Only a 20% chance of rain today in the forecast. It was for later in the day. Weather app was reporting clear skies when I got up this morning. It was still dark outside, so I didn’t look outside to see for myself. Temperature was around freezing. Fairly typical weather pattern for the past few weeks. You can imagine my surprise to see big snowflakes coming down when I headed out the door with my Brompton in hand. I was prepared for a cool, uneventful ride to work.
The snow only lasted as long as my 20 minute commute. It was heaviest in the picture above. The flakes of snow were the big wet kind. The kind that can momentarily blind you if they land right in your eye. Many did. It turned an expected uneventful ride into a mini adventure.
I even ran a quick errand on the way. My new commute takes me right past the main Post Office. I finished our taxes last night. The tax software I used gave us free e-file for Federal taxes, but wanted to charge me $24.99 to e-file the State Income tax form. I printed it out, stuffed it in an envelope and paid 71 cents to “mail” file it instead.
The ride home was sunny, dry and windy. There was a stiff, cold Northwest wind. It felt completely different than the ride into work. But that’s life near the Big Lake during the shoulder seasons.
I’ve had my Cycliq Fly6 tailight/HD camera since January. It records in 10 minute splits. When I’ve shared them in the past I just uploaded a full ten minutes. Well, today when I got home I finally learned how to edit it down to only the segments I want to highlight or share. Here’s a video from the rear taillight/camera during the peak snowfall during my short commute. It’s 1:27 in length. Enjoy:
I’ve spent the last 12 years learning to commute in every weather scenario Mother Nature could throw at me. I’ve commuted in temperature extremes from -32degF to 104degF. In torrential rain, ice storms, snow storms, a few blizzards, and high winds. I’ve learned what works for me in terms of equipment, clothing and accessories. For example (above), my first Gates Belt drive + IGH experiment. I often write about equipment and clothing. However, there are accessories I use everyday I seem to overlook or take for granted. This post is about one of them.
My favorite accessory item came about to solve an issue I was having with my heavy winter gloves, and to some extent my winter riding boots. On a typical winter day I would adjust how I would dress for the day based on the morning weather. During the seasonal swing months of March and April it’s not unusual to have a temperature differences of 20 or 30 degrees from morning to afternoon. Often this would mean I would be appropriately dressed for the morning commute and overdressed for the afternoon commute. I could easily leave off a layer on my torso, legs, and head. This was not always an option for my hands or feet. I would wear the same gloves home even if they were too warm. This meant my hands would perspire and the gloves would absorb this perspiration. The next morning I would find the gloves did not dry completely. The inside of the gloves would be wet and clammy.
I had a similar issue with boots or shoes. During the Spring melt or during rain storms there is only so much water even the best fenders can stop. Fenders are great for keeping the water and grit off most of you. But feet aren’t always protected from even the longest fenders. Water spray can come around the fender and still soak your feet. Water can seep in the top of boots and shoes as well. Again, the same as the gloves, I would find my boots not drying completely overnight.
And then I found this on the REI website:
It’s the DryGuy Boot dryer. It’s been redesigned a bit since I bought mine. But is essentially the same item. I really had a hard time with the price point. I tried a couple different boot dryers in the $15-$20 range. They barely worked. They didn’t have a heated setting and neither lasted an entire year. I finally broke down and bought the DryGuy several years ago. It has become my most used winter accessory off the bike. Sure it dried my wet and damp boots and gloves. No more clammy gloves or boots in the morning. It also stopped any bacteria growth and increased the time between washings on my gloves.
The biggest plus of buying this boot dryer was something I never thought about. I keep all my gloves and boots in our basement. The temperature of our basement in the winter is about 55degF. Or more like 52degF for the boots sitting on the floor. Putting on boots that are 52 degrees to ride in much colder conditions doesn’t give your feet much chance of staying warm. I used to bring the boots upstairs every morning and set them next to the hot air register to warm them up. After buying the DryGuy I started putting my boots and gloves on it about 30 minutes before leaving for work in the morning. What a difference it made leaving the house with warm boots and gloves. Now I always leave the house with warm hands and feet. My feet and hands stay warmer longer when starting out with warmed gloves and boots. You’re not expending any of your heat to warm the items you’re wearing. I can’t even imagine putting on cold gloves and boots now.
When I began this blog I started to write my series of posts on Fourth Season Skills. So far I’ve only written three posts. I hope to continue this series despite the fact that many of you are experiencing Spring-like weather. Look for them throughout the month of March.
I know I keep saying every ride is the last snowbike ride before winter ends. I thought my ride on Tuesday was going to be the last. We had a few warm days with lots of melting. Then yesterday we had a fast moving snow storm drop a quick 2 inches of snow on us. Overnight temps dropped below freezing. And apparently there was some freezing rain overnight. The fresh snow, and everything else, had a quarter inch of ice covering it this morning.
I’m not normally a get-up-and-get-out-to-ride kind of person. Today I realized if I could get out early before the temps rose too far above freezing the snow biking might be pretty decent. Decent despite the lack of base and a packed trail. But decent considering the warm weather we’ve been having.
Turns out it was a perfect morning to be out on the trails. I chose the snowmobile trails because it would have been too soft on the mountain bike trails. I didn’t expect to see any snowmobiles in these conditions. Although I did see one.
And I was passed by two other fatbikers who seemed to have the same idea. While up on Spirit Mountain I could see some dog sled races on a parallel trail. They all had teams of four dogs and were flying. I tried to snap a few photos through the trees, but they were going so fast it was hard to capture.
You have to look really hard to see them in this picture. Four blackish colored dogs and the front end of a sled just behind them. You know winter isn’t over yet when you run across dog sleds.
The forecast for the next ten days calls for 40’s and 50’s. Not normal for us. So this may really be the end of our ride-able snow. Although, if I get out really early tomorrw I might still get in one more ride.
After a sunny 50degF/10degC day last Saturday I didn’t expect our snow cover to survive. We lost a good amount of snow, but not all of it. The warm spell only lasted a day. Winter came back Sunday. We had temps in the 30’s with a burst of snowfall during the day. It only amounted to an inch or two. It was just enough to cover up the icy spots from all the melting on Saturday.
Then last night we had a low around 2degF/-17degC. The snow that was still left really set up nice in the overnight cold. With a warming trend coming I thought I’d better get out today to see if there was still snow to ride. To my surprise, it was in great condition. The Brewer Park Trails on the ridge above my house were freshly groomed. Again when I least expected it, I find fantastic riding conditions. When I got home from work around 4:00 the temperature had risen only to 22degF/-6degC.
I got in a short ride. Enjoyed the solitude of the trail all to myself. Great views of the Aerial Lift Bridge and Lake Superior beyond. And some wonderful, late in the day sunlight on the trails.
It was just what I needed. To all those local fatbikers who weren’t out there, man did you miss out on some fast trails today.
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.
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!
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.
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.