My commuter bike design explained.


The harbor should be completely frozen over this time of year.

Forty degrees above normal. That’s how warm it was yesterday. My thermometer was reading 46degF/8degC when I left for a ride. The next week is statistically the coldest of the year for us. Yesterday’s weather was more akin to mid-April.

Our weather is typically arctic in nature this time of year. What snow we have stays on the ground until a warm-up that usually happens from the middle of March until the middle of April. Snowfall can start as early in the winter as the last week of October. For every snow event the road crews spread sand on the city streets for traction. Depending on temperature it can be mixed with salt.

Conditions we have right now are very reminiscent of the Spring thaw.  These are freeze-thaw cycles we don’t usually see this time of year. What I’m getting at is these current conditions are what this bike was designed for.  This is my A-train Cycles Ultimate Commuter. Maybe not “ultimate” for what you ride, but a design maximized for the conditions we have in Duluth. Maximized to handle the high volume of grit and crud on the streets, the rough road conditions, and provides dependable braking on the hilly terrain the city of Duluth occupies.

The problems I experienced with other bikes led to this design. I experimented with many drivetrains over a decade to reach this design. A chain with some type of lube applied in these conditions creates a high maintenance system. As the snow melts over a period of a month or more, we have wet roads daily. The wet roads compound the nastiness of a winters worth of sandy crud on the streets. The crud gathers at the edges of the roads. The lube on the chain then attracts this crud to it. To keep a chain working in these conditions requires daily cleanings of the drivetrain. Sure you can just ride it and deal with a barely functioning derailleur system. But that is maddening when it spans several months of these conditions. Specially if you live in a hilly area like I do where you shift frequently. Sure, I tried single-speed and fixed gear set-ups. But they were less than ideal for our hilly terrain. I won’t get into those reasons in this post.

My solution is an internally geared hub with a Gates Belt Drive. I use a 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub. All gears are sealed inside the hub. Gear range is from 19 gear inches up to 101 gear inches. The same as an older 27 speed mountain bike. The belt drive runs dry so it doesn’t attract any dirt. It repels the crud. This drivetrain, even in these conditions is maintenance free. It always shifts and never corrodes. I don’t need to clean or lube it. I might get 1,000 miles on a chain in these conditions. The belt lasts 10,000 miles and never stretches like a chain will.

Rim brakes are another issue. In this daily slop and crud, the rims needs a daily cleaning to keep brakes working. The sandy grit wears down the rims like sandpaper. Riding everyday, I have rarely gotten more than 2 years out of a set of rims. That’s with frequent cleanings. There is a stop sign or stop light at the bottom of every hill. After about a week of build up of nasty stuff on your rim braking surface, the brakes barely work. I can’t count how many times I’ve done a Fred Flintstone (both feet on the ground) to come to a stop at the bottom of a hill when the brakes weren’t working sufficiently. This bike uses disc brakes. The stopping power can be counted on in any conditions. And no more worn out rims.


Wide tires. This bike is designed to accommodate wide tires. In the summer I use a 26 x 2.0 sized tire. In the winter I use a 26 x 1.75 sized studded tire which is about the same width as the summer 2.0 tire. Our roads are crumbling, not unlike the roads in many other cities. The late winter/spring freeze-thaw cycle compounds the severity of our roads. The wider tires give a plusher ride over all those road imperfections. And I honestly think they help keep my attention on other road users rather than on dodging holes and tire grabbing cracks. The wider tires are more forgiving than thin tires.

The stainless steel tubing used on this frame is unpainted and corrosion resistant. It is American made KVA MS3 tubing. The tag-line for MS3 is: “Stronger than steel, stiffer than titanium, and a better feel than both“.  It is lighter than traditional steel and nearly as light as titanium. It provides a ride better than any steel frame I’ve ever owned. It’s capable of the snappy acceleration of a stiff performance bike combined with the comfort of a touring bike.

Here’s another look from my Cycliq Fly6. It’s from yesterday’s ride. This segment is mostly downhill after the first four minutes. At 5:00 minutes I hit some rougher streets. It illustrates the sloppy, cruddy conditions I described and the roughness of the streets.

Happy riding.



Can’t Keep Me Inside


With the day off today I was able to get some stuff done around the house. We had light snowfall all day. It started sometime after midnight. Even though it was light, it stayed steady eventually amounting to about 3 inches. Mid-afternoon I ventured outside to shovel the sidewalks and steps. It was so strange to have a temperature right about at the freezing mark this time of year. It felt warm. I was enjoying being outside during this snowy weather I didn’t want to go back inside. So I went in long enough to change into some riding clothes. Then I headed out for a short jaunt on the bicycle.


It’s conditions like this where my A-train Ultimate commuter really shines. This is exactly the conditions it was designed for with it’s internally geared hub, belt drive, disc brakes, stainless steel frame and wide studded tires. In this kind of weather the city dumps thousands of pounds of sand and salt on the roads. I used to dread taking a bike out in this slop back when my main winter commuter had a chain and derailleur drivetrain and rim brakes. The sand would just destroy it. This bike doesn’t even care. Where the chain used to attract the sand, the belt drive seems to repel it. It’s a great bike

Here’s another one of my Cycliq Fly6 taillight/camera recordings. This one shows how I took a downhill hairpin turn at speed with studded tires. Not for the faint of heart. Watch:

Happy Riding.

Removing Labels

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Earlier this month I wrote about a cracked rim and having to replace both rims. The new rims I chose came with some awful graphics. Two rims and twelve large stickers, four small ones. How many stickers does it take. I prefer to be understated in all manners of attire and accessories.

I was off from work today. So I decided today was the day to rid my rims of the unsightly stickers. All it took was some heat from a heat gun, applied conservatively, and some finger nails. I took off all twelve large stickers, but decided to leave the four small stickers. Mainly for my own use. Two years down the road I won’t be able to remember what rims these are if someone where to ask.


Ahhhh, back to the clean aesthetics of this fine bike. It looks much better, to me at least, with all that visual noise from the stickers gone. I realize it is merely personal preference.

For the record, I don’t wear clothing with logos all over them either. It never made sense to me that you pay more to be a walking billboard. I always thought you should get a discount for providing free advertising for a brand. Or they should pay you.

Happy Riding

Snowbike ride recorded in it’s entirety.


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Last week I wrote about my initial impressions of the CYCLIQ FLY6 taillight/camera. Yesterday I wanted to check out some trails on my Pugsley. I realize the intended purpose of the Fly6 may not be to record rides in this manner. But I had a reason for recording this ride. The Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources last year put out a policy on where fatbikes can be used. Good on them for getting ahead of any potential crisis due to the explosion of fatbike interest. The policy essentially banned fatbikes from snowmobile trails. All the trails I use in this ride are trails I’ve been riding with my Pugsley for 10 winters. The first five winters I never saw another fatbike rider. All the trails are multi-use at other times of the year. All trails are in the city limits of Duluth, Minnesota. My contention is that the trails can be shared. In ten years of riding, the most snowmobiles I have seen on any ride up to 3 hours in length was 22.  Most of the time it’s less than 12. Those are very small numbers for trails set aside for a single use.

This ride was 2 hours in length. It was 14 miles long. All but 3.5 miles was on snowmobile trails. I was passed by a total of three snowmobiles. All 3 were at the end of my ride in video #12 between 1:00 and 2:16 below.

I don’t expect anyone will watch all 2 hours of footage here. But hey, if you’re bored and really need something to do, have at it. It was unseasonably warm in the mid-20’s Fahrenheit. The snow cover was minimal for this time of year. The trails were not groomed or compacted very well. The surface was loose and soft.



Seismic Shift in my Bicycle Commuting Routine


Those readers that remember my old cycling blog know I wrote mostly about my bicycle commuting lifestyle. They may also note there has been none of the usual bicycle commuting photos or stories. The reason for this is partly due to the timing of starting this new blog. At the same time I have also been going through a job change. I left a job I had held for nearly 14 years. Time for a change. I started a new position last week, it’s part-time for now.

During the 14 years of employment at the previous place I had developed a routine for my daily commutes. I had also grown from a 2 or 3 season fair weather commuter to a car-free ride every day no matter what mother nature had in store for me kind of commuter.

I had a secure place to lock my bike outside at work. I had a spacious low traffic restroom to change clothes in and clean up. I even had a place to hang my cycling clothes to dry while I worked. I had talked the maintenance guy into putting up four coat hooks on a wall at the end of a lightly used dead end hallway. It had excellent air circulation.

I had what I described as one of the most scenic commutes in the Upper Midwest. Three ships at Sunrise 005

The commute was 7 miles long. I started each day with a 1.5 mile climb up to Skyline Parkway. Then the next 4.5 miles was low traffic and incredibly scenic. I watched sunrises, the seasons change, wild life (deer, foxes, porcupines, skunks, squirrels, and even 2 black bears over the years), ships come and go from the Port of Duluth, the St Louis River (the worlds largest fresh water estuary), and of course views of Lake Superior. I marveled at how Lake Superior never looked the same. It has many moods and endless shades of colors.

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My commute was always the best part of my day. I’m going to miss that commute.

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My new job is in the cluster of buildings below in the above picture. It is only a three mile flat commute with the exception of a two block long hill leaving and arriving at my home address. After having the same routine for so many years, I’m finding it difficult to re-imagine my commute routine. I’m having a hard time finding a secure place to lock my bike. A bike I payed a lot of money for because I had a secure place to lock it up at the old place.

After experimenting for a few winters with finding clothes I could both ride and work in, I discovered it didn’t work for me. I’m a heavy sweater in any temperature. A full wardrobe change was the best solution for staying warm while on the bike. At the old place I had a place to change and a place to keep my clothes during the day. My new job has no convenient place to change or keep personal items. I come in, punch a clock, pick up a “key” for a company vehicle and head out into the field.

For the first week I’ve been utilizing mass transit, our city buses, to get me to and from work. This is an OK solution until I figure a new routine for commuting in the cold. With the help of another employee I did find a satisfactory place to lock up my bike. In fact, two places. The first is in the maintenance shop. Although the maintenance guy comes in very early and sometimes leaves earlier than I do. The shop is only unlocked while he’s there. Option two is a covered loading dock platform with a sturdy steel rail fence I could lock to. It’s also the “smoking area” for some employees. I think it’s the best option.

A plan is slowly coming together. Eventually I hope to be bicycle commuting to and from work once again.


Testing the CYCLIQ FLY6


A few weeks back I was at my LBS, Twin Ports Cyclery, and they had this new product in. It’s the CYCLIQ FLY6. It’s a rear LED blinky light with a built in HD camera. The owner wanted to get some feedback on how it works. He offered to let me try it. At first I turned him down. I’m not always that interested in all the new technology out there. After thinking about it for a few days I went back to the shop and asked if the offer was still open. It was. Home it went with me. The box sat for over a week. I also have a brand new smartphone, my first smartphone. So I had a bit of new tech toy overload. I tend to procrastinate over learning how to use new stuff like this. Without access to a teenager, I can never get this stuff to work for me.

Today I had the day off from work. I thought I’d better get this out and see if I could get it working. I’ve been keeping the bike shop in the dark about how it’s been going with this item.

After all my worrying about having to figure out how to use this it only took five minutes to get it up and running. I charged it up earlier. So all that was left was to connect it to my desktop computer to set the time and date. Then mount it on the seatpost of my bike. All I needed to do is pick the correct seatpost mount, slide the light into the mount, and then use two rubber straps to attach it to the post.  A power button on the side of the light turns on the light and the camera. A second button changes light modes. The camera and light are either both on or both off. It has 6 hours run time. The camera shuts off automatically  when the battery gets low giving you about 1.5 hours of run time left for the light. At 30 Lumens the light is very bright and rivals most other LED blinkies out there.

When I got home I connected it to my desktop computer. The video automatically uploaded. It uploads the files in 10 minute segments. If you rode for an hour, then you’d have 6 video files from your ride. Each file overlaps from the one before it and after it by about 5 or 10 seconds.  It couldn’t be easier. I wasn’t sure how to post it to my media, so I uploaded it to YouTube. Here’s two segments of video from my ride today.

In the first one watch for the women on the left side of the road 12 seconds into the video. Keep in mind it was 20F/-7C degrees outside today. She’s in a t-shirt doing tricks with a hula hoop.???

If my drivetrain in the video sounds unfamiliar to you, it may be because it is a Rohloff IGH Hub.

This next segment shows off my mad descending skills starting around 42 seconds in. I pass by my LBS at 4:45. It’s on the right side of the picture:

Overall the quality of video was much better than I expected. It’s designed to be good enough to read license plates. It’s fairly stable considering the rough roads I was riding.

I never thought I’d want or need something like this. But after one day with it, I’m sold. I learned drivers are giving me more room than I thought they were. It gave me a strange sense of security knowing that if someone was being a jerk I would have video proof of it. And just think, if the general population knew about this rear facing camera/light, they may think twice about harassing anyone on a bike with a blinkie light. Because they would know they might be recorded. It also caused me to think back to a local bicyclist that was hit from behind a year and a half ago. He survived, but was knocked unconscious and had some injuries. The driver left the scene and there were no witnesses that came forward. He had a hefty hospital bill. I keep thinking if he had this camera he would have the whole thing on video. The hit and run driver could have been caught. Something to think about.

For the record I did not buy this item myself. It is on loan from my neighborhood bike shop.

Snowy Singletrack at Sunset

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I managed to get in a little time on the trails after work today. The sun was setting and the light was flat in the woods. Hard to see all the contours in the snow. Or where the soft spots met the firm spots.

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After a week of bitter cold we had a day time temp in the double digits, 11F/-12C degrees. Even the windchill was above zero this afternoon at 1F/-17C degrees. After a stretch of below zero weather, these temps felt downright pleasant.

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The trails you see here are in Brewers Park. A section of new mountain bike trails built only one year ago. They happen to be on a wooded ridge directly above my neighborhood.

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The view from the trail looking east towards downtown Duluth, the Harbor and Lake Superior beyond. This was taken only minutes before sunset. The last light of the day. Another good day to be out. And again I had the trails to myself.

Happy Riding


Riding in sub-zero temps.


I had my wife’s car this weekend for use to get to out on my hiking adventures. She’s spending her weekend in a gorgeous rented house on the other side of town. She’s hosting a knitting retreat. She’s big into knitting, spinning and weaving of fibers. I needed to get the car back to her since it’s her main form of transportation most days. So I threw a bike in the back and drove across town to drop off the car. We were having another gloriously sunny January day combined with bitter cold. Temp at the time of my ride back home was -2F/-19C degrees with a mild windchill.

Even though I love winter, it does take me a few weeks before I fully acclimate to this kind of cold. I can tell when I’m acclimated. It’s when a sub-zero ride like this doesn’t feel uncomfortable any longer. I was quite comfortable. I enjoyed a ride in the late afternoon sunshine.


I never tire of this view of Duluth’s Aerial lift bridge and Lake Superior beyond. With the air temperatures below zero and the water temperature slightly above zero, there is always vapor rising off the surface of the big lake.

Happy Riding.

Winter camping…almost.

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My friend Jeff knew I was an experienced winter camper. He developed a desire to give winter camping a try. He asked me if I would want to go together some time. We starting putting together a plan a few weeks ago to get out this weekend for an overnight camping trip. The forecast ten days out called for highs in the lower 20’s (all temps in this post are in Fahrenheit). As our planned trip got closer the forecast changed. The temps started to get colder and colder. Two days out the forecast low’s for the nighttime were closing in on the -20 degree range. Still doable, but at the lower limit of the clothing I have. We talked about it and still decided to go.

When I got up yesterday, the morning of the trip, a windchill advisory had been added to the forecast. At that point I suggested to Jeff we may want to postpone the trip. I felt confident both I and Jeff could manage in those temps. Although Jeff is fairly new to winter camping, he is not unfamiliar with strategies for staying warm in those temps. He has bike commuted through the winter. And he has researched winter camping thoroughly. The issue is the “fun factor”. With day and night time temps never rising above zero, even the simplest tasks become more and more difficult as the temps decrease. It all honesty, it’s just not as fun in those temps. We decided to postpone until we have a weekend with daytime temps above zero and with less wind.

In lieu of an overnight camping trip, and seeing that we were already packed, we decided to take our packed pulks and take them out on an day trip into the woods. This would give Jeff a chance to test his newly made DIY pulk sled. And also give both of us a chance to practice some of our cold weather skills. We drove up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Finland, MN. We went over the ridge inland from Lake Superior about five miles. The temps stayed around -2 with a windchill in the -30 range.

It was a beautiful winter day to be in the woods. We hiked up to a small ridge and found a nice wind protected spot to stop for an hour or maybe 90 minutes. We had a brew-up and practiced our snow melting skills with our stoves.

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It was a wonderful day spent in the snowy woods. I think we both were a bit sad at postponing and weren’t staying the night. But it sure was nice waking up in a warm bed this morning.

More pictures from the day:


I can’t resist fresh snow.

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We had 2 inches of fresh snow fall during the day today. It was warmer at 10F/-12C degrees, but still cold enough to have the fluffy kind of snow. The best kind. It’s much easier to ride in than warmer, wetter snow. Snowbiking in fresh show 009

It’s hard to see any definition in the low light conditions above. With the exception of a track from a standard size mountain bike tire from earlier in the day, I was breaking fresh trail. Traction wasn’t a problem even though I’m running a rear fat tire best suited for hard compacted groomed snow.

It was another beautiful day to be out in the snow.

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In some weather conditions the alley is the fastest and safest way to ride to and from the trail.

Happy Riding.