Posted by: jdantos | December 31, 2013

Looking Ahead to 2014 in Biking

Turns out that a baby can put a dent in your personal blogging time. Hence, the paucity of posts in 2013. But as I turn a new page in my bicycling life, a quick pause to reflect on the past, and plan for the future.

2013 was a year for long-distance biking for me, but it was somewhat abbreviated with a baby on the way.

  • My appetite for touring whetted by the inheritance of a finnicky 1983 Cannondale touring bike, and spurred on by Freezing Saddles, I bought a Surly Long-Haul Trucker in February, and finally I have the worry-free equipment to comfortably put in miles.
  • Freezing Saddles was crazy fun. I logged nearly 2400 miles by March 20, and things got a little nuts near the end – the height of insanity happened when I made a 90-mile “commute” via White’s Ferry. On a Tuesday. The competition’s operation through Strava inspired me to ride more, and ride new routes and places. I tried exploring areas of the city I never would have otherwise. I saw bald eagles.  I invented theme rides like biking to all Civil-War era forts within DC’s limits.  Our team came in 2nd and it was a blast – I met a crew of fellow bicyclists that make a great community, both in-person and online.
  • I tried Randonneuring for the first time, including two “official” rides. I admire their tenacity and met some great folks, but some of the rules seemed a little strict. And riding more than daylight hours seemed like too much! But the path through the Wilderness Campaign battlefield of the Civil War was beautiful – so much so that I returned to the highlights months later.
  • I had a blast riding 6 centuries – to Baltimore, Annapolis, Purcellville, and more.
  • The new bike has great racks, enabling the transportation of bags of dog food, cans of paint, flower pots, and jugs of milk.
  • I was running errands by bike within days after the baby’s arrival. My world was knocked to the ground as a new parent. Exhausted and exhilarated, getting back in the saddle actually helped me find a new equilibrium.
  • I rode the 50 States Ride and the Cider Ride in the fall and winter, but it was a little bittersweet to leave the family at home.
  • Overall mileage in 2013 was 6,090 – nearly half of which happened in the first 3 months of the year, thanks to Freezing Saddles! No crashes, no injuries all year.

After some big miles in 2013, my bike goals for 2014 are not mileage-related. Instead:

  1. My goal for next year is to figure out a fun, safe way to bike with my new son in our daily routine. And, once we’ve figured it out, to ride every day, including some weekend outings. The whole “kid on bike” thing is a little intimidating to me – so many options and new things – but all this walking everywhere is kinda making me crazy with its slowness.
  2. Second, my goal is to ride every day. Even if it’s just a short hop on CaBi from daycare dropoff to the office.  Hopefully, if I get #1 figured out, #2 will follow.
  3. My “always” goal is to bike safely and lawfully, to set an example for other cyclists in the city, and to confidently, safely, and productively stand up for my rights as a cyclist whenever needed.

Happy New Year all!

Posted by: jdantos | September 16, 2013

How Close Does It Have To Be, Before It’s Too Close?

The post below is an occasional foray into politics. If you came here to talk about bikes, please skip to the next post – I promise it’ll less soapbox-y.

How close to you and your family does the next shooting rampage have to be, before it’s too close?

For those who know our neighborhood, the Navy Yard is just at the southern end of Eastern Market, about a mile from the house. If you’ve visited us, we probably went out to eat there. If this had been years in the future, my son could’ve been in preschool or kindergarten within the security perimeter lockdown today, sheltering in place.

How many horrible tragedies like this are we willing to tolerate before we can talk sincerely about gun control? How many more Newtowns, Columbines, or Auroras must we endure before we convince our Senators or Representatives it’s time to do something about mental illness? (I wish I had either a Senator or a Representative.)

Connecticut or Colorado or D.C. may seem far from your life. But what if the next rampage happens at your doorstep?  What if it were in your state? Your city? Your neighborhood? Your block?

How close does it have to be?

Posted by: jdantos | June 13, 2013

Track of the Night: Blurred Lines, by Robin Thicke

A goofy fun party song. Also, most of the lyrics can describe Abby, our female dog, when she’s panting and wants her dinner.

I mean, think about it… right? “You’re a good girl,” “I know you want it [dinner],” “tried to domesticate ya, but you’re an animal”?

Heck, the line “you the hottest bitch in this place” is often thermically and etymologically accurate in our house..

Posted by: jdantos | June 13, 2013

Track of the Night: Take Ten, by Paul Desmond

The nights are hot, humid, and sultry these days. The heat seems to enforce its own mellow slowness as the night stretches on, and the breezes waft in through the open windows. This jazz track is a bright but slightly minor take on a Brubeck standard, and seems to fit the mood perfectly.

The version on iTunes is twice as long with more improvisation.

Posted by: jdantos | April 8, 2013

Track of the Night: Summer Vibe, by Walk Off the Earth

On a gorgeous summer evening in Washington D.C., the windows are open well after sunset, and the southerly breezes are keeping us warm. It’s been a seemingly never-ending cold spring.

“Summer Vibe” by Walk Off the Earth seems a perfect fit to a warm evening that stretches into the night. Punctuated by the group’s normal anthemic choruses, this little ditty features an irresistible vocal performance and a simple guitar.

Summer can’t be too far away.

Posted by: jdantos | February 21, 2013

Track of the Night: Old John Brown, by John Brown’s Body

JBB Kings and Queens cover

John Brown’s Body, new album. Download a free MP3 at left.

Earlier today, the group that is quickly becoming my favorite reggae band released a preview of their next album Kings & Queens, and it is a really excellent tune. I’ll link to a 50-second preview YouTube version here – but do yourself a favor and head to their Facebook page an hit “Preview” to download an MP3 file yourself.

I’ve always enjoyed John Brown’s Body’s studio work – I think it brings a lot of clarity and precision to their very complex and intricate melodies, vocal harmonies, and horn instrumentations that can sometimes get lost in live recordings – for tunes like Zion Triad, The Gold (Runnin’ Remix), and their collaborations like The Cyclops.  The one negative to their studio stuff has often been energy – energy that I’ve witnessed emerge with infectious ferocity in their live materials.

Enter “Old John Brown” – a track that begins with the bare-bones drum beat, and hangs off of it an incredibly melodic and energetic bass line from 10 seconds into the track.  When the horn section melodies enter after 15 seconds, the energy is palpable – and the stage is set to blend the best of studio intricacy with the free-flowing vigor of live music.

The song is not too light to be dismissed as typical reggae fluff; nor too heavy to be overly dubby or dubstep (or any of its heavy incarnations). Lead-singer Elliot Martin’s voice is pure, controlled, and steady throughout. Guitar, rhythm and horns are snappy and clean. Vocal harmonies have a produced varnish, but they’re right-on. The bass line and the horns are really the stars of the show, particularly the bass.  It becomes its own countermelody to the horns and the rhythm guitar, and often changes places with the horns and takes the lead melody - reminiscent of Widespread Panic tunes like Radio Child. The song structure is complex as usual, with at least a couple chorus variations and bridges. I like how the chord progressions in the chorus resolve in a couple different ways.

It’s also interesting that the lyrics directly address the band’s namesake and history.  Not sure what this means, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

This is really a fantastic tune, and a harbinger of good things to come on their next album. I’m looking forward to April.

Posted by: jdantos | February 7, 2013

Track of the Night: Let Me Know, Collie Buddz

Sometimes, I just like a good upbeat reggae beat. Even if I have to think too hard about the lyrics that I kinda gloss over them. This song is set at a peppy pace and a happy lilt. The perfect antidote for cold winter weather.

Posted by: jdantos | January 9, 2013

Freezing Saddles

Freezing Saddles

When the signup first came up on the Washington Area Bike Forum, I thought, “oh what the heck, I’ll sign up, and log whatever riding I would’ve normally done.” So I threw my hat in the ring, and forgot about it as Christmas approached. January and February are usually months when I withdraw into my shell and generally exercise a lot less –  dreaming of the day we set our clocks forward by an hour.

But after the holidays, I was looking for things to look forward to, and Freezing Saddles was there. In the past week plus, it has definitely motivated me to ride a lot more this winter so far than I ever would have. I’ve found myself tacking on an hour or more of riding to my evening commute, like it was the summer.

Good bike lights have helped a lot. This fall I invested in a solid, see-by-it light in addition to the normal be-seen blinkies, and it has helped immensely. Nighttime riding is now really comfortable for me.

Strava has helped – both for motivation, and to discover new routes. I love to learn about how other people in this town get around by bike, and to see other people’s riding habits. In a sometimes solitary endeavor, Strava has been a great way to add camaraderie, albeit virtual (until the next Happy Hour, forum folks). For all of Strava’s focus on competitive speed and sprinting up hills for KOMs, the biggest advantage I see in the software is its socialability, route-sharing, and collaboration.

But mostly, I’m happy for the motivation to get off my duff and get outside even in the freezing cold, and for the community that comes along with all this friendly competition.  Kudos to the organizers, and I look forward to many Pointless Prizes and happy hours to come!

Posted by: jdantos | January 4, 2013

Maps: 2012 Biking

“Where do you ride?” My last post had some analysis on when, how far, and how often I rode a bike. But missing was – where? Thanks to Strava, and some cool 3rd-party software by Jonathan O’Keefe, I can overlay nearly 1,000 bike rides on one map. Darker lines mean I rode it more, and lighter less. Here are a few samples.

I love how this shows preferences about route choice – the tradeoff between comfort, safety, speed, available bike facilities, and direct-ness that every biker makes when deciding how to ride from A to B. For bicyclists (like me, I think), this decision depends on all kinds of things, from weather, to time of day, to plain old personal preference. Sometimes, for example, on weekends or off-hours I just want to ride straight down an arterial to downtown. At rush-hour, I’d rather take side routes.

These maps encapsulate an entire year’s worth of those decisions.

All rides inside the Beltway. Outside of my neighborhood (Capitol Hill) and downtown, the major trails emerge. Also, I tend to bike west and north, rather than east and south.

All rides inside the Beltway. Outside of my neighborhood (Capitol Hill) and downtown, the major trails emerge. Also, I tend to bike west and north, rather than east and south.

Long Rides_2012

Long rides in 2012, from DC. The route through Reston is the W&OD trail. To the west, mostly.

All 2012 rides through downtown Washington.

All 2012 rides through downtown Washington.

Capitol Hill is pretty well covered.  Apparently I don't like A St. NE.

Capitol Hill and eastern downtown are pretty well covered. Also interesting to see where I never rode – like apparently I don’t like A St. NE (no offense, 20002-ers)

For fun - this was a great 5-day trip in southern France. About 60 miles a day left plenty of time to devour French food.

For fun – this was a great 5-day trip in southern France we took this summer. About 60 miles a day left plenty of time to shamelessly devour French food.

Also for fun - a 4-day ride through great Burgundy wine country.

Also for fun – a 4-day ride through great Burgundy wine country.

Posted by: jdantos | January 1, 2013

Visualizations: 2012 Biking by the Numbers

A quick rundown of my 2012 bike riding, by the numbers. Armed with a good dataset from RunMeter and my phone on nearly 900 rides of over 6,100 miles in the last year, and my tendency to totally geek out with numbers and visual analysis, here’s a look at how I spent in the saddle this year.

The year was a great one, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I really got into riding more than past years – joining group rides, exploring new paths and routes in Washington, taking the long way home on weekday evenings, and even a bike-themed vacation in June. But this post isn’t a reflection on the REAL reason I love to ride – the scenery, friends, adventures, mishaps, wine, or cups of coffee – it’s about the numbers. Every time I got on a bike this year, I hit stop and start on my phone’s GPS –  mostly in hopes of creating a fun dataset to analyze and track my progress. So here goes.

Miles by Month 2012

I ride more in the summer, but still try to keep it going in the winter. Bikeshare is a small part of my riding these days. August is vacation time!

I go on longer rides and commute less in the summer.

Most of my riding is short utilitarian transportation stuff.  Average trip length was 7.0 miles on the year. I go on longer rides and commute less in the summer.

Commuting is a small part of my base mileage. I apparently don't like riding on Mondays, and may have other things to do on Fridays. On Wednesdays and Fridays I sometimes double-commute.

Commuting is a small part of my base mileage. I apparently don’t like riding on Mondays, and may have other things to do on Fridays. On Wednesdays and Fridays I sometimes double-commute.

P.S. Commutes are only where I go straight from home to work or vice versa. A commute plus errands or joy-riding isn’t a “commute.”

Raw mileage by Day. Click for larger.

Every bar is a day, including zero days. September and October were really FUN! I rode 315 of 365 days of 2012.

Commuting straight to work gives me maybe 100 miles a month. Mainly though, commuting gives me an excuse to ride home the long way in the evenings!

Commuting straight to work gives me maybe 100 miles a month. Mainly though, commuting gives me an excuse to ride home the long way in the evenings!

I'm getting slower. Am I more cautious in my old age? Or choosing slower routes? Who knows. That 16+ mph day was the Seagull Century, and the 9 mph days were usually short errands on rainy days.

I’m getting slower. Am I more cautious in my old age? Or choosing slower routes? Who knows. That 16+ mph day was the Seagull Century, and the 9 mph days were usually short errands on rainy days.

Bike commuting is still incredibly reliable for me. Out of nearly 600 commutes in 2011 and 2012, 88% of them took me between 13 and 16 minutes.

Bike commuting is still incredibly reliable for me. Out of nearly 600 commutes in 2011 and 2012, 88% of them took me between 13 and 16 minutes.

Although I had some long rides, biking is still primarily transportation for me. Most of the time I hop on my bike, I'm going short distances for utilitarian stuff. This chart excludes commutes, too.

Although I had some long rides, biking is still primarily transportation for me. Most of the time I hop on my bike, I’m going short distances for utilitarian stuff. This chart excludes commutes, too.

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