Bike blues

Trek FX 7.2Although public transport within Ann Arbor is quite alright for getting to and from the university on weekdays, it isn’t of much use for anything during the weekend, when the buses in my neighborhood run only once an hour. So, in spite of the snow and cold outside, I’ve gone shopping for a bike. I happen to live close to Wheels in Motion, one of Ann Arbor’s better bike shops, and the folks there were very helpful in finding me the right bike. They were also very patient and forgiving of my lack of American cycling vocabulary. It happened twice that they suggested a type of bike or piece of equipment to which I responded enthusiastically, only to realize when they showed the bike or item in question that it was something different than what I had thought. (Similar moments have occurred in other shops. For all my fluency in scientific and everyday English, it’s interesting to discover how many words I don’t know in other areas of the language.) Still, it didn’t take too long to settle down on the FX 7.2 by Trek. It’s a fitness bike, or at least so I’m told. Whatever its designation, it looks to serve me well on my daily commute to campus, as well as on the occasional 20- or 30-mile ride.

I picked up the bike Thursday evening. On Saturday, despite the freezing cold, I went ahead and biked to campus for the first time. First, though, I went for a short warm-up run to the grocery store. An elderly man there remarked it was quite cold for cycling, recalling he’d never ridden below 18 °F (-8 °C). I had just faced something like 5 °F (-15 °C), with wind chill in the negative F, so I beat him by a fair margin.

The three-mile ride to campus was not too bad as far as the cold went. In fact, there was one nasty hill that had me sweating as on a summer’s day by the time I reached the top. The downhill return would have been fun if the road surface were in better condition. As it was, it was something of a challenge to dodge cracks, potholes and patches of ice at 20 mph on an unfamiliar bike, with a freezing wind battering my eyes to tears.

Yesterday morning, with the temperature up to 11 °F (-12 °C), I took a slightly different route to avoid that hill and also to avoid the moderately heavy traffic on Saturday’s route. The attempt was successfull on both counts, although the quieter roads do mean poorer road conditions now that there’s been some snowfall again. The additional twisting and turning also increases the likelihood of me getting lost, especially cycling home in the dark — which didn’t take long to actually happen. I added an extra mile and a half to yesterday’s homeward journey by missing a turn and not recognizing an intersection later on where I could have fixed my initial mistake with minimal damage. I suppose it’s a good way to get to know the city a bit, but I’d rather do that in warmer weather. Note for tonight: check the map extra carefully before heading home.

Giro d’Italia in Leiden

The first three stages of the 2010 Giro d’Italia took place in the Netherlands. The riders passed through Leiden during the third stage. I went and had a look.

If you want to use these pictures for any purpose, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page. This goes in particular for any form of public display (either online or offline) or any commercial use. I’m usually fine with it – I just like to know what people do with my work. Thank you!

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The rest of the pictures are here.

Autumn bike ride

Autumn is a beautiful time of year as far as forests go, with that vibrant mix of greens, yellows, oranges, reds and browns. Add in some sunshine and a decent temperature, and you have all the ingredients for a lovely bike ride.

Last Sunday, the sky was clear when I woke up and the weather forecasts were good. My schedule for the day was empty, so the decision to go for a ride was easily made. Unfortunately, there’s hardly a patch of forest around here, but that was easily solved. I took my bike onto the train and travelled to the city of Amersfoort, in the centre of the Netherlands, right amidst several forests. (It’s also the place that I was born and lived in for the first nine months, but that was a coincidence. I went to Amersfoort because it’s surrounded by forests and there happens to be a bike route passing close to the railway station.)

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This ride is called the Nieuwe Vuursche Route and it actually runs full circle, but I only did about two thirds. By the time I got to the town of Baarn, I felt like I’d done enough cycling for one day. Besides, the weather was deteriorating and it was getting quite late already, so I got onto the train and returned home.

From Amersfoort’s train station, the route first went west to the village of Den Dolder, running mostly along another railway (not the one I travelled on) and straight through the first bit of forest. The next part followed a regional road for a few kilometres, and even though there was a separate bike trail, that wasn’t too much fun. The good parts returned when the route got off that road (in the lower left of the map) and turned north. From there, it was all forests and hardly any cars in sight until the final one or two kilometres before Baarn.

The route was pretty easy to follow. It’s an “official” one, so it’s signposted all the way. The tricky part is that the signs aren’t too large and some of them were really easy to overlook. That caused me to miss a turn northwest of Den Dolder, bringing me into the village of Maartensdijk. The sky had gone cloudy by then, so I didn’t have the sun to point out that I was going west instead of north.

By the time I was back home, my odometer showed 47.3 km (29.4 mi), of which 39.2 km (24.4 mi) were part of the Nieuwe Vuursche Route (including the diversion to Maartensdijk). Unfortunately the weather didn’t turn out quite as good as I’d hoped (it was overcast most of the time), but the route itself was everything I could have wished for. I’ll finish this post with a few pictures to give an impression. (My new Picasa web album has a couple more pictures, plus larger versions of these.)

Exiting Amersfoort, the route followed a narrow bike trail on top of a small dyke.

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Good Friday ride

The baseball season has started again and while that’s great in its own right, it does mean I have little time left for doing bike rides. Hence, today’s day off (for Good Friday), combined with beautiful weather (sunny and 15 °C or 59 °F), was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I ended up doing a leisurely 26.6-km ride (16.6 mi) through the farmland and lake area northeast of Leiden.

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Starting from the B as usual, I did a counterclockwise round-trip past the villages of Leiderdorp, Hoogmade, Rijpwetering and Oud Ade. From the latter, I initially went north towards the Kagerplassen (Kager Lakes), because my map showed a trail running all the way along the lakes back to Leiden. I couldn’t find the trail, so I tracked back to Oud Ade and took an alternative route back.

This area is part of a larger stretch of land known as the Green Heart, a thinly populated area centred between the cities of Rotterdam, Den Haag, Leiden, Haarlem, Amsterdam and Utrecht. The land there has traditionally been much better suited for agriculture than for urban building. So far it has mostly resisted the expansion of the surrounding cities and I hope it will continue to do so. The pictures below should be sufficient reason.

A pasture southwest of the village of Hoogmade, with the village itself just visible in the distance.

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