Fourth Season Skills #1: It’s the wind.

Fourth Season Skills is a series of articles about riding bicycles in the winter. Topics will include everything you need to know about equipment choices, clothing, riding skills, and how to stay warm. Even in the harshest temperatures. I will draw on my many years of experience living and cycling in Northern Minnesota. I have commuted by bike in all four seasons for 12 years. I am a veteran of the Arrowhead 135, one of the hardest winter races in the world. I am a winter camper and winter camping instructor.

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Ground blizzard during a commute to work.

You choice of clothing is one of the most important parts of being comfortable while riding in cold weather. It is possible to be comfortable, meaning warm, in almost any temperature once you understand the basics of heat loss. And then wearing clothes to help prevent the loss of heat.

There are four basic ways heat loss can happen:

1) Radiation: example-uncovered head or lack of insulation

2) Conduction: direct physical contact with something cold. Example: bare metal, water, sweat soaked clothes, rain.

3) Convection: Your body generates heat to keep the layer of air directly next to your skin warm. Your clothing maintains this warm layer by trapping it in the dead air spaces of fabric. That warm air can quickly be stolen by wind if proper shells are not worn.

4) Evaporation: Perspiration-heat is required to disperse vaporized moisture. Breathing causes the displacement of warm moist air by cold dry air.

Today I’m going to talk about convection. Your body works hard to maintain a core temperature and in turn a layer of heated air near your body. Your clothing choices, if done thoughtfully, insulates or traps that layer of heated air next to your body. A top layer that is windproof further helps to hold that heat in.

I always tell people when the temperature drops below the freezing mark I will pay as much, or more, attention to the wind speed then to the air temperature. The wind is what robs your body of the heat you are producing. The wind will pull heat out of every little opening in our clothing. Or through your clothing if it’s not windproof. Your body responds by working harder to maintain the layer of heated air next to your body. The higher the wind speed, the quicker the heat loss. You should also factor in your speed on the bicycle.  For example, an increase of speed on a downhill increases the overall wind speed. This creates an elevated level of heat loss during the descent.

From my experience I have found that it’s easier to maintain warmth with an air temperature of say 5F/-15C degrees with no wind as compared to a much warmer air temperature of 32F/0C degrees with a wind speed of 25-30 mph.

Yes, there are times when it is easier to stay warm when the thermometer is reading 5 degrees then when it’s reading 32 degrees. So always pay attention to the wind speed when planning what you are going to wear for your next fourth season bicycle ride.

Next on this series: Strategies for dressing to maintain a comfortable level of warmth.

Gotta get out while the conditions are good.

We had another sub-zero night. It’s helping firm up the snow out on the trails. A small fast moving clipper system is supposed to drop an inch or so of snow this afternoon and evening. That’s enough to change the conditions on the trail. I thought I needed to get out while the trails were in great shape. I headed up to the Brewers Park and Piedmont Mountain bike trails for the third day in a row.


Every thing looks washed out with the low light conditions. Didn’t matter for the riding. It was fantastic. Temperature at ride time was 2F/-17C degrees with a windchill of -11F/-24C. A temperature I find is easy to dress for after ten years of doing this kind of riding.

For the second day in a row I didn’t see a single other person out on the trails during the 90 minute ride.


The snow system started to move into the area midway through my ride. Small snowflakes started to fall. It was spectacularly beautiful out in the woods with light snow falling.


I was losing light so I hit the snowmobile trail for a quick exit down to the main road. Then it was a very cold mile long descent on the road followed by a 1 mile shortcut along the ore tracks to get home.


It’s always a good day when you can get out and play in the snow on a bike.

Happy Riding.


Bitter cold makes for Great Fatbike Conditions

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An arctic blast of cold air moved in last night. It was -12F/-24C degrees when I got up this morning. I knew that meant one thing. Great fatbiking! A dip in temps like that always firms the trails up.

My wife and I made it out to a Sunday morning showing of the Star Wars movie. Weird going to a Sunday morning movie right after breakfast. Neither of us like crowds so we usually don’t go to opening weekends of popular movies. We figured light crowds considering the day and time, the frigid cold morning and the Minnesota Vikings were playing some big game at noon. All those variables provided a nearly empty movie theater to watch one of the most popular movies of all time. Us and twelve other movie goers. And we both liked the movie.

When we got home I putzed around for awhile and eventually got ready for a bike ride. My first stop was at my LBS, Twin Ports Cyclery.  When I was in the other day the owner had offered me a chance to test a new product. He wanted some real world feedback on how well it works to see if it’s something he would want to carry. I first declined but reconsidered and went back today to pick it up. More about that on this blog when I get into mounting it up. While there the whole shop crew was watching a live streaming of the Cyclocross National Championships. I started to get sucked in, but broke free so I could go enjoy the snow conditions.

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As suspected the conditions had greatly improved overnight. The trail was firm with less punchiness. The air temp was 1F/-17C degrees with a light windchill. An arctic mass of air like this usually brings intense blue sky with it. I have to say it was absolutely perfect riding conditions. Being outdoors in this kind of weather reminds me of why I love winter so much.Pugsley fun 003

I rode a section of the Piedmont Trail system today. This was new trail for me. I’ll definitely be back out to ride it more.Pugsley fun 004

Yesterday I saw two other fatbikers while out on the trails. Today I didn’t see a single other soul in over an hour on the trails. What happened to all those hundreds of new fatbike owners?

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This section of trail had been groomed recently. It has some drifted snow on it from high winds overnight. But no tire tracks, only footprints. It’s gets a little cold and people miss out on the best snowbiking we’ve had so far this year. That’s okay, I like the solitude.

Happy Riding.

Now it feels like winter.

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I was able to get out for a wonderful ride in the snow today. After a very warm winter up until now, we’re finally getting some January temperatures. When I headed out this afternoon the air temp was 12F/-11C degrees with a windchill in the negative numbers. That’s my kind of weather. What little snow we have has firmed up a bit and the trails are becoming much more ride-able.

The bonus for getting out today was a hint of sunshine trying to peak through clouds. Clouds that appeared to be trying to break up.

My destination was Brewers Park. Not really a park. Until last year it had no infrastructure. It’s city owned open, wooded space on the hillside above Duluth. In 2014 mountain bike trails were laid down in the “park”. It’s only an 1 mile ride uphill from my house.

It was a nice outing on the bike. Here’s some more pictures I took today:

Happy riding.

My LBS is coming through for me.


Twin Ports Cyclery, my LBS, is helping me with my URF situation. The new rims came in today. Both rebuilt wheels should be done tomorrow. My bike currently sits in my home workstand completely wheel-less.

Here’s a tip if you have to have your local bike shop work on your wheels. Clean them before you take them in. When I got the call this morning the new rims came in, I put the bike in the stand. I filled a bucket with hot water and a mild soap. I cleaned all the salt, road crud and grease from the wheel. I wiped down the rims, tire sidewalls, spokes, and hub. Since the wheels are being rebuilt, I also removed the brake rotors (disc brake bike) and quick release skewers. And one last thing. Since I use a bike computer with a sensor and magnet, I removed the magnet from the front wheel spoke. This way it doesn’t get lost at the bike shop. Do you have to do all this? No. But I feel it’s a nice thing to do for the shop mechanic. That way she/he gets to start with a clean wheel.

In other updates: The Steel on Wheels Forum is seeing a bump in activity this week. This is a new forum for people who love riding steel bicycles. I urge everyone to check it out. Register and join in the conversations. I’d like to see the membership grow and form a wonderful community of like-minded individuals. I’ll continue to put reminders up on this blog.

Happy riding.

URF or Unfortunate Rim Failure

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I don’t care to write posts like this. You know, posts about equipment failing. It happens. It’s part of being a cyclist. Stuff breaks. I expect it to happen on my older bikes. When it happens on my newest bike. The one with less than 3,000 miles on it. All I can do is scratch my head and wonder, “What the heck”?

As I was getting the bike ready to go for the New Years Day ride last Friday I noticed this:

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A split in the side of the rim. It’s even worse then it looks in this picture. It goes completely around this side of the rim. I’ve seen my share of split rims. But those have all been on rims with rims brakes. After a few winters of sand and salt and trying to stop at the bottom of Duluth’s hills, rims wear thin and split. That’s why I switched to disc brakes for this newest commuter bike. No more worn out rim sidewalls. WRONG! Ironic isn’t it.

If you look back at my post from last week called “Sore Fingers” you’ll see I mentioned these were the hardest rims to get tires onto I’ve ever owned. My thumbs were raw by the time I got the bead of the studded tires all the way onto this rim.

I’ve notified the manufacturer of these rims by email. I haven’t heard back. But if all they can offer me is a replacement rim I’ll say no thank you. I’m done with these rims. I went to my LBS today and ordered a new set of rims from another manufacturer. When they come in the shop will lace up both wheels for me. I do all my own maintenance with a few exceptions. I don’t do wheels. I’ve built one wheel myself in a class with an instructor looking over my shoulder 6 or 7 years ago. The process still scares me. I’ll leave this to the experts.

I’ve been riding the bike with the rim like this. Hoping it doesn’t blow out on me. The bike shop owner told me to stop riding it. I rode it home and parked it. It’s permanently down until the new wheels are built. URF!

Magic happens when you least expect it.

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Yesterday was a wonderful day full of sunshine and cross-country skiing adventures. Today was a day of soreness as a result of the skiing. I used a lot of muscles I don’t normally use. Today we returned to the dense cloud cover and a grayness closing in on our world.

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I live for the chance to be outside in the winter. But I do admit that sometimes it takes awhile to get motivated to get out. With the gray day, my muscle soreness, and our lack of snow and cold, I was having a hard time deciding what to do today. Finally, about an hour before sunset, I talked myself into taking the Pugsley out in search of some snow to ride.

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As usual, as soon as I got out and started to move under my own power my spirits started to lift. The temperature was an unseasonably warm and balmy 30F/-1C degrees.

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When I take leisurely rides I always ride from my house. I rarely throw a bike in the car and drive somewhere to ride. Today I headed for the Western Water Front Trail. A hardpack gravel multi-use trail that weaves in and out of the bays and inlets along the St Louis River. I rarely ride this trail. However, it is particularly interesting in the winter. It’s not groomed or tracked. It’s packed down mostly by the local residents who walk their dogs on the trail. It’s open only to walkers, hikers and bikers.

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I reached the western end, turned around, and started back. That’s when I started to notice this:

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The sun was setting. It had discovered a small opening in the clouds and was peaking through onto the under sides of the cloud cover. For the next five minutes the skies were completely magical.

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I hadn’t seen anyone while out on the trail. It almost felt like I was the only person seeing this wonderful display happening right before my eyes.

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And then as quickly as it started, it was gone. I was speechless watching the spectacle. When the sky returned to gray, I turned my pedals toward home with a feeling of intense joy inside.

All I could think about was how I would have missed that five minutes of joy if I hadn’t gotten on my bike and gone for a ride. You just never know when something magical is going to happen.

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I finished the ride in darkness with my thoughts on the five minutes of light that made my whole day.

I need to do this more often.

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Back prior to 2006 I used to do quite a bit of Cross Country Skiing. I love being outdoors in the winter time. Since 2006 I’ve gone skiing an average of once a winter. What happened in 2006 to change this? I bought my Surly Pugsley fatbike. That changed everything. I have never had so much fun in the snow than when I’m on my Pugsley. I’ve ridden thousands of miles on snow. And I’m not referring to riding on snow on the roadways. I mean off road riding.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have always loved skiing. And every year I pledge to do more skiing. But the snowbiking is so incredibly fun. And since I have access to trails only one mile from my house I don’t need to drive in order to snowbike. I don’t have a car, and my wife’s car isn’t always available when I have time to go skiing.

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Long mid-afternoon winter shadows.

Today I drove my wife to the weaving studio so she could work on a project. That left me with a car. The temperatures are crazy warm for early January. A couple of degrees above freezing. It should be 20 degrees below the freeze mark or colder. We have very little snow. However I heard there was just enough snow for the city crews to groom the city cross-country ski trails. So off I went to get in the first, and hopefully not the only, ski outing of the year.

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As I was skiing and soaking up all that sunshine we had today, I couldn’t help thinking I need to do this more often. How can I live in this place with an abundance of winter, and  many winter trails and not take advantage of it. As winter progresses I guess I’ll find out what activity I choose most often.

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View of the Duluth Harbor and Wisconsin from the Cross Country Ski trails.

Happy Riding

VeloDuluth’s 38th Annual New Years Day Ride

Happy New Year Everyone!

I’m not a person who practices the same traditions year after year. I tend not to celebrate National Holidays. If I do I’m standing out along the periphery looking in rather than actively participating. In the same way I’m not one who can do the same events year after year after year. Nothing wrong with it. It’s just not me.

Now having said that. I do have one tradition I’ve been doing for the past 12 years. A local bicycle club I belong to has an Annual New Years Day Ride. In this climate it can be rather cold on January 1st. Typically in the negative range of the thermometer. Cold riding is my thing! Attendance numbers are low, 5-20 people depending on the weather. This years attendance was on the upper end due to temps in the mid-twenties Fahrenheit.

I enjoy starting the year with a bicycle ride. It’s usually my only group ride of the year. I ride solo most of the time.  I didn’t work too hard at capturing pictures. Here’s the few I did take:

I’m happy with my choice to put studded tires on. The confidence they provide on icy roads is worth every cent. Before leaving this morning I managed to get one more maintenance task done.

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I applied some Boeshield T-9 to my stainless steel framed bike. The tubes are unpainted. Unlike most steel, stainless steel resists corrosion. But it’s not completely immune to it. The T-9 adds a bit of protection. It’s only the third time I’ve applied it in a little over a year I’ve had this frame.  It has been corrosion free. This tubing is made by KVA and is named MS3. From what I’ve heard MS2, an earlier version, exhibited surface corrosion when used in winter conditions with salt. My frame maintained it luster through an entire winter.

Sore fingers

There they are. Hanging on the basement wall. They’ve been there since mid-April. The Schwalbe Marathon Winter Studded tires. My favorite studded tire.

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I have the task of mounting them on my commuter bike once every year. With my current commuter set-up I dread it. I’m running Velocity Blunt rims. A rim notoriously known for being very difficult to mount tires onto. Factor in the Schwalbe tires that tend to be difficult on regular rims, let alone these “tubeless” rims. Getting these tires on this rim is an exercise in finger strength and lots of grunting. I have a history of tendinitis in  my elbows. By the time I get these tires mounted my fingers are raw and my hand strength is gone. I can’t even pick up a glass for the first four hours.

Why today? Two reasons. I always wait to the last possible day to mount the studded tires. Winter can arrive anywhere from the last week of October until…well… like this year, the last week of December. I wait because the tires will stay on until mid-April. They come off once there is no longer a chance of winter storms, of the April variety. And no longer ice in the morning. The other reason for today is the Annual New Year’s Day ride with a local club I belong to. It happens tomorrow at noon. I’ve made it every year for the last 12 years. Well, except that one year I was recovering from the broken humerus bone in my right arm. The bone I blasted into 13 pieces. A story for another time. Anyway, I want the security of studs while riding in a group. Lots of icy patches around right now.

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I’m happy to report this went okay this year. It was still incredibly tight. I’d like to think an added year of experience helped. But, it might have been the large quantity of soapy water applied to the bead of the tires that got the tires over the edge of those rims this time!!

Happy New Year