Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Raise High Your Razors, Wool Wearers!

'Shaving' Wool to Remove Pilling
As I make no secret of being a wool enthusiast, perhaps it is not surprising that most of the questions I get from readers that aren't about bicycles, are about wool. Some are just trying to get their heads around the idea that this traditional, low-tech fabric can be worn on the bike in leu of modern synthetics, and often with better results. Others have specific questions about care and maintenance. Being a natural fabric, wool has a reputation for being delicate - vulnerable to the ravages of moths, washing machines (I offer a solution to the latter here), even everyday wear. Consider, for instance, this reader's lament:
...Following the advice of blogs such as yours and Let's Go Ride A Bike, I stocked up on merino sweaters since I began bicycle commuting. I have also bought a couple of wool cycling jerseys. The wool feels fantastic to wear, I was in love. Unfortunately, after only one season I find that most of my wool tops are ruined with pilling and felting, fit for nothing but yard work! So... what am I doing wrong? Is this a question of quality and if so what brands should I be looking at? Please help me get more life out of my woolens! 
Well, actually I am happy to tell you, there is a very simple solution to this. So if you notice your wool garment pilling (forming tiny balls of fluff that make it look old and worn before its time) or felting (the stitches losing their structure and instead fuzzing over with a dense, weblike layer), don't throw it out or relegate it to yardwork apparel just yet. Instead, get out your razor and read on.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Country Mile - and Other Trends in Direction-Giving

Dirt Road with View of Muckish Mountain
Some friends were talking about their recent tour around the countryside in a region they had never been to before. The trip being rather spontaneous, they had not made concrete plans for what parts of the route to cover from one day to another, and did not have a detailed map of the area. Fortunately the weather was good and the route fairly straightforward. Moreover, the locals were very helpful. "Every so often we would meet people along the way and ask - How far to Such and Such Place? They'd tell us how to get to the next destination. It was brilliant!"

I listened to this with a mixture of awe and envy. Because, funny enough, that is not quite what happens when I venture off into unknown territory and rely on others for directions. To be sure, people are always very helpful and happy to give information. But whether that information is accurate is another matter!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Are Everywhere

Refurbished Raleigh Colette
To call the village of Gortahork remote would not be out of order. In the far reaches of western Donegal it sits, at the edge of the sea, barricaded off from the rest of the county by a fierce looking mountain range. And since the closure of the regional railway line in the 1960s, it is not serviced by public transport - although private coaches operate in the area, making it possible to get around via bus & bicycle with a bit of planning. It was in this manner that I first arrived there some weeks ago, marveling at its beauty, isolation and Gaelic-only road signage. But while all of these things I'd expected from the area, what I didn't expect was to meet a kindred velo-spirit within moments of arrival. I was exiting the Offig an Phoist, if you will, to discover a woman examining my bike, which I'd left leaning against the wall.

"That's a nice bicycle," she said, giving me a searching, experimental look, "...a lovely bicycle?"

I laughed in disbelief.

"It wasn't just the bike I recognised, but your tweed coat," she explained. We were soon at her house, looking at bikes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Human Factor: How Do We Gauge Rider Preferences?

So I feel like a completely hopeless case of bike geekery after having spent an entire evening "working" on this! But after I posted about the Bella Ciao two-fork project, a friend from my former academic days directed my attention to the bit where I wrote the following:
...there is no question of this project being an experiment in the scientific sense - if only because the tester (myself, that is) was aware from the start which version was which, and had pre-conceived notions of what to expect from each. But I think that, at least in theory, it would be possible to arrange a blind test of this bike with the two forks. ...The visual difference is quite subtle - so that [potential testers] might very well not know which version they'd be trying, even after switching from one to the other.
"Oh come on, you can't just leave it at that! Why not describe how you'd go about doing that blind test?"

"Like, if someone were to do an actual experiment?"


"Hmm... Because it would be a colossal waste of time?"

"Yes, I suppose it would. But what fun!"

With a drink in hand and a long stormy night ahead, it began to look that way.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Friend Forgot Their Set of Lights? Form a 'Bike Train' in the Night!

Most of us have been there one time or another: You are out cycling with a friend during daylight hours. You lose track of time and stay out too late. When you finally make your way home it is already growing dark, and one of you doesn't have lights on their bike. Maybe it's you who is caught out, maybe it's your friend - doesn't matter. Whoever it is, now feels dejected, as they are faced with a choice between risking their life cycling home in the dark versus feeling like an idiot and phoning to ask for a rescue. But wait! Because as long as one of you has a set of lights (at least one of which is removable) and is willing to chaperone the other home, there is another solution: you share your lights and form a "night train."

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Rake's Progress

Forest Path
Over the summer I wrote about a dream project I had instigated with Bella Ciao Bicycles: They were to send me an upright step through bicycle (the Neorealista model) with two forks - their standard fork, and an alternative, low trail fork. I was to try the bike with both forks and tell them what I thought of the difference.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Georgia in Dublin Takes to the Countryside

Georgia in Dublin Rainwear
Let me tell you, it is much easier to test rain gear than it is to photograph it. To accomplish the former, you simply wear the stuff when it rains - a circumstance not difficult to come by in Ireland. To accomplish the latter, you have to get the weather conditions just so. In the actual pouring rain, it is quite difficult to take photos - both for the camera and for the model. But if the weather is good, the clothing looks out of context. The ideal condition would be something like an overcast day, just after a storm, puddles on the ground still glistening. This way, rain is implied, while the model - and camera lens - are spared. Alas the weather lately has been withholding such conditions - punctuating the lashing downpours with bursts of low, piercing sunshine, and not much in between. On a day that offered up both of these extremes simultaneously, I took to a patch of woods for shelter, resulting in some surprisingly atmospheric shots that made my outfit look even less like rainwear and even more like a costume from a Scandinavian film set, than it did already.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dreaded Destinations

Those of us who cycle as our default means of transport are sometimes faced with an interesting contradiction: having to pedal to a destination at which we desperately do not wish to arrive.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The $500 3-Speed: Possibilities Five Years Later

Almost exactly 5 years ago (wow!) I suggested that those looking for a city commuter bicycle in the $500 price range consider a refurbished vintage 3-speed, in leu of what was then available new for the same cost. My reasoning was, they would be getting a product both higher in quality and pleasanter to ride than the then-available alternatives.

Today, the economic landscape is changed from what it was 5 years ago. Nevertheless, the $500 figure remains amazingly stable as the budget those looking to buy their first city bike quote me. Luckily, the bicycle industry has changed as well. More options for budget priced city bikes are available now than there were 5 years ago. Is it still worth it then, to attempt going the vintage route? Here are my updated thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Pyramid of Garvagh

Pyramid of Garvagh
One of my favourite destinations for day rides is the village of Garvagh. Located just over the hill to the south, it makes for a convenient midway point of a metric century ride with some breathtaking views. The first half of the trip involves some sustained climbing, but the lovely descent with panoramic layered mountain vistas more than makes up for it. The village of Garvagh itself is tiny, but interesting. It began as a large private plantation in the 1600's, settled by the Canning family. Gradually it developed a market-town center - essentially one street, which today is lined with shops and cafes housed in attractive old stone buildings. There is also a museum and a handsome clock tower. The original plantation manor has been knocked down to make way for a school some decades ago, and most of the land has been parceled out and developed. A portion, however, has been preserved as public parkland.