Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My favorite section

This is my favorite part of my new commute. It's sort of hard to see much in this picture, but there's a path that snakes down the side of a hill here. This time of year, it's just a straight run: no snaking. The deep snow has sort of smoothed out the otherwise steep sections and small drops that the straight path presents.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Destination: DeLeon's

Giant veggie burrito

Pat and I slogged around the lower south hill and into downtown today. The point was to get out. But the point was also to go to DeLeon's downtown.

We'll have to do a proper northside DeLeon's winter breakfast ride soon. We did a few of these last winter. Now that DeLeon's is downtown it's hard to get motivated for the north-bound ride. But we can cite tradition as a reason. From last year:

Click for more pics of past DeLeon's rides

Friday, December 26, 2008

Too deep

This snow is too deep to pedal through. And even trying to ride where cars have mashed down the snow is hard. The front wheel just won't stay put. I've been doing a lot of sidewalk riding. But really not much riding at all. A friend offered to let me borrow his Pugsley for a couple days while he went out of town and I ended up turning him down, since we were supposed to be gone today and the next few days. We're postponing our trip due to weather, so I wish I would've gone and picked it up.

I finally broke down and bought some cross country skis. I wish I could get into walking, but it just doesn't do it for me. The skis should show up at REI on Monday.

Somehow I ended up at the Pear Tree Inn at mid-day today on the way to the store. I had a double bourbon over ice. That helped a bit. By the time I got home, our neighborhood had been plowed. Yay! Now if the snow can just hold off a bit - that would be great... But alas, wunderground says more snow on the way, though temps will be in the 30s this weekend.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Always fussing

I woke up this morning at about 5 AM and started thinking about the next round of bike fixes. There's always a next project in the hopper.
The back story
I'm actually very satisfied with my current bike situation. Here's where I'm at:
Bike #1: Rawland - go anywhere, fat-tired road, snow, and mountain bike. With my beloved Hetre tires on there, this bike is an ideal all-day dirt road and trail explorer. With the crazy fat knobbies on it, the Rawland is a good-enough mountain bike and a great snow bike. Commuter, tough-guy, no limitations on exploring.

Bike #2: Lyon - I call it the 747 because of the tubing. Story here. This is my version of a racing bike. Since I don't race, I really don't need a "real" racing bike. This bike is a wonderful bike that I can ride all day. It's as go-fast as I'll ever want. I just built this up before the snow came, so I don't know it as well as the others. My guess is that I'll end up putting more miles on this bike next year than I do on any others.

Bike #3: Blue RB-T - This is the "urban bike." That's a classification that the Bike Quarterly guys came up with for a low-trail, fendered, front-racked road bike that is optimized for urban commuting. That pretty much explains the blue RB-T. If someone held a gun to my head and made me keep just one bike, this is the bike I'd hold onto. It's fast enough, it handles predictably, and it makes carrying 90% of the loads I carry very easy. The bike has a non-stock fork to make it a low trail bike and that has made all the difference. In a rational world, this set up would be in the line up for each big bike manufacturer -- right in between their flat-bar commuters and their internal-gear-hubbed "city bike" offerings.

Bikes #4 and #5: Seasonal bikes -- When people ask me how many bikes I have, I include these two and tell them "5." I don't include the tandem, or the bikes that I have out for loan, or the bikes/frames that I have stashed in the various caverns of our house.

I have two seasonal bikes: the fixed gear ice bike. This year it was also a single-speed cx bike that Stuart raced.

The second seasonal bike is my beloved black RB-T that I built up this year as a cx bike. The black RB-T holds a special place in my heart and if a guy did hold a gun to my head and did force me to choose my blue RB-T, then I would weep for the loss of this bike. This was the first bike that "planed" for me. It wants you to stand on climbs. It was the first bike I had that did not have hugely long trail. It likes to fall into corners. I love it as a CX racer. It's the perfect life for this bike now.

The fuss plan
So, with all that bike happiness, what's there to fuss over?
Mostly, I'm now looking to Liza to do some fussing, since I'm all fussed out. But there are a few fussers for me in the list:
1. Strip and unload the 520 (John): I put a bunch of time and money into building up this bike. It came out good, but even as a Porteur with an internal gear hub, the bike is really redundant with my blue RB-T. And it turns out that Liza can use the wheelset and internal gear hub for her project. I'm hoping to trade this frame, some money, and other bits, for a more robust hauling solution. More on that as it unfolds.

2. Revive the Fuji as a 650b (Liza): Liza loves her $75 Rockhopper. After many rounds of precision questioning, I have unearthed two critical features of the Rockhopper. 1) the poofy tires make for a comfy ride on our crappy streets, and 2) the position it puts Liza in. Specifically, the Rockhopper provides for a position that is not too upright and not too hunched over: it's just right. With these goals in mind, Liza is going to rework the Fuji. She really wants a woman's bike that she can wear a dress with, but she doesn't want the jarring ride that the skinny 700C tires offer.

3. Revive the RB-1: It's weird, after 650b'ing the RB-1 last year, Liza liked this bike. But after she got the Rockhopper, this bike went away. This is where the "too hunched over" issue came from. Reviving the RB-1 is a P2 goal for Liza after the Fuji. Actually, it's probably more of a priority-3 or so. I really want to see that bike ridden. It's a great bike and should be on the road. Under Liza.

4. JohnAndLiza-fy the Burley Tandem (both): this is probably the most ambitious project in the lot. Not technically, but emotionally and spiritually. Liza and I have never tandemed before so this entire process will be interesting. The tandem will changed thusly: we'll swap out the flat bars for drop bars, reconfigure the drum brake as a drag brake, add a front rack, upgrade the rear rack, add a dyno lighting system, and change the saddles and peddles.

5. Make minor changes, upgrades, fusses (John):

  • Bitchin new cx race wheels for the black RB-T. I'm hoping I can find some lightly used cast-offs from a racer that has upgraded to the new $1200 DuraAce set.

  • SON hub and new front wheel for the Lyons 747, and a light.

  • Replace shifters on the blue RB-T. Alex put down tube shifters on his nearly identical bike and with the front rack it makes a bunch of sense. I like indexing with DTs. It's very crisp. Finding indexing 8 speed downtube shifters is not as easy as it was about a year ago. (Got any?).

  • Put Honjo fenders on the blue RB-T. This is low priority, but I can't get over these fenders.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tried and liked - 2008

Grand Bois tires - I've gone on about these tires in previous posts. I have the 42mm Hetres on my Rawland and the 28m Cerfs on my 747. I'm ruined forever now on the tire front. I'm a true tire snob now. Add that to the list. I'll still run the Panaraer Pasalas on my "urban bike," but only because I have about 4 pair.

NiteRider MiNewt - Liza bought this light for her commute and I borrowed it on the Midnight Century. It lasted 7+ hours and lit up the dark country roads of the Palouse like a stadium. A fantastic light.

Ibex Dash Hybrid jacket - My buddy Alex turned me onto the vest version of this jacket, which I also love. The design is a pretty normal bikey jacket design: weather proof in the front and breathable in the back. But the Ibex uses wool in all the right spots, so it breathes well and doesn't stink so bad. And it keeps you warm when wet. This jacket made the "best of" list on my long, cold, rainy ride to Kettle Falls a couple months ago.

Rainlegs - Kent sang the praises of these ultimate dork gear pants a couple years ago. I finally got some this year and they rule. I also use them in this crazy single-digit weather as a way to block the wind.

Century ride -I've done a few 100+ mile days, but until this year, I'd never done an organized century. Mr Blaine's Midnight Century was an intriguing idea and I'd done part of it in 2007, but when he organized the Midnight Century as a country, dirt-road ride, I was in. This was the single best ride of the year for me. The route was wonderfully remote and challenging. I had the new Rawland, which turned out to be the optimal bike for the combination of pavement and dirt. The company was great. I'm looking forward to next year.

Cyclocross - Ever since watching the races a couple years ago, I really wanted to try racing cyclocross. I'm a convert. I had a great time. I look forward to doing better next year. I even bought some running shoes to do some cross training. Crazy.

Daily commute - This is new for me. It's been about 4 years since I've had a daily commute. So far I'm really enjoying it.

Mountain biking - I bought a mountain bike from 2 Wheel Transit (when it was up on 29th) when I was a senior in high school...uh, nearly 20 years ago. I skipped school with my buddy Lucas who showed me the trails out to Riverside State Park, when you could ride all the way out there on trails by the river. Over the last 10 years or so, I've not really done much mountain biking. With the Rawland this year, I've really been doing a lot more trail riding. I've always enjoyed riding dirt roads and easy trails on my other bikes, but it's been fun to have a fat tired knobby bike for faster runs through clumpier terrain. This year, I also met Ben, who showed me some new trails and gave me a crash course on downhill riding. I'm not a downhill convert, but I really enjoy finding new trails. I want to finish my "perimeter trail around Spokane" project next year.

Riding with Maddie -Now that she's an expert bike rider, it's so great to ride to school with her. She's really gained a lot of confidence and she loves being one of only two kids in her preschool that can ride a bike without training wheels.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turd revival

This is the bike that just won't go away. I originally bought the frame for $5 at a garage sale. I wrote about its history on a couple years ago. It's primarily been my snow SUV do anything bike. It's a fixed gear super simple tough turd of a bike. I couldn't even give the frame away, let alone sell it.

So I was thrilled today when my buddy Jon at OTM was lamenting how his freehub froze up and how he just wanted a simple snow bike. I jumped at the chance to build up the Turd for him. It took me about an hour to put back together. Hopefully, he'll take delivery tomorrow.

There's some nice little treats on this bike for the careful observing bike nerd. The Softride stem, the PJW-built Surly/Mavic rear wheel, the Ritchey cranks, the lugs. Under the saddle cover is a NOS Ideal leather saddle: it's the only saddle I had here at home with the old collar-style connector that this seat post wants. I think some Nokian Extreme studded tires would round it out and make it really a full-fledged winter bike.

I hate having useful bikes and frames sitting around, so this will be another loaner for life. Although I'll probably swap out the crank set with some old turdy Deore's once I find a chain ring and some BMX chain ring bolts. In any case, everyone wins.

The snow is nuts here. We're at around a foot or more and it's supposed to go until 4 AM tomorrow morning. It's really cold too, so it's great powdery snow. But it's hard to ride in, especially on the south hill where there's a layer of ice under it. Good times. Geez winter came fast this year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Icy observations

I took a quick ride over to the hardware store today. That's about 3 miles away. The temperature is reading 11 F right now. There were some strong winds, so I'm thinking with the wind we're in the zero neighborhood.

I stay off the arterial in these conditions. With the plowed up ice chunks on the shoulder, there's just no where to bail out. On the back streets I can go slow and and I can take big, slow, large-radius corners. Turning sharply doesn't work on ice.

So, the observations:

  • Low trail on ice is much easier to control when the front rack is loaded. On the way to the hardware store I just had my U-lock up front. On the way back, I had an addition 10 pounds or so on the rack. Having a bit more weight over the front wheel seemed to stabilize the steering a bit. This makes sense. The thing I love about low trail bikes is how cornering feels, it's very light and requires very little input compared to high trail bikes. On ice, I want a bit more deliberate steering, so by weighting down the front wheel, I have to work the steering a bit more. I wonder if having weight over the front wheel just helps generally? That makes some sense too. Anyway, the difference in perceived stability and handling was marked. And now duly noted.
  • Fixed gear on ice makes so much sense. I've sort of drifted away from riding fixed over the last year or so, but on ice, with studs, it rules. Especially when it's this dang cold. My fingers tips were freezing (even in my fancy lobster claw gloves), so I pulled my fingers out of the mittens and curled them up into fists in the gloves. On a bike that relies on hand brakes, this would not be a wise way to warm your fingers, but on a fixed gear, where you can brake by back pedaling, it works out great. Warm fingers and reasonable control. Descending steepish hills on ice is also fun. You can kind of play with locking up the rear wheel or just grinding really deliberately to slow the bike. 
  • A wind breaking shell layer is absolutely required in this kind of cold. I forgot my rainlegs and even with poly long underwear and reasonably sensible pants, my legs were too cold. It would be interesting to try a longer ride at this temp. I wonder if I could ride for a couple hours in reasonable comfort in single digits?
  • Stuff. There's always stuff. I need to be packing chap stick. I want goggles -- the cool old timey ones. I never been able to figure out how to cover my face w/out fogging up my glasses. When it's around zero, fogging up your glasses means they get a film of ice on them. I really should have foot/hand warmers packed somewhere on the bike. Just in case.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winter with a fury

Beth. Ruling. At the FBC Festivus last night.

Yowsa. Three days ago we were riding around in clear streets and it was 40 F. Last night it was snowy slushy for the Festivus. Tonight, it's 18 F and will drop below zero before we wake tomorrow. With the wind gusting as it is, it's probably already under zero. 

Winter has descended upon Spokane like a wolf on a fold. As old William Claude would proclaim, "It's not a fit night out for man or beast." 

I took a short ride today when it was about 20 F. The slush from yesterday has turned the streets into knarly ice-covered obstacle courses on the south hill. The streets don't look two days into winter here. They look like streets look about a month into winter.

Hank won "Best Lights" at Festivus, as voted by his peers.

I took the Rawland out on the high drive trails. I'm running the 2.3" Neomotos at about 30 psi, which make for a nice float over the snow. But on the icy-rutty streets I want my studs. For icy rutted streets, I think the Nokian Extremes, with the studded knobbies in all directions would be ideal. The Hakkapeliittas that I run on my ice bike just have studs down the center, which work great for compact snow and sheer ice.

So far the disc brakes on the Rawland are nice. But not yet required. I think there are pretty specific conditions that push icy snow up onto your rims where disc brakes really shine. We've not had those conditions yet.

Last year, Liza gave me some Pearl Izumi lobster claw gloves for x-mass. I was thankful, but I considered them overkill. On days like today, I really appreciate them. 

For cold like this, I put my rain legs over my pants to cut the wind, and I wear poly long johns. Up top, I have thin wool base layer, a bit thicker wool turtleneck, Ibex wool/Dash Hybrid vest, and the O2 rain jacket as the outer shell: many thin layers. I have a smartwool gaiter and a smartwool beanie. I wear clear glasses to keep the icy wind out of my eyes.

Joe and Jon (and Jon's soul as it leaves his earthly body) discuss the finer points of lighting up a mobile nativity scene, loud-ass sound system, and various xmass lights with marine batteries

So far I'm neutral on the Lake Boots. They are warm and they clip in, so they perform their essential job, but I really don't like the lacing device. I'll go into more specifics with a full report in a few weeks after I get more time with the boots. I wear two pair of ultra thin (liner) wool socks in my boots.

This kind of cold freaks me out. It's easy -- especially in our day, where we're at once so disconnected from real nature and so confident in our technology to avoid it -- to forget that intense cold can mess you up and even kill you. It's not "gonna kill ya" cold yet, but it's still good to keep a healthy respect at the forefront of your mind as you go off and enjoy winter pursuits when the temperature dips below the single digits.

If you haven't, a great short read is Jack London's To Build a Fire. I read this at least once a year, not just for a reminder of its simple lesson, but because I like that it gets into the mind of a dog and tells a bit of the story from the dog's point of view. And he does it in a way that is not corny. If you're not a reader, the Orson Wells-narrated short film version is really good too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Still going on about the new commute

Ok, this will be my last post for a while about my new life as a born-again-commuter.

I left my house on my fancy Lyon's 747 this morning. I went a couple blocks and slid a bit on some ice, so I was sort of excited to turn back and get the ice bike.

As it turns out, the ice was pretty localized to the south hill. Or maybe just 26th and Monroe, because I didn't hit any more ice for the rest of the day.

The ice bike is set up as a fixed gear with 42/18 gearing, which would be just a tad tall for me even if the bike didn't have huge-ass (diameter and weight) Hakkapeliitta studded tires on it. I always notice the extra gear inches created by the larger diameter of these tires. I think I ran 38 or 39/18 last year.

I sort of dreaded the ride home -- specifically the climb up through Liberty Park and the climb up Snake Hill (aka Upper Terrace Road from Rockwood to 17th), which are both pretty steep. I also had about 15 pounds on the front rack. I figured I would be walking, but to my surprise, I grinded up them and with a bit of energy and knee tendons to spare.

That's the thing I always forget about riding the fixed gear, which I haven't really ridden since last winter: hills are mysteriously at once harder and easier. And much quicker. I think I got home in about 25 minutes tonight. I'll have to start timing and obsessing. Fun fun fun!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shaking it out

Working at home really spoiled me. I can't believe all the little things that I forget every day: cables for sync'ing devices, cutlery, peripherals, food stuff, clothes stuff. I'm still shaking out the office thing, but there's no denying I'm high maintenance too. I had a lot of little daily rituals that I didn't have a plan for porting to my new space. New rituals will emerge.

I enjoy trying different ways to haul my crud. On Monday, I went with messenger bag on the back. Yesterday I did the backpack. Today, I had a lot of stuff: laptop, various electronic stuff, shoes, two shirts -- so I racked it. I like leaning into corners with a load like this over the front wheel.

I need to figure out the mid-day ride in my new neighborhood. I'm going to run Playfair today. But I also need to find some dirt and a good hill for a quick 1/2 hour loop or so.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Commuting again

A room with a view

After about 4 years of working out of my house, I now have an office out in the real world. And a commute. The commute is about 3.5 miles: from the south hill to east Sprague.

My main routes are here:

View Larger Map

The red is fun because it includes the most fun hill in Spokane (Bernard-Grove-Washington). The blue is fun because it includes a fun little dirt section through Liberty Park.

I can mix it up by going the indirect route and taking the high drive trails down to Peaceful Valley, then cutting across the city. Good times.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I'm in internet purgatory. And I'm still getting used to my new phone. So set your expectations even lower than normal.
In the meantime, go to the spovangalist blog to get info on the latest mm community project.