Archive for December, 2013

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Pedaling Across February

December 10, 2013

For a couple of years now, I’ve been poring over winter cycling forums and bicycle commuting websites, growing more and more determined to ride my bike year-round here in the Northeast.  Gradually, I’ve assembled a wardrobe of moisture-wicking base and mid layers, wind resistant and breathable outer wear, an array of protective covers for my head, hands and feet, and studded tires and strong lighting options for my bike….a Surly Disc Trucker, which I bought with year-round cycling in mind.

When an acquaintance shared a link to Chasing Mailboxes’ “Winter Challenge:  The Errandonnee”  I knew in an instant that it was time for me to abandon the couch and pedal lustily into thesnow, slush, biting headwinds, late sunrises and early sunsets of February.

Twelve days, twelve errands and forty-plus miles later, I’m scratching my head at how much I learned about cold-weather cycling in such a short period of time.  The challenge pushed me out the with my bike over and over again, reduce all of the homework I’ve done to practice.  I’m no longer intimidated by the prospect of riding when outside temperatures dip into the teens and below.

So here are the results –  my official Errandonnee Control Card for anyone interested in the gory details.  I’ve also pulled together a stream of photo highlights below.

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Errands 1 and 12 –  Destination: Bike Shop

It seemed fitting to begin and end The Errandonnee with visits to my favorite LBS, The Downtube Bicycle Works.  I turned to them more then a few times for quality parts and accessories, advice, and moral support as I overhauled two vintage English Three-Speeds last year and began riding more regularly.  This past October, they fit me to the Surly Disc Trucker pictured in front of the shop in the photo below.

Errand 12.  Bike Shop - Trip 2
At The Downtube Bicycle Works, where I bought my Disc Trucker last fall.  The Surly stands by as Eric prepares to change a light bulb.

I made this final stop at the end of my bike/bus/bike commute (Errand 11).  One of the perils of pedaling hard in cold weather, and then taking a break inside before heading out again, is a chilly dampness that permeates the layers that would otherwise keep a cyclist warm.  Normally, I would have waited for Eric to finish changing the light bulb before taking the shot, but I was COLD!!!

Errands 2 and 5 – Destination:  Grocery Store

This past year I became a member of The Honest Weight Food Coop.  In nicer weather, their bike rack is rarely empty.  Some members are seriously accomplished and dedicated all-season utility cyclists who I hope someday to meet and chat about all-season utility cycling over tea or coffee.  I ride here often.

Errand 2.  Grocery Store - Trip 1
The Surly parked in a snowbank outside of the Honest Weight Food Coop

 Errand 3 – Destination:  Breakfast or Lunch

My friend Liza moved back to town recently.  The Errandonnee was a great (though not really necessary) excuse to invite myself to her house for a fabulous breakfast!  The Surly waited outside in the cold (23°F).  In this photo, you can just make out the rows of carbide-tipped studs on the NOKIAN Mount and Ground front tire.

Errand 3.  Breakfast or Lunch - Trip 1
The Surly locked to my friend Liza’s front porch while we enjoy a fabulous breakfast inside!

Errand 4 – Destination:  Wild Card

I dedicated my first errand in the Wild Card category to delivering some very late Christmas gifts to a couple of kids in my life.  To acknowledge the rapidly approaching Easter holiday, I tucked packs of marshmallow peeps into the gift bags.  Smart move!  The oldest happily devoured his for breakfast.

Errand 4.  Wild Card - Trip 1
Oldest kid enjoying the “nod to Easter” I packed in his belated Christmas gift.  Peeps for breakfast!

At the other end of the house, the youngest was quite taken with the Safe Zone mirror attached to my helmet.

Errand 4.  Wild Card - Trip 1 - very late delivery of Christmas presents
The little guy checking out the mirror on my helmet.

 Errand 6 – Destination:  Any Store that is not a Grocery Store

This was the first of the two rides at night required by the rules of the Errandonnee.  I made it a quick hop to a local liquor store to pick up a couple bottles of wine, which fit easily into one of the side paniers of the  Topeak Trunk Bag.

Errand 6.  Any store that is not the grocery store - Trip 1
The Surly parked outside of Sheila’s Wines and Liquors.

After dark, I’ve been using a Cygolite Mitycross 400 to light the road ahead of me.  From behind, my bike and I become a blaze of wildly asynchronous flashes, thanks to the following:

1.  Planet Bike Blinky “3H” mounted to my helmet

2.  Portland Design Works “Danger Zone” tail light clipped to the trunk bag.

3.  Planet Bike Blinky 3 tail light, mounted to the rear rack.

Somewhere on the web, I came across the wise suggestion that nighttime riders emulate the lighting ambiance of an accident rescue scene.  The theory?  By the time drivers realize it’s just a @#$% cyclist, they already have slowed down and prepared to give a wide berth.

Errand 7 – Destination:  The Library

Presidents’ Day weekend, my town played host to a bitter cold front, providing me with an opportunity to ride in the most seriously cold conditions I had faced yet.  I tracked down the ski goggles  I bought just for this purpose and paired them with a full neoprene face-mask and various other layers under my helmet.  What do you think?  Would you run away?!

Errand 7.  Library - Trip 1
Full neoprene face mask with ski goggles, helmet and Safe Zone helmet mirror.  Ready for 17°F with 3°F wind chill…as well as Armageddon.

In the end, the biggest challenge I faced during this ride was not staying warm but battling fogging eyeglasses when I stopped at the library.  Fortunately, I can see well enough to cycle without my glasses.  The goggles performed flawlessly…and even played well with the Safety Zone mirror.

Errand 7.  Library - Trip 1
The Surly parked outside of the main branch of the Albany Public Library.

Despite the frigid conditions (by upstate NY standards) I felt warm enough to take the scenic route home through a frozen Washington Park.  My new Brooks B17 saddle is visible in this shot.  It’s basically a leather hammock “hanging” between supports at the front and rear of the saddle.  This model has been sold by Brooks for over 100 years, and for me, it represents a satisfying nod to the vintage Raleigh bicycles in my life, both past and present.  The B17 was also immediately comfortable.

Errand 7.  Library - Trip 1
The Surly on the footbridge in Washington Park.  Taking the scenic route home.

Errand 10 – Destination:  Coffee or Dessert

Another quick hop at night….this time to Tierra Coffee RoastersTheir Blondie bars are possibly addictive.

Errand 10.  Coffee or Dessert - Trip 1
The Surly parked outside of Tierra Coffee Roasters

Errand 11 – Destination:  Work

For me, tackling my bike/bus/bike commute between Albany and Schenectady in the cold felt like a real test of my progress toward becoming an all-season cyclist.  I’ve made this commute many times during the summer and fall, but never when the temperature was 27°F with winds gusting up to 20 mph.  I will admit that the rapidly approaching Errandonnee deadline got me out of bed early on a day I normally would have taken a pass.

But even before 5:30 on this cold, blustery morning, one of the two spots on the rack at the front of the bus was already occupied by the time the bus arrived at my stop.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The Surly riding on the front of the 905 somewhere between Albany and Schenectady.  I set off for the bus stop shortly after 5 am and climbed aboard the bus about 15 minutes later.
Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
It’s 6 am and I am about to collect my bike from the front of the bus in Schenectady.  Sunrise is still 40 minutes off.
Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The sun rising just as I arrive at work.
Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
Parked for the work day.  I bring most of my lights and batteries inside with me to keep them warm. The Brooks saddle is covered for the snow showers expected later.

After work, I normally would hop on the relatively level bike path that follows the Mohawk River, but this, I discovered, was a mess of frozen ruts.  Instead, I battled the full force of a headwind to climb the mufti-tiered hill between me and my bus ride home.   This was my most difficult ride of the Errandonnee.  Lingering muscle fatigue from being out of shape was the biggest issue.  The cold and the wind were manageable.

Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
After work…waiting for the 905 back to Albany.
Errand 11.  Work - Trip 1
The Surly (handlebars and bag just above the fire extinguisher) homeward bound on the front of the 905 somewhere between Schenectady and Albany.

I made it!  I feel terrific about all of the riding I did during this 12-day stretch.  No more sitting on the couch, wistfully gazing at my bicycle and waiting for Spring!

 Thanks to Chasing Mailboxes D.C. for organizing and hosting Winter Challenge:  The Errandonnee!

Thanks for reading!

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