A New Angle

Ever since I first got my Jamis Coda Comp a few years back, it has been a challenge to adjust things to provide an efficient position on the bike.  I worked the seat up and down over a range of at least 2”, and finally found a spot that seemed to work for knee flex and pedaling efficiency.  The bike has straight bars, and I always felt somewhat “stretched out” in reaching them.  They provide absolutely no alternate hand positions, because the brake and shift apparatus, and the bike computer, take up too much of the inboard bar room between the grips and the stem.  So the Coda has only limited options to relieve muscle fatigue brought on by my position on the bike.

One of the problems with position was that I had a little trouble getting my head up high enough to see far ahead.  That was a clue that it was not a good position.  Another problem was the absence of alternatives for posture.  But by far the most important was that I came to feel too stretched out, that my back just wasn’t up to handling this position without a degree of ongoing fatigue.  I was at a point that I’d begun to call the bike “The Rack” in my interior monologues.  It was no longer a vehicle that I happily anticipated riding.

So finally a few days ago I did what I should have done long ago, and which the Jamis people had already provided the means to do.  They had built the bike with a Ritchey adjustable stem.  I’d always been afraid to mess with it, which shows that I’m a foolish coward about some things.  The stem attaches to the center post with a simple two-bolt clamp.  Immediately in front of the post, a large bolt goes through the stem to join the clamp part of the stem to the neck of the stem.  The fact that there are two pieces joined at this point is what makes the stem adjustable.  Once I’d convinced myself that I could do no damage by taking this construction apart, I just got out my Allen wrenches and went to work.  I discovered that the stem is built solidly, with deeply interlocking ridges at the adjustable point. I simply took this joint apart, realigned the two interlocking pieces at a different angle that looked about right, and re-bolted everything together.


Ritchey Adjustable Stem on Jamis Coda Comp, at new angle

The result is that while the stem used to tilt just barely upward, at right angles to the steering column, it now juts up at a slightly jauntier angle, perhaps 10˚ or 15˚ above the 90˚ angle.  As a result, the handlebars are now about 2” higher than they were.  I do not have to bend my back over so far to hold the handlebars.   To finish the job, of course, I had to rearrange the brake and gearshift levers to compensate for the new angle, because they still have to slant downward so that when my hands are on the bars in a natural position, they catch the levers in the right places on my fingers.  Likewise, the computer had to be readjusted so that it lies at a good angle to be read.

A couple of rides have convinced me that this was a good move.  I feel more in control of the bike, my back muscles are less overly stretched, and I can see things more immediately.  I still have what I’d call an “aggressive” posture, not sitting upright as if I were in a straight-back chair, just not in racing mode.  So I’m now wondering why I didn’t do this years ago.  Of course, now I have noticed that the bars are just barely off-center to the right horizontally, but that’s easily fixed another time.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.


Rosslyn Ride

Somehow I had gotten it into my head that the ride I take to Rosslyn was a little shorter than the one to Shirlington.  They are my two standard choices when I head inbound from Vienna on the W&OD.  Of course the Trail can take me other places in that direction too: Around the hills of North Arlington, over Key Bridge and onto the Capital Crescent Trail, over Roosevelt Bridge and onto the National Mall, up the Rock Creek Parkway Trail to the Zoo, down the Mount Vernon Trail to, um, Mount Vernon or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, or on a loop past National Airport and back home via the Four Mile Run Trail.

But for one reason or another I have eschewed the Rosslyn ride lately.  It begins on the W&OD, of course, but when I get into Bon Air Park in North Arlington I take a branch off to the left, just before I get to a bench shelter for tired riders or walkers.  After a short run along the south side of I-66 [I discover that I-66 is called the “Custis Memorial Parkway” on maps—ONLY on maps, not on highway signs, not in traffic reports, certainly not by any living human being I know personally] the trail underpasses the Interstate and continues along its north side all the way to where it overpasses the Interstate, runs along the south side for less than a mile, overpasses it again and follows Lee Highway down the Potomac palisades slope into the traffic circle area that leads to Key Bridge or the riverside trails that run north and south on the Virginia side of the Potomac.  I find my turnaround point by entering Arlington Gateway Park next to the Marriott via a pedestrian/bike overpass.  I sit on one of the benches, often in sight of a homeless person who has appropriated another bench for his or her bed, take a brief breather, and retrace my route as far as Bon Air Park, where I exit for a three-mile stint through the streets of inner suburbia in North Arlington, before rejoining the W&OD at Little Falls Street for the trip home.

This is a ride that I never ever contemplate during the weekend.  The trail can be crowded with walkers—the usual combination of joggers, older couples moving slowly, dog owners (why on earth with the myriad sidewalks and pedestrian parks they want to inflict their pooches on cyclists I couldn’t say, but there they are), and parents with kids in jogging strollers.  Added to that is the fraction of the cycling population who don’t consider it necessary to wait until it is safe to pass, and expect me to brake, pull out of the way, even roll off the trail, if I see them swerve into my lane when there’s no room for them.   Though I must admit that I’m not totally innocent of such behavior, owing to imperfect judgment of distance and speed.  The main problem is that many of the stretches along I-66 present a high metal sound-abatement wall right along the inboard edge of the trail, so there are no sight lines around corners and nowhere on that side of the trail to bail out in an emergency.  In other places chain link fencing or concrete retaining walls also preclude bailouts.

Yesterday I thought I’d get back to this ride, and found much to my surprise that it’s .4 miles longer than the trip to Shirlington than I usually take.  Furthermore, it has about 500 more feet of climbing, almost all of it on the way home except for a short excruciating stretch right after the Custis Trail underpasses I-66.  First there’s the long ascent back up the hill from Rosslyn, where the trail moves back from the Potomac flood plain to the top of the palisades.  Then there’s a long reverse-S curve uphill near the junction of Lee Highway and Spout Run where the trail climbs up to pass over I-66 again.  Shortly following that are two short, steep uphills created by a natural contour and an underpass.  Lots of momentum and quick, precise gear shifting are needed there.  The remaining hills are part of my off-trail Arlington loop, including a short, steep climb on 11th St. and several blocks on Patrick Henry Drive, and—close to home—Virginia Avenue.

I did this ride yesterday, and regretted that I had missed all that fun for so long.  I’m dedicating the next couple of weeks to rediscovering more of my North Arlington routes.  Variety is the spice of cycling life.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

June is Bustin’ Out All Over

june havoc

June Havoc, younger sister of Gypsy Rose Lee.

No! No! No!  Not that June; not that bust.  But the Rogers and Hammerstein lyric from Carousel does affirm the explosion of spring beauty, even if here in Virginia it’s late spring.  We’ve had an erratic season of persistent coolness, followed by summery heat and humidity in short bursts, all punctuated with lots of rain, including a visit from an unusually early tropical storm (no wind, just humidity and downpours) late last week.  I took an urban naturalist stroll of our quarter-acre estate the other day and was stunned by the way the combination of heat, rain, and humidity seemed to have brought everything into its glory at once.  It is an especially good year for roses, and the various forms of hostas we use in our shade-heavy yard are energetic and splendid as well.  A couple of low-growing late azaleas add their charm, and our active fern population is very much in evidence.

We finally have completed our porch and patio plantings as well, though the weather has


Porch plantings

not been conducive to lots of porch sitting.  Every year we fill pots and planters with impatiens and begonias to line the sills so that the big screen porch in back will have that garden feel.  This year, thanks to a wilt disease that is destroying the impatiens in our area, it’s all begonias.  We put geraniums in the pots on the front porch on either side of the door.  And on the brick patio in back we have just completed the replanting of the octagonal garden in the center, which used to contain the trunk of a very large Willow Oak.  We had to have that cut down a couple of years back because it was too near the house, and just last fall we had the stump ground out by a tree service using an amazing remote


Octagon Project and repaved patio

control machine.  We had to haul off 20+ wheel barrows of earth and wood chips to a pile in the back corner of the lot, reconstruct the octagon border, and re-lay many bricks on the patio, but we salvaged most of the incredibly durable vinca minor (periwinkle) that had been growing around the stump, and now it thrives in the octagon, along with some begonias and a potted geranium.  For the first time in a very long time the patio is flat and coherent-looking.

So enjoy my visual report on our flora:


Jane’s miniature rose bush–coming into its own.


Variegated mock orange, beloved of small cerulean blue butterflies.


Fern frond–an answer to seedbud’s question.


Wild roses, growing by or side fence and up into the holly trees.


Low-growing azalea bush just covered with bloom.

Variegated hosta, growing where the sun never shines.

Variegated hosta, growing where the sun never shines.


Azaleas, whiter than the driven snow.


Thyme, thyme, thyme is on my side, yes it is, yes it is.


This hosta has claimed its shady plot.

Suspected drunken driver hits bicyclist on trail in Virginia

As if cyclists didn’t have enough to worry about from drunk and otherwise incompetent drivers on the road, the drivers seem to have taken the struggle to the supposedly secure domain of walkers and bicyclers.  I provide the link of an astounding and appalling local story, right here on the W&OD, right there on Maple Avenue in Vienna.  It’s lucky there were no fatalities.   This is worth a read.