Monday, January 30, 2017

Pulling sleds by fat bike: Fun on the frozen lake

Just a quick one: I'm one of the organizers of Madison Winter Bike Week, a week full of activities to encourage riding year round. One of the events I'm organizing is a fat bike sled pull for kids on frozen Lake Mendota. There was relatively little information about how this may work on the interwebs, and so we had a testing session a couple weekends ago. Conclusion: It does work! And it's great fun!

Here's some video footage:


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tried and Liked, 2016 Edition

It's December again, as per usual I'm late to the annual game of "tried-and-liked," started on the iBOB list. It's always instructive to look back at the previous recap, where I liked 650B low trail bikes with wide tires, group riding, riding a fixed gear bike in the winter, and the Philips SafeRide dyno front light. My only dislike was crashing (I broke and dislocated my shoulder in 2015...). And then there were a few undecided things: Shimano "trail" style pedals, bib shorts, and the BUMM Cyo Premium front light.

Liked

Fixed gear, year round

I started riding fixed gear as a way to cut down on winter wear and maintenance. Tired of replacing derailers, brakes, or cassettes every one or two winters, I converted my Surly Cross-Check to fixed gear. The plan was to ride fixed in the winter and then convert back to a multispeed drivetrain in the spring. Well, spring came but the derailers did not. I came to realize that with the addition of the SOMA Grand Randonneur to my stable I no longer needed to use the Surly for things like fastish rides in bad weather or bike camping trips. And for everything else the fixed gear setup worked out great.
Glamor shot of my Cross-Check in winter mode

Strava Weekly Goals

I started tracking all my rides with Strava a couple years back. I love looking at numbers and data. After eight weeks of not riding at all (see below), I had a hard time getting back on the bike in September. Strava offered a month-long trial of their premium membership, and one of its features were weekly and yearly goals. I figured 100 kilometers (62 miles) per week would make for a balanced goal: Easy to achieve during most weeks, but still challenging enough. This has worked out great for getting me back on the bike and keeping me going through a cold and snowy December.

S24Os

Not exactly new, but I still love going for S24O camping trips. This year I was able to squeeze in more of them, and all of them were awesome. Some ride reports here.
S24O to New Glarus

Fat Bike

For several winters I've considered buying a fat bike. In the end I always talked myself out of it, thinking that there were too few days a year were having a fatty would make a big difference. Then this year I received an unexpected raise and at the same time saw a great deal on a used Surly Pugsley. I jumped on the opportunity and have no regrets. This winter brought much more and earlier snow, and Pugsie is a great tool for those conditions!


Coffeeneuring Challenge

For the first time I participated in the Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge. The challenge requires you to ride to seven different coffee locations over the course of seven weeks in fall. Perfect for someone who likes coffee and cycling, and this year the weather during the challenge period was terrific. Will do again. All my ride reports (another requirement for completing the challenge) can be found here.

Fox River Mittens

The Fox River Extra Heavy Double Ragg mittens have turned out to be great. They're thick, warm, and not scratchy. In combination with pogies, they have kept my fingers fairly warm even on days when the temperatures dipped below -20C/0F. As they don't have palm reinforcements, I'm a little concerned about durability. To be revisited next year.

Drop Bar Pogies

In the 2014 Tried-and-liked I first sang the praises of pogies for keeping my hands warm in the winter. After my experiments with Road North/Albatross bars on my winter bike (see below), this year I bought a pair of Bar Mitts designed for drop bars. So far I like them a lot. One minor issue: Their fit is relatively tight, meaning that with bigger gloves it can be a bit difficult to get into them. But so far that hasn't been a problem in practice. It remains to be seen how their insulating powers compare with pogies made from different materials (Bar Mitts are made from neoprene). It should also be noted that they limit you to pretty much one position: On the hoods. Fortunately, that's my favorite drop-bar position anyway, but on longer rides it still would be nice to be able to change things up.

Disliked

Crashing

As I mentioned above, in 2015 I had a big, bad crash; the first serious one after almost 30 years of riding. Well, it happened again this year. On day one of what was supposed to be a three-day bike trip with two friends, we encountered an oil slick in a turn, somewhere in the Wisconsin countryside. Two of us went down, and I broke my wrist. On the positive side, the fracture was not complicated and didn't require surgery; but it still took me off the bike for two months during prime riding season. And my cornering confidence has taken a plunge. Disliked.

Albatross/North Road Bars

Last winter I replaced the drop bars on my Cross-Check for Albatross/North Road-style bars. I had an extra pair of pogies made for straight bars, and pogies are the only way to keep my hands warm in the winter. I figured that my winter rides would be short enough for me to deal with the reduced comfort of the bars. But in the end I came to conclusion that I don't want to deal with them. Comfort was not great on rides longer than an hour. And I came to realize that on a fixed-gear bike they do not allow you to easily squeeze the front brake, push against the handlebars to lift the rear wheel, and then move the cranks to the right starting position when stopped at an intersection. Similarly, out-of-the-saddle efforts were less efficient than with drop bars.

Schwalbe Tires

Schwalbe has a great portfolio of tires. Many of their models do not have a good, cost-competitive alternative from other companies. But their quality control is bad. I've had to deal with a total of three tires where the bead stretched to a point where the tire could no longer be mounted. They replaced one of those (the other incidents happened only recently), but I don't have much trust in their tires any more.

Schwalbe Big Apple bead failure


Undecided

Strava Beacon

Another feature of a Strava premium membership is the "Beacon." It basically allows others to track your rides in real-time. At the beginning of the ride you send a text message with a unique link to a designated person. That link then allows them to see where you are, if you're still moving, or if your cell phone has run out of battery. So far this seems to be working pretty well. It does drain the phone battery faster than just the regular Strava tracking, making it less useful for longer rides. A problem specific to our region is that cell phone reception with any carrier other than US Cellular gets real spotty real fast not far west of Madison. This reduce its usefulness in those places where it probably would be most needed in case you have a crash or breakdown.

Hammock camping

I never slept very well in tents. My pointy bones are a challenge for any sleeping pad, and so a hammock for bike camping trips seemed like a good solution. I first tried a cheap hammock on an early S24O this year. The night was cold and windy, and my sleeping pad kept sliding around. If you're not familiar with hammock camping: You really need a sleeping pad under your back for insulation; otherwise you'll get real cold real quick. Cold aside, the comfort of the hammock was good, and so I decided to give it another try. The ever-talented SO offered to sew me a custom hammock, long enough for my 198cm (6'5") and with a pocket for the sleeping pad. For various reasons I only got to test it for camping once, under less than ideal circumstances. Note to self: Don't try a new camping set-up when it's completely dark and your headlamp is out of power.
Test hang in the park

Monday, November 28, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 7: #coffeeoutside on the Glacial Drumlin Trail

For what could have been the final ride to complete this year's coffeeneuring challenge, I decided to get in an instance of #coffeeoutside, that is make my own coffee somewhere in the outdoors. As my wrist continued to feel better, a longer ride seemed in order, and I headed toward Lake Mills, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Madison.
Patching my spare tube, after the flat on the previous ride
 A large proportion of the ride is on the Glacial Drumlin Trail, but first you have to ride some nice-ish country roads to the trailhead in Cottage Grove. Eventually the trail will be extended all the way into Madison, but that will still be a few years.


Mini horses near Cottage Grove

On the trail
It had been raining a lot over the past week. I had read reports of other bike trails around Madison being very soggy or even flooded. But the Glacial Drumlin turned out to be in fine condition.
Koshkonong Creek had high waters
 Shortly before reaching Lake Mills, I passed two cyclists with camping gear, maybe headed to the Sand Hill Station campground, where the SO and had done an S24O earlier in the season.
Rock Lake
The plan was to first ride to the Tyranena Brewing tasting room, have a beer, and then make my coffee on the way back to Madison.
Warm enough to sit outside at Tyranena...
On the way to Lake Mills I had kept my eyes open for good coffee spots and decided on a bench with a pretty view of wetlands. Thousands of birds provided a wonderful soundtrack to complement the gurgling of my Bialetti Moka Express. Even the coffee itself was bike themed: Just Coffee Co-op had given out sampler packs of their Revolution Roast at a cyclocross race. The coffee is named for Revolution Cycles, a great local coffee shop. And while the coffee itself is a little too dark for my liking, it made a good fit for this #coffeeoutside adventure. As a side note, The Bialetti works great as an outdoor coffee maker. It happens to fit perfectly into the pot stand I made ages ago out of a illy coffee can, and with a capillary hoop alcohol stove it will make coffee pretty quickly. The coffeemaker is certainly not the lightest, but for coffee-centered trips where weight is not the highest priority, I really like this combination.


The days have gotten shorter

Almost back home
This was a wonderful ride to complete the coffeeneuring challenge, and I'm really glad I participated in the challenge this year. We had an uncharacteristically warm fall this year, but still there were days where maybe I wouldn't have gone out hadn't it been for the challenge. And it also encouraged me to seek out some new coffee destinations in an around Madison. I did a few more coffeeneuring rides in the meantime and may blog about them. But the submission deadline for the challenge is just around the corner, and so I had to write up my official entries first! See you again next year, and always be coffeeneuring!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 6: Coffee & 'Cross, Sun Prairie edition

Minimalist cue sheet
After my incidental coffeeneuring ride to the 'cross race in Verona, this time around the combination of cyclocross and coffee was more deliberate. The Sun Prairie Cup was on the calendar, and my friend Jacob was going to race again. The weather was forecast to be amazing again, and so I headed out to Sun Prairie. I'd never been out there before and wasn't quite sure what kind of riding to expect. Well, first I caught a flat while still in Madison–note to self: buy rebuild kit for Topeak Road Morph pump...–followed by some mediocre riding through the 'burbs. 

Flat :-(
Once I was past the interstate, though, traffic volumes went down and enjoyment went up. Having a strong tailwind probably didn't hurt either. Once in Sun Prairie I rode past Sheehan Park (the venue for the race) and headed downtown. Whereas Sun Prairie had a very suburban feel, they do have a little downtown core with dense-ish multifamily housing and newer mixed-use buildings. One of those buildings is home to "Beans'n Cream Coffeehouse," my coffeeneuring destination. 



Downtown Sun Prairie fall colors
While the whole shop was decorated with various kinds of fancy coffee-making implements (Haros, Chemexes, ....), the brewed coffee that they served was nothing to write home about. The atmosphere is nice, though, and the food looked good.

Just in time for my friend Jacob's start in the singlespeed category, I made it over to the race. The course was quite cool and the barely rideable "party hill" made for a great spot for spectators. If you care about the actual race results, here's a write-up.


"Party Hill"


For the way home I took a different route (now riding straight into the wind...). Shortly before reaching the bike path along US-151, I spotted a promising sign:



Of course, I had to go explore! The road started out as double-track, which gradually disappeared and turned into an overgrown goat path. It was passable enough, though, and eventually led back to the bike path. Cool little adventure detour!

Adventure detour

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 5: Early morning edition at EVP Coffee

Monday morning, five o'clock. I was awake, and with the SO traveling, there was little incentive to stay in bed. Checking the weather forecast, I was surprised and pleased to see that after a warm Sunday it had barely cooled down over night. In other words, perfect conditions for a quick coffeeneuring ride before work. I briefly considered my options, but after checking opening hours of various shops within reasonable distance, EVP Coffee on East Washington Avenue was the only plausible option. In addition to getting a ride in before work, I also needed enough time to finish a couple things for Madison Bikes, the local advocacy group I'm vice-president of. 

To get to EVP in time, I took the slightly-longer-but-pretty route: Going over to Lake Wingra, following the Wingra Creek Path to Lake Monona, and the follow the shore up to the Yahara River -- almost all on separate bike trails. Only the final short stretch was on busy East Washington Avenue. I was tempted by EVP's outdoor patio, but the traffic noise made me opt for the indoor seating. It's a nice and cozy space, populated at this time of day mostly by regulars. To celebrate the warm temperatures, I ordered an iced coffee, which turned out to be just that and not the cold brew I had expected. Oh well. I made it back to work with plenty of time to spare, and in an excellent mood! 

I realized I still had a gift certificate from 2015...
Cozy interior
Pretty but noisy patio

A calm Lake Mendota


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 4: Incidental cross-coffeeneuring

Pretty Airstreams at Lake Farm Park
I'm not sure if it violates rule 9, about the "spirit of coffeeneuring," if you go out for a ride and incidentally come across a tasty coffee opportunity. That's what happened two weekends ago: After the S24O on Friday/Saturday, I wanted to get some more kilometers in on Sunday, and riding to a cyclocross race in one of Madison's suburbs seemed to make for a good destination. I took the long way there, looping on the Cap City trail before heading to Badger Prairie Park in Verona. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Cadence Coffee nitro cold brew trike on site. They have built up a successful little local nitro empire, with their coffee now on tap at the university hospital, the student union, and also available in cans in many shops around town. So I took the opportunity to get in ride four of my 2016 coffeeneuring journey, while watching people torture themselves on the 'cross course.

New bike repair station on the Cap City Trail
The Cadence coffee trike


Coffee 'n' cross

My friend Jake in his first Cat 3 race

Overheard the guy saying, "I have no chance of winning. So I may as well make people smile."


Jacob with a well-deserved post-race beer

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Coffeeneuring/S24O, 2nd ed.: Sjölinds Chocolate House in Mount Horeb

Last weekend offered another opportunity for a combined S24O/coffeeneuring adventure. Friends of mine had grand plans: Bike to Blue Mound State Park late on Friday, camp there, ride 200 kilometers the next day, camp again, and then ride back to Madison. My wrist and general fitness were definitely not up for the middle part, but another quick fall S24O camping trip sounded good. 

As per usual, I didn't manage to pack my stuff the night before and therefore only left Madison around 5pm. It was a beautiful fall evening, warm enough for 3/4 shorts and a short-sleeve jersey. I was riding Grando, with two Ortlieb Front Roller panniers and my handlebar bag. The sun was slowly setting, and by the time I rode through Mount Horeb, it was mostly dark. My friends, who had left Madison earlier, texted me that they were on the wait list for a table at Hooterville in Blue Mounds, famous for its Friday fish fry. After dinner and a couple beers, we headed to the state park and set up camp. I finally got a chance to try my new hammock, but of course it was pitch dark by now, my headlamp was low on battery, and one of my whoopie slings seemed to have some sort of malfunction. In the end I did get the hammock and tarp set up more or less properly and slept alright. More testing is required to see if I'm a hammock person or not...

Military Ridge Trail



Unexpected obstacle on the Military Ridge Trail

Tartar sauce explosion at Hooterville
 The others had set their departure to 6:30am, and since I was up early anyway, I quickly packed up my stuff and got on the road at the same time. While they turned west and then north, I headed back east into Mount Horeb. I was the first customer of the day at Sjölinds Chocolate House. While their main attraction certainly are the various kinds of chocolates, sweets, and quiches, they also have decent coffee. I hung out there for a while, reading a John Grisham novel I had picked up from the Little Free Library next to Sjölinds's bike parking, first drinking a cold brew and then a regular coffee.
7am at Sjolinds



I bought some fancy hot chocolate powder for the SO, and then headed back into Madison.
Double-track detour near the Quarry Park MTB trails

Souvenir

A strangely warm and breezy October day