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Category Archives: Winter Cycling

Cycling products and riding tips for winter cycling in snow, ice and cold weather

The First 1,000 Miles Are Always The Hardest

Eagle Lake, Wisconsin Still Had A Lot Of Ice This Week

Eagle Lake In Wisconsin Still Had A Lot Of Ice This Week

Yesterday I finally passed the 1,000 mile (1,600 km) mark of cycling for this year. The first 1,000 miles of the year are always the hardest—and even though I love winter cycling, I have to tell you that this past winter was simply brutal! Chicago officially experienced the coldest four-month period in recorded history, and I live north of Chicago where the temps were even colder. We also had over 80″ (203 cm) of snow, which makes it either the second or third snowiest winter in Chicago history. And even though I have not been able to verify it, it seems to me that this also was windiest winter I’ve ever experienced.

I normally have around 1,500 miles on my bike by this time of the year, but the brutal weather make winter cycling even more difficult than usual. If you are not familiar with winter cycling you need to understand that your average speed on the bike is going to be a lot slower than normal—not just because you are pushing through fresh snow, but also because the air is thicker and you are carrying a lot more gear than you would in the summer. In addition, you have to stop every time you try to get a drink so you can lower your face mask and unscrew the thermos bottle. The coldest ride I went out on this year was at -11 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 Celsius). We had a few days where the temperature was a bit colder, but on those days the wind was howling at over 40 MPH so I decided to stay home and sit near the fireplace.

Though the amount of time riding this winter was less than normal, I didn’t have a lot of free time either. There were days when I had to shovel my driveway three times in the same day! So, as much as I love winter, I am glad this winter is over. There is still some snow on the ground if you look hard enough, and as of three days ago some of our lakes were still closed due to the ice. The photo above was take this past Saturday at Eagle Lake in Racine County, Wisconsin—the lake was still about 90% covered by ice.

I am not sure how many miles I will ride this year, but I should comfortably be able to get at least 5,000 miles, providing I stay in good health. However, I might have to miss a few days this fall—a few weeks ago our daughter-in-law announced that she is expecting a child in August. Though I am still way too young for the job, I guess this means I am going to be a grandfather! It also means I am going to have to start looking for a suitable bike for my grandson (haven’t decided yet between a fat bike or a cyclocross bike).

 

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Repainting A Well Used Bike

New Powder Coating On My Surly Necromancer Pugsley

New Powder Coating On My Surly Necromancer Pugsley

If you think this past winter was hard on you, just think about what it did to your bike! I rode all winter long, mainly on my Surly Necromancer Pugsley Fat Bike, and all the road salt I rode through took its toll. Compared to my other bikes the Necromancer is barely used—it has less than 3,000 miles on it! However, out of 3,000 miles it probably only has 200 miles of use in good weather. I’ve ridden this bike on sandy beaches and in Lake Michigan (in water up past my hubs). It also has a lot of miles through the mud and the swampy water of the Des Plaines River, but the majority of miles were in freezing weather as I traveled through snow and ice (that was my main purpose for buying this bike in the first place).

While I dearly love the Surly Necromancer, I was never happy with the original paint job. Straight out of the box you could see it had an inferior paint job (as compared to most other bikes). The original paint scratched easily and even with a good coat of paste wax it never did shine! I enjoy getting my bikes filthy in the mud, sand and snow, but when they are sitting in my garage I want them to look like brand new (I know that psychological counseling could probably cure this affliction, but cleaning supplies are cheaper than therapy). Even though this bike is only three years old I decided to have it stripped down and repainted.

Two weeks ago I took the Necromancer down to the local bike shop, Zion Cyclery, and they took everything off the bike and handed me the frame and front fork—which I then took to J & J Powder Coating in Zion, Illinois. The guys at J & J Powder Coating ran my bike frame through a chemical bath to remove the old paint and surface grime (and some rust). They then closed up the openings on the bike (mainly the braze-ons) and applied a thick coat of black powder to the frame and baked it at over 300 degrees. Powder coating is much thicker, and far more durable, than liquid based paints. After the initial powder coating they applied a thick layer of clear coat which not only makes the paint sparkle, but also adds another durable layer of protection to the frame. The guys at J & J Powder Coating only charged $120 for their work, and I think that is a very fair price! Unfortunately, you can only powder coat steel or aluminum bike frames. If you have a carbon fiber bike you’ll have to take it to an auto body shop (or motorcycle shop) to have it painted. By the way, painting your bike could possibly void the warranty on your bike’s frame (but not always), so check with your local bike shop first.

The Shiny Front Fork Now Has Beautiful New Decals

The Shiny Front Fork Now Has Beautiful New Decals

Once I picked up my repainted frame and fork I took it back to Zion Cyclery where Kurt, mechanic extraordinaire, rebuilt the bike. Because of the rust on the original parts, he replaced nearly every bolt and piece of hardware on the bike (with stainless steel parts when possible). He also had to replace the bottom bracket (even a sealed bottom bracket can only take so much time under water). I debated whether to replace the decals on the bike. The decals on the top tube had rubbed off because I frequently use a top tube bag in the winter to carry some of my gear and the straps on the bag cut through the decals. I finally decided to just replace the decals on the front fork of the bike (and Kurt did an excellent job of aligning them perfectly). The total cost at the bike shop was a little over $300 (more than half of that was for new parts).

The bottom line is that for under $450 I once again have a beautiful Fat Bike with a lot of shiny new parts! The bike has now been in my garage for over 24 hours, so I guess it is time to look for some muddy trails so I can start the process all over again!

 

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Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix For Winter Sports

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

For the past couple of years I’ve used Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix as my primary drink while on the bike. This drink mix was developed by Allen Lim, PhD, a sport scientist and coach for a professional cycling team. He created this product “from scratch” because he thought he could improve on the usual prepackaged hydration products that were already on the market. While I love Skratch mix when served cold, or even at room temperature, it just didn’t appeal to me when served piping hot. In fact, I don’t know of any sports drink that tastes good when served hot. However, this past fall Skratch Labs introduced their new Apples & Cinnamon flavor and this product is intended to be served hot!

Thanks to a snowy and bitterly cold winter I’ve been drinking a lot of the Apples & Cinnamon flavor Skratch mix while cycling this year. I always fill two thermos bottles with this drink mix before I go out on a ride and after several hundred miles through the snow I can say I dearly love this product! It tastes great piping hot and even when it starts to cool down. While the cinnamon flavor is more dominant than the apple, this mix is perfect for all winter athletes and I highly recommend it.

A 16-ounce serving of this drink mix has 90 calories and provides 22 grams of carbohydrates, along with 300mg of sodium and 40mg of potassium. The ingredients list is fairly simple: Cane sugar, dextrose, apples, sodium citrate, citric acid, cinnamon, magnesium lactate, calcium citrate, potassium citrate, and ascorbic acid.

You can buy this Exercise Hydration Mix in either a one-pound package or as single-serving individual packages (sticks). The best buy is the one-pound package which retails for $19.50 and will make twenty 16-ounce servings. When the temperature warms up a bit and you want a cool drink, this product also comes in several other flavors, including Lemon & Limes, Raspberries, Oranges, and Pineapple. While I like all of them, the Raspberry is my favorite—the flavor is not overpowering and it is a very crisp and refreshing drink.

 

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Snow, Snow and More Snow

Welcome to my gym

This Winter Has Been Great For Fat Bike Owners!

Over the past few days I’ve received several notes from fellow bloggers who were wondering about my absence since I’ve not posted a new product review in over three weeks. First, thanks to all of you who asked! Second, I am in great health—my absence has been due to a couple of things, but mainly snow! We’ve had over 64″ (162 cm) of snow so far this winter and, even by Chicago standards, the weather has been brutal.

It seems like the only thing I’ve accomplished in the past few weeks has been keeping my driveway clean and clearing the snow off my wife’s car. I drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee so I don’t worry about how deep the snow is, but my lovely wife drives a tiny import that has about 6″ of ground clearance—so nearly every morning I have to clean the driveway and her car before she goes to work (as an old man told me when I got married, “Treat your wife like a thoroughbred and she won’t turn out to be a nag”).

During January I was only able to ride 140 miles on my Fat Bike—all of it in the snow and the temperature was rarely above 10 degrees Fahrenheit (and most of the time it was well below zero). For those who have never ridden a Fat Bike in the winter, let me put it this way: If you can average anything over 8 MPH on the snow you are doing great! Since we don’t have any groomed trails in my area I usually have to cut a trail through fresh snow (unless I can follow some other Fat Bike). In addition, two hours of riding in the snow wears me out more than a Century ride in the summer.

There is one other thing that has kept me from writing in the past few weeks: I am in the process of taking my office into the “paperless” world. Until last year my personal library had over 5,000 books, but I have been scanning and converting them into searchable PDF files (and then disposing of the books). I bought two high-speed document scanners last year and have already cleaned out three entire file cabinets and emptied six bookcases (only 18 to go). Once I got started with this project I found it hard to stop—but now that the weather is supposed to be improving next week (we might even get above freezing!), I will probably slow down the scanning and increase the mileage on my bikes. I should be back with new product reviews next week!

 
 

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45NRTH Bergraven Technical Fatbiking Gaiters

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

Warning: This article deals with adult subject matter and is not suitable for southerners or cyclists who spend their winters in the basement riding a trainer. Reader discretion is advised.

After several mild winters in a row, those of us in the Upper Midwest have finally been blessed with a ton of fresh snow and bone-chilling temperatures. Several weeks ago I was at the local bike shop and saw the new 45NRTH Bergraven Technical Fatbiking Gaiters. I hesitated getting them because the past few winters have been rather disappointing for Fat Bike owners, but I decided to take a chance and buy them anyway—and I am certainly glad I did!

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

Gaiters are put on over your boots and winter cycling tights and extend from your boots to just below your knees. If you are not familiar with the purpose of winter gaiters, let me explain. First, they keep you lower leg and calf muscle warm (the wind has a way of making calf muscles very stiff). Second, they keep the snow out of your boots when you have to get off the bike and push.

The Bergraven gaiters are specifically designed for Fat Bike riders. The soft outer shell is made with Primaloft ECO insulation and there is a Kevlar panel to protect the gaiters if they come in contact with either the crank arms or chain-rings. These gaiters close on the sides with a hook-and-loop closure and there are buckle adjusters at the top so you can make them as snug (or loose) as you like. There is also a strap that goes under your boots to keep the gaiters in place. In addition, there is a bit of reflective piping on the back of the gaiters.

If you are fortunate enough to own a pair of 45NRTH Wölvhammer winter cycling boots there is a toe hook on these gaiters that will snap into the boots for a better fit. Unfortunately, my feet are too wide to fit into a pair of Wölvhammer boots (even though they have a wide toe box). However, you do not have to wear these gaiters with Wölvhammer boots. When the temperature drops below 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) I wear the Columbia Bugaboot Plus Cold Weather Boot—this boot is designed for hunters, but it works for cyclists as well. By the way, the toe hook on the Bergraven gaiter will lock into this boot (but you will need to trim the hook with a Dremel rotary tool first).

Sometimes you just have to dismount and push your Fat Bike

Sometimes you just have to dismount and push your Fat Bike

We’ve had a lot of snow this winter and I’ve had to walk my bike through deep snow drifts on many occasions. Sometimes you can see a drift in front of you and just dismount and walk through it. However, a few times I’ve run into deep snow without any warning and these gaiters have kept the snow out of my boots every time!

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Fatbiking Gaiters are available in two sizes: Medium (38–43) and Large (44–50). These gaiters retail for $85 a pair—not cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on staying warm! You might live in an area of the country where you would never need a product like this, but I am certainly glad I bought them (especially this year).

 

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Fatter By The Lake

A Herd Of Fat Bikes In Zion, Illinois

A Herd Of Fat Bikes In Zion, Illinois

Note: In many of my articles on this blog I refer to “the local bike shop” and by that I mean Zion Cyclery in Zion, Illinois. I’ve purchased my last eight bikes from this shop, including my highly customized Fat Bike (a Surly Necromancer Pugsley). Last year Chris Daisy, the owner of the shop, organized a winter event for Fat Bikes called Fatter By The Lake. I couldn’t make it to the ride this year, so I asked Chris to write an article about it so you could get a taste of what winter cycling is all about.

Chris And Cassie Daisy

Chris And Cassie Daisy

I’ll be the first to admit that the first annual Fatter By The Lake was a disaster! It took place in early February, and the weather was a mix of “I hate this” and “I want to die.” Freezing rain, crippling wind gusts and deep wet snow kept everyone except my Trek rep and myself from attending. The only reason we pushed on was because the local press was there, so I at least got a cool photo and write-up for our efforts.

Riding On The Shores Of Lake Michigan

Riding On The Shores Of Lake Michigan

This year was a different story. Thanks to slightly better weather and a nice shout out from Fat-Bike.com, attendance was up 1500%! Riders from all over the Chicago and Milwaukee area assembled at our shop and set out for Illinois Beach State Park, the only undeveloped and natural stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline in the state of Illinois. We headed east from the bike shop and picked up a trail headed toward the beach. We were immediately greeted by a huge sheet of ice, so some of the less experienced riders were falling like dominoes. Eventually everyone started to settle in and we crunched along in the snow towards the beach.

Fat Bike Derby at Illinois Beach State Park

Fat Bike Derby at Illinois Beach State Park

The skies were a heavy overcast, the waves were big enough to surf (except the temperature and undertow would have killed you), and there was an ever-present threat of freezing rain that never quite materialized. We headed south along a waterfront paved path, past the abandoned mid-century modern bathrooms and concrete sun shelters to a plateau of sand near a large parking lot. As we waited for everyone to catch up a Fat Bike derby contest broke out. The object of a derby is to ride in an ever shrinking circle without tapping a foot on the ground, while of course trying to get your opponents knocked off their bike. We watched and cheered until the last man was track standing and pedaled on.

Time For A Break At Dead River

Time For A Break At Dead River

The beach riding south of the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center was sweet. The sand was frozen solid without being slippery, and the wind was at our backs as we cruised along bunny hopping driftwood, riding wheelies and just taking it all in. The Dead River is the edge of the Illinois Beach State Park property, so we stopped and let folks catch up again while we socialized, and someone took the nice photo shown above.

Ready To Roll

Ready To Roll

Naturally the ride home was against the wind, so the pace slowed up a bit. We reached the Zion Cyclery parking lot with enough time for folks to catch the Bears vs. Packers game (a sore subject with me). A group of guys wanted to check out Beulah Park, an 80 acre wooded park in Zion that we spent all summer building legal singletrack in with the help of the Chicago Area Mountain Biker Association and the Zion Park District. Since I was hosting the ride I had to gather up some gumption and press on. The riding conditions at Beulah Park were rough. The trails didn’t have enough traffic yet and my legs were no match for the group of bike messengers and die-hards I was leading. We headed back towards Sheridan Road where I gave them directions for a safe passage back to the shop, and I headed north towards home, exhausted, cramping up and grinning from ear to ear.

 

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45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies For Fat Bikes

The All Seasons Cyclist With His New 45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies

The All Seasons Cyclist With His New 45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about How To Keep Your Hands Warm While Cycling In The Winter. In that article I reviewed the three major products that winter cyclists use to protect their hands: Moose Mitts, Bike Poagies and Bar Mitts. Unfortunately, that article was published before 45NRTH introduced their new Cobrafist Technical Fatbike Pogie. I am an experienced winter cyclist and own at least two pairs each of Moose Mitts, Bike Poagies and Bar Mitts—and I have to say that 45NRTH’s new Cobrafist pogies smash the competition—these are warmest, best designed and most well thought-out pogies on the market today!

45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Cobrafist pogies are constructed with a wind resistant, puncture resistant 600 denier outer shell and warm layer of 400g Primaloft insulation. These pogies will easily add 25 degrees of warmth to your hands, i.e., if your gloves are normally good down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with Cobrafist pogies you can wear those same gloves down to at about 5 degrees—and if you drop a small chemical hand warmer into each pogie you gain another 10 degrees of warmth.

Zippered Air Vents To Regulate The Temperature

Zippered Air Vents To Regulate The Temperature

Chemical hand warmers are intended to be used in an oxygen restricted environment—not in an airtight container. Since all the other pogies cut off outside air from reaching into the pogies they also suffocate chemical hand warmers (make them stop working) within an hour or so. Fortunately, the Cobrafist pogies have zippered vents on the top and bottom so you can regulate the amount of air you let in—or you can choose to seal the poagie up almost air tight if you want. These zippers also allow moisture to escape from inside the pogies which will help keep your hands dry—and these zippers have pulls on both the inside and outside of the pogies so you can adjust the ventilation without taking your hands out of the poagie (I dearly love this feature)! In addition, the Cobrafist has two small inner pockets that allow you to store extra food or chemical hand warmers without them sliding around inside the pogie.

A Bar-End Plug Secures A Grommet To Keep Your Pogie In Place

A Bar-End Plug Secures A Grommet To Keep Your Pogie In Place

While the Cobrafist pogies are technically advanced, they are still easy to install—they slide over your handlebar and a bar-end plug secures a grommet tight against the handlebar (the only tool required is a 3mm Allen wrench). The only downside to this system is that you can’t use a tall bar-end grip like the Ergon GC3 Handlebar Grips I normally use on my Pugsley. However, the shorter Ergon GC3 Race Grip will work. The other end of the pogie (the end closest to the headset) has an oval-shaped foam donut that seals the handlebar and cable closure and keeps unwanted cold air out. The Cobrafist also has a drawstring around the opening for your hands—keep it loose if you start to overheat, or cinch it up if the weather turns nasty.

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike Pogies

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike Pogies

Every time I write about pogies I get letters from readers asking about how difficult it is to get your hands in and out of the pogie while riding. Well, I wondered about this same thing before I first used them. Let me put your mind at ease by telling you that these pogies are incredibly easy to use—you can get your hands in and out in total darkness without even having to think about it.

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike Pogies

Cobrafist Pogies Could Use Some Reflective Piping For Riding At Night

While I believe the 45NRTH Cobrafist pogies are the best pogies on the market, I do have two suggestions that I think would make them even better. First, I would like to see some reflective piping on the front and side of these pogies. Sunshine is a rare commodity during the winter, and I often find myself riding after dark and reflective piping would make it a lot easier for cars and snowmobiles to see me. Second, I would like the pogies to extend about 2″ more past the brake levers than they do now—while the pogies are roomy, it is too easy to stick your fingers in the pockets when they ought to be on the brake levers.

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike pogies retail for $125 a pair and they only come in one color: black. They are not cheap, but as far as bike pogies go they are actually reasonably priced. While it might be fun to brag to your friends about the time you got frostbite while riding your Fat Bike, having your fingers amputated because of it might not be as fun as it sounds!

 

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Winter Cycling: Putting It All Together

Note: This is the final installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I am in the process of converting these articles into a PDF book that you will be able to download for free from this website.

I am often asked about what type of gear I carry with me on winter rides—the answer is not exactly cut and dry. When I am riding in urban areas I don’t carry anything more than I would in the summer. However, the further away from home I ride, or when I am on lonely off-road trails, I usually carry some extra gear. In this article I am going to suggest a few items that you might want to carry with you this winter.

Cell Phone. Going out for a bike ride in the heart of winter can be a beautiful experience—and it can also be deadly if you are not prepared. If you are riding in your neighborhood and your bike experiences a mechanical problem you can just walk it home. However, if you are 30 miles away from civilization when you break down they might not find your body until the snow melts. I carry my Apple iPhone with me on every ride I take—not just so I can call my wife if I break down, but also because there might be a time when I can’t call her at all! I use Abvio Cyclemeter iPhone app to record my rides, and when I am riding in inclement weather I also turn on the Road ID iPhone app so my wife can track me during the ride—she will even get a notification if I crash.

Road ID iPhone App For Cyclists And Runners

Road ID iPhone App

The Road ID iPhone app is very simple to set up and even easier to use. Once you download the app from the iTunes Store you input your basic information (name, address and email address), then you can select up to five of your contacts who will receive either an email or a text message when you are ready to go ride or run. The contacts you selected with get a brief message telling them that you are heading out—and in the message there is a link they can click that will allow them to see exactly where you are at any given moment while you are out (an eCrumb—an electronic breadcrumb). They can watch you on any smart phone or web browser.

The Road ID iPhone app also allows you to turn on a stationary alert—if you don’t move for five minutes the app will send an email or text message to your selected contacts advising them that you are not moving. The message does not necessarily mean that you are lying face-down in a ditch somewhere—it just means that you have not moved more than 15 feet or so in the past five minutes. However, one minute before the text message or email goes out the app will sound a loud alarm to warn you so you can cancel the message. This stationary alert cannot be adjusted to any other time-frame—it is either set at five minutes or it is turned off entirely.

This app will drain your battery a bit, but for most people it is not going to be an issue. I’ve used this app on a lot of short rides (three hours or less). Each time I started with a battery that was 100% full and when I got home after three hours the battery had only gone down by 20%—but I was also running the Abvio Cyclemeter app at the same time (I always turn off the Wi-Fi on my iPhone when heading out for a ride to prolong battery life). One other feature the Road ID iPhone app offers is that it allows you to make a personalized Lock Screen—even if your phone is locked emergency responders can see any pertinent information they need and a list of people they can call in case of an emergency.

According to the description on iTunes, this app is “compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation), and iPad. This app is optimized for iPhone 5. Requires iOS 5.0 or later.”

If you live in an area where cellphone reception is spotty (or even non-existent), you should consider a SPOT Trace device—a small electronics package (2″x3″) that uses satellite technology to track your movements and report your position. These devices start at just $100 (and basic service is just $99 a year).

Cell Phone Cover. Because cold weather will decrease the battery life on your cell phone, it is always best to keep your phone close to your body. Unfortunately, your body produces a tremendous amount of perspiration during winter rides and all of that humidity is often trapped between your body and your outer layer—and your cell phone is trapped between those two layers. You need to store your cell phone in a waterproof cover—a Ziplock bag can work in a pinch, but a more durable option is the Showers Pass CloudCover iPhone Case for the iPhone 4 or iPhone 5.

Showers Pass CloudCover Dry Wallet For iPhone

Showers Pass CloudCover Dry Wallet For iPhone

The Showers Pass CloudCover iPhone Case is a weatherproof case with welded edges and a dual zip-lock closure that will keep your phone happy and dry all day long. I have an iPhone 5 and always keep it in a thin polycarbonate case—and even with the case on my phone fits perfectly into the CloudCover case. In addition, the CloudCover case fits into my middle jersey pocket with room to spare. The CloudCover case has a tab on one side so you can attach a key chain or mini-carabiner to it. The case also has reflective piping so if you keep it in your panniers it will be a lot easier to find in low-light. The design of this case also serves to cushion your phone if it should happen to hit the ground.

One of the features I like best about the CloudCover case is that you can still use the iPhone camera without having to take the phone out of the case. I’ve experimented with this option several times and still cannot believe how well it works! As long as you are photographing in bright sunlight it is nearly impossible to tell that the phone was in the case when you took the photo. However, in low-light situations it is easier to tell the difference. Unfortunately, if you attempt the use the flash while taking a photograph the light will bounce off the clear plastic cover and ruin your photo.

Showers Pass also makes CloudCover cases and wallets for several other electronic devices, including: iPad, iPad Mini, Kindles, and a general purpose wallet for smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy. The Showers Pass CloudCover iPhone Case retails for $25 and if you ride in inclement weather that price is a steal! If your local bike shop does not carry this product you can order if it from the Showers Pass website or Amazon.com.

Rubber Gloves: While your chances of getting a flat tire while riding in the snow is fairly low, it is still possible—and if you are not prepared the experience is going to be utterly miserable! I haven’t figured out a way to change a bike tire with winter cycling gloves on, but when you take the gloves off your hands are going to freeze in a matter of minutes. In addition, most winter rides are in the snow which means that the tires are going to be wet when you work on them. Therefore, if I am traveling very far away from home I carry a pair of Ansell HyFlex CR2 Cut Resistant gloves with me. These gloves have a nylon lining and a polyurethane palm coating—they don’t have any insulation, but they will keep you hands dry if you have to change a tire, and they are pliable enough to be easy to work with. If you have a pair of winter glove liners with you they can be worn underneath the HyFlex gloves for a bit of added warmth. While these gloves are fairly thin, if you want something even thinner you could wear a disposable latex glove, like the Microflex Diamond Grip Powder-Free Gloves.

Chemical Hand, Foot And Body Warmers. One of the most useful products I’ve ever bought for winter cycling is also the cheapest—chemical hand, foot and body warmers. Chemical warmers are made by several companies, such as HotHands and Grabber. Though the exact ingredients in these warmers vary depending on the manufacturer, they all basically have the same ingredients: Iron powder, salt, water, activated charcoal and vermiculite (or cellulose). To activate these chemical warmers all you have to do is expose them to air by removing them for their packaging (sometimes you have to shake the packs for a few seconds). Once out of the package these products warm up in 15 to 30 minutes and can stay warm for four or five hours. These products are almost always advertised as being good for seven or eight hours, and under ideal circumstances they might, but that has not been my experience with most of them. Please check the expiration date on the packages before you buy them! When these warmers get old they don’t produce much heat (if any).

Chemical Hand, Foot and Body Warmers for winter cycling

Chemical Hand, Foot and Body Warmers

Chemical hand warmers are the most common type of warmer you will see at Walmart, Target and sporting good stores. They come in packages of two and each warmer measures about 2″x3″. Chemical body warmers are larger than hand warmers—they measure 4″x5.5″, and the Super HotHands Body Warmer keeps working for up to 18 hours!

Miscellaneous Items: I always a carry a container of ChapStick with me on winter rides—the cold, dry air makes my lips burn and chap. In addition, a couple of extra carb gels or energy bars are not a bad idea if you are riding very far away from home (you can burn a lot of calories while walking your bike home).

One of my favorite off-road winter rides is on the Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County, Illinois. As the name suggests, the trail runs next to the Des Plaines River, and sometimes when the river is high I’m riding just a few inches from the water. I’ve never fallen into the water, but one slip of a tire could really ruin my day. So, when the river is high and there is a chance of taking an unintentional dip in the water, I carry a disposable SOL Emergency Blanket. This 56” x 84″ emergency warming blanket reflects 90% of your body heat, yet it only weighs 2.5 ounces and doesn’t take up much more room than a Clif Bar. I haven’t had to use it yet and I pray that I never do!

One Final Item: Don’t ever go out for a bike ride without your Road ID or your driver’s license. If you have an accident the emergency responders need to know how to get in touch with your family. In addition, if you are riding when the temperature is -20 Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius) sometimes you have to look at your driver’s license just so you can remember your gender.

If you are an avid winter cyclist please feel free to tell me what you think I missed on this list.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Fat Bikes, Winter Cycling

 

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Winter Cycling: Studded Bike Tires

Note: This is the eleventh installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

Even if you own the best cycling clothing that money can buy, your bike ride is going to be miserable if you attempt to ride in the snow or ice with the wrong tires. It’s not just about having tires with a good grip—they also need to be pliable in extremely cold temperatures and be able to shed snow. I haven’t tried every winter cycling tire that is on the market, but I have used enough different brands to offer a few suggestions for those who might be new to winter cycling.

Innova Steel Studded Bicycle Tires

Innova Steel Studded Bicycle Tires (Pattern: IA-2901)

If you are new to winter cycling and not sure how much you are going to ride this winter, I would suggest you get a pair of Innova 26 x 2.1 snow tires—these mountain bike tires are definitely an “entry-level” grade. Unlike the more expensive tires that use carbide studs, the Innova tires use steel studs, so yes, they are going to rust (see the photo above). However, the Innova tires are at least half the price of Nokian or Schwalbe tires. Innova snow tires have 268 replaceable steel studs and an aggressive tread. While it is very common to lose a few studs during normal use every winter due to friction, the best I can tell I didn’t lose a single stud in over 500 miles of use during the first winter I had them.

While the side of the tire says the maximum air pressure is 60psi, I would recommend you never go above 50psi—and if you are riding on a lot of ice I’d drop the pressure down to near 40psi (the minimum recommended pressure). At 60psi the studs don’t grip the snow and ice as well. These tires are made with a standard rubber compound which means they are not very flexible in cold weather. These tires retail for around $72 each. If your local bike shop does not carry Innova tires, you can usually find them on Amazon.com.

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Snow Tires

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Snow Tires

If you are looking for a top-of-the-line tire winter mountain biking tire I would suggest the Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires. These tires are made with a special winter rubber (durometer 58A) and are intended for extreme winter riding. This tire has large knobs for a great grip in mud and snow, along with 304 studs to keep you steady on the ice. The studs are made of aluminum and have sharp carbide pins—these pins should last for the life of the tire. Each tire weighs 750g (25.45 ounces). I bought a pair of 26″x2.2″ tires, but similar tires are available in other sizes. The recommended tire pressure is 29 to 65psi. I keep mine at around 40psi for winter riding and they are great in snow up to about two inches (5 cm) deep.

These tires are easy to install, but before you take them out in the snow for the first time you need to break them in by riding on hard pavement for at least 30 miles. The pavement helps seat the studs properly into the tires and roughens up the tips a bit for a better grip on the ice. The large tread pattern (knobs) on this tire provide wonderful traction in mud and snow, but they do require some extra effort on pavement because of their high rolling resistance. One thing that all studded bicycle tires have in common is that they are loud. How loud are they? Let me put it this way: You better hope that when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs that it happens in the summer, because if these tires are on your bike when it hits you are going to attract the attention of every walker and biter within 30 miles (it is a well-known fact that Zombies are attracted to loud noises).

Now for the confusing part: Nokian Tyres PCL is headquartered in Finland and is known throughout the world for their fine car and truck tires—they operate the world’s only permanent winter tire testing facility. At one time Nokian Tyres PCL manufactured bicycle tires, but not anymore. Today they license the Nokian name to Suomi Tyres LTD (another Finnish company). The Nokian Hakka WXC 300 tires are actually manufactured in Taiwan and are distributed in North America through Quality Bike Products (QPB). Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires retail for $120 each at your local bike shop. They are also available from the REI Website and in some of their retail stores.

Anytime the snow is over 2″ deep I’ll be riding my Surly Necromancer Pugsley with 4″ wide tires. Like many of the early Fat Bikes, my Pugs came equipped with 3.8″ Surly Larry tires on the front and 3.7″ Surly Endomorph tires on the back (often called the Larry/Endo combo). These tires are great for folks who are lucky enough to ride on groomed snowmobile trails and hard packed (consolidated) snow. Those of us who ride on loose and unconsolidated snow usually find this tire combination somewhat lacking—the Larry in the front is prone to washouts (especially if the path is off-camber) and the Endomorph in the rear often loses its grip in loose snow. Fortunately, Fat Bike riders now have a couple of great choices for winter cycling tires.

Surly Nate Bicycle Tires

Surly Nate Fat Bike Tires

The Surly Nate tire is 3.8″ wide and fits 50–100mm wide rims. The Nate has a large and aggressive knobby tread pattern that offers unbelievable traction in unconsolidated snow. While these massive tires have more rolling resistance than other fat tires, I’ve still been able to get my Pugs up to over 20 MPH on the pavement. I’ve also been able to cut a trail through five inches of fresh snow without any trouble—even on off-camber sections of the trail. In addition, I’ve been able to climb snow-covered hills while standing up out of the saddle—something I could never do with the Larry/Endo combo. The Surly Nate is available with either 27tpi or 120tpi (threads per inch). Higher tpi tires are usually lighter, more supple and more expensive. Lower tpi tires are generally heavier, more durable and offer better flat-resistance. The 120tpi Nate has a Kevlar bead and weighs around 1350 grams, while the 27tpi wire bead version weighs a bit over 1700 grams.

The first time I rode with the Nates was on a 35 degree day on an off-road trail that had snow and ice in the shady areas and several inches of mud and standing water in the areas exposed to direct sunlight. When I started my ride I could see the tracks left by a mountain biker who had started out on the trail before me that day—the tracks turned around after about 30 feet! However, I was able to ride for over 30 miles on this muddy trail and my Nates didn’t slip a single time (but they did throw a lot of mud).

The 27tpi Surly Nate tire retails for around $80, and the 120tpi version is around $120. You should be able to find these tires in the Men’s Department of your local bike shop. Once you get your hands on the Surly Nate tire, make sure you look for the Easter Egg (hidden message) just above the bead of the tire. In case you can’t find it, it says, “Deep Fried Meat Fueled Natepocalypse” (I am not sure of the best way to translate this into English).

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

If you are looking for the ultimate Fat Bike tire for winter cycling, look no further than the Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires from 45NRTH. The Dillinger tires are 4″ wide and weight only 1375 grams (a major improvement over my heavy Surly Nates). This lightweight snow tire has 240 aluminum-carbide studs that grips the ice and a tread pattern that gives the most amazing traction in snow you will ever find in a bike tire. This 26×4″ tire is available with a Kevlar bead with 120tpi (threads per inch), and a wire bead version with 27tpi. The intended tire pressure range for this tire goes from 5 to 30psi, but if you are riding on snow you probably don’t want to inflate them to over 10psi, and on the ice I would drop them down to 5 or 6psi.

The first time I rode on these tires was at Illinois Beach State Park so I could try them out on the snow, ride across a frozen pond and play along the shores of Lake Michigan. I rode my bike on surface streets from my house to the beach and while on the pavement these wide tires are a bit of work (they grip the road too well). However, the moment I left the pavement and got on a snowy off-road trail it felt like I was riding downhill with a tailwind—these tires ride so smooth and grip so well on the snow that I don’t even have the words to describe it! On the way to the beach I followed a very sandy trail that has a couple of small bumps I hate—they are only a few feet tall but most of the time my mountain bike sinks in the sand and I almost come to a standstill. However, with the Dillinger tires I just increased my speed and rolled right over the bumps.

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

At the north end of Illinois Beach State Park there is a small pond that was frozen over and it had several guys out ice fishing near the middle of the pond (always a good sign). I rode across this frozen pond and was blown away by two things: how much traction I had and how little rolling resistance I experienced!

When I entered the park I noticed that there were tracks in the snow from two other cyclists on a trail in front of me—both tracks were from mountain bike tires and it appeared that one of them was studded. I caught up with a guy riding the non-studded tires first—he was a nice guy but was having trouble hold a straight line so. A little later I caught up with the guy on a mountain bike with steel studded tires—he was riding faster than the other guy so I pulled up next to him and chatted for a while. When I conversation was over I hit the gas and quickly dropped him. Both of these guys were younger than me and in decent shape, so I am certain that on road bikes in the summer they would have dropped me, but a standard mountain bike snow tire is no match for a studded Fat Bike tire in the snow! The Dillinger tires sells for around $250 with the folding bead (Kevlar), but the wire bead version is a bit cheaper.

Warning: If you ride in the winter eventually you are going to come home covered from head to toe in mud, slush and snow. You will then find yourself standing out in your snow-covered backyard with a water hose and scrub brush trying to clean your bike. Your neighbors will never understand the smile on your face. In fact, I am not certain of the source myself. Does the smile come as a result of the fun you had on the ride, or from thinking about those poor guys riding their trainers in the basement because the weather is “too bad to ride in”?

 

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Winter Cycling: Food and Drink

Note: This is the tenth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

You probably won’t be cycling as fast or as far in the heart of winter as you would during the summer, but riding through snow and ice can burn a lot of calories. My heart rate monitor and Cyclemeter iPhone app do a decent job of calculating how many calories I burn during normal rides, but I don’t think it is possible for even the best power meter to accurately reflect the calories you burn during the winter—there are just too many variables. Even if you don’t get very thirsty during winter rides you still need to drink a lot or you will get dehydrated; and if you are going to ride for more than 90 minutes you need to take in an appropriate amount of carbohydrates (based on your speed and weight). In this article I am not going to focus on what tho eat or drink as much as I am on how to keep those items from becoming solid blocks of ice during your ride.

Klean Kanteen Bottles With A Composite Cage

Klean Kanteen Bottles With A Composite Cage

The colder it gets outside the faster your water bottle is going to freeze. The problem is not confined to your water freezing—before that happens the valve on your water bottle is probably going to freeze shut, so even if you have 18 ounces of liquid in your bottle you still won’t be able to get a drink. One solution is to use a Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle instead of the water bottle you use during the warmer months. The Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle is a 100% food-grade stainless steel bottle with high performance vacuum insulation. The folks at Klean Kanteen claim this bottle with insulate hot beverages for up to six hours, and iced drinks up to twenty-four hours. The six-hour time frame for hot beverages is accurate if the bottle is stored at room temperature, but outside in near zero degree weather it is not going to last that long. However, if will keep you liquids drinkable for at least four hours. Since this is a wide mouth bottle you never have to worry about a small valve freezing shut in the winter. However, you will need to stop your bike in order take off the cap and get a drink (that’s not uncommon in winter cycling).

The Klean Kanteen bottle will fit in most bicycle water bottle cages. However, these bottles are a bit wider than normal bicycle water bottles, and if your water bottle cage is made of aluminum it will scratch the Klean Kanteen bottle to pieces in no time at all. To keep from scratching my bottles I replaced the aluminum bottle cages on my winter bikes with a flexible composite cage. Since most composite cages have a small “lip” to keep the water bottle in place, I took a Dremel rotary tool and removed the “lip” so the bottle would slide in easier. The 20-ounce Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle retails for $28 and is available in several colors, including Black, White, Wild Raspberry, Blue, Gray and Brushed Stainless. This product comes with a lifetime warranty (see the Klean Kanteen Website for complete details).

Skratch Labs Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Hydration Mix

Now that you know how to keep your drinks from freezing during a ride, what drink is the best to use? I enjoy hydration mixes from both Skratch Labs and Osmo Hydration—most of the their drink mixes taste great either cold or at room temperature, but very few drink mixes taste good warm. Fortunately, Skratch Labs has recently introduced a new flavor that is designed for both winter and summer use, Apples and Cinnamon, and this mix tastes great when served cold and even better hot! When mixed with hot water the flavor reminds you of a cup of warm apple cider.

Another one of my favorite winter drinks on the bike is hot tea with honey. I always use decaffeinated tea because tea has a diuretic effect and that effect is compounded with caffeine (and when the temperature is well below zero you don’t want to stop to answer the call of nature any more than is absolutely necessary). This is one time when you don’t have to be shy about how much honey you add to the tea—you need the carbs!

Honey Stinger Chocolate Waffle, Certified Kosher and Organic

Honey Stinger Organic Chocolate Waffle

For several years I’ve taken Honey Stinger Waffles with me on nearly every bike ride and can’t imagine cycling without them. If you have not tasted a Stinger Waffle your life is sad and lacking. Without the slightest bit of exaggeration, these are the best tasting items you will ever consume on a bike! Each waffle has 160 calories, offers 21 grams of carbohydrates, are all organic and certified Kosher. Two packages of waffles take up about the same amount of room in your jersey pocket as a single Clif Bar. As the outside temperature drops these waffles become brittle. The best way to keep the waffles soft is to put them in a jersey pocket under your cycling jacket. When the temperature drops to below 20 degrees (which is most of the time in the winter) I put these waffles in my jacket pocket along with a chemical hand warmer. These waffles taste great at room temperature, but when you are riding on a snowy day and pull one out of your jacket that has been warmed up, well, you have a treat fit for a king!

Hammer Gel 26-Serving Jug and Flask

Hammer Gel 26-Serving Jug and 5-Ounce Flask

I don’t normally like using carb gels in the winter because they are too hard to open with gloves or mitts on—and I hate taking off my gloves before I get home from the ride. However, Hammer Gel not only sells their product in individual packages, but also a 26-serving jug of gel for $20 (this comes out to just .77¢ per serving). You can use the gel from the jug to fill your own flask—but the Hammer Gel 5-Ounce Flask is your best bet—it is made of high-density polyethylene and has molded finger tip groves. This flask is incredibly easy to use while on the bike—I can get the gel out faster from the flask than I ever could with a single-serving package. In addition, small packages usually spill a few drops of sticky gel into my jerseys, but the flask seals lock-tight and you won’t spill a drop! I have been carrying this flask in the vest pocket on my jacket—when it gets colder I’ll add a chemical hand warmer to the pocket.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Sports Nutrition, Winter Cycling

 

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