Argyll’s In!

You know, there’s always that nervous period when someone joins the family.  Is that new sister-in-law really going to be a keeper?


It took a while, but everyone was relieved once Argyll had passed the Maine Coon inspection.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Exton CVT Extension

The Exton to Church Farm School extension of the Chester Valley Trial is now open!  Basil and Argyll can now romp all the way from King of Prussia to the Main Street Mall in Exton (or vice-versa) if they want to.  And they do!


There are some issues, if you start at the Main Street shopping center — which you might do, considering that there’s a huge empty lot behind a long-vacant big box store that once was a Circuit City, and hence plenty of unused asphalt.  The trail runs along the north (?) side of the shopping center, next to Commerce street.  Crossing the major intersection at Commerce and Route 100 is the big issue; the process is a little bizarre, and probably fairly hazardous.


The trail follows the right side of the road, so if you’re traveling with traffic, it’s possible to just go through the light as a vehicle. Walking across the road is prohibited on the trail side.


However, the bike trail is signed in a manner that requires you to leave the trail to cross Commerce (illegally, if you’re riding your bike, since you’re crossing against traffic, on the wrong side of the road), then crossing 100, and then crossing Commerce again to rejoin the trail.

And if you’re a pedestrian, you must also take that circuitous route to return to the trail — crossing three streets instead of one to rejoin the path.

That’s messy, and involves traversing an infelicitously designed traffic island — 100 is a high-speed, divided, six-lane, highway.


Worse, though, is that the pedestrian signal for crossing 100, which should offer protection to walkers and dismounted cyclists alike, operates only when the left arrow releases traffic from Commerce to 100 — sending cars and trucks directly across the pedestrian/cyclist walkway when it is occupied.  Vehicles are used to making quick, impatient, turns here; not one stopped to allow either pedestrian or cyclist across 100 during our maiden trip here.

That’s a pretty dangerous situation, particularly if cyclists are traveling with kids.  A minimum of three signal changes are required to cross 100; more if traffic flow prevents crossing 100 on one light.

This is an intersection that begs for a signal that stops all traffic while pedestrians or trail users cross in any direction.  It’s common sense:  shut down the intersection to allow more vulnerable users safe passage, then resume the usual traffic patterns.


As soon as we crossed 100, we encountered this sign:  Authorized Vehicles Only.  We just assumed we were authorized.  Maybe it’s a relic left over from construction?

Then it’s a left turn, and a brand-new spiffy sign pointing the way across Route 30/Lincoln Highway, where there is a genuine, useful, signal to allow safe crossing.  And far more considerate motorists, too — perhaps because the signal, and its function, are clearer here.


The bright yellow gates on the new section are terrific — extremely visible now, as they will be in winter.


For comparison, check out these white gates further along:


Pretty lousy visibility, no?  In snow, they completely disappear.  The yellow won’t.

This extension, which crosses Ship Road, is fairly short, but quite varied; there are some houses along the way, gas storage tanks, a smattering of small businesses, and lots of greenery.


Along with the obvious recreational aspects, there’s a lot of potential here for commuting to work, and for running errands.  If you sneak off the trail to the side, where it crosses Route 30, you can ride through parking lots with access to a group of small storefronts, including Exton Bicycle (though it’s the back of the store that you’ll encounter first).


Go a little further — a very little further — and you’re at the Exton Square Mall.  That’s not my idea of an adequate destination, but bearing around to the right brings you to the Chester County Library.  A small trail spur, or even a sidewalk, leading into the library/mall/business areas here could be a nice move, and potentially increase the utility quotient of this section of the CVT.


Besides housing all those wonderful books and media, the library has a lawn featuring a stream, and dotted with picnic tables.  Pick up a sandwich (there must be food places in the mall?), check out a book, and have a lovely mid-ride interlude.


If you wend your way back to the trail by exiting on an Exton Square Mall access road, you’ll see a big box office supply store across the street, another bike store, and a Starbucks coffee shop, none of which are accessible from the trail, which runs just behind them — but they are accessible by bike along Route 30.


Returning to our starting point in a parking lot at the Main Street shopping center meant riding alongside this bucolic scene. The juxtaposition of strip malls, derelict businesses, light industry, homes and malls against lovely views of countryside — artificially created, in this case, but still — is one of the major pleasures of the weird and wacky world that is Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Short Trips & Errands

Valdeon, Amusingly Squashed

When Basil and I took another trip to the Exton end of the Chester Valley trail, we discovered some competition for the road on the way to the parking lot. There was no one behind us, so I parked on the access road and immortalized the wait.


Then we took a ten mile ride on a third saddle — a Specialized I already owned.  The test went well, and I may have finally found Basil’s new saddle.  Details to come!


This was the last trip before the strap on my Mini O failed, but more on that later, too.  Am I the only one who relies heavily on the strap on that most useful of small Brompton bags?


The Mini O is an odd duck.  It’s kind of crudely put together, with nubs on interior.  The Brompton frame is bolted on, with no cover plate or anything designed to disguise or mitigate the lumps made on the inside by the bolt heads.  Given the Mini O’s size, that may be a good thing, since it maximizes useful interior space — though maybe flat head bolts would have been a better choice.


I was amused to see that the bolt heads dented the cheese during the ride down the trail from Wegman’s.  (Excellent reason to ride this stretch of the Chester Valley Trail:  The Wegman’s Cheese Stop at the grocery along the trail.)  “Room temperature” cheese . . oh yeah!


We picked up a cheddar and a provolone for Dr. D’s lunches, and a Valdeon, which got consumed on Cheese Night, an important weekly event.

The Mini O is by far my favorite everyday bag when not traveling (and sometimes worth taking along even when on a trip) but the strap has failed;  that’s an issue that’s more important than dents in cheese.  More on it later; resolution may be at hand.


Mini O

Argyll’s Brompton Mini O Bag


Short Trips & Errands

Slow Progress, on Various Fronts

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.

Basil, En-Scène

Basil, Rustic

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.

Gear Water Bottle Sagas

DIY Water Bottle Holder for a Brompton

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!

Gear Water Bottle Sagas

A Look at the Monkii Cage and Holder

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.


Testing, Testing

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.