Monday, January 26, 2009

Bikes, Bags, and Lights - Getting Equipped for Winter Commuting

Commuting by bike during the Winter Months is really about just getting out there and gettin' 'er done. Take whatever bike you got, slap some fenders on it, maybe some new tires, and go for it. You'll learn pretty quick what you need to do to adapt to your new, more freedom and fun-filled lifestyle. The most important part of the equation was covered in my previous post on clothing. If you're dressed for the elements you could be out there on a Huffy and you'd be a struggling, miserable way, but OK.

Here I'm going to break down some simple mods which will allow you to ride through the winter.

Tire choice:
Winter is the time to forgo light weight for durability in the tire department. You do not want to be fixing a flat on the side of the road while getting sprayed by slush as your horribly numb fingers quickly become useless. Your goal should be to NEVER GET FLATS. I roll on 700 X 25 Continental Gator Skins when I'm commuting or training. They are incredibly flat resistant (you still need to keep them pumped up to avoid pinch flats) and stick to the road quite well. A wider tire will make you less pinch flat prone and make for a more supple and comfortable ride on bombed out city streets. Another option for a flat resistant tire is something from The Bontrager Hardcase family. Save the race tires for racing.

Studded Tires:
Unless you're commuting on a frozen river these are not necessary. When you're riding on roads which are 99% not ice with occasional ice patches studded tires are more of a liability than anything. Think of a cat with overgrown claws trying to run on a tile floor. That's you whenever you're not on shear ice.

Once you've got your tire selection worked out you'll need to put something between them and you or they will cover you with road spray and unimaginably repulsive detritus the first chance they get. Full fenders are ideal but can really only be installed on a Hybrid, Touring, Cyclocross, or Mountain Bikes. Your average road bike, short of some oddball sport-tourer with long-reach brakes isn't going to accept full fenders. If you have one of the bikes listed above and want to make it into a dedicated commuter go for it.

In my case I've got a true road bike so I've equipped it SKS Race Blades. These will work on any road bike. They don't give full protection but they are a whole lot better then nothing.

My SKS fenders are mis-matched and beat to a pulp. New, they look more like this:

These days most high end Wheelsets are coming pre-built but when it comes putting together a durable yet lightweight set of wheels for training or commuting I'll still grab a set of Mavic 32 Hole Open Pros and lace them up to whatever hub I've got lying around. In this case XTR in the front, Surly Fixed/Free (the free side never gets used, poor guy) single speed hub in the rear.

Much like Rocket Surgeons and Brain Scientists Bike Mechanics don't spend a lot of time applying their skills at home, hence my deplorably filthy bike. The Single-Speediness of my bike does, however allow me to get away with such neglect. Slap some more Finish Line Wet on the chain and kick out the jams.

Ridden hard and put away wet. My White Industries Cranks have looked better.

To have any chance of making it through a nocturnal commute in one piece you gotta be lit up like a Christmas Tree. In the rear I use a Trek Flare 3 LED Tail Light I'm not dead yet, so it must be working. I'll let you know when it's not working.

More important than rear lighting is frontal lighting. If you aren't adequately lit up in the front end you could get someone killed besides yourself. A pedestrian might legally walk out into a cross walk without seeing you coming. A car could pull out in front of you unintentionally (as opposed to the more common intentional version of this event).

I spent years commuting and riding at night with nothing more than a defensive blinky light like the one so artfully zip-tied to my helmet in the photo below. I count myself lucky to still be around. Now the blinky serves as a directionally defensive light; if a driver is about to cut me off, I point it directly at them, it works alright.

I have added a big gun to my lighting arsenal, now I use a Niterider Minewt Mini-USB as well as a blinky. It throws a big beam of light which makes it far less likely I'll have people and cars jumping out in front of me and it actually lights my way. I even ride offroad with it.

One of the cool things about this thing is that it comes with two charging systems, one for a wall socket and a USB charger to plug into your computer at work. Forgot to charge your light fully and worried about getting home before it gives out? USB charger...sweet!

It's also very versatile mount wise. Light enough to strap directly to your helmet (You'll need to get the Minewt Mini-USB Plus version with the helmet mount) or to your bar or stem.

Mine has been completely reliable as far as holding charge and run time goes and it has no trouble dealing with inclement weather.

The Minewt easily straps to your stem...your vintage Salsa Moto Ace Stem. A nod to my mountain biking roots, flipped for efficient road bike use.

My Trek Soho Mug keeps my Earl Grey Tea hot (or at least not frozen solid) on training rides, and it keeps my coffee warm on my commute.

The Micro-Horizontal dropouts on my old Lemond Maillot Jaune frame allow me just enough leeway to tension the chain. Not enough leeway to use both the gears on my Surly Dingle Cog however. The bike I've created from spare parts around the shop is not too dissimilar from The Fisher Triton.

I've moved away from using large (close to 2000 cubic inch) packs, opting to use a small pack which doesn't destroy my back. The Detours River City is what I'm using now, I couldn't be happier with this lil' bugger. Big enough to carry a change of clothes, my lunch, camera, wallet, phone, and tools. If you do find the need to carry a bit more the Helmet Holder/Gear Spider (the strappy things) works great. A huge bonus is that this thing is 100% water proof 24-7, no need to pull out a rain cover. The welded zippers mean no leakage there as well.

The "Airmax" mesh suspension system keeps the pack itself off your back, allowing for ventilation and comfort. I like it a lot.

Got questions about how you can get started commuting? Leave a comment below or give a call over to The Shop.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Trek on The Thing The Kids Call "The Youtubes"

Travis Pastrana, professional bone and back breaker, knee destroyer, and concussion getter recently did some TOTALLY UNSANCTIONED product testing for Trek Bicycles.

Here he puts the Trek Mod (Girl's Version) through its paces:

He proved definitively that The Mod is of formidable and robust construction (which may not be true of Pastrana's L-5 through 3 vertebrae and what's left of his Coccyx).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A matter of some small confusion.

As my dear colleague, correctly notes in the previous post, a balaclava-style headpiece is one's best friend when cycling in any temperatures from 20f and below. That being said, there has been some confusion as of late with regard to the proper name for this type of head wear. I.B.C believes that a proper education can only make you a more informed, active, and attractive cyclist. As such, we have created this small piece of edutainment below to brighten your day and save you from the crushing embarrassment, and possibly danger, of improper identification. Please, enjoy.

As you can see, a balaclava is a garment similar to the common ski mask, whereas baklava is a delicious pastry made of layers of filo dough, chopped nuts and honey. Should you attempt to wear baklava while commuting in the winter, you will likely draw the ire of normally docile bees. They are none too pleased that you are mocking their hard work by riding around with it on your head like some deranged Carmen Miranda. They will come out of their winter rest just to chase you, and being chased by sleepy bees is no way to spend your winter commute. We hope this clears up any confusion.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ice Road Bikers

Winter Cycle-Commuting, with the right gear you can do it in comfort (or at least minimal discomfort) and style.

I rode into the shop from Somerville to Newton today, about an eleven mile, forty-something minute trip. The temperature was 5 degrees "Feels like 0". This about the coldest it will get for New England commuting. It can get worse, particularly in March due to the cold/precipitation combo, but it likely won't get colder than 5. Dealing with March-Weather-Madness is an entirely different topic, today we're going to talk about riding in the straight up brutal cold and wind.

Microsensor FaceMask

We'll start with the head. You have to keep the head warm. I Start with a Balaklava style covering like Pearl Izumi's Microsensor Facemask (pictured above). You will look like a Ninja and your head, neck, and ears will be fully protected.

Don't I look like a Ninja?

In sub-twenty degree temperatures overkill in the head covering department is never a bad thing. Today I used the Castelli Striscia Knit Beanie (pictured above). It kept me warm and looked good too. If it were just a wee bit warmer I would recommend the Pearl Izumi Accelerator Hat. That and a Facemask will get you through the majority of the winter.

The Core. If the core gets cold you are sunk. By keeping your core warm you will help keep the rest of your body warm as well. I start with the Defeet D-Shurt as a base for wicking sweat away from my body. I then add a heavier thermal layer like Pearl Izumi's P.R.O. Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey (pictured above).

For the next layer I go with Fisher's Marino Wool Long Sleeve Jersey (pictured above). Marino wool isn't itchy at all, doesn't lock in bad odors, and keeps you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. This is also a piece you can wear out to the pub/cafe/ whatever and look wicked stylin'.

For the outer layer I've been using The Gore Alp-X Jacket (pictured above).Gore is a new product line for IBC and we are really excited about it. This jacket is 100% water and wind proof, has excellent venting, and a very bike-friendly fit. The really cool thing about a piece like this is you can wear it day in, day out but if it does rain or snow you are totally covered. You'll be warm and dry. The fact that I wore it today while the temps were in the single digits means that I won't need another outerlayer besides this one. Layer it up underneath and you are ready to rock and or roll.

Another great option in this department is The Pearl Izumi Attack Jacket.

The extremities, your hands and feet are the guys who generally suffer for the cause of all-weather riding. On a typical winter day a Pearl Izumi AmFIB Glove (pictured above top) or Lobster AmFIB Glove will do the trick when it's this cold I throw a Pearl Izumi Ultra-Lite Liner Glove (pictured above) underneath for good measure. I can't remember the last time I was riding around in this weather going "Man, my hands are too warm!".

Your feet. I can not have warm enough feet. Sometimes I race in wool socks in July. Call me Crazy, I'll answer to it. For the worst winter weather I go with the DeFeet Blaze Marino Wool Sock. It's as heavy weight as I can go without constricting my feet and cutting off circulation. This is a common mistake, trying to jam too many layers of socks into a tight-fitting cycling shoe. Don't do it! Go with a sock which allows your feet wiggle room then add layers EXTERNALLY.

For extreme conditions I'll take an old DeFeet wool sock, cut a hole in the bottom, and slide it OVER my shoe before putting my Booties on for added warmth.

Once it drops below 30 Degrees I use these puppies exclusively. The Pearl Izumi AmFIB Shoe Cover (pictured above). They keep you warm and dry through the worst of it.

For the lower-end I start with a Giordana Bib Short (shh, we currently have tons of Team IBC and Independent Fabrication Elite Team Giordana Bib Shorts and Jerseys on Closeout at the shop). The same shorts I wear in the summer, nothing special there.

I follow that with a pair of Pearl Izumi Therma-Fleece Leg Warmers and top it all off with a pair of Pearl Izumi AmFIB tights which are both wind and water proof. On your average winter day that is more than adequate but when it's below 10 I toss a pair of Pearl Izumi Therma-Fleece Tights on over the bib/leg-warmer combo for good measure.

Eye-wear is key for riding in the cold and the wet. Ever gone skiing in the snow without goggles? You only try it once. The best pair of glasses I've come across for riding day or night are the Tifosi Forza FC's. They use "Fototec" technology which allows them to become almost clear in dark conditions and become adequately dark in bright conditions.

Gearing up with these items will allow you to commute by bike throughout the year in any conditions. Come into International and consult with one of our commuting experts or if you have any questions feel free to comment below.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series; how to outfit your bike for winter commuting. We'll talk about bags, lighting systems, and all sorts of other fascinating stuff.