When Basil and I aren’t off cycling, I share an office with my spouse.  Working conditions are a little unusual.

The small black cat has a screen of his own, on which he watches birdies.  We work to the sound of tweeting, occasionally interspersed  with the sound of a passing truck.  (There’s a lot of aural variety. You can’t expect a smart small cat to remain interested if it’s just the same old tweets over and over.)

Coffee breaks sometimes involve Maine Coons riding in chest slings.

The little black guy’s favorite video is this one:

Working at home: it’s all you ever imagined!

My Brompton Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Sunday Ride

The day after the second progressive ride, I met up with a really nice group of people to ride from Conshohocken to Phoenixville.  It was a very typical day for this first half of January.  Crisp, cold and clear.

That’s not a complaint.  I really like these days.

Destination: Phoenixville, whose independent theater, the Colonial, has its own web page.

This crowd I’ve fallen into always has a snack destination in mind.  We need fuel, right?  Most of the group went to the Artisans.  In spite of the fact that you can see Basil there, a couple of us snuck off to Steel City.

Steel City’s Dark Chocolate Cocoa was calling to me. (The sharp-eyed will note that this photo is from August. I forgot to take one on this trip. The lure of dark cocoa was that strong.)

I took one more shot over looking the river, on the way back. We’ll have snow here soon, probably for a couple of months, until mid-March, and the scenery will be much different, unless this turns out to be an atypical year.

This was an unexpected opportunity, and I met a bunch of new-to-me cyclists who turned out to be great people.  I’m hoping to see all of them again on future rides!

This trip was roughly 30 miles, if I remember correctly, but I rode 35 miles in all, for total mileage for the weekend of 75 miles. Not bad for a barely-reformed couch potato.

My Brompton Tours, Trails & Group Rides

You Sweet Little Bit of Baggage, You

Amtrak seems to be generally bike-friendly, and I take Basil on board without any problems, and with no disguise.

If I wanted to, though, I could bring my Brompton aboard as carry-on luggage:  He’s nearly half the weight limit of 50 pounds, and, as you see, fits nicely into the carry-on verification schematic, even though the seat post isn’t fully dropped in this photo.  I might pop him into a bag if going the carry-on route, though, just to avoid any questions.

(Basil’s under-seat bag tucks right next to the frame when compressed.  It’s not going to cause any carry-on issues, even though it’s technically over the line here.)

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

The Demise of Trophy University City

So I took a trip into Philadelphia to give Trophy Bikes, the Philadelphia Brompton purveyor, another try. I haven’t had much luck dealing with this shop, but hope springs eternal, I guess. The shop I knew was in University City, just three easy blocks from 30th Street Station. When I got there, though, there was no shop.

The building is empty. It must have been an abrupt departure, and perhaps an unhappy one.  There was no information on the storefront regarding the closure, and a local business owner told me that the landlord had torn down whatever Trophy had put up to inform customers of the change.

Unfortunately, Trophy hadn’t bothered to post the closure on their website.  I’d gone to the website that very morning to get directions from the train station.  Hours, directions, the address, everything was right there on the website when I checked it, with no indication whatever that the shop no longer exists.  That was really annoying.

I got directions to a second Trophy location, which involved taking the subway.  I’d been on the Philadelphia subway only once before, years ago, and it had been a rather unpleasant experience.  I was game to try again, although the shop owner who gave me directions warned about the neighborhood near Trophy, telling me it wasn’t safe to ride in. I’m a smallish woman; this may have figured into his reckoning.

A friendly guy at the travelers’ information kiosk in the 30th Street Amtrak Station told me how to get to the 30th street subway station, and which line to take. The station was a lot cleaner than I remembered.  It was also pretty empty.

Unlike most SEPTA signage, the subway signs indicated cardinal directions, which make it easy to figure out if the train is going in the direction you want to travel. That’s very helpful if you don’t know intersections or terminal points.

The car I entered was about one-third full of riders.  The seats were clean, and there was plenty of room for Basil.  LEDs showed each stop, also a great rider service.

Getting to Trophy Bikes “North” required descending an infelicitous stairway into an underpass, and cycling several blocks.  Oh, and it’s on a one-way street. (Just FYI, in case you need to know.)

Then I discovered that they opened four hours later than the University City location, another annoying surprise. I was early, since I’d expected to be into, and gone from, the University City location long before now.

When the store finally opened, a friendly guy adjusted my brake in about two seconds flat, and refused to charge me for it.  That was only the second more-or-less positive interaction I’ve had in five Trophy-related interactions.

However, my positive reaction was somewhat tempered because when I asked if a Brompton mechanic was in, I’d gotten a rather hesitant response.  Brake adjustment, I was told, they could do. Otherwise, the staff would “learn as we go” as far as other Brompton repairs.

Well.  Not on my Brompton, they won’t.  I’m guessing whoever worked on Brompton repair has gone the way of the University City location.  Or the employee just didn’t know what he was talking about.  Either way, bad news.

I headed back to the subway stop.  I’m used to New York City’s MTA.  In general, empty platforms aren’t typical. This one wasn’t totally empty, but close. At least there was a bridge.  (This stop, Spring Garden, is above ground, obviously.)

And this view of Philadelphia was fantastic:

Also, there was a helpful attendant, ensconced  in what looked like a bullet-proof cubby. He was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get Basil through the gate.  It was a good thing he was there for other reasons, though, because my Independence Pass, theoretically with a magnetic strip (?), couldn’t be read by the gate mechanism.

The noise level was deafening, as the stop is between 95 and Spring Garden boulevard.

When I got off the train at the 30th street subway station, in the early afternoon, there was only one other person on the platform.  He was a bit distant from where I was, facing the other direction, between me and the even-farther-away elevator.  He was stumbling, and making some kind of noise.  I went for the stairs at my end of the station, a good walk in the other direction.

Altogether, not the most satisfactory of days.  Then, when I got home, I saw this:

Having just gone through what was altogether — both coming and going — a rather creepy subway experience, it was a little weird to see this.  The attack occurred on a nearby line, at roughly the same time (3:22 in the afternoon, according to the surveillance tape), just three days earlier.  Note the deserted platform, although this, too, was the middle of the day.  The Philadelphia Inquirer, in this article, noted that

The Broad-Ridge Spur, which runs from Fairmount and Broad to 8th and Market streets, is SEPTA’s least-used subway line, with about 8,000 riders a day, and its three stations are often lonely places.

I rode the Market-Frankford line, and got off (and back on) at a stop quite geographically close to the one where this attack occurred.  My experience on this day leads me to conclude that there is more than one mentally ill person hanging around Philadelphia subway stations, since this one appears to have been arrested.  Also that deserted Philadelphia subway stations, in some cases, are the rule, not an exception.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Trophy, or giving them a sixth chance. There’s not much of a carrot, and though the sticks are theoretically only potential, none of this is anything I need. Or want.

My Brompton

Basil Meets a Pal

Much to my surprise, I looked up on the train the other day to see a friendly gent, with Brompton, settling into the compartment Basil and I were sharing.

His is a titanium one-speed with S bars.  It’s five years old, and he originally acquired it to solve the “last mile” problem:  Getting to work from the train when walking wasn’t the best option.  He has another Brompton, also, and told me, happily, that his experience had convinced four co-workers to buy Bromptons, too.

My fellow commuter’s B has the same yellow body as Basil, but the extremities are titanium — a rather good shade, itself — rather than Basil’s Racing Green, or another of Brompton’s many color choices.  The Brompton name is inside an oval, as opposed to Basil’s rectangular decal.

We had a great conversation, and I was very pleased to learn that there are at least four Bromptons commuting on this stretch of regional rail.  Even with two Bromptons in the compartment, there’s plenty of room for more.

Only the day before, for the first time ever, I’d seen another Brompton in Philadelphia.  I was just getting off the train, and the fellow carrying his Turkish Green B was also heading for the stairs.  We gave each other knowing nods, and went our separate ways.

My Brompton Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Bring Something to Read

On the right train, in the right seat, your Brompton makes a fine foot rest:

Haul out a paperback, the e-reader, or a magazine.  Ahhh.


Neoprene Handlebar Covers for my Brompton

At the 2012 Philadelphia Bike Expo, I saw something called “Bar Mitts” — neoprene covers for hands that attach to a bicycle’s handlebars. The idea is that you wear thin gloves, and the neoprene keeps your hands warm.

I really couldn’t see how they could possibly work. They’re open in the back! When I hit the Internet, though, people were raving about them.  However, none I could find were going to work on a M bar Brompton, so I made my own.

Neoprene is expensive, and hard to come by.  I bought two large laptop sleeves that I found in a discount bin; this gave me more than enough neoprene to make my prototype mitts.

Then I made a “muslin”, fitting paper and cloth around Basil’s handlebars until I had a pattern I thought might work.  I took the laptop sleeves apart, put it on the neoprene bits, and drew around the pattern on the neoprene. (This photo shows only part of the pattern.)  Neoprene is easy to cut with strong scissors.

Most commercial mitts of this type seem designed for mountain bike bars, or bikes with twist shifters.  Basil’s a six-speed Brompton, so he has protrusions which require accommodation.  A lot of trial and error was involved; these mitts have a much more three-dimensional shape than most of the commercial ones.

Sewing the neoprene was surprisingly easy.  I used a large needle, a wide zizgag stitch, and went at a slow, even speed, pushing the edges close together as I stitched.  The final stitching on each mitt involved installing a separating zipper, so that it would be possible to open the mitts and fit them over Basil’s shifters.

Here’s the underside of one of the finished mitts. (Actually, it’s not completely finished because I haven’t yet bound the opening at the left, which goes around the handlebars, but you get the idea.)

My mitts are huge, by design, and the opening very wide. I’d read about concerns that people sometimes got their hands trapped inside — an obviously dangerous situation.  It’s a problem I wanted to avoid.

The wide opening allows me to use my mirror without obstruction, too.

The neoprene keeps its shape rather well — it floats nicely above the shifters, and I don’t have any trouble shifting, or even ringing my bell, which is only slightly muffled by the mitt.

There’s an elastic band inside the right mitt to hold it onto then handlebar, so that my hand can’t get tangled in the mitt when I’m pulling my hand out.  The elastic slips right over the handlebar and is completely unobtrustive.

A hook-and-loop band secures the mitt on the left side.  Because of the mirror, a loop can’t slip over the handlebar on this side.

I’ve tried these briefly in 24-degree (-4 C) weather while wearing thin gloves; much to my surprise my fingers stayed reasonably comfortable, although I’d probably want slightly thicker gloves if staying out longer.  I had no trouble at all shifting or braking, although it was a bit odd to be doing both when I couldn’t see my handlebars. Pulling my hands in and out of the mitts was fast and easy.

Here’s how they look from the front:

Dorky?  Oh yeah!  But so are the commercial ones.  Mine are dorky with polka dots!

Can I fold Basil with the mitts in place?  The left mitt can be left on, although it will touch the ground.  The right mitt touches the spokes, and interferes with a full fold, so I unzip it and pull it off when folding Basil.

My next scheduled ride is a 55 mile one that is likely to be at cold enough temperatures that these might be a desirable accessory.  However, I’m unwilling to attempt my longest ride ever with experimental hand coverings, so further testing will have to wait a bit longer.

Some people claim that the commercial mitts have something of a windsail effect, and slow their riding pace. This seems likely, though it’s not something I’m going to care much about if I’m doing transportation riding, or even while doing a lot of my recreational riding.

One last note:  Most butted neoprene seams seem to be vulcanized or glued together, but my seams weren’t going to face the wind directly, so I didn’t bother doing that for this iteration.  If I want to, I can probably modify these later to achieve a similar result.  This set is proof of concept, not necessarily the ideal final result.


Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Five Boro Bike Tour!

We’re in!  Basil and I are registered for the 2013 Five Boro Bike Tour — 42 miles through all five boroughs accompanied by 30,000 people and their cycles.  Registration — a 24-hour-only event — opened at noon on January 22, and by 12:08 our verification came through, with a follow-up email confirmation at 12:19.  (Yes, I was ready to go at the stroke of noon.)

I’ve met a surprising number of people who have done the tour, and have also enthusiastically (and extensively)  researched reviews and anecdotes online. Apparently, this event has equal potential to be triumphant, miserable, fantastic and/or the most awful thing imaginable.

What it won’t be, it seems, is your standard 42 mile bicycle ride.  In spite of a slew of helpful prep tips online, if history repeats itself, huge numbers of people will dust off their bikes for this event alone — there will be gawkers, photo-takers, overwhelmed Sunday riders (are they Sunday riders if this is the only time they ride during the entire year?), and people who just plain have no clue about how to cope with either the route or the massive number of Other People.

Never mind — it’s an experience, and I knew that Basil and I had to attempt it at least once.  (We’re training, though, just so you know.)  Roads are closed for the event, and, let’s face it, I’d never, ever, be able to ride through all five boroughs of New York City on a single day on my own.

I’ll be gawking, too, and taking photos.  But I’m going to do my best to remember that it’s an event, not a race, and closer to a party — think “celebration of New York” — than a pure cycling moment.

My Brompton

Sunny January

Usually I prefer long rides on my Brompton, but every now and then I just want to noodle around casually, and explore town a bit. On this trip, Basil and I stopped at a bookstore.

It’s difficult to see in the photo of Basil (who is, himself, washed-out by the stupendously bright sun), but that’s a Christmas tree in the window:

Might be a great idea for next year, no?  Give the whole family books, and stack ’em high. No murdered evergreen and no dropped needles. (And a year’s worth of good reads when you dismantle it all!)  This bookstore will be moving soon, which may explain why the “tree” was still up.

Basil caught the eye of a number of people in and around the store.  We demonstrated Basil’s marvelous fold, and enjoyed some companionable (and evangelical!) moments with some very pleasant folks.

Then we stopped into a coffee shop so that I could buy a packet of nuts. I’ve become enamored of  the almond/cranberry packet, but grabbed the wrong one today.

This one — cashews — was tasty, but, with only 1 gram of fiber it didn’t meet the “healthy serving” test.  The almond/cranberry packet has 4 grams. If I’m going to eat caloric nuts at all, I want them to meet the “3 grams of fiber per serving” test.  I seem to have the nutritional data down, but failed to read the descriptive label on the packet.  Hmm.

I spent more time in the bookstore, and less time taking photos, today, but snapped this house, whose geometry reminds me of many I used to see on the West Coast.  Love all that stone!


Self-Made T Bag, Update

I made an amateur mistake when putting together my Lightweight Brompton Bag. Instead of folding under  the edge of the middle webbing strap, I simply sewed across the (melted) end. Here’s what it looked like after I used it as a travel bag on my ill-fated trip to (not) pickup my Brompton:

Bar-tacking directly across the melted end only made it easier for the end to separate from the strap.  I knew better!  The right way to handle the strap end is to melt it (as I did), and then fold the end under, protecting it, before stitching across the strap. Here’s the properly-done fix:

Actually, it’s not quite proper, since the fraying chewed up so much of the strap.  I melted the end, turned it twice, and then zigzagged like mad (and in two rows) across the end.  This is inelegant; better to do it right the first time.

Since I was messing around with the bag anyway, I also added elastic to the top of the mesh front pocket. I just strung it though the upper edge of the mesh.

As I’d suspected, I didn’t really need it to hold the magazine(s) I was carrying in it, but the elastic keeps the edge in a bit, and definitely gives the bag a more finished look:

Previously:  Lightweight Brompton Bag