Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Appeasing the Non-Cyclist Spouse: The Blueberry Project

When my wife and I rode our tandem in Branford a few months back I came home with this: a stripped Huffy courtesy of the good people at Zane's Cycles.

At the time I needed this bike for absolutely no reason, but it hung in the basement for more than two months before it came to my rescue.

You see, once in a while, my wife will ask me how many bikes I own. That is often my cue to freeze up like John McCain did when he was asked about his houses during the 2008 election.

How many bikes do I own? Well, it all depends on how you define the word "bikes"...and the word "own." There is a 1997 S&B recumbent frame hanging from a hook. Various tubes and other assorted parts from the Saved from the Scrapheap bikes are neatly organized in plastic bins. Bikes from that series that have actually been "saved" and not taken apart to the last hex bolt hang on the wall next to the beach umbrella. The mountain bike I built hangs among them like the well-dressed executive who shows up by accident in a biker bar.

If you have a Non-Cyclist Spouse (or NCS), harmony and compromise is key. So if you hear something like "you have too many bikes" don't get annoyed. Instead, see it as a challenge: use a bike - preferably one you were planning to get rid of anyway -  in such a way the NCS sees the value of having multiple bikes in the house.

So after the stripped Huffy had hung in my basement for about ten weeks, I took it down because my wife wanted me to build an enclosure for a blueberry plant in our backyard.

You'll see where I'm going with that in a second.

I knew this project was coming but I didn't know what I needed to make it apart from chicken wire, which I had bought from Keough's hardware store in Stamford for about $20.

To work a bike into this project, I decided that the 26" wheel would be useful for making the right shape for the wire. I rolled out the wire and cut it to the circumference of the wheel. Once done, I cut another piece of chicken wire in the shape of the wheel to make the top. I was going to use twist ties to tie it all together but i found the chicken wire could be wrapped around itself pretty easily.

So I had the start of a chicken wire cage that would easily fit over the blueberry plant. But it was rather fragile so I decided to incorporate the 26" wheel into the construction. I set the wheel on the workbench and had a look at it.

I knew the bolt cutters, which had come to my aid so many times before, would be the right tool. If you ever find yourself using a 26" mountain bike wheel from an old Huffy and decide to get rid of the spoke with a bolt cutter, cut the spokes furthest away from you: if the wheel is true and the tension is high, I discovered the first few spokes will shoot out of the wheel and fly a considerable distance. I'm sure I'll be finding spokes scattered throughout the workshop throught the summer.

With the spokes gone, I was left with a shiny metal rim, I flipped the enclosure over and attached the rim with garden ties.

Once I was done, I had a fairly light but rather strong blueberry plant enclosure. I made sure my wife knew that a throwaway bike given to me by a friendly bike shop made it possible for me to protect our blueberries from ravenous birds.

All in all, it was a good result. The Huffy served a great purpose and my wife saw (at least briefly) the value of the bikes and bike parts I bring into the house. I told her I still had a rear wheel and enough chicken wire left over to build another enclosure should she buy another blueberry plant. In the meantime, I'm still keeping the rest of the bike, but I moved it to another part of the workshop. Until I can find a more worthy one to put in its place, the Huffy can go on the Wall of Frame.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bike to Work Week 2011: Practical Knowledge for the Reluctant Commuter

So it's Bike to Work Week. The League of American Bicyclists is the national sponsor and their site has a number of useful links, including ways you can ride comfortably and safely in May (national bike month).

But for Bike to Work Week 2011, I've found very little practical information about what riding a bike to work actually means for people who aren't even entertaining the thought of riding a bike to work. We can all talk about how good cycling is for the environment or make a statement about cycling and gas prices with a clever photograph that gets published in the Stamford Advocate or even talk about the health benefits of riding but a lot of non-cyclists just drift away when we hit upon those topics. When they go to work, they think about the little benefits for themselves that driving to work gives them. So if we want to introduce Bike to Work Week to these good people, we have to talk about the little things that are really big things.

Things like coffee.

Stay with me: a lot of people drive to work and enjoy stopping off somewhere for a cup of coffee or they fill a commuter mug at home with their favorite blend. They carry it to the car. They put it in a cupholder. They sip it while keeping an eye on the road. It sounds like a little thing, but to a lot of people (including me) it's a tangible benefit of taking a car to work.

So, in order to get that benefit to carry over to cycling we have to present the Coffee Lover with this:

This is a handlebar cup holder. You have to visit your local bike shop to find one and most of them look like this. This is the very cup holder I use when I take my Dahon Matrix to visit my in-laws in New Jersey. I tiptoe downstairs. I ride to Dunkin' Donuts. I buy a cup and I pedal slowly but happily back to the house. The cup holder and the Matrix together are very powerful.

Now that endorsement may not work for most people. They might have more questions about how well a cup holder will work on their bike which may not ride as smoothly as a Matrix. They may also say they get their coffee elsewhere and aren't sure whether their experience will be as comfortable.

To answer some of these questions (and I do hope you send this post to the coffee lover who isn't biking to work this week) I decided to conduct a simple test: take a full cup of coffee from a variety of locations, ride exactly one mile and record the results.

Aware that I couldn't possibly do a real controlled experiment with a bike that had full suspension (and aware some Reluctant Commuter may not have a smooth riding bike and would balk at my research) I decided not to use the Matrix for the test. Instead, I used the least comfortable bike I own: the DiamondSchwinn. Since the bike has been molar-looseningly stiff since I welded the frame, I figured that would assure any Reluctant Commuter that any experience they'd have on their bikes with a cup holder would be better.

To measure my results, I created a special collar to go around the cup holder made of foam board. I then cut pieces of card stock to shape so that any coffee placed in the cup holder would be surrounded by a pristine white surface.

As you can see, the first cup I tested came from McDonald's, which has come a long way in the flavor department with their coffee. Their black coffee used to taste like black. The color. Now it actually tastes pretty good.

The cup photographed came from a McDonald's in New Jersey while my wife and I were capping a road trip to Philadelphia. It was empty by the time we got home and I decided to use it for my test. Lucky for me I had not emptied my coffee pot days earlier, so I poured it into the cup and filled it to about 1/4 inch from the top (No, I wasn't planning to drink any of the coffee in the tests).

I had high hopes for the McDonald's cup. Just check out that lid.

Though the arrows suggest you pry back the little plastic thing I didn't do that. Instead, I pushed it in and let it hang there, letting my lip push the plastic cap into the coffee cup each time I took a sip.

Refilled, I set it in the cup holder on the DiamondSchwinn and set the odometer on my Garmin bike GPS. When I hit the start button I began pedaling. The frame let me know every time I ran over an ant on the road, but the welds still held.

I headed down Shippan Avenue and onto Magee, and just as I expected the McDonald's lid was doing well even though the road was getting bumpier. Before I knew it I was passing by Level 3 Communications and closing in on the one-mile mark.


In a true testament to the rough condition of Stamford's roads, the McDonald's cup (completely filled) leaped out of the cup holder as the bike hit a bump and made a quick trip to the pavement, spilling three-day-old coffee in the street. I turned around to get a shot of the cup in the road before I picked up the litter and put it in the better bike box.

Then I realized something: I had data. Though the road was bad enough to bounce the cup nearly a foot into the air, I hardly spilled any on the card stock. Very carefully, I blotted the coffee stain and replaced the card stock with a new one.

Next, I rode on to the Stamford train station. The DiamondSchwinn got stared at as I pushed it past the ticket counter, but I confidently stepped up to Dunkin' Donuts and ordered a medium black coffee and asked for an extra small cup with a lid.

The latter went into the bike box. The former, which had a different sort of lid than the McDonald's cup, took its place in the cup holder.

Before I began the test, I lifted the 'lift' tab and locked it into place, leaving a small opening in the lid through which I could see my coffee. Even though that left a place for coffee to escape, I wondered if the foam cup would have better dampening abilities than the McDonald's cup.

I reset the odometer and set off. Nearly immediately, I could tell the medium Dunkin' Donuts cup wasn't going to find itself in the winner's circle. Less than a half mile from the station I was at the government center and snapped a quick picture at a red light.

By the time I had gone a mile, things didn't look good for the Dunkin' Donuts cup. Throughout the trip coffee would dribble out of the opening and pool onto the cap until it would slosh onto the card stock. All in all, a disappointing performance. Reluctant cyclists: you've been warned.

 There was another disappointment to come: it was time to test the small cup, which, as you can see, has a different type of lid than medium and large sized cups.

Like I did with the McDonald's cup, I blotted the card stock dry. Then I carefully poured the hot Dunkin' Donuts coffee into the small cup. I pulled up on the tab and locked it into place. Once I placed it in the cup holder I wasn't feeling very hopeful.

A test is a test, so I reset the odometer and pushed off as carefully as I could. I avoided as many bumps as I could safely avoid. I came to smooth stops at every red light and rode the bike as gently as I could.


The coffee did not want to stay in the cup. There's no other way to put it. I also got a lot of it on my legs which rules out the small Dunkin' Donuts cup for anyone who wants to arrive at work presentable.

The coffee had sloshed over most of the front of the bike, too.

When I took off the lid, I discovered about 2/3 of a cup of coffee had escaped over the course of one carefully ridden mile. On paper, this meant that if I were to ride all the way to work, I'd have negative 1 and 1/3 cups of coffee remaining upon arrival.

Still, it was a result. I blotted the paper dry and put it away with the others. Before setting off I stopped to admire the Stamford Art Association building. 

Next, I headed to the Starbucks attached to the grand Ferguson Library. This testament to learning and literacy is having a fundraising benefit this Thursday (May 19th) called Eat Play Read that I will be attending. You can call 203-351-8295 or visit their site for reservations.

I went to Starbucks and asked for a medium black coffee. When the young woman behind the counter gave it to me, she included a little cardboard sleeve so I wouldn't burn my hands on the cup.

This hadn't happened at Dunkin' Donuts (nor did it occur at McDonald's that morning) and for a moment I was stumped, but then I decided to leave the sleeve on. This was a true to life test, and if the barista gives a cardboard sleeve, then that is how the coffee goes into the cup holder.

On the red light, I pushed the bike across the street and waited to start pedaling down Broad Street. Nothing had spilled, and I wondered if the cardboard sleeve would dampen the bumps.

It didn't.

Only one quarter of one mile and this is what I was dealing with.

There could be an entire episode of Mythbusters about this subject, but the shape of the lid really makes a difference in terms of trajectory. The medium cup of Dunkin' Donuts was messy but the coffee didn't shoot up high into the air like that of the Starbucks cup.

Also: there's a reason the barista provides a little cardboard sleeve. The coffee is hot. Noticeably hotter than the Dunkin' Donuts coffee. One little bump and the coffee would spurt skywards...and often land on me. That was the whole ride, really.







The coffee was so hot I wondered it if would loosen the welds on the frame and make the bike collapse in a heap of burnt coffee and molten metal.

When a large spurt actually hit my cycling glasses, I stopped to clean them...as it happens in front of a new bike shop in Stamford, Danny's Cycles.

I also realized just how I would look (and just how much height/air time the flying spurts of Starbucks coffee got) if I had actually ridden all the way to work.

As annoyed as I was, I continued riding until I had logged one mile. Then I took a look at the data.

Of course, the card stock tells part of the story. My shirt, pants, bike frame and cycling glasses tell the rest of the tale. It's also important to note that all three of the previous cups give you the option of not opening the lid before you get to work. The lid on the Starbucks cup, a very popular design (I had seen it at Cosi and other places) doesn't give you that choice.

Once I recorded the result, I dried off and applied another dry card stock to the cup holder surround as I realized there was one more place I could test on the way home: Donut Delight. They thoughtfully redesigned their store not too long ago so it has a drive through.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to place an order no matter how many times I shouted "hello!" into the speaker. So I headed home to look at all of my findings and make a verdict.

So, for all reluctant cyclists: I know you aren't keen on giving up on the little comforts that come with driving a car to work, but be assured on Bike to Work Week: a cup holder will allow you to take coffee with you. Try to use a local shop whenever possible, but if you do a chain try to make it McDonald's (if you can keep the cup from skittering out of the cup holder en route). Now that you have the right bike, the right cup holder and the right cup, you have one less excuse for not riding to work this week.

Also: you can skip the coffee altogether and get something iced with a straw. But that's another test.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Donut Lover's Guide to Bicycle Commuting: The DiamondSchwinn's Debut

After littering the floor of the welding room with slag and spending time with a variety of brake and shifter bits I had this:

For readers just joining us: the bike you see above is (or rather, was) a 1991 Diamondback Sorrento which is the latest in DIYBIKING.COM's Saved from the Scrapheap series. I thought I'd take an bike that was in bad shape and make it worse/get welding practice by cutting in half and welding it back together with the top tube and bottom tube from separate Schwinns. As I discovered, cutting a bike in half can be very traumatic for the bike.

However, the operation was a complete success. Once I had joined the bike together I set to work on the front shifter that had failed, and in this instance 'set to work' is euphemism for 'replaced the old push-button shifter with an even older one.'

The variable shifter is hooked to the front derailleur and worked like a charm. Considering I rarely use a front derailleur shifter no matter how reliable it is, this seemed like a good option.

You'll also notice I've attached a temporary mount for my Garmin Edge 205 bike GPS. My DiamondSchwinn may look ugly, but it isn't leaving the house without knowing where it's going or how fast it is getting there.

In addition to the derailleur problem, I replaced the shift and brake cables that were worn or rusted through. Since my mountain bike project gave me the skills for that, it wasn't too much of a problem (but I do not own the proper cable cutters, so I was forced to use tin snips with varying degrees of success).

I know that the cables are pretty but the welds are rather ugly. When I carried the DiamonSchwinn up the stairs, I could hear slag that had made its way into the top tube rattling around.

I did have faith in what I made. So much so that I decided to ride it to work. Seven miles round trip can't be faked, and for those of you who know Stamford's roads, there are a lot of bumps which would test the integrity of my work.

Keen to get as much speed out of the bike as possible I attached an aerodynamic top tube bag I bought from  Pacific Swim Bike Run to put some quick fix tools in. The better bike box was reserved for my Day Planner.

And, of course, donuts.

I thought it would be a triumphant ride: Straight through Stamford, up Bedford Street and stopping at the Bedford Street Diner for a couple of donuts before continuing on to the office. I figured that would prove that the DiamondSchwinn had what it took and that I wasn't as terrible at welding as I used to be.

Since I had a long day at work ahead of me I left early. The bumps were rough. The frame was stiff. The stares were frequent. But I rode without incident and made it to the Bedford Street Diner around 6:40. The Bedford Street Diner, which is the home of the best donuts in Stamford I've found so far, is also the home of the 'One Dollar Cone' but now it just said it was the home of the 'One' so I didn't know if they were in the process of changing the sign or were going to host a screening of The Matrix.

But I couldn't puzzle over that (nor was I wondering why the pictured ice cream cone in the sign looks like little mushroom cloud) because I had donuts on my mind. I stepped to the register and made my order.

Unfortunately, I was given bad news: the donuts weren't made yet. Yes, the Bedford Street Diner has a 'donut window' much like the Space Shuttle has when it needs to land.  I was disappointed but I got over it somewhat when I bought a couple of oatmeal raisin cookies instead.

When I left the diner, something else was about to disappoint me: the weather. Rain was starting to trickle out of the sky, so I knew I needed to get to my office fast to avoid an unexpected downpour.

On the rest of Bedford Street, the DiamondSchwinn went fast and surpassed 20 miles an hour in places. I managed to make it to work before the rain really started to come down and rolled the bike into an absent co-workers cubicle before starting my workday, at my desk, with my oatmeal raisin cookies.

At the end of the day, the weather had cleared up and became sunny, so I got ready to ride the DiamondSchwinn home.

The bike was again stared at from some of the motorists, but it was holding together and moving a lot faster than most of them. Some of the bumps and potholes really did make me miss my suspension fork and Cane Creek Thudbuster seatpost on my other bikes, but on this day, I didn't mind.When I got home, I carried the bike into the porch with a smile on my face.

On this day, I learned two important facts: first, the Bedford Street Diner has a donut window, so if you want to get donuts there, try not to do it before quarter to seven in the morning.

Second, I can weld bike frames.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Workstand and Deliver III: Modification on a Shoestring

I've been incredibly happy with my Park Tool PCS-12 mounted onto a Craftsman cabinet, and I've found it was a smart move keeping the legs from the PCS-9 (though I keep my fingers and toes as far from it as possible when folding and unfolding it).

Now facing a weekend where I have to move everything around again, I've found that the portable tool stand I made has been working great, but I wanted to changed something.

So we have the PCS-12 mounted on the Extremities Crusher and the Nashbar P-Handle wrench set. I also have the camera tripod I use for my portable tool stand.

I had an idea of using the bag from the Ryobi 18V ONE+ tool combo to put everything in. The tripod pokes out a little but the bag is light and durable enough for a portable bike shop.

As it happens with new tools, my relationship with them changed and I tweaked where I store them. I ended up creating a mount on my custom bike workstand for the P-Handle wrench set because I found I was using them a lot. Since I use them in the metal holder in the portable stand, I wanted to transport them without having to take them out of holder.

The first idea was to carve up that big hunk of styrofoam in the photo so the tools would just drop in there. Only after I started carving it up and leaving little bits of foam all over the shop floor did I realize this was not an ideal solution.

So I consulted the 304 and came up with this: a piece of bungee shoelace. It takes just a few seconds to thread it through the holes of the wrenches and gently tie it together at the bottom.

The other tools can go in a random small bag so they don't get lost. The coffee cup can be filled once I'm done with this post.

Packed away, things stay together, and I've come to like the portability factor a lot. I like my shop but it's always good to get a change in scenery from time to time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saved from the Scrapheap: Diamondback Sorrento

When my dad upgraded his bike he gave me this: his 1991 Diamondback Sorrento.

Even though this is the youngest bike that has yet been profiled in this series, it does look like it is the oldest. Since the bike spent most of its time in the Mystic, Connecticut area, the salty air did a real number on it.

This is what served as my office bike for over a year until I replaced it with a better, more attractive one. As I wrote back then, nobody in my building enjoyed getting in the elevator with me when I would take it out for a ride. But it was well tuned and had good tires, and the only real changes I made was the big seat and the gel handlegrips.

Once I bought the new office bike, this headed to bicycle purgatory in my basement. When I brought it out I could see how worn the bike really was.

As you can see from the picture above, the brake and shifter cables were in truly bad shape. If I wanted to ride this again, I'd have to replace most of them.

But I didn't want to fix the bike for its own sake. I needed a challenge and the solid steel frame of the Sorrento gave me an idea: Why not cut the bike in half and weld it back together?

I bought a Lincoln Electric Mig welder expecting to build up skill and eventually create my own bike frames. The problem, as you've seen from the workbench I made, is my welds are neither pretty nor consistent. I have had some success as far as strength goes (not only with the workbench but I welded a bedframe that hasn't collapsed after two years) but I haven't done bike frames. Unable to find anyone to teach me how to do it properly, I decided the only way to get to my goal was to practice.

First, I used a pipe cutter to cut the top tube, and where the handle couldn't reach I finished the job with a Ryobi 18V reciprocating saw, which I consider to be the patriarch of the battery powered ONE+ family of tools.

When I cut it I thought of a way to make this project a little more interesting: in my scrap metal bin I had various frame pieces from bikes I've dismantled over the years. Why not cut off the entire top tube and replace it with another? Doing that, I reasoned, would be twice the practice. I also didn't think I could possibly make the bike any uglier.

I did wimp out on cutting the bike in half all at once so one half would fall to the floor. I had brake and shifter cables to think about, so I decided to do it one tube at a time. That still, as I found out later, put a lot of strain on the cables.

Once I removed the top tube I picked a Schwinn 'Thrasher' for the replacement and cut it to the right length.  Using some handy clamps and magnets I put the tube in place, put on all the safety equipment, turned on the exhaust fan and the welder, and moved into position. Very carefully, I pulled the trigger.

That didn't go well.

Wow, I thought: bike tube steel is very thin. I also realized I hadn't turned down the temperature of the welder since the last time I had used it (to join much heavier steel). After I made the adjustment, I gave up hope I could protect the new top tube's paint with a little piece of alluminium tape, and went at it. Sparks flew.

From time to time I had to raise the helmet to make sure I wasn't burning more holes in the steel or leaving holes when making a pass. Try as I might, I couldn't make the welds pretty.

But I did make them strong. Once I had attached the top tube and waited for it to cool, I cut off the bottom tube to see if the bike would stay together. It did.

Now it would have made sense to use the bottom tube from the Schwinn 'Thrasher' to replace the bottom tube of the Sorrento. But I didn't have that, so I used a purple downtube from another Schwinn I pulled out of the Metal Only bin a while ago. I know nothing about that bike other than it came from a store in New Hampshire (while the Diamondback originally came from the excellent Mystic Cycle Centre).

Once again, I lined up everything best I could and pulled the trigger. The welds still were sloppy-looking but the tube ultimately was welded into place. I set the bike down, put the seat back on, and tentatively sat on it.

It didn't collapse. However, I was facing some new problems.

You know those little things that are welded to the tubes that hold the cable ends in place? One of them is visible just above the 'S' in 'Sorrento' in the photograph of the first cut. If you ever cut a bike in half and replace it with tubes from other bikes, the placement of those things is important. Even if the cables on the Sorennto were good, I wouldn't have been able to reuse them because the little metal things welded to the tubes are welded in different places. That wasn't so much of a problem on the down tube, but the rear brake cable (which, as it happens, was one of the few cables that was actually in decent shape) would have to be completely replaced.

Another unforseen problem: the front derailleur shifter stopped working, possibly due to the trauma of the operation. So I was out a shifter as well. The rear one still worked, but barely.

In short, this project was becoming much more challenging than I thought.


(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Five Boro Bike Tour 2011/You Should Ride The Five Boro Bike Tour 2012

On Sunday I rode in Five Boro Bike Tour on my early 1980s Turner recumbent, which by now is an honorary Saved from the Scrapheap bike. 42 miles, the ride starts at 8:00 in the morning in Battery Park in Manhattan, but if you don't live in Manhattan you have to figure out how to get your bike to the start.

My day began at 3:00am. I had set my alarm for 4:00am but I woke up at 3:00am because at that hour my brain likes to ring my body's doorbell and run away.

Stiff and tired, I made coffee, ate a banana, and got ready to ride to the Stamford train station, a convenient 1.7 or so miles from home. I checked the weather, and since it looked like it would still be warm I packed an extra environmentally unfriendly bottle of water.

The headlamp and the taillight I had made worked well, but it wasn't like there were any cars on the road to notice. The only life I saw were two raccoons who were crossing the road to enter a Ford dealership, which made me wonder if everyone was car shopping but me.

But I made it to the station and quickly learned the train was on track No. 5, so I waited for it at the platform.

There's a 5:49 express train that arrives in Grand Central just 20 minutes after the 5:03 does, but I like the 5:03 train a lot better because it's fun to meet and talk with the cyclists as they get on at every local stop.

The sleepy conductor didn't realize it was the day of the Five Boro, and I admit I felt sorry for him since he would spend the day telling people to keep their Trek Madone's and Cannondales out of the aisle.Since it was an old Don Draper-era Metro North car, no one (not even the conductor) had qualms about bikes being placed on the seats, but my bike has to go in the vestibule. I park it on the left side on the way in and the right side on the way out so I don't have to move it when the doors on the opposite side open.

I met a nice woman with a carbon fiber work of art she called a bike and her son, and we chatted about the tour most of the way into Grand Central Terminal while the sun rose and more cyclists came on board at nearly every stop. Eventually, we arrived at Grand Central, which was already welcoming other cyclists.

After I gave the woman and her son my tried-and-true instructions on how to get to the starting point of the tour (ride south down Park Avenue, merge onto Broadway, and follow the other cyclists) I immediately headed to Zaro's to buy my oatmeal raisin cookie, which would complete my list of the five things I can't live without on the tour. I panicked a moment when I didn't see any in the display case, but thankfully, that tea-saucer sized wonder emerged from behind the counter, was placed into a paper bag, and was immediately placed into the bike box.

I left Grand Central and found that it wasn't as cold as I feared, so the windbreaker stayed in the bike box. I then switched on my Garmin bike GPS and put on my Earbags, helmet and gloves (and snapped a quick picture) while it was finding satellites.

I gave a couple of other cyclists directions on how to get to the tour and we set off down Park Avenue, which has a rather peaceful feel to it at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday. It took only three or four miles to get to the start, which, as expected, was filled with cyclists (all of whom seemed especially happy it wasn't very cold and was not raining). I ate half of my oatmeal cookie and alternately chatted with other cyclists and answered their questions about my bike. I think the headlight and the rear box completed the look this year, as I found the bike attracting a lot of positive attention.

For reasons I do not know someone sprung for two pyrotechnic displays near the front of the tour by the stage. When the tour began at 8:00 to the cheering crowd, we had to mostly walk our bikes to the stage and would be baked in the warmth of the fire. I didn't much care for the pyrotechnics, but I heard at least one excited participant wish they'd keep them on so she'd stay warm.

As I was passing through that area, the announcer was running through the states and countries the attendees had come from. I liked that.

We rode north, and even though there were a couple of places we had to stop so traffic could pass, the tour had picked up its pace by the time we all got to Central Park. Last year there was a mysterious stretch where we all had to walk our bikes for what felt like half a mile, but this year we all made it through the park at a nice clip.

Just as with every other tour, we crossed into The Bronx on the Madison Avenue Bridge, and within minutes we cross back into Manhattan on the Third Avenue Bridge to head down FDR Drive. It was actually getting warm, so I began to think about removing my Earbags, undershirt and even the gloves.

After a nice long run down FDR drive, we came to the Queensboro Bridge. When you're approaching it you can almost be mesmerized at the sight of tiny figures on bikes moving across it...and then you realize you have a really hard climb ahead.

I pushed the pedals as hard as I could and made my way up the incline and past the cyclists who were walking their bikes or struggling with their ridiculously light carbon fiber bikes. But I stopped to rest at the top so I could remove my cold weather shirt and take a picture of the East River and the cyclists still on FDR drive who hadn't yet gone over the bridge (I hope the photo captures just how high up it all is).

After a fast descent into Queens, it was a few twists and turns that got everyone into Astoria Park, where they were handing out bananas, the standby cycling snack.

After eating a banana I pressed on through Queens and suddenly felt myself getting weaker and tired. My stomach growled. Something was wrong.

Then I remembered: I had forgotten to eat the other half of my Zaro's oatmeal raisin cookie. I immediately pulled over, yanked the cookie out of the bike box and wolfed it down. Strength back, I pedaled on toward Brooklyn, borough Four of Five/The Borough That Does Not End.

There's a stretch of the tour by New York Harbor (and around the 30 mile mark) where the best views are when you turn around and look at where you had just been. However, all of that changes when you're coming up to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and you can almost always hear a Five Boro Bike Tour first timer moan "I'm going to ride up that?!"

At the John Paul Jones/Cannonball Park is the last rest area until the festival at Staten Island, which was just four miles away, but it isn't the easiest four miles. Having chosen my portable toilet breaks carefully throughout the day, I skipped that rest area and rode onto the on-ramp for the Verrazano Narrows bridge, knowing that the festival awaited.

As I rode, I realized one of the reasons (other than the weather) why I was enjoying this ride so much. In the year since the last FBBT I had built my own mountain bike and had begun to work on, dismantle, or otherwise be around bikes more, I was picking up on things I had missed in earlier tours. Throughout the day I was checking out the bikes of others and would diagnose what was going on with them.

For example, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I listened and I could hear the unmistakable chattering of rear cassettes as riders all around me were trying, desperately, to find another gear. I guess I had always heard that sound but never paid attention to it before.

After a long ascent, I stopped briefly at the top to take a picture before riding down into Staten Island and into Fort Wadsworth where the festival was. There's food, drink, and several booths featuring bike manufacturers as well as clothing and other things. Sometimes I buy a Five Boro Bike Tour T-shirt at the merchandise table, but since I have so many T-shirts with a bicycle printed somewhere on it I have nearly snooty standards about the design and quality, so I skipped it this year.

Once I had browsed the festival and drank some more water, I rode the final three miles to the Staten Island Ferry. I just missed a ferry and had to wait with a few hundred cyclists waiting to board, but I didn't mind. Since I was one of the first people on the ferry I got to ride up front and take a few more pictures of New York Harbor on the windy ride back to lower Manhattan.

Upon disembarking, I immediately hit the road and headed to the West Side Greenway and headed north, stopping briefly to reflect on the ride and the bike, which despite having a seat held together with duct tape and a wheel from a trashed Fuji Espree, had brought me through with style, comfort, and admiring looks/stares.

The bike is pictured here at the Intrepid Museum. Just on the deck you can see the SR-71 Blackbird Will Smith was hitting golf balls from in 'I am Legend.'  I made up my mind that I'm going to finally visit that museum this summer, but my first order of business after taking this photo was to find an Energy Kitchen, which is a chain of smoothie/health food stores in Manhattan. As a promotional thing, they were offering a free smoothie to anyone who showed their tour vest. Later that afternoon I sipped a rather excellent 'creamsicle' smoothie while riding from their 300 East 41st Street location back to Grand Central Terminal to catch a train back to Stamford.

Once I settled on the train, I overheard a young woman complaining loudly that she was very thirsty, so I  handed her my unused extra bottle of water - which rode with me in the bike box the whole day. She thanked me profusely. 

A great tour, a great day. I hope to see you at Five Boro Bike Tour 2012.