Monday, December 20, 2010

Flat problems and inflated solutions

As reported in the previous post, December has already been a bad month with regards to flats for me, and in the meantime it has gotten only worse. I had to get some stuff to and from campus yesterday, and when riding down our driveway I immediately noticed that Wolfgang had another flat in the rear! While waiting for my new tires (see below), I had put on the Conti Gatorskins in the back---the tire that up to now had never failed me. I fixed the flat this morning and it seems like the tire is worn down enough that a small glass piece could make its way through it. I guess I'll have to replace the Contis next season.

For the winter, however, I ordered a pair of 700x35 Vittoria Randonneur Pro tires. Requirements were:
  • 32 or 35mm wide
  • flat protection
  • some tread but not too much
  • fairly lightweight
It's more difficult than one would think to find this kind of tire. The Schwalbe Marathon series generally were too heavy (and they have a reputation for having high rolling resistance); most Conti models either had too little tread or were not available in the right size. I would have loved to test the new Top Contact Winter II, but it's not available in the US yet (and the 37mm width might have caused problems anyway). Cyclocross tires from most manufacturers failed on the flat protection requirement. The Vittoria Randonneur series finally seemed to offer what I was looking for. Ideally, I would have like to get the Randonneur Cross Pro, yet my local bike shop couldn't order it via QBP. Thus, I settled with Randonneur Pro in 700x35 which fulfills all requirements except for having potentially having not enough tread for snowy conditions. I should get the tires on Wednesday and will report how they hold up.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter adventures

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that Madball were scheduled to play a show at Syracuse's Westcott Theater in mid-December. Since I haven't been to a decent show for many months, I thought I could do a little bike/music mini-trip, cycling up to Syracuse on the 14th, seeing the show, spending the night at a cheap motel, and then riding back the next day. I sent out an e-mail to the FLCC listserv and received lots of good advice about route recommendations. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the show was canceled. If I couldn't have a bike/music experience, I thought I could at least do the bike part and test my new winter gear. Since Syracuse itself is not exactly the most attractive destination and going all the way there and back in one day would have been a bit much, I mapped a route that would combine two of the route suggestion but did not go up all the way into the city.

The weather forecast for Saturday looked pretty good -- mostly sunny and temperatures around 0° C. I didn't sleep well the night before and I hadn't done any preparations on Friday, resulting in a pretty late start at around 10:30. I knew that a significant portion of the ride would be in the dark, but Wolfgang is well equipped and I actually enjoy riding in the dark.

After climbing out of Ithaca through Cayuga Heights, I took the regular route along Hanshaw/Lower/Upper Creek/NY366 into Freeville and continued on CR105/Fall Creek Rd into McLean. After a quick ClifBar stop at the post office there, I continued on the McLean-Cortland Rd towards Cortland. Traffic was a bit heavier on this stretch but not bad at all. In Cortland I then turned north on NY281 (the sensor activated left turn signal at the intersection of NY34B and NY281 is not triggered by bikes) and would follow this road for many miles. Within the Cortland city limits, up until the junction leading to I-81, was the most trafficked part of the ride but, again, it was still fine. Once out of Cortland, the road became wide, flat, and empty. 281 runs parallel to the Interstate and therefore only carries the little bit of local traffic for the few scattered houses in the valley. In Tully, NY281 becomes US11, and had I gone towards Syracuse I would've taken this road or possibly an option further east. Instead, I crossed the Interstate again and then turned onto NY11A. This part starts with a real nice downhill that takes you out of the Susquehanna River and into the Oswego River/Finger Lakes Watershed. In the small township of Cardiff it was time to replace my GPS's batteries and turn West on US-20.

When planning the route I wasn't quite sure what the traffic on 20 would be like, but as it was only a short stretch and there was no good way to go around I just gave it a try. Traffic indeed did increase, but it was still very low and the shoulders were in good shape. US20 takes you into the Cherry Valley and, indeed, the valley is basically filled with orchards. Because 20 doesn't really follow the valley, I turned right onto Hitchings Rd/CR151 and then zig-zagged my way on small back roads to Cedarvale Rd/CR42, later turning left onto Pleasant Valley Rd/CR119. This road leads right into Marcellus where I took another rest break at a gas station. There were still more than 75 km left to go and shortly after Marcellus, on the Old Seneca Turnpike my woes began.

While riding up a hill I noticed that somehow my bike felt very soft and 30 seconds later it became obvious that I had a flat rear tire. Now I wasn't so much surprised, as I've had flat tires with my winter tires pretty frequently, as more annoyed at myself that I hadn't spent the money and gotten myself tires with puncture protection. Well, no big deal, I thought, and quickly put in a new tube. Of course, I inspected the tire for what had caused the flat and somewhere close to where it should have been, I saw a little hole but without anything stuck in it. Thus, I assumed that whatever had caused the flat had already fallen out and went on to reinstall and reinflate the tire. Only a few minutes later, however, the damn tire went flat again. I pondered my options and since I was pretty much halfway between Marcellus and Skaneateles I initially decided to give up, walk the bike to Skaneateles and call the accomplice to pick me up. It was still more than 5 km to Skaneateles still and at some point I got annoyed enough to give it another try. I took out the tire again, patched the tube, inspected the tire, didn't find anything aside from holes, put it back in, and continued. I knew this was my last chance, as now it was dark enough to make another repair really difficult. Well, the tire held the air for a little bit longer, but not much. So I walked/rode/rolled Wolfgang the rest of the way into Skaneateles and called the accomplice. She, of course, was not too thrilled about having to drive more than hour on a potentially icy road, but of course she came pick me up with "Virginia," our trusty carshare car.

Aside from the tires, my gear held up pretty well. The new shoes were warm enough (feet still felt cold at times, but much less so than on previous rides in similar conditions) and so was the work glove/liner glove combo. I'm still waiting for my new wool baselayer shirt to arrive and eventually I might have to increase the warmth on my legs. The dhb winter bib tights were okay, but had it been colder they probably wouldn't have cut it anymore.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter stuff

Winter has arrived somewhat later than usual in Ithaca, but now it's definitely here. Last week was the first time that I had to ride home on snow covered streets and there is a lake effect warning for today. As always, I'm committed to riding year round, and winter after winter I'm fine-tuning my gear to make riding in the cold a more pleasant experience.


In the past couple of winter, I always switched from my 28mm Conti Gatorskins slicks to the 32mm Ritchey Speed Max that came with the Crosscheck. The main issue I've had with they Ritcheys is their bad puncture resistance. I haven't kept exact records, but I definitely had more than 1 flat/1000 km. Flats suck, and they do so quite a bit more in the winter. To deal with this, I originally intended to just keep the Contis with their basically perfect puncture protecting on throughout the winter. After all, most of the time roads are clear of snow and even when there is snow, it's nice to have a skinny tire that will cut through to the road surface. However, in last weeks first snowfall, I realized that this didn't work out so well. I was able to ride home, but definitely noticed that the Contis lacked traction. Consequently, this morning I put back on the Ritchey tires, but eventually I want to get something else. Probably some kind of 'cross tire, but with the added puncture protection.


Regular readers of this blog will remember my persistent issues with cold and numb feet. Since this was basically the main point of failure during previous winters, I decided to spend big and get proper winter cycling boots. Glenn Swan, owner of my trusted local bike shop and year-round rider himself, highly recommended the Lake MXZ302. It took a long time to get the shoes in size 15 wide, but two weeks ago it finally arrived. Due to end-of-semester stress and a cold I haven't been able to test them on a long ride, but they do feel very cozy on shorter rides. I'll keep you updated about their performance.


Another recommendation from Glenn Swan were my Kinco winter work gloves. I had bought one pair last winter and was overall satisfied with them. They had two issues, however: the cuffs on them were of the "safety cuff" variety, meaning they were pretty wide and therefore made it difficult to keep cold air, snow, and rain out of them. In addition, they weren't really waterproof. Well, a month ago I lost one of the gloves, giving me an opportunity to find something even better. It turns out that Kinco also make a waterproof version of the glove with a knit cuff (model is 1938 KWP instead of 1938) and that's what I got. So far I'm pretty satisfied -- they are indeed waterproof and as warm as the other model. I'm not quite sure yet how much I like the knitted cuffs. They do prevent water and snow from running into the cuff, but they're also the part of the glove that gets pretty cold. Maybe I'll need some kind of wrist warmer to go with the gloves. In terms of warmth, the gloves alone should be warm enough down to around 0° C, but below that I'd recommend using them with a woolen liner glove. The liner glove is a good idea anyway, as it will absorb some of the sweat that definitely accumulates in the glove on warmer days and harder rides. For really cold days and emergency situations, I still have a big stash of chemical hand warmers.


Because everybody--both people I know and people on the interwebs---is raving about how great their products are, I bought a Showers Pass Touring jacket. While it is a decent jacket, I've become more and more critical of it. First of all, it's not really waterproof. The company makes a big deal about being from the Pacific Northwest and therefore making gear appropriate for really wet conditions, but this doesn't really hold true for my jacket. Whenever I'm either riding for extended periods in light to medium rain or in heavy rain for as short as 20 minutes, the jacket always lets in quite a bit of rain. The largest amount of rain enters through the ventilation zippers under the arm pits. But even the fabric itself is definitely not waterproof. Now I must say that previous to this jacket I've never really owned any bike specific rain gear and therefore can't compare the jacket with other ones. But given how expensive these things are (the Touring has an MSRP of $150) I'm feeling disappointed. I even sent an e-mail to their customer service, trying to figure out if this was a common issue or if maybe my jacket had some manufacturing defect. Well, I've never heard back from them.

December Summary

500 km seems to be my magic number. 500 km per month is what I will probably have ridden on average throughout 2010, and almost exactly 500 km has been the monthly kilomentrage during the last couple of months. Here are the detailed stats for November: Even though winter has definitely arrived, Gunnar got more kilometers than in the previous months -- 204 km total. Wolfgang clocked in at 305, making a total of 509 km/month or 17 km/day. The annual odometer thus is at 5509 km and I'm pretty confident that I will get it up to 6000 at the end of the month.