Saturday, April 30, 2011

Five Things I Can't Live Without on the Five Boro Bike Tour

Well, my bike is tuned, and I have my cell phone, camera, Metro Card, helmet, bottles of water, light jacket, Five Boro Bike Tour vest, matching socks and everything else I need for tomorrow. The alarm is already set and I will ride to the station in the dark with my homemade bike light. I will take Metro North to Grand Central Terminal. I will ride down Park Avenue to Broadway and follow the other cyclists to find my way to Battery Park.

But there are a few other things I also have to bring, and none of them are listed on Bike New York's checklist. They are on my checklist, and they are there because the six Five Boro Bike Tours I have ridden before have taught me to bring them. Call this the 'wisdom' list, but here we go: Five things I can't live without on the tour.

Item No. 1) Individually-wrapped sunscreen

I do not remember exactly when sunscreen towelettes came into my life, but I also don't remember how I was able to ride without them. The Corotex SunX SPF30 towelettes work well and come in a box of 25. I checked the forecast and it is going to be quite sunny, and I found it is better to bring one or two of these along instead of a 12-oz. bottle of Coppertone left over from last summer's trip to the beach.

Item No. 2) Bandless Earmuffs from

There is an empty desk at the Earbags marketing department because every bike store in New England should carry these. Earmuffs that don't interfere with the bike helmet. Genius. Simply slide them over your ears and they just pop into place. To their credit, the Bike New York team has always stressed the need for a light jacket because it can get very cold at the start, but sometimes the wind can just howl through the financial district and chill you in such a way you'd pay someone good money for a pair of Earbags. Lots of warmth for very little space in the bike bag.

Item No. 3) Hotel Showercap

Stay with me on this one: just because the forecast says there is a 0% chance of rain, I don't like those odds. And I have been alive long enough (and seen enough Jerry Bruckheimer movies) to know the weather can change rapidly. If you travel it's good to gather hotel showercaps wherever you stay and bring them home. Tucked in a bike bag, they weigh nothing and easily stretch over a helmet during a rainstorm. Two tours ago I wore one the whole 42 miles...

...and I was glad I did. No matter what the weathermen and weatherwomen tell me, I always keep one in the bike bag for a little peace of mind.

Item No. 4) Garmin Edge 205 GPS Bike Computer

Bike New York thoughtfully has placed mile markers at various intervals throughout the route. It is good to know how many miles there are between rest areas and the like, but I still always bring my Garmin Edge 205, which is the least expensive bike GPS they carry. For me (and a lot of other cyclists) the ride is a lot longer than 42 miles when you include the trip to the station, the starting point, and post-event rides (for instance, in my tour packet this year Bike New York included a coupon for a free smoothie at Energy Kitchen - which has 10 locations in Manhattan - if you show your tour vest). I like knowing where I'm going, how fast I'm getting there, where Grand Central terminal is, and what time it is just on general principles anyway.

Item No. 5) Oatmeal Raisin Cookie From Zaro's Bakery

This is something I pick up when I get to Grand Central Terminal on the morning of the tour, so no, I do not have it photographed. Even if I did, the picture of any oatmeal raisin cookie from Zaro's New York Bakery would not do it justice. About the size of a tea saucer, I have consistently found that if I eat half of it at the starting point in Battery Park and save the rest for Astoria Park I'm quite satisfied, even though I'll still eat protein bars I bring along and bananas that are handed out.

So, there you have it. Once I have all five of those things added together with the Bike New York list of things to bring/FAQ list I'll be set to go.

In addition, I am bringing an extra pair of Earbags. If you are or become a follower of DIYBIKING.COM, and if you are the first person to see me at Battery Park, they are yours. But there's no chance I'm sharing my cookie.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Building a Mountain Bike Part 7: Finished (But Wait! There's More!)

It started as an idea, mostly inspired by my cousin after I left a visit with him at Bluff Point State Park. I just started thinking: 'Building my own mountain bike. How hard can it be?'

It was hard. A lot harder than I thought. But it was the most fun I've ever had in my shop. It all began with this:

And now, after weeks and weeks of building, making mistakes, ordering parts, making more mistakes and repeating, I have....THIS!

I highly recommend building a bike, if for no other reason you get a photo album at the end where you can go over the different stages of development, like baby pictures. And like a baby, it grows up so fast.

I will say this: it took me a huge amount of time to adjust the front derailleur, but once I did I was able to add a few other features to make this bike my own.

The ToPeak Defender I bought from Greenwich Bicycles had, as I found out when I got it home, received some negative reviews online. However, the ones I read had to do with the fender not staying in place over the wheel.

Because the mountain bike is sharing the same excellent Cane Creek Thudbuster with my Dahon Matrix I had no interest in mounting the fender to the post itself. So I did this:

Yes, it is mounted to the frame, providing barely enough clearance for the tire. I used tin snips on the fender to trim away the plastic before drilling a hole. I then inserted a plastic wire tie, which help keeps the fender in place.

I also decided to make shock boots out of a piece of vacuum cleaner hose. The boots are light, keep everything from getting scratched or dinged, and actually looks pretty cool. Well, I think so.

Now, I wanted to document my first ride with it in a special way, so I seriously thought about buying an HD Hero video camera. But I was just about out of money for this project and couldn't think about spending a dollar more for a while.

Then I remembered something: over the summer of 2010, I bought an iPod Nano 5th Generation, which has a video camera built right in it. It's a nice little extra feature, and I don't understand why Apple took it away when the 6th generation came out a couple of months later. Maybe they wanted to stockpile it for the iPad 2.

Anyway, I had the iPod Nano, so all I needed to do was figure out how to mount it to the mountain bike. So I consulted the 304...

...and I found some rubber O-rings and some old plastic mounting bits from a bike's rear reflector. The discovery of an unused parts sorter gave me everything I needed.

I also have, as you can see, a plastic case for the Nano to go in. Thrilled to extend the mountain bike project further, I set to work on the camera mount using the things I had found. This is what I came up with:

I broke the lid from the parts sorter and used a utility knife and a pair of scissors to cut it into the shape you see there. I added a couple of notches so that the Nano would stay in place with the O-rings. Some careful drilling gave me the holes for the mount, and rummaging through the 304 got me the nuts and bolts. I mounted it to the handlebars, adjusted the angle, and was left with this:

Now, it isn't an HD Hero. I mean, it is a bit awkward to turn the camera on and off and it isn't waterproof, but on the other hand it didn't cost me anything and I had fun building it.

I'll post a video of the first ride another day, but the Five Boro Bike Tour is the day after tomorrow, and there's still a bit more tuning and adjusting that needs to be done on the museum piece I'll be riding.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saved from the Scrapheap: The Fuji Gran Tourer

On the last day of a North Stamford estate sale, I paid $15 for this: A Fuji Gran Tourer which had been originally priced at $40.

Built in May of 1981, this bike was owned by a man who was very tall. That isn't a guess. I'm 5' 11" and couldn't get on the seat in the position it was in when I bought it. Even when I lowered it all the way I could barely throw my leg over the top tube. I felt like a kid trying to get on an adult's bike.

The Gran Tourer had obviously had been loved aggressively and probably hadn't been touched since the first Gulf War. But in its life, the owner had obviously ridden it through fires.

If the tires had been stuffed into an enormous toaster, they would probably look like that. But because I believe the bike was owned by the person whose estate it *was* I couldn't ask where he had ridden it.

The handlegrips on this bike, like the Fuji Espirt, were interesting, to say the least. I actually recognize these grips from a 1980s Huffy bike. The owner used four of them on the Gran Tourer.

The bike is just too big and too cool for the scrapheap, and I'll give it a proper send off in a later post. Though the bike had a coveted 27" rear wheel, the condition made me skeptical it could find its way to the recumbent.

However, the Gran Tourer features a headlight with a generator kit. Even though the generator itself rumbled over the charred rear tire, it worked, and the light shined.

I was admiring the housing and the lens of the headlamp when something occurred to me: I didn't have a bike light for the predawn ride to the station on May 1 for the Five Boro Bike Tour.

As noted when I was tuning the recumbent I have a mounting point for a bright but inexpensive bike light right near the enormous chainring. However, in true DIYBIKING fashion, I couldn't find it.

I had created that mount before my dad gave me the excellent GeoManGear/MagicShine 900 lumen bike light as a Christmas present. It's astonishingly bright and whenever I've needed to ride at night (mounted on the handlebars of the Dahon Matrix) it's been great: cars actually give me a wider berth at night than they do during the day. I thought about making a mount for that light on the recumbent but I was reluctant to use such an expensive piece of equipment for such a short night ride.

I had another reason not to do such a thing: Over the past two weeks I learned that light and another from GeoManGear is being recalled for a fire hazard because of a defective battery. My dad sent me the letter from GeoManGear explaining how I could get a new battery, but the letter stated that there have been "three reported incidents causing fires and property damage" among the 19,500 packs sold. I don't mind those odds and the letter didn't mention if the fires were brighter than the lights themselves, but I'm going to do the right thing and play it safe.

So that leaves me interested in the Gran Tourer's light. I had no interest in mounting the efficiency-robbing generator to the recumbent, but I dreamed up another solution. Unlike the custom made tailight debacle this custom headlight was going to work and was going to look cool.

I took the headlight off the Gran Tourer and pulled it apart. The tiny incandescent bulb was the first thing to go, and that left me with a very light chrome-colored housing.

I rummaged through the 304 and found a AAA battery holder, probably bought years ago at Radio Shack. This was especially nice because it had a switch built right in, which meant less soldering for me if I could make it work.

I also found a Minoura Besso Fork Mount Holder which is essentially a tiny piece of handlebar you can mount anywhere on a frame. It took a bit of doing but I attached it to the recumbent, and the headlight's mount attached there easily.

A guy walks into Radio Shack and the associate asks "Can I help you?" The guy points to the drawers of LEDs and says "Give me the brightest thing you've got."

Here's how the joke ends: for $2.99 I bought a very bright but very low voltage Bright White LED which was about the same size as the small incandescent bulb. After some careful soldering and duct tape I had an LED bulb mounted in a decades-old bike light.

I used a match to melt the shrink tubing around the solder points to make it strong, and then I pushed the entire assembly back into the headlight before giving it a quick polish.

Given that the light and the recumbent are from the same era, I was happy to see the headlight actually looked like it belonged there.

Finally, I dropped the battery pack into the Axiom Power Bag on the frame and threw the switch. The light worked, so I headed up the basement stairs, switched off the lights, then headed back down to see what I had made.

As Adam Savage says on Mythbusters: "That's a result!"

I was impressed at how the light changed the 'face' of the recumbent. Seeing it switched on in the dark like that reminded me of the scene in Back to the Future when the DeLorean rolls out of the van and stops in front of Marty McFly for the first time. The LED's bright white light is a stark contrast to the sickly yellow of the original bulb. It adds style, safety, and it tells the world I'm taking the GeoManGear bike light recall seriously.

As a bonus, it gets me another step closer to the start of the Five Boro Bike Tour.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Seven Days Till The Five Boro Bike Tour: Time to Tune

I've learned from the first couple of years of doing the Five Boro Bike Tour that bike shops are often crowded with people trying to get their bikes tuned in time for the event.  Lucky for Stamford residents, there's a new shop in the south end: Pacific Swim Bike Run, which is at 575 Pacific Street and a brisk walk from Fairway Market.

I stopped by for the first time the other day on my office bike to check the place out. I have no idea what the inside of that building looked like before but it does look better now: as the name suggests they've got swimming, biking and running gear for the triathlete but they also have a nice-looking training facility on the premises that I might just take advantage of this winter if the snowbike doesn't give me enough exercise.

I met one of the co-owners while I was there and we chatted up about bikes and the upcoming Five Boro Bike Tour. Amid the carbon fiber works of art/bicycles that look like they're moving fast even while standing still I told her about my recumbent. She earned points because she refrained from laughing or giving me a puzzled look when she suggested I bring it to her shop for a tune up, but I declined with thanks. After all, this is the kind of bike one tunes oneself:

This is the early 1980's Turner recumbent.  It may very well be one of the first Hypercycles that Milt Turner made when he started building frames. At one point I emailed him a picture and even he wasn't sure quite how old it is, but it's comforting to know the name and address of the very person who made the frame nearly three decades ago (he still makes recumbents today).

The small chainring has 52 teeth, which is a lot. When comparing road bikes with my cousin one day, he shook his head in awe and exclaimed "your smallest chainring is bigger than my biggest!"

There's also a 60 tooth chainring next to it but no front derailleur, so unless you're willing to manually move the chain from one ring to another, you've got six speeds on this bike. You also have a chain that is about 10.5 feet long and a frame that doesn't always sit properly in a Park Tool workstand, so in order to service it, you have to be creative.

This year for the tune up, I used my Dexter Morgan kill room table/workbench overlay, which was one of the most useless things I've made. But I salvaged the build slightly by cutting several inches off to make it narrower and later cut a hole in it to insert a trainer. The idea was I could drop it through the hole and clamp it into place with the $40 Ace Hardware workbench and mount the recumbent's rear wheel in place with it.

It worked well, so the Dexter Morgan table may actually get a new lease on life. I covered it in paper to brighten the workspace and collect the grime which would inevitably drop from the frame while cleaning it.

With the recumbent up on the table, I could finally get a good look at what a season's worth of wear had done to it and check out some of my earlier modifications to see how they were holding up.

As you can see, the chain needs to bend in order to not interfere with the front wheel, and the recumbent came with an idler gear originally. It chattered frequently and was a pain to clean, so one day I bought two black chaintubes from Hostel Shoppe Recumbents and taped/bolted them into place.

The little black bracket in the photograph is where the idler gear used to be. Since the bracket wasn't made for this purpose I used (no kidding) the white sprockets from a microcassette as spacers: one between the metal bits of the bracket and once sandwiched to the frame. You can even see the pin that used to hold the tape (probably from some boring conference I attended and taped 10+ years before) in the picture.

The tubes also kept my pants and legs clean when I'd get on and off the bike, so it was a worthwhile investment. However, it makes taking the chain off and putting it on again very interesting, and given the huge amount of filth on the bike, I'd have to take the chain off.

After mismanaging the quick release on the mountain bike I built I've gotten good at removing quick links easily. So that's where I started. After getting the first seven or so feet of chain off the bike, the rest slides effortlessly out of the chain tube like an onion sliding out of the fried part of the onion ring. Only then can you remove the chainrings to clean them.

If you look through the chainring that is still in place, you'll see a mount for a bike light. Since I have to ride the bike to the Stamford train station in the dark on the morning of the Five Boro Bike Tour, I needed it to stay in place.

Another problem I was having with the bike was the seat, which wasn't as comfortable as it was during the Iran-Contra/Family Ties era. The seat is fiberglass and the cover is black vinyl with a foam interior, and the zipper broke years ago. I originally solved that problem with duct tape but it left a sticky film when removed, so I used more duct tape to remove the film (it's the same technique I used once to get chewing gum off a grateful woman's coat when she hadn't looked where she was sitting on Metro North).

I removed the foam padding, which was quite crumpled and flattened from years of riding. I needed something to make it more comfortable and keep its shape, and luckily in the basement I found my solution:

As happy campers know, this is a Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad. I simply straightened out the original pad, traced around it with a Sharpie and cut it with a pair of scissors. I re-stuffed it into the seat which gave it a seat-like shape, then put the original foam back in before sealing it with duct tape.

I moved the bike (so much lighter with the chain or trunk box!) from the stand so I could try sitting on it. If I had grafted a La-Z-Boy recliner to the frame I would not have been more comfortable.

I put the bike back on the Dexter Morgan table with renewed confidence. I still had to adjust the front and rear brakes, finish cleaning, clean and lube the chain, check the frame for cracks, and adjust the derailler and shifter (changing the cables if necessary). It's a lot to do before the Five Boro Bike Tour, but it needs to be done, so if you are gearing up for the Five Boro Bike Tour, own a bike that doesn't belong in a museum and don't have the time or the tools, give Pacific Swim Bike Run a call for a tune up.

I'll finish working on the recumbent later: right now it is 7:04 on Sunday morning and time to ride.    

Friday, April 22, 2011

I'm Treating Earth Day Like Any Other Day (And So Can You!)

Sometime today, I will celebrate Earth Day by driving my SUV to this gas station and filling the tank with regular unleaded. This morning, however, I filled up a styrofoam cup of coffee and rode my office bike there first.

As you can see from the photograph, the excellent Profile Design bottle cage is being utilized for its intended purpose of transporting coffee in a disposable, environmentally horrid cup and OH-EM-GEE! Gas starts at $4.21 (and nine-tenths) a gallon.

I've always thought of Earth Day as the Valentine's Day for the planet. I don't need a date on a calendar - put there by some marketing department - to tell my wife I love her, buy her flowers, or take her out to dinner. Just like I don't need Earth Day to tell me when I should turn of my lights, recycle, or head to a Toyota dealership to check out a SmugMobile (or maybe the model is called 'Prius').

I can see that Earth Day is nice for others and it genuinely raises awareness about environmental issues, but I personally treat it like any other day. I'm not going to insist people bike instead of using their cars, because I've long ago accepted some people don't or can't ride bikes to where they need to go and don't respond well to be lectured at. So I'm just going to ride my bike and show as many people as possible how much fun it is. I'm going to stop at every red light, use hand signals, and generally refrain from riding obnoxiously or adopting a greener-than-thou attitude. I'm not a psychologist, but that approach might lure more people to the bike shop than traditional finger-wagging.

However, when people are in my office and ask, I'll tell them that for every mile I ride my office bike and don't use my beloved SUV I save about $0.16 or $0.17 cents and I'll leave it at that. 

Also: the coffee cup in the photograph? It's not styrofoam; it's ceramic with a silicone top. Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Worldwide Sketchcrawl = Random Bike Ride in Rhode Island

My wife is an artist and enjoys participating in something called Worldwide Sketchcrawl, which is every few months and consists of artists meeting at cities all over the world to go from place to place all day and sketch before posting the images to the Web (and when the artists in the U.S. wake up in the morning, they like seeing sketches that have already been posted in Australia).

It's very, very cool. But I'd rather bike.

Since my wife wanted to sketch Providence, Rhode Island it meant she'd be sketching while I'd be biking in the Ocean State. I packed up the trusty recumbent and we set off from Stamford early Saturday morning.

As luck would have it, the coffee shop/meeting point for the artists was less than a mile from the East Bay Bike Path, which is a 14.5 mile rail trail which stretches from Providence all the way to Bristol. I parked the Element in a parking lot behind the Providence coffee shop, said goodbye to my wife and the assembled artists, and pedaled to India Point Park, which I had determined to be the starting point for the trail.

I crossed over the highway using this bridge and down into the park, where I quickly discovered I had to pedal up to another bridge to cross the river. I'd never try this with a bike that had a longer wheelbase because the Lombard Street-like switchbacks were extremely sharp.

When crossing the bridge, I had to contend with a cyclist ahead of me who wasn't very fast, and since the non-car area was so narrow I couldn't pass him. But before long I was on the other side, and after barely 1/10 of a mile of riding on a public street, I was on the trail. There's a rather steep climb before it crests out and falls again, becoming a flattish rail trail (complete, in some parts, with rails)

It's not just any rail trail. This one takes you back some pretty beautiful scenery (it would have been even more beautiful if the sky didn't look like it had been made by the set designer of "The Road" but I didn't really mind).

Since the rail trail runs through populated areas, there are a lot of places to stop and eat. But there are other services too as this railway station had long ago been converted to a tanning salon.

Several miles in, I came across Your Bike Shop, which of course is accessible from the road but I noticed a well-worn patch of dirt between the bike trail and the parking lot. I made a note to stop there on the way back.

As would be expected with a rail trail, there are several areas which cross roads, but it wasn't much of an issue and some of the busiest places had crossing signals. There were so many long stretches of trail where your mind can just wander you may not even notice you're arriving in Bristol until you've arrived in Bristol.

After I took this photo, I glanced over and noticed an ice cream stand. It was the fourth one I had spotted on this trip which made me realize that during the summer, this trail must be one of the busiest and happiest rail trails in New England. Some of the ice cream shop owners had used some business savvy and had put bike racks between themselves and the trail. This one featured a drive-up window.

The trail came to a stop soon after I took that photograph and I found myself in front of a map of downtown Bristol, which featured some of the businesses in the area where one can eat and shop. Also important: there was a public bathroom with a bike rack positioned nearby.

I was incredibly, remarkably hungry when I arrived, so the first thing I did was set off to find a restaurant. After just a few minutes of pedaling, I came across a cafe which had two bikes parked in front; neither of which were locked to anything. Taking that as a good sign, I stopped at what I discovered was The Beehive Cafe.

Inside, I immediately stepped to the counter and ordered a chicken sandwich and tomato soup. I was so ravenous I can't believe I paused to take the picture of my delicious lunch before inhaling it.

It was an excellent meal and I hope you have a chance to eat there someday.

Unfortunately for me, I was still hungry when I finished the soup and sandwich. I had only two small pieces of bread with jelly for breakfast nearly seven hours earlier and had just ridden sixteen miles through some rather heavy winds.

So I bought an oatmeal raisin cookie from The Beehive Cafe before I left. I thought I'd eat half of it and save the rest for later, but it was so perfectly baked I ate it all in minutes.

I resumed riding around Bristol, which is a very nice looking Rhode Island town...

...but I was still hungry. So, I asked the Easter Bunny if she could direct me to the nearest bakery.

I wasn't sure why the Easter Bunny was in Bristol, and even though the photo may suggest otherwise, she was very helpful at directing me to a bakery: The Cake Gallery, which had some pretty nice looking wedding cakes in the shop window.

I wasn't interested in a wedding cake, but being someone who can't eat a whole lot of chocolate before getting a headache, something in the shop caught my eye.

Peanut butter cookies with Reese's Pieces baked in them. The perfect cycling snack if I ever heard of one.

When I finished that cookie I was finally full, so I decided to head back to Providence. On the way, I stopped at Your Bike Shop for a bit of browsing, and one of the things I saw were the stools they had made from old bike frames. I liked the shop immediately.

While I was in there, a young woman came in with a flat tire, which they inflated at no charge. Seeing the kindness reminded me to look for the much sought-after 27" tire for the recumbent. The owner checked the back of the store.

"I only have one," he said apologetically.

"I only need one," I said, before explaining that the bike leaning against their shop outside used a 27" rear wheel and a 16" front wheel.

I had to work hard to bend the tire into a shape that would fit into my original bike box but I had it done in short order. Later in the journey back to Providence I noticed a few bikes for sale.

None looked like they'd be worth the hassle of trying to get them back to the car (Still about five miles away) so my Saved from the Scrapheap series will have to wait for its next subject.

So I pressed on. Soon, I came toward the end of the trail which had a great view of Providence. I didn't even see it before since I had been riding in the other direction earlier in the day.

I went up the big incline, then crossed down into the street before climbing again to get to the bridge. This time, there were no cyclists in front of me. I pushed the recumbent past 20 MPH on this stretch, and all I could think while racing down this narrow chute was, as you probably guessed, "Artoo! Try to increase the power!"

After descending Lombard Street and crossing back out of India Point Park, I took a roundabout way to get back to the car so as to round the ride up to an even 35 miles. I was glad I did, because I found this in the road:

Yes, it is what it looks like, which is a set of cheap drill bits. Unopened, they had a sticker on them that read "$5" which made me wonder if they had been at a tag sale earlier in the day. I do not know the circumstances that led this pack of drill bits to the road that day. All I did know is that I had found something that was actually useful, so I took it with me.

I returned to the parking lot where I left the Element and stuffed the drill bits and the recumbent into the back before Clark Kenting back into non-cycling clothes so I could be semi-presentable when meeting back up with my wife and the other artists. When I did, I learned they had enjoyed sketchcrawl (you can see my wife's sketches at and that we were going to La Laiterie at Farmstead in Providence for dinner.

I met the chef. His name is Matt. And the food is pretty incredible, and just what every artist and cyclist needs at the end of a long and enjoyable day.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)