Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, January 13, 2017

Bikes for winter

When I last revised this article (winter of 2015), we had more than three feet of snow on the ground with a couple more feet on the way. Rumor had it that the groundhog was so fed up that he just packed his bags and moved to the other hemisphere. Sky high snowbanks lined our roads and sidewalks. In fact, that winter was so severe, that we gave in, packed up and moved to Western Massachusetts, where we now get even more snow! Yes indeed, we opted for more winter! I guess this means we must really enjoy winter!

A proper winter brings all sorts of challenges for cyclists who insist on riding their bikes outdoors! Each time the roads are plowed, more and larger potholes emerge. Although emerge may not be the proper word, as these holes are often hidden under puddles filled with slushy, sandy salt water. Then as the sun goes down, taking the temperature with it, scattered patches of ice make walking or riding a game of chance where suddenly you may find yourself Slip Sliding Away.

Now take a good look at your fancy lightweight racing bike with its smooth narrow tires, shiny anodized parts and carbon rims. If nothing else, the lack of fenders makes it less than ideal for riding on wet, mucky, salty roads. Those high pressure, skinny tires lack grip on ice, bounce around on the uneven pavement or get swallowed up by deep ruts, cracks or potholes. The salt and sand will destroy the shiny finish on those anodized parts and grind away the carbon bits. Better just save that bike for dry rides on pristine pavement in warmer weather.

You need a winter bike! 

Dressing for Success in the Winter

It is often said there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Both Fear Rothar and I are year-round cyclists, and have been for more than 30 years. In that time, technology has evolved and we have changed a few things to take advantage, but the fundamentals really haven't changed - dress in layers, starting with a light wool (or other wicking fabric) baselayer, add additional layers as temperature dictates and top it off with a wind/waterproof jacket with underarm pit zippers for wet weather and additional warmth on descents. Complete the ensemble with good gloves, warm winter shoes and a proper hat. That's it. Nothing complicated. Nothing else to see here. Be on your way now.

What? You want more details >>

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Double Studly and Fat for Festive 500 - 2016

Let me start out by apologizing right away to my neighbors for all the cold, snowy and sometimes downright miserable weather that we had between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. I will take full blame for the excessive snow. You see, I've been hoping for some nice snowy photos to use for our annual exhaustathon, where we document 500 kilometers of bike rides between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

We've been taking part (and completing) the Festive 500 every year since 2011 *see links at the end. Somehow, though (until I reread the prior year's reports, while putting this one together) the rose-tinted glasses had me remembering all those previous challenges as mild and snow-free. I distinctly remember seeking out an ice rink, to get a shot in front of some Zamboni snow. I also remember a snowy ride one year when Rapha reps came to join us and quite a few bitterly cold days, as well as some rides that tested the limits of my rain gear. But still this time, I really wanted lots of photos with lots of snow!

So, I was elated when The Farmer's Almanac predicted a snowy winter. Despite making our mini-tour of Vermont a bit more challenging than we had hoped, I was pretty happy when winter arrived super early, with our first snow coming in October!

We've had a few more - as the news/weather folks call them - plowable snow events since, so this year's festive 500 was really shaping up to be rather promising for some good snowy photos.

I will say that we are well prepared for these conditions, having ridden and commuted year round through snowy Boston winters. Our bikes have fenders and lights and studded tires. We have all manner of warm clothing, hats, gloves, boots, overshoes and toe warmers. 

However, as more and more snow piled up in December and the forecast for the week included a couple of big storms, we decided to prepare even more and add a couple of FAT BIKES to our fleet! Luckily, the weather for the whole week wasn't so epic that we actually had to push 5 inch studded tires through fresh deep snow for 500km, but our new fatties would see a bit of use during the challenge.

So... Enough teasing, onto some snowy photos. 

Day 1 - A slight change of plans

Despite all the talk of snow, Christmas Eve started out wet and dreary, with the most miserable of all possible conditions: rain combined with temperatures just above freezing! However, the forecast was for it to clear at mid-day, so despite all my boasting of heading out into the most challenging conditions, I decided instead to make waffles and then stalled until the rain actually stopped.

We had planned to make proper use of our studded tires and head north out of town on some icy dirt roads. We'd both been out these roads the day before finding roads to be icy but dry, conditions where our studs provided good grip and traction. However, after all the rain, even with studs, there was a bit of sliding. Skating about on wet ice was a challenge neither of us was willing to undertake. So we turned back onto pavement and headed down the valley on paved roads. This proved a great choice as the sun even popped out for a while.