Note: This is the ninth 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”).
Most of the items mentioned in this article are designed for Fat Bikes, but the StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer is a cool accessory you can add to almost any bike! StemCAPtain is a small business based in Grand Junction, Colorado that specializes in quality bicycle accessories. Their product line centers around items that replace the stem cap on your bike with a small accessory base so you can put a clock, picture frame, compass, bottle opener, or a thermometer where the stem cap used to be.
Installation of StemCAPtain weatherproof thermometer was very simple—all you have to do is remove the old 1″ or 1-1/8″ threadless headset stem cap from your bike and replace it with the provided anodized aluminum base. The base of the StemCAPtain thermometer is available in six colors: Black, Red, Blue, Green Pink, or Gold. You also have a choice of two dial colors (Black or White).
The temperature range on the thermometer goes from -15 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 to 57 C). While this is a very wide temperature range, I wish it went down a bit further—winter cyclists often ride in temperatures down to -40 F (or colder). The StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer retails for $25 and I ordered mine from the StemCAPtain Website. However, this product should also be available at any local bike shop that orders from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP).
Those of us who spend winter riding in the snow on Fat Bikes usually try to keep our tire pressure between 5 and 10 psi. Unfortunately, very few tire gauges are accurate as such low pressures. The good news is that Accu-Gage has a professional grade low pressure tire gauge for Presta valves, and this puppy is dead-on accurate every time! Those mammoth tires on bikes like the Surly Pugsley have a maximum tire pressure of only 30 psi, but most of us never inflate them past 15 psi, even if we are running on pavement. While the tire pressure gauge on your floor pump might be correct at higher pressures, I have found them to be very unreliable at lower pressures. You might think that a digital tire gauge would be the best alternative, but cold temperatures have a great impact on their accuracy—and some of us like to ride even when the temperature is well below zero.
These gauges are fully geared and have a precision movement with a bronze Bourdon tube. The piston-plunger gauges on most bicycle pumps are affected by changes in temperature and humidity, but gauges with a Bourdon tube (like the Accu-Gage) are not. Also, since you don’t need batteries for this gauge you don’t have to worry about the battery dying in the cold like they often do in digital gauges. The Accu-Gage Low Pressure Tire Gauge is a 2″ dual scale dial tire gauge with a maximum pressure reading of 30 psi (calibrated and is accurate to within .5 psi). You should be able to get the Accu-Gage Low Pressure Tire Gauge (model #RPR30BX) from your local bike shop for around $13. Unfortunately, this item is temporarily out of stock, but will be back in 2014.
The wide tires on a Fat Bike can throw more mud than a Chicago politician in a tight race. Fortunately, Portland Design Works sells both front and rear fenders that are specially made for Fat Bikes. Dave’s Mud Shovel rear fender is 5.5″ wide by 22.5″ long and attaches to your seatpost with a small adjustable clamp (like the one some bicycle taillights use). It’s possible that a little mud or snow will find a way around the fender, but to me it seems like it stops about 99% of it.
Dave’s Mud Shovel front fender attaches to your bike’s down tube with two sturdy rubber fasteners. This fender is 6.5″ wide by 19.5″ long and will help keep your bottom bracket and crank sprockets clean. To get to my favorite off-road trails I have to ride my bike over a couple of miles of surface streets and when there is a lot of slush on the roads my legs get really wet—this fender seems to block a lot of road spray.
Both of these fenders are very flexible and at first I wasn’t sure about their durability. However, after a lot of miles on sand, mud and snowy off-road trails I can honestly say that these fenders far exceeded my expectations. As an added bonus, if you ever have an unplanned dismount (crash is such an ugly word) these fenders will probably escape totally unharmed. The rear Mud Shovel retails for $28, and the front Mud Shovel for $20. Both of these items are available from the Portland Design Works Website. You can also buy these fenders from your local bike shop.
Quick Tip #1: The Mud Shovel is easy to clean once you get home, but there is an easy way to keep mud and snow from sticking to your fenders in the first place—just coat the bottom of the fenders with PAM no-stick cooking spray before you go out for a ride. The PAM will wear off after every ride, but it does an incredible job of keeping crud from sticking to your fenders.
Quick Tip #2: Buy your own can of PAM—don’t take the one your wife has in the kitchen cabinet. Apparently some wives don’t approve of you taking items from the pantry out into the garage (or so I’ve heard).
Bad News: The front Mud Shovel is so wide that you can not use it if you have a Salsa Anything Cage attached to your front fork. The problem is that if you have anything in your Salsa Anything Cage (like in the photo below) it will hit the front Mud Shovel when you make a tight turn. However, if you don’t mind trimming the fender with a cutting knife I am sure you could make it work.
One of the many challenges winter cyclists face is trying to keep their water bottles from freezing on long rides. Riding three or four hours in freezing temperatures is not all that difficult, but having to swallow a slushy cold sports drink doesn’t exactly make you feel warm inside! While there are several good ways to keep the contents of your water bottle warm, the Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka is one of the best I’ve tried. This parka is a container made of a water-resistant, coated nylon fabric with a polyester knit lining. The closed-cell foam insulation in this parka does a tremendous job at keeping the temperature of the liquid in your bottles steady. I have not tested this product to its limits, but after five hours outside with the temperature in the single digits my drinks are still plenty warm.
The Water Bottle Parka comes in three sizes. Size #1 is for water bottles like the 1L Nalgene. Size #2 fits a .5L Nalgene or 21-ounce Camelbak Podium Chill bottle (like the one you probably use in the water bottle cage on your bike). Size #3 fits bottles like the 40-ounce Klean Kanteen, the 40-ounce CamelBak or the 1L Sigg. I use the Size #2 and it is 12.25 inches tall and 3.75 inches wide (exterior dimensions).
The biggest challenge to using the Water Bottle Parka for winter biking is finding a good way to attach it to your bike. The Water Bottle Parka comes with a reinforced nylon strap with a hook and loop closure, so you could just attach it to your handlebars. However, if you ride in the winter you probably already have a rack of some sort on your bike that you could use. I use two Salsa Anything Cages mounted to the front forks of my Surly Necromancer Pugs. The Outdoor Research #2 Water Bottle Parka is available in two colors (Red or Dark Grey), and retails for $24. This is not the type of product you are likely to find at your local bike shop, but you can order them from Amazon.com if you can’t find them at a local sporting goods store.
In the summer when I’m on my road bike I don’t carry much with me—just a few energy gels, a spare inner tube and air pump. However, when I ride in the winter I tend to carry a few more items with me (more on that in another article). The Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag and it is one of the best pieces of cycling equipment I’ve ever purchased. As the name suggests, the Tangle Frame Bag is a bag that fits on your bike frame—this one attaches to the top tube with reinforced Velcro straps. It also has adjustable webbing straps for the down tube and seat tube and low profile camlock buckles with strap keepers.
This bag is very well designed and thought out. It is divided into two pockets—the thinner pocket on the left hand side holds smaller items like maps, chemical hand warmers, and cell phones. The pocket on the right hand side is much larger and can easily hold vests, jackets, tools or enough energy bars for a 24-hour ride. Or, since the main compartment has an exit port at the front of the bag, you can use the larger pocket to hold a hydration pack. You could also use the larger compartment to hold the battery for your headlight and run the wire through the exit port (and still have a lot of room to spare).
The Tangle Frame Bag is made of Dimension Polyant Xpac 400 Denier Fabric (also known as sail loft). The zippers on this bag are water-resistant and the inside of the bag is lined with a bright yellow fabric so you can see the contents even in low-light situations. This bag is available in three sizes. The smallest bag is 17″ long by 4″ tall and is designed for 15″–18″ mountain bikes. The medium bag is 19.5″ long by 4.5″ tall is designed for 17″–20″ MTB frames. The largest bag is 21″ long by 6″ tall and fits 20″ (or larger) MTB frames. These bags also fit road, touring and commuting bikes—just check the Revelate Designs Website for additional sizing information. Revelate Designs is located in Anchorage, Alaska. These bags have a product warranty that covers any defects for life. The Tangle Frame Bag retails for $68 to $70 (based on size) and is available from the Revelate Designs Website.
Revelate Designs also has a smaller top tube bag, the Revelate Designs Gas Tank. The Gas Tank is a small zippered bag that mounts on the top tube of your bike and allows for one-handed access while riding. This bag is made of high-tech outdoor weight sailcloth and is lined with a bright yellow fabric so you can see the contents even in low-light situations. The Gas Tank is fully padded with closed cell foam and has a hook and loop interior divider so you can arrange the contents of the bag as you want. The Gas Tank is extremely lightweight—it only weighs 3.5 ounces. As for dimensions, the standard bag is 9″ long and at the stem it is 5″ high by 2.5″ wide, and it tapers down in the back to 1.5″ tall by 1.5″ wide along the top tube. The Gas Tank retails for $55 and is available from the Revelate Designs Website.