Hidden Benefit by Erin Wade

I’ve made no secret here of my love for my recumbent trike - it’s plastered all over this site. These machines have all sorts of advantages relative to diamond frame bikes, including better stability over uncertain surfaces, decreased wind exposure, lack of saddle and neck soreness - and the list goes on.

But today, on National Recumbent Day (in The Netherlands, according to Bicycle World) I thought I’d mention an additional benefit that doesn’t always come up:

Wherever you go on your trike, you automatically have a chair to sit in.


Enjoying this post? Check out our Cycling page for links to other cycling articles on Applied Life


Riding on a trail with a lookout to a beautiful lake view that you want to sit and look at? Ride the trike up to it and enjoy. Rest your feet up on the pedals if you like. Want to ride out to a picnic, but the table was left gross by the prior visitors? Sit on your trike while you eat (and curse the inconsiderate slobs who came before).

It seems a simple thing, but it is absolutely a reality. And it’s one that it’s taken me a while to take full advantage of. This weekend, tho, I finally took that step.

My child participates in high school athletics, and they lean towards running competitions. In the fall that’s cross country, and in the spring it’s track and field. These events are mostly held in the out-of-doors (a couple of schools in the region actually do have indoor track and field setups). Neither sport is really designed with spectators in mind - there are never seating areas for cross country and, while track and field usually offers bleacher seating, can we all agree that there is an age after which the bleacher is no longer compatible with the buttock?

Many people address this by bringing their own folding camp chairs and finding a location to watch. I’ve done this on occasion, but it has occurred to me that I have a device with a seat in the car most of the time that I could use. And to be honest, it’s been occurring to me for a while, but I’ve been self conscious about breaking out the trike at these events. I can’t say why, exactly - perhaps not wanting to draw attention to myself (there’s a reason why I usually ride alone, and it’s not my body odor. Well, at least it’s not just my body odor...).

But at yesterday’s track meet I decided that I am a grown-ass man, and I can get my tricycle out to sit on it if I want to.

Turned out to be an excellent idea! It’s far more comfortable than bleachers and, frankly, I think it’s more comfortable than a camp chair. Plus it has, you know, pedals, so you don’t have to carry things back and forth to your seating area - you just ride it there and back.

The comfort level makes implicit sense to me - I’ve often been out on rides for a couple of hours or more, and it’s never gotten uncomfortable. And I do have a neck rest, so when the mood strikes I can lean back and relax. And it did not appear to draw much undue attention, and what it did was positive. One of LB’s teammates complimented me on my "cool bike", for example. This is an addition bonus because my child does not think dad’s recumbent trike is cool (which mystifies me, to be honest - I get that Dad can’t possibly be cool, but how can you not think the trike is? I’ve failed as a parent somewhere along the line) and gave me a "really?" along with a patented LB eye roll when I started riding alongside them.

So there you have it - if you were considering a recumbent trike, and just needed one more benefit to make that final decision, here it is. Enjoy!

New Project by Erin Wade

I’ve had this bike trailer for well over a decade. If memory serves, it was a garage sale find, and it served for several missions of child hauling during LB’s younger years. With sufficient preparation - books to look at and drinks and snacks and such - LB would remain content to allow for an hour or more of riding time, and it added a different dimension (mostly additional weight) to my regular riding routine.

I’d hoped that this experience would also spur in my child a love of cycling the way that riding with my father had in me. Unfortunately my parental failure is complete - my child prefers running to cycling. The horror!

When LB got too big for the trailer we continued to use it to carry things - a cooler for refreshments or a picnic during a break, groceries on the occasional trip to the store. But when we moved from the city out to our homestead it got stored in the rafters of the garage, with the intention of getting it back down to ply into service again as a cargo hauler. Someday.

That was nearly 10 years ago.

I’ve been thinking about it more regularly lately, tho, with the particular idea of using it with my Catrike Pocket when I am on functional rides - e.g. trips where I’m using the trike as transportation and not just recreation. But the decade in the garage rafters has not been kind to the trailer...

She’s a dirty girl...

There’s the general dust and debris from sitting unattended in an outbuilding for an extended period of time. But I had a chance to look at it a while back when I was up on a ladder, and I knew there was going to be another, larger (or, if you like, smaller) issue - the mice had found it.

There’s a lot to like about living out in an intensely rural setting. The privacy, the open air, the prairie wildlife.

But not all the prairie wildlife is enjoyable. If you are someone who is now thinking "but mice are cute", I would submit that you are someone who has never actually lived with mice. When you live out in farm country you quickly realize that they are everywhere and that a field mouse, given the choice between living in the actual field for which it is named, and living in your home or another, similar structure, will opt for the latter every time. And it is surprising just how unpleasant and damaging such a tiny creature can be. They will get into cabinets, drawers, vehicles (that’s a fun surprise going down the road, let me tell you); they will urinate and defacate everywhere, and tear up whatever is around them for nesting material. I don’t love the mice.

But I digress. I’d noticed, back when I was up on the ladder last, that mice had nested in the trailer, and this meant that I was not going to have the option of just getting it down, hooking it up, and going. The body of the trailer is mostly canvas, and that material was going to have been soaked with rodent effluent. It was going to have to go. Which is part of why it’s taken me a while to get to this - it was going to be a project.

I don’t like mice

my kid used to sit in there

Using one of these old trailers as a base for a different design is not a new idea, not original to me, to be sure. I have a well documented dislike of Facebook, but the recumbent trike groups within Facebook are an exception to that rule, and lots of people more capable and creative than I have gone through and modified these items to good effect. In the hopes that folks will understand that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m going to copy from some of what I’ve seen and see what I can put together with this.

One of the questions I had to begin with is how to hook it up to the trike. It’s meant to attach to the lower rear bar at the back of a diamond frame bike. That bar is bigger on the Pocket, and not easily accessible with the frame bags in the way (and I don’t intend to use the trailer all the time, so it won’t replace the bags - they are staying). For the moment, at least, I’m thinking that it can connect to the rear cargo rack:

I think this may work

view from above

I think that may work, though it does put the trailer at a bit of an angle. I’ll have to think it thru a bit.

New Project

Any project that I start competes somewhat with my actual riding time, so I don’t anticipate this will get done in a hurry. But I’ve gotten the thing down out of the rafters in part so that it’s in my way, and thus has to be contended with. That should help ensure that I deal with it sooner rather than later - you know, not another ten years...

Site Addition - Cycling Page by Erin Wade

I have been writing and posting on this site since May of 2010. Applied Life is something more or less of a traditional "blog" site, by which I mean that I write about the things that interest me here. The initial focus - and the tag line - for the site was Science and Technology in Everyday Life. Hence the name.

The very first post on the site was my review of the original iPad back in 2010 (TL:DR version - I liked it). And much of those early years reflected that type of topic, with occasional excursions into things like TV shows or books, or music that I like and music that I don’t.

But more recently the site has become much more focused on cycling in various aspects. I’ve been a cyclist off and on for most of my life - when I was a kid it was our primary mode of transportation, and as an adult it’s one of my two favorite forms of exercise (the other is martial arts). Given that, it’s probably not surprising that cycling has been a part of this site since early on. My earliest cycling focused post appeared in December of 2013 and it was about winter cycling. But the topic of cycling was an occasional one until I got my Catrike Pocket.

That machine has caused considerable changes both to what I do and what I write about. I’m cycling more - more time and further distances - than ever before, and it definitely affects the things that are on my mind, which is, ultimately, where the material on this site comes from. In my head I sometimes muse over changing the name of the site to Applied Trike...

I’m probably not going to do that, but the volume of cycling material does mean that it seemed to me like it might be getting more challenging to find some specific things on the site. As such, I put together a separate page with some links to a series of specific articles that might represent topic areas people are looking for.

The page is just called "Cycling", and depending upon how you are coming to the site - e.g. via desktop/laptop or mobile device it will appear in a couple of different ways.

On the desktop you will see a menu of words across the top right hand corner of the site, one of which is "Cycling":

Desktop

On your mobile device - and my analytics say that’s how most people find their way here - that menu is in the hamburger button (the three little lines that denote a menu) in the upper right:

Hamburger button

Clicking that will get you the list of additional pages:

Applied Life Other Pages

Choosing ”Cycling" will take you to the Cycling Resources page:

Cycling Resources

What you will find there is a list of selected articles under specific topic areas related to cycling, including (to start with):

  • Trail Reviews
  • Life With Recumbent Trikes
  • Winter Cycling

As I noted, this is a list of selected articles, so it’s not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it should provide access to articles that provide longer-term reference information, and which seem to be among the more popular on the site. If you are a person who enjoys the site because of the cycling posts and want to refer someone here, this page would be a good place for them to start.

I will plan to update it and add to it over time - particularly in the area of trail and equipment reviews and so on. I will also likely include a link to it in posts about cycling to make it easy to find.

I said that I’ve been cycling off and on for most of my life, and that is true. But my enthusiasm for cycling has really grown over the past couple of years. I can see by the number of visitors that there are a lot of other folks who are also enthusiastic about it. I appreciate your time and attention here at Applied Life and I hope you will find the new page helpful.

And - of course - I also needed to update the tag line, which is now: Science and Technology - and Cycling! - In Everyday Life...

EJW

Seasonal Goals by Erin Wade

Last Wednesday took us over the calendrical hump into official Spring, and thus far the weather seems to be agreeing. Here in Northern Illinois we’ve seen temps in the 40’s and low 50’s over the past wee, with suggestions of numbers sneaking into the bottom end of the 60 degree range next week. Skies are also appropriately gray and threatening much of the time - depressing, but on track.

I am, of course, a year-round cyclist, so the riding never really stops. However, it would be fair to say that the variety of riding changes during the winter. When the snow falls and the air bites I tend to stay closer to home, and the routes available naturally become limited to what is cleared and open. Given this, the arrival of the fairer season gets me thinking about what type of riding I’d like to do in the warmer months. Given that, I thought I’d share some of the goals that are running through my head for the next couple of seasons.

More Trail Exploration

In my region we have two long-distance trail systems - the I&M Canal Trail and the Hennepin Canal Trail. I’ve ridden on each of them, but only one time each, and for shorter distances. I’d like to get back to each of them and spend more time and distance on both.

For the I&M Canal trail I’d at least like to extend out my rides to get from LaSalle all of the way into Ottawa and back, and I’d like to do that more than once, incorporating some sight-seeing into it. The trail passes through Utica on it’s way, which offers some interesting options, as well as Buffalo Rock State Park.

The Hennepin Canal trail is much longer than the section that I rode along last summer, and it is also listed as a primary component of the Rails-to-Trails cross country course. I’d love to go further along it as well. In addition, Hennepin has both the primary east-west course, as well as a feeder canal system that runs from Rock Falls southwards to the main canal. Lots of territory to explore and enjoy there.

There are other trail systems in the broad region that I’d like to get myself out to see, if at all possible. I’m primarily a road-rider, in part because getting out on trails requires car travel, which I often have plenty of during the work week. Still, the trails offer an opportunity for variety that I’m sometimes missing at home. Likely there will be reviews of these if and when they occur.

New Road Routes

A while back I put up a post about Ogle County’s cycling website. I think this is an excellent resource, and it’s a credit to the county that they provide it. Unfortunately, similar resources don’t exist closer to home. I’m hoping to establish some routes closer to home that provide a similar experience to what is detailed in their site. This will take some work, so it may not happen quickly (or I suppose, at all), but I’m hopeful.

Longer Rides

As is perhaps hinted at in the sections above, I’d like to see if I can’t incorporate longer rides into my routine. I had my highest mileage year on record last year, but my average ride was just under thirteen miles (12.94 for you sticklers out there). I am always impressed with the people who do century rides, and that’s something that I aspire to, but my available riding time makes something like that pretty challenging to fit in without significant planning.

Most of my regular rides are in the 8-14 mile range. I do have a couple of regular routes laid out at longer distance, but I think I’ll need some variety to make them more interesting to do with any sort of regularity.

Looking Forward

I’m sure there will be more to come as well, but this is where my head is at the moment. Spring brings hopes and possibilities!

A Final Gift for the Season by Erin Wade

I am not an early morning exerciser. Virtually every Sunday I try to get myself out for a ride, and this is so ingrained in my head at this point that I think of it by name - my Sunday ride. But it’s not an early morning activity, because I reserve Sunday morning for coffee, contemplation, and writing.

But this morning was different - I was out before virtually everything (well - except the coffee. Nothing happens until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee...)

This winter has been an odd one, even for the extremely variable Midwest. The first third or so of the season was unusually warm - perhaps to lull us into a false sense of security - and then became a powerhouse of snow and wind off and on for a couple of weeks. That polar vortex was followed by a shift into the wrong kind of winter, giving us an ugly patchwork of tired, retreating drifts and frozen mud.

But we’re now moving on to the end of the season, spring is right around the corner on the calendar, and most of the snow has melted away.

Well - I guess I should say had melted away.

When I got up this morning and looked out the window it became clear that the weather gods had offered up a winter cycling gift for the last part of the season. The ground was covered in a blanket of snow - and not just an odd, out of character late-season dusting. No - this was a solid inch to inch-and-a-half or so of actual powder.

Porch handrail

In short - real snow for real winter cycling.

But it’s mid-March. Snow at all this late in the season in northern Illinois is - or at least was (thanks, climate change) - virtually unheard of and, when it occurs, it’s flurries or at most just a light dusting. The abundance I was seeing out my window just doesn’t happen. And it certainly wasn’t going to last.

Warming up

I checked the handy-dandy weather app to find that it was 30°, working its way up to a high of 41°, and the above-freezing temps were set to start showing up in the very near future. This meant if I wanted to play in the snow it was going to need to be soon. So I took the drastic action of deciding to set aside my Sunday routine, completed only my most necessary of necessaries, and geared up to ride.

You would think that, by this point in the season, the novelty of a ride in the snow would have passed - that this is something that one would feel only as the calendar rolls us into those early days of winter. Some years that just might be true, but this really did feel like a gift, it’s ephemeral nature making it all the more precious.

Undoubtedly because of the warming trend for the day, the road was untouched by plows, offering only tire tracks from the occasional passing vehicle.

Road pic here

Because of the lateness of the season, this ride offered an auditory extravaganza that one does not typically experience when riding in the white stuff. Yes, you do have the crunch of the snow under the wheels (a thing I comment on often and always love), but today all of that was accompanied by the bird calls, most notably those of the returning Red Wing Blackbirds.

RWB

These well-dressed gentlemen of the prairie are the true harbingers of spring out here. You can have your silly robins with their garish outfits - they don’t hold a candle to the toughness and determination of the RWB. And besides, you can hear the blackbird’s trilling call for miles. You know they are here by sound long before you see them.

I took a little longer on the route for this ride than usual, taking some final pictures and so on. This was likely my last opportunity to lay my tracks in fresh powder for most of the remainder of the year. It seemed reasonable to savor it a bit.

Trike Tracks

Rare Opportunity by Erin Wade

This past Friday offered up a rare home office day, and an even rarer opportunity to ride my trike for actual transportation.

The overwhelming majority of my riding is recreational. Though I’m on country roads most of the time, it’s on loops designed to get me back around to my start, and to enjoy the trip along the way. This is a reality of my work situation - I travel a lot, and none of it is within a reasonable ride distance from home. When I’m not off-site I work out of a home office, which is wonderful, but my spouse objects when I bring the trike inside to ride the 10 feet from the bedroom to the office...

Friday presented with the perfect confluence of location and opportunity - working from home, and enough open time to ride, rather than drive, to the post office.

It’s an eight-mile ride one-way, almost entirely on rural backroads. It’s about a half-hour round trip by car, all things considered, and takes somewhere between an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half cycling (depending upon the day and depending upon me).

I always enjoy riding, but there’s something extra-special to me when I get the opportunity to ride to an actual destination. This might sound odd to the folks who commute via pedals on a regular basis, but it makes for an additional feeling of purpose to the ride that I really enjoy.

Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to claim any particular level of virtue here. While I try to do what I can for the environment - driving fuel efficient cars, using LED lighting, etc - I don’t for a moment delude myself into thinking that this very occasional 16-mile trip even rates as a drop in the bucket in comparison to my routine motor vehicle usage. This is, in fact, one of the things that people often don’t think about with respect to country living - a natural consequence to being away from everything is that you have long distances to get to everything. You spend a lot of time in the car.

But that sense of purpose is there, and I enjoy it.

And so I gear up for the ride and get the trike ready, checking the bags to make sure I have enough room in there for any mail that I might be bringing back. I also check and double-check to make sure I have the mailbox key (which I have forgotten at least once on on of these forays). Then I hit the road with my sense of purpose in hand (or maybe in the bag - my hands are occupied with steering after all - have to re-think that metaphor) and head out.

I ride the same route that I drive for the trip, but it’s all different at cycling speeds. You get a chance to see the things along the way and enjoy them at a more human level. This can be, of course, both for the better and the worse.

The better is this hill, which appears early in to the third mile of the ride.

Hill pic

It’s a relative high point that drops rapidly into the valley carved by Bureau Creek. It is, unsurprisingly, the source of my top-speed measure for this ride (coming in at 34.55 gravity-assisted mph). It’s warmer, at 39°, but still winter, and the snow still sits along the sides of the road and banks of the creek.

The bad is the dogs which chase the trike - virtually every single time on this route - a mile or so afterward. They chase the car as well, when I drive this way, though the feeling is very different, as any cyclist knows. I’ve been riding in the country a significant portion of my life, and I’ve been chased by dogs many a time; You learn to contend with it. But I always worry about the dogs where this is allowed to occur. Whether car or bike, when they are chasing they are in the middle of the road, and there is no variation of this scenario that is safe for the animal. Growing up out here I lost two dogs to the road, so perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this, but still...

A few miles later and I’m rolling up to the post office to check the mailbox. Lock the wheels on the trike, get the key from the bag (which I have ensured has room for any mail I might pick up), go inside and open the box to find... nothing.

This is not a terribly uncommon occurrence, opening the box and finding it empty. On most days, when I take some time out of the work schedule to drive to the mailbox I’m frustrated to find it bare, my efforts fruitless, my time wasted.

But this day is different. This day I got to ride, and ride with a sense of purpose. The fact that it is empty doesn’t take away from that. If anything, it means that at least I didn’t have to spend still more time sitting in my car just to find out there was nothing there.

This day I got to ride.

Tailwinds by Erin Wade

So. Last week I wondered how windy was too windy to ride.

Gee, I wonder which direction the wind is coming from...

In a lot of ways that post was part of my process of trying to decide whether to brave the elements, or whether I finally had found an excuse (besides lightening) for not going out on my Sunday ride.

The thing is, you can only read so much about a person riding across Antarctica in higher winds and lower temperatures for days before all the mental whingeing about whether or not to head out for an hour or so seems, well, a little pathetic.

So - you know - I rode.

I decided to head out on the route that I’ve now come to call Rocks 8. This is the gravel route I put together to take advantage of snow cover and freezing mitigating the unpleasant effects of the gravel. I reasoned that it was a relatively brief route and remained close to home, so if safety became an issue I would be an easy rescue. And besides, once the warmer weather comes I will likely avoid the gravel portions of this route, so I might as well enjoy them while I can.

It’s a route that runs in a square, and that square, given the Midwest road grid patterns, runs on the cardinal compass points. This means that the eight mile route is about two miles in each direction - two miles south, two miles east, two miles north, etc. Suffice it to say that my ride maps are often, well, pretty dull.

The wind last Sunday was coming directly out of the west. Westerly winds are the predominant pattern in this area, and this day was point on. The wind speed during the ride, according to Cyclemeter, was 38 mph:

38 mph winds

Cyclemeter offers up graphs of your ride speed across the miles of distance traveled, and then compares it to your "official" or reference ride (by default, it’s your first recorded ride on a given route). On the graph, the purplish dotted line is the reference ride, and the blue line is the current ride:

Graphical differences

Can you guess which part of the ride it was during which I had the west-to-east tailwind?

I did a more in-depth analysis of the effect of the wind on my rides a while back, but it still amazes me somewhat how much of a difference it can make. The elevated section on the graph runs between mile two and three, smack in the 20-30mph range. It’s notable too that this section is entirely across gravel and, while not involving immense climbs, isn’t entirely flat either (which accounts for some of the up and down in speed). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t push a bit during this section - how could one not? Fast is fun! But for reference, my average speed for the year prior was 11.86mph, and the overwhelming majority of that was set on my Catrike Pocket, which is what I was riding for this outing as well.

You can see the headwind section as well across miles six and seven. My average speed for mile seven was 5.38mph. That’s better than walking, but not a lot, and really gives some credence to why Maria Leijerstam chose a trike for her Antarctic ride - you’re starting to get down to speeds where it would be difficult to stay upright on two wheels. For fun, the headwind also makes it hard to catch your breath at times, and throws bits of debris into your face.

It also brings the overall averages down to earth. Despite that section running between 20-30 mph, and a top speed of 30.60mph on mile three, the average speed for the route was only 8.95mph. This is still better than two minutes over my median speed for this route, but it illustrates how much the headwind cuts into the time.

At the end, though, you definitely know you had a workout. Maddeningly, Cyclemeter does not appear to take the wind into account with respect to calorie burn. How exactly it counts calories does not appear to be explained on its otherwise very detailed help section, but you have to enter your weight for it to work, so it seems to be based upon that vs. your ride speed and distance. For this brief, slow ride, then, it credits me with using 399 calories. I suspect that, in reality, I burned that or better during the headwind section alone.

Overall, tho, west to east, I’m not even sure the trike needed me...

How Windy is Too Windy...? by Erin Wade

I begin my Sunday mornings in a similar fashion most weeks. I get up earlier than I intend (by force of habit), make some coffee and perform my ablutions, and think about where I will go for My Sunday Ride.

I try to get out to ride at least two days a week. I’d love to do more, and I do if the opportunity presents, but my goal for bare minimum is the two days. My Sunday Ride is an important component of that goal because Sundays are, all told, the day that I’m most free to get that ride in.

As I ponder a ride here this morning, however, that contemplation is accompanied by a soundtrack of howling and gusting wind. My iPhone’s weather app tells me that we are sitting at a wind speed of more than 30 miles an hour, and my ears are in general agreement with that assessment. All of which suggests the question: how windy is too windy to ride?

Wind speed

Any cyclist knows that the wind can have a huge effect on the degree of forward progress one experiences when riding. (I spent a little time going over my personal numbers on the effect of the wind here a little while back). Still, I’m not riding for transportation, I’m riding for my physical and mental health and the general enjoyment of the activity. And as far as that physical health part goes, the resistance a strong headwind offers is really just a bit of frosting on the cycling cake.

...right?

Having my Catrike does make a difference in this calculation, at least a bit. The lower profile nature of the trike does absolutely make the wind less of an issue, of course. This is part of the reason that Maria Leijerstam chose one for her record setting ride to the South Pole.

Of course, spending a little time reading about Maria Leijerstam’s ride across Antarctica makes one feel rather wimpy about the question one is asking for this very post. She was contending with 50mph winds and temperatures so low that the sweat was freezing in her boots. So, you know, it offers a bit of perspective there...


I realize, as I look back over the past couple of weeks that I’ve spent a lot of cognitive effort and writing time on complaining about the weather. I’d like to say that this is not my fault, and rather to lay the blame at the feet of, well...

...of February. That is, assuming February has feet.

Looking back over the past few years in Cyclemeter, tho, it’s clear that February has issues. While my amount of riding varies across time, the second month of the calendar year is routinely one of the lowest both in terms of riding outings and distance traveled. It is the shortest month, of course, so that may be a variable as well, but I suspect that a calculation of average distance per day across the months would also put February routinely at or near the bottom.

If it would just be more cooperative we’d get along so much better, February and I. But to be clear, this is all February‘s fault.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Erin Wade

It’s clear that sometimes The Fates just like to give you a bite in the ass.

Of course, last week I wrote complaining that we were having the wrong kind of winter, just then in Northern Illinois. You can go back and look at that for details, but the gist is that everything was all:

... a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky.

As I often do, a little while after writing and posting I geared up for my Sunday ride. I mean, I’m gonna complain about the weather, but that’s not going to keep me from getting out and riding. As my child has heard me opine on multiple occasions, if you wait for the perfect day, it will never get done.

By the time I had geared up, however, the snow gods had apparently read my post (I’m sure they have nothing better to do, right?) and decided to show me a thing or two. The snow had already begun to fall when I walked out to the garage to get my trike ready. Once I hit the road it was falling in earnest.

Ask and ye shall receive...?

It quickly became the sort of weather I don’t typically do a road ride in, primarily because of reduced visibility - not mine, but that of drivers. But at that point I was already committed, so I pressed on.

I’d made the choice to go with my glasses and not goggles, which had... interesting results. I spent a lot of time clearing gathered moisture off of the glasses, which would have been the case with the goggles as well. The goggles would have prevented the ice buildup on my eyebrows, however...

That problem aside, however, it was everything you hope for from a winter ride - the peace and solitude of the snowfall, the crunch under the wheels (you really can’t overemphasize the delight of that sound), and a visual display that absolutely fits the description of winter wonderland.

It’s still, clearly, not something that the general public is ready for. The demonstration of that on this trip was provided by the car pulling up with the young man who lives down the road from me, rolling down the window and checking on me to make sure I was okay. I was halfway through the ride - well away from both our houses - so it was a chance encounter; I was clearly a sight he was not expecting to see.

Ultimately it was just under 14 miles on a familiar route with Old Man Winter thoughtfully providing just what I’d asked for. All at once.

But hey - the ice has since melted out of my eyebrows.

The Right Kind of Winter by Erin Wade

I enjoy winter, as a general rule. I enjoy cycling in the cold, I like the crunch of snow under the wheels, seeing the flakes fall about me as I move down the road or trail. The changing of the landscape as the snow shifts and changes with the wind and temperature adds variety to what would otherwise seem monochromatic.

But it has to be the right kind of winter.

Over the past few days in Northern Illinois we’ve moved beyond the polar vortex, and had warming temperatures - so warm, in fact, that the abundance of snow that fell just before the severe cold has significantly receded - followed by a drop back below freezing. Now, what remains is a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky. This is a part of winter that it’s harder to be enthusiastic about.

The road. Does it beckon?

The warming and freezing leaves your typical uncleared cycling trails covered in a layer of uneven ice that can potentially be traversed, but is so unpleasant to ride over it resembles a roadway of randomly scattered rub strips. There is probably someone out there that wants to tackle that as a technical challenge, but I am not that someone. And this leaves me out exploring, on one of my regular ride days, city streets that are fine, as far as it goes but offer only, shall we say, uninspiring views of houses and yards.

It’s the general mood for the week, and for this morning. And it is, frankly, something that absolutely falls in the category of first world problems. I will get out and ride today. I will do so through the countryside that I enjoy. I will do it in the winter weather, which I also enjoy.

But I’d prefer that it be in the right kind of winter.

I can’t be the only one, can I?

Gravel Subdued by Erin Wade

I don’t like gravel.

I live in a rural area - grew up here, in fact, though I moved away for quite a while and then returned. Gravel has always been a part of life out here. The road that live on now was gravel for most of my childhood, and parts of it still were up until a couple of years ago. Although it has since been paved, many of the secondary roads around us remain covered in loose rock.

I’m sure gravel has its benefits, but from a road user perspective it’s hard on things. It’s hard on your vehicle, chipping paint and throwing dust on things. And it’s particularly hard when cycling. On an upright, or diamond-frame (DF) bike riding a gravel road is a matter of carefully finding the narrow paths through the surface where the gravel has been worn away and hoping against hope that an errant rock doesn’t find your front wheel and take you down.

And wiping out in gravel? I suppose, technically, a gravel road is a softer surface to fall on than is asphalt. I mean, after all, the rocks are simply sitting on top of dirt, right? But this does not account for the hours (and sometimes days) of picking rock after rock out of your skin. Ugh.

When I got my Catrike Pocket one of the things I was looking forward to was being more comfortable on gravel. But while my recumbent trike is my preferred ride for virtually every option, it isn’t able to tame all of the issues gravel has to offer. That risk of falling is gone, of course, but the ride over rock is still very rough and uncomfortable, and the layout of the trike is such that soft material - for example, loose gravel on an uphill track - causes the rear (traction) wheel to loose hold, and you find yourself sitting and spinning with no forward motion.

And I’m aware that they make gravel bikes, and that fat tire and suspension bikes and trikes are a thing. But I’m the (apparently somewhat rare) cyclist who really doesn’t collect bikes and trikes. I like to have a well rounded machine that does most things well, and I find my Catrike fits that bill.

But it means that I map out my rides so that I can avoid riding on the rocks.

It occurred to me last weekend, however, that the snow-covered nature of our roads this season might offer up an opportunity.

Out here in rural Illinois the plows go to great effort to clear primary highways down to the asphalt. Liberal application of spark showering blades combined with road salt means that, for the most part, a heavily traveled roadway with a state or national numerical designation is going to be showing pavement. But on the secondary roads the plows content themselves with removing the drifts and ensuring the road is passable to traffic only. They remain coated in white.

This is pleasant to ride on - last week I mentioned the delightful sound of snow crunching under the wheels. But it occurred to me when I was trying to decide where to ride last week that it also had the potential to be an equalizer of sorts. That is, a snow-covered road is just a snow-covered road, regardless of what is under it.

That thought in mind, I decided to give it a go. I don’t have to ride far to get to gravel, and I ended up laying out an eight mile circle (well - it’s a square circle - we’re in farm-grid country, after all) that included four solid miles on the gravel.

So the first, simple part is that it worked. If you didn’t know these roads were gravel ahead of time there’d have been no way to tell simply by looking.

Intersection at Gravel and Asphalt

This is taken at a gravel and asphalt intersection. Which is which? I know, because I was there...

More importantly, there was no way to tell by riding on it either. Turning off of the asphalt and on to the gravel was an indistinguishable change as far as my backside was concerned.

What’s more, this opened up an opportunity to travel down roadways that, although nearby, I hadn’t seen in years. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the house down one of the roadways is, apparently unoccupied - no sign of activity, of attempt to clear the driveway or get a vehicle through. There was an old barn that I remember playing at as a kid that I see is now gone, and I passed at least one house that, if I’d ever seen it before I don’t remember doing so.

Hidden creek

big sky country?

These are small things, but they are part of the joy of cycling through the countryside, and offered some novelty, some fresheness from my typical routes. In fact, I took the route again yesterday, moving my usual Sunday ride up a day because a) it looked like the weather today was going to be inhospitable and would turn the roads to a slushy mess (and so far that is true); and 2) it was simply gorgeous yesterday - too gorgeous to pass on the opportunity.

It might seem surprising that this possibility hasn’t occurred to me in the past - I do a fair amount of winter cycling. Still, the reality is that most of our winters here really don’t offer extended periods of snow cover. It’s typically cold, but real snow on the ground and the roads for an extended period of time is a rarity. This may be the first season since I started winter cycling that the opportunity presented itself.

It’s an ephemeral opportunity at best. It was 40° here yesterday, and the snow cover on the asphalt was already transitioning away. There were even sections of the gravel starting to show thru.

Gravel showing thru snow

It’s already 40° again here this morning, and the surrounding world is blanketed in the thick fog that rises as the snow releases its hold on the earth. It’s 40°, on its way to 41°, with a low also well above freezing, and a projected high for tomorrow of nearly 50°. The snow - even with the prodigious volume we’d received - will be gone soon. There might be more - the forecast speculates some for next week, but we all know how reliable that is. Odds are that, even if it happens, it will be fleeting. That’s just the way it goes here.

But for a short period of time, a few days, and two rides, it opened up another part of my little world.

Trike in snow

Snow! by Erin Wade

While he held off for a while here in Northern Illinois, Old Man Winter now appears to be working to make up for lost time. We’ve had actual winter weather - not just snowfall, though there has been that, but freezing rain and real cold temperatures. My Sunday ride last week, taken at the height of the warmth of the day, saw temps right around 9°F.

Of course, the warmer weather is a bit of a treat when it happens in January, but this sort of thing is what winter cycling is all about. It feels like winter cycling when the road is coated in snow and you can hear it crunching under the wheels.

Winter Roads

For my other site I wrote a bit, last week, about how the ravages of climate change have made the sighting of snowmobiles somewhat of a rarity here in the Land of Lincoln. These were a commonality when I was a kid, but nowadays its somewhat unusual to see tracks, much less an actual machine, out and about. Of course, the fates having seen me write that in the morning made arrangements to have me come across not just tracks, but an enthusiastic snowmobilist (“snowmobiler”?), providing a friendly wave as he was coming the other way out on my Sunday ride - riding his sled along the same section of road upon which I was pedaling. Removes any doubt about the condition of the roadway...

But OMW also has a sense of humor, and it seems that he perhaps thought I was enjoying the snow a bit too much on its own, and chose to throw some freezing rain on to my ride on Tuesday. To be fair, it was more of a drizzle than an rain, per se, so it seemed like it shouldn't prevent a ride. And mostly what I learned is what I learn every time I decide to go ahead and ride in the rain: It would be good to have some rain gear.

It was a short ride, and the multiple layers of synthetics and wool were pretty good proof against the cold, if not the damp. Probably the most challenging part of the ride was keeping my goggles and glasses clear. The fuzzy part of my gloves works nicely for removal of moisture, but scraping frozen material off is a bit more challenging.

And - of course - I did have to hang pretty much everything up by the register to allow it to dry out immediately afterward.

Peradventure I had the opportunity a couple of days later to have a discussion with that very snowmothusiast that I passed on the road. I had made arrangements to purchase a farm bell, and the seller just happened to be that very same person - when he saw the trike in my car (which is where it usually is) he asked if it was me that he’d passed and waved to. As it does, this led to a bit of discussion about winter outdoor activity.

That conversation made me realize something, in retrospect. When someone learns that you are riding in the winter the most common response that you get is one of disbelief - I had a coworker recently describe me as “insane”, for example. Par for the course.

But you don’t get that sort of reaction from other people who enjoy outdoor winter activity, regardless of what it is. My snowmobiling bell man wasn’t riding a bike, but he was clearly delighting in the opportunity of the white stuff, and my description of riding in the winter was something he took in stride. This brings into clarity the realization that it’s not the activity itself that people think is insane - its the weather one is doing it in.

For myself, however, the coldest bike ride of the winter is still better than a day inside at the gym...

Arizona Recollections by Erin Wade

I use a journaling app called Day One, and it offers up an "On This Day" feature which shows you what you’ve written about on, well, this day, in the past. I sat down with it over coffee this morning and brought up a journal entry about biking in Arizona five years ago.

I wrote about that ride and posted it here back at the time. It starts out like this:

Arizona Winter Ride

This was my view on my bike ride this morning.

I’d never been to Arizona before. In their younger years my child - LB - participated in competitive gymnastics, and one of the nice side effects of that was that we had sort of enforced family trips once or twice a competition season. I don’t think we would have been likely to travel there without this as a reason. That would have been unfortunate - it was truly beautiful - we spent time in Tonto National Forest and saw the cliff dwellings near Roosevelt Dam.

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

Cliff dwellings

LB at the cliff dwellings

And while all of that was wonderful I, of course, also wanted to have the opportunity for bike ride while I was there. It just seemed silly to squander the opportunity, so I searched for a place that would rent me a bike for a short ride the morning ahead of our flight home. This was easier than you’d think - there were, in fact, several places in the Phoenix area that rented out bikes. I went with Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA).

I was a little concerned that any rental place would see me primarily as a pain in the ass. I mean here I was, rolling in to rent a bike for something like an hour. I had no biking gear - no shoes, no helmet - and I was not a local or routine traveler to the area, so I represented no likelihood of repeat business in any volume. But I wanted to ride.

My concerns were for naught. The folks at AOA were wonderful - polite, helpful, gave me everything I needed. I really felt like I was working with folks that understood that need for a riding fix before taking that trip home. Afterwards I signed up for their email alerts for cycling trips, and I’d love to get out on one with them. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

While I wrote about that for Applied Life back then, I sometimes include things in my journal that don’t make it into the posts. At the time my regular ride at home was my Cannondale, and this gave me the opportunity to experiment with multiple "new" (to me) features. From my journal:

This was also an opportunity to try out a modern carbon fibre road bike - something I've been interested in. The bike they gave me was a Specialized Roubaix Elite Apex. This was a comfortable bike, lightweight, with the more current click-shifter setup. They put on toe clips for me. It was a nice bike, and worked very well, the new shifters took a little getting used to - they are more precise - one click equals one gear - but it takes a second for it to respond, as opposed to the immediate response from the older, rotation style shifters. All in all, very nice.

This was my ride before we hit the road:

Specialized in Scottsdale

I was out for just shy of an hour, and logged about 15 miles, give or take. One of the nice things about Cyclemeter is that it makes it relatively easy to go back and take a look at adventures like these, and that Arizona ride is marked off in there under its own route:

AOA 15 mile shop ride

In a way, this ride also saved me some money, because while I liked the Specialized, I didn’t fall in love:

Interesting to me was that it did not seem significantly nicer than my 1987 Cannondale. I liked it, to be sure, but not enough to, say, drop a couple thousand on it to trade up.

There was some unintentional foreshadowing there as well, because that statement was followed by this one:

This is a nice thing to learn, as it means I should wait until I can get something that offers a significantly different experience - here in thinking either mountain bike or tadpole trike (I so very much want a recumbent trike... )

Still, I really enjoyed that ride, and I found Scottsdale to be quite accommodating:

I asked about the traffic - many of the lanes were on 4-lane roadways. The folks at the shop assured me that Scottsdale is a "pretty bike friendly town". This was absolutely the case - all traffic treated me as if I was supposed to be on the road with them, with no horns, no angry passers-by. Probably my favorite example of this attitude was from the roadside maintenance crew. Two gentlemen were out there alongside the road, next to the bike lane, running weed whackers. Each of them stopped as I rode by to keep from hitting me with debris.

I really appreciated the cycle-friendliness of the area, as well as the sights. I also missed the weather back home, but I was considering the trade-offs:

All that, and the view! I wouldn't move to Arizona just for the weather - I mostly enjoy winter in Illinois. But for that sort of biking environment... Well, that might be something to consider.

As one might expect, the Arizona weather from five years ago contrasts considerably with the Illinois weather of today. I don’t have the exact temperatures from that day, but suffice to say I was riding in short sleeves. And this morning?:

Illinois Morning

None of which is to say that I’m pining for Arizona. Even as I’m writing this and reminiscing my winter riding gear is going through the wash, getting ready for today’s Sunday ride.

...But short sleeves in January... ?

Snowy Roads by Erin Wade

Snow throughout the day yesterday, and continuing into the wee hours of this morning means that I have the rare opportunity to actually ride my trike out on the road in snowy conditions.

As mentioned here on occasion before, winter cycling in Northern Illinois does involve cold weather, but usually doesn’t involve a lot of snow. What one hopes for is this:

Idyllic dreams

But what one usually gets is something more like this:

harsh reality

The weather report says it’s going to hang around freezing for the next few days, and then drop to single digits by next weekend (if a weather report a week out can be believed - and we all know that it cannot...).

So - this leaves me giddy with anticipation for going out and playing in the snow, and with a feeling that I need to jump on the opportunity while it exists. I know playing in the snow is something that is usually associated with little kids. I’m still waiting to grow out of it, I suppose...

Ok - gotta go riding!

Recumbent Trikes - Growing In Popularity? by Erin Wade

MLW and I were chatting a bit the other day about recumbent trikes (what do you talk about at home with your spouse?), and she mentioned that they seem to be becoming more popular.

I wasn’t sure whether that was a real thing, or just a household effect of having gotten a trike myself. So I did some brief internet research, and the proliferation of companies that make recumbent trikes does seem to be something of a more recent phenomenon.

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about recumbent trikes, but it was at some point in the early to mid-1990’s, I believe. I’d come across an article about a human-powered airplane flight looking to break a previous record. I think it was The Raven Project, which got press in 1996, it fits time-wise; but I’m linking here to a Chicago Tribune article about it without a picture because it’s website seems to have become some sort of soccer fan-site (?).

At any rate, that article led me to the International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA) site, which then led me to recumbent trikes. At the time the only brand I recall seeing was Greenspeed. I couldn't speak to model names at that point, just that they looked exotic and very cool; and they seemed expensive and hard to find here in the States. And I wanted one.


Enjoying this post? Check out our Cycling page for links to other cycling articles on Applied Life


In fact, when I found my Catrike Pocket on eBay it was literally the first I’d ever heard of Catrike. I’d been searching for a new bike of some type and, after being outbid on a couple of Trek road bikes it occurred to me that, if I was looking for a new machine, maybe now was the time to find a trike. Once I came across the Pocket I did a crash course of research on the brand. I knew next to nothing about recumbent trikes, but what I saw about Catrike spoke to the road cyclist in me - aluminum frame, relatively lightweight (about 11lbs heavier than my Cannondale), etc. - so the rest was history.

But looking back on that, when MLW mentioned them become more popular, it made me wonder where all of these trike companies were back in the mid-90’s when I first looked. So I did a brief bit of homework just checking the About and/or Wikipedia entries for the companies, and this is what I found about when they were founded:


And a couple of disclaimers about the list:

  • I know SunSeeker makes trikes as well - I didn’t include them on the list because I couldn’t easily find a founding date for them.
  • The ICE Website indicates that they took over a company called Trice, and I know some of their earlier models carried this name, but it was hard to find info on Trice online.

So - given when I started looking, it makes sense that I’d only have come across GreenSpeed - the others hadn’t started yet, or were just beginning. But the fact that there are now multiple companies producing trikes, and that the youngest of them has been in operation for nearly 20 years, does suggest increasing popularity.

To me that’s encouraging. While I certainly don’t mind being outside the typical, it’s great to see this thing I enjoy as a growing market, with active development and experimentation. This suggests that we can expect an ongoing availability and progression of trikes in the future.

2018 Cycling Year in Review by Erin Wade

It’s our tendency right about this time of year to look back and consider what the past 12 months have looked like. Now, to be clear, this is a review of my year in cycling, not, say, the industry or the race scene, or what have you. It is most certainly not a review of your year in cycling (and how creepy would that be if it were?).

It is always important, I believe, to remember to compare oneself to oneself, not to others. I periodically have to remind myself of this, particularly when undertaking something like this. And with that in mind, with some Decemberists playing in my headphones, and with the help of Cyclemeter, I took a look at the data:

Distance

Perhaps the simplest, but most telling, data point to look at is distance as compared to previous years. For better or worse, for this year I set myself a personal goal to get to 1000 miles. This seemed reasonable, given that my distance for 2017 was 937.51 miles - I knew I wanted to increase my riding time overall for 2018, and I wanted a distance that would represent improvement over the year prior year, but was attainable. And I suppose I should note that, while the goal represented only 62 or so additional miles over the year prior, 20 17’s mileage reflected my greatest distance since I started keeping track. Prior to that my best year - 2014 - was 752.47 miles.

To make a long story short, I’m pleased to say I met the goal. Mileage for 2018 as of this writing sits at 1358.29 miles.

I say "as of this writing" because it’s the 30th of December, and I’ll take at least one more ride before the end of the year (today), two if I can squeeze them in. There’s a part of me that would like to bring the number up to an even 1400 (I also like things to be at right angles on my desk - don’t judge me...), but while that’s not impossible, it would be pretty challenging for me - my average distance per ride for the year is just under 13 miles.

So - this year compares favorably to prior years. I first started using Cyclemeter back in 2011, with the first entry appearing on July 30th of that year. Years across that time are shown in the graph below:

2011-2018 by year

Obviously there’s a pretty sharp increase in 2017 that continues into 2018. This may be due, in part, to a change in activity focus. Back in 2014 my child and I started taking martial arts - specifically Tae Kwon Do - together. This was a new activity for LB and a return for me, and I suspect that’s the reason the years subsequent to 2014 see a drop off in riding time (time in class, at tournaments, etc). As LB moved in to high school, however, their interest (understandably) waned, and I made the difficult decision this year to stop going and focus more on riding. I want to note, also, that this is due primarily to convenience - the school we attended was an hour away (this made sense with respect to my work activities) but is otherwise a great place with wonderful instructors. But that hour drive contrasts with the fact that I can ride right out of my driveway at home.

Still, while that definitely played a role, more of it has to do with what I was riding...

Machines

Breaking down the riding distances narrows down when the increase in riding really took place:

2011-2018 By Month

Looking at things this way shows a pretty significant uptick in riding distance back in June of 2017. There’s one particular event that occurred in that month that speaks to why...

2011-2018 By Month - Catrike Pocket

I got my Catrike Pocket in early June of 2017, and took my first documented ride on June 4th. I say "documented" because, of course I had to ride it around the yard a bit when I first got it home. But the 4th was the first I’d gotten it fully up and running with Cyclemeter tracking it.

My primary machine prior to getting the Pocket - which I still have and ride - was a 1987 Cannondale SR400. It’s a lightweight, 12-speed aluminum road bike. It’s a machine that I have professed my love for many times over the years. It’s elegant and simple and visually (to me) always looks like it’s ready to move.

Cannondale SR400

I’ve said here that this is a bike that I still have and ride, and this is true. But it’s less true than I would have thought. If you’d asked me to estimate how often I’ve ridden the Cannondale this year, I’d have estimated it at a half-dozen or so times.

It’s once. Exactly one time.

I took out the Cannondale last on October 14th, for a ride into town to take a picture of a historic marker and to pick up something from the grocery store. And I took it explicitly because the Catrike was in the shop getting new tires put on. What’s more, looking back thru the data, the last prior ride was October 10th, 2017. I had literally not ridden it for over a year before that outing.

I actually rode rental bikes more frequently in 2018 than I did my Cannondale. Not much more (three outings), but more. The only more neglected machine was MLW’s Schwinn, which I would occasionally take out for snow or gravel, but which hasn’t come off the garage hooks since December of last year (and that only because I wanted to compare it to the Pocket in the snow).

I can’t really decide whether I should feel bad about any of that or not. What is clear, however, is that the recumbent trike has had a huge effect on the amount of riding I’m doing, as well as what it looks like. I like to recline.

Trips

While, as I noted above, most of my rides this year start and end at my driveway (this is an advantage to living out in the hinterlands), I did manage to get out and see some new things. Mostly this involved exploring new trails and routes. Probably my two favorites were the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the Hennepin Canal paths. While they are both canal paths, the experience between them is quite different, with the I&M Canal path offering access to multiple communities along the way, and Hennepin offering mostly nature and solitude.

Occasionally traveling offers opportunities to explore less familiar areas, and a trip along the Rend Lake bike path did just that for me, as did a longer ride along the Military Ridge Trail last month.

Catrike Pocket at Rend Lake

For that last trip I also learned a thing or two about transporting my trike on the outside of my vehicle. ...and it’s clear I have a bit more to learn on that front. Or perhaps I just can’t ever take more than one person with me...

I also rode in the Farmondo again this year, a group cycling event put on by Tempo Velo cycling club and sponsored by Mead’s Bike Shop. For the second consecutive year I was the only person on a recumbent trike in the event. That it’s the only group event on my roster for the past two years says much more about my temperament than the event, which is actually well organized and a lot of fun. And while it’s not technically a competition, the experience provided (for me) a handy reminder about who it is I should compare myself to (see above).

Next Year?

So where does that leave things for next year? Broadly, that’s fairly simple. I’d like to ride more and further. 1500 miles seems like a safe goal, and that’s probably what I’ll set for the year.

I think I’d also like to find more trail routes and try them out. This is often a little more challenging for me simply because, like martial arts, driving to a trail or path competes with riding right out of the driveway. But it does offer the opportunity to see new and different places, and (at times) to chronicle them here.

Along those lines, I think I’d like to travel further along both the I&M and Hennepin Canal trails. The notion of riding the I&M to Ottawa and stopping in at the tap room at Tangled Roots or getting some sushi at BASH is appealing (though riding back might be more challenging afterward. If the opportunity presents I’d love to get MLW a trike so she can join me for those types of trips.

The Hennepin Canal route has a visitor center that I stopped a few miles short of and would like to see. It also has campgrounds, which suggests the opportunity to bike pack and camp. This is a notion that I find romantically attractive, though might struggle to fit in to my actual schedule. We’ll see what time allows.

Riding Anticipation by Erin Wade

When you are a kid this time of year is one of anticipation of cookies and treats and presents under the tree. As an adult, I find myself mostly looking forward to having a few days off with family, and towards the riding opportunities the time off will also provide.

Ready and Waiting She’s ready and waiting...

As is true for many of us, I suspect, my riding frequency is limited not by desire, but by schedule. Work must be performed, I suppose, in order to afford luxuries like food and shelter, as well as necessities like as tires and inner tubes. But having a little time off opens the door for more wheel time than usual.

To that end, I’ve been going over the five day forecast for our region to get an idea of what the realistic opportunity is. Setting aside for the moment the utter ludicrousness of expecting an eight-day forecast to be accurate in the Midwest (home of the saying "Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute..."), things look promising:

Eight days of opportunity

Of course, it’s also a suitably cruel trick of midwestern weather that the day with the highest projected temperature - 52° in the last full week of December?!? - is also the day with a 90% chance of rain.

This type of outlook also illustrates why I transitioned from cross country skiing to winter cycling several years ago. We still have snow in the ditches and shady spots from a late autumn snowfall, but the odds that we will have anything worth sliding on are on the low side, to be certain.

Looking back in my Cyclemeter records, last year I managed four rides over the same time period - though two of them were somewhat aborted attempts that I ended up using as a comparison between my upright and my trike in the snow. In 2016 I had only one ride, both during that week and for the entire month of December, and I had similar numbers for 2015.

It’s possible that my intentions and my actions don’t always entirely line up together.

Some people, like Bob Sharpe over at PedalFree (and now at Old Man Gravel ), manage to ride every day, regardless of the conditions. I both respect and envy that grit and determination. I know, realistically, that I won’t even manage every day during my time off over the next few. But hopefully I can do better than the past few years - gotta compare yourself to yourself, after all.

Early Winter Along Bureau Creek by Erin Wade

We haven’t technically reached winter yet, according to the calendar. That date is still a couple of weeks off. Still, we’ve had snow on the ground here in Northern Illinois since before Thanksgiving.

This means that the winter cycling starts earlier this year, I suppose.

This past week’s Sunday ride was a 13-ish mile ride across familiar territory here in Northern Illinois. According to Cyclemeter’s weather feature the temperature was sitting at 29°, with a gentle wind at about 6 mph. And of course, even though it’s not technically winter, our early season snowfall has the benefit of offering a change in scenery just as the bright colors of autumn start to degrade into a uniform tan...

the road ahead

Bureau Creek (say "crick") Westbound

Bureau Creek (say "crick") Eastbound

This is one of my favorite spots to stop along the way of this route. Bureau Creek (say "crick") is smaller here, but it eventually winds its way all the way under the Hennepin Canal down to the Illinois river near Bureau Junction. And while it’s wintry enough, with snow on the ground, it isn’t yet cold enough to freeze the moving water:

I don’t think I noticed the little guy coming forward at the center to the left of the rapids while I was taking the video. A little proof that life continues out here even when the white stuff covers the ground. 

One Christmas at a Time by Erin Wade

Tis the season for all the holiday music to start filling the airwaves and the stores and our public spaces. It’s just possible that I’ve been known, from time to time, to refer to the onset of this event (which seems to start earlier every year) as a humbug.

Just possible.

But over recent years I’ve found myself softening on that perspective, mostly because it means that I can break out One Christmas at a Time by Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick:

One Christmas at a Time

Depending upon the circles in which you travel, you may not immediately know who these two gentlemen are, but you should.

Jonathan Coulton is a former computer programmer who decided to kick-start his music career by doing the Thing a Week podcast. This show was one in which he challenged himself to produce some type of audio content - usually a song - each week for a year. This led to a large standing catalog of music (much of it with a decidedly geeky bent), and since then he’s gone on to put out an album with a record label, start an annual geek-entertainment focused cruise, and take the role of House Musician on Ask Me Another.

John Roderick is the frontman and songwriter for The Long Winters, a former member of Harvey Danger, and a podcasting tour de force. He started with Roderick on the Line, which he still does with his co-host Merlin Mann, a podcast that is effectively the best conversation you’ve ever had with a good friend, over and over again. He has since added Road Work with Dan Benjamin, and two network podcasts - Omibus (which I reviewed here) and Friendly Fire, in which John and his co-hosts take apart war movie after war movie.

One Christmas at a Time is what happens when you put two ambitious, creative, out of the box thinkers together and have them make a holiday album. Note - I’m not avoiding the word "Christmas" here for politeness, but rather for accuracy. Christmas is addressed, but so are multiple other components of the holiday season. _The Week Between__, for example, targets that odd period of time after Christmas, but before New Year’s Day where our usual world is in a sort of limbo.

And there’s more - Uncle John is about Christmas, in a way, but mostly it’s about maybe not choosing to invite that one relative - the titular "Uncle John" in this case - who always ruins everything.

2600 will cause anyone of a certain age (and that age is between 45 and 50-ish) and predilection to experience waves of nostalgia. And, depending upon how those youthful Christmases went, perhaps make them a bit bitter. Again. If you are that person you’ll get the title. If you aren’t, well, find that person and ask them.

And there is more, of course. As one can probably tell from the descriptions here, many of the songs have a somewhat humerous bent to them, but this is not Christmas parody. Rather, with these songs you have the artists considering the holiday season from a different angle than we usually see in more traditional seasonal offerings. For this reason, and due also in no small part to the talent of the men on the album, it’s re-listenable in a way that a parody album could never be. It is, in fact, delightful on first, fifteenth, and fiftieth listen.

If you are looking for a bit of holiday listening that is different from the standard fare - a respite from the repetition you find on every channel and in every store - but still want to engage in the holiday spirit - One Christmas at a Time may be just the thing.

It’s available at:

Plantronics Voyager 5200 by Erin Wade

Plantronics Voyager 5200

Okay - I realize that the days of anyone looking cool wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, if indeed they ever existed, are long since past. However, there are some types of work activities that truly do benefit from the use of these devices, regardless of whether they make you look douchey.

I’ve had my struggles finding good, uncompromising solutions in this area. As I’ve discussed here before, the market for high-end Bluetooth earpieces seems to be be dwindling, replaced largely by lower end items that either price the market down enough to drive out high end players, or work adequately for listening, but aren’t necessarily well set up for conversation.

For a while I’d decided to get by with my Jumbl Bluetooth receiver. This device has the benefits of working with any set of wired headphones, which lets me put the conversation in both ears - a bonus around background noise - and being inexpensive.

When my first Jumbl failed, I went looking again and came across an earpiece by Honshoop (nope - I’d never heard of them before either) that promised noise cancellation and a bevy of other features for about $30. While that seems too good to be true, the price of entry was worth the risk, so I took the leap. I wrote up a brief review of it... sort of. The thing is that, a couple of weeks into owning it, it disappeared from Amazon. There were other models under the Honshoop name, but not the one I’d purchased. This is not confidence inspiring, but given that I already had mine and it was working well, I moved on.

And the Honshoop worked great until I lost it. It just disappeared one day - I’m sure I must have dropped it out of my backpack - never to be seen again. And so the search began anew.

The remaining standout in the high-end market - aside from Apple AirPods, which I’m sad to say don’t fit in my ears - appears to be Plantronics. Unfortunately, back then when I tried to purchase one through Amazon I had to pay for shipping, and attempting to purchase thru the website got me nothing but an error page. I decided to look again and I was delighted to find I could now order a Voyager 5200 thru Amazon with Prime shipping.

With about a month of experience I have to say that this is what I’ve been missing from the dearth of high-end devices. Sound quality is very good, and I’ve actually had a colleague who thought I was in my office rather than in the car during a call. There is a video on Amazon that demonstrates the efficacy of the noise cancellation and, after experience, I believe it. The 5200 has a comfortable, over the ear design (similar to the Honshoop, which I assume copied from Plantronics). It’s lightweight and feels good even after having been on the ear for an extended period of time. It has multiple buttons with clear purposes, allowing for the activation of audio, such as podcasts, or for Siri, without any confusion between the two.

A separate button provides for on-device muting, which is an absolute bonus feature for taking calls on the go. This feature means you just have to tap the earpiece button to mute the microphone instead of reaching for the phone. An additional component of this feature is that the device detects if you start to speak with mute engaged and tells you that mute is on. This is a great idea, since you don’t have a visual indicator for it, and it promises to prevent unheard soliloquys that otherwise occur. However, in practice I’ve found the reliability of that feature to be mixed at best.

Battery life is good, lasting through long days with multiple calls so far. Putting it on towards the end of the day and hearing that it still has five hours of talk time available inspires confidence in the device. Plantronics does offer a case for it that has a battery pack in it for charging, similar in concept to the AirPods case. This is an extra cost item that looks well put together, but so far I haven’t run out of battery between charges. If I were traveling in a situation without easy access to other charging sources it might be worth considering.

Plantronics Hub App

An additional feature for the Plantronics Voyager 5200 is the Plantronics Hub iOS app that can be downloaded for it. The app offers some basic information, including an indication as to whether the device is connected, a readout of whether it is on the ear or not, and the amount of available talk time. Included here are also two components that function as a replacement for the paper owners manual. Buttons and Lights shows you what the different components on the earpiece do, while How do I provides the step-by-step instructions for things like pairing, answering, muting, and launching Siri (or your personal digital assistant of choice).

The app also offers the ability to change multiple settings on the earpiece, including things like ring volume, whether you want to use voice commands to answer or ignore a call, and the settings for the aforementioned mute features. Anyone who has ever had to follow the arcane multiple button-press dance that it used to take to set up these kind of features on a Bluetooth earpiece will appreciate the app for this reason.

And let me give a special mention of appreciation to the answer or ignore voice feature. In this day and age even cell phones routinely get spam calls. I don’t know anyone in Coral Springs, FL or Cumberland, MD, so I’m certainly not going to answer a call from them. However, the ringing of the phone takes over the whole device, so any such call that comes in interrupts the music or podcast that is playing until one dismisses the call. Typically that means reaching up to the screen and tapping "decline", which is not ideal in the car. With this feature you can simply say "ignore" and the bot on the other end simply disappears.

And given the disappearing act performed by my Honshoop earpiece, I also appreciate the fact that the app has a "find my headset" feature which, like Find My iPhone, makes your missing earpiece put out an audio tone to help you locate it. You’d still have to have a rough idea of where you lost it, but at least it’s a start.

It should also be noted that the app works with multiple Plantronics models, so if a different version trips your fancy, the app may be available for that as well.

The two niggles I have with the device thus far center around the location of the volume buttons and the "earbuds" it comes with.

For some reason, the volume buttons are placed at the top of the device. Just to look at them this may not seem to be a problem, but in practice the location is not ideal. Try to simply push down on the buttons while wearing the device and you simply push the whole device down on to your ear. And because of where they are at, and the general shape of the earpiece, finding a location to hold against when pushing down is a bit awkward. Ultimately, I ended up placing my thumb at the bottom of the battery at the back of the ear to hold against it while pushing the volume buttons. This will likely become second nature over time, but it isn’t terribly natural.

In addition, when volume buttons are at the back of the device, as with similar models, the top button is "up", and the bottom is "down" - straightforward and intuitive. Because they are on the top, there isn’t an intuitive sense of which button is "up", and which is "down". They are marked with a "+" and "-", but of course you cannot see these when you are wearing it. It’s a small thing, but a curious one, because it appears as if there is room on the back for the volume buttons.

volume buttons

The challenge with the “earbuds” - and this is how the documentation describes them - is that they aren’t earbuds. They are flattish silicone gel discs. With some fiddling about I finally figured out that these are the Plantronics variation of the type of earpiece that puts gentle pressure on the inner earlobe to keep it in place and against (but not in) the ear canal.

Approached that way sound quality with the discs is good, even allowing me to hear clearly in my considerably not quiet car, and they even sound clear using it to listen to podcasts while riding my trike. Playing around with the three different sizes of these allowed me to select the one that made the earpiece feel secure on my ear as well - e.g. that it wouldn't jiggle about when I shook my head. For me, surprisingly, that was the biggest disc (I have smallish ears).

Although sound quality was good, I did decide to see if I could improve it with something like a more traditional earbud fitting. To test this, I ordered one such kit from Amazon. This was not inexpensive, given what you get - about $14 for what amounts to earbud gels and (what I suspect is the cost center) a bespoke piece that fits into the earpiece and mounts the earbud gel.

After some testing back and forth, I find that these do not result reliably in the earpiece being solidly in the ear canal. I wonder if it’s simply the case that the design sits too far outside for this to be practical. That’s fine, though, because I also do not detect any significant difference in sound quality between the stock silicone discs and the aftermarket earbud. And, given that the disc sits outside the ear, it may well be the case that they will be comfortable for longer time periods.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’d recommend spending some time with the stock earpieces before dropping coin on the aftermarket item.

TL:DR

In summary, the Plantronics Voyager 5200 turns out to be an excellent bluetooth earpiece. Notable features and pro’s include:

  • Exellent incoming sound quality
  • Phenomenal noise canceling features
  • On-device mute
  • Long battery life
  • Comfortable for long wearing sessions
  • The bonus of a supportive iPhone app for settings and features

Downsides:

  • Confusing use of terminology surrounding the “earbuds”
  • Less than ideal placement of volume buttons

If your needs include the type of usage that goes with a traditional bluetooth earpiece like this the Plantronics Voyager 5200 is an excellent choice. It’s more expensive than many similar looking competitors on Amazon, but you are getting what you pay for.