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Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State
I have not been motivated to do much outdoor riding this winter, but I received two Christmas gifts that may help get me motivated. Here I am giving them a quick driveway-length test ride:
A company called Bar Mitts makes a product like the hand warmers shown; they come in versions specific for road drop handlebars with Shimano or Campagnolo brake/shift levers, as well as for flat handlebars. Mine actually came from Cabela’s, and are intended for the Quad ATV set, but when you’re using then on a mountain/hybrid handlebar, they’re essentially the same thing as the Bar Mitts version. The only drawback to either is that they won’t play nice if you have bar-end extensions.
As for the wheel light, it will complement the multiple headlights and taillights that I’m already using, but when commuting in the dark, you can never have too many lights.
On a side note, this is my first post in the Post a Week 2011 campaign being promoted by WordPress.com (which is the service on which this blog is hosted).
Two articles of note in today’s Columbus Dispatch; the first is a brief note by reporter Spencer Hunt explaining a temporary sewer pipe running along the Olentangy Bike Trail. The second is from reporter Kathy Lynn Gray, who talks to a few area cyclists to find out how they deal with the cold weather.
This morning’s forecast called for a high today of 29 degrees, and a low of 5. I decided to ride to work after taking much abuse from fellow commuters for skipping out from riding on Monday. The temp was about 32 degrees when I left home, so the day started out even better than I expected.
Even with very little active precipitation, it was a pretty slushy day, with the weekend snow sitting around on the verge of melting. My feet ended up pretty soaked by the end of my 14-mile ride, but my wool ski socks still kept them relatively warm.
I laid out all of my damp clothes at work, and everything pretty much dried out during the day, except for those socks. I had taken a spare pair of light quarter-length socks to wear around work during the day, but I figured those would not be enough to venture out in for the ride home. So, I pulled on my still-soaked ski socks, put on all the rest of my layers, and headed out. It was about 22 degrees out, so again I thought I was going to be better off than expected.
I would have been better off with the lighter, but drier all-day socks. My feet were chilled within the first mile. When I got home, I could barely walk. They weren’t so much numb from the cold, but in throbbing pain. I remarked, “The good news is that if I can still feel them, I don’t have frostbite.” It turns out, that probably wasn’t the best thing to say to calm my significant other’s concerns about this whole night/winter cycling concept. I spent a few minutes on the couch with my feet wrapped in a blanket, and they are fine.
So, the lesson is: pack a spare pair of warm, dry socks for the ride home.
Last Monday, after much deliberation, I ordered some Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded snow tires for my bike. I’ve always just used wide knobby mountain bike tires, and I figured if I was going to commute through the winter, I would need them. I was unsure if I did the right thing by ordering the tires, then on Tuesday I wiped out in the parking lot at work in front of my boss. I did the right thing! Fast forward one week, I was eagerly waiting for the tires to arrive. UPS came and went; no tires. Well, I ended up staying later because other scheduled plans later this week, and luckily I did; the tires arrived FedEx!
Of course, I immediately installed the tires. Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of fat tires and these are not. They are 26″x1.75″, and most companies’ tires run narrow. I used a digital caliper to accurately measure them and much to my surprise, the came out to a whopping 1.77″.
After work I had to run some errands, so I was more than happy to try out the new tires. I had a 3 mile ride to my stop, 2 of which were uphill. The tires were pretty noisy, which I figured they would be, since there was a couple hundred steel studs hitting the ground, but they still rolled pretty smoothly. At this point, the roads were dry. Schwalbe recommends that on dry pavement you run maximum pressure, which is 70 psi, and when it’s icy, run minimum air pressure, which is 30 psi. They also suggest 20 to 40 miles of hardpack riding to set the studs firmly in the tire. After my errand, I headed home, and I had about 8 miles to go. A mile into the ride the wind started to blow and the rain started; after another couple miles the rain tuned to sleet, which felt like I was getting sandblasted. By the time I started to descend back into the valley, I was in a ful-on Ohio winter mess. Snow was accumulating on the road, the wind was blasting, and all this over ice. Got to love winter commuting in Ohio! The descent back home wasn’t even fun; I had to ride the brakes (thank you disc brakes), then I was worried that the cars around me were going to lose control and crush me. Finally, I arrived home in one piece, and you know what? The tires never lost traction. I made a wise choice!
Here are a couple of shots of the bike I put together for winter commuting; click on the photos to open the full-sized image in a new window.
It’s based on a Diamondback Zetec Comp mountain bike that I originally bought back in early 2001. Since I’ll mostly be using this bike on the road or bike paths, the suspension fork is not really necessary, but it’s the only fork I had around to use.
Features and components that make it a build more suited to winter riding are:
For the single speed drive train, I used a Surly Singleator chain tensioner and a bunch of generic plastic cassette spacers to convert my 9-speed rear hub. I’m using a 44-tooth chainring up front, and a 20-tooth cog. That gives me the gearing that I think will be best for road riding in winter conditions; not quite as high a gear as my singlespeed road bike (42×16), but much higher gearing than you’d typically see on a singlespeed mountain bike used for actual off-road riding (e.g. 32×18).
I’m using Crank Brothers Mallet pedals. All of their models have a cleat retention system that continues working well in mud and snow; the Mallet has a large platform that will be good if I want to use them as regular platform pedals with non-cycling shoes, such as warm winter boots.
The handlebar is called the Space Bar, from a company called Origin. It’s got an ergonomic bend to give your hands a more comfortable position, while keeping them at the same distance from your body, so you don’t have to change the length of your stem if you swap this handlebar onto your current bike. I’m trying this bar out, and am not sure if I’m sold on it yet. The one downside I see so far is that with all of the bends, it doesn’t leave you room to mount accessories, such as lights, bells, etc. (notice I used a stem-mounted computer). I tried using this bar on a geared bike previously, and it was a tight squeeze trying to get the grips, brake levers, and shifters all to fit, so it’s ideal for use on a singlespeed, where you only have to worry about your grips and brake levers.
Speaking of the computer, I used the CatEye Micro Wireless, again just because it was a spare one that I happened to have around. I’ve used this computer for a couple of years, and it’s worked flawlessly. When I set it up on this bike, it worked great in the garage, but when I was out on the road, the transmitter conked out on me (and the battery is relatively fresh). I’m guessing the cold air affected it; maybe if I move the magnet and transmitter up higher on the fork leg, I’ll have better luck.
One addition that I need to find is a front fender that can mount in the steerer tube of the front fork. Notice I’m using a seatpost-mounted rear fender. This kind of fender does not provide as good of protection from the muck as a full-coverage fender, but for a winter bike, full-coverage fenders might be a problem, as they’d provide another place for snow and ice to build up.
Alright, so Monday was not the horrendous multiple feet of snow that it could have been, but it did snow enough to make a interesting ride. If you haven’t commuted in cold temperatures, it’s a bit of trial and error when it comes to clothing. You have to be warm enough to stop at lights and on downhills not to freeze, but if you dress too warm, you sweat like a pig while pedaling. I rarely get it right, but I do make it tolerable. I am a huge fan of wool as a base layer. Synthetics are good also, but they tend to get a little smelly. My latest commuting wear has been, Helmet(Duh), wool cycling cap over a balaclava, wool jersey, wool long sleeve, soft shell jacket or rain jacket, cycling shorts, insulated tights, waterproof pants, wool hiking socks, waterproof hiking boots. I run platform pedals and boots, I don’t slip and slide when I go in somewhere, plus it’s just easier and more comfortable.
The ride on Monday was little chilly, the temps were around 36 degrees and it was pretty wet out. The first part of my ride is about 3-3.5 miles of road, then I hop on the Towpath trail. Like I said, the road was wet and no ice. The Towpath was still warm enough that the snow was not sticking, so it was pretty sloppy. I got off at 3:00 pm so the ride home was much of the same, but a little more snow on the surrounding grassy areas. I was a good ride to test out my clothing and winter commuting set up. Stay tuned for my Tuesday report, It was an adventure!