The Blue Truck/Xtracycle emerges from hibernation.


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.

.'94 Toyota

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.

Winter Cycling Tips: Part 3, Zippers


This is a series of posts aimed at the beginning winter rider. More seasoned riders may also pick up a few tips along the way. It contains tips and strategies for staying safe and warm when enjoying the outdoors during the most beautiful season…winter.

Zippers? What, do they make special zippers for winter cycling? Well no, not exactly.

Typical heavy duty YKK zipper found on many top brand name outerwear products.

This is your typical zipper. It’s a very good zipper. Feels solid in your fingers. Durable, won’t break under the roughest yanking and pulling. Easy to grab with your bare hand……ah…..we’re talking winter riding here. There’s no bare hands. Chances are you have a glove, or maybe even two pairs of gloves, or a mitten. Thus making it much harder to grab that zipper. Have you ever been riding along in the winter and wanted to open your jacket a bit to help vent some air so you don’t overheat. You might have learned how much more difficult it is to grab that zipper with a gloved hand. This is what zipper pulls are for.

Zipper pulls.

You may already have zipper pulls on some of your outerwear. Lots of brands already include them with new products. The zipper pull makes it much easier to find and adjust your zipper, or open and close it, with a gloved hand. Some clothing may not have them or only have them on the main zipper. I always have extra zipper pulls laying around. I add them to zippers on pockets, zippers on bags, zippers on framebags….you name it. Anything I might want to open or close with a gloved hand gets a zipper pull. I buy small packs of zipper pulls at outdoor stores like REI. A pack of three or four costs a few dollars. If you search for “zipper pull” you’ll find zipper pulls in every size and shape.

Zipper pulls I added to one of my favorite pieces of outerwear.

If you go back to the top picture, you can see even the “gas tank”  bag on my bike has a zipper pull on it’s double zipper

Why is this important? It’s part of staying warm. Anytime you expose skin to the cold air, you lose heat. For many people keeping their hands warm is one of the biggest challenges of winter riding. Zipper pulls allow you to do things without having to lose precious heat by removing your glove.





Winter Cycling Tips: Part 2, more tips for keeping your hands warm. 

This is a series of posts aimed at the beginning winter rider. More seasoned riders may also pick up a few tips along the way. It contains tips and strategies for staying safe and warm when enjoying the outdoors during the most beautiful season….winter.

In my last post on Winter Cycling Tips, I wrote about pre-warming gloves before heading out into the cold. Here’s another tip for keeping your gloves, or other outerwear warm once you’re out and need to remove them temporarily.

This is one of the things I see many novice winter cyclists make. They pull over and stop, maybe for a nature break, or to take a photograph, or to fix a mechanical issue, etc. What is the first thing they do?  They remove their gloves and set them down, either on their bike, on a nearby bench or on the ground. What’s going to happen to the heat that’s built up inside those gloves? Yes, it’s going to get sucked out of that piece of outwear faster then you can say, “Brrrrr”.

The easiest way to keep that heat from escaping is to stuff your gloves somewhere that’s also warm. Where’s your biggest source of heat?  Your core. I take my gloves and push them in between my base layer and an outer layer.  These layers are responsible for trapping all the heat you’re producing and keeping it from escaping. I usually access these in between layers from my waist.

When you’re done with whatever you were doing, you will have the same warm gloves that you took off, instead of a pair of icicles.

I often use this same method with headwear. I tend to overheat when climbing. I will remove my hat at the base of a climb, unzip my jacket and shove the hat down in between my jacket and base layer. The colder it gets, the better this method works. And the more important it becomes to be mindful of everything you do to maintain the heat you are producing.

Winter Cycling Tips: Warm boots and gloves 

This is a series of posts aimed at the beginning winter rider. More seasoned riders may also pick up a few tips along the way. It contains tips and strategies for staying safe and warm when enjoying the outdoors during the most beautiful season….winter.

After many years of riding bicycles in all four seasons, it’s the winter riding that presented the biggest learning curve. Often it was the smallest things which took the longest to figure out.

Keeping my hands and feet warm was the biggest barrier to being able to not only survive winter rides, but really enjoy them. It took 4 to 5 winters of riding everyday to get my inventory of gloves, mitts and boots figured out. Meaning, figuring out what worked for me. Everyone is different. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

Right away I figured out one thing. When the temperature drops below freezing it’s best not to start out with cold gloves and boots/shoes. I’d been keeping all my outerwear in the basement of the house I was renting. The temperature in that unfinished basement averaged about 55F degrees in the winter. That meant the gloves and boots I was putting on were also at 55F degrees. My feet and hands would struggle to hold on to any warmth on my 6 mile commute.

The rental house had hot water heat and old cast iron radiators. When we got up in the morning we’d turn the heat up and those radiators would get hot.  I started placing my outwear and boots on the radiators first  thing in the morning. By time I needed to get dressed to leave they would be toasty warm.

What a difference it made keeping my hands and feet warm during my commute when I started with warm gear.

Later we bought a house with forced air heating. In this house I’d place my outwear and boots in front of a heat register when I got up in the morning. and let the blowing hot air warm them.

Nowadays I get all fancy with a boot dryer. I bought a Dry Guy Boot Dryer from REI, like the one above. I originally bought it to dry wet gloves and boots. I soon discovered that the warm air it circulates to dry things also works as a warmer. Now, whenever I head out into the cold on a bicycle, I place a pair of gloves and a pair of boots on the Dry Guy and let them warm up for 30 minutes before I leave the house.  It works great.

Always try to warm your gear before heading out. Then you don’t expend energy and your own heat trying to warm your cold gear.