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Our yo-yo winter continues. Warm, cold, thaw, freeze, over and over. This far North we’re used to everything freezing up in November and not thawing until April. This year has been weird. That’s the word I’ve heard used a lot this winter. We’ve had at least one major thaw each month so far this year. And then it snows again. Like it did this past Friday. And then two days later it’s mostly gone.
I got out on a bike both days this weekend. Yesterday it was very sunny, and just warm enough to melt about half our snowfall from Friday.
Today it was cloudier, but the melting continued. On today’s ride I started thinking about the name of this blog: Four Season Cycling. I have to comment that it’s definitely not four seasons that last an equal amount of time on the calendar. If anything, Winter lasts the longest. Up to six months. That is if you count the winter months from when the leaves are on the ground in late October and up until green-up happens in the Spring. This typically happens around Memorial Day. It’s not until the late May holiday weekend that leaves are finally out and the lilacs and fruit trees are starting to blossom.
My thought was to add a couple of seasons during the shoulder months to “shorten” the winter season. I’m thinking late October and November could be a new season. April and the first couple of weeks of May could be another new season. We will need new names for these shoulder seasons. Or maybe just combine the names of the adjoining seasons like Winspring and Fallter?
Well, regardless of what we call the seasons and how many there happen to be, the hardiest Minnesotans enjoy riding through them all.
If you’re new to this blog in the past three months or so, you may not have seen pictures of the above bike before. It is my cargo hauling bike, my main errand runner, the bike that allows me to be mostly car-free. It will be ten years old this year in it’s current configuration. The frame is about 29 years old. I use this bike approximately 8 out of the 12 months each year. It hibernates during the the four coldest, sloppiest months of the year. I like to keep the number of bikes exposed to the harsh winters to a minimum. This one gets the winter off.
I wasn’t planning on getting it out today. We are members of a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture). In the winter we get a farm share once a month. Today was the day. Our farm has an enormous root celler. They put up 50,000 pounds of root vegetables each year. So we have access to locally grown potatoes, carrots, onions, squash, rutabagas, parsnips, and beets all winter long. Susan uses our one household car daily to get to work. So once the Xtracycle goes into hibernation, she stops and picks up the farm share for us. I came home on the city bus today and had a bit of a walk from the bus stop. It was sunny with little wind and a temperature around the freezing mark. The March sunshine felt warm on my face. With the time change this past weekend it stays light into the evening now. I had an itch to get out on a bike. The roads happened to be dry and clear of ice and snow. I decided it was time to awaken the Blue Truck and go get our farm share. Susan typically works later then me, so she is more then happy to give up this task to me.
Even though “winter” can last well into April here in Northeasten Minnesota, the first ride of the year on the Xtracycle always makes it feel like Spring is here. Looking forward to a summer of errands on this bike and maybe even another decade of utility biking on this blue machine I call the Blue Truck/Xtracycle.
For those that have not heard the story. The reason I call it the Blue Truck/Xtracycle is because the last vehicle I owned was a blue 1994 Toyota Hilux Truck. I sold it in 2002 and haven’t owned a vehicle since. I used to do all my hauling with that truck. I loved having that truck. Now I use the blue Xtracycle for all my hauling.
When I last posted I had taken the Pugsley out on a day with some fresh snow. The snow was covering lots and lots of ice left from some thawing and a rain storm. I wrote about taking a couple of falls in the first 3 miles. What I didn’t mention is a third fall later in the ride while walking the bike down a treacherous ice covered descent. My feet slipped out from under me and I fell towards the bike. I ended up falling on the bike with the handlebar grips smashing into my mouth. At first I thought I might have knocked a couple teeth loose and given myself a fat lip. I was sore, but it wasn’t that bad. No loose teeth. It was at that point I decided I’d had enough and headed home.
On the way home that day I noticed a new noise while pedaling. Sounded like something hitting something else on every revolution of the cranks. At first I was baffled. But then I saw what was causing it. I had bent the bash guard and possibly my outer chain ring. The noise was the chain hitting the adjacent chain ring or bash guard. I’m using a Surly Mr Whirly MWOD crank. It’s set up as a double with a steel inner chain ring and an aluminum outer chain ring and bash guard.
I’m not sure when I bent it. I’m sure it was on one of the falls. I replayed the falls in my head for the next three days. My conclusion was I couldn’t have bent it while falling while riding it. It’s possible my knee made contact with it as I fell on top of the bike when I fell while walking the bike. Although, I keep thinking if I hit it with my knee hard enough to bend it, my knee should be hurting. It’s not, so I’m not 100% sure.?? Before I headed out yesterday I needed to try and bend the rings back. I’ve never had good luck bending aluminum back into shape. But thirty minutes in the basement with the bike in the Park Tool work stand and some bending in the bench vise and I had both the bashguard and the chain ring back close to true. Sometimes my mechanic skills I better then I think they are.
Fast forward to yesterday, which was Saturday. We’d had more warm weather this past week followed by some wet snow, followed by temperatures around 0F degrees Thursday night. After eleven winters of fat tire riding on snow, I’ve become quite good at predicting trail conditions. Well, at least until this winter. The wild swings in temperatures this year have really thrown me for a loop. I’m not used to January and February thaws as big as we’ve had. Thaws that completely change the snow pack. I thought for sure after the wet snow followed by dropping temps, the conditions should be fairly crusty.
I was wrong. The temperature was approaching 30F degrees and the sun had just come out from behind cloud cover when I left my house. The trails were not crusty at all. These were snow mobile trails, not the local singletrack. I found the trails to be very soft. There had been very little, or no snowmobile traffic. The snowmobiles will compact the fresher snow to some extent. This helps it to firm up with the temperature drop. No such luck. The snow was so loose I was sweating heavily and working hard.
I ended up taking it easy and enjoying the sunshine and snow. Another warm-up and lots of melting were in store for today. Another wild swing in temperatures with rain for Monday. This time of year you never know when the last ride on snow will be. I try to get out there as much as I can.
My last post from Saturday had me hesitating to go out because the trail conditions had deteriorated so much from repeated thaws. I decided to get on a bike and see for myself what shape the trails were in. It turned out to be a good ride. Although for from ideal, I was able to ride and enjoy being out.
Yesterday, Sunday, the 50% chance of less than an inch of snow predicted for overnight Saturday night turned into a 100% chance of 3 inches of snow. What a surprise. So I definitely was going to go out for a ride. It was still snowing lightly when I left. By the time the ride was over the skies had cleared. The biggest surprise was not that it snowed as much as it did, but how treacherous the conditions were. I stayed away from the mtb singletrack because the snow was soft and I didn’t wanted to leave ruts. Plus I was concerned about not being to see the icy spots that were covered in fresh snow.
I quickly discovered the paths and snowmobile trails I chose to ride were covered in glare ice. That ice was completely hidden by the fresh snow. In the first 3 miles I went down twice. At that point I turned around and cautiously headed for home. I never felt the need to have studs on my fatbike tires because our winters are typically cold enough we don’t get the repeated freeze/thaw cycles. The freeze/thaw plus the rain we had last week covered everything in ice. Studded tires required.
I ended up taking my time getting home and taking some pictures along the way.
A week ago we had near record high temps in the 50’s. Followed by heavy rain on Monday. Heavy rain in February??? The snow at my house completely disappeared with the exception of a few piles. Wednesday night it rained again along the big lake and at my house. But go a 1/4 mile up the hill and there’s a couple inches of new snow on top of some crusty, icy stuff. I heard conflicting rumors of good riding conditions and the opposite. Including a the need for studded tires.
This was a clear case of just going and finding out for myself. The morning temp was 8F when I got up. It was warming up slowly despite abundant sunshine. I got out after lunch. The temp had only risen to 24F degrees. I assumed everything would be firm. And it was. I went up on the ridge above my house to Brewer Park.
I found “less then ideal” conditions, but it was still ride-able. I found myself dismounting quite a bit to walk around icy patches. Studded tires would have been nice. I did okay without. More troublesome then the icy spots was stretches where walkers and runners had been on the trail when there was soft conditions. The deep, frozen footprints nearly bounced me off my bike. I had to walk a few sections due to this. Overall I did more walking to get around the footprints frozen in the trail then I did to get around ice. We need to educate all users to stay off the trails during soft conditions.
I’m so happy I went and found out for myself what conditions where like. It was challenging riding, but I still had fun. I got to enjoy the sunshine and ride my bike through the wooded hillsides overlooking Duluth. That’s a good day.
The Purple Pug still looks good after so many winters!!!
February, for me at least, is for fatbiking……unless you’re in the middle of a weirdly warm February. Taking it to the roads is what I was doing this weekend. I used the word “weird” to describe our weather on my blog post from Saturday, two days ago. I’m not the only one using this word. I’ve read it on the FB, on other blogs, and on NPR this morning. A meteorologist on the radio used the word “weird” to describe the weather in Minnesota over the past week. He said 197 record high temperatures were broken over the weekend in Minnesota. Here in Duluth we missed record highs by a degree or two Friday and Saturday. Despite not setting a new record, nobody can seem to remember experiencing 50 degrees temps in Duluth in February. It’s just, well, weird.
I’m not saying it’s climate change, or that winters are warmer then they used to be. perhaps they are. But I do remember that just three years ago we had one of the coldest winters on record. With something like 52 or 53 days with below zero temps. I remember it because bike commuted everyday that winter.
This graphic I came across shows we still have cold winters. It shows 91.8% of Lake Superior covered in ice three years ago yesterday. This year only 8.2% is covered in ice. So maybe we aren’t having warmer winters overall, but we are having more wild, weird swings in weather patterns and temperatures.
What this years warm winter means for me can be illustrated with the above. The local mtb trailheads were posted with this sign yesterday. It should be prime snowbiking weather, but instead I was riding the roads as the snow was quickly disappearing.
I’m not complaining. I enjoy being on a bike whether it’s on snow or not. Maybe winter will make another appearance, or maybe I’ll have to wait until next winter.
Either way I’ll be out riding a bike no matter what.
It was only three days ago I posted about going for a fatbike ride with super snow conditions. Since then, we’ve started another big thaw. With near record temps yesterday around 50F degrees. And then this today:
This warm of weather doesn’t normally happen until late April. Riding today felt like late April. Feeling the warmth, the snow quickly…very quickly….melting. People out everywhere. People out on their Harley’s. It didn’t feel like a February day that’s for sure. I’m not saying winter is over. You never know here. I’ve ridden snow on the Pugsley well into April a few years. I can also remember 2012 when we had a thaw in mid-February. One of the warmest March and April months ever seen here followed that. March is typically the snowiest month. So we will have to wait and see which we get this year.
Sooo, on a February day when I would typically head out in the bitter cold to ride some snowy trails on my Surly Pugsley, I instead rode some roads on my A-train.
I feel for the businesses that make a living off of winter sports, winter activities, and snow. Winter is becoming unpredictable in a place where winter was nearly always guaranteed.
Another slow Wednesday at work. So I had the day off. I’ve been feeling sad about winter….or lack thereof. The previous five days have been another winter thaw. Lots of sunshine and temps in the 40’s. Lots of snow melting. Subzero temps are usually the norm the first few weeks of February. Not temps in the 40’s. I expected the trail conditions to be bad. But then last night we had a drop in temps. All the way down to 10F degrees this morning. Good enough to firm things up a bit. Or at least firm up what was left of the snow.
Once again I opted for the snomo trails over the singeltrack mtb trails. It was the right choice. I rode for two hours and never saw another person, let alone any snow machines. After 11 years of fatbiking I’ve learned some of the best riding conditions can occur in the early Spring when the temps still drop below freezing at night. That usually means late March/early April for us. Not February 15th. The benefit of riding the snomo trails over single track trails is the ability to dodge icy spots on the wide trails. Plus the snow machine’s tracks tend to chew up icy spots enough to give the fatbike tires something to grab onto.
I mentioned “super-crunchy” in the title. The snow today was super-crunchy. With the thaw and direct sunshine the past several days, the snow had become very wet. With the sudden drop in temps, everything froze in place. All the loose snow churned up from the snow machines froze. So when I rode over it today it made an insanely loud crunching noise as I broke up all the frozen snow. The temp today was at 26F degrees with overcast skies, and no wind. Had the sun had been out it would have softened up all the snow.
Another plus riding today was super-traction. I was able to almost double the psi I have been running in my tires. I was able to run them at a much higher pressure, higher then I ever run on snow. I did the same loop I did one week ago. That day I had freshly fallen snow that had just been groomed that hadn’t firmed up yet. I was running extremely low pressures and still had to walk quite a few of the uphills. Today I rode everything. That was the super-fun part. Having amazing traction on snow is fun.
The thing is, I can’t take pictures to show you the snow conditions. It doesn’t show up in pictures. Even with all my experience riding in different types of snow, I can’t look at the pictures I took today and tell how super-fantastic the conditions really were. In all honesty it looks like it would be somewhat slow conditions. But trust me. All the ingredients came together today. Firm, frozen base and no direct sun to soften it allowed me to run very high tire pressure and still have great traction. A fatbikers dream.
I had no idea what to expect when I left the house today. I thought I might find icy trails. Without studded tires on my fatbike I would have had to turn around and head home. What I found was some of the best fatbiking of the season. I’m glad I made it out. With a forecast for more warm weather the next seven days, our snow cover may soon disappear.
Today is Wednesday. My place of employment sent me home after a half day of work. Things got slow. It was perfect timing for me. Yesterday we had a snowstorm that dropped 4-6 inches of fresh snow on us. It was followed by temps dropping below zero last night. That’s a recipe for good fatbiking.
The local mountain bike club did did some grooming of their trails this morning. Normally I’d head for those. But I wasn’t convinced those would be firmed up yet. Since it was a Wednesday afternoon I didn’t expect there’d be many snowmobiles out. So I opted to ride the local snowmobiles trails instead. They too were freshly groomed. And by the looks of it I just missed seeing the groomer. I ended up riding for 3 hours. The sunshine, the fresh snow, and the promise of another warm-up by Friday. I took full advantage of my afternoon off.
I’ve been a cross-country skier for 38 years. But the last 11 winters I’ve averaged one ski day a year. Why? That’s how long I’ve had my Pugsley. All my outdoor time playing in the snow is now done on a fatbike. These freshly groomed cross country ski trails were calling to me, but I was on my Pugsley.
By the time I got home the sun was setting and I was exhausted. It was a good day on the fatbike.