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Category Archives: Cycling in New York

An Abridged History

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June has been a quiet month for riding.  The weather, weekend travel, illness and idleness have all kept me off my bikes.  I started 2015 with aspirations to average 1,000km a month.  So far I am 150km per month short of that goal.  Nevertheless 2015 is shaping up to be one of my better years for cycling.

I consider my first day as an avid cyclist to be Sunday January 31st, 2010.  That was the day Big Bill B guided me on a 53km loop around Houston, including a food stop at Carter & Cooley Company Delicatessen in The Heights.

It was the first time I rode with a Garmin cycling computer on my handlebar, which allowed me to commit this and all future rides to that collective memory that is the internet.  I am a bit of a ride data geek.  I started feeding that habit with Garmin Connect.  After a few years I supplemented that with Ride With GPS, and very soon after Strava was added to the mix.  Lately Veloviewer has joined the party.

Why so many tracking apps?  In my case, mostly because they each provide different ways to view my ride data.  Ride With GPS provides nice summaries by month or year.  I can see what my buddies have been up to in Strava.  Veloviewer makes annual comparisons easy.  Charts like these ones provide the grist for this post.

Charts courtesy of Veloviewer

Charts courtesy of Veloviewer

Between January and the end of April 2010 I rode in and around Houston.  Those rides included my first century ride, The Space Race, and my first BP MS150.

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

My biker chick had started her new job in Den Haag, The Netherlands, in April.  So my bike spent May in a container, along with our other possessions, on a ship bound for Europe.

I spent the rest of the year exploring the bike paths around Den Haag.

I logged 2,831kms in 2010.  My average ride distance was 59kms.  My average ride time was 2 hours 28 minutes.

In 2011 my total distance covered jumped to 6,886kms.  My average distance went up slightly to 63kms.  The average ride length went up in tandem to 2 hours 33 minutes.

Much of that increase in total distance ridden is testament to the outstanding cycling infrastructure in The Netherlands.  You can’t help but get on your bicycle in a country where the riding in so safe, convenient, and scenic.

In 2012 my mileage again jumped significantly over the previous year.  To 11,019kms.  The average distance stayed almost the same at 62.25kms.  I picked up speed though, with my rides averaging 2 hours 29 minutes.

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Almost all of my riding over these two years was in The Netherlands.  I did occasionally venture further afield.  I made my first extended cycling trip in 2011.  I went to Ninove in Belgium, to ride in the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportif.

In 2012 I did the Ronde van Vlaanderen again, which started and ended this time in Oudernaarde.  I also took two trips to Maastricht, for the UCI World Championships and the Amstel Gold sportifs.

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Heat map courtesy of Strava

In October 2012 my biker chick and I returned to Kuala Lumpur.  My bikes (by this time I had two) followed soon after by air freight.  So it wasn’t long before I was immersing myself in the relatively new and booming road cycling scene in Malaysia.

Cycling in Kuala Lumpur reminds me a lot of cycling in Houston.  You share the roads with traffic.  Sometimes a lot of traffic.  City riding is best done at night, when the roads, or motorcycle lanes where provided, are quieter.  The popular daytime cycling routes are mostly outside the city.

In 2013 I started venturing further afield.  Century rides in various cities around the country become a regular activity, including one international road trip to Hatyai in Thailand.

Despite the number of century rides, my mileage in 2013 was only 7,102kms.  My rides had become shorter, averaging 49kms and 1 hour 58 minutes per ride.  I remember that tropical rainstorms had a lot to do with curtailing riding time in 2013.

The downward trend continued in 2014.  I had four months of enforced time off my bikes because of a crash, and two unrelated surgeries.  Those breaks from cycling resulted in only 3,918kms ridden.  My average ride was surprisingly long though, at 66kms and 2 hours 35 minutes.

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Almost all of my cycling since the end of 2012 has been in Malaysia.  The exceptions were in 2013, when I flew to the United States to ride in the BP MS150 from Houston to Austin, and to ride in the 5 Boros Ride in New York City.  In between those rides I visited an old friend in Denver, where  I managed to squeeze in a few rides as well.  I came home with bicycle number three.

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

That bicycle is a Ritchey Breakaway.  It came with me to Melbourne in December 2013.  My last cycling trip away from home to date.

Heat map courtesy of Strave

Heat map courtesy of Strava

2015 looks good so far.  I am up to 5,078kms as at the end of June.  My average ride length for the year is 71kms.  I must be a bit fitter than I was last year too.  I am riding on average 5kms further this year as compared to last, but my average time is the saddle is only 3 minutes more, at 2 hours 38 minutes.

I’m hoping to take at least one cycling trip outside Malaysia this year.  And I am looking forward to staying healthy and spending as much time as possible riding.

JFK Quote 3

Ritchey Break-Away Road Ti / Carbon Review

Ritchey Breakaway Ti

I have had my Ritchey Break-Away for exactly two months.  We have done fifteen rides together.  I do try to be fair and alternate between my three bikes.  Although by default any rides that involve significant travel will now be on the Ritchey.  We covered 1,025 km / 635 mi.  There has been about 7,100 meters / 23,300 feet of climbing.

My other bikes are a steel framed Alchemy with carbon chain stays and fork, and a titanium framed Alchemy with carbon seat stays, chain stays and fork.  The Alchemys have identical geometries.  The Ritchey has a 56cm frame.  The tube lengths and angles of the Ritchey are as close to those of the Alchemys as dammit is to swearing.  All have SRAM group sets.  All have Ritchey carbon seat posts and cockpits.  All have Easton EA90 SLX wheels.  I like the tried and tested!

I include all that detail as a prelude to describing the differences between these bikes.  In the hope that it heads off a potential firestorm amongst all you aficionados out there around the relative virtues of steel versus titanium as a bike frame material, and the effect of tire choice, frame geometry, tube size etc. etc. on the ride quality of said bike frame materials.

The only differences that I can discern between the two Alchemys are that the titanium bike has a more ‘damped’ feel to it, and the steel bike has more flex.  A little less road chatter gets transmitted through the titanium frame.  I am no road racer but I can make the steel frame flex under pedaling load.  Not so with the titanium Alchemy.

I love the ride quality of my Alchemys.  They are very comfortable, even on the chip sealed back roads of Texas.

I love the ride quality of the Ritchey Break-Away too.  I don’t feel a difference between the titanium Alchemy and the Break-Away.  Logic tells me the Break-Away should not be as stiff as the Alchemy.  After all the Ritchey frame is in two pieces, connected at the seat tube / top tube junction and just in front of the bottom bracket.  Perhaps my senses are not tuned enough to pick up the difference.

That probably is part of the answer.  If I tested bicycles for a living my senses would be developed enough to feel some differences.  I think another part of the answer is in how well the Ritchey design eliminates flexing at the joints.

The top tube and seat tube are held in alignment by the seat post.  One bolt above the seam between the tubes and another bolt below the seam lock the tubes together.  What looks like a connection between the lower bolt and the top tube in the photograph below is actually a bracket welded to the lower bolt housing.  That bracket holds the rear brake housing stop slightly away from the top tube.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

The down tube is split just ahead of the bottom bracket.  The end of the down tube has a neck that slides into the fitting at the bottom bracket.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A hinged compression clamp fits over the lips or flanges on either edge of the joint and holds the two parts of the down tube together.  The two derailleur cable couplers are visible below the down tube.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at

This simple design uses just three bolts tightened to 4Nm to hold the front and rear triangles together.  Very securely I might add.  Nothing worked itself loose during my rides.  The bike tracked as expected.  There were no vibrations or unexpected wobbles.  Even at better than 65 kph / 40 mph down the relatively straight Smithville Hill during the BP MS150, and close to that on the switchback descent from Genting Sempah.

Top marks for the Ritchey Break-Away as an excellent bike to ride.

That brings me to the differentiating characteristic of this bike.  The ability to fit into a case that meets airline size specifications for checked luggage.  66 x 66 x 25.5 cm / 26 x 26 x 10 in.  The staff at the check-in counters at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Denver International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New York City didn’t bat an eyelid when I put the case holding the Ritchey onto the weighing scales.  They tagged the case and sent it on its way without a second glance.

Speaking of weight, bike and case weigh 15 kg / 33 lb.  Well within the limit of 23 kg / 50 lb for a checked bag in economy class.

I opted for the S&S Edge Pull Butterfly Latch Hard Case.  I recommend it over the Ritchey soft case, which is universally panned in all the reviews I have read.  The hard case weighs more, but the added durability and protection is worth that extra kilo or two.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

I recommend a set of compression members to keep external pressure from pushing the sides of the case into the packed bicycle.  These are strong enough to stop the side bowing inward under the weight of a person standing on the case.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

I also like the TSA security net.  The net keeps the frame, wheels, compression members and whatever else you have packed together if a TSA inspector opens the lid of the case.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Packing the bike takes some practice.  There are a number of suggested ways to fit all the pieces into the case.  Ritchey includes an instruction sheet with the bike.  Ritchey also has step-by-step videos on their website.

I tried a variety of packing methods.  I prefer the S&S packing sequence, which is actually for an S&S coupled bike, but works very well for the Ritchey Breakaway too.  The first time it took quite a while to wrap all the tubes in the supplied pads, and to get all the pieces properly aligned in the case so that the lid would close.  The tricky bit was getting the handlebars into the case, and lining up the front wheel such that things like the bottom bracket fit between the spokes.  I get better at it each time I do it.

The Break-Away came through two domestic flights in the USA and one intercontinental flight from the USA to Asia via Europe unscathed.  Reassembly after each flight was straightforward and the bike was ready to ride right out of the case.

I have had one road trip.  Knowing that the case would not be subjected to any abuse, I didn’t use any of the supplied tube wraps, and I didn’t bother with the compression members and security net..  I also left the crank in the bottom bracket and the rear derailleur attached to the hanger.  That made packing simpler.  The bike was none the worse for it either.

A big help was the shorter steerer tube.  As delivered the steerer tube made the fork too long to fit flush against the edge of the case.  Which put the rest of the front triangle in the way of some of the other parts.  I had the steerer tube cut down.  Everything fits in the case much better now.

On road trips I can get away without any padding because the titanium frame is unpainted.  One of the few complaints about the painted steel frame is that it scuffs, scratches and chips easily.

Top marks for the Ritchey Break-Away as a bike that packs easily into an airline-friendly case.

I am delighted with my Ritchey Break-Away.  There is nothing about it that I am unhappy with.  It says a lot about the clever design and ride quality of this frame that the only weakness other reviewers have found with this bike is that the cable couplers sometimes rattle against the down tube on rough roads.

If you want a travel road bike that doesn’t compromise performance, the Ritchey Break-Away is for you.  Just be sure to get a hard case to go with it.

Where Are You Nyack?

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I was in Manhattan.  I had a bike.  Where to go?


The most popular ride from Manhattan Island is over the George Washington Bridge to Nyack and back.  About 70 km / 44 mi round trip from the bridge to Nyack.  Plus another 10 km / 6 mi or so from where  I was.  I looked at an online route map.  It seemed simple enough to get to the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.  That would take me to the George Washington Bridge.  Once across the bridge it was due north to Nyack.  I thought there would be lots of cyclists whom I could follow.  This was after all the most popular ride from Manhattan Island.

Riding along the Greenway on a Saturday morning required constant vigilance.  It was a nice day, and the Greenway was clogged with pedestrians, joggers, inline skaters and tourists crossing over to heliports for joy rides over the city.  And of course with other cyclists.

Jersey Heliport

As expected I could see the George Washington Bridge up ahead, stretching across the East River.

Jersey George Washington Bridge

I didn’t expect to come across the Little Red Lighthouse under the bridge.

Jersey Bridge Lighthouse

I certainly didn’t expect to be 60 meters / 200 feet below the bridge.  Of course the climb to the bridge deck was worth it.  This is the view along the East River back towards Lower Manhattan.  The border between New York and New Jersey runs down the middle of the East River.

Jersey GWB View

There weren’t many cyclists to follow across the bridge and down into New Jersey.  I had left it too late in the morning to get started.  There was one cyclist ahead of me so I followed him.  After ten minutes I realised he wasn’t going to Nyack.  The route described online follows the river shoreline.  You can see from the route I took that I was well west of the river as I rode north.

New Jersey Route

I had lost the rider who had been ahead of me.  I saw no road signs for Nyack.  Which was okay.  The sun was shining.  The roads were good.  The towns I rolled through were pretty.  Englewood, Tenafly, Cresskill, Demarest.  There was a lot of German steel on the roads with me.  Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Porsche.  I was clearly in a wealthier part of the world.  Near the Knickerbocker Country Club I came upon little reminder of The Netherlands.

Jersey Tulips

The views continued to be lovely.  This is on the Tenakill Brook in Demarest.

Jersey Color 1

After 40 km / 25 mi I was ready for a coffee and something to eat.  As pretty as the ride was, it was time to forget about Nyack and its fabled cyclists stop, the Runcible Spoon Bakery.  I had been alternately behind and ahead of  a pair of cyclists for about fifteen minutes.  They rolled past me again as I stopped to take this picture where the road carries us back into New York.

Jersey New York State Line

I hoped that they were in need of coffee too, and knew a place where we could get some.  4 km / 2.5 mi down the road we came to Piermont, and the two gentlemen in front of me pulled up at Bunbury’s Coffee Shop.  Perfect!

Jersey Bunbury Cafe

Having tailed them for so long it was the least I could do to introduce myself.  We sat together as we drank our coffees and ate our cakes.  I had the chocolate zucchini almond bread.  Which was possibly better than Sharif’s roti canai.

Jersey Bunbury Cafe Eats

It turned out that I had chosen some interesting people to follow.  One was the mayor of Englewood, who was on his first bike ride in years.  He was being pulled along by a friend who was clearly a regular cyclist.  And who knew the President of Hotvelociti Cycling Apparel, who joined our table.  I don’t often have conversations about a USD180 million light rail project, or about the 400% increase in the cost of manufacturing clothing in China, during my coffee stops.

Their advice was to skip The Runcible Spoon Bakery, which suffers from its fame by always being very crowded.  And to follow US Route 9W back to the George Washington Bridge.  What they didn’t tell me was that there is 160 meters / 525 feet of climbing in the 6 km / 3.7 mi.  It is a good thing that it was a big slice of chocolate zucchini almond bread!

I hooked up with another rider just as I got to the bridge.  He used to live in Austin, so we had something to talk about as he guided me along an alternate route to the Greenway.  I am not sure which would have been worse.  All the other people on the Greenway, or the taxis, buses and trucks along Broadway and 7th Avenue.  Riding a bike through Times Square was an experience perhaps not to be repeated.

I didn’t get to Nyack, but it was a very nice ride.  Thank you Google.

Oh Happy Day!

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What started in 1977 with 250 riders is today America’s largest cycling event with 32,000 riders.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour logo

I had a taste of what was to come when I went to the Bike Expo New York at Pier 36 to pick up my Tour packet and rider vest.  I went on Friday morning, assuming that I would beat the crowds later in the day and on Saturday.  Fail!

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Bike Expo

Fortunately the queue started moving ten minutes after  I joined it.  Once inside the Expo building we split by registration number and it didn’t take long to get through the identification check and to collect my packet.  I wandered around the exhibitor stands, determined to keep my cash and credit card in my wallet.  I succeeded, except for pulling out $5 for a sticker in support of a benefit fund for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 I Ride For Boston

I spent a bit more for a present for guess who?

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Biker Chick T

I didn’t bother to pick up most of the swag on offer.  Key chains, can cooler sleeves, pens, bags, that sort of thing.  I did accept edibles though.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Swag

By a stroke of good fortune I was allocated the earliest of the three staggered start times.  7.45am.  The other start times were 8.30am and 9.15am.  I thought it best to try and get toward the front of the 10,000 or so other riders who had the same start time as I did.  So I got to the start at about 6.30 am.  There weren’t many people ahead of me nor behind me.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 630am

An hour later and I had been joined by just a few more riders.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 730am

It was an unseasonably cold and windy Sunday morning.  New Yorkers were literally hunkered down to get out of the wind.  You can’t tell from the photograph but there were goose bumps under those tattoos.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour 2013 Cold Start

Underdressed yet again, I resorted to ducking into a porta-potty to get shelter.

Fortunately for me the ride started on time.  Unfortunately for me the first 6 km / 4 mi of the ride were through the concrete, steel and glass canyon that is 6th Avenue.  Where no sunlight reaches the street at that hour of the morning.  I shivered and shook, wondering why I hadn’t thought of waiting in the warmth of the apartment building I was staying in and joining the ride as it rolled past the front door.  It was not until I got to the open terrain of Central Park that I could aim for patches of sunshine, looking for any warmth at all.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour Route

By the time I got to Harlem in northern Manhattan I was lukewarm.  Warm enough at least to get into the upbeat mood generated by the gospel choir standing on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, belting out a rousing rendition of “Oh Happy Day”.

The ride route crosses five major bridges among the islands of New York City.  The Madison Avenue Bridge was the first.  It connects the island of Manhattan to the Bronx, which is the only bit of mainland America in New York City.

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour Madison Ave Bridge

We crossed two more historic bridges; the Third Avenue Bridge, which opened in 1898, and the Queensboro Bridge, which opened in 1909, before getting to the mandatory stop at Astoria Park.

So as not to paralyze road traffic in New York City for the entire day, the city conducted rolling street closures.  I was among the group that got to Astoria Park before Shore Boulevard and 14th Street were closed to traffic.  The park is at the 18 km / 11 mi point of the ride.  As good a point as any to eat something.  The bridge is the Robert F. Kennedy, one of the New York City bridges that we did not ride across.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Astoria Park Bananas

As we left Astoria Park we had the Hell Gate Bridge over the East river and behind us.  The gentleman to my right was on an Elliptigo.  I saw one during the BP MS150 ride too.  Looks like hard work!

TD 5 Boro Bike Tour 2013

The Pulaski Bridge carried us over Newton Creek between Queens and Brooklyn.  Brooklyn is the fourth of the five New York City boroughs that the ride took us through.  The Brooklyn leg generally followed the East River, past the Brooklyn Bridge and onto the Gowanus Expressway where the Hudson River empties into the Upper Bay.

Talk about saving the best for last.  To get from Brooklyn to the fifth borough of Staten Island we had to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  When it opened in 1964 this was the longest suspension bridge in the world.  Just over 2 km / 1.3 mi from end to end.  The only other people allowed to cross this bridge without using a motor vehicle are participants in the New York City Marathon.  The crossing was spectacular, even on the lower deck.

Photo courtesy of J. Mazzolaa

Photo courtesy of J. Mazzolaa

The Staten Island end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is at Fort Wadsworth.  Where the finish Festival was.  I had managed to get to the Festival ahead of the majority of the other riders in my start group.  So there weren’t many others around us as we took in the sights at the finish and waited to be released to ride the final 5 km / 3 mi to the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Finish Festival Stilt Walkers

Many of the cyclists already at Fort Wadsworth were veterans of this event.  One gentleman was riding it for the eleventh time.  It became clear from talking to the experienced ones that getting to the finish quickly was key to getting back to Manhattan at a reasonable time.  The waiting time for the ferry increases geometrically as more and more riders get to the Festival.  It could be 4pm or later before the riders at the back of the group got on a ferry.  So I was happy to be on a ferry at 11.30am.  My only regret was that I chose to sit on the wrong side of the boat to see the Statue of Liberty as we passed Liberty Island.

TD 5 Boro Bike tour 2013 Staten Island Ferry

I had a great time on what has become an iconic ride in America.  It would have been just as appropriate if that gospel choir in Harlem had been singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”