Slow Progress, on Various Fronts

September 19th, 2014 4 comments

Basil and I checked out the new parking area at the Exton end of the Chester Valley Trail the other day.  The expanded lot is painted; it looks as if they’re only waiting to put the occasional tree in place before opening it.


They’ve added fencing to keep the riff-raff out.


Later, Dr. Diarist, Argyll, Basil and I returned on a weekend.  That new parking section can’t come a moment too soon.  It’s too far to see clearly, but most of the cars in that front row are parked on grass, not the existing lot.


That sky!  I love the raggedy extension of the trail here, coming up on King of Prussia. (It’s a town.  I know, I know . . . . )


Well, the trail’s not actually raggedy, but the environs are definitely industrial for this short stretch.


It think this is an old rail bridge, but I forgot to double-check.  It was about time for pizza, which was only a couple of miles/3.2 km away.


Basil and Argyll were pleased to get a chance to roll together.  Things have been a bit mad around the Diarist place, what with a lot of (good!) changes, and all.  The Bromptons have been feeling neglected.


Be patient, little guys — the new phase is almost over. Proper (and more frequent) riding will commence soon.

Categories: Short Trips & Errands Tags:

Basil, Rustic

September 16th, 2014 1 comment

Scenic, no?


But a little bit of a fake; Basil’s actually in town, in a back alley, where all sorts of unexpected visual pleasures abound.

Categories: Basil, En-Scène Tags:

DIY Water Bottle for a Brompton

September 14th, 2014 12 comments

It’s taken more attempts than I could have imagined, but I finally have a water bottle holder I can live with on my Brompton bicycle.  It’s adapted from this Childress stroller/pushchair cup holder, widely available at infant goods stores and online.

cdchAs supplied, this cup holder was too shallow to safely contain my tall water bottles (though it might work well, as is, with others).  I added a cordura cuff at the top, reinforced with a thin strip of plastic*, setting the cuff inside the bound edge, and zigzagging it in place on my sewing machine.


The cuff is 1.75 inches/4.4 cm (without an allowance for the attachment seam), which brought the total height of the cup holder to just over 7 inches/17.8 cm.

To hold it in place on Basil’s handlebars, I sewed hook and loop fasteners to webbing straps, and attached the straps to the top edge of the holder.  For ease in use, and to make tightening the straps simple, I sewed rectangular loop locks on each end of the straps and ran the webbing through. (You can usually find loop locks at EMS or REI or other camping goods stores.)


The loops give enough leverage to fit the straps snugly against the handlebars.  Using this method also reduces the stress on the hook and loop fasteners, making them less likely to work loose.


Then I removed the cup holder’s original attachment loop — the large one on the left in the top photo — and changed its placement so that it circled Basil’s stem.

This part was a bit of a pain, since keeping the liner waterproof required hand-stitching the loop back onto the holder.  As much as possible, I used the existing needle holes to reduce wear on the exterior vinyl.


Once all the adjustments were made, I strapped the water bottle holder in place and we were good to go.  The interior is slippery enough that lifting the bottle out is easy, but it’s also just snug enough that the bottle doesn’t flop around.  The altered holder is sufficiently deep that the bottle doesn’t fly out when we go over bumps, and the insulation is a nice plus on hot days.


Love the little mesh bags — those are gels in the pockets.  A skinny cell phone would fit there, too.  Or keys, or whatever.  There’s elastic at the top, so the gels don’t fall out.

Best of all, this cupholder is crushable and it doesn’t interfere in any practical way with the slim fold of a Brompton.  Sure, it sticks out a bit, but it mashes flat at a touch, yet it pops up ready for use as soon as Basil is ready to ride again.


The pros?  Everything.  The cons?  It’s not elegant engineering, folks, and that pains me deeply.  But it works exactly the way it should, and I haven’t had to think about water bottle issues since I installed it.

*That plastic reinforcement?  I love using IKEA’s flimsy placemats for this kind of support.  Very inexpensive, very thin, and works like a dream!

Categories: Gear, Water Bottle Sagas Tags:

A Look at the Monkii Cage and Holder

September 10th, 2014 11 comments

In my never-ending search for a solution to the Brompton water bottle problem, I ordered a Monkii V cage and clip from CycleMiles, in the UK.  CycleMiles, and Miles, in particular, were terrific — even following-up unexpectedly when the Internets failed, and I couldn’t complete the sale without additional help.  The Monkii, sadly, didn’t  work out quite so well.


It’s a very clever design, for which you need two relatively inexpensive parts:  the cage itself, which comes with adapter buttons for using with existing cage bolts, and the clip, which wraps around a bicycle stem to hold the cage in place.

Together, installed, they look like this (nice and sleek!):


To use, the Monkii cage is placed around a water bottle of just about any size (a cool feature!).  The bottle and cage are treated as one, and snap onto the clip on the bicycle stem.

The clip is quite unobtrusive on the stem, and I found that it holds very well; there was no slippage at all on Bssil’s stem.  It was rock-solid once installed, and installation, thanks to padding, leaves no marks on the bicycle chassis.


For genteel riding, it’s not necessary to snap the cage fully in place, but for more rugged terrain — or jumping rough patches — it’s best to snap the cage fully in place to secure it most snugly.  For whatever reason — and unique difficulties with my hands may be the reason — I couldn’t easily remove the water bottle assembly from the clip while riding.

That may be a personal coordination issue; it’s hard to know, but it made using the Monkii on the fly quite tricky for me.  That may not be true for most users, and certainly the positive snap of the clip addresses any issues of the bottle flying out during use.


The other difficulty I had with the Monkii was that old Brompton bugaboo:  placement.  Where can the water bottle go without interfering with the fold?  I placed the clip to the right side of Basil’s stem.  That allowed virtually no interference with the cables when folding (though I did watch them carefully).


However, I could find no position for the kit that didn’t interfere, at least a little bit, with steering, once the water bottle was in place – and that’s about as thin a water bottle as anyone would use. The inhibition was minor, and at first I thought I could live with it, but in the end I felt that the advantage of having full control over the steering was more important.

So, unfortunately, the Monkii didn’t work for me, or for my Brompton.  The clever and innovative Monkii is likely an excellent cage and clip for a variety of other situations — virtually any other bike, for example — but it wasn’t the answer for Basil and me.

Categories: Gear, Water Bottle Sagas Tags:

Testing, Testing

September 4th, 2014 5 comments

We’re slowly adapting to a new normal here, what with shifted schedules and all, and I’m finally beginning to ride Basil a little more than I’ve been able to in the past few weeks.  At the moment, I’m testing the new Brooks Cambium saddle, and gradually extending the lengths of our rides.


The Cambium is a vegan departure from the famous Brooks saddle, made of linen and rubber — and designed with a very sleek profile.  So far, I like it very well, but I’ll need a few more longer rides to determine if this is the way to go.

Basil still looks a little odd to me when he’s got a light saddle.  That’s my fault:  my little workhorse Brompton is covered in black accessories.  If we go for the Cambium, we’ll have to get the darker version.

Categories: Gear Tags:

A Handle for a Brompton Bicycle

August 29th, 2014 16 comments

One of the ancillary benefits of immersing oneself in a Brompton weekend like the BNC is the opportunity to see, up close, a lot of the after-market stuff Brompton owners try out and use on their bicycles.  Dr. Diarist and I were very interested to see the Off Yer Bike handles.

The eagle-eyed will have already spotted the OYB handle on Basil in a previously published picture:


I’d seen these online, but, as ever, was reluctant to actually buy one without trying it out in person. Everyone who had one of these on his or her bike in DC raved about it, and now I know why.   My hands are too small to wrap around Basil’s frame, so I can’t easily lift him at the best fulcrum point; as a result, I’ve been wed to the Brompton stock saddle, with its handy grip just under the nose.  That worked, but the balance when lifting Basil was never quite right.

The Off Yer Bike handle changed all that. Even Dr. D, who easily carries both our bikes at once, is very pleased at how much simpler it is to wrangle our Bromptons with these handles attached.  I couldn’t be happier with it, too.   Lifting and manipulating Basil is a whole different, better, story now that he has a handle!

Installation is really simple, and just requires attention and a modicum of brute force to ensure that the velcro and straps are pulled tightly around the Brompton’s mid-section.


The down side?  It’s pricey.  But it’s strong, appears to be extremely well-made, and I expect it to last forever.  If you ship yours individually to the USA from the UK, you can expect to pay even more, but a few dealers in the US are now carrying it, which should save at least a little on p&p.

I bought ours from Bay Area Bikes in Oakland, California — they were fantastic at communication, gave great customer service, and shipped promptly.  If you are near Washington, DC., BicycleSPACE, hosts of this year’s Brompton National Championship, carries them, but they do not ship.

The other bummer?  I hate the way they obscure that beautiful Brompton frame.  But, you know: function over form*.  I don’t think that handle could be transparent and still do the job.

Also, I love the Off Yer Bike logo, and I’m happy that the OYB handle is made in the UK instead of  in a city-factory in China, but I’m cutting that white tag off ours.  It’s distracting to have a white blip flying on the frame, and white?  That tag is going to be really filthy in no time.

*Edited: originally wrote the line wrong.  Grrr. Busy week; no time!

Categories: Gear Tags:

We Ride Again (If Only Briefly)

August 25th, 2014 10 comments

Things have been hopping around here.  Dr. Diarist has a new job, and we’ve been switching things up to accommodate the changes that brings; the upshot is that the ride we took yesterday was our first in just over two weeks.  Basil and Argyll are not pleased with us. Things are looking up for our Bromptons, though, and it won’t be long before we’re back riding more consistently.


Along the way, Dr. Diarist demonstrated Argyll’s finer features to these two cheerful pedestrians; she’s just started working for a bicycle distributor, and he was learning to ride his long board, which we were sorry we didn’t get into the picture.


We decided to check out the Struble Trail, which has been closed much of the summer for a gas line repair.  That rather temporary-looking sign says “Approved Access Road”.  Argyll and Basil are pleased about this; access to the trail is good!

st-mwA little further on, this sign caused a little dismay, but the work being done is off-trail, so our progress was unimpeded.


It was a lovely day.  In another week or two, things should simmer down to a new normal.  (I’ve got a deadline to meet, myself.)  Basil and Argyll are more than ready.  This sitting around the closet stuff is not what Bromptons are made for.

Categories: Tours, Trails & Group Rides Tags:

Life Before Basil

August 20th, 2014 11 comments

I can hardly remember it, but people ask a lot, so I wrote down the story, and posted it as a new page here on the blog.  It’s kind of a The-Path-to-Basil post.


The best part is the way it ends:  Irresistible, irrepressible Basil changes my life!

(tl;dr for the Before Basil page: It’s never too late to find your bliss.  Or to get moving!)

Categories: Miscellaneous Tags:

Cleverhood Goes Suburban

August 16th, 2014 13 comments

When I saw Susan, of Cleverhood, again this year at the 5 Boro Bike Expo, she told me that she was working on a smaller version of her rain cape for those of us who are shrimpier than her typical customer.  (“Shrimpier” is not the term Susan used!)  When she suggested that I take one of the early models home to review, I jumped at the chance.


Cleverhood capes are beloved of urban riders, and why not?  This cape is no one-trick pony; designed for cycling, it works equally well for walking, catching a bus, or racing to the subway in a deluge.

Above all, this cape is a really attractive garment, melding the traditional and the quirky beautifully in one very utilitarian package — and it’s practical apparel anyone of any gender can appreciate.

Cleverhood’s secret is that it illuminates brilliantly (literally!) at night.  The fabric is so light and flows so beautifully that daytime use does not even hint at this super power.  This is huge for cyclists, but also a boon for dog-walkers, travellers, and anyone who walks at night near traffic.


This version, appropriately named “Electric Gingham“, is a classic gingham check, made so “mini” that it’s become something quite sophisticated; the contrast (waterproof) zippers (available in lime, as on mine, yellow, red and black) add a bit of fun.  I love that the illumination reveals a completely different look: a counterpane plaid.

Impressive, no?  (By the way, that super-bright “pop” at the lower center back is the normally discreet Cleverhood logo, which becomes something else when lit!)


The Cleverhood is very comfortable when worn; it’s so light that it’s easy to forget it’s there.  You’d expect a cape to billow when worn with cycling, and this one does, but it is so open, and the fabric so lightweight, that there is minimal wind-sail effect.  I did not find that it impeded my riding at all on short runs, and I’d expect the same on longer recreational runs, where the pleasure of the ride is the point, rather than setting a land-speed record.



Unconstrained, the hood is neither large enough to go over a helmet, nor small enough to fit sleekly beneath one.  The latter is less problematic than I thought it would be: I wondered if it would feel bulky under my snugly-fitted helmet, but, in fact, the fabric is so light that it is no more noticeable than a helmet liner.  A tiny, neatly-done toggle allows the hood to be adjusted to fit, and it makes all the difference, allowing it to fit neatly however worn.


In the image above, you can see how beautifully the sides of the hood are cut.  (I turned the brim back to make it more obvious.)  That’s really clever:  peripheral vision is not inhibited, and the brim is designed so well that it works exactly as it should, deflecting rain quite effectively. (You’ll need to turn it back down to get that benefit!)  The lower edge of the hood opening, too, allows complete freedom of movement:  coverage, but not restriction.

In spite of its size, the hood did not tend to fly off in wind; another indication that the cut has been thoughtfully done.  I don’t think I’ve ever worn a hooded rain garment that was anywhere nearly this well designed for function.


When I first tried on the Cleverhood at the Bike Expo, I thought it was way too broad in the shoulders.  Susan said no, it was meant to be cut that way to allow for carrying a messenger bag or a pack beneath it.  That made sense, and, in wearing the cape, it feels right, and the slight additional room in the shoulders, compared to everyday clothing, allows greater freedom of movement.


Beautifully finished openings for arms mean that a Cleverhood is maximally versatile; you can reach from under the cape, or, quite simply, directly through it.  Best of all, the openings have hidden magnets, so they close automatically once you withdraw your arms, and won’t fly open unexpectedly.  Rain and wind will not make their way into the cape through the openings, even though it’s quite easy to pop your arms in and out.


Tabs at each side allow cinching of the cape to make the profile more wind-resistant; I found that they were easy to use and worked well.


Internal thumb loops allow the cape to be held over the handlebars.  This they do effectively, but I ended up feeling that they compromised my safety on my bicycle considerably, by restricting my movement a bit too much in tight situations. I would probably not use the loops while cycling unless on a very predictable trail.  They are an asset when wearing the cape in all other situations, though, and keep the cape from twisting or shifting when moving rapidly by foot.

Water will pool in the apron of the cape when the thumb loops are used in rain, but beads nicely and is easily tossed off.  The water-shedding capacity of the Cleverhood is impressive, and I found that it kept me dry very effectively, and shed rain beautifully.


My other concern when cycling in the Cleverhood has to do with signalling.  While riding in traffic, I did not feel that I was able to signal effectively enough that I could feel confident that motorists understood my intentions.  That’s a serious issue in my book, and one not easily surmounted when wearing a cape-like garment.  That’s a potential difficulty with all riding capes, of course, not an issue strictly confined to Cleverhood.

Urbanites who don’t signal anyway — and they are legion! — are not likely to be bothered by this; in my part of the world, the Cleverhood is just what I want while riding cycle trails in rain. Hand signals are not an issue in those circumstances.


There is a loop at the center back neck where a light can be attached:  I love this loop, which is placed perfectly so that a light can be seen whenever the hood is up.  But the loop also means that the cape can be hung up without trying to get it to balance from the hood — a much easier proposition that also leads to quick drying.


The Electric Gingham Cleverhood strikes me as an excellent all-season rain cape for anyone; cycling is by no means the only use for this nifty cape. If I were an urban walker, for instance, a Cleverhood would be my all-season go-to garment — quick and simple to don, airy and light enough for steamy summer nights, and easy to wear over heavier winter gear.

I can’t imagine a better bit of travel gear, either; it’s stylish, light, extremely functional, and highly stow-able.  Each comes with a pack, and is easily slipped into or removed as conditions require, but this version, the Electric Gingham, also fits nicely into a small Eagle Creek packing cube, with a bit of room to spare.


Different weights of Cleverhood may not tuck in quite as well as the Electric Gingham,  but might work best under other circumstances:  There’s a beautiful brown corduroy version, too, for example!

Cleverhoods are pricey, but, in my estimation, well worth the cost.  Value for money comes from buying lasting goods that do the job — whatever it is — well.  Amortized over a useful lifetime, a high initial expenditure often turns out to be the most economical choice.  (Think Brompton bicycles!)  There’s another wonderful reason to buy Cleverhood, too:  Cleverhood is a USA firm, and, as noted on the website, Cleverhoods are “designed, crafted and manufactured in the US”.  Sweet — that’s buying power a consumer can feel good about!

The Cleverhood originallly featured in this review was a sample supplied to me for feedback on the new, smaller, size. It has since been returned to Cleverhood, but I was so taken with the cape that I bought my own, which was supplied at a discount.  Judge my words accordingly!

Categories: Clothing, Gear Tags:

To Pizza and Back

August 14th, 2014 4 comments

It feels like eons since we took this ride, but it needs a post, just the same, especially since it was a  photographic trip, too, rather than just a cycling one.

Not to mention that we had no idea that there apparently is a little reservoir next to the Chester County Trail:


Given how small the image is, you might still not believe it — but there’s a lovely patch of water there, behind the flora.  From the perspective of my computer, it looks positively Caribbean, allowing for the fact that the vegetation is all wrong, and, you know .  .  .   it isn’t!

We discovered it on the way to what is now the eastern end of the Chester Valley Trail, which turns into a parking lot just before Gulph Road.  That just happens to be the location of our favorite Pizza joint.



Basil and Argyll checked out the front window while Dr. Diarist and I indulged.  Basil — the herbal kind — and mozzarella with a ton of other herbs, oh yeah!


Then we rode back to Exton, snapping bridges and overpasses on the way.


Clean, traditional lines on this one.  Gotta love those angles!


It overlooks Highway 202, which is more usually a clogged commuting artery.  On summer weekends so many people go to the shore that it’s often nearly empty — except on Friday and Sunday nights when the shore crowd spends miserable hours getting to and from.


The Chester Valley Trail gets its own sign on this overpass — and a cage against mischief.

ej-wrAt Warner Road I snapped this bulwark.  I think these are hideous, especially finished in that awful blah beige, but they are apparently effective at what they’re supposed to be doing.  Short on aesthetics, but high on utility.


Utility counts, though, and a working trail is something to evoke genuine gratitude.


More virtually empty highway, under the overpass.  We usually travel different routes these days, but it’s still odd to see so little traffic.


Quiet days.

That’s Contention Lane, below.


I finally looked it up, and learned that British commander William Howe had made his headquarters at a home on the lane during the Revolutionary War, which was interesting, but didn’t necessarily explain the provocative name of the street.

Further along there’s another beige monstrosity, improved by bit of greenery.  The tunnel’s rather fun, even if the outside isn’t particularly interesting.

ej-bgSometimes, too, the underside of an ordinary overpass is worth a look.  I like the corduroy effect between the girders, though this isn’t really any kind of corduroy roadway.

ej-usAt Church Road, Basil and I rode down a short access road to get this shot of the overpass. (We’ve done this before.)  I’m partial to this rather organic look; it does the job, but blends into the landscape less jarringly than concrete slabs.ej-rt

Then it’s an old favorite, still being refurbished.  Sometimes people can’t resist shouting when  going through this archway; I admit Basil and I have sounded his bell a few times.  Resonance is irresistible!


No curves in the tunnel at Swedesford Road; it’s all rectangle.

ej-srThen, further along, mishmash — a small arch with a buttress on each side, fit a little bit like a child’s mismatched wooden blocks.

ej-loBack at the Exton trailhead, Basil and Argyll were not pleased to see that the new section, which will continue to Ship Road, was still barred to use.

ej-erIn spite of signs forbidding it, we regularly see people cycling down this pristine asphalt.  We don’t, and I’m not so sure that our Bromptons approve of our good citizenship.  Soon enough, guys!

Categories: Tours, Trails & Group Rides Tags: