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Category Archives: Life On Two Wheels

Cycling in the Upper Midwest (Illinois and Wisconsin)

I’m Not Dead Yet

Surly Necromancer Pugsley Fat Bike

My Surly Necromancer basking in the sun along the Des Plaines River in Illinois

It has been nearly a month since my last post and in the past few days I’ve received a few letters from fellow bloggers who were wondering if I was OK. Well, in the words of the poor guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead.” In fact, I feel better than I have in many years.

Everyone in the Midwest knows how brutal this past winter was (second highest snowfall in Chicago history along with the coldest four-month period in Chicago history). About a month ago a really strange thing happened—I got up one morning and there was a really bright light up in the sky and it was giving off heat! It was such a strange sight that I almost called the police department, but a friend told me that it was something called “the sun.” It was such a pleasant thing that I got on my road bike and haven’t done much else since then (which explains why I haven’t been writing articles for this blog).

My first 1,500 miles for the year were all done on the snow and ice—which means that I rarely saw any other cyclists. However, now that the sun is out all of those wimps who spent the winter inside riding their bikes in the basement are now back on the roads (heaven help us all).

In a few days I will be publishing a review of the Tribesports Cycling Jersey—it is an extremely high-quality jersey that sells for an unbelievably low price.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2014 in Life On Two Wheels

 

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A Visit From The Puncture Fairy

My inner tube with a vertical split along the seam

My inner tube with a vertical split along the seam

Last week a friend of mine told me that he had two flats on his bike within the past few weeks—and like a total idiot I told him that I hadn’t had a flat in over nearly 6,000 miles. Experienced cyclists already know what happened next—my careless words summoned the Puncture Fairy and I got a flat on my next ride! For the uninformed, the Puncture Fairy is an evil little creature that shows up when you least expect it and wreaks havoc in your life (I know, she has the same job description as a mother-in-law). The quickest way to summon the Puncture Fairy is to mention that you’ve not had a flat in a while.

This past Saturday I went out for a 70-mile ride and about halfway through I heard a small explosion and then the front tire popped off the rim of my bike. Fortunately, I was climbing a step hill and was not going very fast at the time. If the problem had occurred just a few minutes before it could have been fatal since I had been riding on a busy highway at just under 40 MPH (yes, I was going downhill and had a strong tailwind). While the Puncture Fairy decided to pay me a visit, at least she showed me a bit of mercy concerning the timing. I’ve repaired a lot of flat tires over the years and can easily swap out an inner tube and be on my way in under five minutes. However, this was the very first time I’ve had a flat as a result of inner tube failure instead of a puncture. This time my inner tube split vertically along the seam (about 1.5″ long), and when the seam burst it knocked my tire off of the rim (which made it even faster to change the tire since I didn’t have to use a lever to get it off the rim).

The reason I told you this story is because it is finally spring and many folks are just getting their bikes out of the garage for the first time since last fall (which also means they missed a lot of good winter biking weather). Before you take your bike out for a ride you really need to make sure that you have a patch kit, spare inner tube, and a tire lever or two with you. If you don’t know how to change a tire I strongly suggest that you practice in your garage using the same tire levers that you carry with you when you ride.

Road debris sliced right through this tire

Road debris sliced right through this tire

You also need to have a back-up plan for when the Puncture Fairy really decides to ruin your day by slicing your tire in addition to puncturing your inner tube. Last summer I went out for a long ride with a young woman and on our way home she hit a piece of road debris and it sliced through her front tire like a hot knife going through warm butter. I took her tire off the rim, but it was a lost cause—not even a Park Tool Emergency Tire Boot could cover the damage.

Here is the piece of road debris that the young woman hit

Here is the piece of road debris that the young woman hit

The woman told me to just ride back to my house and she’d walk back (her car was at my house). However, this was not going to work for two reasons. First, I am a gentleman and the thought of leaving a lady by the side of the ride with a flat tire just wasn’t an option. Second, my wife would have shot me when I got home if she found out I left a woman by the side of the road home with a broken bike. So, I called my dear wife and she picked up the woman and her bike and then I rode home (and as slow as my wife drives I nearly beat them there).

When was the last time the Puncture Fairy paid you a visit?

 

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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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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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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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350,000 Views In 2013

My sincerest thanks to every visitor to this blog! By reading the comments you leave here and by visiting your blogs it seems like I’ve gotten to know some of you fairly well. Most of the visitors to this site are interested in cycling in one form or another, while others just have a general interest in fitness. Regardless of why you read this blog I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 350,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 15 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

If you scroll to the bottom of the report you will see one very sad note. The report has the names of the five “most active commenters” on this blog. The most frequent commenter was Irish Katie, a lovely woman who passed away from cancer back in October. The Chatter Blog had two wonderful articles about Katie. In the first article she simply noted how Irish Katie had not been commenting on any of the blogs recently, and in the second article it was revealed that Katie had passed on. I never had the privilege of meeting Katie, but her cheerful comments brightened up every blog she visited. She will truly be missed.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Life On Two Wheels

 

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