Saturday, February 4, 2012

Utilitaire Gone Wild

Fellow bike blogger MG has come up with a little contest to make riding in the last weeks of winter more challenging and purposeful.  It's called the Utilitaire 12.  The idea is to do two bike rides per week for six weeks.  The gist of the thing is you run errands on your bike, see?  It's actually a contest more appropriate for someone who lives in the city.  Out here in the suburbs, running errands can add up to quite a lot of riding.

I have already done one Utilitaire ride this week.  It was my bike commute on Wednesday. It was 29 1/2 miles.  That was pretty easy since I ride to work as often as possible anyway.  So today I decided to run errands.
At the Barbershop (pole in background)

Now according to the rules, I get credit for only one more Utilitaire ride this week.  Mine was a doozy.. I started by riding  a little over a mile to the barbershop.  The barber once again exposed way more of my scalp than I care to see but he can't be blamed for the thinning of the hairs.

Getting My Powerball On
After the barbershop I rode about a tenth of a mile to the 7-11 to buy lottery tickets.  The jackpot is in Croesus territory so I had to buy a ticket. For the next five or six hours I can dream about buying a Caribbean island like Richard Branson.  Unlike Sir Richard,  I will install sprinklers, however.

The Supermarket Has My Bank Inside
Back on the bike, I headed over to scenic US 1 to go to the bank to cash a check. Apparently, this is National Chatty Teller Day.  There were five people in line as the two tellers made small talk with a couple of customers.  Sometimes I just which tellers would be rude so I could get my money and run.  After a ten minute delay, I had my cash and I was out the door. 

Scoring Some Wiper Blades
In another quarter mile I arrived at Auto Zone to buy some windshield wiper blades for the Millennium Falcon.  The MF is the car we bought for our son. It is a Mitsubishi Lancer.  I don't know any Japanese but I'm betting lancer in Japanese translates to something like turd in English.  One of the wiper blades was 26 inches long, too long to allow me to close my panniers. Actually, it stuck out so far that I caught my leg on it as I went to mount my bike.  I nearly crashed before I started.  What a klutz!  After some careful thought I removed the wiper blade from the pannier, got on the bike, then out the wiper blade back in the pannier like a cowboy putting away his rifle before heading after the bad guys.

Wiper Blades Are Too Long
I tried to find a shortcut through an adjacent apartment complex.  I was shocked at how large the complex was.  After about 1/2 mile of riding down dead ends, I gave up and headed back to route 1. Back to the house I rode without incident thanks to the access road that runs along the highway.  By the time I reached home I had reached 7 1/2 miles of Utilitaire riding.  I put the wiper blades on the MF and then headed back out.

My final chore was to buy some Assos chamois butter.  Cyclists who wear cycling shorts don't wear underpants; instead bike shorts come with a built in pad to cushion the ride. Unfortunately, if you ride enough you're nearly guaranteed to get saddle sores.  Saddle sores are bad news.  Butt cream to the  rescue. A container of Assos costs more than $25 but my buttocks are worth it. My local bike shop is four miles from home.  Hi Yo Silver, Away.

Ass Cream Sold Here
On leaving the bike shop I noticed that I had already logged 11 1/2 miles of Utilitaire cycling in one day.  If you count the bank and Auto Zone, the barbershop and 7-11, and the bike shop, I had already done 3 rides today.  I only get to count one because that's MG's rule and she is Queen Utilitaire of the Interwebs.  Unfair I say!

It being the case that I was already 4 miles from home and a little less than 30 miles from a 100-mile week, I decided to go for a spin.  I headed north on Fort Hunt Road and made my way back to Washington Street in Alexandria.  I rode north from there to Slater's Lane where I headed east.  I reach US 1 again but here it has a brand new bridge with a bikeable sidewalk.  On the north side of the brdge I entered Potomac Yards, a new development on the site of an abandoned railroad classification yard.  (A classification yard is where trains are assembled from rail cars coming from a lot of heres and going to a lot of theres.)
The Bridge to Lady Bird Johnson Park

The principal advantage of Potomac Yards is that it is pool table flat and has a brand new boulevard that cars don't seem to want to use.  Fools!  In five minutes I was on the north side of Crystal City, riding through the new Long Bridge Park.  The Park isn't intended for biking but the road next to it is a mess.  After riding through the park, I made my way along the north side of the pentagon and hung a right into Lady Bird Johnson Park.  There I glanced at the big stone monument to her husband. I stopped to use the bathroom facilities but the men's room was filled with shady looking characters.

Anacostia River Trail
Not wanting to buy any meth, I left and rode under the GW Parkway and over the 14th Street bridge into DC.  There I picked up the interim Anacostia River Trail. Interim means :we ain't finished yet."  What was finished was very impressive. It is especially so since so much of the area is empty lots and old industrial buildings.  Unfortunately, the trail is closed at the Washington Navy Yard.  back tracking a bit I found the Trapeze School..  You're kidding me.  No sir.  There it was and there we people inside taking lessons.  I wish I was young, athletic and fearless.  Sadly, three strikes and I'm out.

Around the Navy Yard complex, I hooked up with the Anacostia River Trail again.  This led me to the 11th Street bridge across the Anacostia. With a couple of quick turns. I was on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.  MLK is a hilly beast right through some of the poorest neighborhoods of DC. There are four hills from the 11th Street bridge to the Wilson Bridge across the Potomac.  Four, that is, if you avoid the high-traffic South Capital Street in DC which turns into /Indian Head Highway in Maryland.  Wanting to save a hill I took the highway.  Drivers were pretty mellow today so I had no trouble getting to Oxon Hill Road.  I took a left and began a screaming downhill on near virgin pavement toward the base of the Wilson Bridge.  If you take this downhill all the way to National Harbor you can reach 40 miles per hour. (Been there, done that.)  Today, I left the downhill about midway to cross over a bike path that would take me to the Wilson Bridge bike path. 
Navy Yard Closed

Trapeze School - Check Out the Motto
In no time at all I was back on the Mount Vernon Trail. One mile later I left the trail to ride up the big hill on Park Terrace Drive. Even though I had ridden nearly 40 miles the hill seemed preferable to the flatter but more circuitous MVT.  

I arrived home in a light sprinkle.  I had ridden 42 1/2 miles and accomplished a whole bunch of errands. I treated my Sequoia to a quick chain cleaning and a fresh application of Pedro's Ice Wax.    I treated the engine to a fresh application of see-food.  Utilitairing makes me hungry.


  1. Isn't it time to increase the tension on that saddle?

    1. Geof, it never occurred to me. That sling shape is very comfortable.

  2. Thanks for taking us along on your ride.....
    I was also thinking the same as 'invisible hand'. For me I think that would be a pretty uncomfortable perch...But hey...if it's comfortable for you that's all that matters.

    1. I know it looks unusual but it feels great. I also have a B67 which is wider and springier. I don't like it half as much.

  3. First, I love the title of your post. And second, so cool to see all the things you did on your bike! Like the Lady Bird Johnson Park photos. I'm still learning that route from DC to Crystal City.

    1. The LBJ route is not marked and is clearly not set up for biking. There is one curb cut on the Pentagon side. Getting from the park to the MVT involves meandering down some walking paths, cutting through a parking lot, and finding the new tunnel under the Humpback Bridge. in the tunnel you get a cool, framed view of the Jefferson Memorial.

  4. "One mile later I left the trail to ride up the big hill on Park Terrace Drive. Even though I had ridden nearly 40 miles the hill seemed preferable to the flatter but more circuitous MVT."

    Insert genuflecting here. I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy...


    Sweet tour and thanks for all the great pictures. MG's Utilitaire challenge does look like a lot of fun. Good luck with tackling it!

    1. MS
      Yeah, that hill is a beast. This morning it made me cry, but that's because I was descending and it was 26 degrees!

  5. I used to have a Sequoia but it was stolen last spring. It was a really good bike. I miss it.

    1. Sorry to hear that, Nicole. I should point out that my Sequoia is from the early 1990s. It's a chromoly bike sold in the US as a commuting bike. In Europe, it was a best selling touring bike. It originally had a generator light system and that ran power through the fenders. More recent incarnations of the Sequoia were not designed for loaded touring and were made from aluminum. They were very different. I wouldn't sell mine for the world. It has nearly 29,500 miles on it.

    2. Mine was definitely one of the recent ones. I got it in 2004 and it was definitely set up to be a commuting bike with road cycling appeal. I did have issues with heel clip on bags when I tried to do more errand running with it. I didn't have nearly those miles though. Maybe with my Long Haul Trucker that replaced it :-)

  6. :) Welcome to my world without a car...every ride is a Utilitaire Ride. :) It's fun, huh? :) :) You're on your way to being car-free! :)

  7. Jumping in late here, but I can give you two reasons why drivers don't want to use Potomac Ave:

    - The city dropped the speed limit from the originally planned 35 MPH to 25 MPH.

    - Traffic signal timing is horrid.