12/31/16

Year Prudence 2016

Retrospection, which is Latin for 'old-timey glasses,' is a crucial element of any end-of-year blog post and especially for ones that try to sum up what was, in most cases, a rather shit sandwich of a year. [Insert your favorite celebrity here] died and [insert an angry string of expletives here] happened in politics and worst of all, Washington City Paper continued to publish Gear Prudence, a bike advice column which is neither about bikes nor advice while putatively claiming to be about both. Nevertheless, to celebrate their continued weekly mistake, I've gone back and highlighted the Top 12 GP entries from 2016 and, much like last year, the reasoning that undergirds the selection. So let us look back now that we may never have to look back at 2016 again.

January
Gear Prudence: Why don't they make left-handed bar tape?
Justification: Super great question and a surprising answer. I had no idea that the Rothschilds, the Bilderbergs and the Trilateral Commission were so involved in this insidious plot to keep southpaw bar tape off the market, but it's amazing how much you can learn with some quick googling. This question far surpassed the one about swearing in front of children  as a topic of interest.

February
Gear Prudence: My bike is stuck in a tree. This is so messed up. Can I borrow a saw?
Justification: You should never saw down a tree, even if your bike gets stuck up there. As GP rightly wrote, you have to convince birds to carry your bike down and this is why you should always fill your saddle bag with birdseed. Rookie mistake, bro! Other rookie mistakes include not knowing bicycle emoji to use when tweeting, but this isn't nearly as egregious as the birdseed thing. Get your shit together people!

March
Gear Prudence: What's the best material for a bike: carbon or elven steel, as was used in the forging of Narsil, the sword of Isildur, wielded by Elendil during the war between the last alliance of men and elves against Sauron Lord of Mordor at the end of the Second Age?
Justification: Another tech-y question. I always feel out of my depth on these because I don't have a lot of bike shop experience and never know if the tensile strength of carbon is superior to the magical properties of fictitious swords, but I did the best that I could with the answer. Far better than the answer I offered on visiting the cherry blossoms by bike.

April 
Gear Prudence: I want to replace my pedals with different pedals, but I'm worried my feet are shrinking by nearly imperceptible amounts each day. Is this a thing?
Justification: It was another close one down between this and the one about who keeps the bike friends after a breakup, but what won the day here was the mystery of whether the questioners feet were actually shrinking or whether it was a paranoid delusion. Just so hard to know! Either way the answer is flat pedals, but different sizes on left on right and you have to switch the pedals each day in case the wrong foot was shrinking at the wrong time.

May 
Gear Prudence: I think the car that honked at me was a Transformer. Can we arrest Michael Bay and try him for war crimes?
Justification: I know, right!? We all want to convene the International Criminal Court and prosecute him, but that's just not in the cards. Same as biking on a first date- there are just some things you don't do.

June 
Gear Prudence: My cat allergy keeps me from biking in Petworth. Why can't they rename it Dogworth to clear up the ambiguity and my sinuses?
Justification: You can't just rename neighborhoods. Trust me, I've tried. Do you think that anyone wants to keep calling it Foggy Bottom? Nope. It's just inertia, but each time I write a successively angrier letter to Rand McNally about changing it, I'm visited by that same put-upon sheriff with that same dog-eared cease-and-desist letter. It's frustrating, but not quite as frustrating as not know how guilty to feel about riding another cyclist into danger.

July 
Gear Prudence: I want to ride a century, but I'm opposed to the idea of riding for 100 years straight. Am I misunderstanding anything?
Justification: Nope. "That's definitely what a century means" was the shortest GP answer ever, but it's hard to know how much more to add to that very correct and thorough response. Thankfully WCP doesn't pay by the word. Either way, this was a way better column than the one about moving in with a boyfriend and his eight bikes, which required a response of more than one sentence. Ugh.  Effort sucks.

August 
Gear Prudence: How do you solve a problem like Maria? No really. How? This nun is fucking annoying as shit and I tried to pawn her off on this Austrian admiral but Austria is fucking landlocked and don't even get me started on this Liesl chick. She's in love with a Nazi! And wears clothes made of drapes like it's no big deal!
Justification: I love it when people reach out with real bike problems. Unlike this silly question about some guy's wife making him text on group rides, this whole Maria situation really made me think and stretched my creative limits as a bike columnist. While the proposed solution (it involved warn woolen mittens) didn't really address the whole Maria problem, I feel like we got at least somewhat closer to having a certain degree of solace about this very real bike concern.

September
Gear Prudence: You ever notice how sometimes when you go fast your bike goes whoosh whoosh whoosh? 
Justification: Yes! I've totally noticed that! And sometimes it's more of one long whooooooosh instead of multiple whooshes. I think it has something to do with science and ear holes. Backup this month was the one about a friend fucking up your bike while volunteering to repair it, but that question lacked the really interesting aspect of inquiring about whether one hears whooshing noises sometimes and said nothing of ear holes at all!

October
Gear Prudence: Is it better to give an old bike to someone taller than you or shorter than you?
Justification: Something that used to shock me about the questions GP receives are the number of ones from people who want to do genuinely good and charitable things. Like, what's the deal with that? It's one thing to ask about being bothered by macabre bike jokes, but it's an entirely different thing to wonder whether you should be charitable to the relatively taller or relatively shorter. What frustrated me the most about answering this question is never knowing how tall the questioner was because I think that really would have impacted the advice offered. I assumed that the questioner was seven feet tall because that seemed obvious at the time.

November 
Gear Prudence: My bike basket has the faint odor of a different bike basket. Could have someone switched them when I was in Harris Teeter?
Justification: You ever see that Angelina Jolie movie about this exact thing except it was about a kid and not a bike basket and it took place in the 1920s and not in front of a Harris Teeter? Great flick and I was glad to draw from it for inspiration on the answer. I just wish Angelina Jolie did a movie about cyclists and yoga because I can't help but think it would have improved this column or if not that, at least it would have been cool even if she didn't wear a cloche hat like she did in that other movie.

December
Gear Prudence: Does my family know that I like to ride bikes with different sized tires? 
Justification: The toughest Gear Prudence columns are about telling families difficult truths, especially when those truths are about bicycles. Most of the time the advice is to lie and/or fake your own death, but sometimes, like in this column, it was to be brutally honest, while also angling the bike in such a way that the bigger tire was farther away so perspective made it seem like there wasn't such a difference in tire sizes. Of the columns about sizes in December, this one was way better than the one about pensises, about which we shall never speak again.

So that's it. That was the year in Prudence. Thank you all so much for you willingness to continue to read the column and thank you even more if you've ever taken a moment to share it with anyone. To the best of my knowledge, GP will continue into 2017 and for that I'm immensely grateful. As always, if a bike question should pop into your mind, please don't hesitate to email gearprudence@washcp.com or hit me up on the twitters, facebook or via semaphore.

11/16/16

Impressions From My Ride to Baltimore

I've lived in DC this go round for 8 years and I've visited Baltimore twice. This is in no way a reflection of that city, but rather my own negligence (and perhaps myopia). It's close enough to pretend that we have a baseball rivalry with the Orioles and close enough that half the would be Washington Football Team fans choose instead to support the Ravens, but it's not DC and it's certainly not what I would consider to be within the constellation of DC things, even though it's geographically closer than a lot of places that are. It's its own place and that's what makes riding there so tantalizing. But for some reason, it seems to be a place that people don't visit by bike from here. Or if they do, they keep it quiet. Or maybe I just don't run in the right circle. Either way, I wanted to ride there and last Saturday and I did and here's how it went.

I decided before I left that I didn't want to ride there and back. It would've been a century and that's laudable, but I wasn't really up for it. Instead, I'd take the MARC back and that worked splendidly. It's $8 one way, there's a bike car on weekends and bikes ride free, and the trip is under and hour. If you plan to tackle this ride, I really recommend it. One thing you might want to be smarter about it not locking your bike up at the train station. I had a pump nicked, but the bike itself was left one. Still, I miss that pump and maybe should've thought about a less prone place to leave my bike when I wandered around. Oh well. Live and learn.

The Ogre was the bike of choice and even on the heavy bike, the miles rolled by pretty well. Some of the ride involved riding on shoulders and the wider tires and sturdier frame ate up the road before the road could eat me first. I wasn't going for any kind of blazing pace, which is could since I'm incapable of one anyway, but the miles went by pretty easily. There are scarcely any hills, or at least none that made any big impression,and my relatively chill pace was more abetted by the big bike than hindered by it. Also, I'm doing some upgrades to the Ogre (right now!) so was sort of a last hurrah of sorts. I'm excited about the first hurrah for the upgraded Ogre, but there'll be other blog posts for that maybe.

The first part of the ride was mostly trails to Greenbelt. Then in Greenbelt, it was suburban-y roads that varied from 'I am ok with this' to 'This is not ok, but this is what it is.' I realized after the fact that I could've avoided some of the worser bits by taking a different route (be careful with the directions you download from the internet- you don't know if the person who made them is crazier than you), but I got through them. At one point, I turned off a highway-esque road into a suburban neighborhood and never had I been so relieved to be riding through a subdivision. The middle section of the ride saw more of what I would call 'country' roads, which is to say that they were two lanes and there was woods some times. Then there were sections through various stages of industrial parks, from destitute to stumbling along. This might have been Laurel. There were train tracks, often to the side, and there were container train cars, often idle. In Jessup, I stopped for Dunkin Donuts. I think this was right around the halfway mark.

After the industrial parts, it was back to woodsiness. The roads were quiet and the traffic was light. I followed River Road along the Patapsco, but then I started crossing highways and beltways and knew the idyll would soon be over. I approached the city from the south and west and rode through Landsdowne. I suspect there might have been a nicer approach with fewer stop lights and without having to wait 20 minutes for a train to pass. I'm an urban cyclist and have done it for awhile, so I was mostly unbothered by the traffic and the compromises one must make to ride through it, but a nicer and quieter way into the city would have been good. At some point, in the inner outskirts, there were signs for "Bike Route" and then there was the football stadium and the casino and marked paths and at that point, I was virtually there. I don't really know when "Baltimore" becomes "Baltimore" but once I saw a bikesharing station, I figured I was there.

I had never ridden in downtown Baltimore and from an outsider's perspective, it seems like the kind of urban place where one should be able to bike. There was a two way cycletrack by the Inner Harbor and that seems like a nice investment (and I saw another one on Maryland Avenue later), but I came to learn this about downtown Baltimore: seemingly all of the streets are one-way and multi-laned. And if that means anything, that means speeding cars and if there's anything inimical to good and safe cycling, it's too many too fast cars. So that was an experience. I wended my way up a few blocks and over a few blocks to take myself to Attmans, which is a deli and sanwich place and there I ate a reuben. After that, I again risked life and limb riding on high-speed one-way streets (maybe there was an alternative? I don't know) to get to the train station, where I left my bike.

In conclusion, yes, you should ride to Baltimore. You should bring a friend. You should probably even ride around Baltimore a little, but maybe do some more research about which streets are less terrible for bicycling. I think next time, I'd take a different approach and take my bike up by train and then ride back. That'll probably be spring.

10/14/16

My Ride in Connecticut

Yes, I realize I skipped a few commutes in there. That's my bad. Honestly, with the much shorter ride and seeing so many fewer cyclists, it's kinda hard to keep the 'blog my ride everyday' conceit going. Emphasis on conceit. 3 miles isn't 8 miles, for one thing, and now that I don't go through Federalia or downtown, it's even harder to stretch the plausibility of seeing things or people that are vaguely worth noting. In light of that, writing up my ride just doesn't feel as immediate. Also, I've had some personal life changes (adopted a pet emu) that result in my wanting to spend less time writing than I had previously wanted to and I haven't quite struck the balance yet between the time investment and the payoff that I feel is worthwhile. Anyway, all of this is to say that TFTS will likely muddle on for some, but maybe without as much regularity. So, it's not a goodbye and it's not a ghosting, but maybe more of a recognition that writing this blog isn't as vital to me as it once was and I think that that sometimes shines through. BUT, when the urge to write does grip me, as it so often does, I'll continue to use the blog as an outlet for whatever needs letting out. Like my brief description of my 70 mile ride in Connecticut yesterday.

Last fall, I thought it'd be fun to ride from my brother's place in Brooklyn to my parents house in Connecticut. It was around 80 miles and I did it and I was relatively pleased with myself for accomplishing this feat. I'd like to do it again some time. Or maybe go in reverse. I don't know. In the course of my visiting my hometown with a bike, I took some time to ride around some of the roads and hills in the north side of town and thought they'd make a fun place for a more extended ride. So that's what this was- a chance to come back to town and get in some hilly riding on some dirt roads in the midst of the changing leaves of a Connecticut fall.

I have a system for getting my bike here and it's pretty cheap. Not as cheap as riding it the whole way from DC, but still not so bad. I take a Vamoose bus ($40/roundtrip, bike travels at no additional cost) from Rosslyn to Penn Station, then ride from Penn Station to Grand Central. I bought a roundtrip off-peak ticket for Metro North (and for $5 a lifetime bicycle pass, which is now a treasured possession) for $33 ($28 for the tickets) and I got off at Brewster station. I changed into my bike clothes there (which I was wearing underneath my normal people clothes), swapped out my Vans for the bike shoes I had in my Carradice, and then rode the 25 miles from Brewster to my parents house. I did parts of this ride last year, but took a slightly modified route this time to avoid some of the hillier parts. I used the Pocket Earth app offline map for navigation (following a route that I had downloaded previously) and stuck to mostly backroads where I could and made it in about an hour and a half.

I rode the Mr. Pink with Clement MSO tires. Steel frame plus fast, but traction-y, tires is sort of the super best ideal combo for this, though it did feel a little sluggish on the paved parts. Though, admittedly, that might have just been me. Anyway, I love my Mr. Pink so, so, so, so much and this trip really confirmed that it was an amazing choice for a new bike. If I was to get another bike, I might want it to be an All City.

The plan for my big ride was to follow someone's previously mapped metric century (downloaded from RideWithGPS and displayed on Pocket Earth). What I wanted in a route was a good of hills (because hills are fun?) and more unpaved surfaces than not. This route provided both and fairly early on. I won't bore you with the exact details of the roads I took, but there was a lot of up and down and a lot of dirt and dust and gravel and very, very few cars. It gets pretty quiet back in the woods around these parts and there are lots of 'scenic roads,' which means they are dirt and they aren't plowed in winter. There are some horse farms and more than a few decrepit barns (which is not to say that they're unused) and then there are big houses that were either built in the 18th, 19th or 20th century by people who thought that living in the middle of nowhere would be better than living somewhere closer to stuff. I rode through just one or two town centers (town center consisting of a Main Street that might or might not be bisected by two other streets named Church and perhaps Maple) and through a state park named Macedonia. I never had to walk up any hills, but I more than once thought about it. I wore gloves and this saved my wrists from jarring effects of hours on gravel. The bike excelled in the varied terrain and I'm quite confident that it saved my life on an extremely perilous descent over which I found out later wasn't actually a road. The problem with relying on routes downloaded from the internet is that you don't really know if the guy who made it was crazy. Moreover, when roads are maintained for winter and when you're in the countryside where no one really lives anyway, there's no real guarantee that a surface that seemed passable two years ago in spring would be tolerable now.

I went down North Kent Road fast. At first it was fun, but when I realized my momentum was such that my brakes could only hope to slow me by half but not fully, I wondered if I should panic. The problem with the road wasn't so much the grade- it was a 10-13% decline, which is manageable generally- but that the road wasn't a road and whatever it was, it was covered in leaves so I couldn't see what I was about to ride over. In many cases, what I rode over were rocks and what weren't rocks were holes where rocks used to be. It was a craggy, uneven surface on a hill where I couldn't stop and couldn't see what was beneath my tires and had I given myself over to any thought other than 'stay loose and get out of the way of anything you can't get over,' I think the panic would have surely resulted in my crashing and that would have had more than a break-even chance of resulting in potentially serious injury. I only skidded hard on leaves once or twice, but stayed up. I missed a few of the bigger rocks by an inch and as far as the potholes went, the bike managed to see me through them. I'm not the most confident descender in the best of cases and I didn't really have much of a choice here, and while it might generally sound fun to careen down the side of a hill in only the scantest control of your bike and body, I can assure you in this case that it wasn't. It was the scariest thing I've ever done on a bike and I'm grateful that I made it through in one piece.

Over the course of the ride, I lost a water bottle. It ejected somewhere. I bought it last week, for the purposes of this ride, but now it belongs to the woods. The very kind people at WTF Kits are sending me a replacement gratis because they are good people. The water bottle is labeled Whiskey and I have a feeling that someone is going to be pretty pissed at this when he finds it roadside and discovered the liquid therein has been considerably mislabeled.

I ate beef jerky and gatorade for lunch. I snacked on some gross glucose snack things I got from a tent that REI set up along the Anacostia. I also enjoyed a muffin and iced coffee before the last 15 miles back into town.

I'm not sure I enjoy riding longish distances by myself. The solitude doesn't really overcome me, but I do get bored and having other people around is a nice distraction from dull pain in your legs or listening to your own breathing. I think if I were to do this again, and I want to, I'd like to go with someone else. It's nice country and the roads really are good if you're into dirt and gravel and hills and deciduous trees doing their thing. Plus, I'm sure my parents would let you sleep on the couch. I haven't asked them, but they're pretty nice so it's probably cool.

Route here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17145625. Sorry no Strava. For once, I actually really regret not using it because I think I went at least 50mph once and I'm sorry I didn't capture that.

Pictures:
Bike, fence, hills, trees

bike at rest. not pictured: me at rest. I made a wrong turn, climbed a hill I didn't need to climb and then stopped because I was knackered. That's when I realized I made a wrong turn. 

I regret not taking a picture of the horse farm here, which has a statue of a horse covered in gleaming stainless steel plates. 

Sample dirt road through woods

More dirt road, more woods

Did I mention the roads weren't paved?

This is pretty emblematic of the whole area. If you ever want to ride up here, I'm game. It'll be fun. 

10/5/16

Rides 10/5

Hey, let's complain about some drivers. I've gotten used to a lot of nonsense, but I've noticed two things recently that have been bothering me more than usual. The first is the phones. Seriously, it's bad. It seems like every other person is holding a phone with driving. It's bad. If I'm ever done in by a driver holding a phone. please burn down a Verizon store in my honor. Or an ATT store. Whichever really. Also, don't do that. But man, it's bad. I've resolved myself to having to deal with people who speed and people who cut me off and people who are generally not as kind around cyclists as they should be, but the distracted drivers scare me the most because they're just not looking at the road and I'm working with small enough margins already. I know that robot cars will save us all someday and because of this we can't take any intermediate steps to improve things right now, but if we decided that it was ok to take some steps to help lessen the chance that a distracted drivers hurts me, you, someone you know or him- or herself, that would sure be appreciated. So much of my thinking about safety is trying to ride in such a way as to mitigate risk. But it's really hard to think about risk when they exists the wildcard that someone might just not be looking.

Also, right-turn-on-red is a sham and should be banned anywhere people walk. If I'm ever done in by a driver making a right turn on red, burn down a red light district. No, please don't do that. But seriously, it's bad. Even if you were to tell me that it's not dramatically unsafer than other bad driving things, I'll tell you this: it creates a situation that encourages encroachment into crosswalks and this, in effect, is one big fuck you to pedestrians. It's hostile and unpleasant and it's hard to imagine how any civilized place could allow it. It's time to be more honest about that.

Usual route to and from work. I thought about stopping at the bike shop on the way home, but ended up going down a different street. Solution: put a bike shop on every street.

10/4/16

Rides 9/20, Rides 10/3 and Rides 10/4

If it were the same beautiful weather we've had over the past 2 days for 300 days a year, I think it'd have the same effect on the overall number of people biking as only about 3 miles of protected bike lanes. Don't get more wrong- this weather is amazing and there are certainly more people biking than there would be were it totally shitty, but I've been doing this long enough to develop strong opinions without empirical evidence and within that certitude is the belief that what really gets people on the bike isn't whether (hah) or not it's nice, but whether or not they worry about being seriously injured or ending up dead. Bicycling is a truly wonderful thing and the feelings it gives me are for the most part extremely positive. But boy oh boy does the current milieu in which I do it ask me to think about my own mortality more times and in deeper ways than I'd prefer. And I do it everyday! I guess all of what I'm saying is two things: 1) putting people in situations in which they're worried about their safety and *feel* unsafe is very visceral ways isn't likely going to lead to more people wanting to put themselves in those situations and 2) asking for hyper-vigilance from people and asking them to do everything they can (which still might not be enough!) to ensure that other people don't bring them harm seems unlikely to win over additional converts. It's just too much. Nice weather though.

I've given up on Connecticut and Calvert on the way home. I prefer Woodley now. It's pretty breezy, all things considered. There are two stops signs between Cleveland and Connecticut and they're pretty well-spaced. This opens the door to lots of zooming or as much zooming can be done by a relatively cautious rider on slow bikes on a potholed street. Not much opportunity for zooming afterwards either.

I see a lot of other bicyclists, but only on 18th. It's a pretty good mix too, encompassing a mix of people in regular clothes and bikey clothes and across the entire spectrum of bike types. But it's just one block. I miss seeing cyclists all over the city. Maybe it's time to get a job on the Hill, get the downtown commute back. It's a weird campaign announcement, but when I'm the junior Senator from Nebraska, at least I'll have a longer bike commute back and get to see more bicyclists.