Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I knew it wouldn't be easy: starting to ride in the snow

If you read what Peter White has to say about studded tires, you might see why I picked the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires (the 700x35mm version) for my commuter.  They are for people like me - commuters who might ride in the snow but are most worried about slipping on ice and maybe getting stuck in an icy rut.  I bought a set of these from Peter last month and mounted them soon after,  waiting for a chance to try these out.  My chance came this morning.  There was a ride out of Ride Studio Cafe (first snow of the winter, which happened at 3 AM today) which was too early for me.  In any case, I knew that I would be outclassed on my "dad bike", a Swobo 3 speed, and headed out around 5:30 AM.

Since I knew I would be riding in the dark and with snow falling, I mounted a few lights on the bike for the purpose, an older 600 lumen Nite Rider on a Paul Components Gino mount at the front hub and a generic battery powered flashlight/headlight on my handlebar.  I kept a Light and Motion Urban 350 in reserve (and for pictures, as it turned out).  For rear lighting, I had Portland Design Works Radbot and a generic red/blinky rear light.  (Both of the generics were handouts on a Bike to Work day in the last couple of years.)  The Marathon tires have reflective sidewalls and I had my usual assortment of reflectors on my person.

So how did it go?  It was fun, pure and simple!  I can't say that I was fully in control at all times, especially in the deeper snow (thanks to plows - although most streets that I rode were not yet plowed).  But I could move through the snow and felt that I was stable as long as I was moderate in my speed and direction changes (as Peter White preaches).  I could ride through snow as deep as 2 inches with not much difficulty, although riding in a complete straight line wasn't easy and at times even possible.  That kind of performance seems expected based on reviews and the advice on Peter's web page.   I rode on some trails and the bike did fine, as long as I was riding downhill or on the flats.  The bike had a lot of difficulty moving up snow covered hills.  I suspect that this has something to do with the gearing, it may have been easier on my Surly Cross Check with a 30/30 gearing.  My Swobo has the stock cranks and chainring and Shimano 3 speed IGH and that's usually good enough.  In fact, I had to walk a hill on snow covered dirt that I could pull my 40 pound son up on a trail-a-bike.  I also had to walk a couple of steep sections of paved road.

That said, I think the tires excelled in the kind of riding that I got them for: minimally plowed paved surfaces.  I could ride at a reasonably fast pace safely.  The bike path in Arlington was paved an hour or so before I first rode it (there was more snow on my return trip) and the going was safe.  If you know anything about me and commuting, you'll understand that safe is better than fast.  And these tires in these conditions are anything but fast.  It was fun to hit slightly deeper snow (2+ inches) in Lexington, where the path isn't plowed, but it was remarkably slow.  Having to get home to shovel out my wife's car (although changed plans later and worked from home), I was relieved to get back on the plowed Arlington bike path and made great time getting back home.

While the tires made riding possible for me, it wasn't easy.  At times I felt like I was riding moderate hills on the D2R2, except that I was on the gentle uphill grades on the paved bike path.  Surprisingly, they felt suddenly fast under the 3 bridges on the path that we still clear.  That contrast is telling for me: studded tires and riding in snow is not going to get you there faster, but it will be more fun than waiting for a bus or driving.

Should you try studded tires?  If you are a fair weather commuter like me, then you might want them if you plan to ride this winter.  I understand that some  experienced year round riders don't believe that studs are necessary.  But it was clear this morning that I would not have been out without studded tires.  And I certainly would be less than enthusiastic about riding the next few days with snow and icy patches on the edges of the roads I will be commuting on without studs.  They gave me some measure of confidence.  But I'm not entirely sure that I want to ride on the narrow streets of Cambridge, if we have anything like the snow that fell last winter.  I'll hold off on a decision until we get there. It's not that I don't think that the tires could help me control the bike, it's because there are a lot of cars that might be in less than complete control of their drivers.  Your mileage may vary.

Oh, and Ride Studio Cafe had a great idea of getting out early for the first snow of the year.

Tires tracks in the snow at the beginning of the unplowed Lexington section of the Minuteman bike path.  I hear it was the Ride Studio Cafe riders.  I was here around 6 so they were long gone by the time I arrived.  But I did see two cyclists following me back into Arlington, although left the path before they overtook me 

I tried some trails in Arlington Great Meadows.  They proved to be impassible  for me when traveling up a steep enough hill.  I passed through here on my road bike with 700x25mm tires last weekend.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Riding my bike in 2015

While I don't define myself as a cyclist - I do a lot more than just ride my bike - I do take great pleasure in riding my bikes.  And this year I rode my bike a lot, over 4,000 miles.  Over 2,000 of those miles were riding between home and work, although some of those miles were detours for the fun of it on days that I had some extra time for riding.  I also road almost 1,900 miles on my road bike and all of those miles were for fun.  I rode some dirt road rides, including one at night, and rode the D2R2 again, this time extending my off route ride the organizer suggested to me last year.  In short, it was a great year for riding my bike, with 4,157 miles and I still have a few more days left to ride this year.

Bike commuting

My commuter (a 2009 custom build on a Surly Cross Check frame) remains in service and still is a great bike.  Besides regular maintenance, it saw no changes this year.  I did add a 2014 Swobo Novak, bought on sale in early 2015,  I use this for commuting on days that I need to park in places that I wouldn't park my Surly and it has come in handy.  I've also used it as my "dad" bike when riding in the neighborhood with the boys and have put on a trail-a-bike for towing one of the boys.  It has worked out well.  It's now set up as my winter commuter with 700x35mm Schwalbe Winter Marathon studded tires.  I hope to ride at least part of the way to work once the weather turns, which it seems to be doing right now (lows near 20F this evening and with today's rain, I expect that means some ice on the roads in the early morning).  Overall, I rode to work on 145 days, riding about 2,085 miles.  That is clearly a big part of my riding.  I started riding in mid March after I took two months off from cycling while I let a tendon in a finger heal (after I cut it in a kitchen accident after last New Year's weekend).  I rode about 4 of every 5 days during the months that I was actually fit to ride a bike.

Road rides

I had dreams of more far flung rides this year but it didn't happen.  I did get a lot of riding in on my road bike, a 2007 Independent Fabrication Club Racer built in Somerville, MA, which remains an amazing bike for me eight and a half years after buying it.  I averaged just under 40 miles per ride on my road bike with 22 rides of at least 40 miles.  My longest ride of the year was 75 miles.  I did a decent amount of exploring in the area that I primarily ride:

Despite the appearance of variety, I was pretty time limited again this year - most of my weekend rides were early morning rides with me getting home by 9 AM.  It would have been nice to go further afield but that's hard to do without impacting my family more than I want to.  My favorite ride was a multi modal ride up to Ogunquit to join my family for a weekend on the Maine coast.  It included a trip on the Red Line and the Commuter Rail, and about 50 miles of riding.  It was also one of my coffeeneuring trips.


I actually finished the challenge this year, which was great fun.  I was again the North East Regional Office of Coffeeneuring, producing the maps for the challenge.  It's great working with Mary on that project.

Oh, those goals from last year

These goals:

Well, I was a more enthusiastic bike commuter this year, starting about the same time as last year but riding about 30 more days this year.  I did say that I started riding late because of an injury but you might remember the snow storms of 2015.  I might have rode more than I did if I didn't hurt myself but there would have been several weeks that I would have punted on.

My second goal, of getting longer rides didn't exactly happen.  I did get a number of 50+ mile rides but never all that far from home (except that ride to Truro from our vacation cottage in Chatham).

I didn't get the Dill Pickle bag I thought of getting, instead opting for Acorn bags, a small front bag and the medium saddle bag, which fit my frame better that the Dill Pickle bag.  These worked out well, with as much carrying capacity as I needed.  The only drawback with the saddle bag was that the buckle would tap the fender on bumps when it wasn't full.  I recently (yesterday) put a new saddle on my IF, a Selle Anatomica, and now there is plenty of room with the integrated saddle loops, which I didn't have on my old saddle (I installed the VO loops, which really needed a longer bolt and locking nut) on my old saddle.  Ironically, I now have plenty of room for the Dill Pickle bag with the new saddle.  My IF has great carrying capacity for a road bike now and I'm comfortable leaving my house dressed for the early morning temperatures and expecting to remove layers as the day warms.  Overall, I am pretty happy with the bags I now have.  Now I just need to find time for longer rides.

I did ride the 2015 Diverged ride and the D2R2, both of which were great fun.  My only regret on the Diverged ride was that I was ready for a much longer ride.  That said, I really enjoyed riding with Brad Smith, the ride leader on the shorter ride.  I enjoyed the D2R2 but had minor equipment issues that made the ride slightly stressful.  I did extend the ride fully from Sandy's 2014 instructions and it was great fun to do solo, for the most part.  I missed the Honey 100.  I can no longer remember what family event precluded me from going although I do see that I managed a 50 mile early morning ride that day.

While I didn't get to any of the NER events, I did enjoy my longer rides.  I planned on the Dunes Dynamo, a 124 mile overnight ride to Provincetown in early August.  I was unsure of my ability to ride it and when a friend dropped out, I did as well.  I'll try to get in better shape for the 2016 version, which goes to Portland, Maine.

Goals for this year?

I don't have specific goals beyond riding to work as much as is feasible and getting on my road bike as much as I can, given family obligations.  I do intend to ride a lot on my new studded tires, both for commuting and for fun.  And I hope to do longer rides, both from my house and maybe, if I'm lucky, in western Massachusetts and further afield.  We plan to spend a couple of weeks on the Cape this summer so hopefully I can do a couple of longer rides on the Cape this coming summer.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Be afraid - commuting stories #4

I think the worst position I could put myself in, while commuting to work, is getting a little bit cocky.  Like assuming that since I haven't been in a collision with a car, that I'm smart and I'm a strong rider and I'm very careful and I have a zillion lights on my bike and wear a lot of reflective gear when I ride.  Because that's not always going to be enough if you aren't lucky.  So I ride with caution. Especially at night.  And more so in the rain at night.

So this happened yesterday: I was riding home in the rain.  I was well clothed in waterproof gear from head to toe.  Actually my shoes were covered in neoprene booties, which aren't waterproof, but my shoes stayed dry. I had three bright headlights, including two that are very prominent even from the side (one actually has yellow lights on the side - the Light and Motion Urban 350), and three rear red lights, all quite visible from the side.  I also had reflective stripes on my arms, wrists, ankles, and hands, all visible from the sides, and a reflective vest, not quite visible from the side.  I also have reflectors on my spokes and these have a bright white light that I usually run in flashing mode, like I did last night.  In short, I bet anyone could see me from the side.  So by now you should have figured out that my side view visibility is key in this story.

Getting back to being afraid, the title of this post.  While I do my best to be safe, including riding as slow as I need to, I'm still very concerned about what other people might be doing, or not doing when they are driving.  Like using there phone for one purpose or another (yes, it happens - just ride a bike and look into cars since you have a great view).  Or not paying attention.  Or doing something dumb because they are in a hurry.  So I'm generally very cautious because I'm afraid that I meet one of those drivers.

So the rain wasn't all that intense but I know how it's harder to see in the dark and even harder in the dark when it's raining.  And the rain was enough to make my cantilever brakes that much less effective.  I was heading down Mass Ave in Cambridge west of Porter Square and saw two cars speed across Mass Ave onto Russel Street in front of me. My instinctive reaction was to brake several times to dry my rims so I could stop if I needed to.  Sure enough, another driver thought he could make it through before the cars approaching the intersection made it there.  And he started to speed across the street.  So I braked some more.  Braking wasn't great but, if you've ever used rim brakes in the rain, you know that I could tell that braking was improving.  But the guy (yes, I could see it was a guy, I was almost in the intersection at that point) was moving fast and I wasn't stopped just yet.  Suddenly, the driver took his car to the left, hard.  Right before then, I could see that he could see me and he must have made the decision that, while he was in a hurry, hitting me wasn't going to get him to where he was going faster than if he took that last second detour.  I'd like to think that he saw me because I'm lit up like a Christmas tree (only whites red, and yellow lights but nice blue reflectors on my arms).  I'd be worried if he didn't see me and just turned because he decided that was the best thing for him to do to get him to where he was going in a hurry, because he clearly was in a hurry.

If there is a moral to the story then it's this: assume the worse.  Had I been right in front of him, which I would have been if I hadn't started braking early, then it all might have turned out worse.  Or maybe he would have seen me earlier.  Maybe, but I'm not taking any chances.  So don't take this as 'be afraid and don't ride your bike."  I'm more on the "ride your bike but assume the worst of the drivers on the road.  A little fear keeps you focused on everyone else on the road" side.

The other moral to the story, if there is a first, is to consider getting disk brakes which, I hear, are better in the rain.

No pictures because it was raining out and I really didn't want to get my smart phone wet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Commuting stories #3

Four very short items:

1) I see a taxi driver pull up to a red light on Oxford in Cambridge.  He is saying to the cyclist, who got to the red light a few seconds before me, "do you want a light?" The driver hands the other cyclist a red blinky light.  The light changes and the taxi drives off.  The other cyclist starts to ride off.  I suggest that he use the light as I pass him and he stops and puts it on his backpack.  The other cyclist had a rear reflector and pedal reflectors so he was legal from the back but the blinky should make him more visible.  I had three rear red lights on, 2 solid and one blinking so it was no surprise that he offered the light to the other cyclist.

Not long after, as I was passing the Porter Exchange, a young woman in the right rear passenger seat in a sedan opened her door slightly and looked back before opening her door fully.  She sees me, or my headlights (yes, plural) and closes her door until I pass.  Thanks for looking out for me.  I've been running my generator light (last generation Busch and Mueller IQ CYO) and my old Nite Rider 600 at low power on a Paul Gino mount.  The Note Rider is low to the ground, aimed about 8 feet in front of the light, but the light is very visible, at least when I see my reflection in glass storefronts.  I've been doing this in part to make myself more visible in situations like this and also to better see potholes when cars are blinding me with their lights.

Later, on the Minuteman path in Arlington, a cyclist is approaching me.  The cyclist covers his light as he passed me so I'm not blinded.  I turned off the bright light when I got on the path and was running just my dyno powered lights.  The headlight has a cutoff at about 2.5 feet or 3 feet about fifty feet out (waist high on most adults) so I'm pretty sure I wasn't blinding him.

On Mass Ave, again, now in Arlington, I see a woman with her daughter in a SUV at stop light.  Her eyes are glued to her phone.  I was exhausted after a long day at work and couldn't muster up the energy to yell, "put down your phone" and the likely ensuing argument.  She had it her hand as she drove off.  I wish I had a GoPro.  Arlington police would have a copy and be visiting her right now if I did.  All the lights in the world couldn't alert that woman to presence of cyclists on the road.  I hope everyone is safe out there.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Early winter ride

It's meteorological winter in the Boston area and it's been cold, even if we are the midst of 50-55F afternoons.  This morning was no exception.  I knew it was going to be cold this morning so I dressed for it.  I thought it would be around 30F but the weather station said that it actually dipped to 23F.  How does that feel?  Well, dressed as I was, I was fine and never felt very cold.  My toes did get a bit cold but I could wiggle them around and they would be fine.  I was wearing a neoprene shoe cover over my road shoes with a thick pair of wool socks.  Maybe I do need some heater packets for colder days.  But despite how well prepared I was, it was cold.  I could tell how cold it was when I touched my top tube without gloves.  That was very cold.  This ride would have been impossible if I lost a glove.  Another way to see how cold it really was?  Checking my water bottle after realizing that I wasn't drinking enough water, I saw a fair amount of ice and it cracked when I squeezed my bottle to get water out of it.  That's cold.  I was outside for about 3 hours and while not chilled, I was more than happy to take a hot shower when I got home.

Edit: Just to be clear, I'd love to be doing daytime rides but I'm trying to find a balance between enjoying riding and being part of my family. 

The route.

Miles for the ride: about 38 or so, miles for the month: 92, miles for the year: 3,960.  Given good health, I should easily top 4,000 miles this year.

Some pictures from the ride:

Looking at the beaver lodge from the Maple Street bridge in Carlisle.  The 2007 IF Club Racer was a great bike for the dry roads.

Near the intersection of Pope Road and West Street in Acton. 
South of Strawberry Hill Road in Acton.