Thursday, January 31, 2008


We inturrupt your regularly scheduled bike nerd overload with this bit of hotness.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gear in review

So I've been doing a ton of research on the whole learning to survive snowbike adventures thing. What I've found is another complete bike culture. There's lots of info, but I'll try to sort some of it out here.

Starting with clothing.

There are a couple of basic things to remember:
There are four forms of heat loss; radiant, conductive, convective and evaporative.
Regulating your body temperature to control perspiration is critical to staying warm. The body's natural response to overheating is to increase evaporative cooling by perspiring.
Water has a thermal conductivity 23 times greater than air. If your insulating layers are soaked with sweat their conductive heat trasfer rate equals that of water, regardless of what the material is made of.
Convective heat tranfer can be controlled by proper venting of clothing and overlapping layers to prevent drafts. "Breathable" fabrics can not be considered proper venting.
As an example of breathable fabrics, Goretex blocks 97% of evaporative heat transfer, and they consider that breathable. Even that quickly becomes ineffective in below freezing temps as the water molecules quicky freeze and clog the open pores in the fabric.

There are two different clothing theories to look at. They both include a shell layer that blocks the wind and precip, a thermal layer, and a base layer. The difference comes with what you do with that base layer. You can either wick moisture away in an effort to stay dry and warm, or you can trap that moisture with a vapor barrier so it doesn't soak your insulating layer, thus slowing the evaporative heat transfer, and maintaining your conductive heat retention. Your insulating layers are most efficient when dry, therefore as you sweat and soak your insulating layer the insulating properties are slowly lost. So by trapping all that moisture inside your base layer you will stay warm indefinitely, no matter how much time you spend in your clothes their thermal properties stay the same. Therefore you should never get cold providing you have a thermal layer to match the conditions.
I should note, not everybody agrees on the use of vapor barriors. In order for a vapor barrior to be effective, and really one of it's main purposes, is to make you monitor your perspiration and keep it to a minimum. Some people simply produce too much heat to use a vapor barrior without excessive sweat pooling up. The risk then comes with the base layer freezing to the skin if proper thermal layers and levels are not maintained.
The trick with either system is trying to regulate the amount of body heat generated to keep the sweating to a minimum. Just by adding a vapor barrier you increase your thermal insulation quite a bit, its easy to overdress and end up standing in puddles. So far I've found it's gotta be below 20 deg for me to be able to wear a vapor barrier layer without sweating a ton. And unless it's below zero, I'd better not have much of a thermal layer on, even then. I guess I need some more practice adjusting my thermal layers and venting.

This picture shows my current complete clothing sytem for wet and dry weather, good for about temps 55deg down to about -15deg F. Realistically this system is only good for 3-4 hours and then all my thermal layers are soaked and need to be swapped out.

On top:
I use medium weight and lightweight Smartwool tops as my base/thermal layer. Wool is an extremely efficient insulator, and with these Smartwool tops the zipper allows venting, they dry very quickly, have very low pack weight and bulk.

I picked up a nice Nike Storm-Fit Jacket this year. It does a real nice job blocking the wind and precip, windproof/waterproof fabric, waterproof zippers, hi-vis orange w/reflective stripes, and adjustable venting too.

I've also got a light insulating pack coat for standing around while not on the bike, but I've yet to use it on a ride.

On bottom:
I start with a set of the old version Desoto five pocket bib shorts. They've got pockets to carry small stuff in during warmer conditions, and they've got a nice light fleece pad in them that keeps things dry and comfortable without getting in the way. Unfortunately they've went and "improved" these shorts with the standard "diaper butt" pad and doubled the price.

I picked up a set of Sporthill XC pants this year as well. Wind proof, water resistant, breathable, thermal, snug fit. Perfect by themselves down to -10.

For colder weather I'll put my Louis Garneau leg warmers under my pants.

Hind Drylete Balaclava : Superlight, versatile piece that I use as a hat or a balaclava. Windproof, water resistant. Good for taking the chill off brisk weather down to about 10 deg.

For colder weather I put my Louis Garneau Power Cap on over my balaclava or switch to my heavier neoprene/brushed fleece balaclava. I might have to try JP's "headband over the nose" sytem to see if I can reduce some fogging.

I've had mixed results using my vented Oakley M frames and vented Oakley snowboard goggles. In calm conditions they both fog/frost up, so I end up riding with no eye protection. In temps below 20 deg I find I have to thaw the condensation off my eyelashes every few minutes becuase they freeze together when I blink. In light windy conditions above 20 degrees the M frames work well, anything colder or windier and I use the the goggles.

All that goes under an oversized helmet cause I'm not less likely to fall in the winter and I don't slow down unless I can't go faster. It also keeps my hats from blowing off and makes a handy spot to attach lights.

Cheapie bar mitts I bought back when I still owned a snowmobile. These things are the bomb, single most effective winter use item I own. Windproof, waterproof, insulated. Ride with no gloves down to 25 degrees, light gloves down to 0, shell mitt takes you wherever you want to go.

$8 knitted wool glove/mitt from Orchelin's farm supply. You know the ones that the mitt part flips back so you can work with your fingers. Preferably long cuff to eliminate drafts. These work great, all sorts of options for venting/temp control. They can be super warm, yet you can get your fingers out quick to open wrapers/zippers/ect. Lots of nose wiping surface. Only downfall is they can absorb alot of water.

$8 shell mitten from Menards. Another good deal, super warm, powder skirt, dumby cord, lightweight, waterproof/windproof. Only downfalls being no removable liner and no nose wiping cloth.

I've tried my $65 snowbarding gloves, lobster mitts, ect. None of that comes close to working as well as the bar mitts and light glove/mitt combo. I might upgrade to a set of Epic Eric's poagies, and maybe a little nicer light glove liner/shell mitt combo, but otherwise my hands are happy.

Last years model Lake MX301 winter cycling boot, one full metric size larger than my standard cycling shoe, studded with sheet metal screws for ice. The standard by which all winter cycling shoes are based and about as good as it gets if you want to keep your clipless petals during winter cycling. Good down to 35 degrees with thin wool socks, 25 degrees with thick wool or polarfleece 300 thermal socks, below that your gonna need toe warmers or something additional to stay warm for more than an hour or two.

I use either Bridgedale heavyweight wool socks or a Polarfleece 300 thermal sock/Fox river wicking sock liner combo. If its below 20 degrees I've been using a grocery bag as a vapor barrier between my liner sock and thermal sock, and Grabber MyCoal adhesive toe warmers. I've been toying with plastic bags as vapor barriors, which is effective, but prone to tearing easily. For prolonged use I think I'll be looking for something a little nicer.

I've tried Hottronics electric footbeds, but the batteries are always dead, the cable's an uncomfortable PITA, and they just never seemed to work all that well. Plus they're heavy.
I also tried some off brand insole warmers, but they wouldn't stay under my toes, and they didn't get all that warm. In the long run you can get a whole winter's worth of Grabber adhesive toe warmers for less than half the price of a set of Hottronics, they stay put, they're easy to pack, you don't have to worry about batteries, and they work. The toe warmers also fit perfectly in a mitten.

Ok, so thats what I'm using currently. For the most part I'm pretty happy with this system. It's all pretty versatile, lightweght, and low bulk. For longer cold exposure all I need to do is add some insulated vapor barrior base layers to the mix like this, or this, to contol the evaporative heat transfer and maintain my clothing's conductive insulation properties. And add another shell/insulating layer over my boots somehow to boost their temp range, like this, with somthing like this, or this.

More to come.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Intro to snowbike racing

I competed in the Triple D snowbike "adventure" race this past Saturday. It was just like any other mtb race I do. The adventure part comes with numerous mechanical issues, a couple physical aillments, and top it off by getting lost. There would have been pictures, but I was pretty busy trying to ride in a straight line and keep from freezing.

The race itself was pretty well run for a first go around of it. Just a couple spots could have used better marking, otherwise it was all good. Well done Lance Andre.

This was a 60mile race from Dubuque to Dyersville and back. It started out on a plowed bike path through town where I drafted the pugsley paceline. That lead to a badly foot traffic-ed section that had refroze into a minefield for all who tried to ride it. This is where I had to stop the first time to air up my front tire, it took me awhile to figure out I was riding on the rim on the icy potholed snowpack. Pumping it up cost me a good 10 places, I was in third.

After the pothole hell we turned off the trail onto another plowed path that did nothing but go up. At this point I started noticing this funky frozen red red stuff on my top tube, and my jacket, and my gloves....crap, nosebleed. Anyway, I was being distracted from my leaking fluids by the fact that with every petal stroke it felt like my crank arms were falling off. Oh... well it's just my bottom bracket cups loose in the eccentric. Seems I forgot to pack my crank extractor and bb tools so there's not much I could do about this. Spinning more helps, spin more. Then came some cross town snowmobile trail that was entertaining and partially ride-able. I stopped again to air up my front tire just before heading out of town. Had I been thinking I should had stopped at Free Flight and fixed my mechanicals, but what fun would that be?

From there was a whole load of climbing on pavement. I found I prefer snow to pavement when I running ~20psi in my Weirwolves, it just sucks riding 7mph on pavement. By this point the race leader were well out of sight, but not for long. As I rolled up to the end of the pavement, with no obvious clue as to which way to go, I spotted the whole group of Pugseys, Ben Shockey, and Cully coming back out of the field. They did a little side trip. Turns out we were supposed to go straight down an unmarked, and untracked level B, which we then did. No-one was certain this was the right way, but I remembered Lance mentioning a level B that he had not pre-ridden, and that we might have to push. This turned out to be correct, and soon enough we were back to the Heritage trail where the rest of the distance would be ridden.

The heritage trail was snowpacked and lightly tracked by snowmobiles. As long as I stayed in the middle of the track it went fairly well. I was cranking along on the front and looked back to see no-one other than Ben, and I was riding away from him as well. Eventually he disappeared too. Then I had to stop and air up my tire again. Ben passed and rode away, Pugsleys passed, Cully stopped and asked where he was. I think he may have come to his senses and turned around somewhere near here.

I caught and passed the Pugsleys once more only to have my tire go flat again and be repassed. This time I had to swap a tube in. Stans apparently doesn't work at -7deg. My pump was starting to give me fits as I believe the seals were frozen, I had to alot of pumping to get that tube aired up. This stop cost me a ton of time and I was a major factor in the impeding doom I was facing.

I pressed on and tried to make up time, but my extremeties just kept getting colder. The section from outside Farley to Dyersville was really wide open and straight into the wind. Temp with windchill was estimated to be around negative 32deg. I stopped on the trail and put in chemical warmer footbeds and glove warmers. My hands felt better, but my feet were still numb. I got into Dyersville in time to see Ben rolling back out, the Pugsleys were still at the gas station. I checked into the halfway point at about 4:30, twenty minutes behind Ben. I warmed up a bit, added a dry baselayer, socks and vaporbarrier(though I reused my liner socks, didn't have a spare pair. Strike#2), swapped into dry gloves, thicker balava, goggles, lights, new chemical warmers. I should have packed liner socks and stayed to warm up longer here. For the first half of the ride I ended up riding without glasses because they fogged/frosted up too much, I should have used goggled on the way up. As it was I spent a fair bit of time thawing condensation off my eyelashes so they wouldn't freeze together when I blinked.

On the way back I ended up drafting one of the Pugsleys. Josh, for some time. Staying in his tracks made riding pretty easy and he was keeping a good pace. He let me by at the Farley intersection and I kept cranking. Eventually I caught up to another Pugsley. This one was going a bit slower, but I drafted it awhile anyway. Since I was riding by moonlight to conserve my headlamp he didn't notice I was behind him till I blew my nose. It turned out to be Bruce Grell. He had turned around at Farley. I rode along with Bruce till we got to Graf, where the rest of the Pugsley group had stopped. Bruce and one other Puglsey continued on with me.

Eventually Josh caught back up and I followed him for awhile till I eventually passed and pulled away again. Somewhere along the line I passed another Puglsey, but Ben was nowhere in sight. My feet were past cold. For once in my life the neon signs of a trailside bar we actually appealing, I stopped to warm up. The contents of said bar were beyond happy hour, but kind and well meaning. A couple minutes passed and the two Pugseys pulled in. Josh ordered a sandwhich and I figured that was a good idea and followed suit, only to find they didn't take credit cards. Thankfully Josh loaned me a ten, thanks buddy! Unfortunately ordering food made for a bad tactical move. They were both on the trail a good five minutes before my food was out. I swapped socks and chemical warmers while I was waiting.

They rest of the ride back into town was lonely and cold. My feet felt like blocks of ice. The ride back through pothole hell was somehow easier, yet more painful. It's a good thing I saved my headlamp for the last leg of the ride as it was already low. I rode back down the plowed path and took a wrong turn somewhere. I'm not sure where the arrows were, but I sure didn't see any. I ended up riding across a bridge and finding myself on hwy 20. I rode that back to hwy 151 and rode back up and across again, finally finishing up the ride at about 9:30.

I finished in fourth place and was the last person to finish the whole course. At the start no-one was expected to finish the whole course in these conditions. Ben Shockey finished about an hour ahead of me I believe, on a single speed mtb to boot. Joel and Josh finished up 2nd and 3rd on Pugsleys. Arrowhead racers.

As I was sitting there warming up I started to have some pain in my right foot. Turns out I've got frost bite on my big toe and frost nip on the rest of my right toes. They're tingley, numb, swollen, and painfull at the moment. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to get a professional opinion and make sure I don't need antibiotics or further attention. Not much I can do otherwise. Grin and bear it. Spd sandals and trainer work on the Bacchetta will be this week's riding. Not sure I'll be up for next weekend's hundy, we'll see how my recovery goes and what the weather does.

Final impressions: great race, I hope Lance puts this on again next year. You should keep the atv trails and level b in, 60 miles of Heritage trail would be kinda monatonous. I want a snowbike now. I might have to build one. I have to figure out a better way to keep my feet warm, but I think I've got the rest down pretty good. Aside from the frostbite this was really fun.


Saturday, January 12, 2008


Well the holidays have gone and so has winter, and then it came again, but now it is once again gone.... sort of. Lucky for me I've invested in even more technology in the quest to make myself slower and even more unstopable, studded tires. Just in time for all the ice and snow to melt away, leaving two inch deep gumbo clay/soup gravel roads and high humidity 40degree headwinds to remind me it's still winter-ish. Riding outside in these conditions almost garauntees that I'll get to spend as much time maintaining my drivetrains as I do riding. Almost makes me want to ride the trainer, which I am anyways, sometimes.

Riding outside today at my standard 40-70rpm on my studded tire clad, Rohloff equipped, fourty pound battle axe my friend Steve says I should have this tattoed on myself somewhere to remind me of my true nature: "Single Speeds are all about being under prepared and drinking beer. The less technology and effort the better. I don't remember Vikings having Thrust and Blow Meters on their battle axes. SS'ing is pain, regret, poor gear choice, hangover-laden excuses, facial hair, negligence, piss-poor maintenance, death, and mad skilz that most certainly pay the bilz"--- Rich "Dicky" Dillan Problems being: I was riding gears, I don't drink, I'm usually overprepared, I do have a Thrust and Blow meter on my battle axe, I cut the excess hair off long ago, and my bike skilz don't pay much of anything. Guess all I'm left with is a disrespect for shifting and the "retarded monkey riding style" The good news is I think I've figured out how to set the Powertap up fixed gear....

The other good news is my VW Jetta turbo diesel has risen from the ashes like a good pheonix should, and I am now on the path of +45mpg -65mph driving again.
The other bad news is I melted my other my other pheonix down on a snow drifted road and now I get to rebuid it again. Oh well, it came apart alot faster this time. Too bad its going to take so much more time to put it back together$$$$. Maybe I can keep my licence if I promise only to drive cars under 100hp for the next four months.