Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Midwest Polar Vortex Kit

We're having record cold temperatures in Madison over the past two days: air temperatures below -30°C (-22°F), combined with a nasty wind to make things feel even colder. I've ridden in some very cold temperatures, but this was clearly a new low. As I have gotten frostbite before (not recommended!) I've been very careful about limiting the risks of being outside. I've kept ride short and dressed warmly. So what does my kit look like for a 6 kilometer (3.7 miles) ride look like? Like so:

  1. Cheap polyester tights (I think from Costco)
  2. Ibex El Fito wool tights (no longer in production)
  3. Lake MXZ-302 boots (no longer in production; replaced by the MXZ-303)
  4. SmartWool mountaineering extra thick wool socks
  5. HotHands chemical warmers
  6. Neoprene toe covers (meant for outside the shoes but worn over the socks, inside the shoes)
  7. Army surplus Arctic extreme cold mitts (without liner)
  8. FoxRiver Extra Heavy Double Ragg Mitten
  9. Merino wool sweater
  10. Dickies 874 work pants
  11. Wisconsin Bike Fed Forward cotton t-shirt
  12. Swrve Milwaukee ES hooded jacket
  13. Cheap synthetic buff
  14. POC Fovea goggles
  15. Cheap fleece balaclava with mesh
  16. Bontrager Windshell skull cap
  17. Pogies (not pictured)  
 Did it work? Mostly, as in I made it to work, didn't get frostbite, and wasn't too uncomfortable.

Weak spots:
  • The goggles were useless, as they fogged up within the first ten minutes of the ride. I have yet to find a way to solve this issue. On the other hand, I find riding without goggles not too bad, even in these temperatures.
  • My thumbs got pretty cold and I had to pull them into the main mitten to warm them up. Of course, that meant I couldn't shift any more. Eventually they'd probably have warmed up; in the morning I have a hard time getting my hands warm even in much milder temperatures. I may invest in better pogies at some point.
  • The balaclava wasn't thick enough, and the skull cap slid up enough to make my earlobes very cold. I have a thicker balaclava that I can wear without the skull cap, which works better.
  • My toes were warm enough, but on a longer ride they'd probably have gotten too cold eventually. Having roomier boots would help, but I've already maxed out my options with a size 15 wide.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A record cold ride? Sunrise in Madison

I can't really remember what the coldest temperature I've ever ridden in is. But today must have been close to or even below that: It was -19°F/-29°C when I woke up. The sun wasn't up yet, and so I decided to ride to the shore of Lake Monona to catch some good pictures of the sunrise. Yes, it was horribly cold, but the beauty of the ice fog, the sunrise, and the hoarfrost on the plants made it well worth it. No Strava track, as my phone battery quickly succumbed to the cold, but the ride was about 12 kilometers. Here are some pretty pictures!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy 2019!

I started the year with an excellent fat bike ride through Madison's snowy winter wonderland. Definitely one of the best winter rides I've had! I'm not a fan of winter, but today was truly magical. Happy New Year everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tried and Liked 2018


This is how much I love our tandem!


I've been wanting a tandem for a good while now. My SO and I had ridden rental tandems a couple times in the past, and the experience was good enough for us to want to own our own tandem. The promise of being able to go faster and farther than on solo bikes seemed enticing. One obstacle to finding a tandem was sizing: I'm 198 cm (6' 5 1/2") tall, whereas the SO is only 163 cm (5' 4"). My local Craigslist alert for tandems didn't yield anything appropriately sized, and we didn't want to jump in over our heads with an expensive new tandem before we were more certain that we'd actually ride it enough. In the end, I found an early-2000s XL/M-sized Cannondale RT-3000 at a local bike swap. Nice components (XTR rear derailleur, Ultegra 9-speed brifters, Hügi tandem hubs) and in great condition. It fits 38s in the rear and 40s (and probably more) in the front, and we've had some good rides on it. Tight turns are still terrifying for the stoker, but otherwise it's been working out well. We haven't gotten around to try and load it up for camping or at least credit card touring yet, but that's definitely in the plans for next year. I also need better lighting, as we often end up riding in the dark and the Planet Bike battery front light I have is mediocre compared to the dyno lights on my other bikes.

Giving the SO a lift to the airport on the tandem

Plastic saddles on everyday bike

When switching around saddles between bikes somehow I ended up with a racy Prologo saddle on my everyday fixed-gear Cross-Check. As it turns out, I like it a lot. Previously I had had different leather saddles on the bike (first a Brooks B-17 Imperial, then a Velo Orange one), which made some sense as they were comfortable and the bike served double-duty as a touring bike. But for an everyday bike that gets ridden in any kind of weather and often parked outside, a plastic saddle is just more practical. And I survived a 100-mile ride on the saddle while just wearing MUSA shorts (see below)!
Lake Monona 100 -- my first fixed-gear century ride

MUSA shorts

I bought a pair of original MUSA shorts from a friend and they are great! I'm not sure if I'd be willing to pay retail on these, but they are comfortable and practical -- just as you would expect from a Rivendell product. One downside (which I believe has been changed in the current generation of the shorts) are the large and unattached pockets. It's nice to have plenty of pocket space. But especially on downhills on my fixie (i.e. at high RPM), the pockets and their contents bounce around a lot. My SO slightly shrunk the pockets and that has improved the issue.

Being a BlueBikes Bike Angel

I've been spending a bunch of time in Cambridge (Mass.) this year. My SO is on a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for the academic year and I've been visiting her regularly. Because her apartment is very small and doesn't have any secure bike parking, I've gotten by with the BlueBikes bike share system. One neat feature of BlueBikes is that as part of their rebalancing of bikes between stations, they have the Bike Angels program: You get points for removing bikes from full stations, as well as dropping off bikes at empty ones. The points translate into free passes, membership extensions, and even cash. Cruising around to earn points has been a great way to explore the city. My goal is to reach 250 points total and earn a Bike Angel pin. 125 points down, 125 to go.

iBOB Midwest Unmeeting

It was a small gathering, mostly friends and family of ours, plus Matt, who read about the meeting on the Riv list. The weather was what you may expect for Midwest summer in July: Very hot, humid, and with strong thunderstorms. It would've been nice to have had more BOBs, but I think we'll try again next year or the year after.
Unmeeting at Governor Dodge State Park

Kevin, me, Matt (Photo: Grant Foster)

Having a real camera again

I bought a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera this summer and am very happy with the decision. After a couple years of mostly smartphone photography, it's nice to have a "real" camera again And the mirrorless format makes it compact enough to easily carry it in my handlebar bag or on my belt.


Portland Design Works Dave's Mud Shovel Fender

I bought these fenders for my Pugsley. At my local bike shop, Revolution Cycles, one of the employees told me that the initial version had had some issues, but he thought that now those may have gotten fixed. That may be the case, but the fender still turned out to be a disappointment. It functioned well enough to keep \muck off my back, but the mounting method has serious flaws. The connection between the part that attaches to the seat post and the actual fender is tightened with a loctite'd thumb screw. During a long ride, that screw came loose, and I dropped the fender. Of course, I couldn't find screw and nut and had to clumsily carry back the fender home. PDW customer service was very good in sending me a free replacement, and since then I regularly checked the tightness of that screw. However, there is a second weakness: The fender blade is attached to the mount with snaps. This seemed to work well enough while the fenders are on the bike. But the first time I had the bike transported on a hitch rack on a car, the snaps came loose and the fender blade was lost. Unfortunately, I seems like there aren't any other promising fat bike fenders on the market, and so when I saw another cheap Mud Shovel at a gear swap, I bought it anyway...

Counterfeit disc brake pads

When I needed new pads for my Avid BB7 brakes, I discovered that on Ebay and AliExpress there was a large selection of very cheap no-name brake pads available. Compared to the $20-30 for genuine pads (are brake pads the inkject cartridges of the bike world??), these would come as cheap as $2. This seemed sketchy, and so I went for the middle ground: Pads labeled as genuine Avid, shipped straight from Taiwan, for $8/pair. Turns out that these most likely were counterfeit: The braking compound was much thinner and they wore like crazy, especially on wet rides. Not recommended.


Panaracer GravelKing

I praised the 650Bx38 Panaracer Pari Moto tires last year as an economical alternative to Compass tires. This year I bought two sets of Panaracer GravelKing Slicks, which look quite similar to the Pari Moto. They do come in more sizes, tread patterns and are now also available as tubeless compatible. You can read my first impressions of the tires here. Since then they've seen a few thousand kilometers, and they're holding up okay. Ride quality is great, but I'll reserve my final judgment for when they wear out completely.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Coffeeneuring 2018: Antisocial Coffee Outside

My 2018 Coffeeneuring season hasn't been going so well. Travel, lots of paid and bike advocacy work, and unseasonably cold temperatures have kept me from getting in my rides. It's the last week of the challenge, and I had only gotten three rides done.

Today, I had intended to again participate in the Madison Cranksgiving alley cat/food drive. But after several days of back-to-back social events, introvert-me needed a break from people. A fat bike ride on the Badger State Trail and #coffeeoutside seemed like the perfect no-people activity. It below freezing but sunny.

The trail was a mix of snow, ice, and dry patches so that I was happy to have chosen my Pugsley. Coffee spot was a nondescript location just off the trail near Belleville. On the menu was Lion Gold Roast that a colleague had brought back from a Hawaiian vacation, prepared in the Moka Express over my alcohol stove.

Distance: 43 km
State of mind: Reinvigorated
Notes: I don't like drinking fresh coffee out of my thermos; should bring regular mug next time.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Coffeeneuring 2018: Hood Canal

This coffeeneuring season has seen me traveling much more than usual. First Boston, and then last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Seattle for the first time. Even though November is he rainiest time of the year there, I was determined to get a long bike ride in. Bike rental options in Seattle were much more reasonable than what I had found in Boston. Instead of paying over $100 for a fancy road bike, I was able to find a budget gravel bike delivered to my hotel for less than $60. My plan was to retrace part of the route of the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting.

My bike was delivered by bike trailer at 9am. From Seattle, I took the ferry to Bremerton. The sky stood in stark division. South, there was sun and clear skies; north there were dark clouds and heavy rain. The ferry cut right through the middle, at times pounded on by the rain, at time sailing under the beautiful sun. By the time I disembarked in Bremerton, the weather was beautiful. It was clear enough to even catch a glimpse of the tall peaks of the Olympic mountains in the distance.

I navigated by cue sheet, missing a turn a mere 10 minutes into the ride, but once I was out of the city, navigation was easy After a good hour, I reached Belfair, at the far end of the Hood Canal. Suddenly there was a lot of traffic. On a two-lane road with narrow or no shoulders at all that was irritating. Since I was out of water anyway, I used the opportunity for a brief stop at Belfair State Park. A strong wind blew over the water from the west. What was bothersome for me as a westbound cyclist was great for the kite surfers at the park.
It planes!

Soon after I had left the park, traffic disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, for no apparent reason. The road now hugged the northern shoreline of the Hood Canal. This made for a stunning ride experience.  
My only complaints now were the continuing stiff headwind and the equally stiff sidewalls of my tires. My rental bike had 28-millimeter-tires of the stiffest variety. And so the vibrations from the rough road surface were transmitted straight into my body. In Wisconsin we have roads with potholes and buckles from winter's freeze-and-thaw cycles. But we do not have these long stretches of coarse chip seal surface that made me yearn for wide, supple tires.

After reaching the Tahuya River, my route took me inland. From looking at the elevation profile, I knew that I was up for a tough climb. And indeed, Belfair–Tahuya Road delivered. The climb has an average grade over 10%, and I was happy that at least it was short. Once on top, the reward was a view of the Olympic mountains through tall trees. The road turned into a fun roller coaster, albeit a roller coaster with very rough tracks. 
"To the wall, keep left"
Reward for the climb
Tired body, happy mind
Shortly before I would rejoin the shore, I decided to turn right on Elfendahl Pass Road. On the topo map the road had looked promising: dense contour lines on both sides, and the road following a stream. The map hadn't lied, and this stretch of road was amazing.
Lined by tall trees and lush undergrowth, a gurgling creek accompanying me on the windy, leaf-covered road.
Effendahl Pass Road

To get back to Bremerton, I retraced the route I had come in on. I made it to the ferry terminal just in time to catch the 4:30pm ferry. To make it a proper coffeeneuring trip, I bought coffee and a beer in the ferry's galley. “That's the best combo,” the person at the check-out remarked, and I couldn't have agreed more!

Every bike ride should end with a ferry passage!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Coffeeneuring 2018: To the Limits of Bike Share

My wife is spending the year in Cambridge, MA. I'm visiting for a week, and so there was a great opportunity for some easy wins for my "coffee shops I haven't been to before" theme. The only problem: I don't have a bike here. I do, however, have a membership to the Bluebikes bike share sytem. For my Sunday coffeeneuring excursion, I looked at the bike share system map and picked the station that was as away as possible:

It looked like the station at the terminus of the Red Line in Mattapan would qualify. Next I had to find a coffee shop in the vicinity. A quick search didn't look too promising, but after zooming out a bit I found a place called Flat Black Coffee. Unfortunately, it was 1.7 miles from the Bluebikes station. But there seemed to be a trail along the Neponset River connecting the two, and so I decided to make it a multimodal coffeeneuring experience.

Best road section: South Road on the outer perimeter of the Harvard Arboretum
My intermediate destination: Bluebikes station in Mattapan
Neponset River trail
Fall colors are still in their early stages

Dorchester-Milton Lower Mills Industrial District
Daily Brew at Flat Black -- I somehow wasn't in the mood for anything more fancy
Lots of beans waiting to be roasted at Flat Black

Neponset River trail near its estuary
Instead of walking back to Mattapan, I continued along the river and picked up a bike another 1.5 miles east. From there, I biked toward the ocean and then roughly headed north back home, with a bunch of intermediate stops: Flipping bikes several times; bathroom stop at Pope John Paul II park; guac burger at By Chloe; buy new tube for Nicole's Brommie at Broadway Bicycle School; beer at Lamplighter Brewing. At the end of the ride, I was pretty pooped. 30-ish miles on a bike share bike is hard work!

JFK Presidential Library

Crust Lightning Bolt sighting in front of Broadway Bicycle School. First time I've seen it in real-life, and man, is it nice!

Stats: 11 separate Bluebikes rentals, for a total of about 30 miles
Coffee: Flat Black daily brew
Weather: Excellent fall weather!