Camouflage, of a Sort

Can you spot the Brompton?

ag-cmIt’s Argyll, green amongst the greens (and sliver amongst the silver).

Note: Basil and I are out-of-town again.  (No more icy roads; making up for lost time!) Reponses to comments and email will be slow or non-existent (depending on conditions) until early next week.


In Transit, Train Style

Basil and I hadn’t traveled together by train in months before we went up for the 5 Boro.


Winter was hard on everything, and did no favors to this rail station.  Basil looks spritely, though, doesn’t he?

I love trains, and the Amtrak run to New York City is just about the most blissful way to travel.*  Basil and luggage tucked neatly into a corner, as ever.

nym-lgNot that Amtrak doesn’t have its issues.  The bathrooms are usually clean enough to use without holding one’s nose, but the faucets are horrible:  In order to use one, it’s necessary to push up on a metal spindle so that water flows.


That would be the same pushpin everyone else with toilet-used hands has also pressed. That’s maybe not as sanitary as one might wish.  There are alternatives, but only if you bring your own.  I do. Be prepared: Forget the scouting motto, that’s the byword for travelers.


Also, passengers can be an issue when it comes to bathroom aesthetics.  I don’t think there’s any way to train passengers to close the lavatory doors.  What’s up with that?

On the plus side, there’s a quiet car on virtually every train, where peace reigns, except for the occasional twit, who is normally shut down quickly and efficiently by the conductor.  (No cell phone use!  No conversation above a whisper!)

It’s not always smooth sailing on the trip itself but issues normally resolve quickly.  Amtrak trains often stop if freight trains need the rails, though that sort of thing isn’t too usual on my end of the Harrisburg to NYC run.


Anyway, the windows are large, and there’s nearly always something interesting to see while waiting.  New Jersey Transit trains, for instance, look nothing like Amtrak’s, or like the Philadelphia region’s SEPTA trains.  This time, a set of NJT engines was parked nose to nose on tracks next to us while we stopped for a long delay — the longest I’ve experienced yet on this route — waiting for something to clear elsewhere on the line.


Once in New York City, we hop the MTA, and trade blue skies for underground grit.   Everyone gripes about the subway, but it’s such a fantastic way to get around the city.  I missed having these not-quite-Brompton rides with Basil over this past, icy, winter, as well as missing my usual quotient of Brompton-only travel.

*Well, as long as there aren’t any deadly crashes.  (That’s the route I travel.)  Amtrak may have some safety issues that need remedying.  And a Congress that belives that mass transit is important to the welfare of the country as a whole, if not the planet.


Handlebar Bag a la Frite

I’ve seen Rickshaw Bagworks’s sweet little Pipsqueak handlebar bag at bike expos, and on their website, but features that others love weren’t going to work for me (or for Basil, my Brompton bicycle).

rsps3The Pipsqueak is infinitely variable, colorwise, if one emails the company and requests other hues, and it has other great features, too.  Unfortunately, the straps aren’t optimized for a Brompton bicycle* (shocking, I know); the bag’s too small for my humongous phone or its even more humongous case; I wanted buckles instead of snaps on the straps; and I wanted a buckle closure instead of hook-and-loop.


So I made my own version.  (This is the curse of getting used to making things oneself:  Really, it’s easier to order online!)


It’s the “frite” bag, because it bears a strong resemblance to the paper carton French fries are often served in.

I hand-drew the pattern to the dimensions I needed, and then cut the bag out of black Cordura, and a lining of yellow ripstop nylon. (My Frite bag is taller than the Pipsqueak, and quite a bit thinner, front to back.)  Then I added a Cordura pocket on the inside for Basil’s cards.

fb-pkHere it is, partially assembled.  That’s the card pocket on the inside; you can see the buckle closure at the right.  The edges are bound in polyester twill tape.

The Pipsqueak can be worn as a belt bag, using the handlebar straps.  I almost never wear belts but I did need a loop to grab when the bag isn’t on Basil, so I added one to the top, incorporating it into the straps.

fb-st In theory, my bag could be worn on a belt, too, but those buckles wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable as Rickshaw’s snap loops.

Here’s another view of the bag, with the handlebar straps, grab loop, an embroidered patch, and the front buckle attached.


I made several mistakes:  I wish the patch were about a quarter inch lower, and I probably should have made sure that the buckles opened the opposite way.  Then there’s this:  I haven’t road-tested it yet, so that list may grow.  But, all in all, not bad for a couple hours of evening amusement.


For those with better things to do, the Pipsqueak looks like a great value, and involves much less fussing.

*Due to the cabling on Basil’s M (Brompton) handlebars, one attachment strap on this bag is longer than the other; using the buckles made it adjustable.  Snap closures would be trickier in this instance.  Cables are, of course, a very different matter on a folding bicycle like a Brompton than they are on other two-wheeled creatures.

Argyll Miscellaneous


. . . and it feels so good!


Basil and Argyll, together again.

Argyll has been sidelined for months, waiting for the moment when Dr. Diarist got the OK to ride again.  This past weekend, his patience was rewarded.


Dr. Diarist was pretty happy to get his buddy back, too.  (Actually, he was ecstatic, but this was a formal portrait, so they’re both standing tall and looking serious.)

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Phoenixville, with Walnuts

Casual group rides are a terrific way to spend idle hours, especially when the expectations are that it’s the experience that matters more than the speed, distance or endurance.


When some of us gathered to ride the Schuylkill Trail from Conshohocken to Phoenixville, then, it was easy to accommodate our mate whose tire developed a slow leak.  Waiting became a good opportunity to talk.

Our resourceful ride leader had the right pump to hand, and soon had the tire functioning again.


Not everyone finishes these rides, though they are usually planned for a specific route and distance.  Riders tend to turn around where they feel most comfortable, or partway through due to other commitments.

The speedier among us made it to Steel City Coffeehouse well ahead of others, which is another advantage of this flexibility.  We all snacked, ate, or caffeinated, according to personal preference, and then made the return trip in bits and pieces.


My salad (the “Paulie Walnuts”) was delicious; I only wish my photo did it justice.  I’m publishing it anyway, in all of its unfocused glory, because the colors are so good. That blue plate: what a spectacular touch!


When we left the coffeehouse, Basil transported a ride buddy’s sandwich; his rear rack was the perfect device for hauling a puffy square package.  Those Bromptons, such handy little rascals!

Short Trips & Errands

Alleyways and Windvanes

Basil and I took a spin around the alleys of a suburban town, as we are wont to do, and here’s what we found this time.

al-vwFirst, one of the alleys.  They’re just narrow lanes running behind houses — a relic of the way homes were once built in the area.  Most of the garages that open onto the alleys were once carriage houses, first for horses and later for horseless carriages.  And, even later, for anything at all.


On these streets, there aren’t any driveways at the front of the homes, or running beside them. Parking and housing vehicles is usually done at the extreme back of each lot, where these buildings often still stand.

Almost all have been re-purposed, though most seem to be used as tool-and-garden storage.  I like to think that the one above is a backyard study, though, since the curtains are so home-like.


The hits of this excursion, though, were the decorative plaques and windvanes.  The former carriage house above is decorated with this delightful fish, the significance of which is best known to its owner.

aw-gnI suspect that this particular outbuilding was originally something smaller — say, not much larger than the width of those doors.  (A homeowner’s compulsion to add-on may extend to the alley on occasion.)  The shutters and flower boxes are charming, though.


The windvane is designed after an old schooner; I confess to liking the cupola, with its slightly curved roof, arches, slats, and boxy footing, just as much.

aw-tnNot every outbuilding is precisely “quaint”; decorative approaches are as varied as the owners must be.  Here, the dark green trim, shutters, and shingles liven up what would otherwise be a quite plain shed.


Those side lamps are interesting, and totally modern: they are motion-activated security lights!  (Basil and I were curious about the obviously elderly building to the right, but we draw the line at clamouring into other people’s yards uninvited.)

aw-bnNot every building we encountered resembled a small-scale dwelling.  This one must originally have been either the largest carriage house in the county, or (rather more likely?) a kind of barn.  Or possibly housing for vehicles, a chauffeur and cook?


Whoever selected its windvane has a sense of humor: Pigs fly!

Across the alleyway, however, so do dragons:

aw-dgFurther along, someone else went with a different unconventional windvane motif, describing a traditional, though non-agrarian, past-time:


This vane is teeing off perpetually into the wild blue yonder.  The building he’s standing on looks like a bit of a twist itself:  I think someone may have crafted an actual garage onto a carriage house, in an inversion of the more typical situation.

aw-orAmusingly, the double garage is nearly the size of the original structure.

A final plaque caught my eye.  It had apparently slipped from its moorings, but was still interesting.

aw-pqYou can probably just make out the circle above in which it once fit, before dangling on a single pivot.

aw-p1I think it’s meant to be oriented as below, at which point a tree of life kind of theme becomes much more obvious.

aw-tl2 (If only home repair were as easily accomplished in real life as in a photo editor.)

aw-cbBasil posed beneath a burst of spring blooms before we wrapped up, and then we headed home.

5 Boro Tour Tours, Trails & Group Rides

5 Boro Tour, 2015 Edition

“It’s going to be a long forty miles [63.3 km] on those small wheels” smirked the guy next to me at the 5 Boro Tour.

“Don’t knock it, ” I said, “this is a great bicycle.”

“I know! I’ve got a couple of folding bikes” the twit fellow responded — but he obviously doesn’t have Bromptons.


Do we look as if we’re suffering?  Forty miles/64.3 km might, under some conditions, tax me, but they’ll never tax Basil, my Brompton.  See all those big boys in the picture?  They’re behind us!  Basil’s got the gears; no rider need supply extraordinary muscle.


Even if a Brompton weren’t an excellent bicycle, the unrealized truth about the 5 Boro Tour is that almost anyone can ride it.  Persistence is the key; not equipment–or Lycra.

The tour is a 40 mile/64.3 km ride through all five New York City boroughs.  Roads are closed, and support, in the form of lots of liquids, snack bars, other treats, bananas, and strategically-placed porta-potty stops, is plentiful.


Basil and I met up with Mme. Unfolded and her Monty at the front of Wave 2, early enough to be only about a block from the start line.  The adventure begins in the canyons of lower New York City, and always with at least a little bit of scooter-like activity:  stop-and-go.


That offers opportunities for some good-natured interaction.  See the gent behind me in bright yellow?  He and his buddy (yellow sleeve on the other side) spotted Basil’s under-seat bag motif, and cheerfully yelled “Lizard!” every time they caught up with us on the tour.  (That’s much more typical of Tour camaraderie than Mr. Snarky’s comment, by the way!)


In Central Park, while hordes of us waited for the right-of-way, another fellow mentioned that he always tells people that the 5 Boro Tour is actually a series of smaller rides:  five miles/eight km here; six miles/9.6 km there; eight miles/12.8 km; or ten miles/16 km now and then.

One stops, a lot–and everyone stops at Astoria, where we’re all required to dismount and make our way through the teeming masses.


The line Basil and I were in snaked around under the Queensboro Bridge and along the far edge of the park,wending back to us, where we stood next to a bank of essentially unusable porta-potties while we waited and I took pictures.  The sheer volume of people and bikes was stunning: 32,000 cyclists participate in total.  I think I saw them all at Astoria.


Most of the ride, though, especially in this second wave, went fast.  Basil and I nearly always whipped along between 13/20.9 kmh and over 15 mph/24 kmh, and were hitting over 25 mph/40.2 kmh on clear down hill trajectories — and close to that elsewhere, at points.

Stray water bottles and even sunglasses tend to litter the roads, so staying alert is critical, but there’s really nothing like flying down the FDR and Gowanus Expressways (no cars!!!) on a bright, sunny, day.


Which is not to say that there aren’t challenges.  The approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge goes on forever (and, or so it seems, so does the incline on the bridge itself).  We weren’t doing 15 mph/24 kmh there; it was more like 3 mph/4.8 kmh just before the peak, and (ahem) barely 6 mph/9.6 kmh at one point on the approach.  There’s no shame in walking, though, and plenty of people do.  This is a fun ride, not a contest.


Mme. Unfolded and I lost track of each other early on, but caught up at the “party” at the end, at Fort Wadsworth.  We grabbed some Greek comestibles and eventually headed out to join the wait for the ferry.   “Partying” usually consists of some super-long lines for [really tasty!) food, and a mad crush of people and bikes packed all over the terrain.

Somehow neither one of us managed to get pictures of each other on the tour — how did that happen?  No matter, I did snap Basil and Monty again before we left Fort Wadsworth.  (Priorities, right?)


The final three miles/4.8 km of the tour runs from the end zone to the Staten Island ferry.  Participants ride most of the way, then join a queue for loading onto the boat.  Sniffer dogs, like that handsome, but bored, lad (lass?) below, were required to give each bicycle  and bag a once-over.


That was dull for the canines, it seemed, but one can only be grateful that nothing discovered was worth getting excited about.


Once aboard, we were sent upstairs (or up-ramp, in the case of the uppermost level), where we, and our Bromptons, had a view out the back of the ferry.


On the sparkling water, Lady Liberty raised her torch, as always, enduring silently even in the face of changing immigration policies and the well-worn immigration arguments that endlessly percolate through the contemporary American experience.  It’s good to have ideals, and monuments to them, even if reality so often falls short.

It was late afternoon by the time we returned to Manhattan’s fabled shores.  The intrepid Mme. Unfolded and her Monty chose to ride home, but Basil and I, mindful of the hour, took the subway back to Fort Washington at the other end of the island, basking, admittedly lazily, in the glow of a day well-spent.

Mr. Snarky?  Never saw him again.  I assume we left him behind in the dust.  (Or amongst the potholes.)  If he had half the fun Basil and I enjoyed on our ride, he will have done well, even if he had to do it on a less-versatile vehicle!