Thursday, November 10, 2011


I love riding in the dark, the way it opens up in front of you and closes up behind you, and all the rest of the time you’re as good as invisible. I suspect that one of the things I like deep down about bike commuting is that for half an hour every morning and evening I move through a busy and crowded world without altogether being a part of it. Biking to work is the next best thing, I think, to being able to fly 15 feet off the ground.

Anyhow, dark enhances this illusion. Remarkably, my fore and aft lights don’t diminish it much, perhaps because even with them I’m only a bright dot at a hundred yards or more.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Unsettling seductiveness

It’s February 28 and today I rode to work in shorts and a summer jersey. At mid-morning, it’s 71 degrees. Ten days ago temperatures reached the high 70s here, a record, and I was overdressed riding home in wool.

I really enjoy shedding my heavy and cumbersome winter riding clothes, and feeling for the first time in weeks the wind and sun on my arms and legs. Still this weather gives me the creeps; it’s frightening to contemplate what it may foretell. When it’s said and done I’d really prefer another month of crummy, gray, dreary – but seasonable – weather.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I love the bike

Downtown Washington DC. Morning rush hour. Connecticut Avenue closed from the Washington Hilton all the way down to E Street in anticipation of a motorcade - but who still gets to ride down the middle of the road?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

From the Archives - CCT under construction

In 1995, the Capital Crescent Trail above the Arizona Avenue bridge was still under construction. I took a ride one day to document the progress. At the time the trail was a bit of a secret, and it was a great adventure to be out on it. Nowadays riding along the trail is pretty ordinary, and the adventure is seeing how it looked in its early stages. Here are three photos from the uphill segment of the trail between the bridge and the Dalecarlia Reservoir buildings. We start with an impassable Arizona Avenue bridge:

A few hundred feet up the road in a hollow beneath Potomac Road, N.W., was a Volkswagen carcass, apparently shoved over the down the hill from above. Or perhaps it fell by accident. In any case there would have been no easy way to get it back up. There wasn't much left of it by the time I came across it. (The hollow remains but the VW was removed right about the time the trail was paved.) Click for full-size, and a better view.

Finally, we have the unpaved trail itself. It looks so tranquil.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Joy of Leather

I took a leap of faith in 1999 when I installed a new Brooks B-17 Special (available from Rivendell Bicycles, here) onto my mountain bike for my commuting experiment. I’d gotten several thousand miles of comfortable use out of the same model on long-distance tours but I wasn’t sure how the material would hold up to the rigors and extremes of daily, year-round commuting, particularly rain and freezing temperatures. But things turned out really well! It was soon clear that the saddle was not going to disintegrate or stiffen into some kind of unrideable mass. It was comfortable, just like my original leather saddle; and as time went on, showed no unusual wear or fatigue. Indeed to the contrary, constant use seems to preserve the material rather than degrade it, and after 12 years and some 28,000 miles of all-weather use the leather looks no more worn than simply “broken-in”. Have a look:

Apparently the best thing you can do for a leather saddle is to ride it all the time. What I figure is, sure, the saddle is outdoors a couple hundred days every year, in scorching sun, drenching rain and temperatures ranging from 12 to 103 degrees – but I’m always sitting on it. And while that’s not a place I’d care to occupy for a couple hundred of hours every year, the constant 98 degree temperature, shade, shelter and gentle buffing provided by my – well, netherlands – seems to suit the saddle perfectly.

Otherwise the saddle is undemanding. I store the bike indoors out of the sun and the rain. When the saddle gets wet I let it dry on its own schedule (usually just overnight). Maybe once a year I’ll slather it with Brooks Proofride and let it sit for a few hours before buffing it with a cloth. The only problem I’ve ever had is breaking the tensioning bolt at the nose end a couple of times; but it’s a cheap part and the folks at College Park Bicycles know how to reinstall it.

So. I love this saddle, and recommend it highly. Its comfortable, durable, and easy to maintain. At this point I will probably be disappointed if I don’t wring 25 years and 50,000 miles from this $145 purchase.