A few weeks ago a friend of mine and I were packed up and ready to go winter camping. A day before we were to leave the forecast decided to dip down into the -25degF range with much colder windchills. We decided to postpone.
We decided to try again this weekend. A warmer, more comfortable forecast was out. Again we were all packed and ready to go. Then he came down with a nasty cold. Postponed again.
What to do? Get out for a bike ride. We are still experiencing above normal temperatures. With temperatures in the mid-30’s I headed out for a ride around town and along the lake front.
There should not be open water here this time of year. There should be ice and ice fishermen and ice shacks out there. It’s weird.
Typically this time of year I’m spending my weekends on the snow with my Pugsley. This week is statistically the coldest week of the winter. This weekend it was anything but normal. We had temperatures in the 40’s Fahrenheit. That’s around 40 degree above normal. Instead of snowbiking I did what I do when the temps fall into this range, normally in April, and went for a ride in the country.
It felt incredibly warm with the sunshine and light winds. I left the neck gaitor and ear covering at home. I could ride all day in these temps and never get cold. I even got a little sunburn on my nose.
Even the horses seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.
I returned to high speed descents without worries my brain would freeze. Here’s another one of those Cycliq Fly6 recordings. I reach 40 mph on this descent, with studded tires, for a few seconds around 3:05 in the video. Crazy stuff!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.