Back Out on the Road

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It’s been exactly three months since I’ve thrown a leg over and navigated a beloved steel framed bicycle.  That’s how long it’s taken for me to recover from my unfortunate mishap involving a ladder and my fibula. But once I got my doctor’s go-ahead to begin cycling again, I was anxious to get back out on the road, although also strangely apprehensive.

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At Benham Falls

The last time I was on my bike was in Central Oregon’s fall glory, enjoying the dry climate and the very nice bike paths leading to Benham Falls.  I was riding my Terry, feeling slightly under the weather due to a dodgy restaurant experience earlier in the day.  But, once my riding buddy and I arrived at the Falls, all was well with the world.  The bike paths were strewn with slippery pine needles which kept getting caught in my “over the top” fenders, but this was less worrisome than the gravel portion of the journey over lava rock and loose gravel.  Fortunately, the Terry handled well, with its 32mm Pasela’s and great frame geometry.

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

1987 Panasonic MC 7500 converted to city errand bike

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McClure Pass Tires

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Velo Orange 126mm freewheel hub

So, for my first adventure back in the saddle I decided to ride my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 commuter bike.  It is a very forgiving bicycle, although a bit tall due to its high bottom bracket. Before my leg injury I had installed some new tires on this bike to replace the heavy Specialized Armadillo tires, which had literally split at the seams, with something a little nicer – Compass McClure Pass 26 x 1.5 ” tires.

I had been riding these tires for a few months before my mishap and was looking forward to reporting on their ride quality, which I can now do. These tires have allowed me to ride in one higher gear overall, as compared to the Armadillo tires I previously used.  They feature a bit of a tread pattern which can help on non-paved surfaces, and are very responsive and comfortable.  I’m sold!  I also wanted to provide an update on the Velo Orange freewheel hub which I used to replace the failed Quando sealed bearing rear hub – a hub which failed after only about a thousand miles of use.  My new VO is working perfectly, and shaved some weight off the bike due to its drilled flanges.

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Cardiff leather saddle.

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Gardening with the Panasonic.

I use the Panasonic a lot for around town errands.  To make this bike a little more comfortable I added a Cardiff leather saddle, replacing the the old vintage Avocet touring saddle I was using.  I like the Cardiff saddle as a Brooks alternative – the saddle rails are a bit longer allowing for greater adjustment nuances, and there is something about its shape and geometry that seems to work well for me.  My first ride today went very well.  I didn’t experience any mysterious lapses in “bike memory”, nor did I have trouble climbing or descending.  Although it is winter, I’m looking forward to some enjoyable riding on the warmer and drier days which can sometimes appear unexpectedly. See you out there!

A Wee Jaunt to Tadpole Pond

Tadpole Pond, Oaks BottomI wasn’t feeling up to snuff today, but I could hardly not go on a ride – the weather was finally better, feeling positively balmy at 55 degrees.  There was only a light mist, and even though I donned knickers for the ride, I actually had to remove my gloves once I was underway because I got too hot!  I decided to take the funky winter bike as its slower speeds would match my sluggish cadence.  I started out on my usual perfunctory route out to Sellwood, through Oaks Bottom and back into town – about a 16 mile round trip from my house.  As I rode, I started to feel better and my spirits lifted.

Christmas trainOn Springwater Trail at the Oaks Park junction I was treated to a crowd awaiting passage on a bedecked Christmas train – the Holiday Express.  I had to walk the bike through the crowds, then re-mount to proceed back toward town.  As I approached the gully that hides the hiking trail turn-off I decided to take a side trip.  At first I was planning on parking the bike and walking toward the wetlands to view the wintering birds.  But as I was riding I spotted an area I hadn’t explored before – Tadpole Pond.

Tadpole PondLittle did I know that this tiny pond was restored to help bring back the Pacific Chorus Frog.  As I dismounted and parked the bike I quieted myself to see if I could hear anything resembling frogs calling.  Well, it didn’t take long before the frogs started in, with occasional bird calls to accompany them.  I made an audio clip which you can listen to here: 

Tadpole PondIt was an absolute treat to feel so close to nature after such a short ride, and to sense the vibrancy of these little frogs calling to each other.  There are apparently also red-legged frogs and long-toed salamanders that share habitat with the Pacific Chorus frog.  I didn’t spot any, though.  Maybe next time – I plan to return again.

Rain Rider

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Centurion Mixte – not prepared for the rain!

Living in Portland, Oregon means that riding in the rain is going to happen, even if unintentionally.  It can rain at any time, it seems.  And, it can rain for a long time (like now!).  After over 30 years of bike commuting through Portland’s winters I have developed my own methods to help ease the transition into winter riding.

First and foremost is to tend to the bicycle itself.  Fenders are a must if you want to arrive at your destination looking moderately decent and relatively dry.  Full coverage fenders are ideal.  Even if your bike lacks eyelets, you can still mount full coverage fenders with P-clamps, but only if you have adequate clearance at the brake bridges to accommodate fenders.  Unfortunately, due to the cycling industry’s recent racing-craze, many regular cyclists ended up purchasing “road bikes” which were really NOT road bikes, but bikes designed for racing, with high gearing, no brake clearance, and no eyelets or rack mounts.  If you lack brake bridge clearance for fenders, then you will be stuck using clip on fenders, UNLESS you convert your bike to a smaller wheel size such as 650c or 650b, which I have fearlessly done.  A conversion will not only give you the option for full coverage fenders, but you will also be able to use fatter tires, which are much better suited for riding through rain and on rough roads strewn with debris.

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Next are brake pads and rims.  A rainy winter can eat up a set of brake pads.  It’s good to check your pads before winter starts, and replace them if they are worn.  I also regularly inspect my pads and clean them with alcohol, and remove any specks of rim material from them using a pick.  Bad or hard brake pads will destroy your rims, so when in doubt, buy some new (soft) pads and get them installed properly.  After especially muddy rides, I hose down my brake pads and rims, using a gentle spray of water, and I also clean everything again with alcohol several times throughout the winter.  So far, I haven’t had to replace any rims due to wear.  That’s a pretty good track record for over 30 years of winter commuting.

The bike’s drive train will need cleaning and lubrication more often during the winter.  Check your chain for wear.  If it is stretched, then replace it.  You may have to replace your cassette at the same time.  I have seen riders break chains, often while climbing or vigorously accelerating, which can cause you to crash.  Chain life can be greatly increased by using a front fender with a long mud flap, which will keep debris off of the chain and crankset.

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Without full coverage fenders, my Terry’s BB gets really dirty.

Riding through the winter can also really mess up your bottom bracket, even if it has sealed bearings.  I recently had to replace a Shimano BB that was only two years old because debris and moisture had made their way past the bearing seals.  When I tried to remove the crank arms, I found that they had rusted to the axle of the bottom bracket!  These were nice aluminum Sugino crank arms.  After that experience, I now remove and check the crank arms at least once a year.  Again, a super long front mud flap helps keep junk off of the BB and cranks.  Many riders make their own out of plastic water bottles, or other suitable found objects.

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With long mud flaps on my winter bike, its bottom bracket stays really clean.

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Panasonic MC 7500 set up as winter commuter, with Jandd Hurricane bag.

Another idea is to simply use a beater bike for winter riding, such as this mid-80’s Panasonic Mountain bike that I have converted to a city commuter.  The Jandd Hurricane bags pictured above are not only waterproof, but can hold just about anything.  A simple 1 x 7 drive train and extra long mudflaps, makes maintaining this winter bike very easy.

If you decide not to ride through the winter, here’s a nice blog post from Georgena Terry explaining what to do to safely get your bike back out on the road again.

Now, you also have to keep yourself relatively dry and comfortable.  I have a number of cycling rain jackets, but my favorites are a newer Shower’s Pass, and an older heavier weight Sugoi for super cold conditions.  I usually wear rain tights for my commute and change clothes at work, but if you want to look less bikey upon arrival, then you’ll need some kind of rain overpants.  The only overpants that I can really tolerate wearing are my ancient Burley rain pants.  They don’t ride up my jeans, they don’t inhibit motion, and they are no more steamy than any other higher end overpants I have tried.  I especially like the zippers at the seams which allow full access to my jeans pockets.  I am curious to try the rain chaps I have seen, but haven’t sprung for them yet, and am waiting to see how other riders like them.  If you are using them, please share your comments.

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Specialized Sub Zero gloves

For gloves, I keep one set of fully lined waterproof gloves in my kit, shown above, but I usually wear my favorite winter gloves – Diamond Mountaineering gloves.  By washing them periodically with Nikwax, the gloves will stay dry in a downpour for about 45 minutes.  They have good wind protection, and keep my hands warm even when it is really cold, yet still provide full dexterity.

I would love to hear other cyclists’ winter riding recommendations and experiences!