Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter biking

It snowed again on Sunday, and it didn't stop until another 12-15 inches fell on top of the six inches of snow we already had.  The news report stated that some areas of Billings received up to 21 inches of snow this November.  And like a lunatic, I am still riding my bike to work.  I knew that I was in for a doozy when I watched a car drive down our street with a wake of fluid snow behind it just like a motor boat on a calm lake.  Biking in the snow has a whole new set of challenges compounded with traveling feet away from 2000-pound hunks of steel controlled by stressed-out and sometimes angry people traveling to and from work.  My new studded tires do nothing for the snow, especially a foot and a half of it.  The soft snow usually pushes around the front tire of the bike and pedaling feels much like moving through slick sand.  However, after a car packs down the snow, it turns into a dry slush that grabs the front tire and tosses it all over the road.  I'm sure I'm quite the site pushing my bike through the snow at 5 mph frantically turning my handlebars back and forth to right myself before crashing into the snow.  And that's only if I have the speed or torque to push through.  Often I have to dip a foot into the snow losing all momentum.  Sometimes I can start up again but often I have to push the bike until I can find a better spot to start out again.  Billings does plow about 5 streets so when I finally get to one of those streets, I have to fight the traffic on the ice.  That's where the studded tires come in handy.
My Monday morning commute was a real battle.  The roads where only lightly traveled by then so they were a complete mess.  I had to walk most of the block and a half to Broadway before I could even think about hopping on the bike.  Intersections were a nightmare with ruts converging from the cross-street on my path of travel.  I arrived at work on Monday sweaty, out of breath, and my heart was about to explode.  I walked in with my helmet in hand, brushing off the snow when a coworker saw me and exclaimed "You rode your bike today?!"  She was visibly frazzled from her morning commute and proceeded to tell me of her snow troubles.  She struggled to even get out of her garage and after three attempts, finally gunned it shattering her side mirror on the garage door jamb in the process.  She got stuck several times and had to be pushed out of the snow once.  I told her that my bike was easy to push and rarely got stuck.  There are perks to my insanity.

That evening I decided to meet Sarah at the gym for spin class and racquetball.  I struggled again until I finally hit 3rd Avenue where the road was more packed.  As I rode along, some jerk in a gray sedan passed me in my lane just about knocking me off the bike.  I yelled at him while shaking my fist (just my fist) letting him know I was less than enthused with his driving techniques.  I followed the car until he turned off at a parking lot.  I watched as the car pulled through the parking lot, drive parallel to me and turned onto the next street just as I turned onto it.  He proceeded to drive toward me in my lane forcing me onto the sidewalk.  What a jerk!.  Sometimes I wish I had a baseball bat or tire iron strapped to my bike.   Its bad enough that I have to fight the snow because the city is too cheap to plow even after 21 inches of snow, but I have to deal with complete imbeciles and their metal death machines too!  Give me a break.

On a side note, I had a crazy idea this morning while fighting the snow.  I think it'd be awesome if I could rig two skis to my front fork that I could lower while riding through snow and put a studded paddle tire on the back rim.   This isn't exactly what I had in mind but its still pretty cool.  Maybe someday I'll find the time, ambition and tools to build a prototype.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy "Cranks"giving - 2010

13 Miles
10-20 degrees
So, many of you know that we got stranded in Billings for Thanksgiving because of the poor road conditions (Montanans are so cheap they won't pay to have the roads plowed.  They'd rather pay the higher insurance premiums!  Well, the ones that aren't driving on suspended licenses anyway.)  I decided to make the best of my Thanksgiving at home and although it was freezing outside and the roads were still slick, I set out on an ice biking adventure.  Last year I went on a nice mountain bike ride in 50 degree weather (Cranksgiving 2009) and the year before I pedaled from my parents house to my aunt's house about 30 miles away in cold weather.  I think I've got a Thanksgiving Day tradition started.

I started at about 10 am and the forecast called for 8 degree weather.  It took me quite awhile to get dressed for the weather but I worked out a good combination but I looked really ridiculous until I was fully dressed with layers of base layer, bike shorts, wool socks, a thermal top, and finally a athletic pants, a fleece pullover, scarf and balclava (fancy word for a ski mask that I can pull down so my face isn't completely covered.  It was probably a couple degrees warmer (less cold) by the time I finally got on the bike.
I set out on the road feeling pretty confident on the ice and hard pack with my studded tires, maybe too confident.  I made it to the "secret" entrance to Riverfront Park where I usually catch a dirt trail that leads me into the interior of the park.  I knew the riding would be tough with the 6-8 inches of fresh snow but I was hoping the trees would have kept some of the snow off the trail and the cross-country skiers would have packed down the rest.  Wrong on both counts.  I geared down and trudged on into the park.  I pedaled until my heart felt like it was going to explode.  In defeat, I jumped off the bike to catch my breath and evaluate the situation.  
To my surprise, the bike stood up on its own in the snow!  Yeah, that was too much snow but I was to determined to give up.  I noticed that my bike hadn't actually shifted down to the lowest gear so I forced it into gear and tried again.  Pedaling was easier but I still couldn't go very far before my front tire got caught on something or before my heart leapt out of my chest.  I should have turned back then but I was too stubborn.  Soon a skier passed me and laughed commenting that I needed skis on my bike.  I really should have turned back then but now I had something to prove.  Man, I really get in my own way sometimes.  I pushed my bike through the snow for the next mile, pedaling when I could, hoping that once I got to the gravel trail, pedaling would get easier.

I hit the gravel trail and had no such luck.  I trudged on thinking that I'd make it too the pavement and the snow would be shallower.  Wrong again!  The pavement was in an open area that had drifted so the snow was even deeper.  However there were fewer ski tracks.  I found I did a lot better on the pavement if I could blaze my own trail.  I was exhausted an discouraged by now and I'd gone so far it didn't seem worth turning around now.  My new hope was to make it to the road where I could ride in the ruts and hard pack.
 Finally up ahead I saw a vehicle pull into a parking area.  Score! I finally had some hard pack to ride on!  When I finally got to the road, it was beautiful.  The whole road was hard pack and I could finally move.  I road the entire length of the road, turned around and road it again.  It was great.

I had one last idea up my sleeve.  On the other side of the park is a trail going around Norm's Island that is very heavily used.  I thought I'd check it out and see if it was ride-able.  The trail was rough but passable.  My wrists were sore by the time I finished from all the bouncing on the trail and I got a kick out of the reactions of the dog walkers as I passed them on bike, much different from the pathetic sympathy that I got from the skiers.  I was having fun but it was time for me to get back to my Thanksgiving feast.  I cruised back home on the ice and hardpacked roads hitting 18 mph, the fastest I've been able to go in over a week.  I love these new studded tires.  I passed a sign reading 22 degrees on the way back.  Awesome!

I got back home and we hurried out the door to our friends' house for a great Thanksgiving dinner.  Not the same as being home with family but we still had a great time.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Danny MacAskill - "Way Back Home" - NEW street trials riding short film

I love watching Danny MacAskill stunt videos. This is his newest. X-games stunts are awesome and the riders definitely go for the wow factor but Danny is a whole different kind of rider. His stunts are so fluid, beautiful and some are even beyond comprehension like how on earth do you balance a wheelie on your back tire and then do a front flip?! Just amazing. Enjoy!


I'll admit that I've been a bum lately and haven't done much biking (besides commuting) since my camp/touring experience.  That was largely due to the fact that I slit one of my road bike tires and my mountain bike tires were looking pretty bald.  It was also probably because its freekin' cold here and the weather has been just crappy.

After my camping/touring trip, I went nuts on the internet and finally found a set of tires for my road bike and my mountain bike.  Even though I've had the tires for a few weeks now, I hadn't installed them, mostly because its a hassle and I hadn't found time to do it.  So I let them sit in the garage for the opportune time, likely at the first snow fall when I'd switch to my studded tires anyway.  What?  Studded tires?  You heard me correctly, studded bike tires.
Anyway, the other day I walked out my office building to find a flat tire.  I started to pump it up hoping that it was a slow leak and I could get enough air in it to get me home.  No such luck, I found a 2" long 8d nail fully embedded in the tire.  I quickly patched the tube but while doing so, I realized how bald my back tire really was.  I'd die on the snow if I ever got stuck without my studded tires so I rode home and swapped my back tire for an old tire that matches the front tire.  (I'll save my new tires for the spring).  I swapped rear tires on the mountain bike and since I was already rolling, I swapped out the road bike tires for the new ones.  They look pretty slick with white stripes running along the tread.  I even fixed the flat on the trailer.

Now I was all set to ride again and wouldn't you know it, it snowed all Thursday night.  Friday morning I again swapped tires on the road bike to put on my studded tires.  I actually have spare rims for the studded tires so it wasn't too bad.  Besides the cold, I loved my ride in to work.  Those tires grabbed the road and I didn't slip at all.  My bad elbow is already thanking me.  It will be a long winter and I'm glad to have those babies to make it a little safer and more enjoyable.