Monday, November 24, 2014

Where are 1980s Step-Through Mountain Bikes for Tall Women?


I didn't ask to fall in love with the step-through bicycle or stylish peplum shirts, or flowery panniers for that matter. Chalk it up to middle aged wisdom or culmination of my bike mind and body. In recent years, I've blossomed on this near perfect Ross frame. I've finagled handlebars, stem, and seat positions, colored her imperfections with Sharpies, and swapped rear wheels when her axle broke because I couldn't be without her for an extended period of time. To top it off, I'm now referring to the Ross in pronoun form.

If that isn't bike love, I don't know what is.

And for several years I've searched for a larger frame—same 1980s vintage—because 19" is a tad small, overly apparent when photographed in my favorite hot weather cycling sundress.

Except, I now believe I'm chasing something that doesn't exist.

The 1970s held a plethora of large framed affordable women's (or step-through) bicycles. Schwinn Suburbans and Raleighs come to mind, with frames up to 23", suitable for a  range of heights. Today, I see a resurrection of these bicycles on our streets. However, they are skinny-wheeled queens.

But, try finding a large framed—over 19"—step-through mountain bike. Sure, there are plenty of diamond frames, but as I dug deeper I discovered that specifically when Ross offered a line of Cascade mountain name-inspired models: Mount Whitney, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens, only one model—Mount Saint Helens—had a step-through frame, and only in 19" size. I presume other brands held similar offerings.

So, what happened? Probably, the diamond frame was also marketed to women under the guise that the style is stronger for off road use. Perhaps there was a glut of bikes—I recall an overwhelming array of models at the shop when I chose my Trek Antelope—yes, a diamond frame.

My Ross step-through has turned out to be a perfect city commuter bike. Outfitted with chunky tires. racks, fenders, water bottle cage, I can ride on easy single track, city streets, or haul groceries—all without lifting creaky hips over a tall top tube.

With today's rise in commuter cycling, and shucking the ruse of step-through frame styles as suitable only to women (thank you Dutch cyclists), one can find great affordable fat-tire commuters. Look at the Breezers, Public Bikes, Civia, etc.,

As for me, I'm appreciating the Ross more and more. She has bomb-proof frame with mountain bike roots. She will be worth updating for years to come.

So what if I look like I'm perched on a Raleigh Twenty?

Let's face it. I won't always be on the tall side. Perhaps the Ross Mount Saint Helens will actually fit—at about the time we'll be grey-haired empty nesters, purging even (gasp!) our fleet of bicycles. That might be the impetus to finally get my dream bike, the one that'll carry me into retirement and beyond, one I hope to ride and tour on for years to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Silly Races on Kids' Bikes

Bikes are corralled outside the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn. We partake of Local Motion volunteer appreciation festivities : art show, clay-fired cooked pizza, live music, and thankfully, hot drinks on this blustery raw day. It's too cold and wild to expect our children to ride nearly 20 miles round-trip to the event.

The wind is, literally, howling off the lake, but a hilariously fun event is unfolding: adults and children riding tiny bikes around a short course - pump track style.

Before the final race I squat on a bike, realize I can't possibly turn the cranks while seated. I stand, wobble, then get the gist of riding, somewhat. I round each obstacle, fumble over wooden boards, weave through cones, and barely manage to get back to the start. I drop the bike and stretch. My thighs hurt.

And yet, I discovered our youngest boy took to it like ducks to water. No surprise there. He's still riding to school, much to my dismay, even on snowy and drizzly mornings.

"I'm going to ride through the winter," he said.

I'm about to say "no way", fearing slippery roads. My husband once broke his hip, wheels whipped out, falling on black ice. Our son has options. He can walk or hop on a convenient bus.

"Riding's faster, Mom. Quicker than the bus."

I can't argue with his reasoning. Riding bikes gives us independence and versatility. When two wheels are transportation, you can do almost anything. This son gets it.

I was telling our neighbor about how our boy doesn't feel the cold. Loves to ride. Loves snow. Which led to a conversation about fat bikes and winter riding. Pretty soon the neighbor comes knocking on our door with studded tires in hand. They are holdovers from before he got his own "fattie."

"Here, let [my son] try then out. Borrow them for a while."

So, guess who's wishing for snow to accumulate? As for me, I'll take a deep breath. And keep my anxiety and fears to myself. Let the little guy blossom, all on his own.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014 - Seventh Cup

I checked the Yellow Pages before bundling up, setting out on my bike. Stumped for ideas for another local coffee shop to fulfill Day 7 of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, I was reminded of two establishments that I hadn't patronized for a couple years. As it turns out, I didn't end up in either of those places. En route to browse a newly opened L.L. Bean store, I remembered the Blue Bird kiosk. I pass it all the time. I'm just not a frequent customer, so it remained on the periphery of my coffee-seeking radar, and overlooked until now.

The cappuccino was delicious. I drank it, standing beside the kiosk window, engaging the young man inside the storefront. The tiny booth stays open all winter, offers sandwiches, creemees in summer, and your pick of espresso drinks. It's a perfect downtown location, capturing tourists and locals alike. Oddly, they use Chicago based Intelligentsia coffee and not any of our delicious local roasters. 

Hilarious accouterments in a kale field.
Charged on caffeine, I visit LL Bean, and continue on a loop through the Intervale. The single track trails call to me at certain times of the year, especially in the Autumn when the air is crisp, frogs aren't kamikaze-jumping in front of my wheels, and trails are often dry.

I was having such a great time that I extended my ride onto a trail that I usually avoid when I'm alone. Burlington, like many cities has a homeless population. People camp in parks, beaches, anywhere they can live undetected and undisturbed. Authorities leave the homeless alone unless there's a disturbance. Even so, I'm wary but took a chance anyway as I turned onto the detour. I didn't come across anyone living near the trail, thankfully, and I immensely enjoyed riding in the woods. So much so, that once I meandered again into the open field, I continued to avoid the main trail, instead easily riding a grassy, nearly obscure path (I've skied this in winter) around the Intervale Farms. I stopped, laughing at someone's Halloween decoration: three nude manikins, seeming rising from the earth, a pumpkin perched as a head on one figure.

There is still leafy color, you just need to look down.

The emerald ash borer - a pest that's eating our trees.
The Intervale changes throughout the year. I've come across birders, hikers with dogs, a few bike riders, and fortunately mostly older humans. Only once have I witnessed school-aged kids walkingit's far from most schoolsand to be fair, it's even a stretch to find a homeless encampment this far from the city center. There are closer wooded lots for shelter, which puts the homeless within walking distance, where they're offered two hot meals a day.

I never know what I'll find along the trail.

This beautiful tree has three main trunks.
And speaking of woodland, I came across this grassroots effort on the waterfront trail. Squeezed between railroad tracks and boat access parking lot, a section of paved trail has been difficult to negotiate for years. The asphalt zigzags around trees, crosses rail tracks at a dangerous angle, and is very narrow. Slated as part of this fall's trail renovation, and as such will be widened for users' safety, there is an appeal to save a huge cottonwood tree that's, unfortunately, smack in the way. It's also part of the problem; the tree's roots have eroded pavement, creating a hazard for bicycles.

At the same time I understand the concern to save the tree. Removing the cottonwood will leave a section of trail without tree cover, a place that lacks foliage to begin with.

Curiosity, plus it seems appropriate (considering the purpose of this outing was to drink coffee), I photographed Coffee Enterprises building. It's in the Lakeside district, a slight detour off the waterfront path. I stumbled onto the building a week ago, and was reminded that in the past the business was located close to downtown, a place I frequently passed where luscious aromas once filled the air. Internet research reveals the company provides coffee consulting and marketing. Coffee Enterprises also has expert testing analysis equipment onsite. Who knew such a business was located in Burlington? 

And with the final outing I'm done with coffeeneuring orat the very leastdone with logging my coffeeneuring exploits. Call it what you want, but I'm far from finished riding my bicycle this fall. Or done with drinking coffee. As a matter of fact I 've earned a free espresso drink at Panera (part of their club). It's not a local business, nor does it require a long bike ride to get there. I can even walk. But, with sunshine and lacking slippery roads so far this fall, you can bet I'll be out on my bike, stopping for at least one more cup of joe.

Just the facts:
The Place: Blue Bird Coffee Stop kiosk
Date: Monday, November 10
Drink: Cappuccino
Observation, Bike Friendliness: Pretty good cappuccino. I can roll my bike up to the kiosk and order something hot—perfect quick stop.
Total Miles: 10

Monday, November 10, 2014

For the Avid Golfer and Cyclist


The things I encounter on the Internet... It seems there's a bike for everything, even golfing. Introducing The Golf Bike. The impetus behind the design: incorporate two favorite passions, cycling and golf.

There's something simple and alluring about this bike, a cross between small wheeled folder and functional hauler. Available in bright green or orange.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014 - Sixth Cup

I met a friend for coffee and breakfast at South End Kitchen. The business appears to be hosted by Lake Champlain Chocolates and provides cooking classes, including making chocolate "from bean to bar", home to Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, and part of Vermont's growing localvore scene. A century ago cows ruled the landscape. Now, craftsmanship is all about specialty products and small farming. It's certainly a boon for our palettes.

To get back to coffeeneuring, South End Kitchen offers interesting fare for lunch and dinner, but a limited menu for breakfast. So, egg sandwiches it was on a chilly morning! Breakfast was just okay—the English muffin might have been homemade, just over toasted for my taste. The cappuccino was nice and beautifully presented, and tasty enough, yet doesn't stack up against Scout & Company's dark, rich flavor.

Warmed and satiated, I said goodbye to my friend and headed along the waterfront. I was pleased to discover the path has been repaved—a two mile segment is under renovations this fall. I'm especially delighted with addition of wider lanes and yellow striping. Cyclists detour to rejoin the path.

But a mile later, I was deterred by more construction. Rats! Lingering foliage beckons me onward, yet signage says culverts are out, with passage impossible. Indeed, a dump truck backs down the bike path beyond the barrier.

I made do with a side trip to North Beach, home of last year's first coffee shop without walls adventure. Blue sky and lake views attract me year round, but are often best in the Autumn when beach parking is closed to automobiles.

Fence line is where bike path resides. Tunnels provide access to campground,
North Beach, high school, and roadway to Burlington's North End.
There are three options when leaving North Beach: bike path, square auto route entrance, or culvert covered pedestrian path.

Guess which way I went, just because?

Just the facts:
The Place: South End Kitchen
Date: Monday, November 3
Drink: Cappuccino
Observation, Bike Friendliness: There is bike parking in front. I was disappointed with breakfast, though I wouldn't hesitate to try other coffee drinks or their specialty chocolate concoctions.
Total Miles: 9