Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: Life-Beam HRM Helmet

Over the last 12 years I've had perhaps three helmets, none of which cost more than $50. The first I threw away after quite a few crashes. The second I still have, but the padding keeps falling out and the adjustment strap is literally held together by duct tape. The third I'm officially retiring this week. All the plastic bits inside have broken, so it now moves all over my head, much like a colander helmet:
Count on Top Gear to come up with a colander helmet.
By all rights I should be buying a cheapo replacement, but in keeping with Max' advice to buy quality I've decided to go a bit more upscale. During my search I stumbled upon this DC Rainmaker review of the horribly named "Life-Beam smart helmet" (they also make a $100 hat). Honestly it's not very smart. Basically it's a Lazer Genesis helmet with a built-in heart-rate monitor (The DCR review is of an ANT+ model; the current version that I have supports both Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+). At $229 or so it's not cheap. But the Lazer Genesis on its own is about $130, so the HRM premium is only about $100.

I've tried HRMs in the past, but I can't deal with the chest-straps. They've never worked consistently for me, and getting them to work at all is sufficiently finicky that I never bothered. In fact when I bought my PowerTap it was largely because an HRM did not seem to be in my future.

So the idea of a helmet with an integrated HRM is intriguing. As is, honestly, the idea of a nicer helmet. Will it be more comfortable than my bargain basement Giro Athlon?

The helmet arrived nicely packaged yesterday. It comes with both a hard case and a soft bag, which I assume are provided by Lazer.
The case looks kind of like Max' Aliens TT helmet.

The helmet itself is white, which is a new helmet color for me. So that's exciting.
The little logo on the lower right is the Life-Beam logo

Of course like everything bicycle related these days, it needs to be charged. It uses a standard mini-usb plug, than goodness. There's a blue LED in back that shows when it's charging. It also pulses in time with your heart-rate when you're wearing it. Just kidding, but that would be pretty cool if you could see how hard the guy you're drafting off of was working.
All charged up and ready to go!
Here's the helmet on one of our staff male models, trying to figure out how to take his first selfie.
I have a few open spots in my modeling schedule. Contact for more info.
Adjustment is handled by a rotating knob on top of the helmet. It's a very smooth action, and you can insert a little blinky into the rotating knob. I have no idea how good of a blinky it is. But the helmet fits snugly.

So how does it work? Well, I don't really know how accurate it is. But in my limited experience HRMs either work or they don't. If the HRM says my heart rate is 150BPM, that's probably what it is. If the HRM says my heart rate is 30BPM, then I'm a bit more suspicious.

Now I haven't done the requisite threshold testing to get all my zones right and so on. Like I said, I just got the helmet. So really all I've got is the data I grabbed on my Garmin today.

The data looks completely reasonable. No mysterious dropouts. My heart rate rises on climbs, and drops on descents. So the HRM aspect seems to work fine. The helmet fits me well (I got the large model), and having the HR sensor against my forehead wasn't really noticeable after the first minute or two.

So far, after a single ride, I'd say it's pretty good. Is it worth the money? Well, if $230 is a lot of money then probably not. You can get a cheap helmet and a cheap HRM for a lot less. But for me, if I want HRM data, then yes it's definitely worth it.

If I had to nit-pick, it bothers me a little bit that the transmitter is right at the base of my neck. As we all know from falling skies, this is exactly where you transmit if you want to control someone's mind.

But really, I'm not the paranoid type. I'm sure the signal is very low power. The helmet weighs a little more than a super lightweight helmet. At about 400G, it's maybe 100G more than my Giro Athlon, and 200G more than a fly-weight helmet. That's close to half a pound more, which isn't trivial. But I've never had issues with helmet weight and don't see that changing now.

Lastly, there is the obvious concern that we now have one more thing to plug in. I can imagine a future where the aliens have destroyed our power plants, and all we have for transportation is bicycles. But oh no, my helmet is battery powered so I can't ride my bike! That would be a problem. But the battery life is about the same as my Garmin, so I just need to charge them both at the same time and it shouldn't be a problem.

So I guess what I'm getting at is if you are in the market for a premium helmet with a HRM, then this is a good option. In fact it's the only option. It seems to work great (with one data point), and the helmet is a perfectly fine one.

I'm not sure what rating system we use here at HBC, so I'll give the Life-Beam 9/10 I'm taking off 1 unit of goodness because of the price.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


This is so obvious it amazes me that a Google search produces exactly one hit -- a tweet from one of the stretched-ear-lobe guys.

Rando favorite blog Chasing Mailboxes has been running an open invitation for "Coffeeneuring" in the fall time for the past few years.  It is well done, the stories are engaging, and it sounds like fun.  But it is hardly the natural derivation of the word "randonneur" that is my idea.

Enter the randonbeer.

Do not confuse with this guy.  He is the randonbeard.

Bicycle beard, thanks to
Randonbeering involves riding to a pub, downing as much -- no more! -- of a pint as you can while being responsible (helps if you have fries to go with it) and riding on.  Hopefully the "on" is home or the coffee shop and not the next pub.  Goodness knows we do not recommend a cycling pub crawl here at HBC.

(An aside:  I understand anecdotally that many serious randonnuers are known randonbeers.  I will not libel them here, but perhaps you are one and would like to confess in the comments.)

Unlike Chasing Mailboxes' Coffeeneuring, I do not see this as a yearly short-time challenge.  I say year 'round, whenever you can park the bike, enjoy a brew, and head on to your destination -- add a comment!  When enough comments pile up I will move them into a new post.  I'm going out now, planning to brave 15 degree temps, pedaling to Fountain Square Brewery in Indianapolis for the inaugural HBC randonbeering ride.  Don't change the dial!

HBC randonbeering location number 1:  Fountain Square Brewing, Indianapolis.
Review:  a nice establishment.  A very good ESB.  Perhaps should have had the "Chocolate Milk Stout," which I tasted.  That was officially excellent.  Perhaps populated just a little too much with neighborhood regulars, making it an odd place for a guy riding alone to land for a pint on a Tuesday evening.  But I did leave with a "bullet" -- what appears to be a liter -- of the ESB for the fridge.  And a pic of the bike in front.

Does it look 10 degrees?  Because it is.

A Good Sign

"Bikes on Mass Ave." closed down a few months back.  I blogged about it, disappointed.

We've discussed the economics of bike shops here before and what must be done to make them a profitable endeavor.

I hope Bikes on Mass Ave., soon to be Mass Ave. Bikes & Brew, has figured it out.  I had the idea for a brew-pub and espresso machine next-door to a climbing gym many years ago.  Always worried about traffic moving in the wrong direction (beer first, then climbing), presenting liability concerns. IMO the bike shop is a natural and perhaps safer alternative.

So hang the photographer.  It says "Mass Ave. Bikes & Brew Coming Soon." 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 Goals

If I had to guess, 2008 was probably my highest mileage year. With about 3000 miles of brevets, I probably hit 5000 miles for the year. For any serious rider that's a comically low number. A cycling buddy in his 70s who commutes to work daily hit over 11K miles in 2014.

But despite that abysmal showing, my mileage since then has been much lower. Last year I barely cleared 1000 miles. Strava reports about 1,150. This year I'd like to do better.

So I'm going to go on record with a handful of goals for the year.

5000 miles
This is a stretch. I'm a lot slower than in 2008, and that was a year with a lot of time spent on the bike. So 2015 will include more time on the bike. But then my riding has always been light in the winter and heavy in the summer, so if I can make myself get more early season miles, that will help both with the goal and with fitness.

100M in 5:00

200K in 8:00

300K in 12:30

400K in 16:30

1000K in 65:00

I think these are all do-able. None are terribly aggressive. But all will require me to put some strong miles in. Interestingly, the only time I've ever hit sub-5 hours for 100 miles has been on 1200s. So I'd like to do that just to make it official. The others are all well below my best times for those distances, but I won't fool myself about my condition either.

If I can hit all of these, I will consider 2015 to be very successful!

Getting Off To A Good Start

There are a few chaps shooting for the year mileage record. I checked out one of them on Strava today (Steven Abraham), and the website helpfully provided a comparison of the two of us.

The stat to focus on, of course, is "year to date". I have 11.1 miles and he has 771.6 miles. This is a guy riding in the winter in the UK. Granted my 11 miles were in snow and 10 degrees F (a subject for another post), but I sat today out because it was a little rainy here in Portland. Guess I need to HTFU.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cycling Pants Review

A confluence of factors has produced the result that I'm wearing lots of semi-techno cycling/casual wear pants and shorts these days.  Those factors:
  • Rapha and Vulpine. I admit it, I've gotten suckered in to the "cycling lifestyle" sell.  In my defense, I primarily shop the clearance items.
  • Bike commuting.  It's fun getting on the bike daily whether to get to work or to do something more -- run errands, head to the airport, head to meetings uptown.  I don't feel like changing into and out of human clothes several times a day.
  • Age.  Not that I've ever looked good wearing spandex, but I didn't always feel quite this ridiculous wearing spandex.  
  • Touring aspirations.  I'm sick of trying and failing to ride fast.  I like the idea of spending a week or longer with nothing but a credit card and a bike.  Non-lycra cycling wear is more appropriate for that use.
These offerings can be grouped loosely into two categories:  (1) cycling-friendly casual wear and (2) real cycling wear that is less inappropriate than a full lycra kit for wearing in social settings.  Within those categories, here is the ranking:

Cycling-friendly Casual Wear:

1.  Rapha City Trousers -- A+, $$$
2.  Vulpine Summer Trousers -- A, $$
2.  Novara Cragmont Jeans -- A, $
3.  Levi's 504 Jeans -- B-, $1/2
4.  Levi's Commuter Cargo Pants -- C-, $1/2

Real Cycling Wear:

1.   Novara Westbrae Knickers -- A+, $
1.   Castelli Touring Overshorts -- A+, $$
2.   Rapha Touring Shorts -- A-, $$$
3.  Novara Westbrae Pants -- B+, $
4.  Rapha Knickers -- B, $$$

And here is 10c on each of several pants/shorts/knickers with bicycle-friendly features. 

Cycling-friendly Casual Wear:

1.  Rapha City Trousers.  First prize in cycling-friendly casual wear.

I have a pair in black and a pair in tan.  (Makes me thirsty just typing it.)  $145 each on clearance.  Yes, that is profligate.  No, it probably cannot be justified -- but having spent the money, I'm not disappointed.

The pants fit incredibly well.  Maybe it's just me, maybe it is cyclists generally, maybe a little of both, but pants that fit me in the thighs and butt -- and also in the waist -- are simply not available on  department store racks.  I repeat:  simply not available.  These are somehow cut to fit well up the legs and over the glutes but also to fit at the waist.  I just love the Rapha fit.

The Cordura seat panel is a nice touch.  It may be too big and too visible; I always feel a touch self-conscious using these for the "trouser" (instead of "cycling") function.  Otherwise put, I wonder when teaching class wearing my city trousers whether students think I'm wearing an adult diaper.  Note that there is not a pad, which I think is good.

Reflective feature on the inside of the leg:  a cute touch.  Amusing that it is on the right leg, which works well if you are riding on the left side of the road in England but much less so if you are riding on the right in the US.  Having seen Sam's Proviz jacket review, and purchased one for myself, I'm increasingly conscious that little reflective tabs here and there are of marginal, if any, benefit. 

Summary:  if they fit you as well as they do me, these pants are worth trying out.  The sale is back on at

Use model for this category:  dressing for the commute, whether to the office or to my office-away-from-the-office at Starbucks.  I am comfortable wearing most of the offerings in this category for even semi-professional encounters.

2.  Vulpine summer trousers.  Tied for second in cycling-friendly casual wear.

These are currently on sale for 45 pounds, or ~$68, at Vulpine.  They fit comfortably and look nice.  Despite ranking them second to Novara's City Trousers based on my own fit and fabric preferences, at the sale price they would be my first choice in this category.

Vulpine summer trousers.  Vulpine shows the possibilities of a bike as a fashion accessory.

Cycling specific features include an ankle button on the right leg and sufficient tapering that a left-leg button is not necessary; a gusseted crotch; a quick-drying poly-cotton fabric; and articulation at the knees.

The fit is very good if not as tailored as the first-prize Rapha City Trousers.  Just a touch too loose in the waist for my liking.  The fabric feels marvelous:  just enough cotton for next-so-skin comfort but the technical benefits of polyester.  They are a tad light for winter weather riding and rear-wheel spray penetrates them easily.  The articulated knees are a stroke of brilliance:  why none of the other so-called cycling clothing makers have discovered this, I have no idea.

These are ride-to-work or -lunch meeting pants.  I rank them below Rapha because the fit is imperfect and the fabric is light for regular off-season use, but at the current sale price these are my first choice for a purchase.

3.  Novara Cragmont Cycling Jeans.  Tied for second prize in cycling-friendly casual wear.

These are stretchy denim jeans that fit more like technical fabric pants.  They have pockets front and rear and, like all the pants reviewed here, the convenience of an ordinary zip fly.  They also appear to be a Max Huffman favorite that has been discontinued by the manufacturer.  I do see they are available for $52 at REI outlet to a few lucky souls who get there quickly.

Novara Cragmont Jeans.  No longer available at REI!

Cycling-specific features: a gussetted crotch, a closer-than-normal fit, stretchy fabric, reflective piping on the inside of the bottom cuffs that becomes visible with one roll (though perversely is lost with the second to nth rolls), and reflective tape on tabs that can be pulled up from the rear pockets.  They also have a loop for a u-lock on the back left of the waist-band.  (Why?  Is every bike commuter a bike courier?  And what is the shoulder bag for if not to carry your lock?)

Review of those features:  the gusset works.  These are comfortable to sit and ride in.  I went 36 today with plenty of up and down in the saddle with nary a pinch or wrinkle undermining my comfort.  The stretchy fabric puts these above all other casual wear useful for cycling that I have found when it comes to actually riding.  They look like jeans but they wear like tights.  The reflective accents:  well, those on the cuffs are silly.  Those on the rear pockets are at least bigger and facing the would-be man-slaughterer (backward), but I think they are also silly.  The u-lock loop:  a dumb feature, but at least here, as opposed to the Levi's (below), the belt can run under the loop rather than over, so it helps to hold your belt in place rather than pushing it off over the top of your pants.

These are comfortable pants that are just a tad loose in the waist -- like most US vendors of consumer vestments, REI has not figured out that big butt does not mean big waist.  (You'd like to think REI, which pitches to an athletic consumer base, would be better on this score.)  They are not perfect for true casual wear -- a bit tight, a bit too sleek -- but so long as you have a bike helmet in hand or a courier bag over your back you can probably get away with it.  These were hard to categorize:  casual wear for cycling or cycling wear for casual use?  They ride better than anything else that I have found that is designed to be worth both on the bike and off.

4.  Levi 504 "Commuter" Jeans.  Third prize in cycling-friendly casual wear.

Check out that reflective accent. A car might think it is running over a fire-fly!
Levi's bills these as designed for commuting and urban cycling use.  Cycling-friendly features include reflective piping on the inside seams (visible from the side when legs are rolled up), a u-lock loop, and a fuller cut in the legs and butt with tapering toward the ankles and just a touch at the waist.

The u-lock loop is ridiculous.  If you want to go bike courier style with your u-lock, wear a belt.  This one just causes my belt to ride up over the top of the pant.   The fit is an improvement over ordinary jeans cut for skinny-legged gentlemen but is nowhere near what Rapha or Vulpine have achieved.

The reflective piping on the side is frankly silly.  A car is only seeing you from the side for the 1/2 second before it hits you.  Backward-facing reflective accents make some sense, although -- as I note above re: the Rapha trousers, small reflective touches do little to make me safer when riding at night. 

In short, they are jeans with bells and whistles that you can find on Amazon for ~$50.  I like them less than my other jeans and they add little to my cycling, so in sum I call these a disappointment.
5.  Levi Commuter Cargo Pants.  Fourth prize in cycling-friendly casual wear.

Another offering in Levi's commuter line.  They have buttons around the right lower leg to make pedaling possible without rolling up the leg.  They bluntly fit too tightly to be very useful for anything but the most casual of riding.

I found these for ~$40 on Amazon but the current price is closer to $70.  Not worth it at either price.

Real Cycling Wear:

1.  Castelli Touring Overshorts.  Tied for first prize in real cycling clothing.

I found these on sale at Competitive Cyclist maybe a year ago for, I think, $90.  They might be the single most substantial reason why I became enthusiastic about non-lycra cycling gear.

The Castelli overshorts have normal pockets front and back, ideal for casual use.  Like nearly everything reviewed in this post, they lack a pad, so are designed to be worn over other cycling shorts or padded boxer shorts.  As I discovered over 100 miles in Grand Cayman last April, they work fine for tourist riding with or without cycling shorts underneath.

If you are looking, my regrets that Castelli seems to have discontinued them.  Giro's New Road shorts, $100 or so on Amazon, are the closest I've seen out there, but I can't vouch for them based on anything other than their look and description.

Use model for this category:  strap them to the bike when I may need to look presentable before I have the chance to get home to change.

2.  Novara Westbrae Knickers.  Tied for first prize in real cycling wear.
Knickers.  Is he not wearing a shirt?  Not a good look.

These were on sale for $35 or so at REI so I gave them a try.  They were well worth it.  They fit well -- not unlike the Rapha knickers, but, like the Cragmont jeans, not as well-tailored in the waist.  They have a very light pad that adds little and would need to be supplemented for a longer ride, but it is light enough one could wear these knickers over an ordinary pair of padded cycling shorts.

Cycling features:  stretchy "Schoeller" polyester fabric, reflective tabs on the rear pockets (which are exposed by tucking the pocket flaps inside), and a closer-than-average fit.  They also shed water reasonably well in the rain.

I wore these when Sam and I rode the Beach-Tuckerman-Glen-River-Persimmon-MacArthur loop on December 28.  They performed perfectly.  I added a pair of cheap padded boxer-briefs to supplement the thin sewn-in padding.  I would say these ride as well as an ordinary pair of cycling shorts but the fit is just a tad more appropriate for all but the most serious of cycling applications.

Of the five cycling pants for casual use, these are tied for my favorite; at the $35 sale price these are the first choice for a new purchase. 

3.  Rapha Shorts.  Second prize in real cycling wear.

Rapha calls these the "touring shorts."  They fit closer than casual wear but looser than ordinary cycling spandex.  I like them; they look fine; they serve the goal of being wearable in semi-polite society.  Like the trousers above, they do not have a pad, which works well when I want to wear them over ordinary cycling shorts or even over padded underwear.

Biggest complaint apart from the price:  the pockets are designed for a key and a small batch of cards/IDs/cash, but not a wallet or a modern-sized smartphone.  Second biggest:  the seam on the small front waist pocket tore through quickly when carrying a ring full of keys.  An easy fix, of course.

The price is prohibitive.  I paid $125 for these and I am not convinced they add that much to the touring set-up.

Here is the use model: I will keep these strapped under the saddle with the rain jacket for a light touring application, e.g., on a Fleche or weekend credit-card tour.  From time to time I may keep them on while riding -- imagine wine touring by bike or short rides from inn to inn on a casual vacation.  With those ideas in mind, I think these should serve quite well.

4.  Novara Pants (Westbrae?).  Third prize in real cycling wear.

These were also on fire sale for perhaps $40 and are made of stretch Schoeller fabric.  Like the knickers they have reflective tabs that become visible when the pockets flaps are tucked in.  They have a very light crotch pad and, like the Novara jeans, a meaningless reflective flap inside the left leg that becomes visible with the first roll.  These fit too tightly to be casual wear and are just a touch looser in the lower leg than real tights, but they serve ideally for cold or rainy-weather rides when you may find yourself off the bike from time to time.  I cannot find them any longer on REI's website, so I assume they have been discontinued.

One unique and nice touch is the ankle gathering elastic on the right leg with the tab hidden inside a zipped pocket.  Unzip, cinch, enclose the plastic fastener inside the pocket.  The tightened ankle easily clears the chainring even under aggressive pedaling.

Rear reflective tabs just like on the knickers.  Nice, but not enough.

I wore these over ~5 miles of errands on a nasty sleeting day in November.  They shed the falling sleet without trouble.  I did suffer some amount of wetness from rear tire spray but the pants dried quickly.  Keeping the pants at full length rather than rolling them up was a big benefit for my shins and ankles, which otherwise take the brunt of the cold and wet.

And I wore these on a cold-and-windy winter ride with Sam for just shy of two hours on December 30.  They kept me warm and handled the rigors of on-and-off aggressive pedaling without difficulty.  I'd rank these higher if I had more use for full-length pants when cycling rather than when commuting.

5.  Rapha Knickers.  Fourth prize in real cycling wear.

These are no longer available, probably because they frankly look a tad goofy.  They work remarkably well, however.

The fit is quite like that of the City Trousers -- enough room in the thighs and butt while tapered into the waist for us skinny sorts.  They have a better assortment of pockets than do the touring shorts, which helps for the walking around part of touring.  Among other things, I do like the zip pocket for keys and cash.

To my view these serve precisely the same purpose as do the touring shorts.  I think they do the job just a tad better.  One option to handle the sort of silly look may be to cut them down to above-knee length.

Seven-Day Challenges

I did much soul-searching last fall fall, realizing that the greatest impediment to my riding was the challenge of getting out the bike, in particular on a day when it looked unpleasant outside.  I've been pleased to find that something as trivial as a <2-mile daily commute (each way, to be fair!) has made tying on the cycling shoes, putting on the helmet, rolling up the pant-leg, and getting outside something near to second nature.  No claim to high mileage in the last three months of 2014, but I am certain it is my densest period of cycling in terms of rides taken -- in probably 37 years of riding bike.

Lesson from 2014:  daily riding is good.  Not riding because "it's not far enough to be worth the trouble" is counterproductive.

We're not ones to set high bars here at HBC.  Riding to beat people and to prove something is both annoying and stressful.  But one wonders if there is not a way to achieve a mutually supportive goal-setting project.  I propose a series of seven-day challenges.

Challenge 1:  ride each day, outdoors, for seven consecutive days, sometime in the month of January.  "Ride"=30 minutes out on your bike.  If you are commuting through town, that may be 5-6 miles.  If you are out for a Saturday morning hard ride, that may be 11 miles.  Of course, you can go longer, but you cannot take the day off and make up for it on day 2 (or vice-versa).  The goal is not to ride hooka miles or to climb thousands of feet or to win seven races; the goal is to ride your bike for seven days, including those days when you just don't feel like riding.

Report in the comments on your challenge.  Did you make it?  Did you learn anything from it?  Are you interested in the February challenge?  Any ideas for the February challenge?

Future months' challenges: February, March, on to December will, needless to say, build on this January challenge.  Maybe February ramps the time per day to one hour.  By June I hope we can shoot for something like seven x 50 miles -- but we will see when we get there.

HBC Rides, final week of 2014

Sam made it to the right coast with A__ for the winter holiday.  We had good -- but crisp! -- weather, and the region is light on traffic from Christmas through to the New Year.  What to do?

Our primary project, I am sorry to report, is this:

What used to be the kitchen wall.
Being a homeowner sure does cut into one's riding!  But we do have time for a total of ~90 miles showing Sam some of the hidden, and not so hidden, gems, as well as a tad of the not-even-so-precious roads and trails in the area around DC.

There is more play in the seatpost on the Focus, so we raise the saddle and switch the pedals and Sam rides the new bike:

No accounting for the photography, of course.
He isn't a fan of the fit, but from a casual glance I would say a 60cm Focus Cayo Evo is about dead-on for Sam.

Ride 1:  Beach/Tuckerman/Glen/River/Persimmon/MacArthur Loop.  36 miles, 2:07

This one is one of my favorites for a quick two hours.  I rode it with A__ some years back when she was in town for work and it is my go-to when I need a quick fix that is more interesting than Beach Drive.  This loop offers it all -- flats, hills, winding roads, semi-urban 'scapes and posh wealth -- and manages to do all of that in 35 miles.

On the 28th it is superlative weather at between 55 and 60 degrees, partly overcast and partly sunny, and imperceptible wind.

We ride out Beach Drive across the Maryland line, where it becomes pancake flat at the base of what I call Temple Mount.  (The Washington LDS Temple sits near the top.)  That out-and-back you see on the map is where we ride to the end of Beach Drive before heading back for the second leg across Bethesda-Rockville.  The road on Beach Drive is too nice to skip those last miles before continuing.

The rollers pick up a tad after we leave Beach Drive and stay with us until we are through Potomac:

The end of the upward-trending flat section is where we leave Beach Drive.

We then follow Tuckerman Road from Rockville Pike to Falls Road.  The first short stretch to Old Georgetown is modestly unpleasant with no shoulder, but after that it opens up and is perfect suburban riding.  At Falls Road we join Glen for a few miles before heading back on South Glen -- that junction comes at the far western portion of the map -- and pick up River Road at Norton.  Glen to South Glen to Norton is the DC region's version of Hollywood Hills.  This is the upscale section of already posh Potomac, Maryland.

River takes us through the small downtown of Potomac, Maryland, which is really a junction with competing outdoor shopping malls, and up to Persimmon Tree.  Maybe my favorite road within easy reach of my backdoor, Persimmon Tree descends 250 feet from Potomac to MacArthur Blvd. on the edge of the Potomac River.  It winds through large properties with pretty -- but no longer obnoxious -- homes.  Traffic is light.

And the final stretch follows MacArthur southeast through Glen Echo, Maryland and into the Palisades neighborhood in DC.  One final climb up Arizona to Nebraska before following Nebraska into increasingly urban environments -- the American University campus, Tenleytown -- and returning home.  Stats for this ride:

Ignore the temp:  I carried the Garmin in my front pocket!

Ride 2:  Rock Creek to Capital Crescent Loop:  25 miles, 1:37

This ride might be described as interesting, convenient, and in parts fun, but not cycling in the sense that we tend to think of it here at HBC.  It is a cold day with temperatures at about 40 and winds approaching the double-digits in speed.

Just to make it interesting we enter Rock Creek Park via the Grant Road climb, which ascends for 1/2 mile at between 7 and 10% in grade.  Right on Ridge and again -- in the interest of not missing a marvelous road -- left on Ross to the junction with Beach Drive and Military Road.  After that winding the loop begins at Beach Drive heading south and then onto the Rock Creek bike trail at Tilden.

Beach Drive on a day very like ours.
The trail from Tilden to K Street is at best unpleasant and -- at some points -- only marginally ridable.   When the running/walking/tourist traffic is heavy it is downright miserable.  For our ride we have the trail mostly to ourselves and we manage the puddles, frost-heaves, and broken tarmac without a hitch.  We leave the trail to follow Water Street along the Potomac at the base of Georgetown and picked up the Capital Crescent by the boat house at the end of the street.

Rock Creek bike trail from  Solid red is the actual trail.
 In contrast with the Rock Creek trail, the Capital Crescent is smooth and pleasant riding.  The traffic is still light, but not nonexistent, and we are pushing into the north wind as we slowly climb from Georgetown into Bethesda, cross the towpath and Canal Road at the footbridge, and then climb in slightly more earnest (maybe approaching 4% in parts) until a tunnel not far south of Mass. Ave.

Capital Crescent from  Dotted line denoted very ridable but unpaved.
Just north of here we encountered old family friends N__ and J__ out for a walk, so we stopped for a brief chat and then continued on.  In Bethesda the Capital Crescent turns to dirt for the few miles until Jones Mill Road, but it is a well-groomed dirt trail that our 28mm tires handle without difficulty.

Although it is usual to join the road at Jones Mill, this has been a bike-trail loop so we follow it further across East-West Highway and back to Beach Drive at the DC line.  The chill is coming on fast as the sun goes down and we hurry over the short rise at Wise Road and back downhill to Bingham Drive and Nebraska Avenue to return home.  The sun is setting and Nebraska heads straight west, rendering forward visibility nonexistent on the first climb on Nebraska; fortunately we can ride in the parking lane while cars drive by blind several feet to our left.

Stats on the tourist's loop of Bethesda and DC here:

Ride 3:  Sugarloaf from Poolesville:  26 miles, 1:43

For the final ride of 2014 we park in the public lot in Poolesville Maryland on a 28 degree morning with a beautiful blue sky. The plan is a Sugarloaf loop that can be finished in time to grab a bite before taking Sam to the airport.  This is winter riding:  we are dressed in layers top and bottom with full insulated gloves, wool socks, and warm hats.
Sam on Hwy. 109, fully kitted for winter.
From Poolesville we head west on White's Ferry Road, turning north toward Sugarloaf on Martinsburg Road. Martinsburg is a lovely quiet stretch with few cars.  This short video is from that stretch:

Martinsburg joins Hwy. 28 not far past the power plant at Dickerson and we follow that much busier road past the little market and under the Marc Train tracks before turning right on Mt. Ephraim road.  Mt. Ephraim is another of my favorite roads in the region.  The pavement is good, it boasts rolling hills and light traffic, and the views of farms and up toward Sugarloaf Mountain are lovely.  I frequently envision driving to Sugarloaf for a tempo workout on Mt. Ephraim -- a perfect road for 15' hard rides back and forth with a finale of repeats on the Sugarloaf climb.

The Sugarloaf Climb

Sugarloaf ascends maybe 500 feet over 1.5-2 miles, a relaxed 5-6% average grade but one of the few longer climbs this close to DC.  We reach the parking area up top and descend quickly, though we are hampered by the low winter sun's limiting visibility on the technical turns.  We leave through the opposite side of the Sugarloaf parking lot, east toward the tiny town of Comus where we turn back south on Highway 109.

109 is a beautiful road through farmland with a series of mid-sized rolling hills, up and down past tiny river valleys, before crossing Highway 28 and returning us to Poolesville and the car.  We load up and return to DC in ample time to get Sam to the airport.

Stats on the final ride of 2014 here:

Ignore the temperature reading -- the unit was in my pocket!