Sunday, 7 March 2010

spring cleaning

I gave my bike a spring clean today.  Took the chain off and got all the gunk off, took the disk brakes apart and degrimed them.  I've never biked to work through the winter before,  and I was surprised how destructive it can be.  I put off cleaning a bit longer than I should have, but it was hard to motivate myself to clean too much when every day involves biking across a muddy/snowy field and getting it all disgusting again.  Besides, part of the motivation for getting a single speed was being able to abuse the drivetrain a little bit.

Anyway, the chain is clean and quiet, the brakes are adjusted and kind of quiet, and I'm wishing more than ever that there was good trail riding around here. 

Thursday, 28 January 2010

unexciting biking

It's been forever since I've had anything to say, because the biking around here is just not that fantastic.  I've slipped into commuter mode, and it's not until today that I realized how nice that is.  Today was the first day since moving to Cambridge that I haven't biked to work.  There are reports that the car is behaving a little weirdly and I wanted to check it out.  Biking hasn't been totally fun every day, especially with the high-latitude day length (or lack of it) in winter.  I only wiped out on the ice once.  I felt like an aching old man the next day, but really it's been fine.  Not exciting, but fine.

Anyway, after driving in today I realize how nice it is to bike to work.  Some fresh air and mild exercise to start the day certainly beats dodging traffic and pedestrians in a car.  While the good trails around here may be technically off limits to bikes (more on that at a later date), and the lack of hills makes rides kind of two dimensional, there's a lot to be said for living in a community that is friendly enough to cyclists that the average commute is, in some sense, really boring.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Two weeks of five-day-a-week commuting are in the books. I want to take some pictures of my ride in, since it's really pretty nice and this is a beautiful time of year, but I have one thought that's killing me.

I bought pedals that are your basic SPDs with a plastic platform around them. My thought was that this would be good for short distance, around-town rides (use the platforms) as well as longer, more awesome rides (clip in like god intended). This is the first time I've actually tried to just use the platforms. Verdict: sucky. I haven't not clipped in for, like, seven years or something, and I hate it. Maybe I'll get used to it, but right now, I'm not thrilled. I feel like I've got slightly-lower-quality clipless pedals that develop squeaks from the platform part, and no real gain for it.

But everyone else in this town is in full-blown dandy mode, street clothes and shoes, not a clipless pedal in sight. Maybe I can adapt, but I'd sort of rather drag this bit of western US bike culture along with me.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Chequameon Fat Tire

Race preparation: in the season leading up to the race I was only able to bike approximately 450 miles. In the month before the race I was traveling seemingly incessantly, moving across most of the length of Britain, and getting ready to fly an infant across the Atlantic (went better than expected). My training could be best summarized as 'haphazard verging on poor'. Onward!

My ride: my father in law took (at my request) my oldish Gary Fisher hardtail and stripped it of most of its gears, leaving the middle ring and the rear derailleur. Despite its age (someone yelled "let's go, old school!" at me during the race. Not wild about that) I like this bike. I liked the 1x9 setup- I think I'll convert the single speed I ride now to 1x9 when we move back the the US. I dropped the chain to the outside about 5 times during the race (we appropriated the front derailleur cage to keep things in place), so more care is needed for a permanent setup. With more fitness a slightly bigger chainring might be needed, but I was happy with the gearing range. For Wisconsin, anyway- Colorado would be different story I think.

The race: The Chequamegon Fat Tire race is a 40 mile race in Wisconsin, parts of it on the famous Birkebeiner ski trail. This was its 27th year. It starts out with three miles of high speed roll out on roads, hits the Birke trail for a while rolling over hills, cruises along a fire road for a bit, more Birke, more fire road, a huge hill, more hills, and then beer at the finish. We headed to the family compound on Friday and tested out the bike on the course, and Saturday was go-time.

This was my first mountain bike race, my previous racing on wheels had only been triathlons. I prefer mountain biking, so this was more fun. I had my eye on the family record (around 3:15) and was sort-of-on pace through the half way point, and then on a fire road I started feeling a bit ominous about things. I moved into a 'spin on the downhills' mode, grabbed a shot of rum from some guys dressed as pirates, and tried to maintain what I could of my pace. By the last few miles I was waiting for death and the smallest uphill would send me scrambling for my lowest gear, but I made it across in 3:26.

The verdict: not awesome, but given my lack of training I feel pretty ok about it. I was in better cardio shape than climbing-leg shape, if that makes any sense. I think if I'd been able to race last year after my much-more-intensive summer season I could make a run at 3:00, so that's my goal for the future. I didn't leave a whole lot out on the course, which was a nice feeling after not racing (not even a 5k run or something, lame) at all for over a year.

A couple pictures from the pros on the course:

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

stupid cars

I passed by exactly one parked car on my commute today, and was almost doored by it. Hopefully I at least startled the person with my shouted 'waaargh!'.

Biking has been tough recently. I threw my back out (this happens once every year or two) and wasn't able to bike for a week, and now the weather is questionable. I went mountain biking over the weekend and it was like clawing your way up a river. Really really muddy and slow going, and lots of sheep everywhere. My training for this race in a few weeks is not exactly optimal. My bike in the US is being converted to a 1x9, which would have made a lot of sense when I was in shape but now smacks of hubris. Oh well- the post-race beer and hot tub will feel that much better.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

radical shift in bikestyle

My commute is about to change dramatically. We just got back from Cambridge, where we'll be moving in a few weeks, and the biking scene is noticeably different. There's not going to be much in the way of mountain biking, which is a little sad. It sounds like there are some nice country roads that are dirty and muddy and maybe a little scenic, but mostly it's flat flat flat. So time to get a taller gear for the bike.

Maybe more significant is the number of cyclists. So far I've encountered a grand total of zero other bikers on my commute, from the moment I cross the Tay bridge to when I get within a mile or so of St Andrews. Cambridge, by contrast, was a seething mass of people flying around on city bikes. I'm about to become an urban (well, sort of- it's still a small town) cyclist again.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

getting lost on a new trail system

On Sunday I headed to a forest sort-of-near to where we live, Pitmedden forest park. I had found vague descriptions on the internet of good riding there, but no maps. I got lost on the way there and forgot my biking shirt at home, but I remained upbeat. Living at sea level means I don't have to worry quite so much about Alpine Death Fabric and its dangers, so while I may have looked a bit odd in my ragged cotton v-neck (from the Gap, no less) I wasn't too worried about hypothermia.

I started riding up an uninspiring fire road* which continued for half a mile or so. Then I started noticing little trails shooting off the side. Eventually I just picked one and went for it, and what followed was some of the most enjoyable singletrack I've ever ridden. Really twisty sections led to smooth flowy sections, all of it narrow (like 6 inches or so), there were roots and rocks and even some ledges I didn't feel comfortable going down with my current mindset**. At one point there were some Pacific Northwest-style manmade features (they think of them as North Coast features here I think), bermed corners and at one point a huge drop that I walked down and then the trail ended. Apparently not a popular feature***.

This was really high quality trail, and the woods was just crisscrossed with offshoots. I have no idea where I went, how much of the system I covered, or what. When I came to an intersection I just picked the direction that looked best. I only ended up in a scary Blair-Witch woods once and got worried about finding my way back twice, so all in all this was a pretty awesome excursion.

I need to remember to bring my camelback with me when we return from our visit to the US in September. While I was thinking about that I came upon this, describing new Osprey hydration packs for biking. I love backpacks****. Researching them, buying them, using them... Osprey makes great stuff, and if I could rationalize buying something that I already have a functional version of I would snap one of these up.

* too many mountain bike rides start off with ascents up uninspiring fire roads. No warm up, just start climbing up ugliness. When I rule the world...
** my current mindset is probably best summarized by 'don't break your neck and saddle your wife with a newborn and a paraplegic husband'. I'm thinking about getting a road ID or something similar. Things I would have sailed over a year ago give me much greater pause now, and I think the expanded family has something to do with it.
*** every time I try a new trail in Scotland I end up thrashing through heather/woods/thorns and swearing.
**** my love of buying backpacks is matched only by jackets. The more technical the better.