Sunday, November 20, 2016


Dreams do come true.

This spring, Amtrak announced, without much warning, that they would be running a trial bikes-on-trains trial pilot program this year. And lucky me, I got to be one of the first riders on the innaugural ride along with dignitaries and press. But I digress...

I have long dreamed of bike journeys facilitated by train, and this weekend I got to live that dream with the help of some hearty adventures. Three friends, Pamela, John and Caleb took the Vermonter from western Massachusetts up to St. Albans last Thursday afternoon and spent the night in a local motel. The next day they biked the 70 odd miles southward to our house. We happily welcomed them in and enjoyed the company of travelling band of cyclists. A fourth rider, Kait, took the train up Friday evening to join in the adventure. My plan was to join the four of them for the following two days with a plan to catch the Vermonter northbound on Sunday afternoon to return home while they continued the rest of the way back to Greenfield and Northampton.

We all knew late October would be a chancy time of year for a multi-day tour, but no one was particularly put off by the early season snow that carpeted the region in the week leading up to the ride. Higher elevations got measurable amounts, and we got an inch or so at our house along with cold and wet. Not exactly the kind of stuff you want to go spend all day riding in, but not enough to daunt the likes of us.

Snow or no snow, rain or no rain, we all geared up and rode out from our house Saturday morning heading into a light drizzle and temps in the low thirties. We all hoped we were dressed well enough for the trip and that mother nature might spare us any serious challenges.

She did not.

Before we had even left the Mad River Valley we encountered bouts of heavy rain, but we forged on. The rain came in waves but we managed to remain passably comfortable as we continued down through the Granville Gulf towards the Rochester Gap. Hills were our friends because they warmed us--descents were unpleasant.

Climbing the Gap we were all mindful of our increasingly saturated state and the long fast decent down the other side we faced. Our worries were manifested as we careened down what must be five or six miles of wet cold windy decending.  My hands were in a serious state of pain and my feet were a close second and the overall semblence of enjoyment was quickly being replaced by a kind of gloomy dread. It was a bitter kind of cold, soaked through to the bone, freezing, and only half way through the ride. Upon reaching the bottom of the mountain road no one spoke and there was no consideration of taking the scenic (and slightly longer) route we had planned into town. We just needed to get indoors without haste. It was a challenging few miles to the little cafe we reached in Bethel, and I'm pretty sure most of us were seriously questioning going any further. I certainly was.

We spent an hour or so eating hot food, drying what clothes we could, wringing socks and gloves out in the sink and doing whatever we could to restore as sense of warmth and comfort. After a while I started to feel that in fact I could go on, as did everyone else. In the meantime, the rain had mercifily stopped, giving more impetus to continue. Two bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches and a cup of black tea can do wonders for one's sense of fortitude.

The ride from Bethel to Woodstock and then to our destination in Hartland was significantly more enjoyable, although we were all still recovering to some extent from the harshness of the earlier cold.
We arrived at our friend Alan's in the darkness and were grateful for warmth, good cheer, food and a comfortable place to sleep.

The next day's journey took us south through lovely wooded hills with lots of dirt roads and tons of climbing, but the weather was kind to us and the day was easier because the main challenge was the effort of riding. No more serious negotiation with the wet and cold, thank god.

My part in the journey ended in Saxons River where I parted with my friends to ride to a few miles into Bellow's Falls to catch the northbound train that afternoon. The other four continued on to Putney for the night and then rode the rest of the way home the next day under sunny skies.

Its hard to overstate the satisfaction of sipping a beer in the cozy comfort of the northbound train after a beautiful journey of some 120 miles and many thousands of feet of climbing on two wheels.

I have a serious suspicion this is only the first time we'll be doing this ride.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Welcome addition!

I've added derailleurs, switched to 700c wheels with studded tires, installed fenders
and a front rack and moved the handlebar set up from my old Fuji

I recently bought a "new" bike, somewhat furtively, while we were down on Cape Cod for the holiday. The bike in question was a somewhat neglected but fully serviceable Fuji S12-s. This bike is not unlike legions of other better-quality early '80's Japanese bicycles; it's magic lies in the fact that the bike is an excellent candidate to convert to a 650b wheel size. Making this conversion allows for a number of benefits: bigger low-pressure tires resulting in a gentler ride, more room for full coverage fenders, and maximizing the benefits of a low-trail "Frenchified" touring bike. 

Test fit of 42mm 650b wheel proves to be an excellent arrangement. The rear has a similarly ample fit

Nancy contends I got ripped off, but the $110 I spent to buy a bike I only really wanted for the frame and a few of the parts still feels like it was worth it. It wasn't until I had already made the deal and got it back to the house that I was able to fully test out it's suitability for fitting large diameter 650b tires. It passed with flying colors! In fact, now that I have it and I've had a chance to test out the proof of concept, I feel even better about having spent the money. Later I discovered that my pal Geoff in Boston has the same frame, although his is the slightly lighter "LTD" version. 

This is the bike as it was when I bought it: set up as a single speed

My current vision is to ride it in the short term as a 700c winter commuter with studded tires, which is how I currently have the bike set up.  (My winter commuter up til now has been Nancy's old Serrota mountain bike, which was fun, but not at all a bike that moves, at least the way I had it configured.) With temperatures in the upper 30's today I rode my first shakedown of the Fuji to feel it out and it was wonderful, despite the studded tires. 

Riding on icy ugly January roads

Mind you, this is not the first ancient Fuji I've invested myself in. My brother-in-law Randy long ago tipped me off about a Fuji Touring Series IV at a yard sale. I invested a lot in that bike and it saw me through years of touring, commuting, and my entry into the world of randonneuring. It was a great step forward from whatever bike I was riding before that. Although a great bike, it was limited by the fact that it was a cantilever set up with 27" wheels and that means limited choices on tires.

In retrospect, I spent to much mental energy wanting the Touring Series IV to be something it wasn't and that's why this new frame feels like such a revelation: with minimal effort I have a solid, adaptable frame to fit in where I want to leave the Stag for lighter duties.  I have visions of doing a few frame modifications (routing for lighting wires and mid-fork rack mounts) and then getting the frame cleaned up and powder coated for a new lease on life. I see it as a workhorse, touring rig, and winter commuter, leaving the Stag less encumbered for randonneuring and fair weather riding.  I'm also excited to talk to that Waxwing Bag Co. guy about a set of touring panniers for this rig ;)

I guess I should mention too that I really like it's color arrangement; a sort of deep metallic blue with silver details, including chromed "socks" at the bottom of the front fork. 

Its a keeper.