The Closest I’ll Ever Get to “Cycle Chic”

I’m something of a cheapskate frugal when it comes to cycling clothes. Any clothes, actually. However, every now ant then I’m willing to pay more substantial fees for apparel  that is very, very good at what it does.  (Even then I expect to do so pretty much only when said goods are on sale.)  This Lululemon Athletica Run: Reflect pullover is one of those items.

It’s a size too large for me (or maybe two sizes, if I were wearing it as a <cough> fashion item), but I knew that I’d want to layer it, since single-season cycling gear holds minimal appeal for me.  In these pictures, I’m wearing three layers under the top.

This thing is beautifully cut. It’s so beautifully cut that one almost has to put it on to understand just how wonderful it is.  It’s designed for runners, with reflective features here and there, but it’s just right for cycling.  Mesh inserts flow down the arms and across the back; nice touches from a style standpoint, but also helpful for ventilation.

I’m not sure what color my top is; it might be what Lululemon calls “Light Flare”.  I think of it as “orange sherbet”, but it’s a very pink orange.  (As ever, the critical point for me is “Am I going to be screamingly visible?”.) The opening is lined in a slightly different shade of the top’s color; it’s so subtle that the feature might be missed, but I love that cheery, unnecessary touch. Someone really thought about this shirt!

The contrast color on my top is a little paler than the main one; on the yellow version, the contrast looks as if it’s darker.  Here’s the front, on the official model:

I love that this model has a “real” body, and is wearing a sports bra. It’s very unusual to see women’s clothing worn by someone with a human figure, and with undergarments appropriate to the clothing in question.

I’m going to use Lululemon‘s images to illustrate other features; they do a much better job than I could.

The front pocket extends from zipper to zipper; there’s an MP3 player pouch hidden on one side. I use it for my phone.  I can report that it swallows the phone without any real detrimental effect on the top’s appearance. Needless to say, loading up the pouch in a top made of lovely, light, stretchy material will make you look like a marsupial, but the style-challenged, like me, won’t mind.

The sleeves are extra-long. That’s probably meant to be fashionable, but I love the way they feel.  The cuffs have thumb-slits, so they can stand in for modified gloves, if necessary.  The cuffs turn down, too, to make mittens of a sort. That’s probably a great feature for runners, though less so for cyclists who may need to shift and brake.

The mesh inserts, which almost look purely decorative, show much better in Lululemon’s professional photos. The fabric is wonderful to wear; it silky and moves with my body as if tailor-made.

Naturally, there are channels for the earphones runners love to wear so that that they can be oblivious to their surroundings, but I like to think no self-respecting cyclist would use them. Not while cycling, at least.

This top is quite long on me, and covers my whole backside, rather than going halfway down the hip, as on the model.  I prefer to wear my cycling tops, in particular, long, and like the length of mine much better than the length on the model, who is probably substantially taller than I am.

Like excellent engineering in other arenas, well-designed clothing is a rarity, and a real pleasure when encountered.  I don’t need very many of these beautifully-drafted pieces, but I’m very glad I own this one.


Beautiful Barcelona Brompton

Saul, cycling ride organizer/leader extraordinaire, alerted me to this beauty:

I’d seen it some time ago, but forgotten about it in the bliss that has followed Basil’s entry into my life.  It’s an S6L, gloriously customized with the perfect S bag included.

I may be wrong, but I think the front fender is orange, and the rear fork and fender red. That makes this custom Brompton the rarest kind of bird: a tri-color instead of a bi-color.  Even the logo is customized:

Tempted? NYCeWheels apparently has one in stock (or if not, they can get you one!)  After you pick it up, consider heading directly out to LaGuardia — Spain is only a hop, skip and jump away, and what better Brompton to take there? Barcelona has a reputation as a superb cycling town.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Frankford, Pennypack, and All Around the Town

This Saturday’s Bicycle Club of Philadelphia D ride met at Penn Treaty Park (and I managed to find it! On Basil!)

There was some snickering about the text on these signs, since the  “peaceful relations with the Indians” referred to here eventually resulted in the demise of the native signers of the treaty. The kindest interpretation of the text is, perhaps, that it evinces hopeful thinking.

We met, actually, beneath the statue of William Penn, he of the Treaty.

Which is actually at the intersection of Columbia and Beach, nicely signed just across the street.

The purported meeting point is Delaware and Beach, about half a block away, which is the point at which Beach veers off from Delaware Avenue.  Some would say that the latter intersection is signed unhelpfully, but only I could have managed to miss the entire park on a previous trip.  Sigh. No more — now I’ve got this place documented!

My ride (and Basil’s, naturally) began at SEPTA’s Market East Station, and went down Race Street to Christopher Columbus, beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The view was quire different on the water side:

Though I’d missed the cherry blossom festivals both in Washington, D.C, and in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park, I was delighted to see this stand of trees on the median on Columbus Boulevard:

The day was colder than expected, but the predicted rain never materialized.

Five of us started out, and a sixth cyclist joined us later.  One cyclist was new to the club rides: I love seeing how welcoming the “old” riders are to the newbies.  It reminds me of how welcome they made me feel when I, too, was first, tentatively, starting out.

Leader Tim billed this as a “nitty-gritty-city” ride, but the first views were of the Ben Franklin Bridge and beyond.

Behind us, though, was this ancient power plant, conveniently located for coal deliveries via the river.

Tim is best fuelled by doughnuts; it wasn’t long before we stopped for a bit of refection.  The tables inside were mostly taken by a large group of older gentlemen who were clearly from the neighborhood (and who admired Basil!).  These gents were responsible for a bit of cognitive dissonance:  How on earth could an ordinary chain doughnut shop feel so much like a neighborhood diner?

Somewhere on these gritty streets we saw this sign, from a time when Al’s apparently delivered by bicycle.  It’s a good thing Al kept the sign; cargo bikes, like other models of their brethren, are enjoying a resurgence.  Delivery-by-bike is an old idea that is becoming new again, and if Al decides to jump in, he’s already got the sign.  I suspect Al’s no longer delivers, and probably won’t in the future, but that didn’t stop me from loving the sign.

Much of this ride was on urban streets, and gritty they were.  These are parts of Philadelphia that tourists don’t see, much of it tied to the city’s industrial past.

We saw lots of small grocery stores. I thought that this was one until I saw the photo at home. Nearly every corner grocery advertised that they sold frozen treats, but this apparently isn’t a grocery, but a water ice factory, meaning, presumably, that the ices are made on the premises.

When we picked up the Pennypack Trail, I discovered that the park wraps around a prison.  I’m not sure what the message is there, or if I want to think about it. This mural is painted on the side of one of the prison buildings.

Though the skies were still a bit gray, all that new green growth seemed to light the woods along the trail.

We took a second break at the end of the trail.

This ride was a good opportunity to try out Basil’s M bag on a longer ride.  I was hoping to make a different bag for the 5 Boro Tour at the beginning of May, but it seems unlikely that I’ll have time to do so.  I think the M will work well, though there are a few different features I’d like to have in a small bag on a 40 mile city ride.

Soon we were back on the streets.

Philadelphia is famous (or infamous, if you remember the administrative bombing of 1985) for its row houses.  These peaked roofs are a variation on the ones I’m used to seeing, which typically have a flatter roof line.

We passed large numbers of old churches, most de-commissioned or re-purposed.  Tim said that, at one point, we’d be passing five in a row, built at a time when many were built to serve immigrant populations deriving from a specific national origin. I missed the spot — there was so much to see, not to mention watching for glass and debris on the roadway.  (Can we pause a moment to praise those horrible plastic bottles? Street-riding is so much more feasible now that plastic rules the beverage world!)

Philadelphia is still using these wonderful trolley cars, built long ago; we crossed by this spot as we returned to Penn Treaty Park.  Ironically, I’ve ridden many of Philadelphia’s trolleys in San Francisco, but, as yet, none in Philadelphia.  San Francisco runs a small fleet of Philadelphia’s vintage trolleys as part of their Heritage Streetcar program, and they are used for everyday transportation.

This was a 35 mile ride for Basil and me —  a fascinating trip into worlds we see, if ever, only distantly by car, bus, or train — and one with good company, to boot!


A Rare Bird

. . . err, rare bike, rather. Seen in rain, on a street in a nearby town:

It’s nearly impossible to tell from this shot, snapped as it was on the fly, but this is a true cargo bicycle. That’s a serious cargo rack on the back, with bag attached, and those are heavy-duty panniers on each side of the rack.  I’m certain this cycle is a “long tail”, meaning that the chassis has been extended in the rear, making the bike longer than a conventional model.  It was raining hard, if intermittently, but this cyclist was undeterred by the downpour or the soggy streets.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything resembling a cargo bike in our suburban haunts.  I’m regarding this as an exciting development; if cargo bikes arrive, can a cycling culture be far behind?

Clothing Miscellaneous

Street Clothes While Cycling (It’s a “No” for Me)

I wore street clothes for my recent ride around Valley Forge.  I was running errands of various sorts, the ride was a short interlude in the day, and, though my appointments were casual, cycling apparel was not appropriate anywhere else I was going.

I was wearing denim “city” jeans, with a touch of stretch.  Sadly, the “stretch” in this woven fabric, while quite nice for everyday wear, isn’t sufficient for really comfortable cycling.  The sneakers (trainers) are adequate for short cycling trips — they have solid soles — but I much prefer the flat, unyielding, soles of my official cycling shoes.

It’s no problem wearing “regular” clothes for short jaunts, but I can officially say, having done it several times, that I don’t like it a bit.  There’s nothing like stretchy, stretchy Spandex and its knit cousins polyester and nylon for pedalling bliss!

(Just for the record, I’ll make an exception for any Tweed Run I can get into.  It’s only right!)

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

A Short Turn Around Valley Forge

I had a busy day, but managed to squeeze in a short run for Basil and me at Valley Forge, site of George Washington’s Revolutionary War encampment (and now a National Park).

Even in early spring, and in spite of the paths that now wind through, it’s possible to look over the land and recognize how bleak it much have been during the famous winter of 1777-1778.

The air was damp and the sky cloudy on this visit; this greenery just hinted at warmer weather to come.

This re-purposed train station no longer serves travellers — at least not those who would take a train directly to Valley Forge.

Some entity has put up a faux picket fence on the other side of the tracks. It’s also peculiarly short, and there’s still access to the river behind from either side.

I believe that these buildings date from Washington’s time, but many visitors would be surprised to learn that quite a few on this land don’t.

The asphalt path is new, though this building is not. This structure may have been a stable, but if I’m remembering correctly, it was a storehouse for supplies. (On these excursions, the cyclist in me  takes precedent over the would-be historian.)

Most of the cabins in the park are re-creations; the originals weren’t built for the ages, and did not survive.

It’s almost ludicrous to say that the accommodations were crude. That’s a very small fireplace in the back, across from a door that could not seal, and there are spare, uninviting, bunks lining both side walls.

There are half-a-dozen sleeping shelves to a side.

Lest anyone think that these cabins are a suitable size for human habitation, here’s a photo with my diminutive Brompton, Basil, to demonstrate the scale of these dwellings.  Basil’s handlebars come to just above my waist; I’m 5 feet, 2 inches (157.4 cm) tall.

There’s a split rail-fence next to this ridge of cabins. That’s a little unusual for this geographic area; split-rail fences exist, but if one encounters an old “fence”, it’s most likely a stone wall.  That may be because split-rail fences don’t endure as well, but stone was plentiful in the early days of settlement, and fields had to be cleared, which made rocks and boulders readily-available building stock.

Sometimes wars end, and the combatants even become allies.  Nearly 240 years later, these upstart colonies and their former British overlords are still getting along . . . and this US resident and her beautifully-built British bicycle are among the beneficiaries of that peace.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Tree and Tracks

Two lines, parallel. Naturally, they seem endless — after all, if parallel, they can never cross.

One can’t help thinking of them as straight.  But two lines, parallel, can bend, which seems to bring another dimension to “endless”.  And the tree?  It’s full of possibilities, too: leaves to come, fruit, shelter from sun or rain, or, if destroyed, transformation into shelter of another sort entirely.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Locks (No Bagels)

The water in the Erie Canal was so low the last time I visited that I got to see the locks in their full glory.

There’s no missing the usual water line on either of these gates.

The supporting structures are mostly concrete, but it’s fascinating that the gates themselves appear to be wood (though reinforced wood).  Or am I wrong? I should have looked more closely; next time.

What is that peculiar rectangular opening? Probably not an entrance to an underwater dwelling.  I’m guessing it has something to do with controlling the water flow.  Or maintenance of the gates, possibly?

It looks almost cozy, though I’m quite sure it’s not.

See that oddly-shaped bit of concrete to the left? It’s a pivot.

This arm apparently swings out across the canal in front of the lock. Do they protect the lock gates? Prevent renegade ships from slipping through when the gates are open?

Here’s a view of different one:

That pontoon and its associated debris make this section of the canal look a bit like a junkyard, don’t they? I suspect, though, that the raft is fully functional, and will be pressed into service when the season begins.

My car was the only one in the trail parking lot when Basil and I started out. Note the spectacular sky, which I otherwise forgot to photograph.  Love those roiling clouds!

Seeing the car there reminded me that I wanted a picture of Basil next to it, for size comparison purposes.

Heh, heh.  My Brompton’s wheelbase is almost as long as my small car’s.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

A Quick Ride Between Storms

Basil and I took a trip to upstate New York recently. Here he is in the trunk of my subcompact car:  Basil, suitcase, jacket, cycling gear (in the bag to the right), a tote bag of miscellaneous stuff, and still plenty of room left.  Also, no bike rack, and no need to secure Basil along the way when stopping for coffee.

Thunderstorms were predicted for the entire week, but I was hoping for a window when we could cycle, if only fleetingly. We did manage a brief ride along the Erie Canal, for which I was profoundly grateful; a spin on two wheels is a great antidote to seven hours in a car.

As ever, Basil was ready to go.

When the opportunity came, I didn’t have time to change into cycling gear. I think this is the first time I’ve ridden Basil in street clothes. Fortunately, it turns out that stretch cord leggings are plenty flexible enough to be comfortable while cycling (at least for a short spin), and my tall boots were fine, too, thanks to their round toe caps.  I took a panda shot to immortalize the moment.

The canal trailway is packed crushed stone here. It’s not a smooth ride, but also no problem for Basil or his Marathon tires; we zip right along.

The Erie looks completely different at the end of winter.  This is the first time I’d seen the canal virtually empty.

It’s easy to forget how shallow it is; that’s why canal traffic is generally composed of long flat barges.

You can see the waterline on these pilings:

There was evidence of a little more water farther along the trail.

And more, with trees alongside, just beginning to blossom.

This far north, the grass is just beginning to return, and the lichen to brighten.

This ride was a beautiful interlude between storms. Another reason to love my Brompton: It’s so easy to take advantage of an unexpected chance to cycle.

There was a particularly “bad” storm one night, with thunder crashing for what seemed like hours. We don’t get storms like that on my current home turf.  I did mind not being able to ride more, but I loved every minute of the thunder and lightening. Booming skies make me happy, particularly when the electricity stays on.


Seasonal Change

Summer is coming, and, ironically, it’s time to retire the watermelon

in favor of the lemon.

The Nutcase watermelon is my favorite, and it is perfect in winter, when I want a little more warmth. However, in summer’s higher temperatures it’s just too warm, and there isn’t enough air flow.

Nobody beats Nutcase’s superior strap clasp, though.  It’s magnetic, and if you happen to start off having forgotten to cinch your helmet under your chin, it’s possible to do so with one hand. Once you’ve got the trick down, undoing the buckle is just as fast and easy.

The Bell helmet is far more comfortable than my previous summer helmet, and I much prefer the black visor over the old white one.  There’s also a nifty strap in the back where a light can be mounted.  I won’t use that in summer, but it’s good to know it’s there if I need it.