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Winter is hell for bikes

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I had some mechanical problems today that reminded me just how harsh winter can be on a bike. More about that in a moment …

We got a couple inches of snow yesterday/last night. Conditions weren’t too bad this morning, except in a few places. The parking lot in our apartment complex and the bike path both had ice, with a layer of crunchy snow on top.

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Some of the less-traveled roads had snow on them. The city decided to try a new snow-management technique: dropping lots of salt, instead of plowing. Needless to say, this didn’t work at all.

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But, the roads that get more traffic were in pretty good shape. They were just wet, and slushy at times.

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On Steve A’s recommendation, I’ve started waxing my bike when I clean it. He said, basically, that it would make it easier to clean the bike, and hopefully help prevent so much slush (among other things) from building up on the bike. For now, I’m using a spray-on wax, and it definitely does seem to help. Today I found that while it doesn’t prevent slush from building up on the down tube, it does make it not stick as well. On my way to work, once it reached a certain point, it actually fell off on its own.

By the time I got to work, more slush had built up on the downtube. This happens despite my low fenders. But, most of  it was easily removed by simply tapping it with my boot.

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That didn’t help my drivetrain, unfortunately.

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After work, I hopped on the bike to head home, and for a few minutes, all was well. But then after I stopped at a light, I tried to get going again and spun out. I thought maybe my chain had fallen off, or wasn’t quite in gear, but it seemed to be fine. I continued on and everything was fine again, until I stopped at a stop sign, and started pedaling again. I pedaled like mad, but the bike wouldn’t go anywhere. I looked down and the chain was intact, but I was pedaling freely forward, without turning the wheel. It felt just like pedaling backwards, but I was pedaling forwards!

This was a truly weird sensation, and occasionally I could get the gears to engage, but mostly, I was unable to move. I was about two blocks from a bike shop, so I walked over to see if they could do a short-term fix to at least get me home. No dice … and apparently the cassette on this bike is really old and weird and they can’t replace it, either. I had another wheel at home, that would require some adjustment and probably a new cassette, but I still had to get home.

So, the two miles home from that point were a combination of walking, coasting downhill, and trying to get the gears to catch. They did a few times, so I ended up walking probably a mile, and riding the rest. Naturally, parts were quite icy, which would have made for a great test of my studded tires, but I had to walk. Damn.

I made it home safely. I still need to put the other wheel on, and make some adjustments. Ugh. I’d just ride the Trucker tomorrow, but it’s very icy, and I really need the studded tires (they won’t fit on the Trucker).

Warming up

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Earlier this week, temperatures rose to around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s wild how warm that feels when you’ve acclimated to temperatures in the teens. The past couple of days we’ve had highs in the 40s, and it looks like it will stay that warm at least through the weekend. We may get some rain Sunday, but hopefully biking conditions should be very good, overall. I’ll be limited to road biking, as the trails will be extremely muddy, but road biking sounds pretty good right about now. May go hiking as well … we shall see. I hope everyone has a good weekend.

An interesting week for commuting …

Friday, January 8th, 2010

It’s been a fun, but challenging week, in terms of bicycle commuting. Most mornings, if not every morning, the windchill has been below zero, going as low as -9 degrees Fahrenheit. Morning temperatures have been mostly in the single digits, above zero. Last week had some mornings like that, but evenings were warmer. This week, the evenings have been cold, too, with the windchill ranging from 10 degrees down to -4.

We got our first significant snow of the year Wednesday night and throughout the day Thursday and Friday. We got a total of probably around five inches of snow. Here in southern Indiana, that’s a lot. Schools were closed Thursday and Friday. People spoke of “the blizzard.” All over a few inches of snow. Now, admittedly, the roads were in poor shape, as the city does not handle the snow well.

Yesterday morning, riding to work wasn’t too bad for me because it hadn’t snowed all that much yet. Sarah’s drive to work was much worse. She was on main roads, but they were a mess and most of them had not been plowed or salted.

Here are some shots from the morning, it wasn’t too bad, but the bike path had deep snow, and some other roads had snow also, while a couple were fairly clear.

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The bike path had a fair amount of snow

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This road wasn’t much better

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When I left work, I laughed at the state of my bike. Here are shots of the bike, one from when I arrived in the morning, the other is how I found the bike after work.

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Let’s see a closeup of that drivetrain …

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… yeah, I’m glad I have this beater to ride, rather than subjecting the Long Haul Trucker to this sort of abuse.

After work, I decided to take a meandering route through IU’s campus, which is still deserted, because the students are still on winter break. This added a couple of miles to my route, and kept me away from traffic.

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Back at the bike path

I got nearly home, but I was having too much fun! I love snow. So, I rode an extra four miles or so around some neighborhoods.

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By the time I neared home, it was dark and the windchill was once again below zero. I had snow on my face and glasses, and it was sticking to my ear warmer headband and my neck gaiter. More importantly, I had a big smile on my face.

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By the time I reached home, my 15-minute commute had taken well over an hour. I loved every minute of it.

A few notes on my studded tires: I finally mounted the rear tire, so I had both tires for this ride. However, I was mostly dealing with snow; there was very little ice. The tires did very well on powdery snow. They are narrower than the knobby tires I normally run, which helps them cut through the powder. They aren’t too bad on dry pavement, but they do have a real weakness: packed, bumpy snow. Riding on the bike path, where people had walked, was very difficult. There was a lot of sliding around, and the tread is not terribly aggressive. I had real trouble on this kind of surface. On the other hand, those conditions are challenging with any tire.

There were a few interesting moments where I started to slide a little bit as I sunk into some snow, but then I could feel the studs dig in and stop me. It was cool to be able to feel them doing their job.

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