Monday, January 13, 2014

New Shoes, Baby!!

I gave up riding clipless most of the time - especially around the city.  While I still occasionally use them on long trail rides, I've found I'm happier on the flat pedals when I know I'll be making lots of stops.  My usual shoe is a running shoe, even though I don't run any more.  My feet and knees like them better under every circumstance so I don't fight that.  The combination of running shoes with the flat side of my pedals just works well for me and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Unfortunately, all the bike shops seem to offer are neoprene bike shoe covers with the openings for the clips.  Go figure.  First problem is that they're designed for relatively narrow bike shoes, and not for the wide, thick-soled running shoes.  Last year I tried a combination of toe warmers with an oh-so-stylish layer of duck tape across the toes to block the wind and hold the heat in.  That kind-of-sort-of worked, but not as well as I would have liked.  Better than nothing, but far from the warm and cozy feet that I desire.  This year I decided to try forcing extra large bike shoe covers over my medium sized running shoes.  This worked - for about four rides.  My feet were very comfy, even if the covers were just a bit on the bulky side.  They did not work well when I had to walk the bike through a slightly flooded, muddy trail section though.  The wet mud came right up through those cleat openings.  Still, I was happy to have these covers.  Unfortunately, the binding around one of the openings tore quickly and with the loose loop of fabric hanging half off the bottom they became dangerous.  I deduced that they came apart because they weren't being used as designed.  If I had been clipped in, the shoe covers themselves would have little or no contact with the pedals.  The way I was trying to use them, they were in constant contact with the rough, larger, flat side of my pedals and subject to tearing.  What to do...  I've looked for covers that would fit over my running shoes and might hold up to the little teeth on my pedals, but so far no luck.  So I've decided to attempt a modification to these covers.  I cut off the rest of the torn binding and set out to find a way to repair the soles.  I concluded that any new binding I might use would end up in the same condition.  I needed a new, durable sole. I cut an old tire piece to fit over the openings and experimented with a couple of types of glue in order to hold it in place temporarily.  While the glue kept it in place, I stitched it to the sole with an upholstery needle and heavy thread.  I haven't tried them out yet, but I'll let you know how this works.

In the meantime I've been using some LLBean winter boots for the really cold days.  On the slightly less cold days I've been using some Merrell high tops that are really comfortable.  Saturday I stumbled onto a waterproof version of the same model Merrell shoe and decided to get them.  This will be my new option for medium cold days that have a chance of rain. That described today perfectly.  We started out with temps in the 30's, but it warmed up nicely and we rode the last 4 miles in a steady rain.  

I wasn't the only one sporting new shoes today though.  After the two flat tires yesterday, this morning began with yet another flat.  I had already decided I was going to look into new tires today but that clinched the deal.  Our first stop was at REI where I purchased a new set of the same Continental Contact tires.  

New treads for both the bike and me:

While REI swapped out the tires for me, we walked over to Big Dog coffee for some of their crazy good oatmeal.  I noticed that they still had one of their Christmas decorations up:

Back to REI, we picked up the bike and hit the trail.  After a nice sprint out to the Waterfront and back, we cut across town and out to Lawrenceville.  We stopped by Iron City Bikes to admire their fat bikes.  It would have been so cool to have one of those in last week's ice and snow.

Next door at Franktuary we found a new, custom bike rack:

When we started our return ride to the trailhead the sun had disappeared and a full overcast had rolled in.  We thought we had another hour before the rain was due, but we were wrong.  The drizzle started to hit before we finished crossing the 16th St Bridge and by the time we passed PNC park it was a steady rain.

Earlier when we had left REI it felt very good to no longer worry about getting another flat.  Not that the new tires are puncture proof - but if they're as good as the last set the flats should be few and far between.  While finishing this ride in a steady rain, I was very pleased to not be stuck out on the trail in cold, wet conditions trying to make repairs.  There's a lot to be said for having confidence in your equipment.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sweet Motivation

I spent the drive home from the trailhead this afternoon chastising myself for my carelessness.  I'd had to watch while my friends rode on after I discovered my second flat tire.  They had already waited around while I changed the first one and we were at the trailhead with the cars when I realized it was flat again.  It just didn't seem fair to make them wait around when I should have fixed it right the first time.  Why didn't I check the patch on that tube before I installed it?  Why didn't I use a new tube instead of one that had been repaired?  Sigh.  I returned home and consoled myself with the bounty from the pre-flat ride.  We had started out the day with a trip to the Oakmont Bakery.  Some people would ask me why I would go out to ride on a cold, drizzly, January morning before the sun was even up.  Well, when the scheduled destination is a place full of the most delicious baked goods I've ever had the pleasure to scarf down, my motivation is pretty obvious.

The only problem with going to this bakery is trying to make a decision about what to get.  I inevitably end up getting more than I should - but I can't say that I regret it.

This is only half of what they offer:

Now you know why I restrict myself from visiting this bakery to bike rides only.  I do not drive here.  I make myself earn it!  Besides, there's too much room in the car.  It's possible that the only way I get out of here with minimal amounts of baked goods is the fact that I have to carry it on my bike.  Usually that restricts what types of things I get too, but today I decided that even if it got mangled from being bounced around on the bike I was taking home a coconut cream pie.  The girl behind the counter was clearly skeptical about that plan, but when I opened the box the pie was perfection:

Who says picking up a pie on a bike is impossible?  So diving face first into the coconut cream was my first order of business when I got home.  After my second sugar rush of the day (you know that we had something to eat while we were at the bakery, right?) I removed the back wheel from the bike and commenced the repair work for the second time today.  I wanted to see what I'd done wrong with the patch so I pumped some air into the tube and looked for where it was leaking.  To my great surprise, there was nothing wrong with the patch!  I hadn't screwed that up!  I discovered the new leak and started looking for the cause.  The first time today I had found a small piece of metal wire in the tire.  It looked like it could have been half of a heavy staple.  This time I found a small piece of glass embedded in the rubber, just barely breaking through to the inside.  I kept examining the tire just out of habit (my mentor taught me well) but I really didn't expect to find anything else.  Boy was I surprised when I found another piece of metal.  This was also well concealed in the rubber and just barely exposed on the inside.  I had a hard time removing it and again had to resort to using an upholstery needle and tweezers.

I should have put something in that picture to give a size reference, but they were each less than 1/4 inch long.  Long enough and sharp enough to go all the way through the tire though.  I'm using Continental Contact tires and they're supposed to be puncture resistant.  They've done very well up until this past week, but perhaps it's time to start considering new tires. They've been on the bike for 16 months.

Although discovering that I hadn't botched the patch job improved my mood, I still don't know if I should have found the additional culprits when I fixed the first flat - or if I might have picked them up between there and when we stopped at the cars to unload the baked goods.  No telling.  Next time I won't be in such a rush when I fix a flat though.  It's worth taking a few more minutes to see if there're any other problems lurking.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Icicle Bicycle and Other Cold Adventures

Woke up to -9 degrees this morning with a wind chill around -30.  I'm not riding.  Anyone out riding in this stuff is so beyond Rule 9 that they need their own rule (or possibly a straight jacket?).  Today is a day that I stay inside and write about riding in more sane conditions.

The weather isn't staying like this and I hope to ride tomorrow afternoon when it returns to the 20's.  Ought to feel downright tropical after this.  Temperatures lately have been up and down.  Snowy, wet, windy some days - dry and reasonably pleasant (relatively so) on others.  The temperature of course, is only one factor in my comfort level on the bike.  The humidity, wind and cloud cover contribute just as much and it's difficult to decide how to dress on a given day.  Last Saturday we started a ride in the high 20's and about 5 miles into it I had a flat.  The sun happened to be peaking out at the time and we found a snow-free spot on a sidewalk next to a building to do the repair.  My hands weren't even cold by the time I finished and we went on to ride comfortably for around 24 miles.  On the flip side, Sunday we also started out our ride in the high 20's and the forecast said we were going to get into the 40's.  This sounded great, but my big mistake was thinking that 40 degrees would feel comfortable.  I didn't believe I was going to need winter boots and just put the toe warmers in my shoes instead.  Huge mistake.  My feet were so cold and I couldn't wait to get the heater going in the car when we finished.  Heated seats, BTW, are the 8th wonder of the world.

While I may not always love riding in the cold and wind, I absolutely love that most of the time I can.  Every day that I'm able to get out and pedal this time of year feels good.  I may have to drag myself out of the house initially, but once on the bike I have no regrets.  I'm slowly finding better options for keeping comfortable and sooner or later I'll figure out how many layers I need under the different conditions.  Until then I generally start out overdressed and end up stopping every five miles to shed a layer until I find the right combination.  Overheating feels worse than being just a bit cool, but I do not like being cold.  My most recent successful purchase has been a wool "Buff".  I really like this thing.  It seems like it would be too thin to do a lot of good, but I like it so much more than my heavy fleece balaclava.  It's much more flexible in how it can be worn, not bulky at all, and I can pair it with different hats to meet my needs.  Highly recommend it.

In addition to trying to figure out the dress code, we've been having to work around varying trail and road conditions. Last week we started down the slope on the Northshore Trail from the Langley Clock and as we came around the bend there were ducks swimming on the trail.  Huh?  It took a second for my mind to process what I was seeing.  The rivers had risen to the point that the trails along the Northshore and around the Point were submerged.

Saturday and Sunday there were snow drifts on the trail just past the Casino and I had to walk the bike until I could cut over onto the roads.  We've done our share of turning around when we've hit icy sections of trail and I think we're starting to learn which trails are most likely to have icy spots as well as exactly where they occur.  Now when we expect to encounter icy conditions we just stick to the roads.

Riding through the neighborhoods instead of using the trail system provides us with more options for warm-up stops. This is a good time of year to plan the rides around coffee shop locations or good places for soup.  We just finished "Soupaneuring" season, and here's my soup summary:

Soupaneuring #1
29 Nov
Max's Allegheny Tavern
537 Suisman St
Pittsburgh, Pa 15212
Einlauf Soup
23.94 mi

Soupaneuring #2
2 Dec
Smallman St Deli
1912 Murray Ave
Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh
Chicken Noodle Soup
33.07 mi

Soupaneuring #3
9 Dec
Pho Van
2120 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, Pa 15222
Pho ga
17.28 mi

Soupaneuring #4
18 Dec
Kelly O's
100 24th St
Strip District, Pittsburgh
Minestroni Soup
13.74 mi

Soupaneuring #4.5
20 Dec
Pittsburgh Steak Company
1924 East Carson St
Southside, Pittsburgh 15203
Potato Soup
21.5 mi
(Sorry, ate half before I remembered to take a pic.)

Soupaneuring #5
22 Dec
Hello Bistro
1922 East Carson St
Southside, Pittsburgh 15203
Cream of Potato
23.9 mi

Soupaneuring #6
27 Dec
Kaleidoscope Cafe
108 43rd St
Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh 15201
Sweet Potato soup
24.7 mi

Soupaneuring #7
4 Jan
Whole Foods
5880 Centre Ave
East Liberty, Pittsburgh 15206
Chicken Noodle
24.18 mi

We kicked off 2014 with the "Icicle Bicycle" ride, run by the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen.  I haven't seen an official head count, but someone was estimating more than 70 riders showed up.

A good start to the New Year.