There’s a new City Park at the end of our block. The Duluth Climbers Coalition has worked with the city to turn an abandoned rock quarry into a winter destination for ice climbing. This happens to be at the top of the city block we live on and across the train tracks that carry ore trains in and out of the Duluth Harbor. Up until now it’s been used by locals for walks, dog walking, teenager parties and in the winter I have seen ice climbers on the walls of the old quarry. Personally I’ve used the quarry for hiking, walking and snowshoeing. I never knew who owned the property or if I was allowed on it. Turns out the city owned most of it and acquired another 10 acres to make it a park. The climbers club in cooperation with the city is developing it into a park for all. It will feature climbing. They plan to put in a water system to farm ice on the wall. There is naturally occurring ice, but framing ice will give them more stable and abundant ice climbing routes.
The part of the plan I am most excited about is the part that develops hiking trails and mountain biking trails to link with the trails higher up the ridge. This will give my neighborhood complete trail access to a system of hiking and biking trails that connect with the rest of the city. I will only need to ride or walk one block of roads to access the trails I am already using. When we bought this house in 2003 there was no hiking or biking trail systems. Now there will be access nearly from our front door.
Yesterday was the first Annual Duluth Ice and Mixed Fest put on by the climbing club. It was an extremely unusual weather day with temps in the low 50’s It was a pleasant day to stand around and watch the ice climbers. The Fest also offered fatbike demos, snowshoeing, Frisbee golf demos, and ice climbing clinics. I was very impressed with the enthusiasm of the climbing club. To put on an event like this when the “Park” has not even been developed yet was amazing. Plus they went out of their way to make it inviting to people in the neighborhood.
I worked half a day today. When I got home I knew what I wanted to do. Get back out on the Pugsley while we still have snow. It’s supposed to be in the upper 40’s tomorrow. It’s going to make quite a bit of our snow disappear. It was above freezing by noon today with plentiful sunshine. That meant I wouldn’t be able to get back out on the freshly groomed mountain bike trails I had ridden yesterday. Too warm. Riding in warm, soft conditions leaves nasty ruts. The alternative was to return to my old stomping grounds. The snowmobile trails of Western Duluth. Fatbikes have been banned from snowmobile trails according to recent DNR policies. But I figured I wouldn’t see any other snowmobiles on a day like today. I was close. I only saw three the couple of hours I was out there. I still consider these trails within the city to be mutli-use trails. I saw more dog walkers then snowmobiles on the trails today. And one cross-country skier. Are they banned too?
The first and last mile were on-street riding. The remaining 12 miles was completely on snow. I made my way down to the Munger Trail. Took a side trail up hill to the Magney Snively area. It was a steep hike-a-bike out of the St Louis River Valley. Then a short out and back to Bardon Peak. Followed by a trail around Spirit Mountain and back home. It’s a very picturesque route and spectacular on a late winter sunny day like today. Sometimes it’s hard to believe all this beauty is within the city limits of Duluth.
I can never ride past the Bardon Peak overlook without snapping a few photos.
I realized how much I miss riding these trails. I enjoy cruising along on the snowmobile trails so much more than the twisty narrow single track mountain bike trails.
I’ve been saying this for 10 winters, ever since I bought my Pugsley, these kind of winter rides are my favorite rides of the year. With the warm temps I was able to ride without any ear or neck covering. My jacket was unzipped most of the ride and I still was overheating.
Wish you could all join me for a winter ride Northeastern Minnesota style.
I’m not sure if anyone watches these, but here’s three separate rear view videos from my Cycliq Fly6 taillight/camera from today’s ride:
Just when I think the trail conditions couldn’t be any good, I have another great ride. The weather has been cycling between above normal and normal conditions for the past month or more. We have a warm spell and loose 2 -4 inches of base snow. Then it turns colder, snows, and we gain back 1 or 2 inches. We had some sloppy wet snowfall earlier in the week. I thought for sure the trails would be icy and deteriorated. Then today I get off work early. I saw a Tweet that the trails on the ridge above my house were freshly groomed and in pretty good condition. That’s all it took. I know very well from past experience this time of year that if you don’t go when the conditions are good you may not have another opportunity until next winter. Up here the opposite is also possible. We could be riding snow well into April. I don’t expect that though. Not with the warm winter we’ve been having.
The trails turned out to be quite exceptional. I’m soooo happy I got myself out even if I had to cut it short to attend a community meeting about the local bike infrastructure.
Here’s another Cycliq Fly6 tailight/camera recording. It’s ten minutes worth of the ride from about mile 5 to 6. At minute 7:30 to 9:17 I stop to talk with Tim Ek. He’s a local endurance rider sponsored by Salsa Cycles. He has wonderful way of putting his adventures into words on his blog. He’s also a full time, year round bike commuter. For years our daily bike commute crossed paths. He used to be the only other winter rider I’d see. Nowadays we have quite a bit more company out there during the winter months.
We were in the middle of a sad drive home from the Vet yesterday. There had been a long silence. Minutes before this we had finished saying Good Bye to Ciro, a family member for close to 19 years.
Susan broke the silence with the question, “Who’s going to boss us around now”? It was so true. Ciro had trained his humans well to meet all his needs. Specially as he aged the last five years. We used to say the house was his house. He just allowed us to show up at the end of each day and feed him. Fill his water bowl and keep his litter box cleaned out. And….if we screwed up, he was sure to let us know. He could be very vocal. He allowed us to sleep in the house too.
His presence will be missed. His bossiness was a fraction of his huge personality. A personality so large it filled the house. So large there was a void missing in our home this morning when we started our morning routine.
Maybe some day when the loss doesn’t hurt so bad, we’ll have a new boss. Until then we’ll have to muddle through on our own with our hearts aching.
With unusual warm weather and rain over the past several days, it appeared winter was retreating early. After the above freezing temps and rain yesterday I thought for sure the trails were done for. Then I awoke to light snow and temps a few degrees below freezing. As the day went by the lake effect snow continued to fall as did the temperature. By the time my wife and I got home from an early afternoon movie I was itching to get out and play in the fresh two inches of snow that had fallen.
What I discovered where trails that were still in prime condition. Somehow they had survived the warm spell and rain. It was like a gift. Just when I thought winter might be gone, it reappeared and seemed like it never left.
Again I had to relearn the lesson: “You gotta get out when the gettin’ is good”. And today was Good!
This time of year, mid-February, I am normally enjoying the best snowbiking of the year. Usually there is a base of accumulated snow 2-3 feet deep. The trails have been packed in for six or eight weeks and we would be experiencing the coldest temps of the season. Last weekend we were seeing less snow then normal, but we had a cold spell that firmed things up. And then this week happened. Above freezing day time temps. That is rare. Rain yesterday and today. And the world was engulfed in thirty different shades of gray.
I really needed to get out for a ride. So I dressed for the conditions and headed out. It was 36degF/2degC. The first half of the ride was rain.The second half was mixed rain and snow. Less than ideal conditions. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years is, it’s how to dress for less than ideal conditions. I chose a route that would help to generate warmth. If you click on the link you can see an elevation profile.
It’s a route which includes quite a bit of climbing. Nothing gets me heated up more than climbing. The first 5 miles was relatively flat. The next 13 miles were mainly uphill. Or at least it seemed like all I was doing was climbing. It had just enough breaks in the climbing to keep me from overheating too much. I tried to take some roads that aren’t part of my usual route to keep things more interesting. I passed a lot of historic homes. Something I enjoy looking at.
Here’s another 10 minute look from the rear of my bike of my ride. Recorded with a Cycliq Fly6. It’s starts at the stone archway from the picture at the top of the post.
Another good example of the incredibly nasty and cruddy streets we have during the winter. The rain is turned into salt water from all the winter salt on the streets. It turns the sand into a cruddy mess. The best part is having my A-train Ultimate Commuter to ride. The internally geared hub combined with the belt drive just laughs off these component eating conditions. It helped turn a ride in awful conditions into a pleasant mid-winter ride. I’m looking forward to more tomorrw.
I’ve been really missing my bicycle commute. The commute I did daily for the past 12 years. Since starting my new job I’ve been using the local city bus service to get back and forth. I never thought I’d work at a workplace that totally befuddled me when it came to finding a secure place to lock up my bike. I thought I had a plan. On further thought I decided I wasn’t comfortable with the situation. It wasn’t the location so much, a loading dock platform on the side of the building. It was the amount of activity that would occur around the spot I’d be locking. I’ve been watching it closer lately. It’s doubles as an outdoor smokers lounge and a loading dock. I would have to squeeze my bike in between the chairs the smokers leave out there. It just wasn’t ideal. Unless I come up with something else I may continue to commute by the bus.
Once Spring arrives my Brompton folder may come into play. I have spotted an indoor location I might be able to leave the Brompton. I choose not to ride it in the winter time cruddy conditions. Once the streets get cleaned up in late April I’ll take a look at that.
So what does this have to do with the Subject of the post. Nothing really, except I’ve been itching to get out on a bike since I haven’t been riding to and from work. It’s really strange for me. I’ve been bike commuting so long. So when I finished with work at 2:30 this afternoon I came home and decided I had to get out. The winter biking trails were in great condition over the weekend. That’s about to end as warmer weather and rain is moving in. That’s something you don’t hear around these parts in February.
The no-no I’m referring to is a trail rule I’ve been hearing since I started riding the new mountain bike trails. You should not be on the trails in the winter when the temperature is above freezing. If I understand it correctly the snow on the trails become soft and can be easily damaged. I have to disagree with this rule. It should say, the trails may become soft when the temp is above freezing. Today was a good example of the temp being above freezing with no danger of damaging the trails. After last weekends bitter cold the trails have become very firm. Even with a warm-up the night time temps have been well below freezing. But the biggest factor to come into play today was the lack of sunshine. We had very dense cloud cover.
When the sun shines this time of year it can increase the softening up of the snow in a hurry when it hits the trail directly. Today with the dense cloud cover there was no softening of the snow. The trails were as firm as if it was 25 degrees colder. My tires were floating on the trail and never left any marks.
Tomorrow and this weekend will be a different story after some rain and temps in the 40’s. If we have an early end to winter, this could have been the last snow ride of the year. Some years it goes well into April. As recent as 2012 the snowbiking ended about this same time in February. It’s rare, but it can happen. You just never know. I try to make the most of it while it’s around.
Here’s a bike I never thought I would buy. A Brompton folding bike.I first started noticing the category of “folding bikes” back in 2008 or 2009. I’m not sure why I started developing an interest in small wheeled bikes. About the same time there were stories in the local paper about the possibility of passenger train service being restored between Duluth and Minneapolis. Passenger rail service had been discontinued in the early 80’s. I couldn’t think of a reason to buy a folding bike. It was basically a curiosity of mine. With the talk of rail service I started to imagine day trips or weekend trips to Minneapolis. A folding bike would be the perfect multi-modal companion. I decided if the rail service ever became a reality I would buy a folding bike. After hours of reading on-line articles and reviews, it seemed to me the Brompton would be the bike for me. It’s a well engineered bike, made in England. It’s known for it’s high quality construction and for having the smallest and fastest fold.
Fast forward to 2012. Rail service between Duluth and Minneapolis was still a dream. It was lost in the planning stages and started to seem less likely. I had saved up a large sum of money for a planned cross country trip on the TransAmerica Trail. I was planning a 3 month leave from work to accomplish this. Long story short, I started and ended the trip in Oregon. That’s a story for another day. I returned to work a few weeks later with a sudden increase in available funds in my bike budget. I spent about a thousand dollars doing some upgrades on my 2006 Surly Pugsley. In January of 2013. My wife had a weekend retreat to attend in the Twin Cities. I came along for the ride. While she attended her retreat I would visit some of my favorite bike shops and do some shopping at REI.
One of my favorite shops is Perennial Cycle in Minneapolis. It just so happens that Calhoun Cycle is also the only Brompton Dealer in Minnesota. I walked in the shop and about 90 minutes later came out carrying a Brompton S6L. The bike you see above. I was able to test ride several different models (models, meaning different handlebar set-ups) and pick the the one I liked the most. I also test rode the bike I bought. It’s the only bike I own I was able to test ride before buying.
The buying process is rather straight forward. There are two methods. Buy an in stock bike from a dealer like Perennial Cycle. Or Build Your Brompton online. Get all the options you want. It is then delivered to your nearest Brompton Dealer. I was thinking I would be ordering a Brompton and not expecting to find one with all the options I wanted. Calhoun had one with everything I wanted. When you build your own you start with a base single speed model and pick the options you want. If I had done that, this is what I would have had to pick. I got the “S” model. There are four different handlebar configurations. The “S’ is the flat bar. I’m short and prefer a slightly aggressive stance on the bike. The “S” bar gave me a nice fit. I have the 6-speed model with lowered gearing. It’s a wide range 3-speed Sturmey Archer internally geared hub with a two speed derailleur (2 x 3 equals 6 speeds) with a smaller chainring to provide a lower climbing gear. The “L” stands for “mudguards w/o a rear rack”. This gives me the model, S6L. Other options included a front carrier block and Brompton S-bag luggage bag. A Shimano Dyno Hub Generator with front and rear lights. I would have had to upgrade the tires to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. My bike originally had the optional Brooks B17 saddle. I’m not a fan of Brooks saddles. I swapped it out for a cheaper Brompton saddle. A saddle that is surprisingly very comfortable .
I didn’t yet know how I would use the Brompton. The start of train service has been pushed back to 2020. I wasn’t even sure I’d like it enough to ride it. What I discovered is a bike that rides very nicely. The steering can feel a bit twitchy at first due to the small wheels. I got used to that after a few rides and don’t even notice it anymore. The small wheels accelerate quickly. It feels sturdy and solid. There is a hill I routinely hit between 40-42 mph on the Brompton when descending. It feels very solid descending at 40 mph. I’ve used it for leisure rides. I’ve commuted on it regularly except during the winter months. I like to throw it in the back of the car whenever we travel anywhere out of state.It takes up very little room. It stays dry, clean, and secure inside the car.
Riding rural roads in southern Michigan during a visit to relatives.
Car camping at a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
Riding along the I&M Canal Trail in Joliet, Illinois.
During the first year I had it I tried to get into the habit of working it into my normal bike rotation. I had a goal to ride it 1,000 miles in the first year. I only ended up putting on 380 miles. In the second year I kept the same goal of 1,000 miles on the Brompton. I exceeded it with 1,440 miles. I loved every minute of that year. Most of my miles were work commutes. But I did quite a few leisure rides covering distances of 20-50 miles per ride.
In November of 2013 I upgraded the stock generator headlight with a halogen bulb to a Lumotec IQ Headlight. This was a big improvement in the ability to light my way.
Thanks to a company in Bangkok called Brompification, I’ve done some rather nice modifications to my Brompton.
In April of 2014 I did quite a few upgrades. Original parts that come on the Brompton include parts made of plastic. Brompification makes nice CNC machined parts to replace original plastic parts. They work in steel, titanium and aluminum. I replaced the Lever Bolts and the Hinge Clamp Plates. The original levers are plastic. The Brompification hinge clamp plates improve on the design of the original. The originals rotate around when you are trying to tighten them down. It takes some fiddling. The Brompification hinge clamps are locked in place and don’t rotate.
I replaced the plastic Seat Clamp Quick Release.
I replaced the plastic Rear Frame clip with a stainless steel one.
I replaced the plastic Easy Wheels with thinner aluminum wheels. New on left, old on right:
I really enjoyed upgrading this assortment of parts. It bumped up a notch the already high quality of my Brompton.
In November of 2014 I upgraded the Chain Tensioner. This also functions as the two-speed derailleur on 6-speed Brompton’s like mine. The original chain tensioner is a big piece of plastic. The Brompification chain tensioner is a beautifully CNC machined aluminum component.
At the same time I upgraded the Chain Tensioner I added some simple bar ends to the straight handlebars to give me another hand position. This increased my comfort on longer rides.
I finally have the Brompton built exactly how I like it. It’s a great little bike that rides more like a normal sized bike. It was a gamble buying it not knowing what I’d used it for. It turns out I use it the same as my other bikes. It just has the added benefit of folding down very small.
Also, I’ve got the “fold” and “unfold” down in the 10-12 second range. I practiced it a lot. Here’s a fun video of a folding competition at Perennial Cycle.
My small wheel dreams now seem to drift to a Moulton now that I have a Brompton I love. A Moulton has now become my “small wheeled” dream bike.
Yesterday: Firm packed trail. Today: 1″ fresh snow on top of firm packed trail.
Yesterday was prime conditions. The subtle changes in temp and snow changed the conditions significantly. The dusting of snow decreased the traction quite a bit. The trails were a bit more challenging to ride today. Still fun. But it did take more attention to keep the tires on the narrow single track. Turns were slicker. The low, flat light conditions made it harder to read the trail.
Here’s another rear view of a portion of the ride:
I know my brakes sound bad. The position of the camera seems to amplify the sounds coming from the rear triangle of the bike. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as bad from where I sit.
I haven’t been out in the snow on my Pugsley for a few weeks. It’s due to some unseasonably warm weather. Soft and/or icy snow conditions have been the norm during this warm period.
Thanks to a cold arctic blast of frigid air, trail conditions suddenly improved. We had a low temperature of -15degF/-26degC last night. I expected that to really firm up the trails. I was correct. As often is the case, the arctic blast also delivered crisp, clear blue skies. Nearly perfect snowbiking conditions. By time I got outside today it had warmed to a balmy 7degF/-14degC.
I used my Cycliq Fly6 to film the rear view of my ride. If you get motion sickness you may not want to watch. You can see why if you do watch any bit of it. The first 8 winters with my Pugsley I rode exclusively on snowmobile trails. I reveled in my winter rides cruising along snowy landscapes on wide level trails. Then with the explosion in sales of fatbikes the Minnesota DNR put out a policy on fatbike usage essentially banning us from snowmobile trails. Timing was good it turns out. That was at the beginning of last winter. The Brewer Park Mountain Bike Trails had been built the summer leading up to last winter. So I took to the mountain bike trails in place of my usual snowmobile trail rides. It turned out to be an entirely different riding experience. The mtn bike trails are not made for level smooth cruising on wide trails. They are narrow single track with lots of dip-dee-doos, and back and forths, and up and overs. It’s craziness to me and no where near as enjoyable as riding the snomo trails I used to ride. On the other hand I do enjoy being out in the woods on my Pugsley on a day like today. So I can’t complain. It’s only a mile from my house. How lucky is that?
Click on the following link to see the GPS of this ride.