Winter road crud

Fat bike in snow

Riding in the snow, fat bike style (Photo courtesy of Hope Valley Outdoors)

Winter conditions bring rain, snow, and wind. All of it is good. Along with all of that your gear tends to get gunked up pretty quickly. What ever it is you are using while enjoying the winter outdoors, maintenance time goes up.

No more simply riding your bike on the trails for a couple of hours then parking it in the garage. Skiing, alpine or Nordic, or snowshoeing? When you’re done for the day and back home, putting your gear away and heading inside for coffee and crumpets is not the best move.

When it gets cold enough and the snow starts falling, where I live, the county sends out the plows. When the plows are done, they are followed by trucks that spread sand on the roads. The plows don’t usually get all the way down to the asphalt. The night temps drop and everything freezes, and the sand trucks make it possible to get some traction on the roads.

Even if it doesn’t snow or freeze where you ride, the rain tends to create run off, and all kinds of things end up on the roads and paths. Most cyclists, as soon as conditions permit, hit the pedals. All of the small gritty treasures on the road gets kicked up by your tires and presto! Your chain, derailleur, and brakes get that fine assortment of crud coating them. Not good. You get it too, but you’re likely to clean up every time.

That crud acts like sandpaper on those parts, and over time will shorten their usable life span. Before you head to the couch, or at least before you ride again, take the time to clean that stuff off those bike parts.

Either use water and a cloth, or a soft brush and get the chain, derailleur, and your tire rims cleaned off, or if you have disk brakes, clean the disk and pads. When you’re done with the cleaning, oil the chain and moving parts on the derailleur. Use bike chain lube only. Carefully wipe off the excess oil. It should be obvious that you keep oil away from your brakes. This small investment of your time will save you money, which is always good. You have more for good coffee, chocolate, and crumpets.

Your skis and snowshoes also need some care when you’re done for the day. Wipe the water off them, both sides. Use a soft cloth, and make sure everything is dry. Your skis ride on the snow, which all by itself is abrasive. There’s probably some fine bits of tree trash, or even dirt mixed in the snow, and if left on your skis can grind down the wax next time you hit the slopes.

The metal edges, if left wet, will rust. Ignore them long enough and you’ll spend money on new skis. Making sure your skis or boards are dry before you put them to bed prevents that. Not only that, but rusty edges don’t cut the snow like good clean ones do. Instead of craving through the turns, you’ll start sliding. This is true with alpine and Nordic metal edged skis.

Your snowshoes should be dry when you put them away. While they are made of pretty high grade aluminum and other metals, you want any parts that are subject to rust to be dry when you’re done for the day. Get any dirt or grit off them and the bindings.

What it comes down to is simple. Clean your gear. Take care of all of it and you’ll enjoy years of use, year round.

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Sierra snow brings avalanche danger

Good gear, stay warm photo/J Ferris

Good gear, stay warm,stay safe.  Photo/J Ferris

You may not be on your bike if you live in the snow country of the Sierra. This winter is bringing what has been missing for the last 4 winters: snow. The storms are continuing to line up and blow through the mountains. Skiers of all types, xc and alpine, snowshoers, snowboarders, anyone who enjoys the snow, is heavily on the happy side right now.

The resorts check their terrain every morning for avalanche signs. The Ski Patrol heads out before things open up, and if anything seems a bit dicey to them, they do what they can to trigger an avalanche. While no avalanche is controlled, the ones they trigger roar downslope without any people in the way. When everything safe, the resorts open.

Resorts in the Tahoe region, and other in snow country in other states, have closed trails this year due to the avalanche dangers that they weren’t able to eliminate. It’s a very important part of what the resorts do. The first rule at all of them is safety for their guests.

In the back country you’re on you own when it comes to avalanche awareness and safety. No one is out there prior to your arrival tossing explosives down the mountain to trigger avalanches. If you haven’t taken the time to at least check the avalanche conditions in your area, stay home.

In most mountain areas there is an outfit that tracks snow and avalanche conditions during the snow season. In the Tahoe area it’s the Sierra Avalanche Center. They are the experts and it is wise to check their site anytime a back country snow trip is planned. No matter where you live in snow country, find out who does the avalanche reports, and pay attention to what’s on their site.

Avalanches, big or small, are extremely powerful. Survival rates aren’t very good for anyone swept away in one. We didn’t get this old by being clueless. Stay smart, stay safe, pay attention when you head to the snowy mountains, no matter what you’re riding on.

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Layers count

Good gear, stay warm photo/J Ferris

Good gear, stay warm photo/J Ferris

Winter brings colder weather, at least in our part of the world. In the Sierra it means consistent cold, especially this year. In mid-America and back east, it’s really cold. Staying warm is critical if you’re to continue enjoying riding, hiking, xc skiing, snowshoeing, skiing and so on.

First rule is this: leave all your cotton gear at home. Cotton will not keep you warm, and if it gets wet, can be a big detriment to your health. Depending on where you are, it could lead to very serious consequences, like death. Hypothermia really is a killer.

Wear either wool, smart wool, or synthetics when you venture out in the cold. These fabrics not only keep you warm, they dry quickly and will wick moisture away from your skin. Layer everything. You’ll be able to shed a layer if you start to feel too warm, or add a layer if the cold starts to settle in. Gen

erally speaking, if you are too comfortable when you start out, you’ve got too many layers on. Ideally you will be just a bit on the cool side.

When you start whatever activity it is that you’ve chosen, you’ll start to generate heat. That’s good, and the reason you don’t need to be completely over layered when you start out.

If you’re headed out into a cloudy day, or into the back country, always take rain gear with you. If your top layer keeps you dry, it’s a much better day. Worst combo is cold and wet. Bad, very bad.

Knowing the weather forecast is especially important if you’re out in the mountains. or out there quite a ways on a trail. In town, you still need to know if there is rain heading your way. Stay warm, stay dry and your day will be much more enjoyable.

You’d think Boomers would know all this. We’ve had plenty of time to learn it. It bears repeating though. Mother Nature doesn’t care whether you’re dressed for the prevailing conditions. You’re on your own, so stay smart out there.


Fat bikes on the snow

Riding in the snow, fat bike style

Riding in the snow, fat bike style

Added to the gear that snow hounds of a certain age may want to take a look at are fat bikes. These are not bikes that have been munching on chips and dip since last winter. They aren’t even particularly fat. It’s the rims and tires that carry the extra bulk.

I spoke with Andrew Molinari at the Placerville Bike Shop about the bikes. He said the tires are around 3 1/2 inches wide, and some are even wider. They’re knobby, and made differently from typical mountain or road bike tires. The rims are wider to accommodate the wide tires.

He also said that the tires are made to run on 5 to 15 pounds of air. Mountain and road bike tires take anywhere from 45 to 100 pounds of air. The reason for the difference is what the tires are ridden on. Anyone who has taken their road or mountain bike out into the snow knows what a trudge that can be. Skinny road bike tires just sink and slide, and mountain bike tires don’t do much better, even if you let some air out of them, which can damage the tire.

Most fat bike tires are specifically made for low tire pressure. They are made for snow, and if you’re at the beach, sand. The tires have more surface contact with the snow which allows them to either stay on top or at least not sink up to the forks.

The fat bikes have disc brakes, and probably front shocks, but are hard tails, which is to say there is no suspension on the back wheels. Andrew said that the frames accommodate the wider tires. Typically there is one front chain ring, with 11 or so gears in the rear. Carbon fiber or aluminum frames carry the whole thing. Buying one could set you back somewhere around $2,000.

Buying just the rims and tires won’t work. They won’t fit on your mountain bike, although mountain bikes were the starting point for these, which are sometimes referred to as blimp tire mountain bikes.

For a winter on-the-snow riding thrill, one of these may be what you’re looking for. They are increasingly being used on trails year round. Best advice: rent one first. New they can set you back $2,000 or so.

If you do ride where there are snowshoe and cross country tracks, stay out of those tracks. Etiquette in the back country is simple. Snowshoers and cross country skiers stay off of each others tracks. That same etiquette applies to fat bikes respecting the other tracks too.

Yes, you still need to wear your helmet. It is a bike after all. Common sense generally works well.

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Winter is here

Winter is here

The snows started to fall in the Sierra early this year. It hasn’t stopped, and everyone in California is grinning. The biggest grins are on the faces of anyone who enjoys snow sports of any kind.

Boomers around the Sierra in California, from 4,000 feet up, may have to park their bikes for a few days. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows reported 4 feet of new snow over the last day and a half. Christmas Eve will bring in a robust and cold storm, with snow levels dropping to 2,500 feet.

This doesn’t mean that the more mature generation will head for the couch. Hot chocolate maybe, but the lure of keeping active simply means that we’ll head out into the snow. For hard core cyclists there are fat bikes to explore. These bikes have very wide tires, knobby for gripping the snow, and apparently are great for pedaling about in the slippery white stuff. If you are at a spot where they are available for rent, it’s probably worth it to climb on one and find out how they do. Could be fun.

There’s also Alpine and Nordic skiing. In the Sierra around Lake Tahoe there’s a boatload of places to do both. If strapping waxed boards to your feet and launching yourself down a steep hill is too much for you, snowshoes could be what you’re looking for.

Snowshoes simply allow you to hike in the snow without sinking in up to your ears. You’ll need poles along with the snow shoes. What you’ll get is a wonderful experience in the quiet winter woods. Sounds good to me.

The whole point is that winter is here, and there’s still plenty to do, where ever you are. Do it. Get outside!


Outside with the Boomers

DSCN0838While this blog is named Boomers on Bicycles, and certainly covers the older crowd on bikes, that’s not all we do. BoomerGen, which is us, in younger people speak, is an active and diverse bunch of people. Right now, it’s cold outside in most places, and anyone within range of a mountain probably has a set of skis, a snowboard, xc skis, or snowshoes in addition to the two wheeled steed.

Some things cut across all cold weather outside sports. Staying warm and dry is critical not only to your comfort, it’s critical to your continued existence. The first caveat is that all the cool cotton clothing that you trot about town in needs to stay home when you head out to the forest, the trails, or the bike paths, in cold weather.

The layers that you wear need should be either wool, smart wool, or synthetics of some kind. These fabrics have the ability to wick moisture away from your skin. When wet they retain some ability to trap whatever heat you are generating, and they dry quickly while doing so.

Layers are important because you can easily take off one if you are too warm, or add something when you start to get chilly. Most of them are lightweight but have the ability to keep you comfortable. If they have a wind blocking fabric built in, so much the better.

If you are too comfortable when you first start out on your trek you’ve probably got one too many layers on. As soon as you start hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and so on, your body will heat up. If you’re overdressed to begin with, you’ll have to stop and shed a layer. Starting out with the right mix simply means you get to hoof for a longer and more comfortable period of time before shedding that layer.

While this is a bit of repeat of the last post, it bears repeating. There are stories every year about back country travelers who, while wearing cotton clothing, got caught in the wet and cold and died. It really is critical.


Winter is on the way.

Autumn is on the way--get ready!

Winter is on the way–get ready!

Winter is a scant two weeks away. It’s already cold in most places, and likely to get more cold, along with rainy and snowy. In some parts of the country winter simply means it’s going to be a bit more chilly. “Cold”, though, is a relative term.

In practical terms what it means is that the gear for riding changes. Depending on where you live, it could change a lot.

The layers that we wear to stay comfortable on a ride now are important. The general rule is that if you are too comfortable right as you start your pedaling, you probably have on too much. As soon as your legs start turning, your body will heat up.

Choosing the right combo of layers means that you get to ride longer before you have to take something off. If you’ve really nailed it, you might be good for your whole ride. Things like distance, time of day, and the ups and downs of your chosen ride will effect your personal heater.

Those layers should be synthetics, wool, or smart wool. Cotton, wonder fabric that it is, just doesn’t cut it when it gets wet and cold, and can be downright hazardous to your health if you get soaked and have a long way to go.

It’s good to check the weather prior to heading out. If there’s a hint of rain, but you think you can beat it before it starts, take some kind of rain jacket anyway. If you get caught in the rain, or snow, you’ll be glad you did. Wet and cold are a really bad combination.

Bottom line is simple: pay attention to the weather. Wear layers. Hydrate. Ride, ride, ride.


May is Bike Month racking up the miles

Rider and bike at Lake Tahoe

Ride, ride, ride, and do it safely. Record your miles!

May is Bike Month is rolling right along. The California goal is 2 million miles for the month. So far, 1.1 million miles have been posted. There’s about 2 weeks left to get that other 900,000 miles ridden.

Across the nation, a few more million miles will be posted. The whole idea is to bring riding bikes right up front in the news and everyone’s though processes. Generally speaking, there are quite a few riding events throughout the month.

Depending on where you live, riding at this time of year may be wide open or still just a bit dependent on what the weather is doing. Where I live, rain and snow still are on the menu. Back east, a lot of rain and snow may still be on the menu. Ride when you can, then post your miles on the May is Bike Month site.

You don’t have to ride any set number of miles, or join a team, or doing anything other than ride. The “teams” aren’t actually teams in the sense of a competitive group. It’s just a way to associate with your friends or colleagues from work, or the folks who frequent your local bike shop.

I am on a team, but like almost every mile I ride, I ride alone. My miles, 171.5 of them for this month, are recorded under the bike shop’s team. We are over 3,000 miles so far. If it got any more simple, it would be done while we were all fast asleep.

What’s it cost, you say? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Bubkis and so on. Free in plain speak. If you ride a mile, record a mile. One mile is better than no miles.

Sign up, ride, record, enjoy. It’s a good deal.

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Good thing we retired

retro style bike, 2012, Sacramento, CA

Retro style at NAHBS 2012/photo: J Ferris

An article I just read online makes it clear that we should be happy that we aren’t competing with the younger set these days. Did you ever ride your bike to work? I did.

It was an old skinny tired thing, a one speed, long before they became “in”. I haven’t been “in” since in  was “out”. I rode it to work, to friends houses, and when I got out of the army, to the local community college.

I didn’t give much thought to my riding attire. Helmets weren’t available, so I simply wore a hat. I had a clip to keep my pants leg out of the chain ring. I just dressed like I normally would have, while taking care not to get wound up in the chain ring.

Well, things have changed. Apparently, there’s a need for a suit combo for the those who bike to work and who need to wear a suit.

Used to be, I guess, as I wasn’t in the suit brigade, one would carry the suit jacket nicely rolled up in a pack or at least unbuttoned for the ride to work. The pants leg still required either a clip or stuffing into the sock. Not exactly metro-wonderful.

Where there is a need, real or not, entrepreneurs will fill jump in and fill that need. Responding to cycling complaints, San Francisco’s Parker Dusseau, maker of “Tailored Active Wear” and very stylish apparel, has come up with the commuter suit. It is especially made for men who cycle to work, and who need to wear a suit.

The Commuter Suit is a bit different that an off the rack unit. The fabric is a superwool with a bit of spandex mixed in.

The pants have a gusseted crotch, which allows for more comfortable movement than traditionally tailored pants. They also have a tab and button to cinch the pant leg around the ankle, keeping it a stranger to the chain ring. The pants pocket flaps have reflective piping as does the stretch flap on the pant leg.

The suit jacket has a poly tricot mesh lining that contains 28% spandex. It is incorporated into a pleat in the back of the jacket, which allows for reach and stretch, as in gripping the handle bars while riding. 

It also has zippers in the upper arms to aid ventilation on warmer days, and some reflective, but hidden until you need it, piping on the collar and arms. Reflective is good, being seen is great.

Well, it goes on. Visit the website and read all about it. Actually sounds like a pretty cool addition to ones cycling attire, especially if one is required to sport a suit at work.

Now the big part: The pants retail at $245, the jacket, $485. For someone who a) rides their bike to work in the city, and b) must suit up at work, this is c) a very good idea.

I, however, am glad that I am retired, and may ride with any getup I want to.


Time to ride

stainless steel bike, car

Tune it up, then ride/photo J Ferris

You’ve bought your season pass for next years ski season. Now, it’s time to start riding.

Most of us who ride do so throughout the year, weather permitting. Skiers spend more time on the slopes than in the saddle. This ski season is over.

Time to mount up.  If you haven’t done much riding over the winter and early spring, you’ll find that the weather is just about perfect right now for riding.

First though, a little bike maintenance is in order. Get your ride out and check it over very carefully, especially if you haven’t spent much time on it recently.

  1. Visually inspect the entire bike, frame, wheels, tires, chain, saddle, handle bars–all of it.
  2. Carefully clean anything that is overly gunked up.
  3. Inspect your tires. Look for cracks, missing chunks, small cuts. Replace them if they show too much wear.
  4. Spin your wheels. They should spin freely. If not, adjust them so that they do.
  5. Test your brakes while the wheels are spinning. If they are mushy, tighten them up. It’s good to be able to stop.
  6. Clean, then lube, your chain. It will last longer, and won’t yak at you all the time while you’re riding.
  7. Make sure your headset and handle bars are tight. Steering is important.
  8. Change the batteries in your front and rear lights. If you don’t have front and rear light, get some. It’s a safety issue.
  9. While your bike is on the rack, run it through every gear. Oil the derailleur.
  10. Anything that you can’t do, take it to your local bike shop and have them tune it up.

An early season check like this will up the odds that your riding season will get off to a great start. It’s a long season. You’ll be riding till the snow falls late next autumn. Might as well make sure it’s going to be a good time in the saddle.

Especially for those of us who are on the mature side of the age scale, hitting the bricks after a winters layoff should be done with some care.

Your first rides, if you haven’t ridden much over the winter, should be fairly simple, which is to say, relatively flat, with a few rollers mixed in. Heading up your area’s version of heartbreak hill is likely to put a dent in your psyche, not to mention pain in your legs, back, and brain.

Take it easy. There’s plenty of time to hit the steeps, if you want to, just a bit later on. What’s the rush? Just ride.    

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