Cool Rollings II

If there needs to be further evidence that outdoor cycling activity wanes as the hours of sunlight lessen and the temperature drops, I found it today.  My ride was 36.95 miles, out to Ashburn Road and back.  Along the way I encountered no riders on my side of the trail—I passed nobody, and nobody passed me.  I saw maybe seven or eight guys (no women) cycling in the opposite direction.  There were several walkers, and a few groups of two or three moms pushing baby carriages, but the W&OD is a lonely place these weekdays.

The loneliness is actually pleasant, because it’s quiet, undemanding, serene.  And anyhow I’m not really “alone.”  Besides the walkers and the sporadic inline blade skaters and skateboarders there are crossroads with cars (I waved “thanks” to more drivers than I saw cyclists today), overhead contrails and the distant roar of the jet aircraft that produce them, and the quiet but intense action of nature along the trail, from the rippling streams to the flutter of birds to the dash of squirrels to the dogs on leashes to the definitely unleashed seven-point buck who paraded regally along the trail in my direction, but on the grass border on the opposite side of the asphalt.

Riding on a day like this is really comfortable, too.  One key is the wind.  There was none today, essentially.  Flags hung limp.  Even though cyclists are sensitive to headwinds and tailwinds—a light breeze can seem like a gale when you’re riding uphill into it—I could never decide today when I had a headwind and when I didn’t.  When it’s 45° wind is a cycling factor, because “wind chill” is real.  But while all it means to a weather forecaster is that the air will “feel” 5 or 8 degrees cooler when I step outside, to a bike rider it means that the skin on my face will feel almost like it’s freezing if I am riding into a 10 mph wind at 40°.  So the absence of wind is a luxury in this weather.

Then there’s clothing.  Two or three years ago I discovered Arctic Guard™ Thermaguard base layers.  “Baselayer” is a highly technical athletic apparel term.  To lay readers, it can be considered synonymous with “underwear.”  My Arctic Guard™ baselayer jerseys are thin, light, feel like silk, and yet provide incredible thermal protection.  Their thinness is much needed, because my lined cycling jerseys are (intentionally) tight-fitting.  They extend the downward temperature range of the jerseys about 10°, and when combined with my Gore-Tex® winter jacket make me confident that my core will remain warm past the point that my exposed skin can take the frigid air.

Such protection is needed, now that we’re at the point when even at noon the shadows of trailside signposts extend all the way across the bike path.  The sun lurks so low in the sky that I’m tempted to paraphrase the title of an old comedy film and say that “winter suns can’t jump.”  The sun has no “hang time” at all.  Michael Jordan or that other “Mike,” Baryshnikov, could get higher than the sun is these days.  But of course they were stars, not suns.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.


Bladed Spokes


round spokes

Old-fashioned conventional round spokes.

A while back I mentioned in passing that the rear wheel of my Trek had suffered a fatal injury when one of the spokes pulled itself and the nipple, along with the surrounding bit of metal, away from the metal rim.  The bike shop replaced it with a new Bontraeger Race wheel, a slight upgrade, which came with bladed spokes.  I’d commented on such spokes even earlier, implying that they are a technological frill.

But gosh, I was so wrong.  In fact, they are stiffer than the usual round-profile spokes, and the blade profile is mostly for strength and stability, not aerodynamics.  The attached photos make the advantage obvious, I think.  First, the laughably old-fashioned, Neanderthal-era wire spokes, simply extruded, I assume, through a die like wire in any one of several diameters.  Then the modern, hip, stylish, and high-tech bladed spokes, which are not only extruded but, I guess, rolled.  Note how the  profile changes just a few mm beyond the nipple.  And please admire the cool asymmetry of the Bontraeger logo paint job.

bladed spokes

Fresh bladed spokes with nifty logo paint job.

I’m almost thinking of having a little “accident” so I can justify a matching front wheel.  I take the look of my bike seriously, and was bummed when they replaced a broken spoke a year ago with a silver one because they didn’t have a black-painted spoke to match the others.  Can’t justify going out there and spending another $200+ unless I “have to.”  After all, I’m responsible to a higher power, one who might just say “honey, why is there a big charge from Spokes, etc. on our credit card bill?”  But having all bladed spokes would put me totally in the avant garde, on the cutting edge, in the know, and super-cool.  As my godson Fred would say, “fresh.”

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

Cool Rollings I

I collect all the items for a Sunday afternoon ride.  It’s November, and the clock is working its way around to 1:00.  Still breezy after another minor weather shift: a costal low way offshore is pumping air from the North Atlantic in on a northeast vector.  Sun’s out, though, and I’m ready to go.

The garage faces south, and the white paint catches the sun, creating a deceptive microclimate of warmth.  It will be cooler and windier out on the road, but it’s nice to feel a last kiss of balminess as I top off the tires to 8 atmospheres (116 lbs.) while the Trek leans against the garage door.  It’s an essential part of my pre-ride ritual; neglect of lubrication and tire pressure causes more basic maintenance problems than anything else.  Early in my riding life I incurred a wholly unnecessary flat just because I didn’t realize that tires lose 5% to 10% of their air pressure on every ride.  Never again.

Rolling fast down Academy Street, a sweeping left onto Jackson Parkway, then uphill to the right-of-way, the cool of the wind is evident.  I’ve worn a mock turtle neck warmer, a lined, long sleeve jersey (black and white with blue and yellow logo art: GT Bikes, Shimano, Michelin man, Nike swoosh) and base layer, padded shorts with leggings over, Assos Early Winter socks, Performance lined gloves, lined skull cap, shoes and helmet.  This is pretty standard garb for me in the 45°-55° range.  I see people riding in shorts and even short sleeves under 50°, but I’m all for reasonably healthy comfort.  Feeling the chill, and I remind myself that I have dressed for the middle of the ride, by which time my metabolism will be up, burning calories and thus generating heat.

The northeast breeze gives me a tailwind as I ride out toward Vienna and then beyond to Reston and Herndon.  Traffic is light both on the trail and the road crossings, and most of the trail traffic is walkers.  I enjoy the stillness of the trail on days like this, the sun low in the sky, its light slanting over meadows and through stands of trees.  The wind is too light to rustle the leaves, and the murmur of organic life is hushed.  A few sparrows and mockingbirds flit silently through the trailside brush, but only the odd burst of sound from the neighborhoods along the wooded trail—a distant emergency vehicle wail, the shout from a backyard football game, a vehicular murmuring as I approach the Toll Road underpass—briefly insinuates itself.  The sparrows are mostly the plump, spry, cheery White-Throats, as sure a sign of coming winter as there is.

Leaf fall is still under way, though the farther west I ride the barer the trees are. I can’t spot exactly which species are holding out, but at home it’s always our pin oaks.  Others, like sweet gums, seem to like to let go bit by bit all fall, and they bestow their star-like leaves in yellow, brown, and vivid maroon on our front stoop all fall.  Others, like our maple near the east end of the house, do a mass dump over about a ten-day period.  It is starkly empty today, but was quite full even a week ago.  The leaves cover the grassy areas beside the trail, and a few are always skittering over the asphalt, providing a good estimate of the wind velocity and direction.  On this quiet day, as I pass a flat patch of ground covered with brown sycamore leaves, one rises up, a huge brown moth caught by a breeze, flits over its prostrate comrades, finds a more comfortable nook, and settles in again with the rest.

Today I don’t do my usual turn into Trailside Park in western Herndon, where I catch a breath, watch the skateboarders (there’s always a few kids there, even weekdays during school hours), mop my brow, and loop back.  Instead I go north on Crestview, zigzag onto Fantasia, swoop by the Corwins’ place (they’re out today getting family photos taken), take the long downhill on Hiddenbrook (where it’s easy to hit 30+ mph), and then turn back along Dranesville to the W&OD again.  The Corwins are moving to Ashburn next month, and I won’t be going past their house there very often unless I extend my riding range a bit.  But today it’s a nice run through traffic-free subdivision streets.  Until I hit Dranesville, that is.  This final segment of the loop is a four-lane road with bike lanes on each side.  When the road gets closer to Herndon and narrows a bit, the bike lane, of course, abruptly disappears.  The choice is up on the sidewalk, with its uneven expansion cracks and pedestrian hazards, or staying on the road.  I stay.  The traffic is light enough, and the distance short enough, so that I trust drivers to share the road.

Resting in Herndon, I look at the sky really for the first time.  Winter clouds: the cirrus and the stratocirrus, those amazing “mares’ tails,” with an occasional contrail mixed in.  Underneath are sporadic small dark grey reminders of that offshore low pressure.  It’s as if they were saying “by tomorrow we’re going to be all over the sky, so get ready.”  The winter sun’s low glare lights clouds differently from the summer light, often more brilliantly, but these scudding maritime clouds remain the color of the cold grey North Atlantic, where they were born.  The halyards of the town green flags clink against the poles in the desultory breeze.

Cool weather like this activates my sinuses, which have become increasingly sensitive over the last few years.  My eyes water and my nose runs, though once the eyes dry out a little they’re not a big problem.  Today, though, going home into the wind, everything is running most of the time.  Visibility is only a problem, though, when too many tears get on the inside of my glasses.  Today that doesn’t happen, even if this weather in general tends to make me dehydrate about as rapidly as when I perspire in warm air.  I arrive home refreshed, exhilarated, full of energy, and a little stronger than I was yesterday.  And ready to get warm.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.

Thoughts While Cycling: Early Winter

  • In the post-Election Day world the traditional W&OD Trail warning to pedestrians—“on the left”—has an especially warming resonance.  And as for Virginia, that old torch song (first sung by Ethel Waters in 1929) says it all: “Am I Blue?  Am I Blue? / Ain’t those tears in Mitt’s eyes telling you?”
  • The weather has been average, if that term means one “averages” out the extreme temperatures.  We went through a record number of consecutive days of below-average temperatures here three or four weeks ago.  Then it got warm again, and five days ago I rode in 71° weather.  Today it was 46° when I left.  “Average” high for the date is 58°.
  • Squeezed by some line stripers the other day.  What they were putting down with their little machine was hot, sparkly-reflective, bright yellow, and fast drying.  I think it’s a sort of paint-plastic compound.  Had to dodge the lines a couple of times as I passed pedestrians in the “fresh paint” zone.  Felt cool about laying that bike right between the stripes with ease.
  • Several weeks ago the repaving of the Trail west of Vienna was completed while we were traveling.  Now practically everything is fairly newly paved and striped from Falls Church to Herndon.  I love the miles where I don’t have to look for potholes, cracks, and dips.
  • The deciduous foliage inbound from Vienna still looks eerily full and green on many trees, despite the mid-November date, our brush with Sandy’s gales, and several gusty days.  I can declare winter to be coming to western Fairfax County, however.  Most of the trees out that way are bare.  We had our first hard freeze in late October—rather early.
  • I am embracing the new seasonal light and temperature patterns, which allow me to ride earlier because the day warms up an hour before it used to.  Of course, I have to be on my toes lest I wait too long to launch out and have to return in the gathering gloom of 4:30 p.m.
  • Not too many Wooly Bear caterpillars on the trail this fall, but plenty of frantically scurrying squirrels, most of whom make their decision to pivot and retreat a fraction of a second before they’d have run under my tires.
  • I have been struggling with a long, persistent cold that has brought intermittent sore eyes and breathing problems over a three-week period.  It was better today, though, and my knees are feeling good, so my cruise through 46-degree air in the sun was refreshing.
  • I got a Boston Red Sox cycling jersey last year, and planned to break it out in midsummer as soon as they rose to second place in the A. L. East.  Then I decided it went on as soon as they rose above .500.  Now I’m holding it for Opening Day 2013.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.