Laminated Maintenance Cards

They’re not high-tech, but I’ve copied the “Lubrication” and “Routine Checks” guides from David Henshaw’s Brompton Bicycle book, and laminated them for quick and easy reference.

They’re tucked into Basil’s gear caddy, right next to everything I need to keep him fit and running well.  Experienced cyclists won’t need this kind of aid, but these cue sheets are perfect for a neophyte like me.

What I’d really like is to have these two pages blown up into two posters.  Wouldn’t they look smashing hung in the maintenance room?  (Or in any room?)  Form and function!

Maybe Mr. Henshaw has missed a trick here, and should consider a little sideline in Brompton art . . .

Gear Tips

Ice: Stronger Than Steel

In anticipation of a bout of long, hot, cycling, I cleverly popped two of my stainless steel water bottles into the freezer the night before.

Naturally, I filled them only part way — about three-quarters full.  They were frosty-wonderful when I popped them into Basil’s new bottle cages.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I stopped to swap bottles, and discovered only a chunk of ice at the bottom of one bottle.

The frozen water had stressed the stainless bottle beyond endurance, causing an explosion.  This was painful to see. Also, this result rendered my “frozen bottle” approach considerably less clever than I had originally thought.

Had I filled a plastic container with apricot preserves, and left only a half inch at the top, all would have been well. Obviously, my calculations for actual ice were off; Mr. Diarist suggests, additionally, that the narrowing of the Sigg bottle toward the top may have played a part, depending on how the freezing actually progressed.

The second bottle escaped with stress marks (stretch marks?) along the side. Also, the bottom is now slightly convex, which causes it to rock a bit when set on a flat surface.

In future, I’ll fill the replacement bottle, and the other two, only half way up the lower portion of the bottle.  Just before leaving, I’ll add cold water to top up.  This won’t keep my libations as refreshing as would solid ice melting, but will keep down the water bottle replacement expenses.

My Brompton Tips

Basil Gets a Repair and Tune-Up

Somehow, I managed to catch the brace of Basil’s front fender on the edge of his chainguard.  It was easy enough to pop the chainguard back into place, but then I did it again . . . and again.  High learning curve, it seems.  (Peter, NYCeWheels marketing guy and star of their videos, told me that this is a newbie’s error, and that most people learn quickly to avoid making it.  Gulp.)

After popping the guard back into place for the third time, I realized that the button holding it in place was never going to be the same again.  I was going to New York, so I emailed NYCeWheels to see if they could do the repair for Basil when I showed up.

NYCeWheels doesn’t take appointments, and I was hoping not only to get the repair done, but also to have Basil’s nearly-thousand-mile tune-up accomplished, too.  The new employee who took him in was dubious; NYCeWheels is always hopping.  He checked with Izzy, the mechanic, though, and they said they’d do their best.

When NYCeWheels let us know that Basil was ready after I’d barely made it from the UES down to mid-town, I figured that they’d only had time to do the repair.  But I was wrong; they’d done everything, and that meant that I got a good ride in before returning to my home state with Basil!

I shouldn’t have worried; I’m sure that there are glitches, and that sometimes routine repairs or maintenance can’t be done as quickly as customers like, but I’ve found NYCeWheels to be very accommodating, and helpful in any way they can be.  That matters a lot, and even more for a customer like me, who comes from out-of-state.  Thanks, guys!

Oh, I did eventually learn to check the placement of the fender guard wire when folding my Brompton:  I make sure the chainguard button is well out of the way, so that if I unfold without checking, nothing is harmed. Paying attention: amazing how often that pays off!

Books Gear Tips

Feed Zone Portables

While feeding our horde of special needs cats one evening — a laborious process — Mr. Diarist read about this book in one of the cycling magazines I’d left lying around.  The central conceit is that it’s easy to make, and consume, energy foods produced in your own kitchen, instead of the often artifically-enhanced stuff sold to athletes.

(As a side note, Feed Zone Portables is a beautifully produced book, with a lovely cloth-bound spine. It’s a pleasure to hold and read!)

We both occasionally partake of commercial bars when on the run, and I always have a couple in Basil’s saddle bag, but we like the idea of eating real food instead.  I got a hold of a copy of the book, and, one day when I was out running errands, Mr. Diarist whipped up three of Thomas’s and Lim’s recipes.

These are potato-leek fritattas, made with eggs, too.  The flavor is stupendous right from the oven; they are tasty, but not spectacular, when eaten cold.  At 40 kcal apiece, and with some structural integrity, they can be fairly easily scarfed all along a ride, providing a bit of protein and a few carbs along the way.

The chocolate-almond rice cakes have a delicious, unusual flavor, but, at least in this iteration, were a bit sticky to handle easily.  Coconut adds flavor and fiber, but sticks in my teeth, so this isn’t the best choice for me while far from dental floss.  Mr. Diarist thought he’d made them too moist with a bit too much honey; using less next time might make these small bars less gooey.

The almond-date rice cakes sounded dull to me, but I was wrong!  These are tasty and flavorful, and a bit less messy to handle than the chocolate treats above.  I found them quite filling, too.

The authors suggest wrapping the snacks in parchment-lined tin-foil, which makes for cute, festive, packets, but they are also quite bulky, and disinclined to stay closed without tape (which we didn’t have on hand immediately).  I’m not sure why the parchment lining is considered a good idea; I’d prefer simple, recyclable, aluminium foil.  I’m assuming that we’d never eat enough of these to be affected by the food coming in direct contact with the aluminium. (You can see, when reviewing the cover photo, that I don’t wrap nearly as neatly as the authors do.)

The snacks are meant to be stored in the fridge; we packed ours into an air-tight container first.  Next time, I’ll be wrapping these in waxed paper, and checking out how that works. I think it will be easier to manage, both in the wrapping and in the using. Ultimately, that’s probably kinder to the environment, too.

Nutrition data is included for all the recipes (a huge plus!).  Mr. Diarist wrote the names of these particular snacks, and their calorie counts, on the card slipped in front.  We’re both wary of falling into the “I exercised so much, now I can eat a whole pie” trap, so we keep at least a casual eye on how much we consume during, and post, exercise.

I take seriously the injunction to never try new fuel on a long ride, so, naturally, I sampled each of these nutrition-packed goodies at home first.  As promised (one author is a chef), they are quite tasty.  We’ll see how difficult it is to use them on actual rides; the gooey factor is one to consider, and also how well the nutrition stacks up to their commercial cousins.

I do miss my perfect cycling food, though: Human kibble.  Clif’s Shot Roks were little, 30-calorie bites that didn’t melt, and could be popped into one’s gullet every five miles without stopping the bike.  They’re gone now, though, replaced by messy gel cubes, most of which also have caffeine added, rendering them useless for the likes of me.  Mr. Diarist and I will continue to explore Feed Zone Portables; human kibble is quite practical, but something similar made from actual food would be even better . . . we’ll see what develops.

5 Boro Tour Events Tips

Tips and Hints for Cycling the 5 Boro Tour

. . . or maybe for any big cycling tour.  I rode the 5 Boro for the first time this year. As a relatively new cyclist, and one who had never done such a formal (or big!) event, I learned some surprising things. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of things I want to remember, and that others might find useful, too:

  • If relying on pubic transportation in NYC, make sure you check subway service for the specific day you plan to travel. Events mostly occur on weekends, and weekends are when MTA shifts schedules around to do maintenance. Changes are usually posted in advance at stations, but may not be, or you may not see them, so double check online.
  • Plan for delays, not only on the way to an event, but during the event. Stuff happens. A half-hour or so into the 5 Boro I saw a stretcher and medics to my right, and, a little further along, a cyclist lying on the roadway, in a recently blocked-off protected area. Obviously, shortly after I passed, there was going to be a break in the tour to transport the fallen man. A couple of hours later, a different man had a heart attack on the Queensboro Bridge and died; the Tour was stopped for a half hour so that aid could be rendered, and he could be transported. Expect that the way may not always be clear, nor the road your own.
  • Train before you go, not just so that you can make it for 40 miles/64.3 km, but also so that you have practiced what to do if a cyclist rides too close to you, or stops without warning. Know how you need to ride, and brake, to keep a safe distance from other riders.  Do these things enough so that they become second nature, long before the event.
  • Know your personal hydration and fuel requirements, and adjust for weather. I was lucky enough to have had an object lesson in not paying attention to hydration/temperature requirements on a ride that stretched my abilities just before the 5 Boro. What I learned from a much more experienced cyclist (thanks again, Saul!) changed my thinking and made me consider these issues more seriously.
  • Pay close attention to your hydration for at least two days before an event. I heard one speaker at the Expo say that you want to see clear urine every time you look for those two days, and during the event. (Good luck checking at an event, but you get the idea.)  This is great advice; starting out with a well-hydrated body puts you ahead of the curve, both from a comfort level and healthwise.
  • Along the same lines, eat well at least for the last few days before an event. There’s no need to protein- or carb- load before a slow, recreational event like the 5 Boro, unless you plan to cycle it as if it’s a Tour de France, but living on potato chips and ice cream in the days leading up is probably not the best idea.
  • Never try any new foods, energy bars or gels, etc., at an event.  Take what you’re used to, and what works for you, given your expectations of the ride.
  • Have enough water and food-type fuel on hand, if possible, so that if rest stops run out, you’ll still make it through.
  • Roads cleared of motorists in a city like New York are not roads clear of pedestrians. Watch for people straying into the path of the Tour. There is no pedestrian as oblivious as a New York pedestrian bent on getting somewhere.  A man being dragged by two Golden Retrievers flopped in front of Basil and me completely unexpectedly; I saw people carrying large boxes and other cargo plunge directly into the hoard of Tour cyclists. Watch for these suicidal types to ensure that their death wish doesn’t become your homicide.
  • The views along the 5 Boro Tour are often breathtaking; don’t forget to watch the road.  The streets (and expressways) were amazingly clean, but, inevitably, water bottles fall from bikes and land in the path of cyclists; bolts come loose; tires blow.  There will be debris when you least expect it. Watch the road surface as much as you would on any other ride.
  • Watch for daredevils and idiots. They will be present. Avoid them. If you can’t, forget them as fast as you can; the day is meant to be fun. I was hit by a careless cyclist who bumped me sideways as he salmoned his way at high speed horizontally across the roadway — so he could ride all the way to the left, in the putative fast lane, with both hands in the air.  (He said “sorry” as he hit me.) I wasn’t thrown, but he’d come up so fast, and from such an odd direction, that I couldn’t have done much if he’d hit me harder, or at a different angle. I saw him just before he hit my handlebar as he flew by, and was able to steady Basil.  That was the only close call I experienced all day; for the most part, the people I rode near, every mile, were considerate and focused. But I was very glad I hadn’t been daydreaming when Mr. Reckless-and-Speedy hit me.
  • In crowds this big, and geographies this large, how you progress may have little to do with your abilities. Be prepared to stop when you may not want to, and to ride more slowly than you’d like. It’s the nature of the beast.
  • Next time, I’ll be mentally prepared for the cognitive dissonance of being told to ride the wrong way on city streets, and to blow through red lights. It took me nearly a half hour to adjust to this bit of Tour peculiarity.
  • Watch for trouble, in general. Those pedestrians mentioned above; an ambulance that has to get through even if there are thousands of bicyclists in the way, the marshals who have to narrow the course for whatever reason.  Bikes break; collisions occur. The unexpected will happen.
  • Watch the weather, and dress accordingly. If you normally wear street clothes, consider what 40 miles/64.3 km in a cute dress and thin underthings, or your favorite basketball shorts or jeans, may do to your anatomy. Try out any unfamiliar clothing long before your event, and make necessary accommodations.  Friends who run recommended Runner’s World’s What to Wear Tool; I used it to check my calculations for what I wore on the 5 Boro, since temperatures were going to be in what was, for me, a borderline range between tights and shorts.  It asks about gender and personal preferences, and, I felt, offers sound suggestions that are probably applicable to other cyclists’ needs, too.
  • I don’t have to point out that your bicycle should be in good working condition, recently tested on those practice rides you took, with working brakes, and with chain greased and tires inflated, right? (I didn’t think so!)

Did I miss anything?


Better Than Cable Ties

Basil always has a compact shopping bag in his kit, along with these things:

They’re coated wire twist ties.  The combination is a different kind of emergency kit, one I deployed on a recent ride when I needed to shed a jacket, and had no place to put it.

I wrapped the jacket in the shopping bag, tied the handles, secured them with the shopping bag’s hook-and-loop fastener, and attached it all to the underside of Basil’s seat with the Gear Ties.

OK, it’s not elegant. Basil looks as if he’s wearing a post-modern bustle.  But it worked very well.  Utility counts!

These ties are kinder to bike finishes than hard plastic cable ties, reusable, and don’t require scissors for removal.

When the holder for another cyclist’s U-lock broke just as a recent ride started, one of these ties secured the lock to his back rack, solving a the tricky problem of how to carry it.  (If he keeps the tie handy, he won’t ever have to depend on a flimsy plastic holder again.)


What to Wear, When: A Simple Tool for Cyclists

It’s not a trivial question for cyclists.  Too little, too much, or the wrong apparel can make a ride miserable, or, worst of all, impossible.  As a new bicyclist, I learned quickly that general guides weren’t all that helpful for me: Thermal comfort is highly individual, and I’m the only one who knows what works best in my specific case.

So I started experimenting on short rides, to ensure that I was well-prepared for long ones. See those nearly-illegible, messy cards above? Each time I came home from a ride, I noted the actual temperatures, wind speed (if relevant), what I wore, and added any other helpful notes.  This has become a quick and simple part of my post-ride routine.

It didn’t take long to build up a library of useful lists.  Before a ride — particularly a long one, far from home — I pull out this little notebook (it’s just the index cards clipped together) and compare the day’s forecast to my previous notes. I may slip up sometime in the future, but so far, this system has worked incredibly well, and I’ve been able to calculate what bicycling clothing I need at any given time with surprising accuracy.


Setting Seat Height

When a Brompton bicycle is folded, the seat is lowered to lock the fold in place.  It’s a brilliant and simple solution to ensure that, when carried, a Brompton won’t unfold and flop all over the place.

However, this means that each time the bike is unfolded, the seat must be raised to the correct height for the rider.  In good weather, this is easy for me; I know exactly to which  point on my body Basil’s seat must be raised.

In winter, not so much.  I’m not sure where any part of me is under my winter gear.

The guys on Brompton Talk use various methods to mark the post height. The simplest is permanent marker, but I found it difficult to see, and, though “permanent”, it rubs off.

Next simplest was electrical tape.  Perfect: All I do now is gently raise Basil’s seat until I feel the tape touch the seat tube, and off we go!

I assume that the edges will roll after a while, in which case I’ll just turn Basil upside down once again, and re-apply the tape.

If it turns out that the soles of my summer cycling sandals have the same thickness as my cycling shoes, I have another option in mind . . . but that’s for later.  In the meantime, this low-tech, non-invasive, solution works very well.

Gear Tips

High Vis Hands

Stacking the odds in my favor appeals to me, so I ride in screaming neon virtually all the time. It’s no problem finding jackets, jerseys, vests, and tank tops in fluorescent colors, but gloves are another matter.  My hands are smallish and my fingers more stubby than not, so fitting even women’s gloves can be problematic.

It’s obvious that a hand in a neon glove is a lot more noticeable than one in a black glove.

When I went out recently wearing another top with super-long sleeves and thumb holes, I realized that I had a built-in solution to the “make the hands visible” problem:  Pull the cuffs over the gloves.  Perfect!

In the spring, I’ll just make a couple of  “sleeves” from neon spandex, with thumb holes, so that they don’t shift, and wear them with whatever, ending, presumably forever, my endless search for ready-made high visibility cycling gloves.

My Brompton Tips

Basil Demonstrates Folding

A Bromptons’s fold seems mysterious until you learn it well, and rather counter-intuitive, though it soon becomes second-nature.  Here’s Basil, to start (pretend his bright blue water bottle isn’t there — I forgot to remove it, at first):

To fold, I press a release beneath the rear section of Basil’s top bar, then grasp the center bar (it’s yellow on Basil) at the seat end, and flip the rear wheel under the bar.  (You want to make sure the Folding pedal is Forward, with the pedals close to parallel to the ground).  Keep those Fs together.!)

Flipping the rear wheel requires lifting Basil, and then swinging the rear wheel forward.  After a bit of practice, this becomes one fast, fluid, motion.

This flips the rear wheel upside down.  See Basil’s rear rack?  It’s now resting on the ground — and supporting Basil.  The rear rack is Basil’s “kickstand”; this is how you set a Brompton upright as quickly as using a traditional kickstand — except that it’s a lot more stable, and keeps the bike upright on more surfaces.

There’s a clamp with a twist handle near the front of Basil’s yellow bar.  (It’s visible in the image above, below, and to the left of, the blue water bottle).  The next step is to open the clamp, grasp the handlebar stem, and move the front wheel next to the folded rear wheel.

This is really the only tricky part; you want to keep the front wheel as parallel as possible to the body of the bike, in order to avoid stretching cables.  Just go slowly at first, until you “get” it; then it, too, becomes second-nature.

This step is also known as “trolley mode” or “shopping cart mode”.  If I add a basked to Basil’s mounting block, this is the fold I use when shopping.  I pop the basket on the black block that is just above his yellow bar (and just below the green handlebar stem), lower the seat, and then push Basil around the store using the handlebars.  In this configuration Basil takes up less room than most strollers.

If folding Basil completely, the next step is to completely drop his handlebars.  If you’re a hot-dogger, you just undo the clamp on the handlebar stem, and give the handlebars a shove. They will fall satisfying rapidly, and clip themselves into position next to the front wheel. It’s also possible to do this less emphatically, with the same success.

The final step is to lower the seat.  Lowering the seat locks the frame so that Basil won’t unfold when lifted.  If you want to effectively “brake” your folded Brompton, lower the seat so that the rubber stopper in the seat tube touches the ground.  If keeping your folded bicycle from rolling isn’t an issue, the seat need only be lowered most, not all , of the way, down.

There’s a nifty, built-in, grip under the Brompton stock seat.  Basil can be lifted and carried using his seat, or simply by holding him by the main bar (it’s the yellow on Basil).

That’s all there is to it.  Whilst waiting for Basil to arrive, I obsessively watched Brompton’s own instructional video; it was very helpful, both as a distraction and as an instructional guide.