Tours, Trails & Group Rides

First Progressive

Every year (or at least the last few), Bicycle Club of Philadelphia ride leader Tim C. offers a progressive series of rides on Saturdays.  The first Saturday we ride 25 miles/40 km; then we add 10 mi/16 km until the last ride, when we go for 65 mi/104.6 km.  It’s a great way to build strength and endurance for spring!

This year there was something new:

1p3bTim bought a Brompton, and brought it to the first progressive . . . how thrilled was I!?!  So thrilled, as it turned out, that I messed up this shot of Tim, his B, Basil and Argyll.  You can hardly see Argyll behind Tim!  Three beautiful Brompton bicycles, and I manage to nearly obscure one.  Sheesh.

We got to talking Bromptons, and I got completely distracted, though I did get this one of Tim with his B, solo.  Tim’s Brompton is a red/black H6R beauty.


We met at the Azalea Garden’s entrance, next to the Italian Fountain, behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  This week’s ride was to Conshohocken, with just four of us:  Tim C. George Y. (another fine ride leader for BCP), Dr. Diarist and me.

ftbr The newly-refurbished fountain is looking good; it’s not working, of course.  It was 16 F/ -8.8 C when Dr. Diarist and I left the house, and 22 F/-5.5 C when we started the ride 2.5 hours later.  Like us, the waters wait for spring.

ftskThough on the chilly side, the day was as pretty as they come.  We had our challenges, though.


I think this is called “ice-fording”.  That’s our fearless leader, scoping out the first episode of this particular adventure.  As sports go, it may not catch on; it was slow slogging, and I think all of us, generally speaking, find riding a lot more satisfactory!  But needs must . . .


By contrast, the banks of the Schuylkill looked barely dusted.  Looking back on the ground we’d covered doesn’t really capture the reality of all that lumpy ice.


It’s just a nice winter scene, right?  You know, with a tiny bit of asphalt.  You’d never know that was an actual ice field back there.  (In truth, it was beautiful.)


We regrouped at the old Shawmont train station and then made our way to the 401 Diner in Conshohocken, where a hearty breakfast was enjoyed by all.  Good food, and good company!

I didn’t take photos on the way back.  We took streets, since, as Tim pointed out, trails were not going to serve us well.  “Streets”, in this case, meant climbing — Tim pointed out that using the trail allowed us to skip the hills around Conshohocken.  However, we survived it all,  made it back to 30th Street Station, and caught a train home.


Well, “survived” with a caveat:  After my initial two rides of the season, I was feeling pretty confident about  the shape I was in, but this return trip disabused me of that conceit . . .  I walked up sections of two hills.  Walked!  I haven’t done that since I accidentally rode an event with only two Brompton gears.  This time, though, the walks were on me; there was nothing wrong with Basil’s gears at all.  I was a bit crushed.

Not to worry, though.  Tim’s progressives will get me back into shape quickly, though I might need to find some practice climbs closer to home.  Will. Not. Be. Defeated.

The truth is, this was a pretty exciting start to the cycling season.  Tim is an intrepid leader, and we felt pretty intrepid ourselves.  Cold?  Ice? Hills?  Bring it on!  Not that anyone will mind if it’s 40 F/ 4.4 C next week, with clear (mostly level)  trails . . .

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

The Spoke

While visiting Williamstown, Massachusetts last June I explored the town a bit on Basil, and, not far from where I stayed, I found this bike shop.

It was the end of the day, and I was very sorry, since my experience here was one of the best I’ve had anywhere.  The owner, Nate, loves his shop,  and his employees were cheerful and helpful, too.

I’d read about The Spoke online before I left — at least to the extent of knowing that it existed — but, as the geography in the area was unfamiliar, I had no idea where it was.  When I spied these profiles as Basil and I rode by,  I realized I’d stumbled upon it. (I think these are both Sun cycles: A Spider fat tire mountain bike, and a Tomahawk recumbent.)

There were more bikes out front, but I was eager to get inside.

And whew, what an “inside”!  I stood in open-mouthed wonder for a couple of minutes, trying to take in all I could see.  Basil settled in with the crowd, behind a tricycle and next to a mountain bike, and I asked about fluorescent gloves and blinking lights.

Nate had the gloves in stock in larger sizes, and then checked his catalogues to see what was available.  Not much, as it turned out (and none at all in small sizes) so I’m just hoping that changes before my current set wear out. He took note of the helmet I was wearing, and enthusiastically showed me the newest version — which is now available in fluorescent yellow.  (I immediately regretted having  just purchased my non-fluorescent version right before this trip!)

See those open boxes? They look as if tons of good things are just waiting to be unpacked  .  .  .  actually, the whole store felt like that: Bikes! Bike stands! Gloves, jerseys, fittings, saddles! Tons of helmets (which are behind what you see here)!

Somehow The Spoke has managed to cram a huge inventory of bikes and accessories into a space that feels a lot like an old-time working shop.   Stuff is happening here!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a bike shop and encountered bored, indifferent, or completely disengaged employees. But not here:   Nate and company appear to love what they’re doing, and it shows.

Williamstown  is a relatively isolated college town in Northwestern Massachusetts, replete with narrow roads and with a forbidding winter; it’s wonderful to know that a great bike shop has survived and thrived there.  Lucky Williamstown!

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

A Most Unusual Garden

When last seen on our very short ride in upstate New York, Basil and I had encountered this fellow:

He’s inside a marvelous arbor.  Basil posed with him, next to the structure:

There’s an impressive crown soaring skyward, with decorative bits at the corners, and a curl of metal floating in the wind.

The rail along the back, just above the elegantly-attired Mr. Goose, features a series of head sculptures.

They’re cast of metal, and feature a most distinctive phiz: a portrait of the artist, perhaps?

There’s a nod to Mr. Goose’s own kind (or his cousins) along a support beam.

Half-hidden behind the arbor is an almost-secret garden, with a clearing, places to sit, and more whimsical creations.  Not having been properly invited, we did not enter.

Over to the right were more surprises. Fancy a cup of coffee, anyone?  These appear to be coffee grinders (though I suppose they could be spice grinders . . . yuuummm . . . Indian, anyone???)

But wait! What was that rising from the scrub farther to the right?

It’s three colossal figures!

Remember those computer components you tossed? They may have found a new life in New York state, reborn as Component Homage:

Front and center is Steel Man (not to be confused with the Tin Man of Oz fame). (Steel Woman? Who am I to say?)

Farthest right is Spinning Tower (though it doesn’t spin; it’s just enticingly endowed with lots of gears and wheels):

Should anyone care to sit and contemplate these wonders, the creator has provided a bench

. . .  a  regal bench, no less.

You can just make out part of Basil’s frame, below. He and Mr. Goose visited while I snapped pictures.

Would I have spotted this most unusual garden if I hadn’t been riding my bicycle?  Perhaps . . . but then, if I’d been in a car, I would likely have been in a hurry, wouldn’t I, so it just wouldn’t have been the same, would it?

(Rochester, New York)

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Between Storms

Not too long ago, Basil and I set out for upstate New York. We usually take a tiny car when we go, but this time traveled in the nearly ancient, but little-used, truck Mr. Diarist and I keep for special duty.

Basil just disappears into the back of the SUV.  There’s plenty of room for him, my suitcase, a kit bag, a footstool and a bunch of other junk.  (And for at least three more Brompton bicycles!)

Basil didn’t get much of a workout on this trip, as it turned out. There were thunderstorms all week — wonderful thunderstorms with marvelous loud bangs and fabulous light flashes all over the skies — and very little else, meteorologically speaking.  I do draw the line at cycling in lightening storms.

When we slipped out, it was for one of the shortest rides I’ve ever taken on Basil — just over three miles.  Storm-strewn debris was everywhere, though not as much as I had expected to see.

Unlike the theoretically sturdier trees, feathery flora seemed to have braved the storms without much difficulty — and, in the case of this example, with some flamboyance.

Usually when we are in this area, Basil and I ride the towpath next to the Erie Canal , but rain was threatening, so I decided to explore a neighborhood for the first time.  I knew this ride would be a shorter one than our twopath excursions.

This was an area that we’d driven through the day before, and was near a large intersection with which I am familiar, so it got elected.  All was serene at mid-day, the sky only slightly overcast.

Though they aren’t necessarily convenient (or, in some cases, even safe) I’m fond of the old-style narrow sidewalks of these neighborhoods, and the simple, wide streets. Asphalt has a hard life, though, and shows the wear-and-tear that northern winters wreak.

There was no cookie-cutter modern development here; homes look as if they sprang up, one by one, as land was sold. Which means, too, that trees weren’t removed, wholesale, to make identical lots, giving the landscape a much more natural, organic, feeling than developments have.

Lush summers make even the plainest home look luxuriant — though those steps are a nice touch.  (Were the double peaks original, or the result of a room added later?)

There is a bit of an alpine theme going on in places; this may be a very practical homage to Rochester’s winters, which are fierce.

Snow presumably slides off these roofs far more effectively than it does conventional ones, though I wouldn’t like to be doing maintenance on those inclines.

I love this unexpected bright blue door on the façade of an otherwise retiring house.

In the silver lining department, the demise of this tree did not mean the death of the house next to it, as the tree thoughtfully fell toward the street.

Basil did his traditional tree pose, but not beside one of the magnificent older trees that abound here; they were all in someone’s yard, and we are loathe to go tramping over other people’s property to get the shot.  Next to the sidewalk, yes, but actually in the yard?  Nope.

The wind picked up, and the rain returned, but not before we met this dapper fellow, who reigns over a most interesting world.  But more of that later . . .

(Rochester, New York)

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

A Neighborhood, Before It Disappears

When in New York, I stay with The Manhattanites in Washington Heights, in  northwest Manhattan.  The neighborhood was originally mostly Dominican, culturally speaking, but it has been gradually gentrifying.  Starbucks arrived a few years ago, in the area where The Manhattanites live, when things began to change.

North of their apartment, though, the area still retains an aggressively ethnic flavor.   I like that; I’ll be sorry when it’s all gone bland and become not-distinctive-anything, and the only food available is chi-chi, and the only shops mainstream.

At the moment, though, store fronts still spill out onto the sidewalk, and street vendors abound, selling anything and everything.

Fresh fruit and produce are trucked in and sold in the open air, set out in the crates in which they arrived.

Most, if not all, of the businesses are hole-in-the wall mom-and-pop affairs, and the offerings aren’t what you’ll find at your local chain.  Chocolate con 1 rolo?  Oh, yeah!

Floridita Broadway Bakery specializes in Dominican cakes — if I were a carb eater, I’d be working the shops all up and down the street!

On hot summer days, helados (icy treats — could be ice cream,  fruit pops, or anything similar) are available from push carts.

There’s some ethnic gentrification going on too.  This is a rather fancy market selling Latin foods and ingredients notably not available at the ubiquitous Gristedes groceries.

Inside, the appearance of the street stands has been recreated, with notably carefully selected goods — offered at much higher prices. That’s not surprising, though, as there’s rent to pay and utilities to fund.

El Tren de la Slaud offers productos naturales y organicos. Does that engine look like the Acela?  Not sure that’s the best illustration; Amtrak’s Acela engines can go super fast, but track and traffic limitations keep it in the slow lane.

Victor’s Bicycle is a large, old school, bike shop on Broadway  at west 174th, not far from Manny Bicycle on Bennett bet Broadway and Fort Washington. They’ve both been around a while, so it’s probably safe to say that there’s been “bike culture” of some sort in Washington Heights a long time before Adeline Adeline arrived in lower Manhattan.

There are a  lot of working bicycles in the neighbourhood; food delivery is a big deal in Manhattan, where kitchens are small or virtually non-existent, and good food is only a phone call (or a computer screen) away.

Some things will never change, though. An RV caught on fire in the George Washington Bridge Bus Station when I was at Manny Bicycle, which shut the terminal down for hours, and resulted in the scene below. (And shut down most of the George Washington Bridge for hours.)

Outside the station doors, emergency workers were dealing with angry and incredulous New Yorkers who just could not believe that they were not allowed to enter the smoke-filled  terminal (which incidentally also smelled of burnt rubber and fried electricity).

Don’t ever tell  New Yorkers what they can’t do.  They don’t like it, and they know you’re wrong, even if most of the fire-fighting power of upper Manhattan is called out to deal with the crisis.

Also, it’s a New Yorker’s god-given right to use his phone whenever and wherever he pleases.  Neighborhoods may come and go, but New Yorkers will stand their ground forever.  Ya gotta be tough to survive in the big city.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

A Washington Heights LBS

The bike shop fellow Bromptonaut Hugo mentioned to me is in Washington Heights, on Bennett Street, between Broadway and Fort Washington. I knew of a larger shop on Broadway (see below), but had no idea that Manny Bicycle Shop existed.  It’s tucked on a small side street.

There’s no website, but this profile in New York Magazine seems just about right to me.  Here’s a squib from their article:

 . . . he [the owner, Eduardo Fernandez]  runs the one-man operation like his own garage, tinkering with the latest drop-off in the back while brushing off neighborhood kids, fleets of whom occasionally skid up to haggle over a brake-tightening or ogle the skull-and-crossbones valve caps. As to the diversified phalanx of bikes that hang overhead, there’s everything from Mongoose BMXs for youngsters to racing and mountain bikes for commuters.

This is a nitty-gritty bike shop, meaning that it’s not a retail store (though it does sell bicycles, too).  It’s a place where tinkering is done, and serious mechanical stuff.  I would have guessed that my chances of finding Ergon grips there were slim, but Hugo had gotten his there, and he said that they had one more pair.

I liked the idea of buying the grips at an LBS, even if it wasn’t at my LBS, so I stopped in. Sure enough, among a lot more basic gear there was one more package of Ergon GP1-S grips.  I bought them, stuffed them into Basil’s S bag for the trip home, and installed them on my Brompton at the first opportunity.  Bike shops can be amazing places — and you never know what you’ll find at an independent one unless you stop in.

Luggage Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Picnic on the Greenway

When Basil came into New York City for his repair, the job was done in the flash of an eye.  In the meantime, my schedule changed, and we were able to stay over one more night. We made good use of the time, especially since the weather was so cooperative.

We headed north a bit and passed the entrance to the George Washington Bridge — and ran into our first bike lane impediment of the day.

For the entire time it took us to ride three blocks (and wait at one stoplight) two women stood behind their SUV chatting.

Needless to say, they (and the SUV) were still there when Basil and I arrived — at which point I noticed that there had been a driver in the SUV all the time.  That made squeezing between the SUV and traffic all the more problematic, since the bike-lane-hogging driver was, obviously, not going to watch for cyclists if he decided to open his door, or, finally, to pull away.

I’m a motorist, too, and I just don’t think it’s all that hard to share. Really.

On this excursion, Basil was outfitted with my homemade S bag flap.  Weirdly, Basil’s bag flap got got more attention on this visit than did Basil.  We’re not used to that! (One person wanted to know if those were real merit badges; I had to confess that they were actually Demerit Badges!)

I  love the view through this tunnel, especially in early summer:

It’s the gateway to my favorite bridge.

I saw more Brompton bicycles on this trip than ever before — I lost count at around fourteen — which was so much fun!

This cyclist was just getting used to her brand new B. She’s an experienced rider who keeps a bike in another state — something serious. (I don’t remember what, but the “serious” part stuck with me — maybe it’s carbon fiber?)  She wanted something she could easily keep in the city, given the natural constraints of apartment living.

When in NYC, I often consider the merits, or lack thereof, of the cycling chic-vs-spandex-cycle-apparel-arguments.  I couldn’t help admiring how brilliantly this woman — whether intentionally or not — managed to look, well, chic, while wearing actual cycling threads.  And her shirt is about as close to high vis as one can get without going all the way.  There’s no recreational/commuter/road racer clothing kit argument here; there’s no fight to pick!

At the Fairway Market right off the East Side Greenway (at 130th Street) I automatically put Basil and his S bag into a cart before I realized that we’d arrived so early on a weekday morning that the store was deserted (by NYC standards).  I quickly sprung my Brompton, put him into shopping trolley mode, and we continued on our way.

Ahhh . . . Fairway, how I love thee!  (About thirty minutes later, this aisle, and all the rest, were not nearly so clear.)

Just above the front of Basil’s bag is one of the most wonderful things Fairway sells:  grilled artichoke hearts.  I planned to picnic next to the Hudson River, so I thought “why not?” and packed up just enough for lunch.

Across the aisle is the olive oil and vinegar bar, with tasting stations.  I don’t know much about olive oil (or vinegar, for that matter), but I do consume both.  On a whim, I tried the Italian Saba vinegar . . . and was transported in an entirely different way than when on two wheels. The flavor is that of a rich, deep Balsamic reduction.

It also costs like wine. I didn’t care.  I bought two bottles: One to take home, and one for The Manhattanites, with whom I stay when in NYC.  Basil’s S bag has two huge pockets on the back side, just made for Saba vinegar.  See the gold caps?  The bottles are sealed like wine; I assume that’s no accident!

With a fresh baguette fitted securely beneath the S bag’s flap, Basil and I set off to find a picnic site.

OK, the view of New Jersey isn’t exquisite here, but the river is lovely, and the shade most welcome — and the sky just got better and better as we sat.

What a tasty impromptu sandwich: a fat, flavorful artichoke heart mashed into a bit of perfect crusty bread!  I wanted to open one of the Sabas to add a splash, but figured that cycling with one open bottle might push my luck even further than cycling with two closed ones.

(Saba, as I learned later, is an amazing dip for strawberries. Fairway also recommends  it over ice cream, which could be just incredible.)

I had some company while I dined (along with Basil, of course):

She was pretty shy, but her mate, though apparently far bolder, was also quite courteous, and, once it was clear I wasn’t sharing, left me to my meal. (Love that little teal flash on her wing!)

This is the thing about New York City: sights like these (ducks and boats and sky) are never far away.

Also, there’s always something going on.  That’s a large dog, below, in a flotation vest, being escorted from a sailboat — the Ishtar —  to a nearby harbour.

I’m guessing he’s got a pretty good life, not only because he’s clearly enjoying the ride, but because of the unusual markings on the ship from which he came.

The figures on the side may be something else (lions or their kind?), but they look suspiciously like a stylized canine and feline to me.

Everywhere I looked, the view was serene.

I was feeling pretty serene myself by the time Basil and I set off again.   Along the way, we met this smiling couple, who were visiting from France.  They aren’t on CitiBikes, but rented from another company.  CitiBike is not designed for tourists (or even occasional use, though that’s possible); its lending schemes are really only attractive to subscribers.

The requirement that they be docked every so often (45 or 30 minutes) make the blue bikes unsuited to recreational cycling.  I was surprised, then, to see a fair number on the West Side Greenway — especially since there are no docking stations on the Greenway itself.

The Department of Sanitation’s Potemkin façade is particularly hilarious when backed with a surreal blue sky and such dream-like clouds.

We ventured off the Greenway onto city streets not long after the noon lunch hour; by that time, it was clear that CitiBikes were getting a lot of use.

It’s really too bad that nothing of this sort can be managed without a corporate logo; wouldn’t it be far nicer if these roving ambassadors advertised New York City?  Nonetheless, the bikes are indisputably a good thing, and great addition to city life.

Basil and I admired the big blue bike, and went on our way; there’s more, but this is quite enough for one post.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Blitz Trip to NYC

This quick trip to New York City was unexpected, the result of my discovering that Basil’s gear indicator needed repair. Basil’s shop is NYCeWheels, at the sign of the Brompton, on the Upper East Side.

NYCeWheels offers free tours on these little yellow beauties (the rest of the fleet was still inside when we turned up).  Owner Bert pointed out that the tours are win-win for NYCeWheels: even if riders don’t buy a bicycle, other people see the fleet out and about, which is great visibility both for the store and the bike.

Basil was fixed so quickly that he and I were able to head out for a ride — an unexpected bonus!  After a cold and rainy spring, this day was beautiful, and everyone who could was out and enjoying the weather.  The East River (or Estuary, more properly) was resplendent under that perfect sky.

We took the East Side Greenway down as far as it currently goes, and then braved city streets.  I was reminded, once again, that bike lanes are a great idea, but not nearly as splendid in practice as in theory.

I’m stopped at a light here, but I can see that the lane is occluded ahead. Even with my very brief experience cycling in the city, I know perfectly well that those vehicles will still be there after the light changes and Basil and I reach that spot.

In places like NYC, where compliance with traffic regulations is the stuff of fantasies, bike lanes with physical barriers are the only thing that makes sense.  Implementing them is another story, of course.

At a different intersection, we spied something much more pleasing!  (I think Basil likes these companionable moments as much as I do.)

New Yorkers tend to live outdoors — it’s inevitable, given the size of most apartments — and a corollary effect is that food trucks abound.  This one covers all the critical menu points, and the vendor was a really nice fellow.  (Also a discriminating one:  he admired Basil!)

The CitiBike scheme had just launched, and stations were all over the place (below 59th, that is). The one above is at E 39th and Second.

There’s a lot of empirical evidence that biking has increased dramatically in popularity in the city, but even a casual observer can’t help noticing how many more bikes seem to turn up each year.  (It’s not obvious in this photo, but quite a few blue bikes are missing from the share racks on the left.)

Cycling in NYC traffic can seem like the death-defying feat it undoubtedly is, but it can also seem idyllic, especially under a canopy of fully-leaved trees.

I spied blue bikes everywhere, but often wasn’t  fast enough to catch them with my camera.

Basil and I returned to Washington Heights via the Greenway, and, not for the first time, I made a mental note to find out what this building is.  In order to do so, though, I’ll have to remember where it is; fortunately, it isn’t necessary to know the name in order to appreciate the structure, especially on such a glorious day.

I love the George Washington Bridge, and am always thrilled to see it again.

I might be a little less thrilled to see the hill beside it.  Even with all six of Basil’s excellent gears functioning well, I’m still not strong enough to make it up this incline. (Though I do get a bit farther each time.)

Is it wrong of me to suspect that this sign, facing the incline, is mocking those of us foolish enough to attempt this ascent? (Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally OK with the “respect others” part.)

Just after the first climb there’s another one, which also requires a bit of walking.  On the other hand, stopping is a good excuse to take a quick shot of Basil.

Then there’s one last view of the bridge, and we’re back where we started.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Early AM to NYC: Amtrak and Coffee

I love catching the train to New York City.

When Basil and I went on a blitz trip recently, all I took was the Brompton S bag — along with Basil’s ever-present saddle bag, of course, and my helmet.

Most of our regional stations are in pretty awful shape, which is too bad.  The tracks work, though, which is what really counts.

When I see other trains passing, or stopped in a station, It makes me think of model train layouts, with trains placed in careful juxtaposition.  This is  a case of life imitating art, maybe.

Accommodations on Amtrak are much nicer than the decrepit condition of the stations suggests they might be.

Basil  wasn’t the only Brompton on the train; this orange B was snugged into the luggage compartment. It’s always thrilling to see another Brompton bicycle!

Once we’d touched base in NYC, and left off the luggage, the first stop was a coffee shop. Basil’s so small that it’s surprisingly easy to get him in and out of even a crowded shop.

It’s not obvious here, but there’s a long line out of sight, to the right.  (This is New York —  of course there’s a long line!)  Basil’s tucked neatly out of the way while I fix my iced coffee.

See the bottle on the counter?  It’s leak-proof, and perfect for water or iced coffee on the run.  It opens just above the purple sleeve, and conventionally, at the top.

I hand in the bottom portion to be filled, and then add milk through the top once I’ve screwed it together again. Silicone seals keep it from leaking.  Its only defect?  It’s not green or yellow!

Fortified, we headed out, this time taking the subway and then a bus, to get cross-town, ready to start the day.

Gear Luggage Tours, Trails & Group Rides

T Bag by Train

This is all the luggage Basil and I required for six days we  spent in New York City earlier this summer:  Just the Brompton T bag and an admittedly large ancillary bag. And helmet.

My clothes for the week, as well as the hip pack and my cycling gear for the 5 Boro Tour, are all packed neatly inside.  The T bag makes traveling with Basil easy, even though we go by train, not by cycle; it slips onto my Brompton’s luggage block, so Basil carries the weight, not me.

We were traveling a lot more lightly than some on our train. I’m pretty sure you could fit a Brompton into two of those suitcases — along with an over-stuffed T bag.

Basil and gear nearly disappear behind various other bags.

Next to bicycles, trains must be the best way to travel, ever.  Windows!  Leaving New York, the sky was overcast.

But not for long:

The sky, like the scenery, changes as the miles fall away:

Travel. It’s such a good thing.