Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bicycle commute, pack review

I've decided that I can get in more of my training miles if i commute to work by bicycle (40 miles round trip). Right now I've got two of my three bikes ready to roll. My current favorite, my Giant TCR3 and my Trek 1100 (with BOB trailer - see my stable). So far I've been able to squeeze in two commutes a week. Yesterday was my first try at one day after another (with a weekend century) and boy am I tired. I need to get my Ti bike setup and ready to roll. It will be my all weather bike. It's a great bike and seems a little faster than the Giant (???). Over the next few weeks I'll working on lighting and wardrobe. So far the commutes have been really nice despite being tired. I've scheduled them for the off hours so I'm not fighting the rest of the auto commuters. This may change next week as it's the first week of school and then things will get nuts. I intend to keep this up until we start to get black ice. We have a lot of natural streams here and they cause lots of problems with various roads. I had one bad meeting with black ice and I'd like to avoid any more.

So for commuting to work I decided that the Camelbak Ventoux (1300+ cu in) wasn't large enough. It can hold my clothes, towel bladder, tools and toiletries but not my laptop. So I went looking for another back pack. I searched the Internet and I asked around at work. Elke (Hi Elke!) suggested I check out I came, I saw and I purchased OGIO Metro (2200 cu in). This is a good pack and I like it very much. It sits still and comfortably on my back even on fast downhills and on sprints (with traffic). It's a good pack when I'm off the bike as well as on the bike. I now use it daily for work. It's not perfect and that's more because of my special commuting requirements. First what I like, it's waterproof, the laptop section is great as are the pockets. Strangely enough I didn't think I'd be able to get my note book (i.e. bound paper), my clothes, some tools, tire and lunch in the main compartment. Well it fit. I put the towel in the laptop compartment with the laptop (more on that in a moment). I put my light kit in the water bottle compartment and the rest of the odds and ends in the other three compartments. The main organizer compartment has my calculator, pens, screw drivers and other work related odds-n-ends. When done the pack is a bit heavy but it rides pretty well anyway. I have no trouble with sway and looking back while riding is no problem as the pack doesn't block my view (as does a framed pack). The front chest strap holds the shoulder straps in place, even with the heavy loads I carry.

The problems are few and that's good. The first one was that the laptop causes the pack to sit flat on my back. I ride a road bike with a very aggressive setup (I lean forward, a lot). That leaves my back arched and the flat pack sat funny until I made adjustments. That adjustment was the towel in with the laptop. The laptop compartment has room for both the laptop and the towel. So far the laptop has stayed dry but I need to do a few more tests and I'm keeping the laptop in a plastic bag anyway (better safe than sorry). The towel allowed me to soften the pack on my back and to cause the pack to be a bit more curved. The next problem is that the pack doesn't have a waist strap. For bike commuting with a large load a waist strap is probably a good idea. Because it doesn't have a strap sometimes the pack sits a little off center which is an odd feeling but not really uncomfortable. It would be nice if the pack sat a little further down my back but with the stiff laptop I'm glad it's not. The last thing is that I can't ride with my Camelbak. I've gotten spoiled by having that tube over my right shoulder. I've switched back to water bottles but I miss the Camelbak. I may attempt to use the older simple bladder sleeve somehow strapped to the Metro. Well see. Overall I give the Metro a 4 out of 5.

Oh the music player pockets, I haven't tested them yet. I normally don't ride with a music player as I don't want anything blocking my hearing. For an hour commute I can live without music.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bicycle pumps

Over the years I've had several bicycle air pumps. I started out with a really nice Silca pump but wore that out after about 10+ years of use. I've had several Zefal frame pumps which were okay. They were a pain in that to get to 120+ psi you had to pump 120+ times and once you reached 90 psi you really had to work hard. Also to properly pump the tire you had to play games so you didn't break the tube valve stem (which was all too easy). Then my friend introduced me to the Topeak Mighty Morph G Master Blaster (hate the name, love the pump). I've only needed it a few times but it's much easier than using the Zefal 3x frame pump. The other day I flatted, changed out the tube and was busy pumping up the tire. I had been talking to my riding partners when I looked down to see 120 psi on the gauge. I had put a little effort into pumping but I must have only pumped 35 - 40 strokes before I reached that amount. Wow, nice pump! The nice little foot step that folds out worked well in holding the pump steady and the small size fits nicely in my Camelbak (nicknamed the Tardis because I've lost a bunch of stuff in there and it's kind of unbelievable what I've tossed that much in there).

While I'm at it I'd like to tell the story of the good customer support from Topeak on one of my Joe Blow pumps (can't remember the exact name). This is my floor pump and it gets a lot of use. Well the screw in the head came loose (it's about 3 years old) and the head would no longer hold air when the pump valve was closed. Even after I tightened it it would work. I contacted Topeak asking for a rebuild kit, they're sending me a new head. In the mean time I disassembled the head (easy to do), I cleaned it up, and it's now working again pumping my tires to 140 psi. I'll be getting some silicon grease and that should do the trick to keep the seals properly working, I hope. I must say that I really like the Topeak products (I also have another Joe Blow pump that I destroyed through abuse, my fault, oops) and one of their multi-tools. I think I'll be purchasing more Topeak products and recommending them to friends and acquaintances in the future. Good products and good service.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wild Turkey!

No not the Bourbon, the bird. Today I came across a group of seven wild turkeys! My wife thinks that they are a young brood and that makes sense as they are about two feet tall, thin and they didn't scatter when they finally saw me. It's pretty easy to sneak up on wild animals when riding a bike. I remember riding past a Red Hawk eating a snake (way cool) and about 50 Turkey Vultures feasting on a deer carcase (Ooh, ooh that smell. The smell of death surrounds you.). That was a little spooky.

Two in a row!

Sorry this is a little late ...

For the past few weeks I've been busy with school, work, and home (oh a little bit of weather problems too). So for two weeks no cycling (mind numbing!). Well I finally got back on the bike, first a Wednesday ride (usually about 35 miles). Then a Saturday ride (an easy 79 mile ride :-), then a commute to work. It started out cold (in the 50's) but it was in the warm in the sun, which felt good. The next day another Wednesday night ride. So now I'm getting back into a normal flow. Yesterday, Saturday (8/16), I had to be home by noon for a block party. Otherwise I would have done a century. So we left out of Matawan at 8 am. We were going to go to Sandy Hook (Jersey Shore) but because it was a bit cool we decided to stay inland and went to Manasquann Reservoir. Initially it was supposed to be 50 miles but I was feeling good so I added more (yes, I know, I'd be late to the party, but the ride felt so good!). I ended up with another 70 mile ride. Sunday I decided to a club ride out of Cranbury but I wanted mileage (I was still feeling good). So I commuted by bike to the ride (11 miles), did the club ride (55) and rode home again (11 miles). :-) Another good day.

On Saturday's ride I ran over a tack (that's what the imprint on the tire looked like) and I flatted. I've been running higher pressure tires (140 psi) and wasn't looking forward to pumping them up by hand. I have a Topeak Morph Mountain G mini-pump and before I knew it the tire had reached 130 psi. On on of my other bikes I have a Zefal 3x frame pump and once you reach 90 psi (about 50 pumps) it starts getting really tough to pump. I must have only done about 35 pumps and I was at 130 psi! Wow nice pump. It still wasn't a breeze as there was some effort but no where near the effort of the Zefal pump. Now only if the gauge was a little easier to read. Anyway I'm now off to commute to work. There is a threat of a thunderstorm but I'm still going. With tropical storm Fay just hitting Florida the rest of my week is looking like it may be wet so I'll get my miles when I can. Sort of "smoke 'em if ya got'em" if you will. I'm hoping that I'll still be able to get my century in this Saturday, I've got a few new routes to try and I'm looking forward to getting down to the Pine Barrens again.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back on the bike!

This weekend (2008/08/09) was a great weekend to be out on the bike! It was a little chilly (for summer and me) at around 65 - 78F but tolerable for me (I like it hot). We rode out of Cranbury to Pemberton. We did a 70 mile ride as I've been off the bike for two weeks with school work and wasn't about to attempt a century. I was listed for 70 - 110 miles (normal for summer) so I was good. I know it's a large range but it gives me the freedom to venture all around the state. We did a new derivation of my Pemberton route called Pemberton - via Mangolia Rd. (69 miles). It was slightly breezy but not nasty. Seems this summer has been pretty breezy, odd. Anyway, I've also created a few new routes, a Cranbury - Batso (125 miles) route and a Cranbury - May's Landing (147 miles) route. The Cranbury to May's Landing will have to wait until next year as I don't think I have enough daylight to complete it right now. The Batso ride I may attempt in September. I also have a Cranbury - Tuckerton (130 miles) route that I haven't been able to try. I had it scheduled for May but we had strong winds (18 mph + gusts) out of the West both times so I rode something with less than 30 miles of head winds. I've also noted that I'm missing a few routes (Mt. Misery), so I'll add those soon. Anyway it feels good to be back on the bike.