My mother flew in from Oklahoma to spend a few days with us before absconding with my son. It’s alright, he’ll be back in THREE WEEKS!  But while she was here I took advantage of a bright and lovely day off work and with the kiddo at Rock (‘n’ Roll) camp to trick my mother into taking an 11 mile ride around town on the tandem.  

   We first went just around the corner for our traditional mother-son pedicures. When we arrived my mom was already worried that she wouldn’t make it since her legs were starting to sing her a song. I asked about where she felt sore and then adjusted the seat height and told her “that should do it”. She looked at me with doubt enough on her face to maybe be called shade, but we left it at that and got our feet did. Afterwards we went across the street to Woodford Food & Bev for a snack, which was great, and some small talk with the host, also great. 

   We went and hopped back on the bike. My mom asked how far to the bakery where I work and I told her three miles. We set off and she immediately started talking about how much her legs weren’t bothering her anymore and how she had been so sure they would feel like jelly all day. We made it halfway around Back Cove and took off down Washington. We stopped at the Gear Hub to show my mom around briefly, then we went on to Standard. 

   I gave my mother the royal tour, and she got to meet nearly the full cast of characters. I verified that the GM is a full two inches taller than my mom, much to everyone’s delight. We grabbed all the bread and pastries we could stuff into my backpack and headed home to let the dog out.  At this point we had done about 8 miles. Then we took the tandem to pick up the kid from Rock camp and the three of us rode home together, his bike having been left there that morning. 

   So in total 11+ miles for my mom, who hasn’t ridden a bike since the mid-80’s, I’m told. Now I have to keep an eye on the Tulsa Craigslist site for potential tandems that my parents could ride together. What could go wrong?!


My first metric century

<DISCLAIMER: I am bad at remembering to take pictures, so they are so few as to be almost nonexistent. But it’s all true, I swear>

   This week I was as invited on a ride with a coworker and some other folks to ride to Kennebunk and back to Portland, a trip that totaled 68 miles. I was excited the whole week leading up to it, but busy too, so the excitement never got out of hand.  When I mentioned that I was planning to do the ride friends and family were flabbergasted. They couldn’t wish me enough luck or remind me sufficiently that I had to be especially careful for cars, hydration, Governer LePage, etc. I was never worried about my legs. I’ve done several 30ish miles rides and none have ever kicked my ass. The first one sent me into a hilarious cramp spiral, but I did a bad job that time and learned some valuable lessons. 

  Even though this was twice as far as my longest ride I knew that it was doable, and I find that riding with a small group makes the miles feel easier somehow. No one was in a hurry. Everyone was nice and pleasant to talk to. There was just enough familiarity between the different riders that one could always drop in or out of a conversation, moving back and forth between the small pods of two or three cyclists. We stopped a couple of times each way to snack, chat, and fill up on water. 

   I had never been on most of the Eastern Trail system that links up southern coastal maine. It’s so picturesque and well maintained. I kept thinking of how fun it will be to come down with the family and ride through the salt marshes in Scarborough and down into Saco Biddeford. Maybe we can visit some friends there before riding back north. The only parts that weren’t woodsy gravel trails were a short stint in south portland and pretty much all of Biddeford. There you had to ride through town, but there were still signs to guide you back to the trails and the roads we took were minimally trafficked. 

   After that we got back on the trail until we met up with the Kennebunk exit on 95, and from there we took the road into town for some much needed food and coffee. Everyone remained in good spirits as we mounted up to head right back the way we’d just come. The return trip went faster as it always seems to do, though it might have been the lengthy discussion of modern poets and poetry I ended up having for over half that trip with my younger, collegiate doppelgänger.  What an experience!

   We ended the ride at the Gear Hub for their Grand Opening Party. The band was playing, the BBQ was…flowing?  The yard sale was in full effect, as was the four square tournament. I left my fellow riders there so I could run home, shower, roll out my legs, gather my family, and finally return in time to see the festivities come to an end. I did pick up a few items from the yard sale bins, and my son did get a new, more legit game of four square going (legit because of the presence of a school child). 

   I ended a longish day of riding my bike by riding my bike home with my son, a trip that was mostly directed into the sunset. But we had our sunglasses. So it was cool. 

Tune-up and repairs for a Specialized Allez Sport

I have a friend with whom I ride on occasion whenever the weather is fair and he’s not swamped with work. The last couple years I’ve been doing tune ups on his bikes right around riding season, wherever that ends up landing. Last year I did his mountain bike (which was stolen from his back yard last winter, unfortunately) and this year he had me work on his road bike. It’s a Specialized Allez Sport with 105 and Tiagra components, probably from the early 2000s. It’s all aluminum and pretty light at 24 pounds.

I gave it a quick once over and noticed a few things right off the bat. First off, the front wheel was radially out of true with a noticeable bump in the rotation. The rear had a flat with the telltale snakebites in the tube. The rear derailleur was having a hard time with several gears and the front derailleur was not working at all; just flopping around on its hinges. Also the front brake was rubbing and needed to be realigned. Oh, and the handlebar tape was coming off at the top where the electrical tape was peeling away.

I found that the front derailleur had a small metal piece where one of of the spring ends usually rests that had been sheared off somehow, and this put that derailleur in the not-fixable category.  The rear derailleur just had a nail jammed into it, and once that was removed it required only minor adjustments to get it working perfectly.  The rear tube got replaced and I patched the old one in case my friend ever needs a quick spare. The front wheel got a little better from just removing the tire and putting it back on, so it was partly a problem with the way the tire was seated on the rim. A little truing and it was back in shape.

I went to the Gear Hub over on Washington to find a replacement front derailleur, and I grabbed a 105 that looked like it would have the reach for the triple chainrings in the front, but I didn’t check the specs online first, so when I got home and put it on I found that it just couldn’t quite make it out far enough to get the chain onto the big ring. Of course, that discovery came the Saturday before Memorial Day, so I had to wait until the Tuesday after to get another replacement derailleur, but this time I checked very carefully. Also worth noting, I believe that I got the only road FD for a triple crank in the whole place, so well done me for not giving up and getting down to the bottom of the basket.

I got home, got the new derailleur mounted, and after some time spent fiddling with it and setting the limit screws, angles, etc it was ready for a test ride. Now, here comes a little confession: I have owned a pair of clipless pedals and some mountain bike style shoes to clip into them for over a year now, but I have never yet ridden with either. In fact, up until today I had never clipped in at all. I enjoy toe clips with straps on a few bikes, but even then I always keep them pretty loose. I mainly like that my feet stay in place and I can keep up a higher cadence without feeling like my feet are floating over the pedals. Plus I find them pretty…AND utilitarian since I can ride in them with nearly any shoes I own. But for whatever reason I never actually switched out any of my pedals on any of my bikes for the clipless ones. I’ve been curious, and I’ve heard all sorts of things about how connected you feel to the bike and how much power you get from the lifting of the pedals.  And you know, since I’m getting things off my chest I’ll add that I did try twice to switch out Judi’s pedals before a particularly long ride and both times I found her pedals to be pretty well stuck on there. I know that I should attend to that, but instead I’ve been satisfied to simply take note before putting the pedals and shoes back in the closet.

But anyway!  Today was the day, and boy was it fun!  I did spend some time with the bike up on a trainer practicing my clipping in and out and getting used to the feeling of being attached to my pedals. Then I did a final ABC check and headed out for my official post-tune-up test ride. The first few times I had to clip in I struggled along for several feet before hitting the sweet spot. But I remained hyper aware of the need to unclip any time I had to slow down, which in turn gave me plenty of opportunities to practice. The feel was very different from what I’m used to. I’ve tightened down the straps on my toe clips now and again when I was on a long stretch that presented few stops and minimal traffic, and that did make a difference as well, but this was much more fun and much easier to get out of in an emergency.

I did notice it most obviously when I was climbing. I made a loop of a few miles that I knew would have a bit of all the inclines so I could shift through the gears and see how the bike performed. It was great, only needing minor tweaks to my earlier adjustments on the stand.  I picked up speed quickly, for one thing. My cadence was easy to get up and keep up. But when I went to climb a hill that I’ve been up many times I was able to keep my speed up much more easily and for a longer duration. I have a hill near Payson Park that I use to get up speed on the way down, and then I like to see how much of that speed I can retain as I climb back up toward Chevrus, as well as when I finally need to downshift. This time I got up to 35 mph and stayed above 28 nearly to the crest of the hill without any ill effects. This bike is lighter than my others and it has a greater range of gears, but I didn’t use too many of them here and the weight difference isn’t really all that much. So I like to imagine it was the new pedal situation.

And that’s my new band name: The New Pedal Situation.

Brooks B17 – About One Year In (+a bit of rambling)

   I bought my first brand new leather saddle last year after the bike swap. I originally meant to write a review immediately and then again after 500 miles. But guess what. That’s not how things went down. In the end I had it on a bike that I didn’t ride as much as I originally thought I would, mainly because the weather really held out for so much of the past winter that I was able to ride my slightly fairer weather bike most of the time right up until I had to switch to my full-on winter bike. Basically I built up a bike that didn’t actually fill a niche in my collection. So in the end I removed the Brooks from that bike after about 300 miles and left it sitting on my dresser for most of the winter. 

   Then, when I finally had to put Judi away for the winter I stole her C17 and put that on my foul weather bike since its weatherproof. Recently I took Judi down off the wall and got her prepped and ready for the spring. When I went to put a saddle on her I ended up going with the B17. The original Fuji saddle was black, so this black leather number looks a little more, I don’t know…traditional. 

   But most importantly, I ride Judi more than anything, and I know that the B17 is less likely to destroy the crotches of my various pairs of pants. The Cambium is super comfy but it also wears out pants like sandpaper. It’s worse on pants with some texture to them like jeans or cords. So that’s how I ended up finishing out the first 500 miles for the new saddle on Judi. And for now that’s probably where it will stay. But enough backstory. What do I think of this thing when it’s pressing into my nethers?

   I went through a few phases. The first few rides it felt immediately comfortable, but they were all pretty short; maybe three or four miles tops. When I finally managed to take some longer rides I noticed that it would start to feel a little uncomfortable after five miles, and the longer I’d go the more I would get this soreness in my inner thighs. Sexy, I know. But now is not the time. Luckily most of my rides during the break-in process were of the shorter, more comfy variety. 

   After I put it away for a few months and then put it on a different bike it felt comfortable and pretty much stayed that way. So I’m not sure how much it was the change in my riding position because of the different bikes and how much it was just my having ridden it 300 or so miles already.  At this point it’s got well over 500 miles on it. I did a 27 mile ride recently and did not have a sore ass afterward, so that’s something. 

   I should mention that I’m no expert in this area. I’ve ridden on a bunch of different saddles, but most have been original saddles on vintage bikes.  None were all that great.  The rest have been soft, squishy gel seats in a variety of designs; lots of cut out centers. My first bike had a Zéfal seat of that type. I rode it a lot. I didn’t do any long rides back then. Five miles still kicked my ass. Oh, and I just remembered that at some point I replaced that seat with a cheap eBay saddle from china. That one was hard plastic with yellow leather over it. It wasn’t more or less comfortable than the squishy Zéfal on those short rides. Other than that I have owned a couple of used leather saddles. One was nearing the end of its life. It was an old Brooks that was so stretched I couldn’t read the imprint on the sides. I’m pretty sure it was a Professional model.

   The other was a B17 narrow that the original owner had overtightened early on, but I managed to sort that out and save it. It never did get all that comfortable, though. It retained a sort of wooden quality. To be fair, I didn’t ride it as much as I could have. 


   So in the end what I did was get myself a combined birthday/xmas gift from the parents, as is my occasional right as a late December baby. I got the aforementioned Brooks Cambium, and I’ve basically been comparing the comfort of my other saddles to that. It is very comfortable. I can ride on it for hours and never give a second thought to my butt. It disappears beneath me and I love it, except for the also aforementioned pants-destroying properties. 

It matches my shoes!
   So I say all that to say this…the B17 is very comfortable, but it’s not yet reached Cambium level comfort. I feel like it will get there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that what it needs is some long rides, and I’m looking forward to testing my theory this summer. I spent last summer escaping from an impressively unpleasant job into an infinitely better one (that’s accurate so far since my enjoyment of the job hasn’t yet ceased to wax), and thus didn’t get to do much riding at all. But this new job comes with the perk of a 40 hour work week as opposed to 60, so that’s 20 extra hours that I should be able to spend riding. Subtract some of that for family time, like, 10 hours (15 if we’re being honest), and I still get to go on a couple long rides and another longish one. So maybe we’ll see how things shake out and revisit this at the end of the summer. 

The Long and Windy Road

   I took a ride out to Freeport yesterday, then turned around and headed right back. The funny thing is, all the way up Route One I was getting hit with a mild but noticeable headwind, and so when I got to Freeport and saw that I needed to head back in order to deal with some prior obligations I was looking forward to some sort of tailwind pushing me along.  But when I began my return journey I found myself riding into a much stronger headwind. This one was enough to slow me down on a descent, and it didn’t let up the whole time.

None shall pass!!!

   I stopped in Yarmouth for a slice of pizza to refuel. My legs had been feeling less and less willing to keep up the revolutions, and I had made the whole trip to that point on one fried egg, a piece of buttered toast, and two cups of coffee. I knew I was going to be late by then so I contacted people and rescheduled enough things that I could relax and enjoy my lunch in the sunlight. 

   I got back on the bike and after about five minutes of riding and digesting I felt much better able to haul my butt through the shoving, bullying wind. Bridges presented the most challenging sections, but only the Martin Point bridge was bad enough to get me weaving across the bike line in my lowest gear.  I let out a barbaric yawp or two since I so rarely get a reasonable opportunity to do so these days. 

   I eventually made it home with just enough time to let the dog out, “enjoy” a quick visit from my soigneur, Monsieur Le Foam, and then take a short, scorching hot soak before I had to meet someone about a bike. But I was happy to see that all of that exertion didn’t wipe me out. When I got home I felt like I could have kept going much longer if I hadn’t had responsibilities. But since it was my first long ride since last summer it’s probably best that I took it easy. 

Monsieur Le Foam

   I definitely did much better than on my first 25 mile ride. That one ended in double leg cramps that propelled me off the couch and onto the floor where I remained until I was finally able to drag myself down the hall and into the bath tub where I sat punching my thighs until the hot water covered them. It wasn’t my best moment, but luckily I was alone. And also luckily, the action of dragging myself backwards down the hallway rug helped to pull my pants down for me so that I didn’t have to bend my intensely cramped legs to get them off. Ah, memories. 

   I took this ride to scout things out for a near future ride with my son. The last time that we rode, or attempted to ride to Freeport it was autumn and it got way too cold for us about 14 miles in.  Also that time we rode up Route Nine which is not as bike friendly as Route One. Route Nine has many sections where the bike lane disappears and you are left to hug a very scrappy and unsafe few inches of the road while cards whiz past you, sometimes giving you a little leeway. Route One has a bike lane all the way up, I was happy to find.  And it is also significantly less hilly than Route Nine. Although I should mention that they are currently doing construction on a few parts and in those areas it is down to one lane.  They have to stop you in one direction and let traffic continue before you are allowed to go. But the cars were content to let me ride along and no one tried to crowd me out since there were construction people watching. And maybe out of the goodness of their hearts.  So now my son and I just need to pick a nice, wind free day for our adventure to the north.  And I look forward to trying it again by myself on a pleasant afternoon to see how my time compares. It’s not so much that I really care about my average speed, but I do tend to notice it from time to time.

Minor Tandem Update

   I looked over the rear seatpost and found that it is actually in good shape. There was a bent up aluminum shim around the top part and that made it look a little jacked up. But I removed that and cleaned it up, tightened the seat clamp and ta da!  I also got a better look at the weird clamp mechanism dangling from the rear seatpost, and it appears to be more or less intact, but missing a semicircular wedge piece that would form the bottom half of the clamp.  The seatpost itself has some spring to it for shock absorption, and that all seems to be in working order. 

   I also scraped off the jockey wheels and lubed the derailleurs and the chains. I checked the chains for wear, but both are totally fine. The brake pads also seem to be original and very much not worn. I need to look into it, but there’s a small (adjustment?) screw on each brake pad that I imagine might be used to adjust the angle for toe in.  

   I took the rear seat post to the Gear Hub and dug around in a box of parts, and I did find a wedge that should work. It was a millimeter or so too wide to fit between the two screws on the clamp, but luckily I recently purchased a bench grinder, so when I got home I put on my safety goggles and my work gloves and my denim jacket (and I finished attaching the protective shields to the wheel) and I carefully ground it down on both sides until it fit. Then I went ahead and switched out the front saddle onto that clamp and put the whole thing on the bike. 

   I had an old Avocet laying around, so I put that on the front of the bike just to give me something to ride on for now. If I ever plan to take a long ride with someone I’ll probably switch it out for one of my regular saddles. And it’s an old fashioned clamp mechanism on the front seat, so I will have to get one that adjusts easier to replace the front one. But on the bright side, I should be able to turn that old clamp upside down and put a saddle on there, then keep that one handy for rides with Ezra. By reversing the clamp and flipping it the saddle height in the rear becomes and inch or so lower, and that should just about allow Ezra to reach the pedals and ride comfortably as a stoker. Then when I want to ride with an adult I can just switch out the whole rear seat post. Quick and easy!

   I did a little bit of test riding today since the sun decided to come out. The rear derailleur works well, but I had trouble shifting the chain onto the largest cog. The jockey wheel was bumping up against it. It’s possible that the chain will need to be on the smallest chainring in order to get there, but the front derailleur also needed some adjusting and I ran out of time. Boo!  The shifting was smooth, though, otherwise. The bike will need a thorough cleaning, then I’ll re-lube everything and give it another go. And I still need to adjust the position of the two sets of crank arms so they are in synch. Either way I’m still really happy with the purchase. I feel like I found pretty much what I was looking for, and it doesn’t require any major work to get it rideable. Now I just need some good weather, some spare time, and a friend with the same.