Thursday, November 22, 2007

Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

We had a warm and long fall season here, so I was hoping that the mild temperatures would continue through the end of November so we could do a 4 day tour over Thanksgiving weekend. But that wasn’t going to happen, the high temperature of the day was only going to be in the low 30’s and snow was in the forecast.

Snow flurries on the way to the city

Since we couldn’t ride this weekend, we took the opportunity to check out one of the museums in downtown Chicago. Admission was free today, so all we had to pay was $12 for parking. That's a deal!

The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) is housed in the only in-place surviving building from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the former Palace of Fine Arts. The under ground parking garage is nice for those cold days like today, you can leave your coat in the car.

Here are some of my favotite exibits:

U-505 German submarine, one of two that were captured during WWII and the only one now on display in the Western Hemisphere.

Boeing 727

The Great Train Story is a 3,500 square foot model railroad. The train travels from Seattle to Chicago. You can also view it form the balcony above.

Yesterday's Mainstreet is a mock-up of a cobblestone street from the early 1900s complete old-fashioned ice cream shop, where you can buy some ice cream and eat it.

The Chick Hatchery is pretty cool too. Yea, those are real chicks being hatched in the museum.

This is the Lunar Module trainer used by Apollo astronauts to train for their missions to the moon.

Fake snow

Also, the Christmas Around the World was on display featuring more than 50 trees decorated in unique decorations of their countries.

Even the food in the cafeteria wasn't all that bad.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wind chill factor for motorcycling

It’s that time again. I’m currently getting reacquainted with cold temperatures and this thing we call “the wind chill factor”. Regular people start thinking about wind chill when the temps drop in to the 30’s and 20’s. For motorcycle riders it doesn’t need to be that cold to experience the wind chill, even 50 degrees can feel very cold on the open road.

Based on a formula provided by the National Weather Service, you can figure out the wind chill for pretty much any speed and temperate as long as it’s above 2MPH or above 5 degrees.

Wind chill temperature = 35.74 + 0.6215T - 35.75V (**0.16) + 0.4275TV(**0.16)

Since I’m not good with math, I just found a wind chill factor table on-line and made my own wind chill factor table only showing the speeds and temps that are applicable to cool weather motorcycle riding.

So basically on a 50 degree day, traveling on a motorcycle at 60MPH, the air feels like it’s 39 degrees. It’s the reason I don’t do much long distance riding when the temps get in to the low 50s and 40’s. I can ride at 39 degrees for a few hours but I can’t ride all day from morning to sunset. Mornings are especially cold and even though I use heated grips and a heated vest, after about 5-6 hours at those temps, my core temperature starts to drop and I just can’t seem to retain any heat once I’m chilled.

So by October my riding style changes drastically. I do more local day rides and I try to leave in the middle of the day and get back before sunset, riding in the warmest part of the day. When it gets really cold (low 40’s to upper 30’s), I just putt around the suburbs for 2-3 hours and call it a day. It’s usually at least 5 degrees warmer in the suburbs than it is in the sticks, where I’d prefer to be riding. Honestly, these types of rides are kind of boring since I like to tour and I like to ride all day, but it’s better than not riding at all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Checking out Cherry Valley

With my Widder vest fixed and the afternoon wide open, we headed west to grab some lunch and put on some miles. The high temperature today was 51 degrees, but with no wind and the warmth from my electric vest, it was a very comfortable riding day, unlike last weekend’s ride.

Today’s destination was Cherry Valley, located just south of Rockford. I rode past here once and remembered the nice downtown area and figured it was worth a closer look.

An hour and a half later we arrived in Cherry Valley. There was only a few places to eat downtown, we decided to try the Cherry Valley Café. It was 2PM and the place was pretty empty.

Lunch downtown Cherry Valley at the cafe

Mike had breakfast

I had potato soup

My lunch, a pork tenderloin sandwitch and hot tea

Cherry Valley Café is an OK place. It‘s like so many little places, there is really nothing that makes this place stand apart from all the others. The food was decent, service was good and friendly, although it took forever to get the check.

My pork sandwich wasn’t nearly as good as the one I had in Jasper, AR at the Cliff House Inn. I keep ordering pork sandwiches since my Arkansas ride, hoping to find one that is just as tasty but so far I haven’t found one that is equally good.

Downtown Cherry Valley with the original brick paving

A pretty neat sun dial sits next to the clock tower

The Cherry Valley clock tower

After 3PM we took off for a very short loop around Cherry Valley starting with the River Road

The River Road is not twisty by any means, it has a few bends in as it meanders through a woody area. There is a lot of forest preserves in this area. The River Road is a very short road, toward the end it runs along a river, the Kishwaukee River, I think, or one of it’s branches. It’s a pleasant ride.

Kishwaukee River and the ST3

Two hours after leaving Cherry Valley we were home. Arriving just after 5PM, it was completely dark already with temps in the mid 40‘s.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Widder electric vest woes

My Widder electric vest is about three years old now. My vest is the old model, which I picked up new really cheap, it was about half the price of the newer model that was already out. I get a lot of use out of it since I ride in cooler temps frequently.

When my vest wasn’t heating up last weekend I knew something must have broke and I started to think that if I can’t fix it, I’d have to replace it.

After doing a lot of reading about the problems people are having with the Widder vests on the message boards, it looks like the vest itself is very well built, but the cable, wiring and switch is not. With heavy use the wires and the switch tend to break easily.

As I read though people’s post I found that many of the wires break near where the cord plugs into the vest. Probably because of the constant bending of the wires, when sitting on the bike.

After checking my cable and switch, I didn’t see anything extraordinary, Mike also looked at it and at first found nothing, after testing the electric current, which was broken, he started looking at the cord again and noticed the crack in the cable.

A small crack in the cable, I didn't even see it at first

Apparently the wires were broken inside. It looked very much like the break that others have experienced, right where the cable ends and plugs in to he vest, right there where the cable has to bend.

Broken wires inside the cable

The cable itself is very stiff, it doesn’t bend easily, so over the years the cable and the wires tend to break. I think Widder knows of this was a problem because they have recently re-designed the hook up system. Too bad many of us are still stuck with old vest and old hook up cables.

New Widder hookup (from the Widder website)

After cutting the cable and re-splicing the wires, my vest seems to work again. The electric tape is protecting the spliced parts. I guess I’m going to try and find a good deal on a old model hook up cable, the electric tape won’t stay on forever, especially in cold weather and rain.

My hook up cable - fixed for now

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Saved by Starbucks in St. Charles

Last weekend was a busy weekend. And so was this one. Finally this morning there was some time to relax and do whatever we wanted. I checked the weather, it looked promising, cool but sunny. The high temp for the day was supposed to reach 51 degrees.

This time of the year, if it's not raining or snowing or in the 30's, it's a good day for a ride. Soon winter will be here. The signs of winter are already here, the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting colder. Last night the daylight savings time ended, so today the sun was going to set at 4:45PM, instead of 5:45PM.

Around noon we were ready to ride. There is a road that I’ve wanted to check out for a while just west of the burbs so off we went. But just 30 miles in to the ride I realized that this would not be a very relaxing and fun ride. As I continued riding I was starting to notice two things. One, my Widder electric vest was not warming me up at all and I was becoming really cold. Two, it was really windy today and the further we got away from the burbs the more the wind was blowing, the colder it felt.

Downtown Burlington

Nice little old church

Unfortunately the road I wanted to ride was located about 120 miles from the house, half way there I decided that this road would have to wait for another time, my focus now was to find a nice warm place to grab a cup of tea or coffee and warm up since apparently my Widder vest was broken.

I knew of a place in Genoa that served tea and coffee, and it was only about 6 miles away now. But the place was already closed for the day when we got there. As cold as I was, I passed by the McDonalds looking for something nicer and non-chain. Heading east now, I knew of another coffee house in Wasco, which was also on the way home, but when we arrived there, the place was locked up and there was a ‘for rent’ sign in the door. Two out of two. I wasn't too concerned yet, there was another coffee place only about a mile from here, but you guessed it. This place was also closed. Were we the only people who wanted a cup of coffee on Sunday afternoon, it was only 3PM?

There was only one thing left to do, head home. I’ve been out now for over 3 hours and was pretty chilled and the temperatures were going to stop dropping soon. The road that would get us home, had at least 6 different Starbucks coffee shops on it, they keep opening up new ones all the time. Since we had some time to kill and I was still cold, we stopped at the first one in St. Charles. Of course the winds were dying down now and we were in the burbs, so it was warmer. The spiced pumpkin latte hit the spot and when I got back outside I was no longer cold.

Downtown St. Charles and the Fox River

Looking towards the North Avenue bridge

Named Ekwabet, meaning "watching over" the 15 ft. bronze statue of a Potawatomi Indian on the Fox River

Potawatomi means "people of the place of fire," These Native Americans left an indelible mark on the land here. Many of the main roads that run though the western DuPage and the Fox Valley area are old Potawatomi trails.

Fancy Hotel Baker on the Fox River

A tree's branch heavy with its fruit

Playing in the tall grass

Posing with the old man on the bench in front of the Baker Hotel

Now that I wasn’t freezing anymore, there was no point to go home just yet, so we rode down to the Fox River in St. Charles to walk around for a bit, we pass by here all the time but we never stop to walk around. I think St. Charles is a very nice town, I like a town that has a river running thought it.

After some walking around we headed home. It was dark when we arrived at the house but still it wasn't as cold as it was earlier today.