Riding in 2013 – Another warm winter so far

So it’s 2013, and I’m still riding.  A lot has changed with my riding routine this year.  For starters, I’m no longer recording ride stats in a spreadsheet.  I am using RunKeeper instead, and it’s been a great time saver.  I still plan to keep track of mileage for each of my bikes separately, though, so I’ll know when to replace tires, chains, etc.

I am also commuting to a new office, on the 6th floor of the Administration building at UMBC.  This requires me to ride the elevator to get in and out of the building, a prospect I was initially dreading.  However, so far it hasn’t been too bad.  The wait for the elevator isn’t bad, because it tends to be going the same direction I’m going, that is, up in the mornings and down in the evenings.  Although the elevators are sometimes crowded, I can wait for the next one and it’ll usually be empty.  The elevators aren’t huge, but the bike fits inside just fine.  Granted, it’s winter session and the campus isn’t crowded to begin with.  My tune may change in a couple of weeks when the spring semester starts.  We’ll see.

And finally, I’m trying out an Osprey Momentum 34 backpack, in lieu of panniers.  I really like the pack so far, and will write more on it after I’ve been using it for a month or so.

This winter has started off warm, similar to last winter.  I’ve been riding my road bike almost exclusively.  The past few days have been wet and drizzly.  A couple days ago, my rear fender started making this insidious rubbing noise.  It sounded like a leaf was caught between the fender and the tire, but I couldn’t find one.  It kept getting worse and worse, until finally I took the wheel off to get to the bottom of it.  It turns out that the silver mylar lining on the inside of the fender (Planet Bike Cascadia) was starting to peel away from the fender, and the loose end was rubbing against the tire.  I pulled on it, and about half of it peeled off the fender.  Now I have a fender that’s half silver and half clear, but no more rubbing noise.  I wonder how long before the remaining mylar starts to peel away.  The mylar seems to be totally cosmetic, and the fender is 5 years old and still fully functional, so no complaints.


So it’s mid November again.  We all know what that brings..  chilly mornings, dark commutes home, and G.I. bugs.  I used to get GI bugs maybe once every 3 years.  Ever since I had kids, I seem to catch them all the time now.  I’ve often joked to myself that if I only rode on days when I didn’t have a mild GI bug, I would never ride between November and April.  Anyhow, I’ve got my first one of the season now, and was seriously dragging for this morning’s ride.  Still glad I did it, though, and glad I’m able to resist taking the car even on days when I’m not feeling 100%.  After a while, it just becomes routine.

I’ve had two commutes home in the dark now with my new headlights.  I have a Planet Bike Blaze 2w and Blaze 1w mounted on the bars on either side of the stem, and a Blaze ½w on my helmet.  So far, I’m liking the setup.  The bar-mounted lights illuminate the road out to a pretty good distance.  They light up reflective signs that are several hundred feet ahead.  They have a low setting for twilight, high for full darkness, and flashing mode for visibility during the day.  The helmet light does a great job lighting up the road closer to the bike, or wherever I happen to point it.  This is my first time riding with a helmet-mounted headlight, and I think it’s a good addition.  Without it, I was constantly adjusting my bar-mounted headlight up or down to illuminate farther out or closer in, depending on conditions.  With the helmet light, I have the best of both worlds.  I can also use it to read my cyclecomputer in the dark.  If there’s a drawback, it’s that the light dances around as I move my head, which can be a little distracting, particularly when climbing hills out of the saddle.  But all in all, I’m happy having one.  Other great things about these lights: they take standard AA batteries, they’re self contained, and their mounting brackets allow for easy removal to move them between different bikes.  What remains to be seen, is how well they will stand up to bad weather.  I’ve taken them out for a couple of rides in light rain and drizzle, with no problems, but I’ve yet to test them in a downpour or a soaking mist, so the jury is still out.  I’ll report back on them later in the season.

Outfitting for Winter

Labor Day is less than a week away, summer is mostly behind us, and thoughts are turning towards the coming fall and winter.  To avoid the rush, I’m getting my shopping done early for the cold-weather biking season.  After a bit too much excitement with icy roads last winter, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought a set of studded tires.  After careful consideration, I went with the “Marathon Winter” tire by Schwalbe.  These tires have been well reviewed, and seem to be best suited to the type of riding I’ll be doing:  mainly paved roads, with occasional icy patches.  I got the 26″ size and will put them on my mountain bike.  I plan on putting the tires on in early to mid November, and riding them all winter.  I’ll be sure to post my experiences.  If they work out well, it’d be nice to get a set for my single speed, which should be able to take 700cx32 tires with studs.  However, there wouldn’t be enough room for fenders.

For the past 3 winters, I’ve been using a NiteRider “Sol” headlight.  It’s not super bright, but good enough for commuting.  Unfortunately, the cable that plugs the light into the battery pack died recently.  I can make the light come on if I flex the cable just so, but as soon as I let go, the light goes out.  I’m a bit disappointed that the light didn’t last longer.  I’m now in the market for a new light.  Quality issues notwithstanding, I was thinking about going in a different direction for my next headlight anyhow.  The NiteRider, while functional, isn’t the best for commuting.  It has a proprietary battery pack that’s expensive to replace, and the o-ring handlebar mount is difficult to deal with when you want to move the light from one bike to another.  After 3 years of night commuting, I have a very clear list of things I want in a light:

  • It must use non-proprietary batteries, preferably NiMH rechargeable AA or AAA cells.
  • It should be as bright, or slightly brighter, than the Sol.
  • It should include a daytime flashing mode for visibility, something the Sol lacked (though most of NiteRider’s newer lights include this feature).
  • It should be easy to transfer between multiple bikes.

I researched lights, and quickly turned up the Planet Bike “Blaze”.  On paper, this looks like the headlight of my dreams.  Self contained, takes regular batteries, has a flash mode, has a quick-release mounting bracket, extra brackets available for other bikes, and best of all, ridiculously inexpensive.  I actually ordered 2 of them, a 2-watt and a 1-watt model, plus 2 extra mounting brackets, all for less than I paid for my NiteRider back in 2008.  I’m already a fan of Planet Bike, but I’ll be an even bigger fan if all this gear works out for me this winter.  Stay tuned.