Category Archives: Gear

Commute Essentials: Klean Kanteen Cages

Quickbeam at the grocery. Klean Kanteen on the ground.

A few years ago I began commuting with steel Klean Kanteen bottles. I liked using the steel bottles, but because Klean Kanteens are narrower in circumfrence than a standard plastic water bottle and I use stainless steel cages almost exclusively, the metal on metal made the Kanteens rattle away on city streets like nobody’s business.

I suppose I could have put some kind of fabric covering over the bottles to diminish noise, but instead I purchased a plastic cage specifically designed for the Klean Kanteen bottle. I installed one on my Surly LHT and another on my Rivendell Quickbeam.

As you can tell by the photos, this post focuses on the cage as it appears on my Quickbeam, since that is the bike I have been using of late as my regular commuter. 

After attaching the cage I had to admit it did not give my bike any additional style points. The cage’s black plastic struck me as slightly cheap looking and it did not blend subtlely into the bike like my stainless steel cages do.

I was also skeptical of the durability of the plastic Klean Kanteen cages. However, now that I have had these cages for more than three years, I can attest to their resilience as well as their versatility.

The Klean Kanteen cages have seamlessly weathered wind, rain, D.C. potholes, and regular use without any obvious fatigue or breaking.

Klean Kanteen cage and California Chardonnay

Klean Kanteen cage and California Chardonnay

I’ve also learned that these cages do more than just transport Klean Kanteens. They’re also ideal for hauling bottles of wine (and almond butter, not pictured!).

That is awesome because it means I do not have to take the precious grocery space of my panniers or saddlebags and occupy it with a bottle of vino. My beverages have their own special spots.

Quickbeam

If I still need to carry my Klean Kanteen in the steel cage, I will wrap it in a sock or something else undignified in order to make sure my liquids arrive home safe and sound.

I’m so glad my story has a happy ending.

Any other cages out there worth considering for beverage transport?

The Camelbak: A Reluctant Brevet and Touring Necessity

Camelbak with reflective cover. Photo by Bill Beck

Camelbak with reflective cover. Photo by Bill Beck

I generally like the look of most of my cycling clothing and gear with the exception of a few items such as booties, balaclavas, and the topic of today’s post, my Camelbak. However, much as I dislike the overall aesthetic, you will not see me on a brevet or bike tour without some kind of hydration pack.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

On one hand, hydration packs are largely unattractive and all my ride photos show my back with a slight Quasimodo-esque hump. To be comfortable and to keep the Camelbak from sliding around, I have to be sure to adjust the straps just so.

My Camelbak adds weight to my back and shoulders. Fortunately that creates no issues when I ride, but in hotter months my back sweats up from wearing one. Sometimes the Camelbak can be tricky to fill, since many establishments have automatic faucets or shallow sinks.

Using the Camelbaks on the D.C. Randonneurs 300K. Photo by George Moore

Photo by George Moore

Despite these down-sides, the functionality of a Camelbak makes it one of my reluctant brevet and touring necessities. With a Camelbak, I can carry an ample supply of water a few inches away from my face.

I seldom worry about not drinking enough or even running out of water. The Camelbak makes drinking super-convenient, and no reaching is required. (On our tandem, the water bottle cages are particularly low and awkward for me to reach).

Felkerino and I always carry an extra bottle or two on the bike, but we don’t have to worry about drinking directly out of bottles that may have collected road grit and who knows what from the farm roads.

If I start to run low on water in my Camelbak, I can transfer from a bottle when I get a free moment off the bike. The bottle is easy to refill at a convenience store or lunch stop. I’ve also become rather skilled at finding gas station utility sinks, which makes refilling the Camelbak easy.

Felkerino refills the Camelbak from the spring. Photo by Bill Beck

Felkerino refills the Camelbak from the spring. Photo by Bill Beck

Both Felkerino and I only use water in our Camelbaks so they are easy to clean. Other drinks find a home in one of the bottles on the bike.

I purchased a reflective backpack/Camelbak cover from L2S that is ideal for use on brevets, as I don’t have to worry about my Camelbak covering up my reflective vest. I purchased mine at one of the local sporting goods stores in the start town of Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011, and have not seen these sold in the United States. I do not even know if L2Sis still in existence, but some of the e-retailers across the pond look like they sell similar items.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

Currently I use a Camelbak Rogue for bike rides. At 70 ounces, the bladder is ample, but not excessively large. The Rogue comes with a sternum strap, but not a waist strap, for stabilization. Since I use it for cycling, the sternum strap setup is ideal. When I run, I need a pack with both a waist and sternum strap to keep it from bouncing around.

The pockets on the Rogue allow me to carry my wallet and other small necessities such as my phone and brevet card. The Rogue also offers an additional internal pocket within the bottom pocket area where I securely stow my interchangeable lenses for my glasses.

More spring water! Photo by Cindy P.

More spring water! Photo by Cindy P.

I used a women’s-specific Camelbak previously, but found that it was too short for me (I’m 5’8″ tall). I wanted the Camelbak to sit lower on my back, and even though the shoulder straps are spaced a pinch wider than I would like, overall the standard Camelbak works fine for me.

My Camelbak has been good to me. It’s a tried and true piece of gear that has helped me through many a ride, especially during warmer months. I may not like how it looks on me, but all of that fades into the background when I’m riding free from worry about when we’ll reach the next water stop.

Make Your Own Cue Sheet Holder

Someone recently asked me what I use for a cue sheet holder when I ride. There are a variety of ways to affix a cue sheet to your bike, but the method I’ve been quite happy with over the years is one that Felkerino taught me.

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Felkerino makes cue sheet holders that affix to your stem by using the following items:

  • One binder clip
  • One small piece of rubber shim; and
  • One zip tie

These cue sheet holders are simple to make and the necessary ingredients are easy to find.

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If you do not have any of these items at home, the binder clip can be purchased from an office supplies store, and a shim and zip ties can be purchased at a hardware store. You can also probably ask your local bike shop for them. I don’t know any bicyclists who don’t have a few zip ties lying around.

First, place the shim over the stem, with the binder clip on top of it.

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Next, take the zip tie and place it over one of the edges of the binder clip.

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Third, wrap the zip tie around the stem while holding the shim and binder clip steady, and attach it to your bike.

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Cut off the excess zip tie and voila! You have a cue sheet holder that should last you a while.

The only down side to this method is that your cue sheet is then unprotected in case of rain.

You can fix that by either:

  1. Inserting the cue sheet into a small plastic sandwich bag; or
  2. Covering the cue sheet with a plastic sheet protector.

Felkerino loves using plastic sheet protectors, as they are designed for a regular 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper and make it easier to flip your cue sheet as you ride than something like a baggie.

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So folks, there you have it. The Felkerino method for making your own cue sheet holder.

If you try it, let me know how it works out for you. Also, if you’ve come up with another good method of your own, do tell.

Up next: Errandonnee Finishers and Honorable Mentions!

Winter Weather: Testing Your Mettle and Your Wardrobe

It is unusual for D.C. to go into the deep freeze, but it happened this week. We’re experiencing the coldest weather we’ve had since March 2009, according to Capital Weather Gang.

Winter commuting on the Surly

Given that we seldom have snow or ice during the winter months, the cold and wind are the primary deterrents to riding, as opposed to the actual street conditions. Now is the time when commuters test their tolerance of the frigid conditions as well as their gear.

Regarding tolerance for cold, I confess a big fail. I am still riding, but each day I find myself procrastinating my ride to work in the cozy warmth of my home. I don multiple layers and it’s only after I begin to overheat that I reluctantly roll my bike out of the house.

This morning, while parking in my building, a fellow commuter arrived saying, “We’re hardcore. The cold can’t stop us.”

My response? “Maybe not, but I sure whined a lot.”

When Felkerino and I first started seeing each other and riding together, I was much more stoic. Highs in the 20s, but no snow on the ground? Count me in for a century!

This was also my first year of randonneuring, and I was much more committed to getting out in any kind of weather. I thought suffering through the winter cold would pay off if I could avoid discomfort during the spring brevets.

These days, much of my stoicism is gone, though I do force myself out the door to ward off cabin fever and to go to work.

Hat and balaclava layers

The cold weather is also an excellent opportunity for testing out the winter gear. Perhaps that hat you thought worked in any kind of weather does nothing for you in the cold but give you an ice cream headache. Those thick gloves you thought would keep your fingers toasty? Not so after all.

For my part, I’ve been riding with the following:

Head

  1. Rivendell wool balaclava
  2. Little Package medium-weight wool earflap cap

Until this week, I’d been sufficiently warm using a wool gaiter and one earflap cap. This week, though, I found that combination does not cut it. I need extra warmth this combo won’t provide.

The balaclava exposes less of my skin and is thicker than most of the gaiters I own. Combined with an earflap cap, my head stays sufficiently warm. The cap’s brim also gives added protection from the wind.

Since I work out at the gym after work, I want to expose as little of my sweaty head as possible for my return. Frigid air on a damp head is the worst. The balaclava with cap is the way I minimize exposure.

My husband has been using a skull cap, balaclava, and helmet cover combination which works well for him in these temps.

Torso

  1. Patagonia merino wool base layer
  2. An additional lightweight wool base layer if I feel like I need it
  3. Ibex Shak jersey
  4. Haglof’s Vig Jacket – Soft shell

The torso and head are tricky layering areas. Too many layers and you sweat, which then results in a chill that haunts you the rest of the ride. Not enough and you never warm up, also resulting in unshakeable cold and discomfort.

The layers allow me to make changes along the way so that if temperatures do rise I can remove a layer. A couple days this week, I rode with my wool base layer and Ibex Shak jersey, with an extra wool layer in my Carradice just in case.

The Ibex Shak is a close-knit heavy wool weave that offers plenty of warmth given its weight. Basically, I think every commuter should own a Shak jersey if he or she plans to ride through cold months. They are expensive, but totally worth it (and you can often find them on sale).

The Haglof’s Vig Jacket is a technical soft shell that I purchased this year and am quickly falling in love with. The jacket is wind and water-resistant, lightly lined, and has a two-way zipper, pit zips, ample pockets (including a chest pocket), adjustable cuffs. I find the cut of the jacket flattering. It’s also bright red, which I like for commuting purposes.

I initially purchased this jacket because I wanted a sturdy piece beneath which I could wear one layer and still be warm, but it is going the distance for me on these cold winter rides. The two-way zipper and easily accessible pit zips allow me to adjust for varying temperatures (though if temps are above 45, this jacket would be way too warm). It’s a fantastic piece, and I hope it proves to be a durable one.

winter wardrobe

Another aspect I like about this jacket is that I can wear it with work pants and it does not look too odd. Usually, I keep a regular wool coat at the office, but I have not done that this year and I have relied on my Haglof’s jacket to get me to and from  meetings. No, it is not a business coat, but it will work if I have to go out in the elements and walk to a meeting or want to run and grab lunch with a friend.

Several people in my building have said things to me like, “Are you going to be warm enough in that?” or “I hope you have another jacket.” In fact, once I get going, I’m quite comfortable. A jacket does not need to be bulky or fluffy to be warm. It’s all about wind-proofing and clever layering!

Legs and Feet

  1. Long underwear (either Ibex or Cuddle Duds)
  2. Title Nine 1000 Pant
  3. Serfas booties
  4. Two pairs of wool socks (one thinner, one thicker, and one knee-high length)
  5. Diadora mountain shoes (one size bigger than normal to accommodate my socks)

While some riders will commute in cycling or other heavy tights, I prefer to wear regular pants on the commute. Maybe that seems arbitrary, given that I’m also wearing a balaclava and lobster gloves, but some of us have to draw the line somewhere.

Currently, I have been wearing some pants from Title 9 called the “1000 pant.” They are narrow in the leg, which I like because I don’t have to roll up my pantleg to avoid hitting the crank and they also have an articulated knee. These pants are good for days in the 40s, but anything below freezing and they need a boost. Enter long underwear.

Throbbing toes are a bummer. To keep my tootsies warm I purchased a pair of Diadora mountain shoes a few years back (I just can’t give up my SPDs!) in one size larger than the one I usually take. That way, I can wear heavier socks, or even two pairs of socks, and not worry about the shoes feeling too tight. As extra insurance, I wear booties.

Balaclava and lobster gloves

Hands

  1. Polyester liner gloves
  2. Louis Garneau lobster gloves

You know what’s worse than throbbing feet? Throbbing hands. Ok, maybe it’s a toss-up. They’re both awful.

For temps in the 20s, I have been using my Louis Garneau lobsters, which are less heavy duty and bulky than the Pearl Izumi lobster gloves that I only wear in the most sever of temperatures.

To increase warmth, I use a thinnish pair of polyester liner gloves, too. This is a tip I picked up from Felkerino, and I’m impressed with how much of a difference adding thin liner gloves makes.

Winter Commuting on the Surly LHT

So far, my system is working well. I would probably add a little more insulation on the legs if I was going to ride any  more than 10 miles one-way, as a little chill sneaks into my quads even with the pants/long underwear combo.

The other parts of my body do well with this layering, even though a kind of primal protest courses through my body when I take the initial pedal strokes out into the frigid mornings. There’s also another protest that manifests in my mind if I look in the mirror when dressed in all my winter garb.

Cold winter days take away any glamour of the commute. Balaclavas, lobster gloves, booties… I mean, really, who likes wearing them? However, when I’m pedaling through the streets with toasty ears, toes, and feet I’m glad I let my winter wardrobe choices be dominated by pragmatism and the desire to be comfortable. And I give myself permission to whine a little along the way.

BikeWrappers: Review and Giveaway

With the arrival of fall, night creeps in a little earlier to push out the daylight. Time to think about nighttime riding and making yourself even more visible to traffic.

While a head- and tail-light are critical for rides after dark, there are other accessories worth considering for your bike, too. A couple of months ago, the people at BikeWrappers asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing their product. I agreed, and they sent me a set to test out.

BikeWrappers are three fabric panels that affix via Velcro to three different sections of your bike: the top tube, seat tube, and the down tube. BikeWrappers are two-sided. One side of the BikeWrappers is for decorative purposes and has a pattern or is mono-color. The other side is made purely of reflective material.

Given that I sometimes use a top tube protector on my bike and I do a lot of riding at night (and ride with a lot of other people who ride at night, I thought BikeWrappers could be a useful product, and I took it for a few rides to test out.

I evaluated the BikeWrappers based on the following criteria: aesthetics and functionality. I then broke down  functionality into their nocturnal visibility and the ease with which the panels can be affixed to the bike.

Aesthetics

I found the reflective side of the BikeWrappers to be pleasing to the eye. I like the little logo they use, and the gray hue did not detract from my bike frame.

Bike Wrappers on Surly LHT

The non-reflective, or patterned sides, of the BikeWrappers did not really suit my personal aesthetic. Of all the designs they had in stock, I chose the “Lady Hearts” pattern. I am a lady, and I like hearts. I also liked the color combination.

When I was selecting the pattern, I tried to choose something I thought would look ok with a couple of my bikes. However, I did not anticipate using the BikeWrappers with the design-side facing out. I was primarily interested in using these for their reflective capabilities.

I initially attached the BikeWrappers as instructed, to the down-, seat-, and top-tube. It seemed to overwhelm my bike and reminded me of those people that dress their dogs in sweaters. I really don’t want to be one of those people. At the same time, to maximize the reflectivity of the BikeWrappers, it makes the most sense to use all three panels.

Personally, though, I liked using the BikeWrappers for my top tube. I think this company should consider selling these as a set of three for those who want the full shebang, and offer a separate top tube protector only option as well. As an urban cyclist, these come in handy for protecting my bike when locking it up to racks, poles, or other metal things riders end up locking their bikes to.

BikeWrapper on the top tube

Functionality

Visibility: The BikeWrappers have an excellent functional aspect, which is to make you more visible when riding your bike at night. In this regard, the BikeWrappers succeed.

A shot in the dark of the BikeWrappers

According to BikeWrappers’ site, these are visible to cars from a quarter mile away. I took a few shots of these using flash and, while I cannot speak to the exact distance at which these become visible to cars, they do light up well, making them good for being seen from the side. Obviously to be visible by cars coming at you from the opposite lane or directly behind you, front and rear lights are still essential.

Side view of the reflecting abilities of the BikeWrappers

Attachment System: Velcro runs the full length of each panel, and each panel attached easily to my bike. The panels for the down tube and the seat tube are made to accommodate water bottle cages, and I found they did not impede my use of either cage.

I also tested whether the top tube section would fit on one of my mixte tube, and it easily did. BikeWrappers are made for diamond-shaped frames, though, so the other two panels would not really work on it.

An additional note about rain: Systems like this have their limitations (to me) when riding through a steady rain. The fabric gets wet, and that wetness clings to your bike. If I was using a top tube protector or the BikeWrappers and it started raining, I would stop to remove them so as to limit riding around with wet fabric on my bike. The BikeWrappers do come with a little carrying bag, though, so it would be no issue to stuff them into that bag and then throw them in my Carradice or pannier.

Bottom Line

Overall, BikeWrappers are an easy-to-affix system that offers additional visibility to cars, particularly peripherally. Made in the USA (San Francisco, California, to be exact), they retail for $45 a set. Practically, I cannot see myself using all three of the wrappers at the same time, but I really really like using the top tube wrapper. Perhaps I would use all three on a brevet or some other type of ride that required a lot of night riding.

BikeWrappers are also machine washable (although I did not wash the set provided to me), and the company offers a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with your purchase. I’m glad that companies like BikeWrappers are thinking of creative ways to make cyclists more visible.

Giveaway!

Although I’d like to keep them, I don’t want to be greedy and I’ll be giving away my set of BikeWrappers in a random drawing.

Comment below by October 21, 2012, for a chance to be the new owner of these BikeWrappers. If your comment could also include a song recommendation to add to my workout playlist, I’d appreciate that too, as I’m trying to get some new music into the rotation. Winner to be chosen at random.

Thanks to BikeWrappers for the opportunity to use and review this product.

We’re back tomorrow with more coffeeneuring!

Getting Comfortable in the Saddle

One of my blog readers, Trish, recently asked the following question about comfort in the saddle:

I searched your blog to see if I could find your thoughts on comfort in the saddle, which is my biggest obstacle to long rides. I’ve been doing metric centuries every weekend, but beyond that I think my rear end would be in too much discomfort.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

I know the saddle itself is highly personal, but do you have a favorite chamois? I like the Castelli Kiss chamois, not crazy about my Pearl Izumi, but haven’t tried all that many as experimentation is an expensive undertaking! Do you use Butt Butter or the like?

Obviously the position each rider finds comfortable varies by person, but the methods we use to achieve it are generally the same. Here’s what goes into making my saddle setup the best it can be.

Surly and the Capitol

The “Right” Saddle

Felkerino says that one of the ways you can tell you’ve become a cyclist is if you have a box full of various saddles at home. It takes some experimenting to find the right one. Reading the saddle description, perusing customer reviews, and getting input from other riders will give you an idea if a particular saddle is made to suit your type of riding, but beyond that it’s pretty much experimentation. Enter the box of saddles.

I started out riding a Terry Butterfly, which worked fine until it didn’t. Over time I switched to riding Brooks saddles. For the tandem, I like to ride the Brooks Flyer S, which is a leather saddle with springs and a wider base and a shorter nose than the regular Brooks saddles.

Taking note of the saddle tilts on the Co-Motion

Taking note of the saddle tilts on the Co-Motion

Saddle Adjustment

Once you select a saddle that you think might go the distance, put it on your bike and start tinkering with it. Here are a couple of things I keep in mind when adjusting my saddle.

1. Tilt

The angle with which a saddle tilts up or down can make all the difference to your ride. As you can see in the photo of my bike, I like to have my saddle tilted up. While one of my friends said it physically pains her to look at my saddle, I find it quite comfy. My sit bones are squarely on the base of the saddle, and the tilt is not so much that it creates any friction in front. Believe me, friction in front is something to avoid.

If for some reason the bolts loosen and my saddle starts to tilt such that it compromises my position, I stop to adjust it. As Felkerino says, never be afraid to turn a bolt. Whenever he has any saddle discomfort he will immediately stop to address it. I’m not as vigilant as Felkerino in that department, but it is a good philosophy. If a saddle becomes uncomfortable due to maladjustment, it will not become comfortable again until you stop, get out your wrenches, and change the setup.

2. Setback

The amount that you move the saddle the saddle forward or backward on its rails also contributes to a positive saddle position. For example, if I move my saddle too far forward, I can feel myself sitting on the saddle’s rivets, or close to its edge. Ouch. When that happens, I know I need to move my saddle further back on the seat post.

Different seat posts allow varying degrees of setback. (Enter box of seat posts!) I like to have a lot of setback on my saddle. For use on our tandem, I purchased (ok, Felkerino purchased) a Nitto Wayback seatpost. I have also used a Velo Orange Grand Cru Seatpost with a long setback. Otherwise, I found myself constantly pushing back on the saddle, which caused discomfort on longer rides. Because the wayback seatpost gives me the perfect amount of setback, I don’t end up fighting the saddle.

Felkerino and me (wearing the Sugoi RS shorts) on the 2012 DCR 600K (c) Bill Beck

The “Right” Bike Shorts

Just as I have a box for saddles and another for seatposts, I also have a drawer of bike shorts that did not make the “long ride” cut. Ultimately, the Sugoi RS (recommended to me by another randonneuse) are my go-to shorts for long rides.

The aspects I take into consideration when I purchase bike shorts include the following: chamois thickness and texture, chamois size, position of the short seams, the shorts fabric, shorts length and general aesthetic.

For me, the Sugoi RS work well because the chamois is not thick and it is smooth to the touch. The chamois also does not dry out easily or chafe my skin. The shorts fit me in such a ways that the seams don’t abrade me anywhere.

I like the fabric Sugoi uses, the shorts fit my body well, the length is perfect, and they are fairly understated.

I also have a couple of pairs of Voler Elite FS shorts that I’ve used on rides of 200+ miles. While the shorts fabric, fit, and chamois type work well for me, I do not like the contrasting stitching on these shorts. If I only had time to take a black Sharpie to all those seams.

For a short time I used wool shorts, but found that they ended up stretching and sagging in the butt area. That’s not a look I’m really going for so I’ve stuck to using shorts made of synthetic fabrics.

Stocking up on Chamois Butt’r

Chamois Cream

Chamois cream helps ward off any chafing during a ride. I always use it for rides that are, say, over 40 miles. At our house, we use Chamois Butt’r. It’s pretty affordable, I don’t usually need to reapply until after the century mark, and it makes my ride that much more comfortable. I know there are many others out there, but since Chamois Butt’r has always done the job, I have not done any experimenting with other creams. If you’ve got one that you really like, please put it in the comments.

Handlebar Height and Reach

One of my tweeps suggested that I mention something about handlebars, as their position on the bike also affects a rider’s comfort in the saddle. If a rider is too stretched out over the bike, that means his or her hips will be tilting forward at an angle that invites trouble, i.e., pain.

If the rider is squinched up on the bike (my technical term meaning that the reach is not long enough), another uncomfortable angle is likely to cause the rider to fight the bike in an effort to make the ride more comfortable, also leading to saddle problems.

Because I am not that flexible of a rider and the bulk of my riding is touring, I also set up my handlebars slightly higher than the saddle in order to have a more upright position. This works well for me on long rides.

I don’t know how to technically explain this, but when on the bike, the rider does not want to feel like a lot of weight is going into his or her hands. Certainly some weight will be distributed into the hands, but the bulk of a rider’s weight should be distributed toward the back end of the bike, which is why having a saddle that feels good and supports the sit bones well is so critical.

By finding the right saddle for me, adjusting it properly to my body, finding some shorts that will go the distance, making sure to put on Chamois Butt’r before rides, and tweaking the handlebars just so I’ve found that I can ride for miles and miles in comfort. I also had a lot of help from Felkerino, who was always at the ready with the wrenches. It took time experimenting and fiddling, but I ultimately got there.

Did I miss anything? Please feel free to add any other comments or thoughts you have about finding comfort in the saddle.

WABA 50 States Ride: Pre-Ride Prep for the Ultimate Urban Excursion

This coming Saturday marks the arrival of another edition of the 50 States Ride. While this ride sort of freaked me out the first time I did it, it’s since grown on me and now it’s a much-anticipated fall event.

Felkerino and me at the end of the 2011 50 States Ride

Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA), our local cycling advocacy group, organizes the ride. My entry fee supports WABA’s good work and in exchange I get a tour through all four quadrants and 50 state streets in the District with 500 other people.

The total 50 States route is around 65 miles. My plan is to not ride the full route. How about that for ambition? Rather, I’ll be doing the “More than 25, but fewer than 50 States Ride,” depending on where and how far I feel like riding. Last year, I pedaled over 40 of the 50 state streets and completed slightly more than 50 miles.

It feels good to accomplish the full route and all 50 state streets, but I found myself pulling out my hair at some of the more congested downtown areas. Since I ride those fairly frequently anyway, it doesn’t break my heart to skip them during the 50 States Ride.

Goals for this year’s 50 States Ride are:

  • See #BikeDC friends.
  • Stop for coffee along the way. Peregrine. Chinatown Coffee. Hmm, where else should I go?
  • Meet some new people.
  • Get some exercise.
  • Take pictures.
  • Enjoy enjoy enjoy.

Last year I chose my Rivendell Quickbeam for the ride. A single speed was ideal for me then, as there was no hill too tough for the Quickbeam, and the 32 mm tires set up well for the sometimes bumpy city streets. This year I’ve been nagged by some knee pain so I will be riding a geared bike, as a single speed seems unwise.

Velo Orange Mixte

Most likely I’ll ride my Velo Orange this time around. The Velo Orange is a mixte that, like the Quickbeam, is also set up with 32 mm tires and well-suited to urban riding. My posture on the mixte is more upright, but I have found both bikes to be comfortable. I’ll let you know for sure after the ride is over.

Over the weekend, I went to BicycleSPACE and picked out a new Crane bell for the bike. My mixte is set up with a bell, but it’s the worst bell ever. The bell ding is the equivalent of a loud whisper. Useless. Why did I buy the bell in the first place? Because it was in the shape of a coffee cup and I thought it was cute. So much for that approach.

Coffee bell on the Velo Orange. Possibly the worst bell ever.

In contrast, the brass Crane bell I purchased makes a beautiful yet stark sound that clearly announces a bicycle. It’s beautiful, but functional, too.

Shiny new (and functional!) Crane bike bell from BicycleSPACE

With that addition, the Velo Orange is ready to take on the 50 States Ride. Are you riding, too? If so, I’ll see you there!

Southern Virginia Tandem Bike Tour Lessons Learned and Wrap-Up Post

Writing during the journey is always a bit different than what comes to mind after a bike tour ends. The week has given me time to reflect on the trip we had, and I wanted to throw up some summary observations, assessments, and lessons learned from our recent jaunt around southern Virginia on our Cannondale tandem.

Felkerino and me, bike touring with the Cannondale, Carradice Camper, and two small Ortliebs

Totals

  • 8 days
  • 636 miles
  • Average mileage: 79.5 miles per day
  • Longest day: 105.6 miles
  • Shortest day: 68 miles

Tour Terrain.

Our tour started out with two days of pleasant valley riding, with the remaining six described in terms other than pleasant. Awesome, challenging, inspiring, swift, knee-achingly slow, gorgeous.

You can get a sense of our terrain through the posts I wrote during our tour so I won’t bother explaining them further here. Suffice it to say, we set up eight solid days of touring in some choppy landscape.

Felkerino on one of the back roads after descending Potts Mountain

Food.

Riding worked our bodies so that by the fourth day of our tour, I was surprised by how often I felt hungry. The furnace called my stomach was constantly craving more fuel.

Even though I wrote about food being sparse along the Blue Ridge Parkway, over most of our trip we figured out food pretty well, and enjoyed some delicious dinners in the various towns we stopped.

I think all the miles we rode each day made any food we ate along the way extra tasty. It was tough to get back to regular life knowing that it was back to stocking up at the grocery store and cooking our own meals.

Felkerino also brought along several Clif bars (8-10, maybe?), and a few Clif shot blocks. I don’t know how many of those he ate, but I ended up only eating one Clif bar out of his stash. Other than that, I was able to get what I needed from convenience stores and other places we stopped for sustenance along the way.

On vacation, who wants to spend vacation eating pocket food? Not me, that’s who! Bring on the pretzels and pop.

Won’t be eating at this convenience store today. Sorry!

Gear.

Navigation. We navigated by Felkerino’s Garmin and paper cue sheets. We used the Garmin to help with our planned routes as well as any spontaneous detours, and it did the job beautifully. Probably paper maps are best, but the Garmin worked well in their absence.

Bags. Summer touring in southern Virginia is great because, compared to touring at other times of year, you don’t need as much clothing to contend with the weather. Felkerino and I used a Carradice Camper to carry our tools (mult-tool, wrenches, and chain tool), spare folding tire, patch kit, and chain lube. Felkerino also packed baby wipes, which come in quite handy for cleaning hands after a mechanical.

Essentials. We each packed a small pannier for our clothing and other miscellaneous essentials, such as first-aid stuff, toothbrush, toothpaste, sunblock, Chamois Butt’r, and floss (I hope my dentist reads this blog).

Shoes. Both Felkerino and I wore Sidi Dominators for our tour. Given that we spent so much time on the bike, we did not pack any non-cycling shoes. We’ve not found them necessary for our tours, since our Sidi’s work fine for any walking around we do.

Hydration. Both of us used Camelbaks to meet our hydration needs. We also carried two water bottles on the bike, but those were used mostly as “just in case” bottles or for sugary drinks like juice or Gatorade.

Felkerino used a Camelbak Charge and I used my trusty Camelbak Rogue. These packs each hold two liters of fluid, and I find that size works well, as it does not add an uncomfortable amount of weight to the back and ensures I have sufficient water for 50+ mile stretches, depending on the heat of the day. These packs also have a couple of convenient pockets for stashing things like cell phones or helmet covers.

Clothes.  Here’s the rundown of my tour wardrobe.

  • 2 pairs of Sugoi RS bike shorts
  • 1 pair of off-the-bike Sugoi knickers
  • 2 Ibex Indie jerseys
  • 1 long-sleeve Brooks polyester base layer
  • 2 sports bras. One, Eastern Mountain Sports, dried fairly quickly post-washand. The other, a Champion Double-Dry was extremely slow to air dry after washing. Any women with quick-drying sports bras that offer good support, please advise!
  • 2 pairs of Smartwool socks
  • 2 headbands
  • 1 pair of Smartwool armwarmers
  • 1 pair of Bouré knee warmers
  • 2 jackets (1 Gore Paclite rain jacket and 1 windshell, made by Vaude)
  • 1 light polyester cycling cap from Walz
  • 1 helmet cover
  • 1 bandana, for miscellaneous uses

During our tour, I wore every article of clothing I packed, except for the helmet cover and the knee warmers which I never needed, but would never tour without. We did not have any particularly rainy days, although we passed through a few showers along the way. I was glad to have the Gore Tex jacket during the downpours. For the cool morning descents on the parkway, I wore my Vaude windbreaker.

I wish that I had not packed the long-sleeve base layer, as it simply wasn’t needed. The two Ibex jerseys worked perfectly for on- and off-the-bike, and if I needed long sleeves I had my armwarmers or my jackets.

Clothing-wise, Felkerino packed similarly so I won’t go into his clothes list. He did not pack a light jacket or vest, and I think that is something that he’ll carry next round. Mornings and downhills could get a little cool. The Gore jacket was overkill for that kind of cool, but a vest would have been just the thing to ward off any chill.

Cameras. I carried two cameras, as well as my cell phone and wallet. That meant I also carried two chargers, one for each camera. One of my cameras is waterproof and the other is not, but takes better pictures. I know that was probably a little excessive, but my thought was “Hey! I’m on vacation! I’m taking lots of pictures on this bike tour and spending most of the day riding around seeing the sites so I’m taking both!”

Felkerino also carried his own camera and charger. I know we could get by with one camera between us both, but we both like taking pictures, having our own memories of each day, and seeing what each other chose to photo.

Assessment by the Grade. I know that grading is subjective and probably does not suit the essence of bike touring, but in order to give you a sense of how I thought our tour went and to discuss areas of improvement, I’m using the good old A-F grading scale. 

Gear-wise. B+.

I think Felkerino and I did pretty well. When we first started touring together, we carried so much stuff! We used four panniers, chock full of on-bike clothes, off-bike blothes, Tevas, you name it. It was ridiculous. Since then, we’ve reduced our weeklong needs to the setup you see. Two front small Ortliebs and the rear Carradice. If we were camping, we would need to add some to that, but I don’t know how much additional space it would require.

Next tour I would force myself to choose one camera versus taking both. I’d ditch the long-sleeve base layer. I’d tell Felkerino not to pack so many Clif bars (even though he saved me from a bonk with the one that he generously gave me).

Mileage-wise. Again, I give us a passing grade. A!

Our last day was too long for my druthers (105.6 miles, and most of it on the Blue Ridge Parkway), but our overall average of 79 miles per day was reasonable. We usually left around nine a.m. and eased our way into town at 6:30 or so. We’d shower, wash our clothes, eat, prep for the next day, and head off to sleep.

Rides of that length allowed me to enjoy the day and feel comfortable stopping whenever I wanted. I never felt like we had to hurry. I did have one moment (or two) on the last day of our tour when I wondered if we would ever get there, but we kept on pedaling and the feeling went away (when we finally got there, ha!).

Hey, would you be interested in captaining a tandem? Like, right now?


Terrain and Route Choice
. Still passing, but I grade us a B here.

After our first two days, we climbed into some pretty hilly stuff and stayed in that hilly stuff (with the exception of a welcome reprieve along Wolf Creek during our fifth day of riding) until our ride concluded. This week, I’ve felt a little ache in the back of my left knee, and I suspect that Felkerino is dealing with some post-ride pain as well. Post-ride pain is never good, especially that which lingers.

Next time, I’d like to find a few more valley roads to make sure we’re taking care of our knees. However, I will say that I loved the hilly areas we passed, especially those outside of Floyd by Indian Valley. They were unforgettably beautiful, not only in the steepness of their grade but in their views and peacefulness. That was sublime riding.

Notes for the future. I talked about this in a previous post, but I do think that this camping business warrants exploration. I read lots of blogs and hear lots of stories about people who camp and just love it. Camping intimidates me, but I want to try it. I don’t know how this would alter our tour experience, but it appeals to me to think of the possible flexibility we would not have by riding fully contained. We would not have to rely the same way on reaching a specific destination each night, and at first glance, it seems much more economical.

On the other hand, it’s easy to think about camping after an eight-day tour that had only a few rainy spells throughout and the one evening it rained overnight we were inside a warm hotel snoring away. I’d love to learn more about doing it, though, so if anyone has any good pointers please send them my way.

Time for a Road ID

This past week I bought a Road ID. Initially, I blamed my purchase on all the Road ID ads run during the Tour de France coverage for filling my mind with how much I needed one. Marketing, I tell you!

Really, though, I can’t blame the Tour ads for my recent purchase.

My Road ID arrives

I decided to get a Road ID for a few reasons:

  1. I was too lazy to research other similar companies or have something engraved with my contact information.
  2. I wanted a bracelet-style ID as opposed to a necklace/dog tag setup.
  3. I wanted identification to take with me on runs.

When I go running, I have a bad habit of taking my ID out of my wallet, putting it in a shorts pocket, going for my run, and then forgetting to put it back in my wallet after I return. While not a major problem, it was an annoyance I could avoid by having a sports-specific ID. Enter Road ID.

As those of you who watched the Tour de France probably already know, my Road ID is a bracelet with an engraved plate containing my personal information. Nothing too personal, but enough for people to know my name and call my emergency contact if need be.

Road ID offers the basic ID and they also sell an interactive identification system that allows a person to put more information on-line. Since my primary concern was to carry something with my name and contact information, I did not bother with anything more complicated than the basic ID bracelet.

I chose the purple wristband for my Road ID (Hello Kitty sticker not included).

My wrist strap is made of nylon and fastens with velcro. I wore it for the first time on this weekend’s run and it was light and comfortable. I like the look of the ID. It says, “I’m sporty!” (Fake it ’til you make it, right?)

Most important, though, is that I have peace of mind. I have some form of identification on me and I don’t have to worry about forgetting to return it to my wallet when I’m done with my run.

So yes, I caved to marketing, but in this case I’m glad I did. I’m saying no to ID’s forgotten in my running clothing, at least for the time being, and yes to always carrying ID with me when I run.

Anybody else have a good ID system for running? If so, please share in the comments. I’d like to know about it.

Special Ride Clothing: Ibex Cycling Jerseys

While it’s true that special clothing is not required for riding a bicycle, sometimes a particular article of clothing can make a ride that much better, especially a long ride like a brevet or fleche.

During Team Table for Five’s fleche ride last month, one of my teammates and I got to talking about what we had chosen to wear on our ride. We kept referring to our wardrobe choices as clothes we reserved for “special rides.”

2012 Fleche Team and our special ride clothes. Felkerino and I both wore Ibex. (c) Bill Beck

One of the essentials of my spring and early summer special ride closet are my short-sleeve merino wool Ibex jerseys. These jerseys have proven to be the most durable and comfortable of all the wool jerseys I’ve tried. I bought my first Ibex jersey in 2005, and I’m still using it on brevets. Since that time, I’ve collected a fair number of their jerseys and I’ve been extremely pleased with their performance. As an added bonus, the majority of Ibex jerseys are made in the USA.

I prefer to wear wool on brevets because I think it handles sweat better. That is, it does not get as stinky or show sweat stains as easily as a synthetic jersey will. I also prefer the aesthetic of wool, and think it looks more like a regular top than some of the synthetic crazy-print jerseys I’ve seen.

Compared to synthetics, wool will not get as clammy when it is wet and it can also be worn through a wider range of temperature swings. For these reasons, it makes an ideal day into night jersey.

Action shot in the Ibex jersey

The Ibex jerseys I’ve owned have also had two or three rear pockets. I think two are sufficient, but three is fine, too. The important thing is that, when I fill the pockets up, they don’t make my jersey sag. Ibex jerseys pass the non-sag pocket test.

I’ve also owned several Swobo jerseys. I liked the texture and style of the Swobos, but found they did not stand up to the wear and tear of brevet riding. They eventually lose their shape and will shrink up a little. Ibex stands up well to regular trips through the washer. Just throw it in the washer on cold, add wool wash, and hang dry. Voila!

Ibex offers wool jerseys in various thicknesses. For cool spring brevets (rides that start in the 40s), I’ve found the Giro fabric to be ideal. On warmer spring rides (that range between the 60s and 80s) I like the Indie fabric. Any hotter than that, and I favor a synthetic. For example, if I had been riding this past weekend, I probably would have ditched the wool for a light synthetic.

The Ibex Giro. A little Star Trekky, but not too bad. And SO comfy!

Sometimes Ibex has struggled with their color selection and overstyling. Recently, they have returned to a basic look that does not bring to mind any uniforms from Star Trek seasons past. They are simply designed with three rear pockets and mostly solid colors.

Ibex Indie jersey (Ed’s wearing a Giro)

If I’m going to be spending all day (and night) in one jersey, I want it to be one that fits well, stows what I need without sagging, and feels comfortable. My Ibex jerseys have served me well in all these aspects.

If you have suggestions for other wool jerseys, please let me know. I always have an eye out for new special ride clothing.