My weekend: Three bikes and some whitewater.

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Lake Superior on April 1st. If this was a normal year you’d be seeing the lake covered in ice right now.

We had what must have been one of the nicer April 1st in quite awhile. Pleasant temps for this time of year and a lack of wind. I got in my longest ride of the year on Saturday. Nothing to brag about, but it felt good to spend some time in the saddle.

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People at work were talking about the Annual Lester River Kayak Races happening this weekend. They are scheduled last minute to correspond with high melt water on the river. Lester River is located on the eastern side of Duluth. I headed in that general direction thinking I could end up at the races about time they were scheduled to start. I rode along the Lake front on the Lakewalk. It’s still odd to have the studded tires off the bike so early in the Spring. The bike felt fast with the smooth rolling summer tires.

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It wasn’t long before I reached the Lester River Crossing on the Lakewalk extension. I headed up stream to see if I could find the kayak races.

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Spectators waiting for the races to begin.

I found a place to watch just as the projected start time arrived. I waited 20 minutes but the kayaks never came. As per usual for me when the weather starts to warm up, I tend overdress and get a bit sweaty. I was starting to catch a chill standing around. So I meandered on my way without witnessing any of the racing in person. Here’s some footage from YouTube for an idea of what I missed.

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Bike ride number two on bike number two happened Sunday. It was an errand run to the local Co-op (not to be confused with Whole Foods Market).

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We’ve always kept a tight household budget. In fact we’ve been budgeting our expenses since 1998. Our food budget always challenges us and helps us from over spending. The down side of the food budget is we get low on basic food staples by the end of the month. Once a new month rolls around we generally do a couple of big shopping trips. The picture is of the Blue Truck/Xtracycle loaded up with four full size sacks of groceries. The xtra large canvass shopping bags were hand sewn by Susan and fit in the Xtracycle quite nicely.

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Bike number three may not be what you were expecting. This one has a motor other then me to power it. The snow is gone and it’s warm. I decided it was a good weekend to take the cover off the moto, drop in the battery, and start it up. I’m always impressed with this Honda motor. After sitting outside all winter, it starts up instantly and without any complaints. Luckily whatever animal was living under the seat was gone and hadn’t chewed through any of the wiring. Looking forward to another season of riding this machine along with all my other bikes.

Hope everyone out there had a nice weekend.

Cycle on.

 

 

It happened this weekend.

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The studded tires came off and the summer treads went on. All the tires I handled were Schwalbes. That will tell you the state of my thumbs. They are raw from coaxing those tough beads onto the rims. For those tracking things at home, the studded tires were 26 x 1.75 Schwalbe Marathon Winter. The summer tires I’m currently using on this bike are 26 x 2.0 Schwalbe Supremes. Interestingly enough, they measure almost the same width on the rim with a caliper despite being two different sized tires.

The annual ritual of removing the studded tires is always a milestone. It signals the arrival of above freezing temps. I’m not commuting by bike many days lately. Back when I commuted daily, the day the studs came off was always a big day. And a bit stressful some years. Take them off too early and get surprised by a late Spring snow storm, and you regret it. There’s been a few years when I’ve had to put the studded tires back on.

This years removal was about three to four weeks earlier than normal. On average the studded tires usually come off the third week of April. That’s about the time we no longer drop below freezing at night.

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The best thing about taking the studded tires off is the first ride on the bike. I feel like Superman on the bike with faster rolling tires. And the lack of the “sizzlin’ bacon” sound of the steel carbide studs on pavement is sooo nice. It feels like I’m gliding along effortlessly and stealthy quiet. To top if off I gave the bike a good scrubbing to remove all the accumulated winter grit and salt. It felt, and looked like, a new bike. You know what a joy it is to ride a new bike.

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Riding the local mtb trails on the Pugsley was definitely not an option. The trails are officially closed. We are into the mud season. Trails will be closed to all users until it drys out. That could be in two weeks or six weeks if we have a wet Spring.

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I chose to ride Skyline parkway. I timed it today so that I was able to get in a decent ride between rain showers. Skyline has extremely low traffic on a wet, cold, foggy Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed cruising along silently on my bike in the dampness, with the woods shrouded in fog. It was quite meditative. When I stopped to take the above picture I started to admire the look of the raw, unpainted stainless steel tubing used on this bike. All cleaned up the unpainted steel frame had an enticing shiny look to it in the low light conditions. I snapped a few pictures of it.

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These low light conditions also seem to “illuminate” Alex Cook‘s (the builder) frame building skills. One interesting highlight of this frame is the use of a 1″ steerer tube. While everyone else is building with 1  1/8th” headtubes or tapered headtubes, Alex suggested we go with a 1″ on this bike. He said it would blend better with the over aesthetic of this frame. I think he was right. In fact, I think he nailed it.

It’s always nice to have an enjoyable ride on a day that proved hard to get motivated to go out. Although I admit I was a bit chilled when I arrived home. A hot cup of tea was in order. My wife has quite a selection of loose leaf teas from The Tea Source in St. Paul, Minnesota. I picked a nice Roasted Chestnut black tea. Of course I used a mug I designed. I thought it was a fitting theme for today’s ride.

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My Spring sale at my store, Salty Pedaler, goes thru April 7, 2017. Use code spring2017 to get 15% off all orders.

Cycle on people.

Four Season Cycling? How about six seasons?

March 17th snow.

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.

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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.

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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?

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The old Endion Train Depot in Canal Park (not it’s original location).

Well, regardless of what we call the seasons and how many there happen to be, the hardiest Minnesotans enjoy riding through them all.

Cycle on!

 

The Blue Truck/Xtracycle emerges from hibernation.

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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.

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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.

Bent Chain Rings and Wacky Weather.

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Doug’s Pug at Kingsbury Creek.

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.

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Trail along Knowlton Creek on the east side of Spirit Mountain.

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.

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Kingsbury Creek

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.

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Up on Spirit Mountain with the St Louis River below and Lake Superior in the upper left of the picture.

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.

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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.

Another day, completely different conditions.

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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.

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Wipe-out.

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.

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Keene Creek

I ended up taking my time getting home and taking some pictures along the way.

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Kingsbury Creek
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Kingsbury Creek

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Less then ideal.

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Is this what they call “popcorn snow”?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Purple Pug still looks good after so many winters!!!

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February is for fatbiking??

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Either way I’ll be out riding a bike no matter what.

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The weird weather continues.

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On Skyline Parkway along Keene Creek.

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:

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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.

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The Annual Polar Plunge fundraiser was today. They are usually jumping into a hole cut in the ice. Not today. They had open water. Really weird.

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.

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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.