First ride today following Tuesday night’s snow, which dumped around 8 inches of stuff roughly the texture, consistency and weight of liquid cement.  I took the Rockhopper, which is looking like it’s going to become my go-to snow bike.  Just need to pick up a set of studded tires, which I’ll do next winter.  In snow, I’ll ride it with regular pedals and power grips, and the rest of the year I’ll ride SPD pedals with the Kenda tires that are on the bike now.  I seem to have solved my seat post slippage problem, by wiping some of the grease off the seat post and tightening the quick-release clamp a bit.  The problem may have been that I was pushing the QR lever in too far, causing it to overshoot the point of maximum tightness and start loosening up again.  It’s a 1993-vintage clamp, and the lever doesn’t conform to the seat post curvature like newer clamps.  It may make sense to replace it with a standard bolt-on clamp.  But in any case, I’ve ridden twice now with no slippage.

I had to hike the park access road today.  The consistency of this snow is really nasty.  It’s wet and heavy and the top had iced over to a crusty, crunchy glaze.  My 2″ tires weren’t having any part of it.  The wider tires made this bike easier to walk through snow than either of my road bikes, though.  I wore rain pants, and was glad I did.  Without them, snow would have gotten into my boots, and my feet would have been wet and unhappy.  Rain pants need to be standard issue with more than around 3-4″ of snow on the ground.

New record low

New record low temperature for my morning commute today:  11°F.  That tops my previous record of 14, set on February 5, 2009.  However, we had no wind to speak of this morning, vs. a brutal 20-plus mph headwind for most of the 2009 ride.  That made today’s ride quite a bit more enjoyable.  For posterity, here’s what I wore today:  heavy wool socks, hiking boots, jogging tights (base layer), cycling shorts with leg warmers (outer layer), short sleeve athletic shirt with arm warmers (base), “Under Armour” long sleeve athletic shirt, PolarTec top, wind breaker, thermal head band, lightweight balaclava, 2 layers of gloves (heavy gloves over light glove liners), Uvex glasses.  I was out for around an hour, and this was pretty comfortable.  My toes got cold towards the end of the ride, and my torso was starting to sweat underneath the layers.  Unzipping the wind breaker helped with that, and I think the hiking boots kept my toes warmer than they would have been with cleats and shoe covers.  There was room left in the boots for an additional layer of socks, and/or a set of chemical toe warmers, which I may try if I have more rides under these kinds of conditions.

This morning was also my third commute on the Rockhopper.  I switched to a Forté Classic saddle and installed a head tube extender over the weekend, to bring the bars up a couple of inches.  This seems more comfortable; however, the jury is still out, because my seat post isn’t staying put — it slid down about an inch and a half on this morning’s ride.  When I got in, I wiped some of the grease off it and tightened the clamp, so we’ll see how that goes.  I rode through the park in about an inch of snow, and the Kenda Pathfinder tires went through it great.  I wouldn’t even think about trying that with either of my road bikes.  Ice, of course, is another story.  Next winter I’ll be looking to get some studded tires to help with traction on ice.  But the Kendas figure to be great Spring/Summer/Autumn tires.

Mountain Bike

At long last, I took my rebuilt ’93 Specialized Rockhopper out for its first commute this morning.  I took it for a brief off-road excursion a couple of months ago, so this technically wasn’t its maiden voyage, but it was my first time commuting on it, and I was able to get a good “feel” for it on roads.  A bunch of observations..   first off, the Kenda Pathfinder tires are leaps and bounds better on pavement than the old Onzas they replaced.  It’s not even a comparison.  I’m sure they won’t do as well in mud, but that’s not what I got them for.  We’ll see how they wear, but they ride very well on pavement and I’m sure they’ll do fine on gravel and hard-packed trails.  At under $20 per tire, the price is right too.

The bike feels solid and well-balanced.  The ride is noticeably slower than either of my road bikes, which is understandable given that it’s a mountain bike with 26″ wheels vs 700c.  I rode the tires at 60psi, and as expected, the ride was smoother than on the road bikes as well.  The Planet Bike Hardcore fenders worked as expected and didn’t give me any problems.  Seat height was good, thanks to the longer seat post I put on it.  The stock “air gel” saddle is just as awful as it always was.  I’ll be replacing it shortly with a Forté Classic saddle.  Just waiting for the next 15% off sale at Performance Bike.

I rode with the same Topeak seat post rack and panniers that I use on my road bikes.  It worked fine, but I had to raise the rack up higher than I would like, to allow the pannier frames to clear the fender struts.  I’m not sure I’d want to ride single track with this setup.  It may make sense to switch back to a standard rack with trunk, and use a messenger bag to carry anything extra I need.

The only big issue with the bike was the reach to the handlebars.  With the longer seat post, it’s a bit more of a stretch than I’d like.  I have a head tube extender that I had originally gotten for my fixed-gear bike, but I think I may try it on this bike instead.  I think if I can get a new saddle and raise the bars up a couple inches, the bike will be nice and comfortable.  In any case, it’s great to have this bike up and running again.


Ice Ice Baby

Looks like this is going to be one of those “ice storm” winters, where we get more ice storms and light dustings of snow than real snowstorms.  Anyhow, we got freezing rain most of Monday night, and today I got back on the bike.  Main roads were all fine, but the roads through Patapsco State Park were quite exciting.  On the River Road entrance (Howard County side), we had the usual 1 or 2 inches of snow and ice.  This area never gets plowed or treated, and it doesn’t get much Sun, so as a result, it’s typically snowed over more than not in January and February.  Still, I was able to mostly ride through it on my fixed-gear road bike.  Once inside the park, the roads were plowed and treated, but there was still a lot of black ice everywhere.  I had to keep my rear wheel weighted down on the uphill parts, to keep it from slipping.  The Grist Mill Trail had a fair bit of ice on it, but it had been cleared at some point and it was easier going than the access road.  Still, it was quite an adventurous loop through the park and I was happy I stayed upright.

For the past two winters, I’ve been exclusively riding fixed gear in snowy and icy conditions.  It’s a mixed bag, but I prefer it to my road bike.  The fixed gear is really nice on flat and downhill stretches, because it allows me to use the pedals to regulate my speed, and provides a good “feel” for the overall surface traction.  However, going uphill, it’d be nice to have a lower gear.  Maybe the solution is to run fixed gear with a lower gearing than I’d use on dry roads.  But then I’d have to switch cogs more often, which is a pain.

I think a mountain bike with studded tires is the “ultimate answer” for icy conditions.  I’d lose the “feel” I get with fixed gear, but the studded tires should make up for that by providing extra traction.  My plan is to take my rebuilt mountain bike out for its maiden voyage tomorrow morning.  If it works out well, I’ll look into getting a good set of studded tires for it for next winter.  Some research will be required, as I need a set that also performs adequately on ice-free pavement.  I’ve read good things about the Schwalbe Marathon Winter, so that’ll likely be my starting point for comparison.

Cold Feet

I’ve ridden to work 7 times so far this January, the same total I had this time in 2010.  In the news media, everyone has been complaining that this winter has been colder than usual.  That may be true on average, but it seems like the mornings haven’t been as cold as last year’s.  I haven’t had any morning rides yet where the temperature has been in the teens.  Today was my coldest morning ride so far, at 21 degrees.  I was out for around an hour.  We got a one-inch snowfall Tuesday night, and the trails in the park are still snow covered, so I stuck to roads today (all of which have been pretty much salted into oblivion).  Next winter, maybe I’ll pick up a set of studded tires for my mountain bike, so I can still hit the trails in these kinds of conditions.

I’m noticing an interesting pattern with my winter rides.  During the first 20 minutes or so, my fingers get really cold.  Then they warm up, and after maybe 40 minutes, my toes start getting cold.  My usual footwear includes wool socks, road bike shoes with cleats, toe covers, and neoprene shoe covers.  This setup works well for anything down to around 25 degrees.  Any colder, and my toes get cold after the aforementioned 40 minutes.  There are a couple of things at play here:  first, I can’t add an extra layer of socks because it would make my shoes too tight, cutting off circulation and making my feet even colder.  Second, there are giant holes in the bottom of the shoe cover soles, to accommodate the pedal cleats.  I think the answer is to either go with a close-sole winter cycling boot like those manufactured by Lake, or ditch the clipless pedals when it’s really cold, and go with Power Grips and hiking boots.  The latter is less expensive and better for snowy conditions where I would need to walk (no cleat), however it does necessitate switching pedals, which is inconvenient and takes time.  Power Grips don’t give quite the “clipped in” feel that clipless pedals provide, which is particularly nice when riding with fixed gear.  However, they’re not too bad and make for a decent compromise during the 1 or 2 months when you need them.

Out of shape

Here we are in 2011, another year of bike commuting.  I spent most of the Holidaze doing things other than riding.  As a result, I was a little out of shape for my first ride of the year today.  Hopefully, that’ll be short-lived.

I rode to work 174 times in 2010, eclipsing 2009’s total, which was my goal.  So this year, I’ll try to top 174.  We’ll see how it goes.  I was shooting for 176, but bagged riding in the final two workdays of the year due to snow and poor road conditions.  I figure that if I take vacations, business trips, and random days off into account, my ceiling in any given year is around 200 rides.  Whether I’ll ever actually hit 200 is anybody’s guess, but it’ll be fun trying.

I didn’t do any riding over the last 2 weeks, but I did spend some time working on my bikes.  My Masi Speciale Fixed, which handled most of last year’s rides, got a full tune-up and a new chain.  It still needs a new set of tires.  I’ve *almost* got the front derailleur on my road bike shifting the way I want.  And my ’93 Specialized Rockhopper got a new set of tires, and a set of fenders which I still need to put on.  Once the fenders are on, it’ll be road-worthy and will become my third commuter bike.  I replaced the old Onza tires with a set of Kenda Pathfinders.  The Onzas had a very aggressive tread pattern and weren’t very good on pavement.  The Kendas should be much better in this department, and we’ll see how they do with some light single-track too.