Sunday, January 30, 2011

Damn good year to have purchased a Snow Bike

The recent weather and Lucy's work obligations have put a halt on regular commuting for the past couple of weeks but that's just fine.  After all, according to the bike coaching experts out there - your suppose to have a couple of weeks off in the off season.  I have gotten in a random ride or two along with pulling snow off the roof, building the ultimate backyard luge / snow cave and generally being a decent daddy while moms away - so it's not as though good exercise isn't being had.  Quite the opposite. 

Ava getting dumped:

There was a solid 16" of snow on our roof - and while I haven't calculated it exactly - I'm certain I have yanked close to 10 tons of the stuff off.  What amazes me - is how many folks around here *aren't* pulling the snow off.  Ice damns can do some serious damage - not to mention we have another storm coming next Wednesday.  One of the roofs at a local elementary school collapsed under the weight - so they had to cancel class for all the local schools.  At this rate Ava will be in school until July.  

I did get a nice ride in today.   Having had a bit too much to drink last night, I didn't get out until later in the day - which meant tougher going on the warmed up snow.  At first I was humming along fine - but then got to a stretch of less packed / softer snow that brought things to a halt - so I lowered the already low pressure to somewhere below 5 psi.  End result:  Amazing.  Ms Mukluk handled some very soft terrain beautifully. 

I have had the little Tachyon XC helmet cam for about a year - and decided to try mounting it somewhere else this time while biking.  It is with pleasure that I introduce the "crotch-cam".  From time to time I feel like a dick.  Now - you can too!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mukluk, we have a problem..

Is is corporate theft when you use the same title as found on a forum thread?  Recently there was a flurry (meant that) of excitement regarding the stock chain snapping on the Mukluk.  For me, this isn't a big deal - chains are pretty easy to replace.  Truth is there are three far more sinister issues with the Mukluk:

  • The tires are too damn big for the bike rack at work.


  • Ain't nobody making decent affordable plastic fenders for Snow bikes.

  • As a result of its ability to trundle through normally impassable conditions - one starts to grow concerned that one is "biking too much"  and decides to go do something else to offset the imbalance.

So yah, we got some snow round here.  Lots more than normal - which couldn't be better timed now that I have my beloved Mukluk.  I tried really hard not to ride her this weekend (see above photo) but while driving back from the Pulaski XC ski area - I passed the sign at George Washington Management area - that said "Snowmobile trails" and drove in, you know - just to scope it out.  This is the first thing you see beyond the parking lot:

What's a boy to do?  I headed back home (a whole 8 miles away) , brewed some coffee for my handy water bottle sized thermos and brought along some "You Bars" (or are they "me bars" ?) my sister in law gave me for Christmas.  Are they cool or what? Tasty too.

Dear lord, lead me not into premature knee failure due to this bike

As you can see, the trails and scenery were phenomenal. Along the way  I met a couple of fellows on snowmobiles who were impressed with the bike enough to stop and ask: "how hard is it?".  For the most part I was able to chug along at roughly 7mph or so.  In the spots where the trail opened up it was more difficult and at times I had to push (gasp!) - as less snow machines were packing down the same track.  Snow biking is quite different in that excess power delivery leads to digging in and loss of forward progress.  Torque needs to be delivered smoothly throughout the stroke - and for & aft balance is more important to prevent sinking in too much on one end or the other  The track left by the snowmobile ski is usually your best bet.  I went a total of 7 miles - and took my time soaking up and recording the sights.  It was as perfect a winter day as you can get.

I used to really hate Rhode Island after having grown up an outdoorsy dude in VT until 96'.   Never did much living the first year in Providence even though there was all sorts of things to do in the city.  Didn't do much living either next to Victory Highway in North Smithfield for over 10 years.  We have lived in Glocester now for a couple of years and it was this part of the state and the Glocester Grind (usually the first race of the EFTA MTB race series for those not in the know) that helped turn things around - or perhaps put my life back on course.  We have hills around here, there's actual real working farms,  we have a place to go cross-country skiing, we have a place to go ride your highly specialized snow bike!  It's quiet and pretty.  Hell, I'm almost content. I've come back home in a way and boy I didn't realize how much I missed it.

Just so you know - the sign says the beach is closed at the George Washington Management area:

 Sorry for Ansel Adaming the picture - just looked cooler to me

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Winter riding falls into it's own rhythm.  My winter commuter is comfy, semi slow and has no computer.  Lighting is mandatory and always backed up.  Here is the kind of bike commuter types in New England desire after some evolution:

The Salsa Vaya - tain't really a road bike and tain't exactly a mountain bike.  It's a bike with vast flexibility.  It's the type of bike I'd own if funds were limited to one bike. 

The disc brakes scream "overkill and overweight!!" to a few Luddites - but nothing screams reliable, predictable performance without the rubber gunk that slobbers all over those pretty reflective sidewalls like Avid BB7's.  I have 5 bikes equipped with BB7's  - and have had to replace the pads on one so far in the past 10 years.  

The shifters evolved into "what's old is new" for the winter bike.   Those would be down tube shifters(!! - I know, who's the Luddite now?) Anyone who has tried shifting integrated road shifters or standard Shimano MTB shifters with gloves suitable for the colder weather finds out quickly how difficult and cumbersome this can be.  Grip shifters are the next move - but being dependant on indexing things can still foul up.  Enter the old down tube shifter - indexed shifting if you want it, and with the flip of a folding bit of hardware,  old school friction shifting if ya need it due to slush and gunk freezing up on your shifty bits.   I use an 8 speed cog to allow enough spacing between gears for more reliable performance than the current 9 & 10 speed cog sets on most upper end bikes.  A further note:  These look like a nice option if I ever desire putting the shifting up on the bars.

My original handlebars were WTB dirt drops - but they never felt right for winter riding.  Plain old straight bars with wrapped bar ends allow agility when dealing with the different surfaces and still allow a few different hand positions for the blood flow necessary to keep your digits at a nice even metric value.

The tires - brutally slow Schwalbe Marathon winter's (700X35).  Regular Schwalbe Marathons are known for being reliable and kinda slow.  Studs increase the slowness - but again, reliability prevails.  Of all the studded roadesque tires - the Schwalbes are probably the quickest - but that's quite relative. 

Fenders are Planet Bike Cascadias - very nice affordable full coverage fenders. 

About that FULL PULL!.  Hopefully y'all have seen a few Tractor Pulls and have heard the overexcited announcer calling one so the analogy makes sense..

The first week of commuting this year was entirely powered by Soup, Lasagna, Bagels, Peanut Butter, Nutella, Triscuits, Clementines, Eggs, Spinach & Cheese  (sorry if I missed any of you - as you were all wonderful).  I'll usually ride 3 or 4 days out of the week and take a day or two off to restock supplies and do that recovery thing racers are supposed to do - but this week just kept-a chuggin. 

That was 130 commuter miles.  You'd think it'd be plenty - but I keep getting distracted by the Mukluk.  I mean look!!  How can you *not* ride in conditions like these??