Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Bad Day in the Land of Forks

Not the kind you eat with... bicycle forks! Most of you probably know, but for those that don't... the fork is the... well, um... fork-like thing that holds the front wheel and is connected to the steering system on your bike. It's a pretty important part of your bike, and the kind of thing you don't want damaged.

Well, today we had two very different bikes come in with severe fork damage. So severe that replacement is the only option. Sometimes, with minor damage on a steel fork, you can gently bend it back, but in many cases it's either impossible or simply not prudent to try to fix it.

Exhibit A to the left here is the fork on a Dahon Speed D7 folding bike. The owner was pretty vague about how this happened... he indicated jumping a "lip", but said that it was only about an inch high. Color me skeptical, because that's an enormous amount of damage to be caused by a small hop! One leg of the fork is bent sideways several INCHES out of line. The other leg looks like it's bent, but less severely. However it was that it happened, there's no saving the fork... we're ordering a new one.

The second bike was a nice carbon fiber road bike from Trek. The photos show that the bottom few inches of one leg were snapped clear off! You might also see that the remaining end is badly scraped. How the heck did this happen, you ask? Well, those of you who have been in the cycling world, especially the repair end, probably have this figured out already... the bike had an unplanned encounter with the top of the entry way to a garage or carport, on the roof of the owner's car! This is a surprisingly common accident. You'd think folks would remember they have a couple thousand dollars of stuff sticking up off the roof, well above the height of entryways... but it's amazing how easy it is to forget. Years ago, a housemate of mine had a roof rack from Yakima, and they offered an accessory back then that I thought was brilliant... a spring loaded sign, that stuck to your car hood with a magnet. The spring was just strong enough to pop the sign up in front of you, announcing "Bikes!" whenever you dropped below about 5 mph! What a great idea this was. Sadly, as near as I can tell, it's no longer available. Could have prevented this sad mishap.

Oh, and that's the snapped off piece there on the left, lying on my workbench.

Now one thing I should mention, in case any of you have an accident where you think the fork might have been damaged.... you should ALWAYS have the fork and the rest of the bike checked out by someone who knows what they are doing. It's possible, even likely, that some other part of the bike, such as the frame, suffered damage in the accident. And having the fork examined, repaired, or replaced is essential. Think about it... if you were riding along at a good clip, and the fork were to suddenly break, and the front wheel were to become disconnected from the bike and your ability to steer it... how badly could you be hurt? So please... if you think you might have a damaged fork... say you ran into the back of a parked car, or go clipped by a motorist, or whatever happened... bring the bike to a mechanic you trust to see if it's still safe to ride.

Pretty obvious in these cases that they weren't able to be ridden any more... but sometimes it's more subtle than that.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Totally Different Sign of Spring

Nope, not bunnies or goslings or flowers or any sort of flora or fauna at all. This is about bicyclists! It's that time of year... we're having sustained periods of warm, sunny weather, which leads folks to reach into their garage or shed and pull out their bicycles that have sat idle through the colder weather.

As a cyclist, that means that I suddenly have a lot more company on the roads and trails when I ride. Where I used to have the multi-use rail trail pretty much to myself in the cold of February, I now have lots of other cyclists, runners, walkers, rollerbladers, etc. to share it with. This is both good and bad, as you might guess. It's nice to see other folks out enjoying the weather and the joy of zooming along on a bike. On the other hand, some people just don't understand trail etiquette. I've covered this in the past, so I won't belabor it, but it does drive me a little crazy when other riders rip past me close at high speed with nary a warning. Ah well.

Another sure sign of spring is the sudden uptick in repair work at our shop! Every year, we try to put the word out to folks that December through February is the best time to bring in your bike for service... much faster turnaround time in winter. Yet without fail, there's always a period of a couple of weeks where it seems everyone in northern VA woke up and realized they own a bicycle and it hasn't been service in a year or more. Last Saturday I started the day telling folks they could have their bikes back by the following Thursday... four hours later we had pushed it back to a week AFTER that! Most of our customers are pretty understanding about it, but now and then we get someone who just doesn't get it. I've even had people, upon hearing the time estimate, go to another shop, only to return a little while later to say that shop had an even longer turnaround time. Ah well, we do the best we can to do the work as quickly as possible, but it's a challenge to keep up this time of year.

But it's so much fun to help folks get back on the bike and out enjoying themselves. While a lot of our customers come back year after year for an annual service, we also get some every year who tell me they haven't been on the bike in years, and now they want to get some exercise, or save some gas money, or just enjoy themselves. I love those sorts of situations most of the time.... someone rediscovering the joy of an old pastime, often on an older, beloved bike from their youth. Sometimes it's tough... the bike can sometimes be really in bad shape from neglect and age... but most of the time, with a little patience and time and money, we can bring the bike back into running order to give many miles of pleasure to the owner. It's always a joy to see the smile on someone's face when they take that first spin around our parking lot after we've fixed up their bike.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Blossoms and Bunnies

In keeping with the "signs of spring" theme....

After work yesterday I went for a short ride along the Washington and Old Dominion Rail Trail. This is a great, 44.5 mile multi-use trail that cuts across Northern Virginia, providing both a recreational and commuting opportunity for cyclists, as well as walkers, runners, rollerbladers, etc. I ride it year round, as regular readers know, so I get to witness the changing faces of the trail by season.

Yesterday, it was all about blackberry blossoms! Silly as it sounds, I never really gave any thought to the fact that blackberry brambles do in fact blossom, until riding this trail, rich in berries, became a regular part of my life. Each spring the small white blossoms pop up on the arcing, curving branches of the blackberry bushes... soon to be followed by the berries themselves, bringing folks out with buckets and bags to pick them.

I also saw this other blossoming brush in some abundance, but I have no idea what it is... anyone out there care to give me a hint? Pretty flowers, and quite a few of them.

The bunnies are out too... little tiny cottontail rabbits, probably just a few weeks old. I didn't manage to get a photo of the one I saw last night... he was far too shy, and vanished almost as soon as I saw him. If you know the trail, by the way, it's fun sometimes to dip off the paved trail and onto one of the unpaved side trails, primarily meant for walking and horseback riding, I believe. If you have a bike with wide enough (oh, about 28mm or wider) tires, and you're careful, it can give you a slightly "wilder" feeling than you get on the paved path. That's what I did last night, and I'm glad I did.

Finally, on the way back home, I saw a customer whose bike I've worked on quite a bit. He chided me about riding too slow, so I picked up the pace and we zipped along together for a couple of miles, chatting about bikes and things. It was an unexpected and fun addition to my ride. Most of my riding is solitary, so I enjoy the company when I have it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Goslings and Turtles and Sunlight!

I went for a lovely ride along the C&O Canal today. It was sunny and warm, but not too warm. Just right for shorts and a short sleeved shirt. And since most folks work on Wednesdays, the towpath was not too crowded.

I started near Carderock, about 11 miles out from the Georgetown end of the path, and headed northwest away from the city. It wasn't a terribly long ride... probably about 15 or so miles in total. But it was a beautiful day, the path was clear, the bike felt great, and so did I.

Spring has definitely arrived here... in addition to the warm weather and sunshine (along with a generous helping of spring rains lately), the critters are coming out in force. Today seemed at first to be all about turtles... every log, every stump, every rock, seemed to have a turtle on it... and in many cases a cluster of them! Now and then I'd see or here the splash into the water as I drew near, but many times they were just too relaxed to care, I guess.

As I rode on, I discovered another wonderful marker of spring... goslings! Just past the Great Falls area I spotted a pair of geese on the path... and then realized they had a bunch of fuzzy little goslings with them. Such beautiful, awkward, funny little creatures they are. Time after time I slowed to ease my way past a new little family... and time after time was warned with hissing and head-bobbing from the adults to not get to close! It was a delight to see them all... from tiny little fellas that would easily fit in the palm of my hand to some that were quite a bit larger, due to hatching earlier, I guess. Most of the families consisted of a half dozen or so goslings, but I saw two pairs that only had one little one each. It was odd, because in both cases, the gosling was clearly a brand new little fella... so I have to wonder... did a bunch not hatch, or did a predator get to them very early on? Kinda sad to realize how many of the little ones I saw today probably won't make it to adulthood, but that's the way nature works.

Of course, not everyone was viewing the geese so appreciatively... I saw one cyclist frantically ringing his bell loudly as he zoomed through a flock, barely slowing, and muttering "stupid geese" as he went past. Me, I find them beautiful and wondrous to watch. But then, I've always been that way.

Another sign of spring took on a more human element... namely, the canal boat operated by the Park Service is up and running again. I don't know the details, but they have a crew in period costumes, a replica of an old canal boat, and a mule, and they take passengers a short way along the canal, through at least one of the lift locks. It's a fascinating little bit of living history that I haven't yet participated directly in, but I'd like to. Maybe this is my year to do that.

One last, slightly bizarre item... in the picture below, note the sign that warns of unsafe ice! Too funny!

More photos can be seen at:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The NY 5 Boro Tour!

I've long wanted to do this ride... the NY 5 Boro Tour ( In short, it's a 42 mile car-free ride around New York City, during which you visit all five of the Boroughs that make up the city - Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The route goes through a wide range of neighborhoods, and in several places puts you where you certainly can't normally ride a bike... such as the Verrazano Narrows Bridge! Well, this year, I got my chance. John, the owner of bikes@vienna and all around great guy, decided back in March that he was going to close the shop on May 3rd so the staff could all join him and his wife on the 5 Boro. Within an hour, we heard through a customer the bad news... registration had already closed, and neither I nor another staff member had registered yet. But John didn't give up, and just over a week ago, we managed to get two tickets for me and Robert (one of our younger staff members), from a guy who also takes classes at Dream Yoga, who wasn't going to be able to use them.

Saturday we closed the shop two hours early and drove up to Staten Island, where we stayed in a hotel, waking early to catch the ferry over to the start point on Manhattan. For the event, the city provides several ferries devoid of cars, so they can be stuffed full with cyclists and their bikes. It's quite a sight to see. We ended up on the lower deck, where cars park normally, but some folks were up above and had a better view. Still, it's pretty cool to peer down that tunnel and suddenly see lower Manhattan loom into sight.

The day started out grey, cloudy, and a little drizzly... and pretty much stayed that way, except when it turned into an outright downpour. Still, most folks kept good spirits, despite the weather. I think some of it is the simple joy of cycling... and some of it is the novelty of literally taking over the streets of a major US city with bikes!

The start point was near Battery Park, and took us by the former site of the World Trade Center. This was the first time I'd seen it since 2001, and while it's now a construction site more than anything else, it was still sobering to see. As a kid I would travel from DC to NY to see family, and watched the buildings go up. I still thought of them as a "new" part of the skyline when they fell, and it's still a little shocking to see them missing.

Anyway, we were at the start point, with about 30,000 other cyclists, in plenty of time, well before the 8 am start time. I have no idea why (and if anyone reading this knows, please speak up), but we actually didn't start rolling until about 9:20! Folks were getting pretty antsy by that time, but nobody was getting ugly.

The ride goes up Manhattan on Church St. and the Avenue of the Americas, and into Central Park, which was beautiful, as always. It was fun to roll up such major thoroughfares with no cars to contend with. We did have to dodge some pedestrians along the way (I heard one say "This is the scariest thing I've ever seen!"... not sure why it was scary, but I can understand being a little surprised.) but even they seemed very good natured about the whole thing. I suspect a lot of it must be that the city probably does a pretty good job of letting people know that the event is coming, so they can prepare for it. And the event's been going on for a number of years, so it shouldn't be too much of a shock to residents.

After cruising through Harlem, we hopped over the Manhattan bridge into the Bronx for a very short loop, returning via the 3rd Avenue Bridge. I was a little disappointed to spend such a short time in the Bronx, as my dad grew up there. Even if we had spent more time there though, I doubt we would have visited his neighborhood.

After about 10 minutes there, we were back in Manhattan headed down the East River, on our way to the Queensborough Bridge (aka 59th St. Bridge, as in "Feelin' Groovy"). Here we were on FDR Drive, a very heavily travelled, high speed road, that for this day was closed in one direction for all the cyclists. The bridge itself was quite a challenge... the ride has no real hills to speak of, but some of the bridges are in effect hills, and the Queensborough was the first real challenge on the ride. I had no trouble with it, but being surrounded by a huge number of riders of varying degrees of fitness and experience made the closer quarters of the bridge deck, shall we say, interesting. A few close calls, collision-wise, and a short stretch where I had to "scooter" along with one foot off the pedal... then it was a nice zoom down the bridge into Queens.

At this point in the ride, they must have decided we were running out of time for keeping the roads closed, and the organizers eliminated one loop in Queens, cutting the ride by about 4 miles. We missed out on Astoria Park, and our ride through Queens was abbreviated, putting us in Brooklyn for the next stretch, including a long haul on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (aka BQE).

It was as we were getting onto the BQE that we hit another snag... I'm not entirely certain, but I think the organizers were trying to spread the field out before we got to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It seemed like they were holding us all in place, letting us go a group at a time. A wise move probably, but not so fun for us as it coincided with some of the heaviest rain of the day. There's nothing quite like standing in the pouring rain on a highway ramp with a bunch of other wet cyclists! People kept their senses of humor however, and we were rolling along the highway fairly soon.

Riding across the Verrazano was definitely a high point of the trip, literally and figuratively. The air was cold and damp, and we could all see our breath at that point. The view was limited by the cloudy weather, but it was still pretty cool being up on such a high span. And it was a good feeling to crest the high point and know that the worst of the climbing was past, and it was mostly downhill from here.

The last big official aspect of the ride was the "festival" in a park near the Staten Island end of the bridge. It honestly wasn't that festive... it was really about a bunch of cold, wet cyclists lining up for hot coffee (BIG line!) and porta-johns, before getting back on their bikes for the last three miles back to the ferry. It's really hard to have a party for wet people in a soggy, muddy, waterlogged field! But again, most folks I saw seemed to be in good spirits... there were some who looked a bit shell shocked and chilled, but all in all the tone was upbeat, all things considered.

The last three miles were pretty uneventful, taking us through a largely industrial neighborhood of Staten Island, back to the ferry landing and our shop van. We all arrived safe and sound, if soggy and cold. Luckily for us, John had in mind an Italian restaurant he and his wife Ces had stopped at a few years ago, and they were very gracious in letting this group of damp folk change in their restrooms. After a hot cup of coffee and some really good food there, we all piled into the van for the drive home. Most of the gang was fast asleep, but I was pretty awake, as was John (good thing, since he was driving). I got home around midnight, tired, but happy, and glad that I had done the ride. Maybe again next year! And maybe we'll have better weather!

Here's the rest of the gang early in the ride, I think in Harlem, during a brief pause. That's Luann (of Dream Yoga Studio) barely in the frame on the left, Ces and John on the orange Barcroft recumbent tandem, Robert in back with red helmet and brown (soon to be sodden) sweatshirt, and Lauren (Luann's daughter) in the white jacket.

More photos can be seen at: