My 2016 Tour Route

I’m having trouble with the embedding of my route map link, so instead there is a hyperlink for you. My 2016 tour begins in Clear Brook, Virginia, at a Quaker camp. We’re dropping off our oldest daughter at camp, and I’ll pack up my bike and head out once we get her settled.

The first day will take me through Harper’s Ferry and on down a portion of the C & O Towpath. I’m looking forward to returning to the Towpath this year, but hope that the trail condition is better. Regardless, I’m on a better rig this year to handle the rough terrain.

This is a five day trip, and the other four days are mostly along the East Coast Greenway. It will be fun to explore part of this new and growing trail network, especially as it crosses the Susquehanna River.

The route is below, with an overall linked map (far right bottom tab) as well as each daily segment. Stay tuned for updates once I head out!

~rm

https://ridewithgps.com/embeds?type=event&eventId=22829&sampleGraph=true

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It Must Be Cool Now (My not so new, but suddenly hip, S’well Bottle)

The other day I was standing in line at Starbucks and noticed they were selling a new product. Sitting there on the shelf, as if it had just been designed, was the flashy cool little S’well Bottle. I’ve been using a S’well Bottle for more than three years now. I’m honestly not sure how I first learned about it. Facebook? Email ad? Bike magazine? I dunno. It’s not terribly complicated. A S’well Bottle is just an elegantly-crafted insulated beverage carrier. They claim it keeps your drink hot for a long time or cold for even longer. 

When I first came across it, I remember thinking that it could be perfect for bike commuting. I’m a bit of a coffee addict, and taking my joe to work with me is a must. I’m also a cheap skate, and I refuse to stop and buy a $3 daily jolt. I had already been on the lookout for something like this. I don’t need to have a fancy spill-proof drinkable lid, rubberized grips, logos, etc. I just needed something to carry my coffe that would, ideally, fit into a bike water bottle cage. 

Full-disclosure: somehow I won not one, but two of these little guys. So I own two of them, but didn’t pay for them. But, the good folks that make the S’well Bottle also didn’t ask me to write this or provide me with any incentives.  

  
 Look at any of the pictures of my daily commuter bike and you’ll see the bottle. Fact is, it’s great. I’ve been using it for more than three years. For me it’s the perfect solution. My daily routine is to make the coffee, put it in the bottle, ride to the train station, then drink my morning coffee aboard the train. It stays hot on all but the absolute worst cold days (10 degrees F or colder), never ever leaks, looks good, and is easy to drink out of. It does exactly what they claim it does without any drama. I hate drama. I like coffee. 

  
Perhaps the best part of the design of the S’well Bottle is how seamlessly it slips into a bike bottle cage. It can rattle a bit, depending on your cage, but other than that it’s perfect. 

I can’t speak to the durability of the paint on the colored bottles. Both of the bottles I have are natural stainless steel, and they show almost no wear at all. I suspect the ones that are coated might look a bit beat up after bonking around in a bottle cage every day. But, maybe not!

It’s a bit pricy, at something like $25-$50. But coffee is a high enough priority for me that this is an investment. While I didn’t pay that for one of these, I would. As you can probably tell, coffee is the only thing I’ve put in my S’well Bottle. I assume water works in there too, and maybe even some chilled wine. Hmmmm….maybe a nice little picnic date by bike with my special someone is in order….

These guys now come in a huge array of colors and sizes, and can even be customized and purchased in bulk. Check out the website for all the options, including some nifty accessories. My bottle is the original 17 ounce size and retails for $35.

  
Buy a S’well Bottle if you’re looking for a product like this. And now that you can get it at Starbucks, it’s officially okay to do so. 

Fly6 First Impressions

I just purchased a Cycliq Fly6 from my good friends Micki and Charles at InRush Bikes in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I used to work with them at another shop in FW, and when I posted on Facebook recently about some close calls on my commute, they chimed in recommending this product. I did a little research, then pulled the trigger. And I’m glad I did!

The Fly6 is a video camera integrated with a red LED blinky light. For a commuter like me, it’s the best of both worlds. I ride year ’round, day and night. I’m always on the lookout to improve my visibility, and I’ve been eyeing various video cameras for a while. Besides the price tag, I’ve always thought that the Go Pro models fell short. There just has to be a more elegant way to package an action camera for sports. Cycliq has found that elegance.

Out of the box, it’s super simple to set up. The mounting hardware is easy, and the instructions are pretty clear. Within about 15 minutes, I was ready to roll. The only frustration I had was setting the date and time. I actually discovered this later, and I am still tinkering with it. You have to use a command prompt and manually enter the time. This seems like no big deal, except that, given the purpose of the camera (footage may be needed in court), the time stamp is a pretty important factor. It would be much nicer if this were pre-set somehow, or at least easier to do manually.

The size is comparable to other top-brand safety flashers from Planet Bike or Portland Design Works. It’s about the same size as my Garmin Edge 705. There are several options for flash modes, as well as a “courtesy dimmer” feature, that allows you to make the LEDs a bit more subtle. This could be good for group rides or if you need to conserve battery life.


So, set it up, mount the light on your seatpost, turn it on, and ride. When you turn it on, it really just looks like a regular rear blinky light. I kind of like this. Unless you tell someone they’re being taped, they’ll have no idea. If you use this on group rides, you might want to check with the ride leader to make sure s/he is okay with it. FYI, this little bugger also records audio.

This First Impressions “review” is just that, and I didn’t have a chance to really put it through its paces yet. I’ve recorded 4 short rides, so I can’t speak to battery life or durability. I also can’t testify to some of the more detailed video features.

After riding, uploading and/or viewing the footage is pretty easy. The Quick Start Guide provides links to a video player, converter, and editor. I found all three of these to be very easy to use. Cycliq claims that the Fly6 will overwrite footage, so it just keeps on recording. When you open the folder that has the video files, you’ll notice that they are in 10 minute segments. I poked around the user forum, and Cycliq says the 10 minute segments are designed to make it easier to find an incident amidst a lot of footage. Anyway, I found it very easy to view, edit, and upload footage. Here is a clip from one of my first commutes. The first few minutes are from the beginning, then it cuts to the last two minutes of the ride.

So far I really like this gizmo. The resolution is such that if a car is running you over, the Fly6 will record the license number. It’s steady, and the LED light is a useful safety feature for any biker, but especially for commuters.


The biggest drawback, for me, is a pretty huge one. The ONLY way to mount this light to your bike is on the seatpost. There’s no belt clip, no rear rack mount, nothing. While the size is pretty average as lights go, it does take a lot of real estate on your post. My road bike does not have a sloping top tube, and I have a seat pack under my saddle (not a very big one). There is not enough room to put this light on my road bike. While my commuter has enough room on the seatpost, I will not be able to put anything on the rear rack without obstructing the view of the camera. The same goes for my touring bike and my tandem, both of which have rear racks. I’ve posted on the Cycliq support forum my suggestion for additional mounting options. A rear rack option, as well as a retrofit to mount on the seat stay. Cycliq seems to be pretty responsive to user suggestions, so hopefully some additional mounting options are in the works.


If you have the room on your seatpost, I think this is a great product. The price is right ($169 MSRP), the LED is bright, and the video could be extremely helpful if something unfortunate happens. Unlike a GoPro, the target market for the Fly6 is pretty specifically for cyclists wanting some video insurance out there in the wilds of the urban jungle. I suppose some users could use it to record extreme commutes or something, or riders behind in a criterium, but this is really for those who need some peace of mind amidst traffic. I think it does the trick, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this holds up in the coming weeks and months.

Stay safe out there!

RM

Madeline Rides to Washington – Day 3

Both Maddi and I slept much better last night. Apparently tubing takes a lot out of you. Or maybe it was the robust campfire, or our new friend Todd. Finally up and around at about 8:00, we enjoyed a leisurely morning that featured a pancake breakfast. 

We were glad to roll out for a full day of riding. Stopping short last night meant we had some miles to make up on our final day. Originally scheduled as our shortest day on the bike, it now would be the longest. But, not so fast. The first 16 miles included lots of these brutal mud pits on the trail. 

   
 
Folks, I cannot emphasize the danger of these things enough. We’re on a tandem with essentially slick tires that are not designed  for this. Admittedly it was a miscalculation on my part, but I really didn’t anticipate how much of this stuff there could be. The bike plus gear is around 100 pounds, plus two riders. It’s like driving a semi through a slalom course with slick tires on ice. Besides crashing, the main risk is “taco-ing” the front wheel….the bike slides in one direction and then finally catches at an angle, with all the weight and momentum hitting the front wheel at an angle. We only had two really close calls, and we obviously lived to tell about it. 

  
The initial 16 miles of mud took us about two hours and was taxing both mentally and physically. Once we cleared it though, we made great progress. Our speed shot up (okay well only up to about 15 mph) and we cruised comfortably. Heat was still high, but the humidity was lower. 

We stopped at Great Falls Park and took in the amazing views of the Potomac, ate lunch, and rehydrated. It was a long and hard-earned break. 

 Less than 15 miles to go! Madeline decided to start counting turtles sunning themselves on logs in the canal next to us. The trail condition steadily improved, and our spirits soared as we neared our destination.  

We made it into Washington safely, and when we turned the corner from K Street onto 17h, I said “Hey Madeline, look at that….it’s the White House.” “Sweet!!!,” she said. We rolled up, dismounted, and promptly laid down in the grass. 

   

After a nice little break, we pedaled up the Rock Creek Trail to our host’s house just north of the National Zoo. Cleaned up and cooled off, we took the Metro in to DC to see some of the monuments. We enjoyed delicious pizza, then walked around a bit. I was soooooo happy to be able to share this experience with my daughter, and to watch her light up as she saw this great city for the first time. 

I’m so proud of her! In total, 105 miles, all very challenging. Camping is hard work too, and we endured some really tough riding conditions with heat and humidity. Our final day was 43 1/2 miles from Marble Quarry hiker biker site to Washington. 

Thanks for reading. I’ll post about gear soon, but first I have a lot of cleaning to do. 

   
  

Madeline Rides to Washington – Day 2

Today’s adventure is brought to you by the letters “H,” “O,” and “T.” Temps quickly rose to the mid-90’s and humidity was 90% or more. There was no cooling breeze either. 

We rolled out of Antietam Creek about 10:00. When I first proposed this trip to Maddi, she agreed on the condition that we could go tubing in Harper’s Ferry. So, this was the primary objective. We made it to River and Trail Outfitters on time to check in, but we’re told that the launch point was another 5 miles away, with extremely busy roads and several steep hills along the way. The folks at R&T were so great! They let us hitch a ride with one of their rafting trips so we didn’t have to bike it. We had a GREAT time tubing on the Shenandoah River, floating and goofing around in the water. The chilly water was very refreshing! 

   
 After catching another shuttle back to our bike, we were finally off again. It was later than planned because of the extra logistic stuff, so by the time we hit the trail again it was after 4:00 and crazy hot. To make matters worse, the condition of the trail was awful. Lots of very muddy spots that forced us to walk the bike several times, and made for very slow and stressful riding. 

We made lots of short stops to drink water and try to cool off, including an unplanned air conditioning stop in Brunswick, MD. We enjoyed very cool treats at the Potomac Bar and Grill.

  
Back on the bike, we pushed on as long as we could, but eventually called it a day before our intended destination. Still, even with a full afternoon of tubing and very slow riding, we were able to cover 32 miles. We stopped at the Marble Quarry “hiker biker” campsite and met a fellow cyclist, Todd. Our evening was nice and quiet, with reading, chatting, campfire and s’mores. 

Day 2: Antietam Creek to Marble Quarry, 32 miles. 
   
    
 

Madeline Rides to Washington – Day 1

And we’re off! The circumstances of daily life often dictate my bike trips, as it should be, and this year’s tour was no different. In short, here’s the scoop: My daughter, Maddi, and I (see earlier posts) are riding our fully-loaded tandem along the C&O Towpath to Washington D.C. Then, my wife will meet us in D.C., pick up Maddi and the tandem, drop off my single touring bike and some supplies, and I’ll continue with the second leg of the trip. 

Maddi’s “Papaw and Mima” live in Harrisonburg, VA. Conveniently, I-81 crosses the Towpath in Williamsport, MD. So, Williamsport was the origination spot of this trip. It’s about 3.5 hours from our house in New Jersey, and we got a late start. There was a pretty strong storm that came through on Saturday mornning, so we waited that out before loading the car. Finally on the road just before 10:30, we headed out with the whole gang. We made it to Williamsport. You can see the somewhat precarious fashion that the bikes were lashed to the car. The tandem sticks out a bit, but fortunately I didn’t side-swipe anything en route.

  
It was a hot day of riding. Temps in the 90’s and 90% humidity. Most of the trail is shaded, and it was significantly cooler under the canopy of trees. Due to the rain overnight, there were lots and lots of muddy spots on the trail. Not a big deal, unless you’re riding a fully-loaded road tandem. We had to dismount and walk thru several of the muddy sections. 

We took a nice detour off the trail and onto the roads to ride thru the Antietam Battlefield. The roads to get there were steep, but it was moving to see this large battleground and read about our country’s history. It was good, too, for Maddi to actually see where these events in history take place. 

  
As we left the area, we stopped at a roadside stand in Sharpsburg and bought a couple of peaches. Yum! It was a long hot ride back down to the Towpath, but once there we enjoyed the shade for the final stretch into the campground. It was late when we rolled in – almost 7:30 – but it felt good to complete our first day. 

Dinner was chicken quesadillas, and we scrounged up just enough wood for a tiny campfire so we could make our s’mores. We drifted off to sleep, hearing birds and bugs, the rippling current of the Potomac, and trains off in the distance. Ready for tubing tomorrow!

Williamsport, MD to Antietam Creek Campground. 29 miles.

   
    
   

The Day I Stole My Bike

I used my inexpensive cable lock the other day at the train station. Having just locked my bike to the rack, I spun the combination a bit like I normally do. When I did that though, something went wrong. I don’t know if it froze, malfunctioned, or if I somehow reset the combination, but when I entered my combi it didn’t open. Uh oh.

Not knowing what the future might bring, I decided to use my other lock – a big beefy Kryptonite NYC chain – for added security until I could figure out what I could do about the combi lock.

Fast forward a couple days, and I finally had a chance to work on it today. I brought a pair of standard diagonal cutters with me but thought they’d be too weak.

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Well, the good news is they were strong enough to do the trick. The bad news is they were strong enough to do the trick. About 4 minutes of cutting and it came free with relative ease. Furthermore, during the evening rush hour at the train station, no one said anything to me or called any authorities, even though it was obvious that I was cutting a lock.

So, invest in a good lock. But if it malfunctions, have a back up plan!

rm

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