Errandonnee Events

and the winner is . . .

. . . everyone!  Not only do the participants get to meet an excellent, real-life challenge by participating in chasing mailboxes d.c.’s Errandonnee , but once it’s over, a splendid little reward shows up in the mail:


MG’s patch and photo arrived this week, evoking happy memories of the best (only?) good moments of the horreur that was  the ever-lasting Winter of 2014.

If MG keeps this up — she produced a wonderful coffeeneuring patch, too — Basil may need an awards sash, à la the ones worn by scouts (or decorated warriors)!

(Basil and I are out of town again this week, so response to comments and email will be slow — well, to be frank, non-existent — until our return.)

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Third April Progressive: Part 2

Part 2, that is, of the most photographed (by your Diarist, at least) BCP progressive ride ever.  When last seen, Dr. Diarist and I were approaching the city of Philadelphia at the end of the club ride.

Fairmont Park’s trees were pulling out all the stops, displaying a white and  fluffy exuberance quite different from the snows of yesterweek:


The city closes Kelly Drive on weekends, making it bliss — mostly — to ride upon.  The qualification is due to the regularly scheduled special events, which often mean that we find ourselves dodging massive quantities of wayward pedestrians weaving across the road for various charity and sporting events.


Deserted Kelly Drive.  (Ah, the arches of Philadelphia, how I well I like them!)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in all of its Grecian glory, is just across the river.  It’s my favourite Philadelphia building.


That white swath below the museum crest is the old city water works.  In summer, there’s usually a high-end restaurant operating there; otherwise, it’s a fine promenade, but one not much used, and not one on which bicycles are permitted to ride.


Next along, to the left, which should be northerly, if I’ve got my directions right, is boathouse row, famed for boats, yes, but also for the picturesque buildings which house local rowing clubs.  Sculling on the Schuylkill River is a long-time tradition.


Then there is this tree, likely much newer than the boathouses, but quite appealing in its own right.


We cycled around a curve, and there was Philadelphia, proper.  Or downtown Philadelphia, at least.


A little farther around the bend, we could see a bridge filled with lots and lots of traffic, quite unlike the lovely boulevard that Dr. Diarist, Argyll, Basil and I were traversing.


On the train home, we rode backward.  I snapped a photo of this power farm; that’s the shadow of Basil’s saddle and saddle bag in the lower right.


I was only able to snap a section of this deco-ish bridge.  Through the window of the train, the structure looks more like a sketch to me than a photograph; the color seems to be a pastel wash, lending the structure a look of fragility, or that of an image from an old-time post card.


Basil rode next to me on the train seat.  When the conductor took our tickets, Dr. Diarist noted that offspring* of the wheeled variety ride the train at no charge.


Argyll rode between the seats, where he fit quite neatly, even with a Mini O perched on top.


Our total mileage for this week’s progressive was just under 46 mi/74 km.

* “We treat them like children, babies, literally,” says Andrew Barnett, of Bumble Bee fame, describing Brompton owners and their bicycles, quoted in BloombergBusinessweek.  Andrew knows whereof he speaks, and we do, too .  .  .
(Basil and I are out of town this week, so response to comments and email will be slow — well, to be frank, non-existent — until our return.)
Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Third April Progressive: Part 1

It’s early in the morning, and the Brompton bicycles, Basil (left) and Argyll (right) are ready to go.

tap-2We hopped our usual train, and saw another as soon as we left the station on arrival in Philadelphia.  I snapped the engine from above; it’s massive in real life, of course, but looks like a toy when viewed like this:

tap-orIt was hauling a long chain of oil tankers, pulling them along the Schuylkill River, through Philadelphia.  Though I’m a huge fan of steel girders, these stone arches also appeal to me, especially the blocks which support and outline the structure as it curves above the rails.

tap-olWe’d hardly gone any distance at all, on our way to meet our BCP compatriots, when this freighter ground to a halt next to us, and a CSX engine appeared, going the other way.

taqp-csWe couldn’t dawdle, of course, and shortly found ourselves in the usual meeting spot below the art museum, and heading out for today’s destination:  Betzwood, in Valley Forge Park.

Not far into the ride, one of us got a flat after crossing over a small patch of challenging cobblestones.  Leader Tim cheerfully took advantage of the opportunity to give all of  us a tutorial on how to patch a tube and mend a flat.


There must be scores of videos on You Tube that show how to do this, but nothing equals watching a pro do the job.  Tim knocked the process off with finesse, even though he was busy explaining every step to our group of (mostly) novices.

Another rider had a spare tube on hand, and kindly donated it to the cause so that we could all get back under way without waiting to check the patch.  We re-grouped at the Outbound Station in Conshohocken, about 12 miles/19.3 km from our start.

tap-obIt’s a nice spot for a break, conveniently located right off, and in sight of,  the Schuylkill River Trail.  There’s plenty of space to park a lot of bicycles, too.

tap-bpThe owner is something of a bike fiend, it seems; there’s a little library of bike-related reading material in one corner, and bike memorabilia on the walls.

tap-47It doesn’t happen very often, but while we were at the café, one of our group got into trouble, experience chest pains and shortness of breath.  A call was placed to 911 (emergency services in the USA) and one of our group volunteered to go to the hospital with our fallen companion.

Several women from a local Team in Training group joined with us and helped work out a plan for securing the bicycles of both the patient and friend, and arranging retrieval later.


We all waited until everything was settled, and until we knew that our fellow rider was safely on the way to the hospital.  At last word, our cycling buddy was going to be fine, which was a relief to all.  We all knew that women tend to minimize these kinds of symptoms, and the moral and practical support by those friendly and concerned Team in Training members gave an added boost to the efforts of our own group.

Later, when describing the incident to two of our riders who had gone on ahead before the stop at the café, leader Tim said, regarding the teamwork of all concerned, “It was a beautiful thing”.  It was indeed.


While we wrapped things up at Outbound Station, two regional rail trains passed.  This one, above, going east, was made up of the older carriages.


The cyclist, riding alongside the train, is on the trail; I’m standing in front of the Outward Bound.


Then it was on for another 10 miles or so to Betzwood.  Argyll’s not really the retiring type, but I noticed that he’s got natural camouflage in these woodsy settings.  Basil doesn’t mind being front and center; good thing, too, as he’s bright yellow.


We took a short break, chatted a bit, and turned around for the trip back to Philadelphia, but not before checking out trail construction leading into the Betzwood lot from the other direction.

tap-cnsExactly what’s happening wasn’t clear to any of us, but earth is being moved, and that’s a construction vehicle, so something is going on.


A low rumbling across the water alerted me to yet another train, this one hardly visible behind the tree line.  In another few weeks, it will be completely hidden as it roars by.


I’m don’t know if Saturdays are especially good days for trains, or if especially long bicycle rides lead to greater train exposure, but we passed one more regional rail train on our return. That’s Tim, flying alongside.


In Manayunk, twenty or so turtles were arrayed on a fallen tree, basking in ample sunshine.  That’s quite a line-up, above, but there was plenty of opportunity to play spot-the-turtle among the other branches, too.


That tree trunk is not petite, and neither is this fellow, who raised his head just in time for me to take one last photo.

Our group ended up finishing at different rates and Dr. Diarist and I stopped a bit here and there once we got close to the city.  This post is plenty long enough; Part 2 is coming up in a day or two.

We rode just under 46 mi/74 km on this particular day, in perfect weather.

(Basil and I are out of town this week, so response to comments and email will be slow — well, to be frank, non-existent — until our return.)


Brim on a Nutcase

I love my Nutcase Watermelon helmet; it’s the one I wear all winter long.  At a bike expo last year, I bought a brim for it.


The brim seemed like a silly idea:  How could something so small make such a difference?  It did, as it turns out; it blocks just enough light, and is kind to my eyes.


The brim is just friction-fit to the helmet.  Over time, the slot appears to have widened, and the brim now has a tendency to slip out at inopportune moments.

I’ve actually found it on the ground a couple of times, when carrying the helmet.  That’s not good.


Apparently, the styrofoam inner shell is compressing a bit, widening the gap into which the visor friction-fits.  That’s not a particularly cheering thought, though I suppose the square-inchage (so to speak) involved is pretty small.

I’m loath to use an adhesive to hold the brim in place; that could do a really nice job of neutralizing the foam shell.  Maybe Nutcase will come up with a better solution?  I’d like that — I’m quite used to the brim, and will miss it if it disappears one day.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Second April Progressive

We are determined to make every one of BCP leader Tim’s progressive rides this month, so we were ready to go for the second, 35 mile/56.3 km ride.

sapThirtieth Street Station has wonderful wooden benches that, counter-intuitively, are actually quite nice to sit upon.  Also, two Bromptons fit nicely on the end.

sap-bnAs we left the station, much to our surprise, we spied two other Bromptons, racing green, with Brooks saddles:


I instantly realized that I probably had met the cyclists who had (shudder!) so wantonly cast aside their Bs  whilst they went elsewhere.  On several different occasions, distant from Philadelphia, I’d met two fellows who had admired Basil (and, more recently, both Basil and Argyll), and who told me about collecting their own Bromptons in Scotland, early in the previous decade.

This was the clincher:


Two identical, earlier Bromptons, labelled by an Edinburgh dealer.  What are the chances?!?  I was thrilled, of course, and snapped a whole bunch of photos.  These little guys are so identical to Basil and Argyll, and yet so not.  (Comparisons to come.)

sap-4bNaturally, I took a picture with all four Bs, and rode on beaming.  What a fine start to the day! (Meeting the cyclists was all well and good, but seeing their Bromptons — that’s the best!)

Not that the day needed any help:  The art museum was all gussied up in pink and greenery, and early morning shadows.

sap-amWe’ve got a good crowd for these rides now that the weather is behaving more reasonably.  It’s fun to see the new riders return, and to consider what a difference these rides may make to them as they gain cycling experience.


Tim’s progressives changed my life, and I know I can’t be the only one who feels that way!

We headed out, passing, as usual, an example of one of the best features of the Philadelphia landscape: stone arches.

sap-arThey’re everywhere, but group riding does not necessarily favor snapping photos of them.  I was glad to get this shot today.

sap-smtWe often regroup at the old abandoned Shawmont Station.  This time, a train ran through, so we got the whole crossroads experience with flashing lights and gates descending.

Saul and Mike joined the group this time, and Saul suggested that I should get some shots of this cemetery.


Saul waited patiently while I took photos.  I can’t find my way out of an open paper bag, so it was very kind of him to stay with me to make sure I didn’t end up in Connecticut’s Bridgeport instead of Pennsylvania’s.

He made sure I got the right shot of Basil, too:

sp-entThis area is commercial now (manufacturing, utilities, warehouses, etc.) with busy roads going past and above the graveyard; it’s no longer a quiet “resting place”,  just an almost-forgotten one.  But it is as full of character as it is of antique graves, and completely unlike the modern models, with their sterile level plates and unnaturally manicured lawns.


Nostalgia was not the point of this run, though:  Doughnuts were!  Mike, Saul, and Tim illustrate the point (though Saul is somehow missing one of those sweet treats — perhaps saving it for later?)

Down the street at the Palm Tree Market we bought beverages, and more substantial fare.  There’s an indentation in the store-front that is perfect for parking big bikes

sp-bkbut the weather was so good that even the Bromptons stayed outside.

sp-baBack on the road, Saul pointed out a field of boom lifts he’d spotted on a previous ride.  He suspected that I’d be thrilled by the sight, and, of course, I was:

sp-crThe photo doesn’t do them justice.  They must be stored elongated as a matter of physics and balance, but that lofty reach is somehow so  graceful.   And why is the set on the left bent?   It looks like choreography to me, or perhaps some exotic form of communication between the groups.


Back on the trail, I set off in hot pursuit of this recumbent, a beautiful, brand-new, vehicle.  It’s a tadpole trike, with two wheels in front, one in back.  The rider was zipping down the path in excess of 15 mph/24.1 kmh and faster; he soon disappeared, but not before I managed to get this shot.

sp-cormBack next to the Schuylkill River, Dr. Diarist spotted this Double-Crested Cormorant, the first I can remember seeing, although they are apparently a common bird.


Sailing birds were not the only signs of renewed spring activity along the river.  It’s possible to rent quadricycle surreys to ride along the trail.   This cheery model was only one of three we spotted as we got closer to the city.


Back at the train station, our own small eccentric vehicles waited to board for the journey home. Today’s ride was 36 miles/57.9 km, well done in fine weather, with great companions!

(Basil and I are out of town this week, so response to comments and email will be slow — well, to be frank, non-existent — until our return.)

5 Boro Tour Gear Water Bottle Sagas

Update: Dual Water Bottle Cage

I wrote about this dual water bottle cage last year.

pd-btI finally got around to taking pictures of the mount for the rings.  It’s under my Brompton’s saddle, and stays permanently  on the bike.

bclgThe support isn’t in the way when the cages are detached, and I don’t notice it when my bicycle is in everyday use.


When attached, the cages add minimally to Basil’s length, and slightly to his weight; those premiums are not too much to pay for the convenience of having three full water bottles handy on a hot day.

pd-ov This is also a convenient way to go at an event where hydration bladders are banned, as they are at the 5 Boro.  The 5 Boro administration recommends carrying three water bottles, but does not allow packs or panniers; Basil also has a trim water bottle holder on his handlebars, which, combined with these cages, allows me to carry all three bottles directly on my Brompton.

Brompton Duo


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


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!)


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.


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


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).


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.

My Brompton

A Screw Loose (and lost)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


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.


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.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

First April Progressive

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!)


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.


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.