Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Study in Contrasts... and a ride!

So today, like most days recently, I rode to work on my newly built "Tim-built" bike... actually, here and now I should just come out and announce that if I can get things together to produce more frames and bikes, I plan to do it under the name of "Goshawk Cycles". I've always had a fascination with raptors, and the Goshawk is fast and agile, something I think is good in bicycles!

Anyway, after work, with plenty of daylight left, I thought I'd go for at least a short ride. And for a change of pace, I thought I'd ride my Fuji Track Bike. As I was getting ready for the ride, I couldn't resist snapping a photo of them both in the rack outside the shop. The bikes are just so different, I thought it an interesting tableau.

The Fuji, on the left, is about as pared down as a bike can get. Okay, the track bike purists would leave off the front brake, but I like having it there for safety's sake. Otherwise it's a straight, fixed gear drive train... no shifting, no coasting, just a seemingly direct connection between feet and wheel. No extraneous parts, no frills, just a bare, light, fast bike.

The Goshawk, on the other hand, is about self-supported travel in a wide range of conditions... pavement and dirt, fair weather and foul. So we've got fat tires, full coverage fenders, racks, and a saddlebag, as well as the ability to carry more bags for overnight trips. The kind of bike you can load up with tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, etc., and head out on a long, long adventure.

Both are great fun to ride, and it's fun to have such variety in my little squadron of bikes. And for this evening's short ride, the Fuji was just the ticket. The fixed gear forces one to keep pedaling at all times, and also requires more of you on climbs. In addition, you use some different muscles in riding fixed, as part of the time you are using your leg muscles to slow the bike. A lot of fun, a bit of a challenge, and a great change of pace.

It was a lovely evening too. The deer were out in force, and the frogs were singing. Alas, gnats have also begun to make themselves known, and I was swatting them off my arms from time to time. But it was worth it to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a warm spring evening. The lowering sun on the trees, especially the dogwoods, was particularly pretty, as you can see here.

After the ride, I noticed one other spring phenomenon... see the closeup of the Fuji frame here? See the light dusting of green? Yep, you guessed it... pollen! I was out on the bike less than an hour, and enough pollen had settled on it that it was clearly visible against the red paint, and on the black tires! Amazing. It makes me grateful that I don't suffer from allergies... and sympathetic to those who do.

Finally, I headed home, once again on the Goshawk... and while it's not as light and swift as the Fuji, it's a wonderful ride. Stable and sturdy, without feeling stodgy. I have to admit, I'm very pleased, and rather proud that a bike I made has turned out so well. Here's to many more!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Windy Wednesday Ride!

One of the odd things about working in a bicycle shop is that you generally don't have a conventional weekend. Over the three-plus years I've worked full time at bikes@vienna, I've had a number of different permutations of a work week. Currently, my "weekend" is Tuesday and Wednesday. Aside from the typical advantages (and disadvantages) of a non-traditional weekend, such as short lines at the bank compared to Saturday mornings, I get to enjoy our local bike trails when they are at their least crowded! So yesterday, after a bout of cleaning at home, I headed out on my new bike and rode out the W&OD trail to Ashburn.

At first I was afraid I'd dressed to lightly... it was chillier than I expected, and I immediately ran into a very light rain shower. But after warming up from the exertion, and the sun coming out more strongly, it felt great. And as I had hoped, the dogwood were in bloom! This beautiful tree has been a favorite of mine since childhood, when we had a sprinkling of them at the edge of the woods at our back yard. And as an adult, it's a major marker of spring for me. So I was glad to see them popping out all along the trail.

Also out in force were the ubiquitous "redbud" trees... You can see some here on a nearby golf course, along with dogwood, both contrasting with the still-bare branches of what I think is a sycamore. I've always wondered what these spectacularly pink early spring trees were, and several friends have recently assured me they are called redbud trees. If that is truly the case, I have to say the person who came up with that name had a remarkable lack of originality! They sure are pretty trees though.

You can't really tell from the photos, but the wind yesterday was pretty amazing. I don't know what official numbers were, but there was a strong steady breeze from roughly the west, and many, many abrupt gusts that I'm sure were at least 30 mph. Pretty wild on a bicycle. And with the route of the W&OD, I was riding into the wind the whole way out. In some of the more open stretches of trail, I was really struggling.

The upside of course was that the ride home was MUCH easier and faster, with the wind now behind me. I felt like I was flying sometimes, when it would really hit me and push me along. All in all a gorgeous, gloriously fun day. Even the critters found something to enjoy... this black snake lay stock still on the pavement, soaking up the sun. And the birds were out in great numbers, considering the wind.

The one jarring note on the ride, aside from the typical go-fast riders passing without warning, was the realization of how much the scenic beauty of the trail has been impacted by development and power lines. Despite the economy, there are still areas of former woods and farmland being cleared for new houses. And as this photo shows, the sky is carved up by power lines and poles and towers all along the trail. The juxtaposition of the dogwood and electrical lines really jumped out at me. I know we all use and need the juice in our homes... I just hope some day we find ways to use it more wisely and provide it less obtrusively.

A guy can dream, can't he?

Despite that, all in all it was a wonderful ride. My legs today are feeling the 30 miles and headwind, but it's a good feeling!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


What the heck is that title about?

Well, I thought it was about time to write about my experience taking yoga classes. And as anyone who has taken much yoga knows, there's often some chanting of "ommmmm" involved. So it seemed a good, attention-getting title.

I've been enrolled in yoga classes at a local studio, Dream Yoga Studio, for about a year and a half now. I'd thought about it for a long time, especially after I found out that John, owner of bikes@vienna (yes, it is officially all lower case), had been taking classes for a number of years, and seemed to really enjoy it. I had tried a couple of "drop in" sessions when I lived in Portland, but it just didn't work for me. Imagine being dropped into a room full of people who all shared a common vocabularly and set of poses and movements that you knew nothing about, and then try following along as someone at the front of the room calls out incomprehensible things like "downward-facing dog"! I was utterly lost both times, and gave up quickly.

But in the fall of 2007, John asked me if I would go to a session of 12 beginning yoga classes if he paid for them. I don't know if he sensed I needed some stress relief and centering, or if he'd heard my body creak a few too many times, or if he simply wanted to share something he enjoyed with me, but whatever his motivation, I am so grateful he made the offer... and so glad I took him up on it! The class was for raw beginners, and the instructor (and studio owner), Luann, was patient and took things very slowly from the start. As time went on of course, she pushed us all harder, but always with a kind and understanding manner. She doesn't want us to obsess about perfection... and she always makes it clear that everyone's body is different, and we just need to deal with our own bodies and limitations, not anybody else's.

After that first round of classes, I was hooked, and have stayed with the classes pretty much uninterrupted since the start. A big turning point for me this winter was when Luann offered a single session class about how to start and/or maintain a home practice. Among the very helpful advice was the simple declaration that even if you can only do five minutes a day, that is enough, and that it's more a matter of making it a routine than it is to set high goals of huge chunks of time. In addition, we were all offered the opportunity to take part in a "21 day challenge"... where for 21 days we'd commit to doing at least some yoga every single day. As part of that, Luann set up a email list of the group, so we could all report on our successes and struggles, and get support from one another. It really helped! Luann had said at the start that she'd seen research that indicated it takes 21 days for something to become a habit... and it seems to have worked for me. Rare is the day that I don't do at least a few minutes of yoga in the morning, and in many cases now, I'm spending up to a half an hour before I start my day. And I feel better and healthier and happier for it.

If you've never tried yoga... give it a shot. But please, don't try to just jump in on a "drop in" basis into an ongoing class. You'll just end up confused and frustrated! Give yourself a chance by signing up for a beginner's class and start at the beginning. I think you'll be glad you did.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Easter

Well, I've once again been remiss in keeping up with the blog. It's been almost two weeks since my last post, and I'm really trying to be better about it.

To catch up, I thought I'd share some photos from my Easter Sunday last weekend, and write a little about the day as well.

In the morning, I met my brother and his wife at the National Arboretum for a leisurely bike ride among the early spring trees. While it was too soon for many of the flowering trees, it was already pretty much too late for the cherry blossoms. But there were still quite a few lovely sights to see, such as this amazing magnolia that Stephen and Patricia are standing in front of.

One of the more peculiar sights at the Arboretum are the old columns from the U.S. Capitol building. I never realized that the original columns on the east side had been replaced in 1958, when an extension was added on that side of the building. The old ones apparently lay idle somewhere until they were installed at the Aboretum in 1990. It's a little odd to see them rising up over the landscape on a hillside, but it's kind of cool too. Better that than demolishing them, no?

Our ride was a pretty short one, with lots of stopping and gawking at lovely things, but it was a lot of fun! Afterwards, we all went to our mom's house, where we had a nice, relaxed holiday with most of the family. One of the highlights of the day was when my niece Megan and nephew Jesse faced off against each other in a contest of skill on the recorder (the flute-like musical instrument). I won't go into the history behind it, but it was quite amusing to watch them try to out do each other while also trying hard not to collapse in laughter. Given that my niece is in college and my nephew is in his late 20s, it was a pretty funny "event".

The other musical aspect of the day was my brother playing guitar with one of my other nephews, Nick, and accompanying Jesse's wife Brittany while she sang. I was really impressed with both of the younger folks' abilities... I'd never heard Brittany sing, and really hadn't seen Nick play much either. But what was also a pleasure was seeing how much in his element my brother was just sitting and playing his guitars. You see, I've come to realize that he and I share a lot in common... his passion and ease with the guitar is simply a variation on my relationship with bicycles. We each found our niche, our passion, and have spent a lifetime enjoying it.

For the record, he has more than 40 guitars, basses, banjos, etc... more than twice the size of my bicycle collection. But he's also got 9 years on me, so I've got time to catch up!

One other fun thing about the day was bringing my bike over for the family to see. I'm really happy with how it came out, and a little proud of having actually built my own bicycle frame, so it was nice to share it with my family. And I'll admit it, it was really nice to receive compliments on it from those near and dear to me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Birthday Walk

Well, today I turned 48! And it was a good day all in all. I had lunch with a dear friend, and then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening visiting my mom, who is one of my favorite people of all time. And before all that, I managed to squeeze in a short walk along my beloved C&O Canal, taking in the very dramatic, early spring day. Breezy and chilly, roiling clouds, broken now and then by brilliant sunshine, and even a few snow flurries! Not often an April birthday is graced with any sort of snow in the places I've lived, so this was kind of a treat.

Despite the flurries, it's clear that spring is coming on the Canal. Many trees are showing tips of green, while some show red... vines creeping up bare grey trunks are coming alive as well. And here and there the first buds and blossoms on trees are showing. Ducks were out and about in pairs, and there were quite a few vultures soaring above the river gorge. And everything is beginning to take on that fresh, pale shade of spring.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Bike Snob?

Am I a bike snob? I've pondered that from time to time, especially recently, when I wrote my post about "Bikes from Boxes" around the same time that two of my friends also wrote in their blogs on similar topics.

I'd have to say the answer is a qualified "yes". I do believe that a good quality bike, from a bike shop, is substantially better than a bike from a mass merchandiser, whether it be an online vendor or a "big box" store like Wal-Mart. Such a bike will give more enjoyable, reliable service than anything you can find in the same store that provides you with your coffeemaker, sheets, and deodorant. And I believe that the odds you will enjoy and continue cycling are much higher if you buy the better bike from a bike shop.

However, that does not mean you need to buy a "high end" bike... you do NOT need to "ride what Lance rides" to have years of enjoyable cycling experiences. There are a lot of perfectly good, perfectly capable bikes for the casual rider for less than $500. They are available in a range of sizes, to suit a wide range of riders, while the "box bikes" typically come in "one size fits all", an approach that really doesn't work with bikes. And a bike shop bike will have almost certainly been put together by someone who knows more of what they are doing than the stock clerk at your local K-Mart.

So how did I come by my views? What has made me a snob? Well, first you can blame it on my dad. He spent a few years in England in the 1940s, thanks to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and it was there he discovered what later came to be known as "English Racers" in the U.S. These were your typical English 3-speeds, with Sturmey-Archer hubs and "North Road" handlebars and fenders. Nothing remotely racy about them, honestly, but compared to the heavy, fat-tired bikes typical in the States before WWII, they must have seemed so light and nimble. And very well made... made to LAST. So years later, when it came time for my dad to buy bikes for us kids, he understood and appreciated quality bikes, even if he hadn't ridden one himself in years. As a result, as near as I can remember, our bikes always came from the local bicycle shop, and while by no means high end, were always good quality... and several of them were English 3 speeds. So while many of my friends rode Huffys and Iversons from the local discount store or catalog showroom (remember the Best stores?), my first bike was a Dunelt from Britain, proudly wearing the "Ride a Wheel on Sheffield Steel" slogan. It looked a little stodgy, especically compared to all the banana seat chopper style bikes popular at the time, but it was a beautifully made machine, and held up to everything I did to it. The next bike my folks bought me, my first 10-speed, was a Raleigh Record... their base model "racing style" bike... and while it wasn't by any means a real racer, it was a quality bike that lasted for years. So from the start, I acquired a taste for well-made bicycles, thanks to my family.

As I got more and more into cycling, I had the opportunity to work on and ride a fair number of bikes, and even assembled my share of bikes for the local Woolco (F.W. Woolworth's answer to K-Mart, which was itself a spinoff of the S. S. Kresge "five and dime" stores). And over the years, I've worked on and ridden any number of bikes, from single speed beach cruisers to high end carbon fiber race bikes, and lots of stuff in between. I've ridden and worked on adult bikes and kids bikes (a 6'-1" adult male on a 12" wheeled child's bike is a sight to behold), and I have to say, while in many ways the "box bikes" of today are a lot better than those in the past, they still don't compare to a truly good bicycle sold by a reputable bicycle dealer. I'm not saying "box bikes" can't bring pleasure and/or utility to someone's life at all... just that the qualitative difference of the experience is rather large. I really feel that if at all possible, one is better off buying a "bike store bike", even an older, used one, than any bike from a mass merchandiser like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or online mass retailers.

If that makes me a snob, I guess I'll just have to live with that. I came by it honestly! :-)