Friday, November 21, 2014

Tomorrow: Food Bank Biking

Sorry for the short post this week; I need to allow the graphic to speak for itself. 

If you have a bike and can ride it safely (and have a means to carry food on it or on your person) please meet at Fairway Market in Stamford tomorrow (699 Canal Street) with your food donations at noon and we’ll pedal them up to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County - which is at 461 Glenbrook Road.

This is the second time this event is taking place and the first time I get to take part in it. If you remember: even though I came up with Food Bank Biking in 2013 I couldn't do it since I was in Cleveland (but I still made a food bank run there!) But this year I can take part and I'm excited about it. 

This will be fun and one of the last days this year we’ll be able to ride without dressing like Snake Eyes from the G.I. Joe cartoons. Also, if you’ve read the recent Stamford Advocate story by Martin Cassidy: the food bank is desperately short of donations - especially turkeys - this year, so please take part in this.

Finally, if you don't live in Stamford and want to organize a Food Bank Biking event of your own: just meet friends the last Saturday before Thanksgiving at a grocery store before riding to the food bank - and use the hashtag #foodbankbiking. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Biking Nations: Paraty, Brazil: Part III

Click here for Part I

Click here for Part II

On any normal international cycling vacation that coincides with the Urban Sketching Symposium, the second day is the most exhausting. 

My trip to Paraty was a normal international cycling vacation. 

As my wife headed out for another day of mingling and sketching with fellow talented artists, I decided to ride out toward Cuhta, which was really my only shot for an adventure that would get me back in time to have dinner with my wife and, for sure, some of her fellow sketchers. I had ridden a bus from Rio northbound on 101 so I knew what lay to the south and I had already seen Trinidade, which was north. 

That left the west. 

The first few miles were fairly easy - I felt like the 1,000 foot climb the previous day was a pretty good warm up. The incline during this period was gradual and took me by a few houses. It was also fairly smooth but every so often I'd think to myself: this is where I'm going to get a flat.

Beyond a touristy-looking restaurant I saw about 700 feet into the climbing, the buildings became less frequent. A lot less frequent. It was very quiet. Cars became rare. At times I was sure I was the only person around for a mile or more in any direction - and this feeling was reinforced by the animals I saw on the climb. 

The riderless horse had no saddle and no markings. It was just grazing peacefully along the side of the road, ignoring me. 

The same couldn't be said for the next animal: it was a white goose in front of what appeared to be a gift shop that had the front door open but no one inside. At this point I was about 1,500 feet above sea level, and I could look beyond the gift shop and see Paraty.

The goose kept honking at me but didn't get in my face or send for reinforcements, so I felt safe as I put my camera on maximum zoom and took a shot that told me how far I had climbed so far. 

Naturally, my next thought was: climb some more. I still didn't have a flat and my legs weren't quite ready to quit.

Around 2,000 feet the pavement disappeared. At first the hard-packed dirt was actually smoother than most asphalt in Brazil so I didn't mind very much.

But it didn't last, and small, sharp rocks began greeting my 115 psi tires. Still, I kept a sort of inner peace about getting a flat tire. Taking a road bike on this kind of terrain was pushing my luck to begin with, so I knew I was going to get a flat, and if I did it would just be part of the adventure. 

As I climbed higher - still flat-free - I noticed a broken-down car off to the side that nobody had bothered to tow - I had passed a 'no trucks' sign earlier and didn't see how a tow truck could make it up this high to begin with.

I climbed on. The terrain just kept getting worse and the cars became even more rare. It made sense because in places the road was just plain dangerous.

The altimeter passed 2,800 feet by the time I arrived at a place called Bar do Menininho. Another wrecked car - a blue one - lay just off to the side and it was the only vehicle I saw during the 15 minutes I had stopped here to rest. I couldn't tell if it was off season, abandoned or both.

Up a little further, I was greeted to some more great views and the promise of biking into the clouds.

I climbed more in short, single-digit bursts to keep my calves from throbbing. Just as the altimeter passed 3,000 feet, the road became worse than ever.

Even with the hard tires, the Bike Friday stayed upright and didn't sink into the ground. But the problem I had was with the mud. Here it took on a consistency I had never seen before. It was an Elmer's Paste/Play-Doh/Superglue hybrid that stuck to everything and caked on everywhere. 

I had to clear the mud several times and was making less and less progress. Finally, I realized I was very close to the top: while standing alone with my bike after climbing higher than the peak of Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, I stood completely still on tired legs and was greeted by this breathtaking sight.

I wished I had thought to take a short video: this is a cloud scraping against the top of the mountain at 3,200 feet. And I was in it. Save for a little wind it was completely silent. 

I decided to spare myself and my bike by not continuing further and descending down the other side. It would have to wait for another trip and a full-suspension mountain bike, I thought. 

Now it was time for the descent. I turned the bike around. 

Terrain I had crawled over minutes and hours before now blurred by. The Bike Friday rattled over the rocks - sending (without my knowledge) the rear fender I had fashioned from a piece of car trim off into the road and never to be seen again. If I had fashioned a small parachute instead it would have saved my hands and kept my brake cables from stretching.

Occasionally I'd stop to rest my hands and take in the view of a place I didn't check out properly on the ascent. I even took a selfie.

This is my best side. The photo is a lot less impressive when you realize I had to stop, turn around, and go back to pick up the camera. Very much like Les Stroud from Survivorman.

The ride continued - and much to my amusement the horse I had run into on the way up was still grazing his way up the mountain - and still didn't pay me any notice.

Speaking of animals: the goose guarding the gift shop was still there too, and there were still no humans in sight. The goose resumed honking at me and I wondered if it was trying to tell me something. "What's that? Trouble at the old mill?"

I descended so quickly to 700 feet I felt my ears pop and the temperature change. Finally I stopped at a restaurant I had seen earlier - Restaurante Engenho D'Ouro - and had a late lunch. It was perfect because it was a buffet, and once again a very polite person was willing to put up with an American tourist who couldn't speak the local language but understood pointing. 

Fueled, I meandered back a bit - first biking near a distillery (the same one my wife had sketched the previous day) and then up another dirt road that led to a waterfall.

On the way back down this road, I found something interesting that I thought would make a nice souvenir and put it in my handlebar bag. 

Soon I made it back to civilization - which, like in other parts of the world, consists of a paved, well marked and car-free bike path.

It wasn't a very long path but it got me to the roundabout that led me back into the heart of Paraty - and back to the dreaded Cobblestones 2.0. 

It was here I got off the bike, picked it up, and hooked the seat on my right shoulder. It carried me 28 miles on some terrible roads without a flat, and I reasoned the least I could do is carry it the couple of hundred feet through the Boulder Field.

The next day - which was a final victory lap of sorts around Paraty - I got my flat tire. 

In the hotel room.

Let me tell you how to inflate a bike tire. When pumping air into the tire, make sure the bike is laying down. Do not pump the tire while the bike is leaning against a table. Holding the pump in both hands, I had a real deer-in-headlights moment as I watched the Bike Friday fall - and the valve tore out from the rim and air whoooooooshed out of hole. I stared at the pump and my brain put together what happened in slow, Beavis and Buttlead-like motion.




I think I just figured something out, Beavis. 

I marveled at my stupidity but at least I had an extra (several, actually) tube, which I installed without incident. Still: over 100 miles biked around Paraty, Brazil and the only flat tire I got was in the hotel room. Not bad if you ask me. And my wife enjoyed her time at the Urban Sketching Symposium - and at that night's reception we enjoyed seeing friends like JessieOrling and Rita.

My wife also found time to do a little bit more sketching the next morning just before we had to take the bus back to Rio - and eventually fly back home. 

A few days later, when we got home and I unpacked the Bike Friday, I withdrew the souvenir I found on the muddy road, cleaned it off, and looked at it wondering if it had anything to do with my lack of flat tires that day of climbing 3,200 feet in Paraty. Either way, I was lucky enough to go on this trip and thank the urban sketchers for picking an interesting city once again. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween/Bike Safety Awareness Week

I just need to begin this post with the following statement: 

Please be nice to the the selfless nurse who helped treat Ebola patients - Kari Hickox. Because she isn't a heavyset male racist in a cowboy hat, Ms. Hickox is not being hailed as a hero for not doing what the government tells her to do. Symptom free, she chose to go on a bike ride with her boyfriend. I have ridden in Maine and I can attest to the drawing power of biking in Vacationland, so whether you open doorknobs with Kleenex's or not, don't judge her harshly. 

And Ms. Hickox, if you're reading this, you're welcome to come bike down in The Nutmeg State with me anytime. And not to worry: if Governor LePage insists on following you here while wagging a finger, I have a bike here he can use, too: he did say he doesn't want you 'within three feet of anybody' so with that in mind I'd be happy with either of you doing a PSA for Connecticut to tell drivers they have to obey the 'three foot law' when passing a cyclist. Hey, you can even do a PSA together - whether he wants to wear a Walter White respirator is up to him. 

But I digress.

While Kari Hickox was taking what was probably the safest bike ride anyone could take this week (Police escort? Sweet!) I've been thinking about what to do to remind cyclists to double down on staying safe while riding at night. The rule of thumb is: when you're absolutely, 100% positive you and your bike are visible enough...add.

And there's a lot you can add:  You can add BikeGlow (spaghetti-like strands of lights that are shown in the last photo). You can buy reflective tape just about anywhere and affix it to your bike or your helmet and also get yourself to a bike shop and get some new equipment (if you're in Stamford: Danny's Cycles and Pacific Swim Bike Run are great places to go. Remember, Daylight Savings Time starts this weekend and that means most workers will be biking home in darkness at the end of the workday). 

Let's quickly run through a couple of options. When it comes to a great example of adding things to make biking safer, I haven't seen anything better than Blaze. They're a company in London I was lucky enough to visit a few months back to check out their product. 

To the everyday observer, an ordinary bike light. But they designed and added a tiny laser mounted next to the lens that projects an image of a bicycle several feet out in front. 

Truckers and drivers can see it on the ground and know there is a cyclist coming - and that's especially important if you want to avoid the 'right hook' which is a 'left hook' in Britain since they still insist on driving on the wrong side. You can see a demo video on the Blaze web site, but in an office in broad daylight it's equally cool.

I know it is sold in the U.S. but I haven't been able to find it in Stamford, but it will be going on my Christmas list this year, to be sure. 

While we're on the subject of lasers: I bought a laser guide for a circular saw at Harbor Freight Tools for $5. It's about twice as thick as a pen but half the length and when switched on points a red line along whatever piece of plywood you want to cut. 

I rarely cut plywood. But I do bike often, and I discovered that a slight modification on the base of the laser guide made it easy to mount on the seat stay of my city bike. Here's what it looks like.

Oops. I left the flash on (but related to the subject you can see the subtle reflective tape I've put in several placed around the bike isn't so subtle when the light is hitting it). 

Here's what it looks like in the dark:

Even though I need to change up the mount since my foot can hit it when getting off the bike, it works: I rode to the Stamford Government Center and back at night and was thankful for the visual reminder for motorists that they - by Connecticut state law - have to leave three feet of space between themselves and bicyclists when passing. 

If you don't have access to the Blaze or circular saw guides, visit your local bike shop, say you want to add things to your bike to ride safer, and they'll hook you up with what you need. Post your tricked-out, visible self and your bike on Twitter with the hashtag #diybikingatnight. And since I have to go pick up some candy before the Elsa, Anna and lil' snowman dude parade starts tonight, I'll close this post right now. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Biking Nations: Paraty, Brazil: Part II

The first full day of biking in Paraty, Brazil - home of the 2014 Urban Sketching Symposium - began the way these things begin: my wife and I ate breakfast before I walked her to her first workshop.

That meant stepping, Indiana-Jones-through-the-temple-to-get-the-golden-idol-like, among the swollen cobblestones.

Upon return to our room, I grabbed my bike, put on my backpack and hit the door. I had already made the decision to go north toward Sao Paolo and hit Trindade - a beach destination that was recommended to me. 

Five minutes after setting off, it rained for ten solid minutes. Water soaked into my clothes and into my pack - and the rear tire of the Bike Friday spat a steady stream water at my backside like a malfunctioning bidet. 

I'd like to say it didn't dampen my spirits, but it did.  Especially since the road I was on was, for lack of a better term, boring. I appreciated the wide shoulder and enjoyed the quiet but some stretches felt like roads in southern New Hampshire. 

It was also mostly devoid of people. A few cars and motorcycles passed but no pedestrians - save for an old man with a long beard and tattered clothing sitting alone at a bus stop near an equally tattered bike rigged to haul a trailer made from an old baby carriage. I looked his way and gave a smile and a wave, but he didn't return my gesture.

Several miles after passing the old man by, I came to the something that was worth taking a picture of.

Okay. I don't see that in southern New Hampshire. Or Stamford. Keep it up, Brazil.

Not long after this I came to the turnoff for Trinidade. An arrow pointed left and said '500 m' so I knew it wasn't far. 


I remember, back when I changed the three-ring chainring on the Bike Friday just before meeting Stacey I wondered if I'd eventually regret giving up the little ring. 

That day, I did. 

It was a killer ascent. Much harder than the 1,000 feet I climbed in Virginia on the Dahon Matrix. Motor vehicles rarely went by and I saw no cyclists. I had to stop often, and when I was pedaling I was struggling to do much more than walking speed. 

When the hill began to crest I was greeted with a crude, covered bus stop and a sign at a fork in the road indicating Trinidade was 5k to the right. Trinidade was all downhill, but I decided to go left - and thus continue climbing - just to see if this exhausting trek would give me a nice vista from which I could take pictures. Unfortunately, a few moments into that adventure, I heard thunder and saw dark clouds closing it. I barreled back to the bus shelter but was too late: the sky opened up and I was soaked again. 

Five minutes later...

Thanks a lot, sun. Thanks for heating and warming the earth like we agreed.

After I removed my jersey to wring it out and put it back on again, I decided to just go to Trinidade - which meant the 1,000 or so feet I had just climbed was going to be another 1,000 feet to climb on the way back - because the descent to Trinidade was steep. Because of the narrow road and the blind corners I rode the brakes almost the whole way.

But I did make it a beach. Instead of finding Brazilian beauties on the beach willing to cater to my every whim (which, at the point, consisted of handing me a large towel, replacing my brake cables and cleaning off my bike) I found no one - and remembered that August in this part of the world was the official 'off' season.

After a sandwich ordered through a language barrier at the Bar Do Cepilo, I continued on toward Trinidade (carrying my bike over the 'slippery river') and for the third time, it rained. This time it was so cold my teeth were chattering. Lucky for me, I found the town a few minutes later - and the rain began to let up. 

I passed a lot of empty and closed shops and restaurants - it really did feel like the off-season. On the way through town I came across a dog sitting on a stool - and after I pedaled around for a little while and returned, the dog was still sitting there so I took a picture.

Still soaking wet I made one last ride through town before heading back. But since I wanted to procrastinate making that awful climb again, I turned right instead of left at the 'slippery river' and saw where Paraty must get the boulders it uses to pave the streets.

It really was beautiful - and of course I wished for better weather. But on a cycling vacation you ride with the weather you have and you improvise to make it more comfortable: on the climb, I noticed small bits of a car bumper on the side of the road and used one to make a fender for the Bike Friday.

It managed to cut the 'malfunctioning bidet' effect of the rear wheel - and I was glad to have it. 

But for the rest of the ride I didn't need it much because the rain had stopped and the roads were finally drying up. After another thigh-burning climb and a brake pad-melting descent, I had open road all the way back to Paraty. Since I wasn't blinking to avoid getting rain in my eyes, I was able to see things on the way back I didn't notice on the way up - like Jesus at a garden center. 

Even though more than three hours had passed since that morning, the old man with the beard and the bike was still sitting silently at the bus stop. Again, he didn't look up at me. Since I was on the same side of the street as he this time I noticed his bike's chain was broken - which made me wish I spoke the local language and brought more tools with me.

Months later, I still wish I had stopped to try to help him anyway. 

I returned to town, bought a piece of lemon pie at a shop (lots of pointing was involved) and again admired how the town moved. 

I returned to the room and later reunited with my wife who showed me some of her Paraty sketches. Like me, she was affected by the rain, but like me, we were both hoping for better weather the next day - and looking at the bright side because I didn't get a flat tire. I was sure that would change because I was determined to go west and to the mountain. 

To be continued. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Final Frame/The Donut Lover's Guide to Bicycle Commuting Returns

August 22, 2010: the first photo I took of my (then) new 19" aluminum bike frame.

Several years ago, I built my own mountain bike. I used a plain black aluminum hard tail frame I bought online. 

That bike went on a lot of adventures - The Kingdom Trails in Vermont were especially grand - and I went over the handlebars a few times. Still, I didn't have that frame in place very long - for I eventually switched over to a full suspension frame and the black frame was turned into a single speed.

My workshop is like The Giving Tree in reverse. 

But that frame wasn't in place very long either, for I raided that bike for parts for other projects, and the frame was eventually stripped completely - and looks like this today. 

That frame made me the person I am today, for building a mountain bike - or building any bike for the first time - was just a great experience for me and unlocked something in my creativity. The photo of the down tube was even the logo of this site for a couple years. 

However, I need more space in my shop and, still unable to weld aluminum, that frame just had to go. So when I put together a box of pedals, seats, cranks, tires and other things to donate to the Bridgeport Bike Co-Op, that frame was added to the pile. 

I'm not very sentimental about physical objects - if I did I'd become a hoarder - but I suddenly, today, realized that the black frame with the red and silver DIYBIKING.COM letters (hand placed, like on every bike I have) missed out on a lot. My recumbent. The Dahon Matrix. The Mystery from South Norwalk. My Bike Friday New World Tourist. The Bikeducken. And, most recently, my city bike. They've all experienced the city of Stamford and the wonder of travel more than the Founding Frame, and I felt like the black frame needed a final journey - like the tribute show Ed Sullivan never got. 

I never even brought it to Lorca, so today I decided to do just that. On foot.

Moments after entering, I learned that the rumors were true: Lorca is creating its own apple cider donuts in-house, and will be doing so at least through November. The black frame and The Donut Lover's Guide to Bicycle Commuting: both are roots of this web site, and both were coming back into the spotlight. 

Also, I'm not sure if you follow me on Twitter or not, but as you probably guessed from my reaction to Tim Cook's presentation this week: the only 'apple' product that interests me is followed by the words: 'cider donut.'*

I was also thinking about buying a Samsung Galaxy Tab S and taping $100 to the back instead of buying a new iPad but that's neither here nor there. 

I bought four donuts and walked down Bedford Street carrying the frame and the bag of donuts in the same hand. I wasn't sorry I was giving the frame up, but rather hopeful: it's a great frame, it got to go to an outstanding coffee shop - and I'm sure someone will soon turn it into their own bike.

Because I don't have a bike trailer big enough to carry everything safely,**, I was forced to bring my car to Bridgeport. I still used my homemade bike trailer as a hand truck to drag the parts to BPT Creates

                      Oct. 17, 2014: the last photo I've taken of the Black Frame.

I dropped everything off inside, and it wasn't until I was dragging the empty trailer back to where I had parked my car that I realized I had taken the last photograph of my black frame. Great memories, and I think I'm honoring the frame the right way by allowing someone else to get the same joy I had when building a bike. 

If you live in the Bridgeport area and want to donate some used bikes or bike parts to the Bikeport Co-Op, please let them know at Also: they are doing their monthly Big Bike Ride tomorrow at 1:00pm (starts at McLevy Green) so check it out. 

Also: go to Lorca and have some of their apple cider donuts. I have no experience with the latter product but Leyla (the owner of Lorca) is to baked goods what Walter White is to meth. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

*and pie.

**I will remedy that problem.