Winter’s arrival forced us to cancel our culinary Valentine’s Day plans at the Inn at Essex. Instead we enjoyed a home made meal – and stayed toasty warm and out of the blowing and drifting snow. An attempt was made to get out last night – but our road wasn’t plowed until this morning. I threw in the shovel and snapped the picture above about 5pm last night. We received another 6-8″ overnight – and the snow packed in so tight around the car it left Subaru prints!
I’ve been missing the simplicity of the Redline 9.2.5 that I sold a while back. I rode it as a single speed machine commuting the mile to town when I lived in Putney, VT. It was a great grocery getter, office cruiser, and bike shop errand runner. I’ve been working on my old Trek – attempting to convert it into a winter go every where do everything bike. I’ve never really been happy with the the 520 so I decided to part with the bike – returning it to its orginal configuration with a few upgrades. It is currently posted for sale online. I’m using the proceeds to offset the cost of a simple, utility minded fun bike. I opted for a fixed gear / single speed machine – and unlike the Redline 9.2.5 which was a cheap impulse buy – I’ve thought about the details in how I want this bike to work, look, and feel.
I chose the Surly CrossCheck frame as the platform. I worked with Old Spokes Home here in Burlington to configure and outfit the bike. We set the rear wheel up with a Surly hub that has the Dingle Cog on one side and a single speed freewheel on the other. With the Dingle Cog I have two options to play with as I discover what gear ratios I feel comfortable spinning. The brakes are Cane Creek, front and rear hubs are 32 hole Surly, wheels are handbuilt on Salsa rims, stem, seatpost and pedals pieced together from my parts bin, and the saddle is the Brooks Swallow that moved from the IF when the An-atomica arrived. I’ve got a few more tweaks to work out on the fit – I’m trying to get it as close as I can to my distance machine.
It was COLD at 4 deg F with a windchill of -6, but it felt like -10. The limiting factor to my ride was my toes – I lost feeling in them about half way through.
There is one major rule when riding a fixed gear bike:
Never Stop Pedaling
The rear cog is fixed to the hub – as the cranks move so does the wheel. Unlike a freewheel bike there is no coasting – as the wheel moves the cranks move. This takes a bit of getting used to – and I debated using flat pedals or going clipless. I decided to go clipless to keep my feet firmly attached to my machine. I think this is the right choice for riding fixed – and time will tell as I gain more experience with the bike.
I tooled around the neighborhood until I felt confident and then headed to the lakefront bike path. The path was was packed snow and a bit of ice – I was a bit nervous about the conditions – I rode at a conservative pace – and the knobby cross tires worked well on the crunchy snow. I covered about 10 miles, including the hill I use for climbing repeats. The climb is short and sweet – nothing like the climbs in the Green Mountains – and it tops out at 8 or 9%. Climbing fixed was interesting – there is only 1 gear – so choosing your gear ratio is a compromise based on the terrain you plan to ride in. Too high a gear and you will struggle up climbs – too low a gear and you’ll spin out on the flats and descents. I had the bike set up in a modest gear, and riding fixed I felt better at the top of my training climb than when I hammer at a faster cadence on my geared bike. I certainly climbed slower than usual – but the bike has a ‘flywheel’ effect as the cranks keep on moving around as the bike moves forward. This felt like it gave me a bit more momentum – and I suspect I’ll be able to climb a gear or two higher fixed than on my geared machine.
I really like the way fixed riding feels – my legs moving in time with the bike – and with my limited experience I can see why many FG riders talk about feeling ‘one’ with their machine. I had some challenges moving over some of the rougher snow and ice on the bike path – I had to remember the rule of riding fixed and to keep the pedals moving when standing to float over obstacles! If you forget the bike gives you a reminder. Depending on what speed you are riding the reminder will be gentle or stern – as the wheels are spinning your legs are forced to move in time. This happened to me a few times today – adjusting my glasses, headlamp, and balaclava all found me slipping into autopilot and I stopped pedaling. The bike kicked back – a slightly unnerving event – but something I think will go away with experience. As you are one with the machine I found that you need to adjust riding habits. Reaching for a bottle – keep pedaling. Approaching traffic at an intersection – keep pedaling. Adjusting your jacket or helmet – keep pedaling. This also affects how you mount and dismount and stop for traffic.
The first time I needed to stop and restart was comical. I tried to time a stop at a lightly travelled intersection so that I would float up to the intersection with enough speed to get moving again – but not too much so that if I had to get out I could. As I did this another car entered the equation, and I lurched forward while squeezing the brakes. I did this 2 or 3 more times in about 15 feet as I figured out how to detach my foot from a pedal attached to a rotating crank. After this initial trial I found that getting my first foot out of the pedal was the easy bit – adjusting my speed and timing to remove the second foot was far more challenging. The leg just wanted to keep moving along with the bike – and you need to be moving to avoid falling over – so the timing of where in your pedal stroke you pull out your first foot and its relationship to speed and the location of the second foot seems critical. With time I’m sure this will become second nature – but at first not being able to coast up to a stop as you unclip is a very odd feeling. Getting in and out has me anxious to learn to track stand – I’ve always appreciated the value of it even on a geared bike (although I can’t do it for more than a few seconds unless the road is sloping just the right way) – on a FG it seems it will be easier – and a convenient skill to have for navigating stop and go city riding.
In all my first fixed ride was fun. My speed was way down – and my cadence felt way off – it could be the shorter cranks, the cold, or just getting used to a new bike. The 10 miles felt like 20, but I’m anxious to get back on the bike for another go of it. I’m not sure I’ll be ready for a long ride anytime soon – but I’m planning to ride part of my February century fixed – maybe up to 30 miles depending on which loop I choose – and how I feel tackling more challenging terrain.
I spent Sunday getting a start on two of my 2007 cycling goals. I undertook a 102 mile ride to log my first century in my century a month challenge, as well as my first miles in the UMCA Year Rounder. I’m still building my winter base and was planning on waiting until March to undertake my first century – but with a strong 43.5 mile night ride last week, warm temperatures, and a blue sky day in the forecast I set out for the longest January ride I’ve ever accomplished. I chose a route that allowed a bail out option that would have been a nice 60 mile ride – but as I neared the turn off I pressed on and enjoyed the day.
I left the house mid morning with the temperature near 39 degrees. Per the year rounder challenge I would be collecting receipts along the way – so I dropped in to the local donut chain for some early ride calories and a time stamp of my passing. I headed north into Colchester and Milton, then east to Cambridge where I stopped in at the general store to add a Luna bar to my jersey pocket and collect my second receipt. The morning ride through valleys and over rolling climbs had me constantly zipping and unzipping my jacket – my core was slightly cold or slightly warm – but my feet were always cold. Before heading out on the next leg of the route I added some toe warmers to my shoes – I felt the effects instantly and my feet were fine the balance of the day.
Leaving Cambridge I travelled east through Jeffersonville, the town at the turn off to VT Rt. 108 and Smugglers Notch on the north side of Mt. Mansfield. Smuggs was a sad site – most of the runs didn’t appear to have enough snow to ski. Cycling through the notch on 108 is on my to-do list – the scenery over the notch and along the Mountain Rd. to Stowe is inspiring.
Passing through Jeffersonville I travelled to Johnson, Hyde Park, and made a southward turn towards Stowe on VT Rt. 100 in Morrsiville. As I pedaled along the relatively flat valley I daydreamed about my first trip to Vermont. At the time I had just finished teaching my first year of design at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and I was spending part of the summer expanding my woodworking knowledge at the Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts. During a weekend break in a timber frame class I drove nearly the length of Vermont along Rt. 100, terminating in two overnights at the original location of Smugglers Notch State Park. I rode the Gondola up Mt. Mansfield for a rainy hike, dined in Burlington and Waitsfield, and explored the heart of Green Mountains on forest service roads. I fell in love with the state on that trip and I convinced dear friends who were looking for a place to dig in and make a home to visit the following summer. They did, loved it, and moved here. It took me another 5 years before I was able to arrange work and life that allowed me to make the VT leap. They lived just off Rt. 100 south of Morrisville in a tiny over garage apartment. As I passed their old street I remembered hiking to beaver ponds near the current development of Spruce Peak, bagels and coffee in Stowe, and cooking for four on their tiny stove.
I reached a glum Stowe. The picturesque ski / resort town with bed and breakfasts, art galleries, coffee shops, and out of state traffic was a bit less busy than usual with the current weather. I continued south on Rt. 100 to Moscow, VT and collected a few more calories for the ride home and my third receipt of the day. Sitting outside the Moscow general store I snapped a photo of their gas pump which apparently hasn’t been used since premium unleaded was $1.39 a gallon!
I continued south past the Ben & Jerry’s factory and during a quick stop to check my phone in Waterbury I was accosted by a local shouting “Hey Lance Armstrong” from across the road. He asked me if I knew it was winter and wondered why I was out riding. Thanks Lance, for becoming a household name and dragging us quiet types out of anonymity and into the spotlight. Over the traffic he made some reference to playing frisbee at the beach and the weather, and I nodded and packed up, pretending to be in a hurry before he walked across the road and started a conversation. Heading west on US 2 towards Burlington I found the bright blue sky as the sun and temperature started to drop. I caught great views of Camel’s Hump somewhere between Waterbury and Richmond, and enjoyed riding alongside my shadow on the shoulder and in the fields.
I returned to Burlington at dusk, making quick work of the traffic along US 2 in Williston and stopping for my final receipt at a local store just a mile from home. I ordered up a hot chocolate and chatted with the clerk, who was amazed at the distance I just rode. He followed me out and promptly lit a cigarette while I sipped my cocoa and prepared for the final mile. The smoke and I didn’t agree – so I handed him my cup and finished the ride.
I covered 102 miles. Ride time was 7:20. Time off the bike was about an hour for a total time of 8:20. Climbing was approximately 6800′ with several grades at 6-9% and one topping out at 13%. My average speed was slow – but this is historically a time of year when I am not riding, so while I grimaced at my cyclocomputer, I know that this is the time to be building an aerobic base in preparation for the spring and summer.
I had a wonderful full moon ride out around Mt. Philo and back. It was noticeably colder on the Spear St. side of the ride – as I turned at the halfway point the wind seemed to shift and I shed a layer as I began the return. I caught glimpses of Bolton Valley lit for night skiing, and when the moon peaked from behind the clouds I saw Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield in the distance. I’ve been inside on the rollers and spent some time running the past few weeks – so getting out on the road and watching the moon and the stars was a wonderful start to the new year. I covered 43 1/2 miles in mild January temperatures. My pace is well below that of last fall as I’m continuing to build my winter base. As I cleared the traffic in town and made it to some less travelled roads I longed for the speed and fitness I had last fall, and the long summer rides that got me there.
I’ve been using some new gear with mixed results:
The Petzl e+Lite continues to work well on my helmet as a cockpit reading light (using the red LED). Set to high with the 3 white LEDs it worked great for handling the camera and digging though my saddle bag as I changed layers, as well as for throwing enough light at low speeds for street sign navigation.
I had my first ride with the Cactus Creek Reflective Vest I purchased from Mountain Equipment Co-op. I’ve worn it out running and have been pleased with the fit – seeing as it was designed for cycling I’m even happier with it on the bike. Reflective materials on the front and back which spillover to the sides, and 3 pockets on the rear that I can use when I can’t access my jersey pockets. Its nice to see that someone has finally designed a cycling accessory that includes pockets on the back! Most of my jackets have a single zippered pocket – which for distance riding has limited uses – I like to tuck extra food, the digicam, and my gel flask in the rear pockets. The pockets on the vest are a bit tricky to get in and out of – but for now I’ll assume it has to do with the winter gloves I’m wearing – and if need be as warm weather approaches I’ll modify the stitching a bit with some elastic. So far the vest is a welcome addition to my long distance riding gear – and a cycling specific replacement to the disappointing Amphipod sash I have been using.
I’m not yet sold on the Schwalbe Marathons I’ve been running. I like the relfective sidewall and appreciate Scwalbe’s tradition of developing tough tires that resist wear and tear from the road (flats!), but they just don’t feel as good on the road as the Continental GP 4 Seasons I used last year. The Schwalbe’s feel squirmy during high speed descents – and with their tread design and interior flat protection layer they seem to develop a noticeable “hum” going down the road. I’ll give them through the winter and early spring – but my gut tells me I’ll be moving back to a more traditional road slick come next Brevet season.
Yeaterday I XC Skied about halfway up the toll road at Mt. Mansfield with Greg. On the way down we practiced turning under the lift line on some easier slopes – a few folks glided by on boards and alpine gear – but the runs we were on were technically closed due to lack of snow. Turning my long and fairly straight Karhu Pavo skis on marginal snow with 3 pin bindings was a comical exercise – it was very different from last season when I took to learning tele skiing with dedicated gear on groomed slopes. Should we get some real snow this year Greg and I have discussed an XC treking trip – maybe with some winter camping thrown in for fun.
Seems I always need something to do with my hands… designing and building furniture, crafting a timber frame, or working on a bike or two. I’m converting the Trek 520 from a straight road / touring rig to an all rounder – replacing the drop bars with Nitto Moustache’s, swapping out the brake pads for some all weather grippy types, and re-cabling the controls. I’ve got a set of 35mm cross tires waiting to meet the rims, have mounted the Brooks Swift, and I’ll get that rack remounted for the Ortlieb’s. The SPD pedals will come off – I’m anxious have a steed to ride in street shoes – so I’ll mount up some flat pedals and try the Power Grips I found in the clearance bin at West Hill. I’ve taken inspiration from Kent who is always mucking around with bikes and bike stuff, and David who is ready to ride this winter with a conversion all his own. I’m hoping the Trek will be a fun all-rounder that I won’t be shy about taking out as the sand and salt hit the roads… and I have to admit that I always feel a bit over outfitted riding the IF up to the corner (complete with LOOK cleated shoes) for a quick post office, hardware store, or grocery run.