Basil [Even Further] Above the 45th Parallel

November 20th, 2014 3 comments

Before we left northern Michigan, I took a trip up to Cheboygan, roughly an hour and a half north of Traverse City.  Before we left Cheboygan,  on a whim, Basil and I took a few minutes to explore before leaving.  With a Brompton, these impromptu trips are easy to do; Basil is always with me.

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Except for the summer trade, economies generally struggle in these remote geographies, and the desolate neighorbood we parked in looked particularly hard-hit, with lots of apparently empty homes and way too many “for sale” signs. The state of Michigan itself has fallen on hard times as the auto industry has stumbled and struggled to comeback; that’s only worsened the difficulties in already-troubled areas.

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We checked out the Cheboygan Dam; permits are required to enter the parking lot, but we interpreted this to mean that permits were necessary for motor vehicles, boat-launching or fishing, none of which we were, or were contemplating doing.  Regardless, the area was completely deserted, so we clearly weren’t in anyone’s way.

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When we peered through the fenced walkway overlooking the rushing waters, it looked as if Basil were being threatened by an enormous, fuzzy albino octopus.

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We took the bridge over the Cheboygan River and rode a little bit in town.  Cheboygan is a much smaller, more rustic version of Traverse City; Traverse City without the vast numbers of tourists or any kind of firm economic base.

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The streets we rode on were wider and less-trafficed, at least when we were riding.  Many of the houses we saw were simple wood-framed homes, but others were a bit different, like this Gothic creation:

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Who wouldn’t want to live in a house with a Rapunzel Tower?  I’m a sucker for porches, personally, like the one above, and those that are seen all over the midwestern USA.  Not that I’d want to clean a house this size — I’d rather be riding my Brompton!

I’m not sure what this fetching little structure was originally.  It’s too small to have been a carriage house, but awfully large and ornate for a tool shed.  Maybe it’s a newly-built eccentricity?  That quirky bell tower recalls those on the classic American one-room school house.

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In a more traditional housing vein, albeit with flourishes, is this white home with a quarter-porch and some pretty fancy roof work.  I hope these homes have fireplaces; they’d be lovely places to hunker down during the long, cold, Cheboygan snows.

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Though the waterways are beautiful, much of Cheboygan is considerably less aesthetically attractive.  There’s a Walmart, of course, and strip malls, and evidence of industry, too.

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And above it all, that fantastic northern Michigan sky.  Sure, it’s overcast here, but that sky is  never static for long.  Wait a bit, and a whole different view is revealed . . . though, this time, Basil and I did not stay put to see, since we had a long drive back to Traverse City.  No matter; we drove under the very same sky.

Note:  Basil and I are out of town (yet again!), so responses to comments and to email will be delayed — briefly, we hope.  The indulgence of all affected is hereby begged!

Categories: Travel Tags:

Traverse City Streets

November 16th, 2014 No comments

Basil and I didn’t just ride trails in northern Michigan, but we meandered around Traverse City street a little bit, too. This was sort of a spur-of-the-moment ride, and I was (atypically) wearing street clothes

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Way too late I wondered if my Zefal toe clips would scuff up my new, meant-to-be-sort-of-dressy boots.  Much to my surprise (and pleasure), they didn’t leave a mark.  That was a good thing, because I wasn’t going to give up my ride to spare them!

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We’d missed the height of fall color, but it hardly mattered, with golds this wonderful.  Traverse City is full of arbor-decked streets just like this one.

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One of the joys of more-slowly settled less commercially-developed cities are the eccentric houses, like the stone one above. Housing developments have a harder time gaining a stronghold in more remote communities, where population growth is initially slow, and development inevitably more eccentric.

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Often an ancillary result is that flamboyant color schemes are tolerated in easy-going neighborhoods.  Here in the USA, planned communities and/or housing developments often have contracts which specify what colors structures must be painted. Orange is typically not one of  the approved shades!

Rough northern Michigan winters play havoc with pavement, but, in general, maintenance crews are up to the job. This is an average stretch of asphalt, with several obvious previous repairs, and one that’s still needed.

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This degree of damage isn’t much of a problem for a snow-worthy car, and it’s not even terrible for attentive cycling.  But it is important to be alert; there’s no way to maintain streets perfectly in this climate.

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Basil posed in the midst of curbside leaves; a week’s time will probably mean snowfall, and the leaves will be gone for good until next autumn. Clearing the leaves is the city’s responsibility, once residents have gotten them to the street; bagging this quantity really isn’t feasible, so the collection is done mechanically.

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It isn’t as obvious in the photo as it was In Real Life, but this is one reason skies here are such a pleasure:  that’s full sun on the left, and those are gathering thunderclouds in a very dark sky on the right.  We made it back to the house before the storm hit, and happily watched the showers from indoors.

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After-Market Hinge Clamps for Bromptons

November 13th, 2014 11 comments

It drives me nuts that my Brompton’s hinge clamp swivels every time I fold or unfold my bicycle.  I “solved” this problem by cutting an extremely thin strip of plastic, and fitting it, with a spring, to the Brompton bolt.

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(The spring was actually longer; I broke it after I removed it from Basil.) This worked, within limits, and didn’t prevent secure clamping.  However, the plastic was frangible, and also crushed easily if misaligned.  In desperation, I turned to the thriving Brompton after-market community.  I found these clamp replacements on a site recommended by a reader who was originally discussing a different product with me.

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The site is BIKEgang, and the “Brommie” section is  . . .  amazing!  They appear to be UK distributors for Taiwanese manufacturers.  I was warned that prices would be eye-watering (which they really are, though not too bad for these clamps).  Shipping, even to the USA, is quite reasonable, though, which limits the pain quite a bit.  I ordered two sets of these RIDEA clamps.

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The clamps came in a neat little package.  There is a clamp, a spring, and a washer, which I gather is for use with a beautiful handle also sold by BIKEgang.  I’d read, though, that those handles were very uncomfortable to use, and I like the Brompton handles very much, so I just purchased the clamps.

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The clamp goes on right where the OEM Brompton clamp goes, and the spring goes against the plate. You screw the bolt on as normal.  There’s an extended lip on one side of the clamp; that’s what keeps the assembly from flipping around.  (That’s it, on the left, above.)  The other side is the same size as the Brompton clamp, so you open the hinge to exactly the same degree as you normally would.

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I was concerned that the after-market clamps would not fit as securely, or provide as tight a closure.  This does not seem to be the case.  The extended edge does go right up to the stem, but is not impeded by it, and the closure seems virtually identical to that provided by the original Brompton equipment.  The clamp above is the original one, still on Argyll.

Below is the RIDEA clamp, installed on Basil. In measuring the sides, I can find no significant difference in length.

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At the Philadelphia Bike Expo this past Sunday I asked US Brompton representative John McConaghay, if Brompton were working on similar clamps.  He indicated that they were under consideration, and adding that lead time was always an issue with product development.  I asked what concerns there might be regarding after-market versions, and he said that squared-off clamps put excessive stress on the frame.  John wasn’t familiar with these particular RIDEA clamps, but I, too, have seen clamps similar to those he mentioned, with sides set at 45 degrees.

You can easily imagine that sharp angles could lead to undesirable play between the hinge and stem.  However, the RIDEA angles appear to be extremely close, if not identical to, the gently sloped Brompton angles.

rdc-cmp(I know, my photography is awful; sadly, I’m too busy cycling, and, you know, living, to fix this right now!)  I think you can see what I see when I look at the clamps in real life:  the angles are very, very close, if not identical.  (Brompton on the left, RIDEA on the right.)

At a glance, the clamps are virtually indistinguishable from the OEM Bromptons; they’re just brighter, which a chrome-like finish.

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Communication with BIKEgang was great; they had a question about the order and responded right away, and the clamps turned up in timely fashion.  The clamps are called “Brompton folding hinge solution (RIDEA)” on the web page; the clamps are listed with the handles, but can be purchased separately.

Note, off-topic:  John says the infamous Brompton water bottle is still under development; I had to ask.  John pointed out that these things take time.  (It’s true!)  I pointed out that, though I’ll probably buy any eventual Brompton water bottle, I’d rather Brompton just kept making excellent bikes, and kept the primary focus there. Perspective, people, perspective!

Categories: Gear Tags:

A Brompton Shop Up North

November 7th, 2014 6 comments

There’s a new Brompton dealer in Traverse City, Michigan.  Traverse City gets hundreds of thousands of visitors every summer, particularly during Cherry Festival.  Forget the cherry jam, the pies, the tacky cherry magnets and pot holders — people whose home places are Brompton-deprived can now take home the best souvenir of all:  A Brompton!

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The shop is called Brick Wheels.  At the moment, they have just three Bs in stock, all six speeds. That’s very sensible; the weight difference between three and six isn’t much, and the range is much greater.  (Basil’s a six-speed; I may be biased.)  There are hills in the area; residents will probably be happiest with six gears, too.

The shop has a blue Brompton with S handlebars and a white one with M bars on the floor. (I don’t know who that is, in  lime, in back, photo-bombing.)

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There’s also a handsome raw lacquer with rack, Eazy Wheels, and M bars.  Of course, if you’re a native, or spending a season in Traverse, you can custom order your Brommie.

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The store is huge — this isn’t Manhattan! — and crowded with bikes.  As this is Northern Michigan, a substantial part of the main room is devoted to skis, the sport of choice during winter.  And there is also a raft of fat-tired bikes, evidence of a new winter trend.

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There’s a workshop in the back room, and an extensive line of kids’ bikes and gear, too.

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I like the shop’s jerseys.  They’re high vis — always a hit with me — and have a simple, sharp graphic design.

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Basil hung out with the Bromptons, but I don’t think he was very happy about being half-folded. It’s just not cool when the rest of the gang isn’t.

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Basil’s Mini O measured up to the full-sized O bag, which is bigger than I realized and looks truly impermeable.  It’s got two huge pockets on the back like the ones on the T bag, but the O’s pockets are removable, offering the option of using one, both, or neither.

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Once we got outside, Basil posed unfurled. I could tell he was happier once he could stretch. Perhaps we’ll return one day and be able to cycle with a whole pack of resident Bromptons, in, around, and past all those lovely evergreens.

Basil and I are headed to a completely different part of the USA for the next week or so, and may have limited Internet access. Posts will go up through the magic of automatic scheduling, but response to comments and email may be slow, or even non-existent, until we return home.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Traverse City to Suttons Bay (and back)

November 5th, 2014 No comments

When last seen in Suttons Bay, Basil and I were headed back to Traverse City, Michigan, from Suttons Bay, about 15 miles/24 km north of Traverse City.  We’d Coffeeneured, and explored, and then we took to the trail for the return trip.

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The route is the Leelanau Trail, part of TART, the regional trail system.  In winter — serious stuff in this northern clime — the trail is groomed for cross-country skiing.

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There may not be a better, more comprehensive, slice of Northern Michigan on any other trail of comparable length.  There are private houses hidden among the trees;

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wide, well-groomed fields;

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farms, some of which have grown eccentrically over the years;

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others with vintage, but still used, equipment in picturesque evidence;

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orchards and vineyards;

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and the occasional assortment of creatures.  These four appear to be a burro (or donkey?) on the left; a pony (Shetland? extra-furry, anyway); a bovine sort (taking a break); and an equine fellow (wench?).  They were the picture of collegiality on their sunny hillside.

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This sign was new to me; it appears regularly on the trail (and on others that connect to it in the area).  It turns out to be exactly what it looks like:  a “highway” sign for a bicycle route.  The Leelanau Trail is a section of Route 35 of the United States Bicycle Route System, an interstate, long-distance, national cycling system now under development.

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This sign requires no interpretive effort — it appears along the route at various relevant points.

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The Leelanau Trail may be the friendliest of all. Though there was a lot of NIMBY going on when the trail was first proposed, people mostly seem to have resigned themselves.  It’s the response of those who have embraced the trail system which is most in evidence now.

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There are benches and resting spots scattered along the route for cyclists and pedestrians alike to enjoy.  There is a garden above this bench with a “welcome” sign; tables and chairs below; flowers set out; and a basket of apples for visitors to consume.  (On this day there was also a stray set of cycling gloves, put out in the hope that the owner would return to find it.)

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My picture doesn’t do it justice, but Basil and I encountered one more critter here:  A shy fellow who was keeping a benign and friendly eye on the travelers below.

Basil and I are headed to a completely different part of the USA for the next week or so, and may have limited Internet access. Posts will go up through the magic of automatic scheduling, but response to comments and email may be slow, or even non-existent, until we return home.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Basil Makes Some Friends

November 3rd, 2014 No comments

Basil and I didn’t just Coffeeneur in Suttons Bay; we did a little exploring, too.

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The town is something of a tourist destination, but it’s also a little arty and quirky in a very Northern Michigan way.  It’s a little rough around the edges; a little hardy, as opposed to twee or cute.

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Well, OK, maybe it’s a little cutesy.  These days, too, the unusual craftings might turn out to be made elsewhere, even if they’re designed locally.  But the whimsy is still a lot of fun, and Basil was particularly pleased to see that yellow and black creature, which reminded him of his London compatriot, Brompton Bumble B.

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I think they chatted a bit while I looked around inside the shop.  Off-season, especially, there’s room for a Brompton even in the smaller shops that have been converted from buildings that once were homes.

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Most of the shops are rather modest affairs, with their interesting wares discreetly displayed inside. This one has a stunning exuberance, though.  Do they leave every bit of this extravaganza outside during the winter?  Imagine all this bursting forth from banks of crisp, sparkling snow . . ..

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Most of the shops, like these, and the one Basil and I visited, are re-purposed along what must once have been a residential main street.

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There’s something interesting to see nearly everywhere you look: gables, trellises, walkways, and all kinds of roof peaks, along with a variety of exterior colors and trims.  A fine abandon is in evidence all over the few blocks of the town center.

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Michigan is sometimes called “the Great Lake state” which undoubtedly refers to the Great Lakes surrounding it, but the state is covered with lesser waterways, most of which could be fairly described as “great” on their own.

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Sutton Bay’s little marina has become more polished than it once was, and it’s quite a sight in summer when all the boats are in residence.  On this day, it was simply pretty, with all that blue water sparkling in the autumn light.

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The old train station has become a law office.  (I guess even as heavenly a place as Northern Michigan needs its lawyers.) These particular attorneys have a fascinating garden, round to the right of the building as shown above.

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Look at that stunning beast!  It ought to be fearsome, but it’s got an awfully cheery expression, in spite of all those scales and a truly terrifying set of chompers.

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He (she?) and Basil hit it off right away.   Travel is so enriching!

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We were loathe to go, but the riding home was another wonderful experience.  So much to see!  So much to experience!

Basil and I are headed to a completely different part of the USA for the next week or so, and may have limited Internet access. Posts will go up through the magic of automatic scheduling, but response to comments and email may be slow, or even non-existent, until we return home.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Coffeeneuring: Day 7

November 2nd, 2014 4 comments

Basil and I were home for only one day between trips out of state, so squeezing in our final Coffeeneuring event was on the tricky side.

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We have virtually no coffee shops in our area, so that was a stretch, too.  Dr. Diarist mentioned an odd little business as an option.  Not far from the train station in Downingtown, PA is a combination pinball-and-ice-cream parlour.  He thought this might make an unusual Coffeeneuing stop.

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And so it did.  We got hot chocolate; it was a cold and windy day.  Apologies were made for the too-big cups; the supplier had sent the wrong size.  That didn’t affect the flavor any.

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Behind our table was quite an extensive display of ice cream parlour memorabilia, including old advertisements and antique scoops.  There’s a little something for everyone here.

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Dr. Diarist may have taken a few minutes to relive a possibly miss-spent youth.

c8-dmThere was a crowd present, of quite varied demographics, enjoying the pinball games in a surprisingly light, bright, and welcoming space, moderated by friendly and welcoming owners.

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The ice cream palour features more or less local ice cream, from nearby Pennsylvania Dutch country.  The motto, Nix Besser, means “none better” in Pennsylvania Dutch.

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New versions of vintage candies cover the counter, including some rather horrifying examples of items perhaps best left abandoned by history.  Blue or pink bubble gum cigars, anyone, to announce the birth of a 1940s infant?  Or candy cigarettes (!)?   Maybe it’s easier to get behind the Jaw Busters, just like the ones from decades ago — all they do is contribute to cavities, rather than to outdated stereotypes or to cultivating habits that cause fatal health issues!

Day 7 Observation (for Basil):  Who knew a pinball parlour could be so  . . . nice!  (And still be enticing to pinball fans!)

Tally for the day

Day 7 Location (for Basil):  Pinball Gallery and Margo’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor

Mileage today (for Basil):  3.01 miles/ 4.8 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date (Basil):  66.82 miles/  107.5 km

 

Day 7 Observation (for Argyll):  Combining complementary small business is a great model.

Day7 Location (for Argyll):  Pinball Gallery and Margo’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor

Mileage today (for Argyll): 3.01 miles/4.8 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date (Argyll): 39.8 miles/63.6 km

Trip: 7/7

Basil and I are headed to a completely different part of the USA for the next week or so, and may have limited Internet access. Posts will go up through the magic of automatic scheduling, but response to comments and email may be slow, or even non-existent, until we return home.

Categories: Coffeeneuring Tags:

Greilickville to Acme

October 30th, 2014 4 comments

Basil and I took advantage of our stay in Northern Michigan by joining Dr. Diarist’s father and his mountain bike on a ride.   We started at Greilickville, nominally just north of Traverse City, and rode down past the grounds of the old Traverse City State Hospital. Once an insane asylum, it’s now undergoing renovation as part of the  Historic Barns Park project.

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We cycled past, and over, the Boardman River, and eyeballed a wonderfully rickety old railroad bridge.  It looks impossibly ramshackle, but, as Dr. Diarist’s dad pointed out, it did the job for a very long time.

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The one we crossed looked far sturdier, and though handsome, lacked the essential character of the older one.  The trend in these pedestrian/cyclist bridges is to build them pre-rusted.  I’m unclear on why this works, but it’s certainly aesthetically pleasing.

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Overcast skies made for glossy reflections in the water.

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I wasn’t the only one snapping away.  Dad is a far more dedicated photographer, and gets much more artful results.  Logan’s Landing is in an area of the city that is mostly light industrial; having all that lush greenery, the teeming lake, and a slew of well-maintained bike paths in such a mixed area is quintessentially Northern Michigan.  There’s so much to see, and so much of it is purely beautiful, sometimes where you’d least expect it.

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These branches brought Japanese brushwork to mind, though that’s definitely not a Japanese scene.

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The Boardman is home to a substantial swan population, and to signs warning humans to avoid feeding the fowl.  Those delicate, graceful, birds can snap a finger with one crunch of a powerful beak — and it’s not a great idea to get in the way of those wings either.  Think Arnold Schwarzenegger with feathers.

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Otherwise, it’s not a violent scene.  Basil and I were lucky to arrive before all the autumnal hues had completely faded.  Not that there’s a bad season in Northern Michigan; some are just whiter than others.

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We turned around in Acme at Bunker Hill, thrillingly marked with a railroad crossing, though train-less while we were there. Passenger trains may be coming to the area though; this was the week passenger service began from Chicago to Grand Rapids, and there’s a concerted effort underway to run a line from Ann Arbor to Traverse City.

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Across the street stood a fantastic reminder of how enduring the flamboyance of fall can be; a tree can lose a phenomenal number of leaves and still be stunning.

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Back in Traverse City, we ran into a precursor of the season-to-come.  In Northern Michigan, pre-winter preparations are taken seriously.  A skiing exchange and demonstration was scheduled for the next day.

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Straw was laid down, and snow brought in by a tractor trailer.  An end-loader collected the snow from the truck, and brought it around to the field.

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That was a fine end loader, and, as repetitive as it was, the job looked like fun.

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I ask you, who wouldn’t want a pet end-loader?  Look at that form!  (Also, it’s red!)

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Basil was focused on the actual store, just across a parking lot.  He knows that Brick Wheels, sponsor of the event, is now a Brompton dealer — but our visit to his compatriots there would have to be another day; rain was threatening, and none of us were really geared up for the change in weather.

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On we went, back to the  Leelanau Trail Head, its wonderful caboose, and beyond.  We rode along Grand Traverse Bay, but I didn’t stop for pictures, as the storm was gathering with some speed.

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This was a perfect ride, and notable for the many surfaces we traversed.  (It is Traverse City!)  Basil rode on asphalt, loose gravel, packed gravel, tiny gravel, packed dirt, packed mud, oil-packed dirt, cement, wooden ties, grass, trails, streets, roads, a highway and maybe more.   He certainly encountered more textures than he’s ever experienced on any previous single ride.  I nearly spilled on loose gravel, but was saved by my Brompton, and found that deep thick mud slowed Basil’s tires considerably, but nothing stopped him.

That Basil — he can do anything!  (I think Dad’s mountain bike was impressed, though he kept it to himself.  Or herself.  Hard to tell when a bike isn’t a Brompton.  Dad’s not talking, either, though I like to think that we may bring him over to the Brompton side eventually.)

Categories: Recreation, Travel Tags:

Coffeeneuring: Day 6

October 28th, 2014 6 comments

Basil, my Brompton bicycle, and I are in Northern Michigan.  We rode from Traverse City to Suttons Bay (and back) to do our Coffeeneuring this weekend.  (And tried out a new GPS tool, but more on that later.)

c5-cfWe had hoped to stop in at an actual coffee shop, but this is now officially the off-season; many shops were open on Sunday, but our intended destination was not.

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I had my latte at the aptly named 45th Parallel Cafe.  Basil tucked behind my chair, but I did get told later (nicely) that if they’d noticed he was a bicycle, they wouldn’t have allowed him in.  (The question didn’t come up until two cyclists asked to bring their full-sized bikes inside the cafe, well after I’d been seated.)  Tourist areas have their own sets of issues; staff here was very nice, but maybe a bit worn after a long summer season.

Day 6 Observation (for Basil):  A Brompton is a fine stealth companion.

Tally for the day

Day 6 Location (for Basil):  Cafe in Suttons Bay, Michigan

Mileage today (for Basil):  30.01 miles/ 48.2 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date (Basil):  63.81 miles/  102.5 km

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Back home, Argyll and Dr. Diarist were keeping up their end of the Coffeeneuring challenge by stopping in at a local Wawa — a much-loved local institution that, in another geographic location, might be described as a mini-mart.  To its many fans, though, Wawa is something else entirely. Wawa started as a local dairy and is now a favorite of thousands who swear by the coffee, which Dr. Diarist enjoyed al fresco.

Day 6 Observation (for Argyll):  That Argyll has an excellent sense of balance!

Day 6 Location (for Argyll):  Wawa Coffee (it’s beloved!), enjoyed alfresco.

Mileage today (for Argyll): 2.9 miles/4.6 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date (Argyll): 36.7 miles/58.9 km

Trip: 6/7

Categories: Coffeeneuring Tags:

Off Yer Bike Handle Update

October 25th, 2014 6 comments

This is just a quick follow-up report on the the Off Yer Bike handles sported by our Brompton bicycles, Basil and Argyll.  We’ve been using the handles for several months now; they’re holding up beautifully.  Dr. Diarist and I both recommend them wholeheartedly — they make a big difference in both ease of carrying and in manoeuvrability.cv-hl

Dr. Diarist has never had trouble transporting two Brompton bicycles at once — he actually claims it’s easier than carrying one.  Even so, he says that the OYB handles have made this kind of weight-lifting much more comfortable.

We’ve also discovered an additional benefit of these smart handles: Should you happen to recklessly shove your folded pedal past the restraint click, an OYB handle will absorb the blow.

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Not that you would.  But if you did, somehow, in a moment of utter madness, your Brompton would survive unscathed.

Also, an OYB handle will prevent scuffing of your Brompton’s yellow main tube.  Not that anyone here would ever have done that.  Not at all.  Or, if it did happen, everyone’s forgotten.  Trust me.

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