Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Happy Tale From The Shop

Now and then we get a bike in for service that has a story to it, and those are always a fun experience for both the owner and us.
Well, recently we were asked to fix up the little bike you see to the left here. It's an unusual bike in its own right, being a child's bike built with lugs, in the mixte frame style (two thin sloping top tubes). I've never laid eyes on such a bike before. It was clearly very well made, a quality bicycle, and very stylish with an elaborate, yet classy paint scheme. And look at the fenders and chain guard! The bike was made in Switzerland in the 70s, and while it arrived a bit grungy with dried out tires, you can see it cleaned up really well, and looks great.
What takes it beyond being merely "another pretty bike" is the story behind it. The fellow who brought it in to us told us his parents had bought it for him from the Jean Brun shop in Geneva, Switzerland, when he was a little boy in the 70s. He was bringing it to us to fix up so his own son could now ride it! Needless to say, we were happy and honored to be a part of the project, resurrecting a fine old bike for the next generation.
One challenge right off was the tires... a size never marketed in the US, as near as I can tell, and difficult to find even in Europe, where they were primarily used on Dutch bikes, I think. Some sleuthing on the part of the father ensued, and one day he arrived with brand new Michelins, shipped from Ireland! Then it was in Daniel's hands, and he did a marvelous job of cleaning and lubing everything, making the bike ready to ride and looking great. He even managed to revive the original bell, much to everyone's surprise.
The best part of the whole project though was when the whole family came to pick up the bike when it was finished. Mom, Dad, older sister Madeleine, and of course Avi, the young boy eagerly waiting for the bike. Even the family dog, Wolfie the toy poodle came along! Everyone was really excited and happy to take part in the "unveiling"... all of my staff as well as the family were all smiles and laughter. It was a really wonderful day. We all wish Avi many, many happy adventures with his "new" bike!

An interesting side note for the bike nuts in the room... Jean Brun is still in business... their website can be found here:  http://www.jeanbrun.ch/

More photos can be found here:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So, what happened? Why no new pictures?

Well, this is kind of embarrassing. Shortly after buying my spiffy new Nikon... I dropped it and damaged the zoom lens. I was out on a bike ride with it in the handlebar bag of my touring bike, and stopped to take a picture of fall foliage. As I've done many times in the past, I kept one foot clipped into a pedal, and planted my other foot, before reaching for the camera. Somewhere in the process, the front wheel flopped to one side and the bike started to fall over, with me still clipped to the pedal. In the scramble that ensued, the camera slipped from my grasp and landed on the front edge of the lens. I checked it out afterwards, and the zoom no longer zoomed the full range, and the autofocus mechanism seemed wonky too. Sigh. At least it's likely to be covered by one of those extended warranties that covers damage from drops and such.

In the meantime though, since the camera body itself escaped damage, I decided to buy an additional lens, so I can continue to use it and learn about it, while the kit lens is in the shop. With so many options, and limited funds, I was in a quandary... so I turned to the internet and found no shortage of advice on such things. One really good site for solid advice is Ken Rockwell's website, which gives all kinds of tips on buying and using camera gear. From Ken and others, the impression I got was that a "prime" lens (fixed focal length, not a zoom) with a wide aperture would be a very handy thing to have. So I bought myself a Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens, and I have to say I'm glad I did. Basically, the 35mm on my D3100 is the equivalent of the 50mm I used for years on my film SLR, a Pentax K1000, and I used that one lens for everything back when I used that camera regularly.

So how do I like it so far? I love it... it's a very nice, sharp lens, and allows me to take pictures in lower light than a zoom would, with the wide aperture. Another plus about an f/1/8 lens is that it gives you a lot of opportunity to play with "depth of field"... so I can take photos where the foreground is very sharp but everything else is fuzzy, or vice versa. And with the various levels of control the camera itself gives me, I can do some fun things with it. Finally, it's a very light and compact lens, so if I was concerned about carrying the lightest bundle of camera gear with me (assuming using this D3100), I'd probably grab just the 35mm lens. While I'll admit a zoom is very handy, there's also something pure and simple about one focal length... it forces you to really think about composition and how to position yourself for a shot.

So despite my mishap, I'm still having fun with my new camera, and getting a better handle on how to use it with each time I shoot.

Some photos with the "prime" lens can be seen here:

Nikon D3100 35mm f/1.8 lens first shots

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn Morning Ride

Got out this morning for a short ride on my Bridgestone RB-2... one of my few "racing" bikes... circa 1992. One of those bikes that kind of inspires spirited riding... note that I didn't say "fast"!  Truth be told, while I was zipping along on my way out of town, feeling alive and strong and fast, a guy in full race kit on some modern high end bike went past me like I was standing still. Okay, maybe not standing still, but definitely out of his league.

But that's ok with me.  I'm happy to ride my own version of "fast" (ish) and still stop and take a few pictures of the beautiful day happening around me.

Gorgeous morning... chilly! Probably about 40 degrees when I went out, wearing a long sleeve wool jersey and cycling tights and wool gloves, plus a windbreaker. Frost on the brush, low angle of the sun in the sky, creatures stirring to start their day or to retreat into the woods for the day. A cluster of 5 - 6 does lingering in the middle of the path, then running into the woods at my approach.  The kind of morning that reminds me of mornings long ago when I would accompany my dad on his bird hunting trips. I never got into hunting... just not my thing. Still those were gorgeous mornings, up and out early, in a beautiful setting, spending time with my dad doing something he loved.

A good start to my day today.

A Treat For the Senses

I just got in from a night walk, and I have to say, it was lovely out there. A night full of sights, sounds, and smells. Crisp, cool night air lends itself to such things, doesn't it?

Just a quick cataloging of the sensory treats -

The smell of a lumberyard... I'd forgotten how delicious the scent of cut wood is.

Remarkably bright stars for a suburban sky... with one bright planet among them.  No idea which one.

Spotting the white-flag tail of a number of deer as they ran away at my approach.

The scent of one of those deer that let me approach closer than most.

Now and then, that strange sizzling sound high voltage power lines make.

The smell of someone's early season fireplace smoke.

Sitting quietly at the bank of a small stream, listening to its many voices, tumbling over rocks.

The quiet peace of a solitary night walk.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Some things never change

Just a short post, but I had to share this...

I was walking from the store to the post office, when I saw a mom and her two little boys getting out of their car to go shopping. As the mom was getting them all sorted out to go in the store, one of the boys pointed down the street and excitedly shouted "A fire engine!!!!!" Mom then told the boys to go over to an empty spot between parked cars so they could "say hi".  As the fire engine approached, the boys excitedly stood at the curb and waved.

How well I remember doing the same thing, many, many years ago. And I think every little boy has that period when there are few things more exciting than a fire truck roaring down the street.

Kinda makes me want to stand at the curb and wait for the next one, you know?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lots to learn, but...

... so far I'm really enjoying this new DSLR!

For about a decade now, I've owned a variety of different point-and-shoot digital cameras, and I've gotten some really nice photos from them. But I've been hankering for a camera with interchangeable lenses and more complete, direct control over the exposure settings. Most of the point-and-shoots I've owned give you some control, but it usually involves sifting through a series of menus to get what you want. Not all that convenient, and in many cases, by the time things are set, the photo opportunity is gone.

Not so with the new Nikon. There's all manner of adjustments I can make, and they're all right at hand, easy to access. It's very, very cool. Now I just need to figure out how to take advantage of all this capability!

I went for a walk yesterday, camera in hand, and got some more practice.  The photo above is one I particularly like. It's the same tree stump you see below, but up close.

More photos are here:

Vienna, VA, 10-21-2011 D3100

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My First DSLR

Well, I took the plunge.  My girlfriend and I have both been contemplating the purchase of a digital single lens reflex camera for some time now, checking all the specs, reading the reviews, comparing prices. Well, this past weekend, we went to a local Penn Camera, and each looked at the two cameras we'd each narrowed our choices down to. I was thinking about the Nikon D3100 and Canon T3, both basic consumer level DSLRs with "kit" lenses of 18mm - 55mm focal length. Based on reviews and such, they seemed a pretty close match, and I've had several Canon point-and-shoot digital cameras that I've really liked, so I was initially leaning toward the T3. Honestly though, handling them both in person, it became clear to me that the Nikon was the better choice... it just felt better in my hands, and seemed more solid. Add to that the fact that both of my girlfriend's choices are Nikons, and the possibility that we might share lenses and such, and that tipped the scales for me.

So now I have it... a pretty spiffy new camera.  Sure, it's a basic model, a "consumer" model, and not a "professional" or even high end "amateur" camera... but it's got all the controls and features I can imagine needing right now, and it's a nice compact, lightweight package that I can easily imagine carrying around on walks or bike rides without feeling like I'm lugging around a huge piece of "camera equipment". I'm really looking forward to learning what it's capable of, and the things I can do with it. I've managed to get some really good shots with my point-and-shoot cameras, but the power and flexibility of a DSLR with interchangeable lenses and a through-the-lens viewfinder is definitely an exciting prospect.

Here's one of my first shots with it...

And a few more are here:

2011-10-18 D3100 First shots

Keep your eyes on the blog for more to come!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Velomobiles Visit Vienna

It's taken me a few days (okay almost a week) to write about this, but better late than never, right?

Last Wednesday, the Roll Over America cross-country velomobile tour paused in Vienna for snacks and lemonade on their final leg into DC. The group left Portland, OR, on July 29, and arrived in Washington on August 24th, averaging 125 miles a day.

So what's a velomobile? It's a human powered recumbent tricycle, with a "fairing" or shell which completely or almost completely encloses both rider and machine. Combining lightweight construction and high quality components with an aerodynamic shell produces a remarkably efficient vehicle capable of great speed.

The point of the ride was to raise awareness of alternative forms of transportation, specifically the bicycle. With fuel costs inevitably rising, concerns about our environment and climate change being discussed everywhere, and traffic congestion growing worse by the day, all manner of alternatives are going to be debated and explored. The folks who rode ROAM feel strongly that the bike is an important part of the picture, and their cross-country tour was meant to make folks think about it. I have to imagine the sight of these sleek, unusual vehicles zooming across America prompted some thought.

I've seen a few velomobiles before,  mostly at trade shows, but never have I been surrounded by a large group of them. Nor have I ever been amongst so many riders and fans of them before. They are pretty remarkable machines, ranging pretty widely in complexity and expense. Some were truly custom, one of a kind vehicles, while others were production models, most notably the Quest from BlueVelo. The riders were a genial bunch, and clearly have enjoyed themselves riding across the US. None of them looked at all ragged or tired from their travels, which at 125 miles a day is pretty remarkable.

Check out my Flickr album here:

Velomobiles in Vienna, VA 8/24/2010

And also follow these links below for more info:




Thursday, August 25, 2011

I see interesting things while riding...

... but this one has me perplexed.

This morning, as I was starting out on a short bike ride, I passed a woman on her triathlon bike. Now, I'm not a very fast rider, more of a "gosh, look at the pretty scenery" sorta guy, so I don't often pass people who are all decked out for speed on a tri bike. In this case though, I flew past her as if she were standing still.

The simple reason being that she WAS standing still! Yes, you can see in the picture, she was riding her tri bike on a stationary trainer, about five feet off the edge of the trail. I was surprised... and puzzled. All I could figure was that she was performing some sort of warmup ritual before heading out on the trail.

But no... when I returned 45 minutes or so later, there she was still, deep in concentration, still spinning away in the same spot.

Me, I really don't enjoy stationary bike riding. I like being outside, in the elements, seeing the world go by. I'll even ride in weather most folk stay home in... I have studded tires on one bike for snow and ice. So the thought of spinning my pedals 'round and 'round while going nowhere is anathema to me. I hate being cooped up inside and staring at a wall while I pedal.

Maybe this was her way of avoiding the monotony. I can understand not wanting to be stuck in a room while riding. But if you're going to take the step of transporting your bike (and trainer) to a spot by the bike trail... um... why not skip the trainer and just ride on the trail? I could understand wanting to avoid coping with cars, perhaps, but this is a long (35 miles from here to the end), smooth, pleasant multi-use trail.

I guess to each their own, but I'm stumped.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Well, I'm going to try to get into a habit of writing again, with some regularity, and what better excuse to start than the earthquake we had in Virginia yesterday?

Yes, that's right... an earthquake in Virginia. By now it's well nigh impossible to have not heard about it, so I won't bore you with the stuff you've heard in the news, aside from the fact that it measured 5.8 or 5.9 on the Richter scale, a fairly strong quake. Oh, and the epicenter was northwest of Richmond, so southwest of where I live.

While I think the DC area is indulging in its tendency to get overwrought about natural events ("Snowmageddon" ring a bell?), I have to admit, it was a little unnerving, as I generally find earthquakes to be. I've been in six or seven of them over the years... and while I've spent some time in California, none of them were there. No, "my" quakes were here, and Portland, OR, Flagstaff, AZ, Salt Lake City, and New Haven, CT. If I had to rank them, the most unnerving was the one in Portland (centered in Seattle, 2001 or so), because it felt like the earth was rolling like surf. Very disconcerting.

But I have to admit, yesterday's was in second place on disconcerting. I was in the bike shop, sitting at the front counter when the big rollup door in front of be began to sway. At first I looked to see if a gust of wind had kicked up, but when the building and ground began to distinctly rock side to side, I knew what it was. The good news is there wasn't any damage at the shop or in my apartment. The bad news is that my cat was very freaked out for hours and hours afterwards!  Ah well, he seems to be back to his old self today.

There's news about some minor structural damage here and there in the area, but no fatalities that I know of, and no major injuries or damage. They were talking about the possibility that what we had was a "foreshock", meaning worse was yet to come, but so far we've just had some small aftershocks, none of which I've noticed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

FloydFest X!

It's taken me a week to get around to writing this, but it's been a busy week.

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I headed down to Southwest Virginia for FloydFest, an outdoor, multi-venue music festival now in it's 10th year. If you don't know (and I didn't until a couple of years ago) SW VA has long been a hotbed of fine bluegrass music. FloydFest had a huge array of musicians over 4 days, but we only made it down for 2 days. Still, a wonderful time.

I can't possibly touch on everything we did and saw, but here are a few highlights -

Taj Mahal on Saturday evening was a truly fun way to end the day. His energy and presence on stage, the way he works a crowd, all of it... just incredible. A consummate performer, and a very talented musician. And the crowd just loved it.

The Tony Rice Unit was amazing! Truly gifted musicians playing Tony's signature mix of bluegrass and jazz on guitars, bass, fiddle, and mandolin. Tony's guitar playing was delightful to watch... he's one of those guys who makes great playing look easy, and he seems to be enjoying himself so much as he plays. 

At the end of that set, David Grisman came out on stage and joined in on mandolin. Very cool, and a nice lead in to the next set, which was the David Grisman Sextet.  Aside from the truly great musicianship and Grisman's stage presence (he is a character, I have to say), this set was fascinating because the weather took  a major part. The day was full of changes, and the Grisman set saw sunshine, rain, and a truly mystical, beautiful fog that rolled in at one point. 

The last act we saw was the last act of the whole event... the Del McCoury Band.  I'll confess, coming late to the world of bluegrass, I really didn't know anything about them, but I am so glad I got to see Del and his sons and band live.  Wow! Some truly amazing playing and singing. Much more "old school" than some of the other acts, and a lot of fun to watch on stage. And at one point, Del's GRAND son came out on stage to join in on guitar. I have to imagine it's wonderful to share the music you love across three generations of family.

Late in the Del McCoury set, Peter Rowan (who we had seen earlier in the day and is also a great act) and David Grisman came out and joined in, making for a really lively, fun, brilliant finale to a terrific four day event.

Part of me wishes I'd been there for the whole thing, to get the "full experience"... but honestly, I'm not sure it wouldn't have left me feeling overwhelmed. Guess I'd have to try it to know for sure.

One thing that worked out brilliantly for us was bringing our Brompton folding bikes. The event had remote parking lots and shuttle buses to the venue, but we zoomed back and forth, over the rolling hills of SW VA on our Bromptons, while others stood in line for the buses. Great fun, and very convenient. Oh, and the bike rack on the back of the car? Just there because we didn't bother to take it off. The Bromptons folded up and tucked into the back with the rest of our luggage.

Oh, and speaking of lines... we had earlier discussed possibly camping on site, as that's an option offered at FloydFest. Upon seeing the actual grounds though... and the VERY long line for showers (you know it's bad when they install benches), we were just as happy we'd found a great hotel with a last minute cancellation. A lovely, big room with jacuzzi and porch, and on our last day there, one of the other guests was playing banjo softly on the deck as we packed up.  Very nice!

More photos and a few videos can be seen at:  FloydFest X

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Instructions and translations

We've all seen them... instructions that were clearly translated from another language, phrased in such a way as to cause confusion and sometimes mirth.  Well, today I ran across a good one...

A new Canon multi-function printer... in the setup manual, in the very first step, where they tell you to remove the various bits of tape and packing material, complete with illustrations.  There's a little note that says: "The tape and protective materials may differ in shape and position from what they actually are."

Huh??????????? Now there's a metaphysical mystery... how can something differ from what it actually is?  Hmmmmm...

Now I know they MEANT to say that the pictures of the packing material might be different from the actual items, but...

We all got a good chuckle out of that one.

But nothing will ever beat the gooseneck flashlight instructions I once read... it had a rotary switch on the lens, marked with an arrow in the direction you were to turn the switch... and the instructions read:

"Turn as an arrow, again and again, but not to conversely."

Sounds like some kind of Zen thing, doesn't it?

Now I wonder... did that flashlight differ from what it actually was???

A good morning's ride

Yesterday I got out for a morning ride for the first time in a week or two.  Our weather here has been pretty miserable... hazy, hot and humid.  Temperatures near 100° and a heat index between 105° and 110°.  Blech!  But Wednesday dawned clear and cooler... while I wouldn't call it "cool", it's all relative, and it was much nicer than it's been, so off I went.  LOTS of folks out on the trail, enjoying this break in the heat.  And I had a chance to ride for a short way with one of my regular customers... a very nice fellow who rides a couple of older road bikes, mostly for transportation. I've seen him now and then out there, but we've been going opposite directions. Yesterday we actually rode side by side for a while, which was fun.

This time the remarkable wildlife sighting was a sad one... a little bluebird, dead on the pavement.  I don't seeing wildlife killed any time, but bluebirds seem so precious and rare, it seemed somehow sadder than seeing a sparrow.  Of course, that's really kind of a strange value judgement, isn't it? And it calls to mind both the old Simon and Garfunkel song "Sparrow", and the passage in the Bible about God knowing when a sparrow falls.

The crepe myrtles are still in bloom, but beginning to fade I think. Still lovely though.

Trek 530 (cherry tomatoes behind!)
Today's bike was my 1978 Trek 530, the "racier" of my old steel Treks. Set up with mostly original parts, from the Shimano 600 "Arabesque" group. A very nice riding bike, and a very smooth shifting drivetrain. And I'm constantly amazed at how well Trek's paint jobs from that era hold up. They (and many other US builders) used a DuPont paint called Imron, that's very durable and pretty.  And unfortunately very toxic to work with, if I recall correctly!

Monday, July 25, 2011

HOT here in DC

As anybody in the area knows, we've been stuck with a heat wave here, with temperatures right around 100 degrees, with a "heat index" of 105 to 110 some days. Add to that some lousy air quality, and it really hasn't been great riding weather.

But that doesn't stop everyone. Folks are still getting out there on their bikes... some by riding in the wee hours of the morning. One customer told me the other day he had plans to go riding at 3 in the morning! I can't say I've ever resorted to that for weather reasons, but I have been on my bike at all hours.

Customer trying out M6R Brompton
One pleasant surprise has been the number of people coming and test riding bikes and trikes at our shop during this spell. We take pains to make sure folks don't overdo it, and we ply them liberally with water, and off they go, trying bike after bike. Granted, I think fewer of them are taking LONG test rides, but they are at least getting enough of a ride to help decide.

On my own part, yesterday my girlfriend and I took a 30 mile round trip ride into DC. Why, you might ask? Well, there's an exhibit at the National Geographic about the 1911 expeditions to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott... and what better way to spend a few hours on a blazingly hot day than to learn about the struggles of polar explorers? Seriously though, it's a riveting tale, and told very well by the exhibit. If you don't really know much about the "Race to the End of the Earth" as they call it, I highly recommend checking out the exhibit, if you're in the area. If you can't make it, there's also a book published by the curator of the exhibit that looks likely to be excellent: Race to The End: Amundsen, Scott, and the Attainment of the South Pole.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Great 4th of July Ride!

It was nothing spectacular, and it almost didn't come off at all, but my girlfriend and I had a great ride on the 4th. She lives over in suburban Maryland, so we took a route down through Rock Creek Park into the city, to Georgetown, and came back via the Capital Crescent and Georgetown Branch trails, passing back through Rock Creek Park near the end.

The weather wasn't terribly inspirational... grey overcast and a hefty amount of moisture in the air. We ultimately decided to get out on our bikes and do the "Georgetown Loop" as we call it. And we were both really glad we did. A very nice ride, not as hot as we'd feared, and the trails and roads weren't terribly crowded.

Unicyclist in parade
An interesting twist at the start... we ended up at the tail end of Takoma Park's 4th of July parade. We didn't really see much... just a group that to be centered around the "9/11 Truth" movement (we'll leave that discussion for some other forum). The highlight of that particular demonstration was the rather skilled unicycle rider who did tricks while the parade went by.

Downed trees on Capital Crescent trail
Also, during the ride we encountered the after-effects of a recent thunderstorm. The Capital Crescent trail (and C&O Canal, which parallels the CC for a ways) was blocked by a number of fallen trees across the path. They were all passable, but required lifting our bikes over the fallen trees, and diverting to the Canal for a short stretch. Apparently it's even worse further west along the canal, with a lot of fallen trees blocking the path near White's Ferry. Even more upsetting, there was apparently a fatality from a falling tree up in that area on Sunday!

But we didn't know any of that as we rode along, and despite the minor obstacle course, were back on our bikes and rolling along again pretty quickly.

Our Bridgestone bikes, parked at a rest stop in Bethesda, MD

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Morning Ride

Well, it was very humid this morning, and it started to sprinkle just a little as I was headed home, but I still had a nice morning ride.

One highlight...  The blackberries are starting to ripen! Ever since I was a kid, playing in the woods and fields around home, I've loved that aspect of summer... the dark, sweet berries, so delicious... all the more so for the nicks and cuts gotten picking them. As I understand it, blackberries are a "boundary plant", meaning they thrive where woods and open spaces meet... which means bike paths are an ideal location for them! Sure enough, the W&OD has quite a few brambles along the trail, and I had my first taste of ripe, wild blackberries for this season.  Yum!

Another bright spot in today's otherwise overcast ride as sighting a few goldfinches zooming and darting through the air along the way. Such gorgeous birds! So graceful, agile and bright. Too quick to get a picture of, but still nice to see.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Trip to Chincoteague

Driftwood shell art on the beach.
People add pieces to it every day.
Well, it's taken me far too long to sit down and write this out, but I wanted to share the trip to Chincoteague, VA that my girlfriend and I took the weekend of June 11th - 13th. For those of you who don't know, Chincoteague is a tiny island off the tip of Virginia's part of the Eastern Shore. It was made famous in a series of children's books, the most famous of which is Misty of Chincoteague, which tells a tale based around the wild ponies of neighboring Assateague Island. The ponies on the island are in two distinct herds, and the Virginia herd is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept, which rounds up ponies every year and auctions off some of them.

Anyway, Christy and I had talked about visiting there for quite a while, since we'd both been avid readers of the books, and had both been there some years ago, but hadn't visited in a long time. So I managed to make a deal with Bruce, my trusted lieutenant at the shop, and we took three days off together to camp down there. And despite less than meticulous planning on my part, we had a wonderful time!

View of marsh and lighthouse from our site
To begin with, we ended up with a really great campsite, at the Maddox Family Campground, on Chincoteague. Remarkably convenient to both the beach (which is part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge) and downtown Chincoteague, it has a large open area for tents at the edges of the campground. We pitched our tent far from any neighboring tents and had a lovely view of the marsh and lighthouse... and enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitoes and biting flies away! I couldn't have hoped for a better site for our first camping trip together.

This fellow acted tough as long as I kept my distance
Assateague has beautiful sandy beaches, and if you're willing to walk a ways, you can have a stretch of it just about to yourself. We took several long walks where most of the living creatures we saw were birds, crabs, and dolphins.  One particularly lucky sighting was a bald eagle, zooming very low over the waves. I've seen a number of baldies along bays and rivers and streams, but never one right over the ocean. Of course we saw plenty of gulls, but they were mostly Laughing Gulls, not the more familiar Herring Gull. We also saw several flights of Pelicans and watched their wild display of diving for fish, smashing into the water with a great splash.  I've also never seen anywhere near as many Osprey in one day as we saw on our walks... truly astonishing.

Click to enlarge -
If you look really closely, to the
right of the birds, you can just
make out dolphin fins!
Perhaps the best animal sighting wasn't really a "sighting" strictly speaking. We saw several schools of dolphins during our walks, which we both really got excited about. The coolest part was when Christy suddenly realized she was hearing the dolphins... she was floating on her back, with her head tipped back, and heard a steady, loud clicking sound. I checked it out too, and sure enough, there it was. Neither one of us had ever heard them in the wild before, so it was a very fun discovery.

See him? By the middle
clump of brown needles.
The Refuge also has some trails running through it, a few of which are "multi-use", so we unfolded our Brompton folding bikes and tootled around the marshes and woods for a while, stopping to watch a bald eagle perching in a tree. It was pretty far away, and hard to spot, but as is so often the case, once you find it, you can't imagine how you didn't see it in the first place.

Of course, no visit to Chincoteague and Assateague would be complete without ponies. We actually only saw a few small bands out in the wild (I think the Maryland end might be better for wild pony sightings), but we also visited the Chincoteague Pony Center in town. There we visited the gift shop, but mostly just stood and watched and petted the ponies. Some things you never grow out of... it's fun to see people of all ages just stand and smile and touch these beautiful animals.

My Laughing Gull kite and Scott Sled

Another first for us on this trip was kiteflying... well, the first time we've ever done it together. Long ago, in my teens, I helped start up a kite making company with my then-brother-in-law, and I've owned and flown a variety of kites on and off over the years ever since. The beach is always a fun place for kites, so I brought some along, and one evening after our walk we put a few up in the air and just relaxed and enjoyed the feel of a tug on the string and the dancing of kites in the air. One of the several kites we flew was of my own design, built over 30 years ago (wow), in the image of a Laughing Gull. It had been one of our popular models back when the business was going strong, and it still flies great, if I may say so myself. My girlfriend flew a classic delta, as well as the yellow Scott Sled you see to the left, both also more than 30 years old.

It wasn't all sand and sun and water and wilds for us though... the town of Chincoteague is very charming, and has a bunch of shops and restaurants and a museum to visit. We didn't get to everything (so darn, we'll have to go back!), but we got a nice taste of the town by wandering the main street and ducking into some shops. Among the sights we took in were the Volunteer Fire Deptarment's firehouse on Main Street, the Roxy Theatre (where Misty put her hoofprints), and a lovely little memorial/statue of Misty, based on one of Wesley Dennis' wonderful illustrations from the book.  And of course we indulged ourselves with some ice cream... is it possible to go to the beach and not do so? I think not.

All in all a wonderful, fun, relaxing trip. Too short, of course, but most vacations are. This way we've always got more to see and do and all the more reason to go back.

Assateague Lighthouse

More photos -

Chincoteague/Assateague June 11-14, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Another morning ride on the W&OD this morning. And today was even more of the "Three Hs - Hazy, Hot, and Humid! You could feel and see it in the air, as the photo shows. As for my usual "critter report", today I saw both a pretty large black rat snake and a garter snake crossing the trail. Alas, both were far too quick to get a picture. Aside from that, a few birds and a chipmunk or two.

What set this morning apart was when I suddenly heard voices behind me... women's voices... a number of them, approaching. I sound found myself being passed by a group of 8 - 10 women on bikes, which isn't that common an event on the trail. I don't mean it's unusual for me to be passed by female cyclists... honestly, I'm not that fast a rider, so lots of folks pass me. What was unusual was seeing this large a group of women together on bikes.

And what made it all the more interesting was when they settled into a pace that neatly matched my own, so I could sit at the back of the group and observe. What I saw fascinated me. Compared to a similar group of men, these women were actually TALKING to one another as they rode. And enjoying each others' company! Now, I'm not saying men never talk while riding, and never enjoy riding together... but I'm hard pressed to say I can ever recall seeing a group of more than three men on bikes having much social interaction among themselves.

And it's not that these women were just dawdling along, chatting away. They were riding at a good, steady clip, and all seemed to be fit and for the most part, experienced riders. It's just that they included actual conversation into their ride in a way I rarely see in groups of male riders. I don't know if it's simply that men aren't as talkative in general, or that male riders are more "serious" (I mean in terms of image, not substance) and competitive when riding, or what it is, but it does seem there's a general difference.

Sadly, one other thing I realized set this group of women apart from the male riders, both solo and in groups, that pass me on the trail. As this group passed me this morning, nearly each and every one of them warned me politely and clearly of their approach. More often than not, the more "serious" male cyclists simply blow by without a word, heads down, as if I weren't there.

I know I'm painting with a bit of a broad brush here, but I don't think I'm totally off the mark. What do you folks think?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hot this morning!

So, I went out for a ride this morning about 8am, and it was already really warm... over 80 degrees, and growing warmer by the minute it seemed.

The bike today was my 1992 Bridgestone RB-2. It's the "raciest" bike I have, in the modern sense. It's got a long top tube and the stem has a long "reach" as well, so it stretches me out more than most of my bikes, as well as skinny, "fast" tires.

Ironically, today I chose to take a side trip on the bridle trail that parallels the bike path! I'd reached my turn-around point, and the simplest way to turn back was to use the bridle path to reverse direction. Once I had done that, I figured what the heck, I'd stick to it a ways. The bike handled it perfectly fine... I wouldn't pick it out for a day of dirt riding, but with a little care and attention, it zipped right along in the dirt.

Which gave me a chance to see something I'd not seen along the trail before. There's an auto repair shop near the trail that has set up a table and chairs beside the trail, as well as a couple of bird feeders and a bird house. I imagine the staff must enjoy lunch outside, and appreciate the birds that visit the feeders. It's nice to see something like that.

And once again, I saw a box turtle along the trail. I first saw him on the way out, on the path itself, slowly making his way across from the far side.  When I was on my return trip, he was back at the edge of the path, as if he'd been picked up and put back where he'd started. Yet he was still slowly making his way toward the other side. I figured if he was so set on getting across, I'd give him a hand, so I picked him up and place him in the grass on the other side.

And finally, here's a cool shot I got of a bumblebee just as he was taking off from a flower.

All in all, another nice ride, despite the heat.

A few more pics can be seen here:  W&OD, June 8, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sometimes you see the darnedest things!

This evening, as my girlfriend and I were walking her dogs in her neighborhood, I pointed to a house we've passed many times before and said "I wonder why there's a 30 cubic yard dumpster in front of that house?" (And yes, thanks to my theatre career, I can tell the capacity of a dumpster on sight.) We speculated a little and came to the conclusion that they were probably renovating an apartment while it was vacant, and that's why there was a refrigerator, cabinets, sink and other items in the dumpster. I thought nothing more of it...

... until I was walking back to her place alone (she'd met friends for dinner, and I'm minding the dogs tonight)... and as I was nearing the same house, noticed a pickup truck in front... with the bed full of material from the dumpster... and the fridge resting on top of a steel rack over the cab of the pickup truck. Now, this wasn't a huge shock in itself... heck, "picking" has reached the point where the History Channel has a TV show about it! No, what was surprising was the fact that there was only ONE guy doing the picking.  I didn't want to make a big deal of it, so I surreptitiously watched while walking past... and saw him single-handedly wrestle what I imagine was a pretty heavy set of metal cabinets out of the dumpter. Impressive in its own right, but I would have loved to have seen how the heck he singlehandedly got a refrigerator out of the far end of a dumpster, across a small patch of lawn, and on TOP of a rack over the cab of the pickup truck! I saw no evidence of any sort of machinery, such as a winch or "come-along", so he must have just hauled it by brute force.

Definitely impressive. I hope he makes enough money doing this to pay whatever doctor's bills he may incur if he keeps this up!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Do You Know Where Your Cyclecomputers Are?

Yes, the obvious answer is "right there, on my handlebars, where else?"

But you see, I've moved a few times in the last couple of years, and each time my organizational scheme seems to fall apart somewhere, and as a result, I don't know where most of mine are! As regular readers, friends, family and my staff knows, I own a LOT of bikes... and most of them have the wheel magnets, pickups, and wiring harnesses of some sort of bike computer attached to them. But at the moment, I have no clue where most of the main computer units are for most of my bikes! Somewhere there's a box...

So, as a result, most of my rides lately have been of indeterminate time, speed, and distance. And you know what? I don't mind that at all. There was a time it probably would have bugged me, when I carefully logged all of my miles, and average speed, with notes about the weather and type of ride (commuting, group, solo, casual, fast, etc.). Nowadays, it just doesn't seem as important to me... I'm out there just to have a good time. I'm slower than lots of folks, and faster than some, and that's fine with me. I don't need to know the specifics all the time.

That's not to say I'm going to throw out all my computers when I do find them... I'm just not in a panic about finding them, and doubt that I'll be very consistent at tracking my stats when I do find them. It's all about the fun, you know?

Here's the Bike of the Day, my 1978 Centurion, bought for a song back when I worked at the Community Cycling Center in Portland, OR.  Mostly original, and a classy looking bike, no?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You Never Know How Folks Will Use Their Bikes

Josh here came by the shop just to say hi today... and to tell us how much he has enjoyed owning his Batavus Personal Delivery Bike. That sort of thing is always nice to hear, but what made this visit even better was hearing how Josh has used this bike... it just might surprise you!

Most folks see these bikes and think purely of "utilitarian" uses for it... shopping at the grocery store, or a trip to the farmer's market, maybe even hauling some hardware and materials home from the hardware store. But looking at the bike that way is really limiting... for example, many of you may recall seeing John Brunow carrying his chocolate labrador, Java, around in a big basket on the front of an orange Batavus.

Well, Josh here has done even more wonderful things and unexpected things with his PDB. He's ridden it on the C&O Canal, all the way up to Cumberland, MD, 185 miles away... AND back again in the same trip! He said it was perfect for the trip, with its comfortable ride and stability... plus the ability to carry all of his gear securely. It reminded me that years ago, when "10-speeds" were just becoming all the rage, the Washington Post carried an article about cycling the Canal, and recommended a lowly 3-speed over the fancier 10-speeds, because of their comfort and stability over rough surfaces. Josh has shown that it's still a great option today.

But he didn't stop there... he's even ridden the Batavus on RAGRAI... the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa! Many of you know from John Brunow's tales that this is a week long party on wheels, where thousands of cyclists on all manner of bikes pedal across the great state of Iowa. Well, Josh took his Batavus on that trek, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

And yet that's not really the best part... Josh has found the bike fits into his family life as well. This past weekend, he took his kids on their first overnight bike camping trip, on the C&O Canal and W&OD Rail Trail, including a Potomac River crossing on White's Ferry, carrying all of their gear on his trusty Batavus. And today he when he stopped by, he'd just helped his daughter carry gear to a softball game before he came to see us.

It's always fun to hear how folks find ways to make the bikes they have fit into their lives, enriching their lives. It brings a smile to my face when I see how such a simple machine can make such a difference. Does anyone out there have a similar tale of adventures on unlikely bikes?

Friday, May 27, 2011

First Fixed Foray in Forever

Yeah, I know, too much alliteration! But this morning I took the first ride on a fixed gear bike in a long time. I woke up before my alarm (I've moved recently and my new place gets a lot of light in the morning!) and decided I'd go for a short ride before work. Debating which bike to ride (yeah, when you own a lot, you have to think about it), I decided the Fuji track bike was the choice of the day... both for the simplicity of one gear and because I figured it'd be a bit more of a workout on a short ride.

It was a beautiful morning, not too hot yet, and everything is green and growing and filling the air with amazing scents. Not a lot is blooming along the trail at this point... some honeysuckle and one or two other white blossoms I couldn't readily identify. Not a lot of wildlife either... just a chipmunk and this box turtle, who was slowly making his way across the path. I decided I'd intervene on his behalf and move him off to the grass at the side, lest someone came zipping along and ran into him.

The only real negative of the whole ride was about a block from home, when I rode over a spot where they had just filled a pothole. A small hunk of gravel got picked up by my tire (helped by the sticky tar, I think), and lodged itself between the tire and the fork crown, adding a sudden amount of drag to my forward motion. Not catastrophic, just annoying, and luckily I was close to home.

All in all a lovely ride, and well worth the effort to get out early.

A few more photos here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/43828356@N00/sets/72157626692741293/

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bicycles Triumphant!

Yesterday was a big day... the Bike/Car/Bus Challenge out in Reston, Virginia, not far from me here in Vienna! An event where folks "raced" to get from A to B by each of three different modes of transportation. Bruce Wright, longtime bikes@vienna employee, chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling and friend of mine was triumphant! Check it out at the links below.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

At the Vienna Green Expo

Lots of vendors, contractors, and advocacy groups gathered to extoll the virtues of going green. We are here showing folding bikes tonight. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I'm not really one to put a lot of weight into dates and years and such, but since we're now a half hour into my 50th year in this life, it's at least worth a few comments.

First, I honestly don't "feel 50"... though I can't tell you what that's supposed to feel like, so I guess it doesn't matter.  I've never really known what is it to feel a certain age... sure, I can tell my body doesn't recover from sleeping on the ground as readily as it used to, and when I smile I get those little smile wrinkles around my eyes. Lord knows my hair long ago passed the "going grey" phase, though there's still some brown in there yet. But as far as "feeling my age"? Not so much.  I feel like me. Always have.

That being said, a look back at a year ago, and a lot has happened. A year ago I had no idea that I'd be taking over bikes@vienna and becoming a small business owner. I had no clue that my boss and good friend John was going to move and hand over his creation to me. And I didn't know that I'd be in a great relationship with the lovely woman I'm with. Add to that an unplanned, short notice move back in October, AND an impending second move at the end of this month, and it certainly hasn't been dull for me, this last bit of my forties - beginning of my fifties.

So, I guess I'd just like to say... well, happy birthday to me!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Great night of great music

Well, tonight was a lot of fun!  My girlfriend treated me and her cousin to an evening at the Birchmere, a DC area music club that's been around since 1966, and has at one time or another featured a huge range of great music.  Tonight we saw the Wailin Jennys, a female folk/"new grass" trio that has been featured on Prairie Home Companion a few times.  Amazing harmonies and solid instrumental work coupled with great songwriting and lovely renditions of traditional pieces and you end up with a delightful evening.

A few things stood out for me, aside from the overall excellent quality of the performances.  One was a truly beautiful rendition of "Your Long Journey", a great song by Doc and Rosa Lee Watson... it's the kinda song that just gets you where you live, and the Jennys really sang it well tonight.  Another cover they performed earlier in the evening was an Emmylou Harris tune, "Deeper Well".  About halfway through that one, my girlfriend leaned over to me and indicated she wasn't that crazy about it... which I found interesting on a couple of counts.  First, because I had just been thinking "there's something about the viola player's style that's vaguely reminiscent of David Cross in the old King Crimson days" (a comparison which might seem deeply weird to some)... and second because it seemed subtly different from the other songs this evening.  How so?  Well, maybe I'm off base here, and I don't claim to be a musical expert, but it seemed as if the instrumental work in all the other tunes really didn't call attention to itself, but supported the gorgeous vocals of the trio, while the viola part in "Deeper Well" seemed too... well, forward is the word that springs to mind.  It wasn't bad, not at all... it just called attention to itself in a way none of the other instrumental work did.

One other thing that struck me tonight.... Over the many years I worked as a theatre technician and lighting designer, people often asked if I had a hard time watching live performances without internally critiquing the lighting and scenery.  And I was always able to answer, totally honestly, that no, I never really did that while watching shows I didn't work on.  Well, since I've left the business, that no longer seems to be true, and tonight was no exception.  It's not that I sat the whole evening picking apart the lighting... far from it.  But I did find myself from time to time thinking "if they only had a little top or backlight here..." or "why on earth did they put a light cue THERE?"  Knowing the business as I do, I know the challenges and limitations, and I understand why things aren't always as "artful" as I might like.... but now and again I thought "if I were lighting this..."  Kinda funny, and it in no way detracted from a wonderful night.

All in all a great evening.  I don't get out for live music very often, but when I do I really enjoy it a great deal.  Good music, good company, and good food... what more could one ask for?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Progress on V-O Mixte

Well, it's been slow going on building up the Velo Orange Mixte for my girlfriend.  I've been a bit busy with adjusting to being a business owner, for one thing.  And while the bike shop season hasn't really "hit" yet, we've been teased with just enough spring-like weather to ramp up the demands on the service area, so I've been busy with that too.

But I did manage to get some work done the other evening.  Specifically, I prepared the frame and fork for headset installation, then installed the headset and fork.

For those that may not know, the headset is the bearing assembly that allows the fork to turn smoothly. It's important that the head tube (the part of the frame the headset fits into) have nice, smooth, clean, round bores into which the headset is pressed.  In addition, the top and bottom "faces" of the head tube need to be parallel to each other and have a nice flat surface to them.  A bit of time and care with the proper tools, and all is good.  Similar work generally has to be done to the fork to prepare it as well.

Once the frame and fork have been prepared, the headset simply gets pressed into place, using a special tool that applies a good amount of force while helping assure alignment as it presses the pieces in. It's entirely possible to do it using homemade solutions, but I have the benefit of a well equipped bike shop at my disposal!

The final step to the process is sliding the fork into the headtube, through the headset cups, then installing the adjustable cup and lock nut on top.  Final adjustment will happen later when the bike is just about complete.

I chose a Velo Orange Grand Cru headset, which looks spiffy and has sealed, cartridge bearings, which hold up well and make for easy servicing down the road.

Meanwhile, the front wheel with Shimano Dynohub is ready to go, and the rear wheel with Shimano Nexus 8 speed internally geared hub is awaiting final tensioning and truing.  Most of the rest of the parts have been gathered, and will be addressed as we proceed.

More photos are here:

Velo Orange Mixte 3-6-2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

On McAfee's Knob

Taken from the top of McAfee's Knob in the beautiful Blue Ridge of Southwestern Virginia!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring is on its way?!?!

One of my favorite views near Great Falls, MD
Valentine's Day found my girlfriend and me out on the C&O Canal on our bikes, on a beautiful, sunny day, with temps in the 60s!  It was gorgeous out there, and there were lots of birds and squirrels and even one perhaps over-eager turtle, basking on a log!  It had all the makings of a perfect day...

... except for the thick, wheel-sucking mud!

That's my gf, making better headway on her "regular" bike.
Yep, all that melted snow and ice resulted in some truly amazing mud.  It was challenging enough for my girlfriend, on her conventional bike with 700c wheels, but for me on my Brompton Folding Bike with 16" wheels, it was truly a slog!  I was amazed at how quickly I slowed to a crawl, and at times a complete stop, in the sticky bits.  At times, my tires sank down to where the inner face of the rim was even with the surface of the mud to either side.  I can't recall a ride in recent memory that was such hard work, and this on basically level ground.

Still, it was a beautiful day, and I'm still glad we got out on our bikes.  I just wish we'd picked a paved surface to ride on.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Note:  I don't normally run duplicate posts between our shop blog and here, but this one just seemed too good not to share.

Now and then a customer comes in with a way of doing something that I just find amazing. Well, last Friday was one of those days.

Mike rides his high end handcycle competitively, and rides in events all over the place. He keeps us posted on the events in which he races, and we also keep an eye on him on Facebook.

Today he showed me how he manages to cram both his handcycle and his wheelchair into a medium sized sedan. Now, that may not seem like such a big deal if you've never seen a bike like this up close, but trust me, it's quite a feat. So much so I just had to take a few pictures.

First, here's Mike in his car:

And here's the cycle and wheelchair inside:

And finally, here's the cycle ready to roll:

It's pretty amazing to see it all inside, honestly. Even more impressive is that he manages to pack the car by himself!