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Old 02-04-2011, 09:50 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Ben's Winter Biking Blog

Hey Everyone!

I'm in the depths of winter in Wisconsin right now.

In the summer, my wife and I go bike riding regularly as very casual bicyclist- just get out into the fresh air and sunshine.

Well, it's cold out, and much of my work seems to be sitting at a desk lately. I need to get some exercise, and NO, an exercise bike or treadmill is NOT for me. (I don't have room for one anyways!)

I also have a 3-month-old daughter who likes to cry, and is another reason for me to want to get out of the house.

So, what I am trying to do is just get out and bike.

Like I said, I am a very amatuer bicyclist. I'm not the guy in spandex with the $4000 carbon-fiber frame.
I'm the guy with the thrift store bike trying to get some exercise and not freeze to death. Eventually, I would like to work my way up to some basic commuting as well. It would be nice to at least ride into town to do errands.

So, my "winter bike" is a an old steel-frame 26" Mens Standard 5-speed. I was given it as a donation to my "help me build a bike from spare parts" fund.
The bike has front and rear fenders, so that's a good start for winter biking. It also has a rear cargo rack. The downside is that it has very skinny slick tires.

So far, I have learned:

1. You can't stand on the pedals when you have no traction.
2. Fenders are a good thing.
3. Wind chill is even worse on a bike in the winter.
4. The local municipality DOESN'T plow the bike path.

Also, everything that I have read about winter biking seems to indicate that the writers are from someplace warmer than I am from. And nobody else where's glasses, either.

So far, the worst of the cold seems to be on my face. It's pretty tough to see where I am going, keep my face from freezing, and wearing a helmet at the same time.
A balaklava hood is a good start, but one that's windproof really doesn't let you breathe either. That, and it just seems to make my glasses fog up to the point of not being able to see anything. While I do have some disposable contact lenses that I can use for sports, they dry my eyes out pretty quick. Also, I really would rather NOT put in contacts, just for a 45 minute bike ride.

I've also never really been a fan of bike helmets. They just aren't comfortable/don't look cool, etc. I DO however have a helmet for my motorcycle. And it has an adjustable face-shield!



So, today I ventured out on my bike wearing my motorcycle helmet. The face-shield kept the wind off my face. When it fogged up, I could always flip it up for a bit to defog.
I still had to "portage" the cycle over the hill on the part of the road that was converted to bike path..... but they don't plow in the winter.

The skinny tires are really not good on the snow. Last time I swung by the thrift store, I saw they had a pair of bike rims with knobby tires! I bought them and plan on mounting those on the bicycle.



I'm not sure if there is anything I can do to improve the brakes. The bike has the typical caliper brakes, and they do NOT have the stopping power that they would in the summer. Do I just adjust the brakes up a little tighter?

Also, I've only been biking during the day, so lights haven't been an issue. I've also pretty much only been biking on back roads ( nearly no traffic ) until I get a little more snow skillz.

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Old 02-05-2011, 06:47 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Old 02-05-2011, 11:03 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Today, I put the other rims on the bike.



It wasn't that hard, but most of the work was getting around the fenders. Of course the nuts and bolts holding those on were corroded, and there really isn't enough clearance between them and the snow tires.

The big knobby tires are wide and thick enough that they don't fit on at the same time as the fenders, so the fenders were left off.

The rear cargo rack still seemed like an easy place to do a cheap-o fender, so I cut some coroplast to fit in there as a temporary rear fender. Road grime kicked up from the front didn't seem too bad on my first ride.

Here's the bike in it's current incarnation.


I'm also trying to have some decent outdoor clothing, without spending a fortune on it. Jackets at the outdoor store or the bike store are $150 each!

I stopped at the thrift store and found a windbreaker for $7. It's all nylon. Rainproof and windproof, with a short stiff collar, and at least a little bit of high-visibility color.

On my last ride, I had an athletic "sweat-wicking" shirt as a base layer with 2 artificial fiber sweatshirts over that. Topped off with the thrift-store windbreaker. For my head, a balaclava hood, and then my motorcycle helmet.

The bottom half was real wool socks, artificial fiber thermal long underwear, and cargo pants. Wind really wasn't nearly the problem on my legs as it was on my chest, but I would still like to get some "wind-proof" pants.



I was AMAZED at how much better these tires were on the snow than the those skinny slicks. Far better traction. I could even stand on the pedals in low gear. Since I swapped out the rear rim, I now have 7 speeds instead of 5. Without any adjustments to the rear deraileur, it can't quite go to the highest gear, but these gears are all higher than the original 5, so I'm not going to worry about it.

If I want a really nice riding setup, I think I need a different combination of rims and tires, so that I can have snow-tire traction, but still fit those stock fenders back on.

I really like the look of the bike with the big tires - sort of aggressive in a good way - ready to go tackle some snow!

I wouldn't mind taking this on the frozen lake now.
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Old 02-06-2011, 09:04 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Looks like a great winter cruiser!

I generally don't have a problem with body areas staying warm, because the exercise gets your blood flowing. I think your method of nylon windbreaker over fleece is the right way to go.

The key is to protect bare skin as you increase the windspeed by pedaling along.
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Old 03-01-2011, 06:06 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Ben, I commute by bicycle down to minus 32. The right outer clothes are key. I have found a ski helmet with a thin liner and a fleece "neck gaiter" and ski goggles keep the frostbite off my face. Some goggles are designed to go over glasses. I keep the fleece pulled up just below my nose and don't have problems with fogging. I have a cheapie imitation L.L. Bean jacket with a fleece liner that zips into a nylon outer shell. If it warms up I can take the liner out for the trip home. I use heavy ski gloves with a long gauntlet and those go inside custom "pogies" that fit over the handlebar grips, shifters and brake levers. They were a little pricey but it is nice to have warm hands in sub-zero temps. I will try to find a link to the stretch, breathable, insulated pants I pull on over my school clothes. Hope this helps. If you get serious, studded knobby tires rock!
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Old 03-01-2011, 09:22 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I used to ride my bike to school year around when I lived in Berlin, Germany. The take home lessons were:

Dress warmly.

Fenders are a must, especially when riding in slush (melting snow)

Take the curves slowly while keeping your bike as vertical as posible by leaning your body to the inside of the curve (also good when riding on icy roads)

Braking distances are longer and you can drag your feet in the snow as additional braking when the wheel braking isn't sufficient

The electrical generator sometimes wouldn't get enough friction to spin on a snow/slush covered tire.

When riding in 6" of crusty snow on a well used bike path, things can get interesting. You have to follow the pre-existing tire tracks like rails since you can't break out of them. When coming to an intersection or other direction change, look for a set of tracks leading in the direction you want to go and steer into it. If you can't find a continuous track, you have to stop, lift your bike out of the track you are in, shift or carry it over to the track leading where you want to go and set it in that track and start riding. Balance can be tricky since the track, rather than your hands controlling the handles, is determining where you are headed and you have to anticipate the curves with your weight shift.

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