Monday, June 16, 2014

Beach Cycling and Its Contents

Beach Bike
For years I've dreamt of combining two activities I love: riding my bike and swimming in the sea. Considering that Boston was right on the water, cycling to the beach proved a surprisingly elusive goal during my time there, with successful two-wheeled beach trips few and far between. But now that I live practically on the shore I am determined to make the most of it. 

But what are beaches like in Northern Ireland, you might ask with a suspicious shudder - picturing scenes of frigid waters and relentless winds, clusters of pallid holiday-makers in ponchos shivering on soggy sand as black clouds loom overhead. Well, in reality it isn't nearly that bad. For instance, when I first came here I was told it was too cold to swim without a wet suit. Foolishly, I believed this and didn't even try to go in the water at first. Then one hot day I walked in the waves and discovered the water was perfectly within the boundaries of what is considered swimmable in Northern New England! Not quite lukewarm, but not ice cold either - with a good half hour of swimming possible before cramping sets in and limbs begin turning blue. And to top it off, it is sunny nearly every day! Not for the entire day of course, but more like for an hour at a time in between bouts of fog and rain, but let's not be nitpicky here. Summer is here and the beach trips have commenced!

Beach Bike
Though technically I live right on the water, the nearest official beach - staffed with lifeguards and lacking in dangerous riptides (well, relatively speaking) - is 3.5 miles away. It's a pleasant ride that can be accomplished on almost any bicycle. The easiest is to ride my Brompton, with its bottomless pit of a front basket into which I can throw anything a beachgoer could desire, laptop and portable wifi unit included. But really any bike that will accommodate a large Carradice-style saddlebag will do, and sometimes a faster bike can be more fun. 

Cycling to the Beach
On the bike I wear my regular street clothes, with shoes that are easy to slip on and off and underwear that can pass for a swimsuit. Some time ago I discovered that wool underwear - both short and long - feels amazing to wear in the water, keeping me warmer than an ordinary swimsuit would. The wet wool also keeps me cozy once I get out of the water, and begins to dry relatively quickly. When I'm ready to leave, I just put my clothes back on over it and pedal home. Even if the wool is still damp, this feels surprisingly okay - nothing like cycling in a soggy synthetic swimsuit or wet cotton underwear. And being able to do this eliminates need to deal with the logistics of changing or transporting a soggy swimsuit by bike (though the latter is not especially complicated - just wring it out and use a plastic bag).

Cycling to the Beach
The rest of things I bring along, I will wrap in a towel - starting with the fragile stuff first, so that it's surrounded by the most padding. 

Cycling to the Beach
This makes for a neat bundle that can then simply be stuffed in a bike bag or basket, with everything held in place and not bouncing around too much. 

Beach Bike
And voila: Beach bag and beach bike. Heaven!

I've been to the beach plenty of times this summer already, and though it isn't quite warm enough to submerge myself fully yet (oh yes it is! finally swam after writing this post) I find just spending time there - reading, writing, photographing, living -  to be boundlessly enjoyable, and all the more so if I come and go by bike. There is something about cycling down a sunbaked road, in anticipation of smelling the salt, seeing the waves, and touching the sand with my bare feet, that makes for an out of this world experience. True, Ireland isn't exactly a tropical island. But something this good is best in measured doses, and worth getting rained on once and again… and again!

46 comments:

  1. Podium!
    Oops, wrong blog. My apologies.

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    1. Heh. At the height of this fad I used to have a clause in my moderating rules prohibiting such comments, but nobody has tried it for a while.

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  2. the beaches in N. Ireland sound more friendly then the beaches here in N. California. Ours tend to be more like how you initially described, with people often sitting in their cars to avoid getting sand blasted by the gritty wind, not to mention the abundance of great white sharks off the coast. However the views are quite majestic along this rugged coastline.

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  3. Thanks for the wool underwear tip. I just returned from two cycling trips where I brought, but never used, a bathing suit; extra underwear, however, is always useful.

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  4. Very nice! I too discovered that wool is excellent for swimming some years ago. I wear an old beaten up merino sweater as an extra layer and sun guard. I do not care if I look silly, but wool helps, it truly does.The pacific northwest ocean is very cold, colder than much of the UK. Even though I live fairly close to the ocean, I rarely get in to go swimming because I find it too cold.
    I do recommend swimming with a wetsuit though. You can stay in longer and enjoy the sea life, poke at things. However, you want a modern flexible thing, perhaps triathalon or free diving wetsuit instead of surfing or scuba suit. I have an older surf suit that is stiff and heavy. Taking wetsuits to the beach usually requires panniers, or a very big front basket or porter bag.
    Because I get so cold and it is rarely actually hot in PNW summers, I might take along extra sweaters and if a cafe is nearby drink hot tea or coffee(or take a thermos). However, getting back on the bike and the steep climb home warms me up again.

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    1. Oh I wear old long sleeve wool tops on the beach all the time, in the water and out. The types of beaches I go to, this does not look especially conspicuous. I have yet to try a wet suit.

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  5. In case you don't have enough bikes in your stable already, I know a few folks who own fat bikes and they say they're really fun for riding on sand and soft snow. Can't remember if you've ever tried/reviewed one. I rode one briefly at my LBS. The rolling resistance wasn't bad for such wide and soft tires. A friend of mine bought a local guy's road bike because he decided that a fat bike was all he needed.

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    1. Tried a couple of them briefly. It's getting to the sand/snow that's the problem! I don't think I'd enjoy riding a fat bike 3 miles to the beach on a paved road against a headwind. Might be nice to ride straight from my house along the shore during low tide though.

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  6. "a faster bike can be more fun"

    fred escape velocity is addictive...

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  7. I take the same approach to beach trips in our summer: clothes over swimmers, towel in the basket and just ride and swim with no changing at the beach. I carry a few things in a bag which either goes on my back or in the basket too. The beach has to be relaxed or it defeats the purpose of going there!

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  8. I like this bike better than your early customs, and I bet it cost under two grand.

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    1. It's a vintage bike. I only had one "early custom" as far as I know.

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    2. Oh, sorry. I was thinking of those early Circle somethings (seems you had a couple) and the Ant and Mercian and the ones built up from just a frame for a specific use and mileage. It's nice to see that if one is only going a few miles they don't really need an expensive bike. There are many, many, options. Some can be called vintage and some might be called just fun or even junkers.

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    3. This bicycle is interesting in that it simultaneously was dirt cheap (my friend acquired it via pure luck at an estate sale) and is near enough priceless in value, as very few of these particular bicycles were made and there are several historically significant things about it. I doubt it will ever be sold on the open market.

      In truth think there are fairly few sets of circumstances where any of us *needs* an expensive bike. Especially if you define "expensive" as over 2 grand, that's a fairly generous budget with plenty of excellent bikes to choose from.

      That said, it's important not to lump into the same category bikes that are merely expensive with bikes that are handmade by local framebuilders or small manufacturers and expensive as a byproduct of how much labour goes into them. I do not own nor advocate here bikes that are expensive for expensiveness sake. I do advocate supporting small manufacturers and local framebuilders when possible.

      And to bring this around full circle, the vintage bicycle you admire was a quite expensive semi-custom in its day. Its existence (and the wage f the person making it) would not have been possible without someone willing to spend the money. FWIW it certainly looks like the original owner got plenty of use out of it.

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    4. OK V, you're killing me here, who built that bike before I pass out. A hint?

      Spindizzy

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    5. Forgive me, I didn't know you were riding a priceless bike of historical significance. I just advocate for bikes being available and functional for those who cannot afford a car and shudder at the cost of what bike shops charge. I adore folks who keep the handmade/homegrown crowd going. In fact I exist in that odd state of making things I could not afford to buy and spent lots of time helping others keep their dumpster bikes going b/c, really, it's not that hard but they are stressing out over so many other things in life they're more likely to give up that which they really enjoy (the freedom of riding a bike to work) for a bus pass which in the short term seems easier and more practical. The sad thing is they're really attached to those bikes but are too intimidated by bike shop prices and attitudes. I hope you give the bike away to someone in a similar position.

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    6. Anon 1:56, as Velouria said the elegant Claude Butler is a loaner from a friend, I don't think she's in a position to give the bike away. And if no one buys the well-made expensive bikes, they can never hit the used market and eventually end up in my hands. And that would be very sad.

      Velouria, your writing keeps making me think that maybe I'm too hard on friction derailleurs and three speeds. If I succumb to the siren call of the Achielle Louise or Shinola Bixby (at full retail prices, ugh) I'll know where this insidious train of thought came from!!!

      ohkay

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    7. There are probably more bikes out there that languish unwanted by their owners then there are people in need of a bike. What would be nice is if someone came up with a way to connect them.

      I have attempted to give vintage bicycles away to people in need of bikes with hilarious results. I think we, lovers of vintage and/or quirky bicycles, forget sometimes that most people out there prefer new/modern to old. The best candidates for vintage bike ownership are those who specifically want and appreciate these bikes for what they are, as opposed to those who need a bike to ride because they don't already have one. For the latter group, 9 out of 10 times a nice used modern bike in clean condition would make for a more practical and more appreciated option.

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  9. All ready! Only 1689 miles to the beach. Should be there in about 2 weeks...

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    1. So I am lucky guy,I have it just 600km to the nearest sea,it is a regular brevet.I can take some rest on the beach and then back again. But fortunately lakes,rivers,dams,ponds and thermal springs will do the job.

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    2. I guess i should be thankful for what I have. The popular Marvin Braude beach bike path in southern California is my alternative route home. It is twice the distance of my regular route. I really shouldn't take it for granted and ride it more than a few times a week.

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  10. I can vouch for merino socks from cycling through a winter flood (thanks Vulpine) but the merino underwear swimming thing is a new one on me!

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    1. While running(!) last night I ended up crossing a stream, then continued the rest of the way in soaked shoes and socks. I was impressed that the wet wool socks stayed in place and didn't cause blisters or irritations, as well as kept my feet warm. If I hadn't been a convert already, this would certainly do it.

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  11. But surely you're not drinking San Pellegrino straight out of the bottle!

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    1. A glass straw can be rolled into the towel as well.

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    2. If you want a light weight yet durable and well damped alternative to glass, I would be happy to provide artisnal titanium or stainless straws... Polished or Brushed finish.

      Spindizzy

      Please, no inquiries about aluminum or carbon versions.

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    3. I'd need to know the difference in weight before I surrender my Murano glass straw and commit to Ti vs stainless.

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    4. Just stay away from aluminium. It tends to give a harsh sip...

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  12. I now live only 2 miles from the beach, but I am still working out the kinks of getting there and back by bike. There are no showers and changing rooms at this beach. And while I am okay with cycling in damp clothing, what I can't stand is being covered in sand. They don't call it sandpaper for nothing. Ouch!

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    1. Not a fan of sandy cycling either, but for 3 miles it's okay for me. I just try to wipe as much off as possible with (a dry part of) the towel, especially from the saddle-contact area, before I set off.

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  13. Excellent post.

    Reminds me of the old days when this was a Cat and Knitting blog. Reading about titanium bikes with GPS functionality is great and all that, but sort of out of my experience( and therefore suspect). But casual conversations about riding some rusty old shed 2 miles down to the shore to go swimming in yer underpants is the sort of aspirational adventure writing that keeps me coming back day after day.

    Ninety seven out of one hundred.

    Spindizzy

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    1. The rusty old shed is actually an amazingly fast 1930s monster-drops mixte. And she'll have you know that she has gps functionality.

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    2. Excellent comment Spindizzy:)

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    3. You know I started coveting that old thing as soon as I saw the photo's. Are there 2 cables coming out of that right brake lever? Hmmm?

      Spindizzy

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    4. What, one brake cable is not enough for you?

      (the other one is from the trigger shifter)

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    5. On closer inspection it appears the extra cable is actually the extravagantly long rear brake cable lolling around like it hasn't got anything better to do than bother the other cables like a lonely guy on the subway...

      Spindizzy

      And no, I'm not sure one cable IS enough for me...

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  14. I also like this post by Velouria, it is about the simple reasons we ride bikes - I don't live anywhere near the sea, so for inland 'Aussies', the equivalent is the nearest creek or river. Many happy times riding over sun-baked tracks to our favourite 'swimming hole' - no sand on the beach, just thick bush dust, which is actually lovely, fine and clean like talcum powder and the river deep, brown and on a hot day, the perfect temperature for a swim, with numerous fallen logs for resting on and diving from - just beautiful.

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  15. "But what are beaches like in Northern Ireland, you might ask with a suspicious shudder - picturing scenes of frigid waters and relentless winds, clusters of pallid holiday-makers in ponchos shivering on soggy sand as black clouds loom overhead. Well, in reality it isn't nearly that bad…"

    I bet the tourist board over there loves you ;p

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    1. You would think. Still waiting for a thank you note for my Giro d'Italia post.

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  16. Yup, sea swimming in New England is a terrifyingly frigid experience. To my horror, even when it is an uncomfortably hot day.
    Oh I miss the North Atlantic Drift, but then we don't really get any uncomfortably hot days in Ireland, do we?

    New England beaches are also frustrating in that you have PAY to get on so many, and so many others are private property. I'd never even heard of these concepts in Ireland.

    Overall, I'd take beaches in Ireland over New England any day.

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    1. I've been to beaches in every single coastal NE state from Maine to RI (we don't really consider CT New England now, do we!). And one thing I've learned over the years as far as swimmability is that it can be surprisingly patchy. There are beaches in Maine where the water is warmer than on the Seacoast NH beaches. There are beaches on the Mass North Shore Mass that are warmer than beaches further South on Cape Cod. So you kind of have to know where to go.

      Ireland does have a more lax view of private property. On the other hand, NI beaches allow cars right on the sand, which I still can't get over. "You don't expect people to WALK from the car park?!" the locals respond with astonishment when I question this practice.

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    2. Really? Well that's a north/south difference right there. I've never seen a car on the sand in the Republic.

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  17. Plenty of cars on beaches in the Republic too.

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  18. Just wondering... do you wear your merino smalls in all the time the summer, or just to the beach? I have been thinking of getting some, as I can get quite sweaty in winter, but as its warmer now... I am still sweating in my spandexy sports bra! But, is the wool too hot for summer??

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    1. Year round. In the warm months, the wool keeps me much *cooler* than cotton or poly underwear ever did. And as far as sweaty bras, check out this post from earlier.

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  19. Hm, I see... Still not completely convinced. I think I might find it too itchy. I recently tried on Rapha's "merino base layer" top and found it scratchy. Not sure I could handle it next to my skin. I guess I am just overly sensitive or something. I can handle merino has a secondary layer, but not next to my skin... so unfair!

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