My husband Mike, who doesn't ride with me on my routine gallivants, likes to plan special rides for us to enjoy together. Thanks to him, I have found that there are many places to ride in the Baltimore-Washington area, and I would like to start a series of blog posts about various routes, trails, and even some fun places to ride that are quite far away. These often require carrying the bike by car. Many bikes have quick-release front wheels which allow them to fit right in a car. But fitting more than one bike in this manner is a challenge, and putting the wheel back on requires some strength and coordination which I have yet to master. I decided to go with a bike-rack.
Because a person doesn't want to do more work that it needs to do, a frequent rider like me would benefit in investing in a nice bike-rack that is either easy to hook up on a car, or permanently affixed. Also, because a person does not want to do any more work that it needs to do, it is best if it is easy to strap the bike onto the bike-rack. There are many kinds of bike racks, and not all work on all cars. Therefore my husband got his marching orders to find me a bike-rack that I could easily manipulate, and that would work on my little Honda Fit. There are roof style bike-racks, and ones that hook onto the rear of the car, and ones that fit onto a hitch on the back of the car.
My husband chose one, as seen in the photograph, which required first installing a hitch-kit on my Fit, which he did. Then the rack slips into the hitch, with a locking pin that holds it in place. The bike wheels pretty much just sit on the rack, which has a bar that comes up with clamps that hook onto the bike. This rack holds 2 bikes, but they make them that hold 4, though four would be too much for my little car. I love this rack! It folds down (when no bikes are on it) so I can open the hatch of my car for luggage or groceries. It's super easy for me, a weak middle-aged woman, to lift bikes onto. It has velcro straps for extra security of the wheels, but for short trips, we don't even bother with those. I was disappointed when Mike first bought the rack, because it was obviously too heavy and cumbersome for me to install by myself, but when I realized I could always keep it on my car, I was very happy with it. The first one was on my first Fit for about 3 years, and started getting rusty. When I passed my old Fit down to my daughter and got a new Fit, we also got a new rack of the same style. This rack costs about $150.00.
For the rare times when we need to carry more than two bikes, we have to take our mini-van, which has a different style bike-rack that also fits into a hitch. That rack, which was our first one, is more tedious to use, and we can't leave it on the van all the time. The bikes fit onto a bar that pokes out about chest-level. You have to attach the bikes using their cross bars, and if you have a "female" style bike with no bar, you can fit an attachment on it to make it work. But different brands and sizes of bikes fit on different ways, so there is usually a particular order we have to use to load the bikes, and my husband uses all kinds of extra bungee cords to hold the wheels stable. I can lift the bikes onto it just fine, but it is a pain. Since the kids are in college, we usually only need to bring two bikes on our outings so we just take the Fit.
Another piece of equipment I often bring on our trips is one or both of my bright red panniers. I mentioned these before. I love them. If we leave on our trip in the cool of the morning, and need jackets, but it warms up later, then we can stuff our jackets in the pannier(s). We can also pack snacks, lunch, extra water, and whatever else we think we might need. Because of the way the panniers distribute weight, these are much more comfortable for a long bike-ride than a back-pack would be. In order to use these, you need some sort of rack on your bike. I've seen panniers that go around the front wheels, but mine go on a rack on the back. This link shows the same panniers I have, in a well-used (aka dirty) yellow:
I also have various packs that hang on the handlebar. Any bike shop will carry things like that. They are nice for carrying snacks, a small bike pump, tire-patch kits, other tools, maps, cell phone, sunglasses, etc. One of my bikes doesn't have a special water-bottle holder so I keep my water in the bag on the handlebar. You should always carry at least a pump (some can be attached to the bike frame) and a tire-patch kit and small tool kit for fixing tires. Serious bike-riders stash these things in a small pack under their bike seat. I don't travel light!
It's also recommended that you carry an extra inner tube. However, while I can patch a tire as long as I can keep the wheel on the bike (and have had to do so), I lack the ability to reattach a wheel should I have to replace that whole tube. For the front tire, I can attach the wheel but not the brakes. It's not the end of the world though, to ride without front brakes. Rear brakes are another story. And dealing with the gear cassette is a whole other thing I have never bothered with. If it came to that, I would have to call my husband to come get me, or beg a passerby to help me (most cyclists will ask a stranded bike-rider if they need help). (When my husband is with me, then he can do all these things. I'm ashamed to say I can't, but I've tried to learn and I just don't have the hand strength or coordination somehow. Maybe it is one of those things that fall under the law that a person won't do any more work than it has to!) So I may or may not bother carrying an extra tube.
In addition to these conveniences, a bike should be equiped with basic safety features: reflectors on front and back, preferably a blinking light for the back, a headlight in case it gets dark out (and some ride with a blinking headlight night and day to enhance visibility), a bell (recommended for trail riding), and a mirror. AND PLEASE, NO MATTER HOW OLD YOU ARE, WEAR A HELMET! Also, as I mentioned in another blog, where bright clothing all the time, and make sure they have reflective features if you think you'll be out at night, dawn, or dusk.
Just talking about the equipment has become a repectable length blog, but I still want to tell you about our recent weekend adventure. We chose to go into Baltimore to see the tall ships. Our favorite Baltimore ride is the Gwynns Falls Trail. If you choose to ride this trail, or any trail really, use the buddy method. I know I said I bike alone, but only on well-traveled routes. Bring a friend. This trail goes through diverse parts of Baltimore, from park-land where you can't even tell you are in a city, to other areas with dubitable reputation, to downtown, to the Inner Harbor. You can also get to Fort McHenry. You can start at the Park-and-Ride at the end of I-70. We have also started at Leakin Park which has plenty of parking, and restroom facilities. Here is a link:
The hills on the trail are mostly moderate, though there are a couple significant climbs. Much of it is paved, but there is a gravel stretch through the woods in Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, which is stunningly beautiful. I have posted some pictures from this ride. You can see the diversity of the landscape along the way. I can't promise it will always smell as nice as it looks, but it can't be beat for avoiding the traffic and parking downtown, and for a fascinating look at the city from a slower-moving perspective.
Next week I'll talk about our favorite DC ride.