Mar 26, 2014

Blast from the past

My buddy Dave, came across this animated gif which he captured back on May 9th, 2010.  He shared it with me this morning; awesome.  This is myself, catching a little air at Sprain Ridge, just north of Yonkers outside of NYC.  Dave and I used to ride there pretty regularly.  This Friday, I'm taking the fat bike up to visit him in Manhattan.  Hopefully we'll get out and ride around some of our old stomping grounds.  I especially would like to ride at Cunningham Park in Jamaica, Queens. 

Mar 24, 2014

Local trails

When I got out of work today, the weather was brisk but sunny.  I have been playing with the idea of exploring the farm land around my house for the last couple of years, but I never have because of the rednecks that live around me.  "Squeal like a pig boy!"  Yeah.  The land isn't marked with POSTED signs, but I'm still reluctant to venture into it.  It's funny though; when I was a kid I never had a problem trespassing on the local farmers' land.  Hell, my buddies and I used to penetrate deep into the Thurston's land and shoot birds with BB guns all day long (Yes, I'm evil I know).  But that's not to say we weren't ever marched off of their property at gun point.  An angry, tobacco-spitting, turkey hunter, in full camouflage, pointing a shotgun in your face is a hell of a site when you're 14 years old.  So, it was with my tail between my legs and my eyes open wide that I dipped into the woods after work today.  As I pedaled on, I laughed at how my life experience has helped to shrink those gigantic cajones I had as a child.  People are crazy.  I followed a faint trail from the road, down through the woods and out to an open hay field.

When the trail broke from the woods I was greeted with a wide expanse of hay fields.  I slowly prodded along the perimeter of the field looking into the woods for other trails.  I was hoping to find a well worn ATV trail; something I could turn into a nice little after-work ride.  I didn't see anything like that.  Instead, what I found were numerous tree stands and some prime rabbit hunting land.  Deer sign was everywhere.  I stopped often to look around and take some photos.  I'm still really really loving my fat bike, so I took a ridiculous number of photos of it.  I peeled apart a milkweed pod just to feel the soft seeds inside.  Did you know that milkweed's fibrous filament is used as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows?  Now you do.  

At one point I followed a game trail through a valley between two fields.  There were deer beds all over and several tree stands were perched in ideal spots for shooting down into the valley.  I'd never venture back here during deer season; I'll tell you that.  At one point the game trail passed over a log a few feet off the ground.  I took a really close look at the briers around this log.  Just as I suspected, the briers were covered in hair snagged from deer that pass over it.  "Awesome" I thought to myself.

When I popped back on to the road around my house, I was stoked to have ridden right from my house, through the woods and back home.  It's something I haven't done since I was a kid.  Something city life had taken from me.  Something I really want to have back. I'm going to have to find out who owns the land I was on today and knock on some doors.  It'd be awesome if I can get permission to ride back there whenever I want to.  Then I could fully enjoy myself.  

Mar 23, 2014

Fat bike maiden voyage! (Trek Farley)

Disclaimer: I need to preface this post by saying that these are my initial impressions of this bike. It’s my first fat bike, so I’m learning of the new and different ride qualities that a fat bike provides. That said; I’m already looking forward to comparing these initial thoughts to those which will come later, a month or two down the road.

Yesterday I picked up my new fat bike, a Trek Farley, which I ordered from Race Pace Bicycles.  I took it from the shop, directly to the trail head at Hashawha, my local trail network.  Weather conditions were absolutely perfect for a nice spring ride.  When I pulled into the parking lot, it was a beautiful 65°F and the sun was beaming (as was the grin on my face).  I wasted no time stripping the reflectors from the frame and spokes and socked my Crank Brothers pedals on.  After deflating the tires to down around 12 psi, I hopped on and set off down the singletrack.  

Having never ridden a fat bike off-road before, the first thing I noticed was how soft the ride was.  The tires produced a large hollow sound and the feeling was like that of a dialed in soft tail.  It felt like I was floating down the trail.  My tires gobbled up roots, rocks and divots as if they weren't even there.  I attribute this to the large volume of air and also the wheel's angle of attack.  Though it's a 26" wheel, the huge tires make this bike, effectively, a 29er.  Though the ride was soft and "floaty", the bike handled like any other nice hard tail.  I noticed absolutely no difference in acceleration efforts.  I could stomp the pedals and shoot right forward.  Getting air felt "normal", as if I were on any other 26" bike.  (And I did loft this bike more than a few times!)
The trail conditions were almost perfect.  I say almost, because some sections were a little too soft.  I felt a little guilty for trudging through the muck, but felt that my fat tires weren't doing as much damage as would regular width tires on most other bikes.  And speaking of mud, that is one area where I noticed this bike had no real advantage.  Even with all this surface area, I had a hard time getting traction in slimy mud.  On the other hand, I noticed that I did not loose traction in any other instance!  I climbed some really steep hills, on loose dirt and my rear wheel didn't spin out once. I didn't have to focus on keeping the front wheel down as much either.  It was awesome.
The trails in Hashawha were were well kept. A lot of work had been done since the damaging ice storm Westminster experienced a few weeks ago.  Several downed trees and limbs had been cleared from the main trails, yet when I reached the more remote trails around the perimeter, it was another story.  I had to stop every 100 yards or so, to fight my way through the trail.  If I had a small trail saw, I would have enjoyed clearing some of the trails.  This made for some hard going.
Unfortunately, my ride ended with a mechanical issue.  About a mile from the trail head, I noticed some chain suck.  At first, I didn't pay it any mind because my chain and chainrings were caked in mud, and that's usually a key ingredient for chain suck.  But when it happened the second and third time, I stopped to look at the teeth on my chainrings.  I thought, maybe I had bent one and it was pulling the chain up the backside of the chainring.  This wasn't the case.  Instead, my rear derailleur had "locked itself".  The Sram X9 Type II rear derailleur features a locking feature that locks the cage, removing all spring tension so that you can easily remove your rear wheel.  I never had issues removing wheels in the past.  I think anyone that rides knows to shift down to the smallest cog before you remove your rear wheel.  A little forward pressure on the cage clears it out of the way of the wheel you're removing but hey, what do I know?  At any rate, I could not figure out how to "unlock" the cage and so I had to coast and push my way to back to the truck.  Oh well, lesson learned! 

I am loving this fat bike and cannot wait to get back out on the trails!

Mar 16, 2014

Suburban Decay

Lately, I've missed a lot of opportunities for what's known among photographers as golden photography.  I'm not talking about bling.  I'm talking about shooting during those golden hours that occur twice each day.  When the sun is low on the horizon, and the sky is full of reds and oranges the rising/setting sun pelts the sides of buildings, trees and everything in it's path with a beautiful, surreal, golden light.  The term, golden hour is misleading because it really only lasts for a few minutes, but if you're lucky enough to catch it, it's a wonderful experience.  Experiencing it always makes me feel good.  Experiencing it with a camera in my hands, in an interesting environment, is just the best.

Well, I did not make it out of the house early enough to catch it this morning, but IT got me out of bed and motivated me to go out and shoot.   I've been trying to push myself to shoot more often because I've fallen into a photographic rut lately.  I just don't have the motivation to get out there and be creative like I used to.  The golden hour, enjoyed from my kitchen window while brewing a cup of coffee, motivated me to grab my camera bag and get out there.  I hopped in the Tacoma and drove over to the old fence post yard on Route 140.  There is not a lot inside of these old structures.  A lot of the brush around them has been cleared and it looks as if someone is preparing to demolish them.  I did, however, encounter an owl living in the rafters and found an old Coke bottle among the ruins.  None of these photos are amazing, but it was good to get out there and enjoy myself on a sunny, cold morning.

Mar 11, 2014

Fat bike on order!

This past Saturday I popped into my local bike shop; Race Pace Bicycles and had them order me a 2014 Trek Farley.  The Farley is a performance fat bike.  If you are asking yourself what a fat bike is; it is basically a mountainbike, designed and built around very wide (fat) rims and tires for the sole purpose of flotation.  The much larger footprint (surface area) allows for the bike to be ridden on the surfaces that would ordinarily gobble up and bog down standard width tires (Snow, sand & swamplands).  This makes the fat bike, the ultimate, go-anywhere bike!  
The origin of fat bikes came about years ago when Alaskan bicycle explorers and Iditabike racers would weld and sew together rims and tires to create their own custom fat wheelsets.  Typically fat bikes have been used for snow racing as well as deep, back country exploration & touring.  Though, with the recent hoopla, major brands are now adding performance fat bikes to their catalogues.  These “performance” fat bikes lack the pannier & bottle mounting points on the frame & fork and feature lighter, more aggressive frame geometry.  This is the category into which the Trek Farley falls.  It’s not the ideal fat bike for touring on a multiday adventure (though you could); the Surly Pugsly and similar fat bikes have proven to be the bee’s knees for that purpose.
The Farley is selling out quickly.  From what I have read and heard in talking with guys at bike shops, complete bikes are hard to come by, as most shops have sold them all.  Framesets, on the other hand, are readily available.  Although this information is plastered all over the internet, oddly enough, I had no problem ordering a complete Farley in my size (19.5”).  Lucky me!  
Fat biking is one more niche of the biking world that I am eager to get into.  It’s funny how many areas of the sport you can explore.  My cycling evolution looks something like this:
·         XC riding & racing
·         Urban Assault
·         Freeriding
·         Road
·         Fixed gear commuting
·         Alleycat Racing
·         Road racing
·         XC riding

Mar 9, 2014

Pictures of the day

Nice day today: 43°F, so I threw the bike in the back of the Tacoma, grabbed my GX-1 and cruised in to Westminster.  I wanted to check out a small consist of freight cars that has been parked on the CSX line for several months.  Usually, I find some pretty interesting graffiti tags on railcars.  This wasn't the case today, I wasn't too impressed.  But it was “warm” out and the lighting was good so I decided to have some fun enjoying my two most favorite hobbies; cycling & photography.  I rode down the ballast along the tracks until I reached the cars and then just took my time exploring under the overpass. At one point, while making bike portraits, my bike blew over and the rocky ballast punched a perfect hole in my bar cap; nice.  

Mar 5, 2014

Ass pain & commuting

I may have mentioned that the building where I now work, at Knorr Brake Corporation is only 7.5 miles from my house. As such, I could not wait to begin riding my bike to work. Riding to work always guarantees a great day. I always feel fantastic after spending a half hour or so, on the bike in the morning. I commuted to work in NYC a bunch of times which was really exciting; blasting up Broadway through the Bronx and into Yonkers. And years ago, from 2003 to 2007, when I lived in downtown Baltimore, I carried out my longest streak of bike commuting ever; four years. I was a machine. I was regularly racing crits and I rode my fixed gear to work in rain and snow; my body was über race-hardened. Very unlike my body today which is … über slug softened.

This week, my first week at the new job has been awesome. Though I do not have my own office yet (I’m waiting for the guy who I’m replacing to retire in June) my temporary cubicle is pretty sweet. The people I work with are awesome and professional. And I could not wait to top all that awesomeness off with the added bonus of riding to work. So, last night I prepped the fixie. Nostalgically, I prepared my bike the night before. I dug out my lights and mounted them to the bars and seat tube. I slapped my fender on; lubed the chain and aired the tires to 90 psi. I blew the dust off my messenger bag and pulled my U-lock from its shelf. After I ironed a set of clothes and packed them neatly in my messenger bag I settled into bed with visions of a chilly but fun ride to work; just like the good ol’ days of my hipster, in-shape youth.

In the morning I squeezed into my winter riding gear.  Over the years, my chamois have managed to shrink somehow, but I fought myself into them, like pork into a sausage casing.  I wrapped my feet in tinfoil, for an extra layer of wind protection & reflective heat on my piggies.  One day, I'll have to break down and buy a pair of booties.  As I pedaled out of the porch-lit driveway and into the dark and arctic 14°F morning, my ass and rock-hard saddle, "Rocky", were painfully reunited. “Mamma mia!” I sucked it up and pushed my 48 X 17T combo up the first hill where the road then leveled off gradually, and pleasantly descended through the darkness. Though my ass bones got sore quickly, I got used to it and I settled into a comfy rhythm. Under my face mask, a smile stretched across my already snotty, snorting face as I enjoyed my silent propulsion though the chilly dawn. The fixie is dead silent; no creaks; no chain noise at all. Total silence.

At about mile 4, reality struck; holy crap I’m out of shape. I wondered if any of the passers-by had a set of charged defibrillator paddles in their car. What I thought would be a 25 minute commute began its stretch into a 45 minute pain game. I had hoped to get to work well before my 7:00 start time so that I could hit the locker room, and shower before anyone got there. The goal here was limiting the amount of time I had to be naked in that locker room. The hills and my single fixed gear were working hard against me. They mocked me; laughed at me; became so vane in their very topography. Not only the climbs, which I attacked with all the speed of a slug on a salt lick, but also the descents. I flew down a long steep stretch of Route 27 with a death grip on the bars and flames shooting out of my quads. I thought my legs were going to jettison from my hip sockets and flail off into the bushes along the roadside. My tachometer was redlined as I tried to keep my RPMs down to a leg-sustaining cadence. Oh, how I wished for the freewheeling beauty of my road bike. To coast would have been divine. When I reached the bottom of the hill I was so exhausted, that I was already dreading the imminent Bataan Death Ride that would be my commute home. What have I gotten myself into?

Work ensued.  My ass bones taunted me all day.  BUTT, it was a great day, and I felt like a warrior for toughing it out on such a chilly morning.

The ride home, surprisingly; nay miraculously, was not as painful as I had imagined. Yes, I climbed the long hill on Route 27 at a walking pace, but I refused to quit. I have walked hills when mountain biking. This I will admit. But, I have never walked a bike on pavement. I couldn't let that happen. I just couldn't let myself be that guy on the side of the road, walking his perfectly functional bike home. I just put my head down and slowly pushed myself home. And, I made it! By golly, I made it! 

The road to fitness is a long one, I think I’ll take my road bike.

Mar 2, 2014

Bunyan Velo

I recently stumbled upon a fantastic electronic magazine called Bunyan Velo.  As their website states: 


If you enjoy fantastic photography, great writing of adventure riding stories, I highly recommend you skip on over to Bunyan Velo and immerse yourself in a free read!  

Mar 1, 2014

Career Move: Knorr Brake Corporation

Most of you know that I work in the rail industry as a Quality Assurance Engineer.  I've been in the industry for about 12 years now, starting off my first five years as a QC Inspector at a Baltimore based supplier; RailPlan.  From RailPlan I went to a major car builder; Kawasaki Rail Car.  I worked as a QA Engineer for four years at Kawasaki, on various railcar projects with NYCT, PATH & WMATA.  In 2012 I left Kawasaki and took a job with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) as a QA Engineer.  With each leap in my career came more responsibility, better pay and a resultant increase in my knowledge base for rail cars, components and quality management systems.  This career path has been good for me.  I have a genuine interest in trains (instilled in me by my father’s Lionel trains he would set up at Christmas time) and a detail oriented mindset, essential for anyone working in the quality field.  

Yesterday marked my last day of employment with WMATA.  Monday I will be starting my new job at Knorr Brake Corporation as the Manager of Supplier Quality.  I will truly miss the people that I have worked with in the Authority but I am confident that I will be successful and happier in this new venture.  I was given a great send-off the other night at a restaurant.  The Superintendent of Car Maintenance had a plaque made for me.  After he spoke very kindly of me he gave me the plaque, saying that the plaques were typically retirement gifts and that a plaque had never been given for anyone working at the Authority for such a short amount of time (less than two years!).  I was honored that I had made such an impression.  The plaque will be hung in my new office at Knorr.  I think it's fantastic, one of the coolest things I've ever received.  The machinists that work in my yard machined the wheel out of aluminum and ran a program to inscribe my dates of service and their gratitude.  I really love it!

Above: (Left to right) Hakim & Steve and Mike D and myself.

I will miss the friends I have made and worked with at WMATA.  My manager, Steve is one of the best men I have ever worked under.  As an assistant scoutmaster, he and I had several Boy Scout stories to tell.  He like myself, made the trip out to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and hiked over the Tooth of Time.  I respect him for his work ethic, moral character, guidance and genuine personality. There is a bond here that will always be. I’ll miss Steve, but we’ll keep in touch. 

A little about Knorr:
Knorr is a very large supplier in the rail industry, manufacturing brake systems, door systems, HVAC systems and inverters.  I will be responsible for controlling their suppliers through auditing and other best practices.  I am really anxious to make a name for myself at Knorr.