Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A new adventure on the calendar

I've been married to my wife just over a year now, and we now have a baby together. It's honestly been wonderful. But being in a happy, secure relationship, then going through a challenging pregnancy, followed by caring for a newborn that doesn't often let me get enough sleep... Well, that situation has not exactly been good for my eating habits, and my waistline and new chins tell the tale. I've gained about 40 pounds in the past 13-14 months. I took half-assed measures to take the weight back off, but of course, I still continued to gain. Once the baby came and got settled in, I've begun to have more time to ride, which feels good, but those extra 40 pounds are obvious when I'm trying to pedal up hills.

Anyway, last week I read about the Tuscobia winter ultra. On a whim, I signed up for one of two remaining slots to race/ride the 75-mile option on New Year's Day 2015. I have never been more than moderately athletic, and as I already described, keeping my weight under control is a challenge for me. But having an event on the calendar has really focused my effort. I immediately reverted to a past strategy that has yielded success: low-carbohydrate diet. I stopped sneaking sweets (including fruit) and pastry and anything made of grain. I've lost 5 pounds already. I'm probably not going to lose 40 pounds in two months, but I can probably lose 25 and get back under 1/10 of an English ton in time for the race.

I'll try to keep the HC blog updated about my weight progress. Also potentially of interest: I'll also do some posts on my gear choices and training. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tis the season

After an exceedingly pleasant Summer-ish Fall, we are finally getting to that time of the year. Luckily, we don't yet "need" fat tires, studded tires, or fat studded tires, nor do we require any specialized clothing or extraordinary cold-weather toughness (by Minnesota standards). For the most part, we can still just hop on our bikes and ride. But it sure gets dark early now, and this weekend we will all set our clocks back an hour, so it's gonna be dark by 5pm next week. If you're going to keep riding, and you really should keep riding, you could do worse than investing in some good lights if you don't already have some. I see a lot of unlit cyclists out and about, and if I could think of a way to do it without creeping them out, I'd approach them and offer to provide them with free LED blinkies (they don't cost much). Honestly, riding unlit is so dangerous. If you do ride at night a lot, something better than cheap blinkies is probably in order. We like the NiteRider Lumina series lights, but you really can't go wrong with most of the lights on the market.

I used a second stem and a cut off chunk of handlebar to mount two Lumina lights (a 700 and a 750) on my bike. One is probably enough, but I work for the Department of Redundancy Department. I have a helmet mount, too, so when the situation warrants it, I can detach one of these and put it on top of my head in 2 seconds.

Here is a pic from some trail riding last week with my riding buddy. To protect his privacy, let's call him "Cheesecake Jake". Trust me, a nickname like this is how legends are born.

And here's my bike midway across the Marshall/Lake bridge a few nights ago (just one light on).

Taillights are important too, but they don't need to be fancy. We like various versions of the Planet Bike Superflash. They are inexpensive ($20-30 ish), bright with an irritating (good) flash pattern, have a sensible/sturdy mounting bracket, and the AAA batteries last a long time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ice Cream Truck commute

I was all set to do some kind of sentimental "Ode to Winter Cycling" post, but Fall has been amazing this year in the MSP. We have had a nice slow descent into lower temperatures, and no hints of early winter yet. So I'm going to stay in the moment. This is as good as it gets.

Since I got my new Surly Ice Cream Truck a few weeks ago, I have stopped riding other bikes. My Surly ECR is on loan to a friend, and my "road bike", a hot-rodded Torker Graduate, is mothballed for the season (unless someone wants to buy it). So the ICT is my only bike, for now. Eight years ago during the fat bike stone age, I would tell people that a fat bike was a sort of luxury for the person who already owns 7 bikes and wants something "different". And now in 2014, here I am thinking that I feel pretty happy with the ICT as my only bike. This is partly because fat bike technology has improved dramatically in the past 8 years, and partly because my perception about what a good fat bike can do has gotten broader with experience.

Anyway, with the sun shining and temperatures still mild, I left a little early for today's commute. A few minutes after leaving home, I ducked around a long-abandoned, rusty steel gate onto a weedy, cracked-up old road, down the bank, and under a bridge to the river.

By the way, the Surly Bud is the ultimate fat bike tire (unless you need studded or skinnier than 5"). Bud was originally marketed as a front tire, with Lou marketed as its companion rear tire. I now run Bud front and rear. Bud seems faster than Lou with no meaningful loss of rear traction for us mere mortals.

It was mostly smooth riding, but I had to go into the water to get around some fallen trees. I got two soakers, but I didn't care.

I was eventually "forced" to ride in the woods. The nice thing about the ICT is that I don't really need a buff trail. I can just meander through the woods, around and sometimes over logs and other debris. Luckily this spring's flooding hauled away a lot of those obstacles, and left large swaths of open riding. It's particularly lovely down there with the yellow leaves.

I am lucky to be able to tie so much "wilderness" riding into my commute. It improves my mood all day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Become a connoisseur of studs

I bought my first studded tires 11 years ago: Nokian Hakkaplitta W106 (they have 106 studs) in the 700x40 size. If there were other decent studded tire options back then, I didn't know about them. Those Nokians were heavy and slow and not much fun, but they did allow me to commute through the winter on streets and bike paths without any serious crashes. I also learned that winter riding involves a huge variety of surfaces conditions, and no tire is perfect for all of them.

Back when we had few options, we didn't have much need to scrutinize our studded tires. But now, we have lots of choices, and we can spend at least a few minutes over-analyzing. The classic type is shown here:
The top tire here is a Nokian Mount and Ground. The bottom tire is a Schwalbe Marathon Winter. The Nokian has a more open tread profile with tall lugs - this combination gives a good bite in snow, while being less likely to get snow packed into the tread. The Schwalbe has a lower profile tread and the lugs are more closely spaced. The benefit here is that the tire should roll more smoothly on pavement and hard ice. The common view among those who've tried both is that the Schwalbe rolls better/faster despite having more studs. If you are mostly riding paved streets and trails that are plowed but icy, the Schwalbes will probably be faster and more fun to ride. The studs on both tires have a square point with a sharp corner to dig into the ice. This type of stud works very well when new, but its performance diminishes as the corners get rounded off. Here's what they look like worn:
Don't pay attention to the rust, which is both inevitable and irrelevant. This is a Schwalbe Snow Stud, which was actually similar in tread pattern to the Nokian above. This tire started with square studs, like above, but it endured a couple winters of wear. It's subtle, but if you look closely, you can see that the sharp corners of the studs have been worn down and are now slightly rounded. It still works fine on smooth ice, but this tire failed me when I hit some uneven ice (common around here after snow and ice and car slop have been compacted together into rutted, cratered surfaces on the streets). I can't prove it at the moment, but I think I could have rolled that ice hump without an unplanned dismount if the studs were new and sharp-edged.

Here's what a 45NRTH Xerxes looks like. These tires have been in stock at HC since last year, so I'm not sure if this is still representative of the current Xerxes tire.
These tires are pretty lightweight and have a nice supple casing, and I would imagine that they roll much better than any of the tires I showed above. But the downside is that there aren't many studs, and the studs are not very sharp-edged (pre-worn?). I view this as a tire for road riders who wants to ride in spring and fall when the streets are clear, but have some control when they hit black ice. This would not be my first choice for serious winter commuting in Minnesota. But since these are 700x30, which is skinnier than most studded tires, these might be your only option if your bike doesn't have adequate tire clearance for something bigger.

Finally, this is the tread of a 45NRTH Dillinger (26x4" or 4.8"), but it's pretty similar to the 45NRTH Nicotine 29x2.35", which, in my experience, is an amazing tire.
These tires have a new concave stud style. The idea here is that as the stud corners wear, there is no center section to form the apex of a rounded dome (see the rounded/worn Schwalbe studs above). This means that the studs stay sharp even when they get worn. The sleeves of the studs are aluminum to save weight, while the points are wear-resistant carbide steel. These tires are expensive, but I believe they are the best available today. If you have a fat bike or "29er" to ride in the winter, these tires will handle a wider variety of winter conditions than any other winter tire on the market.

Friday, October 10, 2014

More used bikes

Note: the bikes below have now been sold. Just leaving this up for posterity.

First, since it's getting to be the time of year when many people start thinking about fatter tires, lets start with the fat bikes:
SOLD: This is my wife's Pugsley Ops in XS 14" size to fit most people in the low 5-foot height range. She didn't ride this a ton, which means this one is in nearly new condition. She wants a new Ice Cream Truck, so this one is available. It is pretty much the stock bike from Surly, but I did upgrade the brakes to Avid Elixir 7. It also comes with a Topeak rack, WTB saddle, and VP pedals. $1500.

SOLD: Here's another Pugsley Ops in M 18" size, ideal for most people in the 5'6" to 5'11" range, give or take depending on personal preferences. Again, this is a low-mileage, great condition bicycle. Mostly stock parts, but with VP-001 pedlas and an upgraded FSA XC-190 handlebar. $1500.

No picture yet, but I also have a blue M Pugsley that is spec'ed very much like the Ops Pugsleys above. Except the frame and fork are blue and the rims are black. $1500.

SOLD: Here is a nice 54cm Cross-check with rack, fenders, Brooks B17, Nitto Albatross bars, and other swanky touches. Excellent condition. $975

I have a few more to add soon.

Here's an older blog post with some other bikes and frames we have

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Committing to winter cycling

Ten years ago at this time, I was (somewhat nervously) anticipating my first of many winters of cycling. "Fat Bikes" weren't a thing back then, and there wasn't even much info online, except for a few kooks up in Canada who put screws in their tires to get traction on ice. Winter biking a decade ago was something only the most eccentric of cyclists seemed to be doing. I found Peter White Cycles in New Hampshire, and ordered some 700x40 Nokian studded tires from him. Then through a process of trial-and-error, I worked out my wardrobe to deal with the mix of cold air and heat/sweat generated by the exertion. Over the winter of 2004/05, I cobbled together a haphazard pile of equipment and a few tricks to help me survive and even enjoy pedaling through the winter.

Studded tires were not a widely available product at that time. The Nokians I was riding on my bike were regarded as a novelty among my cycling friends. The next Summer, I got a bike shop job at Freewheel. When Summer turned to Fall, the buyer at Freewheel asked me if I thought they should carry studded tires, and asked for my recommendations about what to buy. I thought it was funny that he was treating me like the resident "expert" on this subject. But then I sold a shitload of studded tires. Whenever people came in to ask about putting their bikes on trainers for winter exercise, I showed them the studded tires.

Fast forward to last Winter. That was a tough one, and it really caught me by surprise! The streets around my house were covered in the bumpy, hummocky ice that makes any riding dangerous, especially if there are cars trying to navigate the same streets. I had some of the AMAZING 45NRTH 29x2.35" Nicotine studded tires on my Ogre, which handled the ice ok. But my favored commute route was detoured onto an unplowed path, where I really would have benefited from the 26x4.8" non-studded tires of my Moonlander. Combine the difficult terrain with the frigid temperatures, and I started to lose my nerve for winter cycling.

But this year, I am, perhaps for the first time, making a serious effort to be prepared to ride in almost any conditions we are likely to face this winter. I have been gradually investing in cold-weather clothing that is designed for bicycling, and I took the plunge on a pair of these bad boys.
I am hopeful that these 26x5" studded tires will be as at-home on the ice-cratered and ice-rutted streets as they are in unplowed powder and slush. Yes, they are $250 EACH!!! In my opinion, that price is worth paying if I can be safe and have fun with my cycling during what might be another long, cold winter.

Ice Cream Truck builds at HC

My custom ICT.

Mine again.

The blue hubs and polished rims really tie the ensemble together.

Here's an extra small Ice Cream Truck. 

And a medium ICT with Jones Loop bars, silver to match the rims.

For now, we have a most sizes of ICT here for test rides. If you're considering a fat bike, this is probably the one to get.