Spring-for-a-Day

April 19th, 2014 1 comment

Some of us went cycling in our shorts recently, with actual bare legs.

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Dr. Diarist took a spin on Basil, since I was going to be taking Argyll to New York on my own soon, and needed a bit of practice on Argyll’s taller handlebars.  (We traded back quickly; Dr. D. really needs that taller reach, and I really don’t!)

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We saw actual grass.  All that green was almost dazzling; we’d begun to think that the color of outdoors was always going to be white.

spr-skWe revisited the skunk cabbage, having read up about them, and identified it properly.  The proper name is Symplocarpus foetidus, apparently because it stinks just like foetidus (or a skunk, as you prefer) when the leaves are crushed.  (No cabbage were hurt in the course of our investigations.)

spr-spthPossibly the best thing about the skunk cabbage is its vocabulary:  That mottled purplish, penguin-shaped capsule is called a spathe.

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The prickly orb within — actually bright yellow in real life (as opposed to my photo) — is called a spadix.

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More neutral colors still abound elsewhere on the trail.  At this time of year, this section looks like a fairy-tale forest to me (at least if you imagine the asphalt as some more organic surface).

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Birds are twittering, and we saw our second cardinal of spring — a flash of scarlet in the tangled branches — so there are unmistakable signs that spring is on the way.

This year we’re not feeling very trusting, though, no matter what the skunk cabbage think.

Categories: Brompton Duo Tags:

A Screw Loose (and lost)

April 18th, 2014 2 comments

Dr. Diarist and I, and our Brompton bicycles, Basil and Argyll, took a jaunt on the newly opened section of the Chester Valley Trail on a blustery day.

a8cvWinds were about 16 mph/25.7 km, with gusts to 25 mph/40.2 km, but you’d never know it from looking at this photo.

a8-cpThe trail wends next to corporate parks and next to a major highway.  Someday, once it is completed, this may make a good commuting option for the vast number of employees who work in the valley.

a8-sbHuge ugly concrete walls line portions of the trail.  They function as sound barriers, blocking the noise from speeding (or gridlocked) vehicles on the roadway.

Along some stretches of the trail, they also block other things.  That’s the back of a Barnes and Noble bookstore (and coffee shop) below.

Books and coffee: so near, and yet so far.  There’s no way to get to them from the trail!

Basil considers the issue:

a8-ctlIt is perfectly obvious that a small Brompton (or two) can easily slip through the rails of this fence and make its way down the short hillside to the parking lot below, and, from thence, across to refreshment of various kinds.

Basil and Argyll were all for it, but more responsible assessments prevailed.  It’s not nice to destroy the new turf alongside a new trail. But gosh, all that’s needed for access is a relatively small set of steps.  Barnes and Noble, you’re missing a trick here!

Nobody had any qualms about crossing a construction lot at the end of the trail so that Argyll and Basil could pose with a conglomeration of enormous metal spools.

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Then it was back to the trail, where I happened to snap Dr. Diarist just as he rode along an uncharacteristically empty stretch of the highway.

a8-hwWhere there no sound barriers, highway is all too evident.  I’m not sure which is worse, visually.

This particular highway is a pet peeve of mine.  Every few years it is rebuilt (and regularly enlarged).  It’s a critical commuting corridor for suburban dwellers, but a far better solution to the continual re-vamping would be to put a light-rail system down the middle.  (Or beside the road; I’m not particular.)

Thousands of commuters would be grateful to be spared the hell that is this roadway during commute hours (and the endless construction), and the consequent reduction in pollution and gas consumption would be huge.  But nooooo . . .

a8-clFortunately, there are other things to observe on the trail.  That green sign above says “Contention Ln”:  it’s naturally appealing, especially after mentally ranting about the highway.  I don’t know which I like more:  the decaying bridge or the name of the lane.

a8-pdWe were just about three-fourths of the way through our ride when disaster struck.  I lost a screw from one of my Zefal toe cages.  They’re recently installed; I haven’t had a chance to post about them yet.

a8-tlRemoving the disabled cage required the second use of our lovely, elegant Brompton tool kit in as many days. That’s probably the most beautiful ratchet wrench I’ve ever seen.  Or used.

I went looking for the missing screw, but the wind was high and the bit very, very small, so had no luck.  a8-gr

While waiting for me, Dr. Diarist made an interesting discovery at the intersection we’d just crossed.  The grimy grid above is a plate laid between a sidewalk and street; apparently it’s meant to warn pedestrians that they are about to enter an alternative travel area.

Dr. Diarist hates these plates because they are used between trail and roadway, too, and are awful to navigate on roller blades.

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We had both thought they were concrete, but we learned on this day that they’re actually some kind of vinyl.  A really poor quality vinyl, apparently, which is disintegrating messily.  I’m guessing this is post-consumer waste, but maybe making infrastructure of such rapidly degrading material isn’t a very practical use, even of waste products, after all.

We stuck the now-useless toe cage into Basil’s saddle bag and headed onward.

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We hadn’t noticed previously that this underpass was lit; a lot of work has been done at this point on the trail so the lights may be truly new, not just new to us.

The trip from the Exton commerce park parking lot to King of Prussia and back is just over 22 miles; a perfect mid-week exercise run.  I made a note to pick up some thread-locker before the next outing; it’s possible to ride using just one toe cage, but the experience is a bit odd.

Categories: My Brompton Tags:

Litter Run

Last weekend I joined up with a few members of a couple of area bike clubs to do some road clean-up in Valley Forge Park.

a6-sBasil didn’t come with me; I live too far away to ride to the site.  As a result, I had the opportunity to explore a little while waiting for the cyclists to arrive.

a6-trThe original date had been the previous week, but postponed because of rain.  This Sunday was beautiful; a perfect day for a ride, actually.  Or for litter-picking, as it turned out.

a6-bd2There were signs that spring is well and truly on the way.  Birds were nattering like crazy all over the place, too.

This section of Pennsylvania is known for its covered bridges.  They are charming things in all sorts of shapes and sizes, mostly cobbled together sturdily, but rather crudely.

a6-cbThis one is in Valley Forge Park, historic site of an infamous winter during the Revolutionary War.  The park itself, though beautiful, is a major traffic route, too.

a6-otI don’t know if there is a typical covered bridge, in terms of architecture or style.  I like the open-work on the side of this one; it looks a bit like very sturdy lattice.

a6-inThe bridge is wooden, of course, but there’s a lot of hidden steel reinforcement going on, too.

a6-rdLarge bolts and a lot of steel rods are visible on the inside, though everything is painted over.

a6-bltThat’s a steel joint plate holding two beams together on the upper right.

a6-bmThe upper struts are purely functional, of course, but I think they have their own primitive beauty, too.

The driving surface is made of sturdy planks, just one lane wide.

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The original use would have been by  horses, buggies, and wagons, of course, not multi-ton SUVs.

On the litter crew, we picked up mostly cigarette butts and the occasional beer bottle, but also discovered this rather unusual bit:

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My litter partner and I initially couldn’t figure out what it was, but I noticed that the word “spreader” was imprinted on one arm:  That was all the clue we needed.  We looked to the heavens, and this is what we spied:

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Yep,it was  a utility line spreader, all right.  I wonder how often they fall off? Those open ended hooks look a little suspect, and we know they lost at least one.

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Here were the fruits of our labor.  It wasn’t  much, really, especially considering that this was the end of winter, during which there had been no litter collection.

It was a little discouraging to see how many people still think its just fine to throw tobacco butts (including plastic-tipped small cigar butts) out a vehicle window — filled as they are with carcinogenic chemicals captured by the filters (the rest are in the lungs of the smoker, of course; that’s pollution of a different kind).

a6-edMost people, though, are kind to this stretch of road, and to the park in general.  In fact, it looked so good when we arrived that I wondered what we’d do as we walked along.  As it turned out, there was plenty of debris to salvage; in the end, we knew the area was actually just as clean as it looked.  It was a good few hours’ work.

Categories: Miscellaneous Tags:

First April Progressive

April 15th, 2014 5 comments

We’ve already been on the second, but I’m behind on posting and racing to catch up.   We met up with Tim, of the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, on the first Saturday in April, for the first in his new series of progressive rides,  beginning with 25 miles/40.2 km, and adding ten miles/16 km further each week.

a5-ltCatching an early train means lots of exposure to golden light.  Also, plenty of room on the train for Brompton bicycles and gear. (But of course, there always is!)

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This particular ride turned out to be an excellent one for train-spotting.  We rode alongside this freight train, which was passing through the city, on our way from the Amtrak station to our meeting point on the Schuylkill River Trail.

a5-frThe weather is warming up, so the crowd at the entrance to the Azalea garden was larger than it has been.  Tim got every one oriented as the morning mist began to lift.

ar-mtOn the way, we passed a regional rail train, too, just like the one we’d taken to Philadelphia, though this one was running a different route.

a5-stThat nearest patch of rail was a bit disconcerting; that’s an impressive wash-out, just feet from the rail that is actually in use.

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Though that’s a lovely reflection in the water.

Our destination was the Outbound Station, just off the Schuylkill Trail in Conshohocken.  Coffee, treats, nice people, and lots of bicycle-themed decorations on the walls.

a5-obThe wind sock outside did not cooperate.  It was almost horizontal when I realized that I should be aiming my camera; this shot lacks the dramatic wind-strength illustration I was hoping to capture.

a5-wsAt Shawmont, on the way back, the crossing bars dropped, bells rang, and we waited for another regional train to pass.

a5-shAt one time, canals were as important as trains to transport in the area.  (And, at one time, trains were a lot more important, too.)  We often see attempts to burnish business along the waterway, not all (or perhaps even most) successful.

a5-rtLovely, newish, canopies by the water here, but in spite of the effort, this still appears to be an abandoned building.

The tow-paths have been re-purposed more effectively, as our own excursion demonstrated.

a5-tpThe winds were a bit fierce on this trip.  That was quite rewarding on the trip out, but Dr. Diarist and I both struggled a bit on the return.  It’s good training, though, so we merely noted the conditions and carried on.a5-30

Basil and Argyll were unaffected; wind means nothing to a sturdy little Brompton.  They were in fine shape, post-ride, all set to board the train home.  (Those Mini-O bags are getting a workout on these rides, and what a pleasure they are! )  As a rule, Dr. Diarist and I do not wear so well, but we went home quite happy just the same.

Categories: Travel/Tours/Group Rides Tags:

Spring (Grocery) Shopping

April 13th, 2014 3 comments

Spring may happen!  Basil and I celebrated this cheery thought by running a few errands in a (mostly) ice-free world.

a4-shWe always gravitate toward the granny smith apples for an indoor shot.  Wonder why? (Something about that wonderful color .  .  .  )

a4-chBasil’s T bag was roughly half-full when I’d finished shopping:  giant carton of lettuce mix (about a pound’s worth in weight); bananas; cheese; five pounds of bread flour; yeast; a pound of almond flour and a couple of other things I can’t remember.

Altogether, the groceries added up to 12 pounds/5.4 kilograms.  I weighed it all when I got home, since I was curious to know what the weight was, compared to riding without any appreciable cargo.  Also, this was the first time I’d hauled six pounds of various flours.

a4-tbHere’s the thing about a Brompton bicycle, though: because the luggage is attached to a block on the frame of the bike, all the weight is carried there.  Steering is unaffected:  Move those handlebars, and the luggage has no effect at all on balance.  Brilliant!

I’m not well-coordinated, nor particularly strong.  If my bike used a traditional handlebar basket, I’d be lucky to be able to wrangle two pounds of cargo (less than a kg!).

a4-bgEven a partially-full T bag looks ungainly — but looks are deceptive.  Basil and I breezed home.

a4-gnNot without stopping, however, to admire the slight hints of green which are now appearing everywhere.

Categories: My Brompton Tags:

Reporter Meets Bromptoneers, Survives

Businessweek published a terrific article about Bromptons a couple of days ago.  Our own NYCeWheels supplied a loaner Brompton bicycle to the reporter, and sent him off, jet-lagged, to meet the cyclists of The London Brompton Club. 

The best part?  Quotes from Andrew, partner of the famous (some say “legendary”) Brompton Bumble Bee. (There’s another one at the end of the article. Read it; you’ll be happy you did!)

“We treat them like children, babies, literally,” says Andrew Barnett, one of the club’s co-founders. “I dry the bike off before I dry myself off.”

There’s a quote, too, from Peter, at Basil’s (and Argyll’s) home shop:

“The Brompton folds smaller than any of the other models,” says Peter Yuskauskas, manager of NYCeWheels. And it rides well enough to compete with traditional road bikes, he says. “It’s kind of our perfect product.”

It’s a great article, and I admit I blushed when I read this paragraph (it was almost like looking into a mirror! totally unexpected self-recognition!):

In Windsor, whenever the London Brompton Club stops, there’s just enough time for me to catch up and remove another piece of clothing. The other riders dismount and take snapshots with their bikes in the foreground, as if they are on vacation and the bike is a partner.

I don’t know, this guy sounds a little surprised.  Also, he’s put “cult” in the headline, viz.: “The Cult of Brompton Folding Bikes”.  Wonder what he means by that?

Categories: Miscellaneous Tags:

Whitford Station

As part of our Errandonnée explorations, Basil and I took the train to an unfamiliar stop.

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Here’s Basil, all set to board the train.  Is it wrong that one of the benefits of riding a Brompton is the sheer pleasure of observing, over and over, what a beautiful thing — aesthetically and engineering-wise — is a Brompton?

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There’s a wonderful old trestle at this very small station.  (Obviously, I’m predisposed to love metal .  .  .  )

And, hence, a long climb up to or down to those tracks.  Many of the train stations in the area specialize in inaccessibility; this one would be pre-eminent in that class.

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It’s not surprising that there are no shoulders on the road; that, too, is commonplace in this area, but then there’s that sidewalk-to-nowhere at the bottom of the stairs.

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Passengers who disembark on this side of the tracks find themselves stranded and facing a rather infelicitous jaunt to the parking lot, which is around to the back, under the tracks, behind the scene shown here.

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Though this area isn’t very pedestrian-  bicycle-, or disability-friendly, there are some compensations, like unexpected, pretty, little views of meandering creeks and small bits of untouched woods.

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Basil enjoys the views, too.  We spent a moment hoping this would be the last snow we’d see this year.  (Fruitlessly, I might add.)  Endless winter or not, it was still a lovely day for a ride, and we both went home well-satisfied.

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Spring: Skunk Cabbage Edition

In the waters and on the marshy banks of creeks in the area greenery is sprouting.

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We think this stuff is Skunk Cabbage, but we won’t know for sure until we get a closer look.

This was a tough winter; the evidence is everywhere.  Recently uprooted trees are lying across the streams, and broken branches, small and very large, are scattered across the landscape.

uw-piAlmost exactly a year ago, I took pictures of Basil and Dr. Diarist’s mountain bike in this same area (and next to this very tree); the ground was clear then, and we had to lean both bikes next to a tree for the picture.  This year, there was enough debris to keep Argyll and Basil upright even on a slope.

Argyll fell over, though, when posing for his solo shot, and his mirror buried itself in the mud and muck — loosening quite a bit in the process.  I thought I had the right size allen wrench in Basil’s saddle bag, but was quite wrong.

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Happily, Argyll was covertly transporting the elegant Brompton tool kit, which turns out to be as functional as it is beautiful.  (More on that later; I’m a bit behind on writing about Brompton paraphernalia.)

Winter isn’t entirely over.  We took the Uwlchlan Trail the other day, and greenery wasn’t all we saw.  (It’s pronounced with an “ooch” as in “mooch” and then “lan”:  “ooch-lan”.  Or should it be “ooulch-lan”? Is it Welsh? Somehow I think it should be.)

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There are still mounds of grubby snow around, looking, at this point, rather like permanent fixtures.  This is residual from a parking lot near a train station. It’s going nowhere fast, in spite of the 60 F/15.5 C temperatures.

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Dr. Diarist spotted a solid block of ice under the tracks.  Closer inspection revealed that it was melting from within, thanks to a drain pipe located in the track bed above, from which a few desultory drops of water slowly fell.

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Water can be soooo destructive.  And messy; is that swath of black due to a high mineral content in the local water?

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The ice pyramid doesn’t look as impressive from a slight distance; as we rode by I thought I’d see a crumpled piece of plastic out of the corner of my eye.  Those fluffy white bits didn’t register as snow, either, probably because I’d long before shed my light jacket.

The trail goes past a park, then alongside a country club, and into a neighborhood, where a slightly less organic display of flora — not skunk cabbage — testifies to someone’s belief that freezing temperatures are gone for now.

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It’s kind of rural-urbia in this area; Basil is checking out a field, here, that is next to a pretty ordinary suburban development.

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There’s an old grist mill along the trail.  Basil introduced Argyll to the pleasures of posing on top of things; they’re nicely framed in what once was either a window or an opening for a loading chute.

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The ruins date from 1811.  That’s antiquity for those of us here in North America.  (Well, “antiquity” for a purpose-built structure that’s managed to survive.)

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Southeastern Pennsylvania is dotted with similar ruins; one of the pleasures of the area is running across them unexpectedly.  How better to find them than on a Brompton?  (Or two!)

Categories: Brompton Duo, My Brompton Tags:

Argyll’s Brompton Mini O Bag

My Mini O bag has turned out to be far more useful than I’d imagined, so we outfitted Argyll with one as soon as we could.

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I emailed Brompton, hoping that they would tell me that a racing green version was in the works, but they replied promptly and told me that they have no plans to release the Mini O in “classic” colors.   All those  currently available wonderful colors, it seems, are strictly for the faddists!

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So all-black it was — and all-black was just as difficult to find this time around as it was when I went looking for Basil’s Mini O last year.  We bought this one where we found Basil’s — at Portapedal in Arizona.  Donna and Al are incredibly nice people to deal with, and got our Mini Os out to us in record time, both go-rounds.  (Search tip:  look for an in-stock waterproof bag where there are deserts!)

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However, we needed a way to tell the two Mini Os apart, since Dr. Diarist and I pack ours differently.  I had a (color co-ordinated — take that, fashion mavens!) shoulder pad handy, so I slipped it over the one that came with the Mini O, and voilà, instant identification.  An incidental bonus is that the new pad is just bulky enough that the strap is contained when looped through the handle — no need to detach it to ensure a tangle-free ride.

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Originally, I got the Mini O because of its waterproof nature.  I’ve since discovered that I favor it a surprising amount of the time.  The small and low profile means that I notice no wind drag when riding, and the inside is surprisingly capacious; it’s an ideal bag for small errands. (Above is Basil’s, lightly loaded.)

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I use a variety of bags and/or luggage for the many types of riding I do; so far Dr. Diarist uses only the Mini O when riding locally (at this point, his rides are all recreational).  He’s been very pleased with this little accessory, which has plenty of room for discarded gloves, jackets, and the like, while at the same time, seeming to be hardly there.

Categories: Argyll, Gear Tags:

The Weight of the World

Due to annoyingly persistent cold symptoms, and a consequent lack of sleep, Dr. Diarist and I missed not only the third progressive (45 miles/72.4 km), but the fourth (55 miles/88.5 km) and will likely now miss the fifth (65 miles/104.6 km), for which we are certainly unfit, having missed half our training sessions.  Sigh.

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Last Sunday, though, we were able to meet up with a batch of good cycling buddies for a shorter, but far more doable 28 mile/45 km jaunt.  It was colder than expected — though expectations may have been influenced by everyone’s desire to see the end of this winter, already!

Bill and Kay kept us company as far as Betzwood, where they turned back, but the remaining four of us forged onward.  I’d left my lobster claw gloves at home, but my fingers were finally warming up; I wanted more miles for my pain!  Also, we all wanted coffee and/or sustenance.

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At The Oaks, we encountered this structure, which gave Fearless Leader Saul (left), Fearless Leader Mike (center), and new Bromptonaut Dr. Diarist (right) a chance to demonstrate Atlas-like prowess.

Much discussion ensued regarding odd bits of rod*, with which the structure is irregularly studded.   None of us were able to come up with a plausible explanation for the protuberances; uncharacteristically, I failed to snap one of the peculiarities up close.   I’ll have to rectify that next time.

Our search for coffee was a bit fraught:  Did you know that Subway — a much-reviled sandwich shop chain — does not serve coffee after 11 AM?  (We didn’t.)  I’m afraid we left without purchasing anything, desperate though we were for sustenance.  We took refuge in a nearby grocery store, which, while almost vacant, offered beverages of sorts, and food stuffs, as well as chocolate, which is what I ate.

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The snowy, icy, terrain of previous months is almost gone, though we did find ourselves walking alongside railroad tracks on the way there and back.  The most sheltered parts of the Schuylkill River Trail are still too compromised to traverse with bikes, but, barring a new freeze, they, too, should be clear soon.

*Lest you think it odd that a bunch of cyclists stood around in winter discussing steel fabrication, let me set your mind at rest:  Bantering on about engineering, construction, and great ideas involving either or both is very typical of this crowd, and a particular bonus of riding with them.   Hence, not “odd”, but “standard”.   (And a very fine standard it is, too.)

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