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.


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.


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.



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


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


  1. Harald,

    Thanks for the reports.

    You write that you haven't found a sleeping pad that is comfortable.
    Have you tried a Exped Syn Mat 7? I have the 7 in long-wide, and its fantastic, much better than my older thick-wide Thermarest. You blow it up hard, and don't bottom out even sleeping on your side. Using included pump takes about 3 minutes to fully inflate. The side chambers are little bigger than the middle, so you don't roll off so easily. Weighs 2 lbs, a little hard to deflate it enough to get back into the included stuff sack.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

    Mitch Hull in Michigan

    1. Thanks, Mitch! The Expeds are high on my list of mats that I will try next if the hammock thing doesn't work out for me. I've read many good things about them.