful light for events up to 600K. I plan on using it in the 250-mile ultras-sportive I’m entered in next July, when the night hours will number only seven.

It’s a sad fact that winter nights curtail our riding so much. The good news is that we get to test out theproducts that make summer playtime so much fun.

Danger at 17th & Constitution All Too Real

I previously complained about the intersection of 17th and Constitution, NW, near the White House. It is super dangerous due to drivers running red lights and making illegal left turns. As much as I dislike them, a red light camera would do wonders here. There is absolutely no traffic enforcement around the White House area (unless you park in the wrong place), and everyone is at risk.

Thursday saw the inevitable take place. A driver in a huge, black Suburban nearly killed a woman in a small car by making an illegal left turn. A fellow cyclist, who witnessed the accident, said the driver of the smaller car had the green.

Illegal turns are illegal for a reason

Illegal turns are illegal for a reason

Luckily both drivers were concious and talking while waiting for the paramedics. This is one of the busiest intersections in downtown for drivers and cyclists and it’s time for the city to do something to lessen the riks to everyone.

Wednesday Commuteblogging: Recess Edition

Commuting by bicycle can’t be beat right now. The warm late day sun, combined with the light auto traffic (due to a weeklong congressional recess), make downtown D.C. and Hains Point pleasant and leisurely.

I stopped to take a few photos at the Tidal Basin when randonneur Tom Reeder rode up on his older Montague folding bicycle.

Tom Reeder and his MontagueTom Reeder and his Montague

Tom says he bought the bike in the 80s and has been commuting on it for 15 years. Take the front wheel off, throw a couple of quick releases and a safety latch, and it folds mostly flat.

Tom\'s Montague, foldedTom’s Montague, folded

Tom also has a coupled Lemond racing bike that he uses on brevets. He’s taking it to France in two weeks to ride what has to be one of the coolest brevets ever, the June 8 Paris Roubaix Randonnee. Tom and Ruth are ostensibly going to see friends in France, but really Tom plans to conquer the cobbles.

MG rode up and we took photos. All in all, we enjoyed one of those chance meetings that are so very nice on an early summer’s evening.

Ed and TomEd and Tom

Tom and MGTom and MG

The Tidal Basin at SunsetThe Tidal Basin at Sunset

Thursday Commuteblogging: Bike Rack edition

Another busy week at work for me, and thank heavens for my bicycle. Bicycle commuting makes it easier to go to work and more fun to come home at the end of a long day. I have the option to use the Metro subway and walk a mile, but I almost always ride. I have to be injured, recovering from a tough brevet, or the streets have to be icy for me to take the subway.

I tend to leave the car parked during the week and pick up groceries by bike at the Arlington Whole Foods in Clarendon, unless I’m getting together with MG in the district. The Whole Foods on P Street NW in D.C. is fairly bike-friendly, with lots of rack space on the sidewalk outside the storefront. We see some neat bikes there.

Whole Foods P Street rack Whole Foods P Street rack

But the Arlington Whole Foods is another story. They have a tiny little rack tucked into a corner of the parking lot that is usable for maybe three bikes and is largely ignored. Everybody who rides locks up to something else in front of the store. Whole Foods makes that difficult, too, because they put so much seasonal merchandise outside the store.

A very sad bike rackA very sad bike rack

I asked one of the parking lot employees (that’s right, they pay people to direct drivers to available parking spaces!) about it and he said he’s a cyclist and he’s been working on the store to move the rack somewhere better. Still, he said moving the rack “is really political.”

Bikes not welcomeBikes not welcome

I hope Whole Foods will take the money it is not spending on plastic bags anymore and use it on a bigger, properly located rack. It says something about a company that sells the green lifestyle that it still cares more about SUVs than bicycles.

Other riders have seen Whole Foods give cyclist-shoppers (also known as customers) second-class treatment. See the Cyclofiend blog for his experience.

Here’s an idea: why not give cyclists a couple of those car spaces? Ha ha ha ha! Good one, huh? No, seriously. I mean it.

Thursday Commuteblogging: MG’s Bike Friday Tikit and Keen Cycling Sandals

Some of us just have more style on the bike. I make no claims. I ride Sidi shoes and Pearl Izumi shorts, just like everybody else, though I’ve settled on wool jersies over poly.

MG, on the other hand, long ago figured out how to find clothes that look great on and off the bike. She will find a pair of capri pants at REI on sale and they’ll work perfectly. She can also pull off the cool look on a folder, in this case her brand new Bike Friday Tikit folding bicycle.

MG on her New TikitMG on the Custis Trail

MG loves this bike because she can fold it up and roll it into her building, which does not allow full size bicycles into the offices. Rather than leave it locked in the parking garage, she puts it under her desk! While riding, it feels normal. That’s high praise for a folder with 16-inch wheels.

MG and Tikit at the World War II MemorialMG and Tikit at the World War II Memorial

MG is also happy with her new Keen cycling sandals. Unlike Shimano and Lake, they look and feel less bulky and still manage to include a stiff cycling sole and front toe protection. MG reports that she has yet to take them on a century, but around town they feel good.

Styling new Keen Cycling SandalsStyling new Keen Cycling Sandals

Keen sandal soleKeen sandal sole

I’ve put together a Flickr set of Tikit and Keen photos. See them Here or see the Slideshow.

My Rivendell Bleriot, MG\'s TikitMy Rivendell Bleriot, MG’s Tikit

Thursday Commuteblogging: Bike Friday Edition

As some of you have figured out, MG and I like to meet after work on the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza at the White House. We get a chance to talk without all the urban car traffic and check out the parade of bike commuters passing by. And, we might get a visit from Squirrel Buddy. Remember when he climbed my back wheel? On Tuesday he came over to say hi again.

Squirrel BuddySquirrel Buddy

Just then we saw Blake Rubin riding by on his custom color Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. Not being shy, we called out and he graciously stopped to show us his new steed.

Blake and His Bike FridayBlake and His Bike Friday

Blake bought it to do a little of everything: commute, countryside rides, and travel to Philly and abroad.

The color scheme is wild, in a cool way. The build is pretty standard Bike Friday, in that the Friday folks really like lower-end Shimano when they are not installing Sun Race hubs — shudder.

Blake went with the Shimano Capreo 9-tooth cog rear hub, which lets you get away with normal size chainrings instead of the big 58-tooth outer rings MG and I use on our PRs. Blake splurged for a King headset. Nice.

Here are some more photos. Hopefully we’ll see Blake out on a brevet one of these days.

Cane Creek lever, bar end shiftersCane Creek lever, bar end shifters

Front fork, King headsetFront fork, King headset

Shimano Capreo rear hub, folding rackShimano Capreo rear hub, folding rack

Thursday Commuteblogging: the Pope and Steel Bikes

I admit I missed yesterday’s Wednesday Commuteblogging and didn’t have one at all last week. I’ll plead that when the ACP brevets are underway, I try to scale back the late evenings in order to get more sleep and generally focus on the next event. MG and I are tentatively headed south to the N.C. Randonneurs 300K in Raleigh on the 26th, and we’ll return for their 400K on May 17. Our 600K plans are uncertain right now, with the Boston 600K on July 26 the most likely.

This week Pope Benedict is in D.C. and as a bicycle commuter who rides past the White House daily, I get to see a little more of the pomp of VIP visits than your average person who drives or takes the Metro subway. That was the case Wednesday, when he was hosted at the White House. What’s he got to do with steel bikes? Nothing, really. He probably grew up riding a steel bike. We know he has a wooden bicycle to ride around Rome.

Here’s a photo of cyclists gawking at the White House south lawn on Wednesday, when the Pope was hosted by the president:

Cyclists stop to view the papal visit to the White HouseCyclists stop to view the papal visit to the White House

On to steel bikes. Randonneurs ride all types of bicycles, with steel, titantium and carbon the top frameset choices these days (did I just list those in reverse order?). Aluminum is relatively rare on brevets, save for Cannondale, which to its credit still offers a touring bike and the most affordable high-quality tandems now that Burley has given up on bikes and focuses on trailers.

Richard Schwinn of Waterford Bicycles recently spoke to Georgena Terry of Terry Bicycles about frame materials.

Check out the audio interview at Georgena’s t-chatter blog.

While he’s a fan of steel (warms my heart!), Richard notes the qualities of carbon. In particular, he recognizes the ability to shape it into cool lines, and, to him, the value of carbon forks to reduce weight, though he says the non-racer is overly focused on that aspect. He also talks about how carbon’s long-term durability is as yet unknown and how cyclists confuse its ability to dampen, vs. absorb, vibration.

We all know carbon fails catastrophically, unlike steel and to a lesser degree titanium. Richard delves into the economics of carbon, as well. China and Taiwan saw an opportunity to win market share through aluminum frames, which they sold cheaply enough to push steel bikes off shop floors, and now are doing the same to aluminum by emphasizing carbon.

Over at the Cycloculture Blog, Surly’s Andy Corson offers his take on the Surly lineup. See Andy’s comments Here.

Surly offers what I see are the best lower-cost randonneur-ready frames and bikes. They are available through any shop that does business with the big wholesaler Quality Bicycle Products. It helps to look past Surly’s ugly web site, I’ll admit. The problem is that you rarely see Surly bikes in shops, which prefer to push the brands with which they have dealership status.

I wish more shops would keep a Long Haul Trucker, Cross-Check and Pacer built up for test rides, just to show folks that affordable, lightweight (note I did not say ultralight) steel bikes are still around. I recently told a buddy who is considering getting back into cycling to check out Surly, but I have no idea if he could actually find one built up for a test ride in his size.

Seattle randonneur Paul (Dr. Codfish) Johnson reminds me that another affordable alternative is the Salsa Casseroll. The Casseroll looks great and I’ve mentioned this bike before, but it’s worth repeating. Steel, versatile, room for fenders and 32mm 700c tires. What’s not to love?

Wednesday Commuteblogging: The City in Spring

TDR this week turns to the city as it livens up with the longer days. MG and I toured around Hains Point Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to see the Cherry Blossoms, and also stopped Tuesday evening at the P Street NW Whole Foods and The Bike Rack shop on Q Street. They quickly tightened up the loose headset on my Kogswell G, free of charge. I bought some toe straps in return. Everybody was happy.

The Bike Rack, NW D.CThe Bike Rack, NW Washington D.C.

Then we went to Whole Foods where I watched the bikes while MG went in for dinner groceries. Unlike the Whole Foods in Arlington, the P Street store has ample bike racks in front of the store. In Arlington they stuck a little rack over in the corner of the parking lot that nobody uses.

Bikes at Whole FoodsBikes at Whole Foods

Next we navigated the auto commuter horror show that is 14th Street N.W. Drivers of SUVs had apparently had a meeting and decided to make a desperate run for the suburbs. We quickly encountered two SUVs blocking the bike lane:
Range Rover in Bike LaneIt’s OK to stop here, honey, we have a Range Rover!

SUV in Bike Lane by Liquor StoreBike Lanes Are Great for Stopping at the Liquor Store

We also played “dodge the bad SUV drivers,” the ones who block intersections and then have to bully pedestrians and cyclists out of their way after the light turns red. They somehow think we care that they hang themselves out there with traffic bearing down on them. Not MG!

SUV in the BoxMG stops for No SUV

Finally, for something more peaceful, a view of the memorials from the Virginia side of the Potomac River, where cyclists and pedestrians share a nice multiuse path; plus four minutes of us riding around Hains Point.

A view from VirginiaThe Spring view from Virginia

Wednesday Commuteblogging: Blossoms, Buses and Bike Squirrels

Spring has arrived in Washington and with it come the Cherry Blossoms, which in turn bring the tour buses, which bring the tourists, who feed the squirrels. Yesterday at the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza, this little fellow was so tame that he climbed my Atlantis rear wheel to beg for food! MG got this amazing photo; click to enlarge to see the daring critter:

Ed and Friend on Pennsylvania Ave.Wow! It’s easy to climb 36-spoke wheels. Thanks!

Over at the tidal basin, the blossoms were coming out in their gentle beauty. A passerby took this portrait of MG and me on our way to work:

Ed and MG at the Tidal BasinEd and MG at the Tidal Basin

Lastly, we have our friends, the Tour Buses:

Buses Behind Us!Buses Behind! Buses Ahead!Buses Ahead!