Sunday, June 27, 2010

Momma's Got a Brand New Bag . . . and Trailer to Haul it With

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's annual "Alice B. Toeclips" awards dinner and auction. I have a reputation for being a sucker for charity auctions, especially when the bidding at said auctions is facilitated by a hosted bar as was this one.

The auction booklet contained a number of interesting items, but one in particular caught my eye. The "Ultimate Bike Commuter" package offered a 3-Speed "city" bike from Linus, a backpack pannier from North St. Bags, and, most enticing of all, Burley's new Travoy bike trailer.

For the last few years, I have been working on decreasing my dependence on my car for anything but really long trips or really big hauling projects. I know that it is unlikely that I will ever go car free, but I want to get as close to that ideal as possible. As it is, I usually ride my bike twice as many miles in a year as I drive my car, but I would like to see that ratio increase (or is it decrease? I can never keep my math terms straight. But you know what I mean).

Anyway, I'd looked at bakfiets and other cargo bikes, and I'd looked at Xtracycles, but none of them really suited my needs, and they were awfully damn expensive. Then I read a review of the Travoy, and it sure seemed like it would fill the bill. Thus, my excitement when I saw it in the Alice auction catalog.

I arrived at the auction with my American Express card in my hand and a number I was willing to go to in my head (and I was NOT going to go above the number, I swear). I really thought the bidding would be hot and heavy for the package, but was surprised when it came down to a battle between me and one other person, who gave up fairly easily (at one point I got confused and bid against myself, but the auctioneer kindly told me I did not have to do that). In short order, I was the proud owner of the Travoy. And yeah, yet another bike. More about the bike later.

A few days after the auction, I got to put the Travoy to its first test. I had an oral argument scheduled in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown Portland, and the file for the case was HUGE. I never would have been able to fit it all in the panniers I usually use for my work commute. But they plopped down into the big black bag that comes standard on the Travoy, no problem. I then threw in my bike locks, my lunch, and my "court" clothes and shoes, and I was ready to go. I had not had a practice run and was hoping that the Travoy would be as agile and stable as advertised. The last thing I needed was to show up in court with road rash. To my amazement, I could not even tell that there was something attached to the back of the bike. I had thought that turns and hills would be a challenge, but Noooooooooooo - there was nothing but sheer awesomeness.

At the office, I simply unhooked the Travoy, folded down the attaching arm and rolled right into the building. I then unpacked and changed and headed for court. A more-than-successful "test" run!

Next up - Grocery Shopping! In the past, I have relied on my two panniers and a big rear basket for my Trader Joe's runs, but that setup was never very satisfactory. For one, the panniers really did not hold much, and when they and the basket were fully loaded, the bike was pretty unstable; I had to ride very, very slowly to make sure that I did not fall over. Another problem had to to with my own absent mindedness. The basket sides extend a couple of inches beyond the rear rack on either side and, more than once, when I dismounted from the bike I would swing my leg up and into the basket, tumbling it and its contents to the ground.

I prepared for my shopping trip by heading over to Bike 'N Hike to pick up a set of the "Market Bags" that Burley offers as accessories. The lower bag is about the size of two standard paper grocery bags sitting side by side, and the upper bag is about the size of a small messenger bag (or really big fanny pack). The lower bag is one large compartment, but the upper bag has a padded pouch for a cell phone or something (I guess), a zipper pouch for things that need to be contained by a zipper, and a rear pouch with a Velcro closure for other small stuff that maybe is not as important as the stuff that needs to be zipped in.

Bags installed, it was time to head for the market.

TJ's is uphill from my house, so I figure this would be a really good test of (1) the drag effect of towing a trailer uphill (even though it would be empty, it's still extra weight and size) and (2) the potential daredevil effect of going downhill with a trailer full of groceries. The uphill part turned out to be just fine. I was using the 3-speed, and was able to get up the hill without dropping into granny.

Once again, upon arrival at my destination, I simply unhitched and rolled the Travoy into the market, where it doubled as my shopping cart. I proceeded to go up and down the aisles using hurling products into the bags with abandon.

A watermelon? Sure. ooh, look at that cantaloupe; in it goes. Cereal? Check. Ginormous GLASS bottle of olive oil? Check. Canned beans and marinara sauce? Check. Cereal? Check. Cauliflower, avocados, cherries, bananas, a couple bags of edamame, peanut butter, cherry tomatoes, pasta, dog biscuits? Check, check and check.

At the counter, the cashier was duly impressed, especially after I demonstrated all the features and benefits (my former life as a retail seller of furniture and kitchen gadgets coming to the fore). Groceries purchased and re-loaded, it was time to make the return trip home. I rolled on out to the parking lot, rehitched the Travoy to the incredibly convenient seat-post pin, and headed off down the hill.

As previously noted, when shopping with panniers and basket, I always had to take this part of the trip very, very slowly for fear of crashing. Not so with the Travoy. I zipped down the hill with nary a problem. The all-terrain wheels took every pavement deficiency with aplomb. I arrived home intact, as did the groceries (I hadn't even bruised a banana!)

I have since used the Travoy to haul many more court files and groceries and could not be happier. Well, actually, I could be happier. I need the rain shield, because without it things can get awfully wet (so far I have just not gone out in the rain with it), and I could really use a spare seat tube hitch, so I don't have to move the hitch back and forth between bikes (for those hills that are just too steep for the 3-speed).

Ah, yes, the 3-speed.

There was much laughter at our auction table as we tried to figure out a way that I could rationalize coming home with yet another bicycle. And yes, I know that there are many people with more bikes in their garage than I have owned in my entire life who see no need to rationalize their collections, but I have a slightly more sensible husband who does not fall for the "different horses for different courses" excuse. The bike that came with the package was a basic road design, but the BTA representative told me that the bike shop had said that I could get any style of the Linus bike I wanted, including the mixte. Aaaah, a mixte. I did not have a mixte in my collection, and I sensed an opening. GREG could ride the mixte if he wanted, so it would be a bike for both of us, right? (I chose to ignore the fact that Greg has YET to ride the bicycle that I bought for him last year . . .). So, yes, I have yet another bike. One that Greg will probably never ride. But he COULD if he wanted to. And surprisingly enough, he seems to be okay with it.

And, yes, I've got a brand new bag. Sing it!, James . . .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quick!, Someone Call a Doctor. Oops, Too Late.

This is my friend Susan.

Susan used to be a perfectly normal superhuman. She ran half-marathons, entered triathlons, all while running her own business. Then something terrible happened. Susan caught Rando Fever. It started innocuously enough (or at least seemingly so). In the last couple of years, Susan joined me and Lynne to ride various populaire courses, the 100-kilometer events that randonneurs use to suck the unsuspecting casual rider into their nefarious cult. The next thing she knew, she was riding a 200. And then a 300. And then last month she rode her first 600.

But the sign that she had truly caught the brain fever and made the leap into madness was when Lynne and I received this e-mail last week:

"Either of you want to ride a perm on [Saturday] 6/12? I've ridden brevets 3 months in a row now. I can't take a day off work to do the Wine Country on 6/15 (Tuesday), but I *could* do a perm on 6/12."

Yes, you read that right. She said she'd "ridden brevets 3 months in a row now," and wanted to do one in June. She's now on the hunt for an R-12, something only the truly Rando-sick attempt.

As fellow sufferers, Lynne and I were quick to enable Susan's slide into sickness. Susan had suggested a route that follows the covered bridges roads around Scio, but that's a fairly tough route and I am only just now getting back into shape after my forced "vacation." Also, we had no guarantees about the weather, and in bad weather the Scio route can be a bear. So we opted instead for the Three Prairies route, a regular winter perm because it is flat and low-elevation. Even in craptacular weather it is doable.

So we sent in our registration forms and started watching the weather reports to see how much rain gear we would need. On Tuesday, the forecasters started talking about sunshine and temperature in the 80s. I refused to think about it, not wanting to jinx it. But Susan kept sending e-mails with little smiley-faced sunshine graphics from the Weather Channel. It was hard not to get our hopes up. Through Thursday it was still pretty damp, though, and Friday was overcast all day. I was not optimistic. But late Friday evening the clouds began to clear and by the time I woke up Saturday morning the sky was clear and blue. My bag of gear suddenly became significantly lighter. TRFKAF ditched his Showers Pass jacket.

We met up at the public parking lot in Newberg at 6:45 AM. It was about 45 degrees and clear, and there was some discussion of whether we needed to at least start out with limb warmers. We all opted for arm warmers but left our leg warmers in the car. Then it was off to the Thriftway to collect our first time stamp of the day before heading southwest to Dallas by way of Dayton, Amity and Perrydale.

We had a pretty good tailwind and so we cruised along at about 19 mph on the flats (much slower on the hills of course) and after a brief stop in Amity to offload fluids, we reached Dallas in what was for us record time. We stopped at the Safeway to get another time stamp and some snacks. It's a good thing that we had arrived with time to spare, because only two cashiers were on duty and the check-out lines were so long that they snaked back into the food aisles. I am thinking that the two management types that were just hanging out chatting in the service center could have maybe, just freaking MAYBE. come over to help out, but noooooooo. But we finally got our food and receipts, slathered on more sunscreen (!!) and turned back north for the return to Newberg.

Because we had a wind assist on the way down, we were assuming that we'd be fighting wind on the way back. But it was a quartering headwind, so was not as bad as it could have been. But we did a little pace-line work anyway, and so were able to maintain fairly decent speeds. Not that any of us is really big enough to either block much wind or create much draft. But every little bit helps. We were back in Newberg before we knew it, ready for Loop #2, but not until we'd had some more snacks.

The second loop on the Three Prairies perm heads southeast to Mt. Angel. The winds were picking up, and we were surprised that the seemed to be coming from the east; they should have been coming from the west. But they weren't too bad, and we soon turned out of them. Sort of. We crossed the Willamette River on the HWY 219 bridge, a crossing that I absolutely despise. The pavement is bad, the shoulder is narrow and debris filled, and semi-trailers whip past at 65 mph. I much prefer the I-5 crossing of the river on the Boone Bridge, but that was way out of our way. Just across the river we turned off onto Champoeg Road and made our way toward the St. Paul Highway, which we would take down into the French Prairie (Prairie #2 of the Three) as we eventually wound our way to Mt. Angel.

By this time it was HOT. The thermometer on my cyclometer was reading in the upper-80s. That was partly reflected road heat but, as Lynne pointed out, the road heat was reflecting on us. But it was so beautiful out, and such a treat to finally not be wearing ten layers of sopping wet gear, that I really did not mind. I was just hoping my sunscreen would work. In Mt. Angel we all got cold drinks and stood in the shade. We were on target for a 10-hour 200, which would be a personal best time for Lynne (at least that s what she insisted; both Susan and I had thought she'd already had a sub-10 brevet, but she would know best). Anyway, I pushed them to get going because I wanted to ensure that Lynne got that PB, even if it killed her.
(yes, Randos are a sick and sometimes cruel tribe).

I had not factored in the winds. At this point we were encountering thermal convection, and so the wind was in our face no matter which way we turned. We were also beginning to fade (or at least I was) after riding 100 miles at an average speed of above 16mph. And it was HOT HOT HOT.

But is was also beautiful. Mt. Hood was in full glory, and at one point we could just see the peak of Mt. Jefferson in the distance. As we looped our way back from Mt. Angel to Newberg through Gervais and Butteville, much in-motion photography was being practiced.

Champoeg State Park is about seven miles from the end of the course. I had run low on water, and really needed a cold drink (and some strategically-applied baby powder) and so suggested a pit stop. Lynne and Susan were happy to oblige. At the visitor center shop we got cold pop and a bag of potato chips and sat in the shade for a while watching a mama barn swallow fly in and out of her nest in the eaves with food for her chick. We were no longer looking at a sub-10 hour time, but no one seemed too upset about it. Chips and soda consumed, and more sunscreen applied, we once again saddled up and rode out.

The last six miles to Newberg has some small rollers, and after the river crossing there's a short climb. We were all tiring and so began to slow down and split up a bit. But we nevertheless rolled into the Thriftway parking lot at 5:15, just a quarter hour over that ten-hour goal. Considering the heat and the fact that both Lynne and I are in still in "come back" mode and Susan had both a cold AND allergies, it was not a bad finishing time at all.

Lynne and Susan headed over to Burgerville for strawberry milkshakes, but I had a date with Greg for beer at the Apex Bar and enormous plates of vegan Mexican food from Los Gorditos. So I made my home, showered, struggled into a pair of compression tights and headed out for dinner and drinks with my man. A great ending to a great day.