Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Winter Gear Issue #2a- The Torso (base layer)

I have always worn a T-shirt as my base layer when biking, with the exception of my time in the Peace Corps in Senegal where once in a while I'd wear this god awful green mesh tank-top that I bought from a travelling vendor. But I digress, my point is: it's time to grow up. If I'm going to be serious about biking 13-20 miles a day through the winter I need to graduate from the absorbent cotton T-shirts that I wear every time I get on my bike.

So I did what I needed to do, and hate to do- I went shopping. From reading other blogs about the most important gear for winter bike riding I decided I needed a base layer that wicks moisture away from my skin, keeping my skin dry. You see our sweat is an extremely efficient method our bodies use to cool us when we're over heated. However, when it's cold out and we're not overheating, we need to move that perspiration away from our skin to prevent its cooling properties working on our bodies.

At REI I puchased two undershirts, both with "moisture-wicking technology". The first undershirt is from the REI PolarTec® long underwear collection.  I bought the mid-weight, zippered version (pictured below) of the shirt although they also have a light-weight version.

REI PolarTec® Zip-T- Midweight
I have now worn this shirt once twice on a cool morning rides, probably high 40's. I was definitely pleased with the noticeable difference in skin wetness. However, this was not really neither ride was a good test of cold weather, because half way into my ride I had my jacket and the undershirt unzipped so I could cool off. Have I mentioned that fall is not very chilly in North Carolina.  What I did not like about this shirt is how stinky it was after one ride. It was ripe after one hour on the bike.  I'll have to wait and see if was stinky because it was too warm a day for the shirt and I sweat too much or if it just stinks every time I wear it. Now with two rides wearing this shirt I am worried it is a "feature" of the shirt to become really stinky with just a little perspiration.  As a side note, my nose is not particularly sensitive to my own BO, so if I say it's stinky that means something.

The second undershirt I purchased was the Under Armour Evo ColdGear® hoodie. It is a bit heavier than the PolarTec undershirt and has a hood, but no front zipper.
Under Armour Evo ColdGear® hoodie
I have worn this shirt on a few morning rides, with and without a windbreaker top layer.  I like the hood because on cool mornings I can pull it up instead of wearing my hat. On a cool 50°F morning this shirt is nice without a windbreaker, just enough to keep me from getting shivery on a shaded downhill roll. It breathes nicely so when I get warmed up I don't overheat. The hood is good down to about 45°F, below that I put on my hat. The shirt does help keep my skin drier than a normal cotton T-shirt, which has been nice on the colder mornings I've worn this shirt. Finally, this hoodie doesn't seem plagued with the stink problem of the PolarTec undershirt.

Again, I have not tested these shirts in cold weather yet, just a couple of cool mornings. It remains to be seen how they with fair in our "blustery" North Carolina winter.

Other winterizing entries:
My hat

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Route #5, The Direct Route (University Drive)

Who are these people, and why are they on my blog?

This is the current Durham County Board of Commissioners. They are in this post because of a conversation I had with Ellen Reckhow (seated) about biking in Durham and Chapel Hill.  I was waiting in line to vote early in the 2008 primary election in Durham.  Because there was a ton of interest in that election the line wrapped around the block, drawing out the politicians to meet and greet.   I had just finished talking with a guy working the line for somebody else, he was a complete bore and annoying to boot, when Ms. Reckhow approached us and asked us about our concerns...instead of just asking for our vote.

I told her of my concern that there isn't a safe bike route between Durham and Chapel Hill.  To which she told me that the route that includes University Road, Old Durham/Chapel Hill Road is a planned bike corridor between the two towns. Being that I'm now writing about bike commuting routes on this blog, I decided to ride the route this morning so that I could report on how I feel about its current state.

11.5 miles, about 50 minutes

View Larger Map

I almost took Route #3 this morning because I really needed a longer ride, but I've been meaning to take this route for a few weeks now, so I chose this morning.  This is the most direct route to Chapel Hill from my house, barring riding down the side of the eight-lane highway 15-501.

University Drive: Between our house and Martin Luther King Parkway the quality of University Drive varies quite a bit. For the first mile the asphalt is beat up, there is no shoulder and there are several busy intersections that make bike travel a little scary. Once you pass Chapel Hill Road and Dixon Road, University open up to a wider road more suited to the amount of traffic; there is no bike lane but there is plenty of room for bikes. The wider portion of University goes all the way to Garrett Road.  This portion of University Drive has some major intersections that require caution, but I actually felt surprisingly safe riding in this area this morning. The lanes are wide enough that cars can pass with 3+ feet of buffer, and the traffic was not that bad.

Old Durham/Chapel Hill Road: At Garrett Road the name of University changes to Old Durham/Chapel Hill Road.  The personality of the road also changes.  Here, the road becomes a narrow two lane highway with variable size shoulders.  Again, the traffic was not as bad as I had expected on this route, so the narrow road did not bother me that much. That said, I still much prefer a designated bike lane to a wide shoulder.  From Old Durham I turned onto Standish Drive.  Standish is a wide residential street with no traffic. I turned down here because I lived on Standish my first six months in the Triangle area.

I crossed through the Trader Joe's parking lot to get over to Franklin Street, which you can read about in my earlier post.

In summary, this route was more pleasant than I had expected.  It is also shorter by a mile-and-a-half than my usual route. I do however have a mini rant for Ms. Reckhow.  It looks like part of the bike corridor might consist of a good deal of sidewalk sharing. This is not acceptable for a proper bike route and I will explain why.  As a cyclist, if you want to get hit by a car, one of the best places to ride is on the sidewalk. Drivers crossing the sidewalk to pull into traffic never stop at the sidewalk to check for traffic, they pull up to the road edge with their car across the sidewalk.  I personally have hit two cars that did this to me on sidewalk/bike-lane combos, and I know of others that have been hit on the side by cars pulling out of driveways across the sidewalk. I don't know i this is the final plan for the road to use sidewalks as part of the bike route, but if not they are going to have to tear out and expand some asphalt that was just refinished in the past couple of months.

This is definitely the shortest route from Durham to Chapel Hill so it is an ideal route to work up for biking.  I think it could be a great route that will encourage biking between the two towns, but REAL bike facilities should be installed, not dangerous half-assed facilities.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Winter Gear Issue #1- The Head

I live in North Carolina, it doesn't get very cold here. However, for a couple of months out of the year it is a little chilly for biking.  This year I'm going to attempt to continue to bike commute through the winter. This will be the first in a series of posts where I describe the gear I wear to protect myself from the cold, and how well it works for me.

As the title suggests this post will be about my hat.  Thanks to Kyra I have a hat I really like for winter biking. A couple of years ago she bought me a fleece Carhartt hat with a pull-down face mask. As a side note, I think Kyra bought the hat to push the online order over the free shipping price limit. Turns out that little afterthought purchase turned out to be a great hat for biking in the cold.  I like this hat a lot because it is both warm and thin, so it fits in my helmet without squeezing my brains out my ears.  The face mask can be pulled down for very cold days, or tucked into the hat for days that are merely chilly.

This hat has worked well for me.  It isn't cold enough to use it this year, but I have worn it on a couple of mornings.  In the past couple of years I have worn the hat when I ride to and from the bus, a short 1.5 mile ride. On this short a ride this hat is entirely sufficient to protect from North Carolina cold (The lowest of low is usually around 20°F or -7°C).  We will have to see how it holds up to longer rides in the cold.

Other winterizing entries:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My New Obsession

I went in to Cycle9 yesterday to try out a Surly Long Haul Trucker.  I rode the 56 cm bike out to Mapleview Farms Ice Cream; I absolutely loved the feel of the bike. Now I have to decide how I can afford $1100 worth of bike.  I don't think I could get  a lot of return if I sold my Specialized Sirrus, maybe $150-200, that barely scratches the surface of the LHT price-tag.

My current bike gets me to and from work just fine, but I suffer from constant flat tires, mostly caused by rough road and skinny tires. My current bike has also been plagued by wheel issues since the day I forgot to lock it down properly on front of the bus.  Damn grad school had me seeing double that day I was so overworked. The bike half fell out of the bike rack and the back wheel got unrepairably bent. The new wheel I bought from The Bicycle Chain was not true to begin with, and never was right.  I do have a new wheelset now that has its own issues, such as they are nearly impossible to get tires on them without tearing up my hand, and I had a problem getting the tire bead to set in the hook, (I have resolved that issue).

Long story short, I want big wheels with bulletproof tires.  I want to forget about my wheels for two years. Except for tire inflation I don't want to have to deal with wheel issues.  I especially don't want to spend anymore time on the side of the road pulling tubes out of wheels and fighting with tire irons to get my bike rolling.  I think on top of being a well equipped commuter bike, the Surly LHT can give me wheels that will stand up to the beatings I can give.

So now, what can I sell to make it happen.  I wonder how much I can get for my Yamaha V-star that currently wont start.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Maryland Bicycle Law Has No Teeth

I came across this story in the Baltimore Sun about a three-foot rule being enacted in Maryland. That is, Maryland has a new law that requires drivers give a three-foot buffer when passing a bicyclist on the road. Now, I don't live in Maryland but I am interested in cyclist's rights everywhere.
Advocates for bicyclists scored a big win this year when they persuaded the Maryland General Assembly to adopt a measure requiring drivers to leave a 3-foot buffer when passing a bicycle.
On the surface I think this law is a great idea; however, when you dig into the specifics it seems as if the law has no teeth. The article goes on to point out that cyclists have the responsibility to pull over and make room for cars if they are going 15 mph or more below the speed limit. Then there is this last little tidbit from the article:
Now let's say the bicyclist is in the wrong — blithely hogging the travel lane while slowing the motorist to 20 mph under the speed limit. In that case, the buffer rule does not apply. But drivers who would prefer not to spend their day explaining that to police after a collision should keep their distance anyway.
I want to dissect the logic here because the way I read it, in most situations the law would not apply. Lets say you are like me, a lowly bike commuter, riding to work day by day, just trying to get by.  What I'm getting at is I'm not Lance Armstrong, I am almost always riding at least 15 mph below the speed limit. So instead of giving me rights, this law takes away my rights to the road in almost all situations. Laws like this have to be written without caveats that give drivers loopholes to escape prosecution for reckless behavior. Otherwise, the laws don't really do anything to protect cyclists.

 Baltimore Sun Story

Friday, October 1, 2010

Route #4, The WTF was I thinking route. (Cornwallis, NC-10)

27 miles, about an hour and 45 minutes

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So a couple of weeks ago I took this route home because I was feeling feisty when I got on my bike in the afternoon.  Needless to say, I was not feeling feisty when I collapsed into the armchair upon arrival at home. While 27 miles is not a particularly long ride, I did this at the end of my workday, after biking in 13 miles in the morning. I felt good but exhausted after the ride. The route is similar to the Mt. Sinai route, but makes a wider detour than Mt. Sinai Road.

Martin Luther King Boulevard: I described riding on MLK Boulevard towards UNC in the Route #2 post. However, this road is whole different ballgame when you're leaving town. Heading out there is almost as much bike lane as there is going into town, so that is nice.  In contrast to the fast ride toward UNC, leaving town is almost all uphill. The route starts with a steep grade that tires you out for the shallow uphill grade all the way to the edge of town.

Eubanks Road:  I wrote about the horrors of Eubanks Road in Route #3. Fortunately, when you head out farther on Eubanks, you'll find all of those horrors are in the first mile, with the exception of the landfill traffic. Past the bus terminal, UPS depot and construction the roads are in better shape and 70% of the large vehicular traffic has turned off the road. Beyond the railroad tracks Eubanks Road is more like a country highway than an industrial intersection.

Old 86:  This road was a pleasant road to ride on. The shoulders were not very wide, but traffic was low and there were not many blind curves to deal with.  There also were very few crossroads which are often problem areas for cyclists and cars.

New Hope Church Road:  A nice wide country road with minimal traffic, and was relatively flat.

Old State Highway 10:  This is not really a bike friendly road.  There are wide shoulders, but there is a 55mph speed limit meaning traffic moves at about 65mph. I prefer to stay off of roads like this when I bike. I intended to get off highway 10 earlier than I did, but Cornwallis was not clearly marked on 10.

The Penis in the Pasture
Route 751: Instead of taking Cornwallis which I missed because of poor signage, I ended up going down Route 751.  At this end 751 is a nice road for riding, unlike the section of 751 called Hope Valley Road. The shoulders had ample room, and there was little traffic to speak of.

Kerley Road
Kerley Road:  I like Kerley Road a lot. It is low on traffic and high on scenery.  Surrounded by rolling farms and thick wooded areas it makes for a pleasant destressing roll. And as you approach Erwin Road you will see the strangest sight, the Durham Tower apparently plopped down in the middle of the woods. The Durham Tower, or as it is known locally, The Penis in the Pasture, already looks out of place from 15-501, but from this angle it looks absolutely ridiculous.

From Kerley I cross Erwin onto Randolph Road for less than a mile onto Pickett Road, which you can read about in Route #1.

Happy Riding!