Inhospitable

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I commuted to work yesterday after a 3 week hiatus from serious riding brought on by downright inhospitable weather in the Northeast. My last recollection of so much snow in one season is 1993, but maybe my memory is influenced by other events that year; either way, there’s an awful lot of snow on the ground in New York.

The snow, by itself, is not a major concern in terms of bike commuting. My bike has fenders and I have knobby tires for it. The cold weather doesn’t scare me, nor does leaving the house in darkness. I worry a little about black ice, which is nearly impossible to see in darkness but that is not what has kept me off the roads lately.

Two things have confined my rides to short ’round the neighborhood jaunts. First of all, the roads in New York are absolutely trashed with pot holes. Most of the roads on my usual routes look like they’ve been shelled by artillery fire. I cannot understand why NY roads literally fall apart in the winter while roads in other Northeast states seem to survive much better. My commute involves a few major roads and crossing through the entrance ramps for two major parkways. The route is tolerable but it’s certainly not something you’d design into a weekend club ride or brevet. Busy, disintegrating roads don’t make for a pleasant ride particularly in the dark.

Oh how I yearn for some of the commutes that I see on Instagram, where people get to ride through the woods and over covered bridges!

The second reason I’ve been staying inside is……New York drivers. Take the crappy, busy roads mentioned above and add drivers who cannot control the speed or direction of their car in the snow and you have the necessary ingredients for getting run over. No amount of reflective gear or lighting will protect you when a car is sliding sideways toward you because the driver lost control on an uneven, icy surface.

The weather yesterday was nearly ideal for commuting, with the exception of the giant snow mounds intruding on the shoulder of the roads. It was 44 degrees when I left work at 6pm; the warmest it’s been since the end of January. It felt good to get the heart and lungs working again. There’s another polar vortex threatening the Northeast for next week. I only hope it will not bring more snow. I cannot bear to be off the bike for weeks in a row. It’s not good for my fitness or mental health.

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Fender-less Was A Bad Choice

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I kept hearing Anchorman Ron Burgundy’s voice in my head during yesterday’s club ride. “Milk was a bad choice” became “Fender-less was a bad choice!”

My CoMotion commuter recently underwent a rejuvenation session at Signature Cycles. I had messed up the rear fender trying to get the Burley Piccolo rack in place, and the bike was in need of better brakes now that I plan to tow a kid around behind me.  So when the opportunity to do a club ride presented itself yesterday I naturally grabbed the bike without fenders. And you can see in the picture above how that worked out for me.

Yesterday’s weather was quite remarkable. It was 35 degrees at the start of the ride. Five riders set out from the usual starting point and one quickly fell behind. I’m not sure if it was a mechanical issue or the pace. It didn’t seem like we were going all that fast but, then again, there’s a core group of people who ride through the winter and others that do not. By the end of the ride, it was 55 degrees. 55 in February!! Yet as I type this it is dumping snow on Long Island and we are expecting 10 inches by afternoon. I ride and it snows, the theme for the past several weeks.

There are a couple of roads on our usual routes that haunt me. They consist of little stair step hills or rollers. Climb, level off, climb again. They trouble me because they occur at the very start or end of the ride, when I’m either not warmed up or when I’m done for the day. For years, when I rode by myself, these roads would beat the crap out of me because I didn’t know how to pace myself and because I’d get all up-in-my-head about them. Joining the club helped tremendously because I had people to pace with and talk to; tackling the hills became less of a mental exercise because there was someone to chat with.  

Yesterday I worked my way up the first road and realized “this doesn’t suck anymore.” I haven’t been up the road since last Spring, so it was nice to get up it without any drama mentally or physically. The first “climb*” of the new year was made easier no doubt by commuting and by the group I was riding with. You cannot underestimate the power of riding with others.

{** I say “climb” but people from other states would call it a mound or speed bump. Long Island is pretty flat compared to Connecticut, for example}

With that first climb behind me, I was able to focus my attention on getting the bike as dirty as possible. We came home filthier than had we been on a mountain bike trail. My brand new mega-dollar Assos jacket has permanent dirt stains on its white portions and I managed to get dirt inside my pockets. That’s never happened before. All this provided the motivation to scrub down the bike. 70 minutes later…..

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As inconvenient as bike maintenance can be to one’s schedule, there is a grand satisfaction to scrubbing every nook and cranny, including removing the crud from the drivetrain jockey wheels. I applied a few drops of NFS chain lube (literally a FEW drops), and the bike was as good as new. 

How’s that for a product placement? In all seriousness, I wouldn’t mention something unless it was good. This was my first application of the lube so I’ll have to see how it works. But it’s recommended by my mechanic, and that’s good enough for me. 

Next time, I’ll take the fendered  bike.

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Steel Cut Oatmeal Made Easy

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The bowl of oatmeal pictured above was made while I slept. It was easy to make. Honestly. And it’s the best bowl of oatmeal I’ve ever made.

Yesterday I got involved in a social media discussion about how to prepare oatmeal. Almost immediately, the discussion turned to steel cut oats as being healthier than the pre-packaged processed crap you buy in the grocery store. I believe that to be true but I’ve never had much luck cooking steel cut oats. I’ve tried the microwave method and the result has been something with the texture and flavor of concrete. I’ve tried the stovetop method and it takes too damn long for my morning schedule. One of the participants in the social media discussion mentioned using a rice cooker. That was my Ah-Ha moment.

Last year I bought a Zojirushi rice cooker, mainly to break me of the habit of eating pre-packaged processed crap from the grocery store. I use it two to three times a week but never thought of using it for breakfast. A quick trip to the Internet and some review of the owner’s manual and I had a plan for breakfast that I put into action last night before I went to bed. Here is what I did, using the timer function on the rice cooker:

1/2 cup McCann’s Steel Cut Oatmeal rinsed to remove dust  ( I didn’t know what to expect, so I started with a small serving)

1 3/4 cup water ( the rice maker manual called for a ration of 1 cup of oats to 2.5 of water. Most recipes I found online and on the side of the oats box called for at least 1:3 or 1:4…..so I winged it because I didn’t want it too mushy)

Pinch of salt

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Set timer on rice cooker and go to sleep. Make sure rice cooker is set to “Porridge” or “Oatmeal” mode
Awake to a nice smell in the kitchen
Open lid …..looks a little like slop. Give it a stir and it is perfect consistency!

Taste test and add a teaspoon or so of brown sugar and let it melt in while the cooker was in Warm mode.
Top with blueberries and toasted almonds for some crunch

My wife is not an oatmeal fan but she indulged me and ate it. Her first words were “This tastes like something we’d have at a bed and breakfast on vacation.” We were both looking for second helpings. Total hands-on time was probably 10 minutes. The rice cooker did all the work. It is so ridiculously easy to cook oatmeal in the rice cooker there is no reason not to set it up the night before and enjoy in the morning.

Of course you can go crazy and add hundreds of different toppings to your heart’s desire. Happy cooking.

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Shedding Layers This Winter

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As a former Boy Scout and someone who tries to get outdoors on a regular basis, I’ve always subscribed to the “layering” philosophy for outdoor sports. Rule number one is: No Cotton. Cotton absorbs and holds onto moisture, making it pretty dangerous in the winter because the wet fabric conducts heat away from the skin, thereby cooling the body when you don’t want it to be cool. It’s also unpleasant to have a wet shirt clinging to your torso.

The second rule of layering is that several thin or light layers generally outperform one really bulky layer. I’ve been following this rule for years. My typical riding apparel for 40 degrees and below consists of a long sleeve wool or polypropylene base layer, a long sleeve wool jersey and some sort of wind breaker if it’s closer to 30 degrees or windy. For 30 or below, I add a second polypro layer. All these layers make me feel a bit like the Staypuff Marshmallow man and, more importantly, they are difficult to manipulate when I start to overheat because only the jacket and the jersey have zippers to relieve heat build-up.

A couple of months ago, I became aware of an alternate approach. Instead of wearing multiple layers, why not buy layers that are matched for certain temperature ranges? The benefit of this approach is that you do not have to wear as many layers to achieve the same thermal performance. Fewer layers means less bulk and improved comfort. The Assos Climarange accomplishes  this approach to winter dressing on the bike.

At this point, some of you are probably shaking your heads in disgust and picking a different blog to read because Assos garments are undoubtedly some of the most expensive sporting apparel on the market today. You’re right. In fact, the packaging material for the Assos winter hat admits that their products are ridiculously expensive. Stick with me here….

I have no desire to waste money. On the contrary, I’m a tightwad when it comes to buying clothes whether it’s a business suit or a cycling jersey. But I do enjoy being warm, dry and comfortable and, as such, I will spend money on items that meet my needs and will last for years.  My Sidi cycling shoes were expensive when I bought them 14 years ago, but I can safely say I got my money’s worth out of them. I can safely say I will get my money’s worth out of the Assos items I’ve acquired over the past two months.

In case you didn’t click through to the Assos page, here’s the basic premise. You identify a temperature range that you ride in and then select a base layer, shorts, jersey, jacket etc that covers that range. Don’t worry, you’re not locked into that specific range for those specific garments, and if you choose not to buy their base layer, the base layer you already have will probably work fine. In other words, you don’t have to spend $3,000 to buy everything all at once.

I was looking to improve my comfort in the <35 degree range so that I didn’t have to wear so many layers. After speaking with a few people and searching the interwebs, I decided to get two items in the “6″ range: a winter Skinfoil and the Bonka jacket. They are engineered to work together. Here’s the Skinfoil.

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The Skinfoil is a winter base layer. Paired with the appropriate outer layer it will keep you toasty warm and will help manage perspiration.  Two notable things about the Skinfoil: it’s meant to be snug fitting. Snug, as in skin tight. I’m not accustomed to skin tight garments, so it took some getting used to. The second notable thing is the zippered neck. The zippered neck is invaluable for managing heat. It is easy to grab the zipper and open up to let some heat escape while climbing, for example. I’ve had the Skinfoil for over a month and am very pleased. My first ride with it was under a Rapha winter jersey (didn’t have the Bonka at the time) in 27 degrees and I was too warm. I’m not sure how they engineered this thing to be so light and provide so much insulation.

My Bonka arrived on the 25th. The first ride was this morning. I wore a lightweight, long sleeve Pearl Izumi base layer  under it in 40 degree temps (at the last minute I left the Skinfoil home because I thought I’d overheat in it) and had to unzip the jacket after about 50 minutes of riding because it was a tad too warm.  It has a built in neck gaiter, which I can’t imagine using except on the coldest rides but it stows nicely inside the jacket. Ample rear pockets including two that zip shut. I can easily imagine riding in this jacket, with the Skinfoil as the only other layer, into the mid to upper twenty degree range; maybe lower but I tend to run hot.

My tendency to run hot, by the way, almost kept me from buying the Assos kit. I was afraid it would be overkill or that I’d overheat in it. I don’t see that as a real concern anymore. And I really enjoy not having to deal with multiple layers.

I’m reasonably certain the Bonka is the finest piece of cycling kit I’ve ever owned. If you saw it hanging on a rack and looked at the price tag you would walk away because at first glance it looks like there is nothing to this garment. But when you put it on and ride with it in the cold and wind, you realize that it is a high performance garment intended to replace multiple layers. In terms of winter cycling apparel, Assos gets it right

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Resolutions

In about a week, many of us will engage in the yearly ritual of making our New Year’s resolutions.

What will yours be?

I think mine will be to spend some nights under the stars, hopefully with my kids next to me. There’s plenty of inspiration at Alastair Humphreys’ website. I suggest spending some time reading about his  microadventures.

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First Snow Ride

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We had our first real snow storm of the season yesterday and I was determined to get out for a ride before being confined to the house. It’s been so bitter cold the past week, and my work days started so early, that I did not get to commute. I just had to get out, even for half an hour.

Friday evening, I spied the dirt trail pictured above while riding home from the city on the train. It’s adjacent to the railroad right-of-way, but far enough away from the tracks that no one would get freaked out by my presence on it. I suspect that people walk their dogs along the trail. It seemed like a nice place to take a cruise on the “gravel bike.”

The weather yesterday morning was peculiar. It was snowing heavily but not sticking to the secondary road surfaces. My own street was crystal clear but the main road a block away was covered with snow. The shoulders, in particular, were a bit sketchy on 28c slicks.  The snow tires are on the other bike, but I really wanted to test the disc brakes on the snow.

The brakes screamed at me for the first few minutes of the ride. I thinks it’s the first time they’ve been really wet. They quieted down after awhile. They definitely stop better than the brakes on my other bike. Braking, however, wasn’t an issue on this ride. Shoes were.

On my return trip down the trail, my rear wheel lost traction and slipped out from under me. I was going all of 4 miles an hour, so I instinctively clipped out of the right pedal and put my foot down. I expected to make contact with snow covered dirt but there was no dirt, only frozen water ice. My Look road cleat made contact with the ice and down I went.

It’s officially time to replace the road pedals with the Crank Brothers pedals.

The ride was surreal if short. There is something magical about pedaling through weather that keeps other people inside, and I like the looks I get from motorists who wonder what the hell I’m doing on a bike in a snowstorm. 

Of course cleaning the bike after the ride took just as long as the ride!

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Gale Winds

Windy Nov Sunday 2

We transitioned directly from fall into winter here in New York. My weekday commute this week saw temperatures in the upper twenties at 0630 am and low forties by 5:30pm. I just returned from a very short ride in the upper twenties with gale force winds blowing off the local bay. I was blown sideways a couple of times. I needed, but didn’t have, face protection from the biting winds.

The last few years, the transition from fall weather to winter weather has been getting more abrupt. “Fall” lasts about a week, and then it’s winter.  Likewise, it seems like only four weeks ago the temperatures were summer-like and I was riding in short sleeves and bib shorts. Now I’m shopping for full winter gear.

There was no legitimate reason to be on a bike this morning other than it was calling me. I flatted the rear tire on a club ride last weekend, and the Seven has sat in the garage since and I’ve been riding the CoMotion. I swapped the tires Friday night with the help of my son. The Seven needed to be ridden!

As I prepared breakfast, I realized I had the perfect reason to venture out into the wind: I needed coffee beans. So I rode the short distance to the local book shop cafe, which happens to sell some pretty damn good coffee.

Windy Nov Sunday 1

Why didn’t I do this last weekend for the Coffeeneuring Challenge!?!?!

I’m back in the safety of my home, sheltered from the wind. Hopefully it will subside in time for tomorrow’s commute.

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