Saturday, February 28, 2009

Much Better

Today was the normal Friday shop ride. Except, of course, for one fact, Jeff had a new Pugsley. Let me rephrase, he has a really nice new Pugsley. I could go into why it's so awesome, but I need to get a few pictures, so I'll save that for another day. The strange part about it was we had five people and two of them were on Pugs. That is a lot of Surly in one place for Fairbanks. In fact, I'd guess it has probably only happened once before (only because I won't claim it's never happened). That being the case, it meant that the rest of us were riding "little tire bikes". Seriously. Something is wrong when I am looking at my 2.55 inch wide 29'er tire on a SnowCat and it's being called little. But I'll get over it.

It was a great day for a ride. It hasn't snowed too much recently, it was hovering around 5 °F, and although lots of people have been out on the trails (think nicely packed) no one had saw fit to groom them for the skiers. Also we were almost injured by a crazy woman being dragged by two dogs who was snowplowing her skis across the whole trail instead of actually being injured by her. So, I was able to get some much better footage. And here it is, all hacked together and set to music in honor of Jeff's big day.

video

On a side note I have a web programmer friend who insists that all videos on the Internet are two long. That basically they could all be half as long or less and just include the good parts. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. This same friend would probably enjoy the crash track of any of the NWD movies. On the other hand I have watched NWD 7 and 8 so many times that I have them completely memorized, the same goes for Seasons. I still love them. So, if you don't enjoy this video, just click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There is, and here's the proof.

Here is a really badly shot video of the wintertrack in question. It's actually beautiful, good video (or was before I mangled it in compression), but the angle is horrible and you may feel the need to vomit. I did after watching once, so be warned. I am hoping to post lots of video in the future, so hopefully I'll actually figure out how to use the camera.

video

Friday, February 20, 2009

Epic wintertrack in Fairbanks?

I don't use the word epic often. Mostly because there isn't a whole lot of riding in Fairbanks that warrants it. Today was an exception. The shop group has apparently ridden this route before, now nicknamed the Boardwalk. It is basically a constructed route through what would otherwise be a swamp. Today it was two miles or so of beautiful winter singletrack. Probably eighteen inches at the widest and packed nicely into a near perfect u shape that you had to strain to see in the daylight, it was heaven. It was constructed as a summer walking route, but the flow is still great on a bike. After a couple mile spin to get there through warm, but somewhat windy conditions and on snow that was great considering the temperatures, I was truly amazed. It was one of those sections of riding that passes so fast that you have to stop and think when you get done, because you realize you have been on autopilot flow overload for what was probably lots longer than it seemed. The trees broke the windy conditions wonderfully and except for a group of people walking a dog, we had it all to ourselves.

I was so enthused that I hammered most of the way back close on the tail of the shop's pornstar monikered rabbit. He finally rode me off about a mile from the finish, which was fine because it started snowing like winter was actually trying to accomplish something and I could barely see. I was all alone between speedy and everyone else in conditions I was squinting against and I had one of those perfect "this is why I ride" moments. Maybe tomorrow I'll go back and try to get some pictures. It would actually be something worth posting.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mush

I participated in a nice group ride today, one of the biggest yet as well. There were eight of us and we were stoked. At about +5F it was the warmest ride in a couple weeks for all of us. The opening section of trail was beautiful, I dare say I shredded it and felt fine about it. That was about the end of all the good parts for me.

When we reached the main trail, we found that it had recently been groomed. It probably would have been great on a set of skis. Of course, none of us were skiing. We were cycling in an inch and a half of medium pack that washed out at will and left everyone squirrely all over the trail. Our group quickly deteriorated into a Pugsley out front, followed by all the lighter folks, a couple of medium folks and the heaviest folks in the back. I guess I fell somewhere in the middle for the first part of the ride. The last half I brought up the rear and seemed destined to crash every hundred yards or so.

The warm weather was good, because I was covered in crash snow for a good portion of the ride. When I finally got back to the beginning of the loop (the good section again) I was totally determined to shred it again and end on a good note. Instead I think I cut my crash distance down to about every fifty yards or so.

The strange thing about all this is that for the life of me, I can't determine why I know I would do it all again. I guess rides are like pizza.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Comfortable

If you've ever called yourself a cyclist, you have probably dreamt of riding pro. It doesn't matter whether its the WC Downhill, Crankworks, or the Tour (of California, please don't get me started on the French), you've dreamed of it at some point. Most of us are missing something, a high pain threshold, razor sharp nerves and reflexes, or in most cases, time. The rest of us all have real jobs that get in the way of riding. Which is why I like commuting, it fits into the day. Of course there are always excuses, you woke up late (the one I seem to use the most), you have to run errands after work, or occasionally just plain work itself. I have been in at my job everyday for the past two weeks because it has been a little busy. That being said there were several days when I when home long enough to let the dogs out (or in) and had to head back to work. So today was the first day in a couple of weeks when I piloted my bike in to work.

It was nice. It was -30F, but it was still grand. I also realized something though. I was comfortable. I went on a group ride at the beginning of January and it was -40F. I was comfortable then too. I remember when I started riding I used to tell people you could be comfortable down to -20F and after that it was bearable. If I ever said that to you, I have to take it back. I'd almost like it to hit -60F for just a few days so I can see how my current setup works. I considered that perhaps I had just gotten used to the cold, but when I think about what I wear now, and what I wore when I started out, I know it's the gear.

That being said my next several posts may be about my current gear setup. So I'll also preface them with this. I don't race. I haven't run the Iditasport, or the Susitna 100, or any other multi-day outdoor winter race. However, I have logged a lot of miles commuting and a decent amount of miles on trail rides of generally one to three hours in length in some brutal temperatures. So when I start spounting off about gear, please keep that in mind. I am currently wearing ten lights when I ride. Four headlights and six blinkeys/taillights. I don't recommend it for racing, depending on the trail you're riding, it is probably overkill. But I consider it a necessity for commuting. For most other people I recommend at least one tail and head light, but more is always better. I think I may have reached the tipping point though, I can't honestly justify putting any more lights anywhere. But if you are somewhere out there and find a way to rock it, more power to you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bicycle Setup

When it comes to bike setup for winter riding, there are lots of things you can do, many things you should do and a couple of things that you pretty much have to do. I'll try to go through that list in reverse order (based on my opinions).

First and foremost, you need to get lights, at least two. Let me rephrase that, you need a minimum of two lights. You need a red blink light pointing when you've been, and some sort of headlight pointing where you are going. All bicycle manufacturers put reflectors on bikes as a requirement. I recommend you immediately remove the reflectors that came on your bike and replace them, with lights. Reflectors only work when light is pointed at them, like car headlights. When someone is pointing their car at you, generally you are in a bad position. Lights however, allow you to be seen even if someone doesn't have their vehicle pointed at you. And believe me when I say this is the preferable situation (yes, I have been hit). Riding without lights screams DUI cyclist. In which case many people will try to take you out before you get your license back and begin to endanger people again with your alcohol induced swerves and wanderings. Don't let this happen to you. For a taillight I recommend the Super Flash by Planet Bike. It really is awesome. Princeton Tec also makes a light called the Swerve which is similar in design and principle. While regular blinky lights are great, these two wonderlights are both incredible bright and have lights that flash at different intervals. These different intervals help someone seeing the light correctly place depth perception. That is to say, not only can they see you, but they can correctly place how far away you are. Both of them are also great on batteries. I change the batteries on my Super Flashes once a season. As for headlights, I recommend whatever you can afford. Cheap headlights ($50 or less) will allow you to be seen, which is the important thing. However, you have to spend more (around $80 to $90 dollars) to get lights that you can actually see with. Lesser lights put out light that you can quickly outride when on a bike, so you shouldn't count on them if your commute path or trail has totally unlit sections. In this secondary range my first pick is the Apex, also by Pinceton Tec. It is a legitimate backup to a HID or superbright LED system. Its major drawbacks are that the batteries are not rechargeable and are exposed (except for the Extreme version of the light). In the expensive but worth it category, I'll list Nite Rider. They have a full line of LED and HID headlights. I think everything they make is rechargeable, their stuff is bombproof (also cold proof, which is of note for cords) and if you do manage to break anything their customer service and repairs are the best in the industry in my opinion. I am currently running two sets of MiNewt x2 Duals, one on my handle bars and a second set mounted to my helmet. That's 600 lumens of motorist blinding power for those times when you just need to get you point across, like when they turn right in front of you despite the fact that you have a green light and the crosswalk sign

Second you really need to get your freehub body winterized. This is a overhaul of the mechanism that allows your cassette to spin free one way and engage the drive way. I have seen factory freehub bodies freeze at temperatures as high as 25 °F. That's pretty high considering it regularly gets about eighty degrees colder than that here (by regularly I mean at least once a winter). If you don't get this done, there is the potential that your freehub body won't engage and when you pedal forward, nothing will happen. Even worse, there is the higher potential that your freehub body will partially engage and break parts of the mechanisms inside your freehub body. The sad thing is that there are not a lot of mechanics around who know how to do this proficiently. Partially because manufacturers tend to discourage them from taking apart freehub bodies. I haven't ever done this myself, but from what I understand it isn't that much harder than overhauling a loose ball hub, albeit you need a special tool which Shimano no longer sells.

That brings me to hubs. Your hubs need to be overhauled with a light coating of winter weight grease, I recommend Mag-1 by Lubriplate. I use it in all the bearing compartments on my bike. You don't have to do this, because if the grease in you hubs freezes/thickens up, it won't hurt anything, but it will fight you. The same goes for your other bearing compartments. In order I would say winterize your bottom bracket, pedals, then headset. Headsets are last on my list because you may get less responsive steering at low temperatures, but you are usually riding slow enough at those temperatures that it doesn't matter as much. Pedals are an often overlooked bearing compartment for winterization, but if you get off your bike in cold temperatures and try to spin your pedals, you'll see what you are fighting against.

Somewhere between winterizing your hubs and starting in on your bottom bracket, I recommend getting a set of poagies. Lobstergloves.com has links to a few places where you can get poagies. They also have information on lobster gloves, which I don't recommend for cold weather riding. My poagies are from Dogwood Designs in Two Rivers, Alaska. They don't have a site, but are maybe the better product for it. They have evolved over the years into a fabulous product for commuting and winter trail riding, which is exactly the kind of riding I do. Many people prefer baggier poagies for expedition and endurance style racing. Bigger poagies give you more room for food and supplies. However, it is also more room to heat, room you generally don't need on a commute or two hour trail ride. As with all my recommendations, tailor your equipment to your particular riding style. For those of you out there that are fine with gloves, congratulations. My hands get cold easy and to keep them warm at -40 °F, I need mittens that make shifting and braking very difficult, if not impossible. Poagies completely eliminate this problem.


The next recommendation I have if for suspension. Get rid of it. It is just extra weight that won't work when it freezes. If you have cheap suspension (elastomer spring) it will just stop working and may work fine when it thaws, or may get extra springy when the elastomer cracks and begins to fall apart. If you have expensive suspension (oil or air sprung) there is a good chance that you will blow the seals on your suspension and permanently damage it. I don't swap my summer fork on my bike until it is consistently 35 °F out. All this being the case you can save yourself some trouble and weight by getting a rigid fork. A decent rigid fork can be had for under $100 and is well worth it considering the price of a replacing your suspension fork. I do however recommend a carbon fork if you can afford one. Besides being lighter, carbon will help reduce the vibration that can come from riding on snowpack. I won't tell you that carbon bars and seat posts are necessary for winter riding, but they do make it more comfortable.

I have a hard time placing my final recommendation for you, tires and wheelset. For first time commuters I definitely recommend studded tires. Until you get used to riding on patches of ice, they will help keep you from visiting your local emergency department. A good set of studded tires are expensive (think $100 a tire) but still less expensive than an ambulance ride. I recommend Nokians. Nokian uses the same auto grade studs that you find on car tires, so they last. If you are riding mainly trails, are a horrible wight weeny (all those little metal pieces add up), or very confident in your handling skills, then choose your favorite wide tire and experiment. I personally run WeirWolf LTs by WTB for everything. However, I am still young(ish) and spry(ish) so I expect to recover from the falls that I take every two months or so while commuting in the winter. That may get change as I get older and bust a hip for the first time. Or worse yet, if I actually fell hard enough to hurt my bike (I'd have a new set of studs the next day). As for wheels, wider rims are better. Bikes like the Surly Pugsley, the Fatback, and the 9:ZERO:7 are the current conclusion to this line of thinking. However, without needing to buy a whole new bike (which is never a bad idea when you are a committed cyclist) there are several options for wider rims that will fit a standard mountain bike. I have a set of beautifully built wheels (thanks Jeff!) laced to SnowCat rims. Several other companies also make wide rims. However, some are aimed at the downhill crowd and are way overbuilt for winter commuting or trail riding (read heavy as all get out here), so you want to pay attention to intended use when purchasing to build a wheelset. Wider rims will make a difference even with the same tires you are currently using because they will spread the tire out and give you a larger contact patch. 29'ers also give an advantage in this area. While many people don't see the need for them, they have a very legitimate place in the winter cycling world. After you have the tires you want, pressure is the next thing to worry about. If you plan to run super low pressure (I have run 3psi before) you want to make sure to glue your tire to your rim. This will prevent your tire from creeping around your rim and sheering off your valve stem. Gluing means using a contact cement type substance like Tubasti (by Velox, sorry couldn't find a website) to adhere one side of the tire to one side of the rim in a couple places. This will allow you to still change flats on the fly. Pick either drive or disk side and do it consistently to make your life easier. As far as running super low pressures this works well for flotation at higher temperatures, however at some break point (seems to be about -10°F for my Weirwolf LTs) your tires will get stiff enough that the energy required to flex the sidewall as the tire rolls will make you noticeably slower. At this point it is advisable to jump back to a higher pressure and sacrifice some traction for speed. Usually the the ice gets sticky enough at these temperatures that it hasn't been a major problem for me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gear

I think it is important to think about what you are wearing before what you need to do to your bike to ride in the winter. An improperly set up bike will survive to be ridden another day, the same cannot always be said for the rider. That being said I'll start at the bottom and work my way up, because that is where most new winter cyclists (and even some experienced ones) have problems.

Feet - The question for the ages, clipins or platforms? If you don't normally ride clipped in, this isn't probably a real question for you. You can use regular platform pedals and some huge pack boots at the worst and be just fine. You may want to consider a set of Power Grips. While many people are just fine with platforms, it can be hard to keep a big set of packboots on the pedals, and Power Grips solve that problem nicely. Now, if you are like me and refuse to give up being clipped in, there are only two options in my mind. Make something yourself (see duct tape, screws, superglue, and ruining your set of packboots) or buy some Lakes. I actually have two pair. One set of size 46 (I normally wear a size 44) to wear down to -10F and a set of 50 wides to wear down to whatever it gets down to. If I could go back in time, I'd buy the 46s in wide too, but I don't think Lake was making wides when I bought them, or maybe my shop just wasn't carrying them. Like lots of other things in life, wider is better. Give yourself room to pack in a couple pair of socks. If you don't by loose fitting footwear, when you do start stacking in the socks (read insulation here) you'll just end up mashing your foot into something that will constrict the blood flow and actually make staying warm harder. Air space is insulation. If what you are wearing feels tight, that means it will affect your circulation, and that means you will get cold easier. I really can't stress this enough. I also choose to use a vapor barrier sock. Specifically one made by Sugoi. I have been trying to get my riding buddies to use these, but they just keep looking at me like I am crazy, so they are probably not for everyone. Personally I think it gives me another ten degrees out of the same setup. I looked for a site with a good explanation of why VB clothing is good and the nearest I could find was this. It is a bit militant, but you'll get the picture. Finally I have a warning. If you are riding and your feet get cold, get off and walk or run. The friction produced by running/walking will help warm up your feet. The joy of riding really isn't worth losing toes over (well maybe, but still get off the bike if it comes to frozen feet).

Baselayer - For baselayer I recommend wool. The brand I have the most laying around of is definitely Ibex. I see several advantages with wool, sadly none of them cost. The first is the love of my coworkers. If you commute day in and out, it is highly likely that you won't be washing your cyclewear daily and won't have enough to switch to new clean baselayer everyday. Wool can withstand this kind of abuse without producing noxious odors. That is just what it does. Sure there treated synthetics that supposedly don't stink. They might even work. But I am a wool fanatic, so I won't be trying them anytime soon. The second reason I love wool is that I think it keeps me warmer when damp (like soaked in sweat damp) than the synthetics I have tried. Just my observations, which I will treat as fact. I keep my synthetic stuff around for nonaerobic activities and day trips in other sports, when I ride and it is cold, I will be in wool.

Legs - This is an area I tend to deviate from most other cyclists on. My legs get cold very easily. What I consider necessary wear, many other spinners overheat in. So consider any recommendations I make to be on the warm side of the spectrum. When it drops down to 50F or colder, I wear tights. My current favorites are the Firewall 220 bib tights by Sugoi. These things are warm, if I put a pair of wool tights on underneath them I can comfortably get down to 10F or so. Many people I know can ride them much colder than that. Pearl Izumi also makes some very decent tights, but I find the Sugois to be a bit warmer and have a thicker (and thus also warmer) chamois. When it gets colder than 10F I go to a insulated pant. Currently I am using a set of Patagonia micro puff pants, which apparently they aren't making anymore, because I couldn't find them on their website. I did find a picture here. Mountain Hardware and a couple other companies make similar products. They are reasonably expensive and warm as all get out. Expect to patch the inside of your drivetrain side cuff soon after getting them.

Torso - Here again I seem to deviate from the norm. What my legs seem to lack in heat generation, my torso more than makes up for. I rarely wear more than two layers. Never more than three. Again with the Sugoi for an outer layer. Have I mentioned that I tried to have Sugoi's love child, but they turned me down? Under that I wear a Ibex shirt (sadly also turned down by Ibex). Depending on temperatures, I'll wear a microfine base layer, a midweight shirt, or in real cold temperatures (below -25F) a Shak. That's it. In super cold temperatures (-35F or colder) I pack a lightweight down jacket in case something happens and I need to stop for a bit, but I have yet to actually need it.

Head - Many cyclists try to wear a bicycle helmet in cold temperatures. While I applaud them for trying to be safe, I also think they are silly. Many companies make helmets for winter aerobic activities. Giro comes to mind, mostly because I am rocking one nearly daily. With the add in speakers I can have warm ears and be totally oblivious when someone in a car recklessly tries to run me down. For a facemask I use a Pearl Izumi (again either not made or no longer listed on their website) or when it gets really cold an OR Gorilla mask. The mask serves double awesome duty by consistently forming two long icicles on the front during super cold weather which end up looking like wicked cool fangs. I don't wear goggles. I know a select few people who wear goggles and make them work. Mostly I guess they are genetic mutants who exhale no moisture when expiring. If you find the perfect setup for them and like it, they will keep your eyes warmer. However, most people seem to endlessly mess with them and end up with a fogged, frozen mess by the end of a ride. My eyes seem to be fine while riding, even at subzero temperatures. I have had my eyes freeze shut on occasion, but an application of a warm finger generally fixes that. I would guess that on average, I have to defrost an eye less than once a ride. I consider this better than the endless mucking about I did with goggles before I finally stopped trying to use them.

That is pretty much it. While I didn't mention hands, I recommend your favorite summer full fingered cycling glove. If you want to ask how that could possibly work, please see my post on bicycle setup, and hopefully your questions will be answered. I normally ride with a pack (currently a Gregory Advent Pro), which conveniently is no longer on the manufacturer's website either. While some folks prefer panniers, I prefer to be able to dynamically move as much weight as possible, which means it needs to be attached to me, not my bicycle.