Pro Tip: To keep your whistler whistling in the dry winter air, remember to apply a little lip balm before your ride! Having wet lips means you don’t lose your favorite pedestrian bird call or police car impersonation. Also it helps to avoid windburn and chapped lips.
This week Sheldon Warner was featured in Bicycle Habitat’s “Strong Legs” Series where he talks about growing up on the bike, training and more. Read his interview on Bicycle Habitat.
The ‘Arches will be riding to Point Lookout on Long Island! 8am departure from GAP.
The ‘Arches are heading up to the ‘Orchards at Concklin with the Major Taylor Iron Riders.
The ‘Arches are heading up to Piermont, NY on Saturday May 11!
7:45am: Meet at GAP in Brooklyn. Depart 8am
9am: Meet Manhattanites at Strictly Bikes
We’ll be following 9w with a focus on keeping a paceline together.
Once in Piermont we’ll climb Tweed Blvd. and enjoy a descent down county road 28.
After looping past the colleges on 304 we’ll head south via 501 into Englewood followed by a final climb back up to Strictly Bikes.
Rain Date Saturday is May 18.
You don’t bother to shave for The Tour of The Battenkill. It is long, cold and dirty. This is the race you’ve been saving your Paul Bunyan jersey and that extra bottle of man-up for.
Battenkill is the largest amateur race in America and is often considered the hardest. It is 62 miles over the hills and through the dirt of upstate New York out in the middle of nowhere. Despite the remote nature it attracts a huge number of cyclists from around the country and the world. The Cat 4 field in which I raced was broken into 6 fields for safety.
With trickle-down economics finally hitting the budget minded traveler (think spas and other anemities appearing in cheap hotels) it almost came as a surprise to me that motels still exist. My family and I decided to keep things reasonable we would go budget on the first night and use some of that extra money for a post-race splurge on day two in Saratoga Springs a couple of towns over.
While our first night was no-frills to the extreme, there is something that is still very comforting about walking into a toasty warm room from a cold, dark night in the shadows of the mountains in Vermont.
The Battenkill race literally takes over Cambridge. Unfortunately you have to walk from one end of town to the other to register which is 20 minutes each way from the parking lot. I know, I know, why wouldn’t I just bike there to save time? I brought my family and wanted to make sure they knew where everything was while I was out racing.
This was strategic error #1. I gave myself what would be more than enough time to prepare for any other normal race, but not a full hour which is what would have been needed for a relaxed round trip to get my numbers and set up my bike. As it turned out I had to run back to the car, hastily put everything together and race to the start line without my GoPro or a 2nd bottle of water.
I still missed the start by 3 minutes.
Luckily it was a neutral start. I charged up the road and got my “warm up” in by chasing the peloton at 28mph, catching them just before the pace car turned off and the real racing began.
It had rained the night before the race which left a damp heaviness in the air and a softness to the dirt sections. You wouldn’t have known it, though, the boys out front were pulling 27mph over the spongy, potholed gravel. The speed and rocks shed a third of the group straight away. I felt bad for those who got flats early on. There will be too much carnage up the road to simply accept your “DNF” and call it a day. No. You wait for the service car, take your free wheel, climb back on your horse and ride!
There was quite a bit of chatter in the parking lot about what psi to run your tires at. The general consensus was to go light — 105psi otherwise you’d spin out on the dirt sections. Since I knew the dirt would be wet and offer a little more traction I went with a relatively high 110 and it worked like a charm. No flats, good traction, and excellent rolling on the pavement.
So there I was, feeling surprisingly good and taking some pulls with the lead pack through the first feed zone where I made strategic error #2.
I had this feeling that there wouldn’t be any food so I loaded up my jersey pockets with everything I thought I would need before the race–mostly the super-low viscosity PowerBar Gel which still flows through flasks even when cold, as well as a few granola bars.
As our group pulled in my suspicion was confirmed: food was only being handed out by coaches of larger, organized teams. Not a problem but what’s this? The water is bottled water? As in: I have to ride no-handed to use two hands to break a safety seal and try to pour the shit into my bottle-cage-sized bottle while the peloton pulls away? Yeah! I guess so!
Since my water gauge was reading “E” rolling through was not an option. I did what looked like a jester’s juggling act which resulted in 3/4 of a tank and 15 lost places in the standings.
It was early in the race and I still had plenty of gas left so I dropped the hammer once I had my water situated and managed to catch a few guys who got dropped from the lead pack. We were also joined by some riders from behind who had better luck in the feeding zone. New temporary alliances formed and we charged ahead. Some speed was attained. Scenery was glanced at. There seemed to be more dirt than the course map suggested.
At the amateur level there is no such thing as gentlemen’s rules. You apparently don’t slow down in the feed zone to keep your group together to fend off others. You don’t wait for a strong racer who dropped a chain. You plow ahead with absolute tunnel vision, gnashing your teeth and fighting for that finish line which is still many miles away.
The second food stop had proper water bottles but the jerks in my pack didn’t take anything and pedaled straight through — I lost another dozen places despite literally grabbing a bottle, drinking it while pedaling, and tossing it to the side of the road.
Riding solo now I was better able to take in some of the scenery, and appreciate the great work of the organizers to have police at every intersection allowing the smooth passage of the riders. I thanked many of them as I rode by.
By mile 50 most riders left on the road that weren’t in that lead pack were shelled. There was no organization or groups to be seen. Just ragged individuals struggling to keep the pedals turning. I started to make some places back and passed some riders I knew were in a field that left 5 minutes ahead of us.
On one of the last dirt climbs my right quad gave out and I gave it an on-bike massage but had to remain seated for the duration in order to keep it from re-cramping.
Once free of the dirt the lead group from race group behind ours rolled through looking far too fresh so I hitched a ride for a few miles and crossed the finish line feeling pretty good, all things considered. The results were nothing to write home about but I think I had learned enough to improve my position should I choose to return in the future.
After catching up with a bunch of riders who were also up from NYC, including the crew at CiS we had to jump in the car for the second half of our weekend because if you’ve put yourself through the brutality that is Battenkill you kind of owe it to yourself to go hit the spa in Saratoga Springs to restore those aching muscles.
Saratoga Springs has a long history that I won’t bore you with here, but they love horses and as their name suggests, they are situated on top of naturally occurring springs. Depending on the rock and the gasses that may be present, each of the springs is unique; some are naturally carbonated and others taste like the cool mountain streams that you see in water commercials on television.
The main attraction for me, of course, was the hot mineral baths at The Roosevelt Spa in the Saratoga Spa State Park. The water is brown due to the minerals, is slightly effervescent and served at body temperature. It smelled like iron and cilantro. The spa provides you with a warmed towel when your bath is over. It is heaven.
Then you will want to have dinner. Being Not-New-York(City) the vegetarian options are limited but there if you look. My wife and I found a great mushroom risotto at Scallions which was hearty and delicious.
In keeping with our theme of variety and adventure, I would say the year is off to a good start.
Charts and graphs viewable at Garmin
After tearing down and rebuilding/greasing/plumber’s-taping/etc-ing my cranks/BB this winter and failing to exorcize the constant creaking I did what any sensible cyclist would do: I tossed the parts in the bin and bought new ones.
Problem eliminated!–but on the very first rain day I was reminded of the limited coverage of my Planet Bike MTB fenders which blasted a rooster-tail of dirt, trash and road salt into my brand new bearings for a half hour.
To protect my investment (and to some degree my shoes) a replacement for the fenders was in order. I fired up my one-click Amazon Prime machine and had some Planet Bike Cascadia fenders two days later.
Useful information (photos, not measurements) comparing the two was scarce online but I thought I’d take the chance. Worst case scenario I have more serious looking fenders. Best case: they work.
They arrived in the middle of a week of rain so immediate installation was needed. I only had time to do the front one but thankfully Planet Bike uses the same exact hardware on both so they appeared to be a matched set. Turns out that Frankensteining is ok so long as it’s kept in the family.
Front fender lightning review
If you enjoy getting your feet, legs and entire drivetrain of your bike filthy get the Planet Bike MTB fenders. If you enjoy riding through puddles laughing meniacally and only getting lightly spritzed the Cascadia is the only thing that makes any sense at all. With the Cascadia lets you ride in a straight line again, only avoiding puddles that you fear may be hiding potholes and chasms.
Front Fender Winner: Cascadia.
Rear Fender lightning review
The Cascadia rear fender is a bit odd. The extra length in the back is very “polite”. It seems to be made to keep water out of the face of those riding behind you. I mean, OF COURSE my commute sees me regularly flirting with 25mph speeds with throngs of roadies trying to hold my wheel. My 26×2.25″ wheel. While I’m wearing two layers on my legs and 5 on top. All of which are baggy. Plus 35lbs of panniers on my bike rack.
Anyway, it’s a nice visual match with the front fender but entirely unpractical for New York commuting as:
1: In my small apartment the “garage” is my foyer. You can see my old MTB fender just barely fits in my bike stand:
2. In order to fit inside NYC elevators you need to wheelie your bike at a 90˚ angle to the ground. Here, too, the MTB mud flap just scrapes the ground.
Rear Fender Winner: MTB
Fender “Set” Winner: Portlandia
So if you’re an urban commuter I find the combo of the Cascadia front and MTB rear fender is the most functional answer. Since the hardware is identical it does not look terribly mismatched.
If your bike’s entire existence is horizontal go all Cascadia.
There is no reason I can think of to get only the MTB set due to the uselessness of the front fender. IMHO if you are riding on dirt trails that require the extra clearance you probably have no business using fenders at all.
Last night I had a dream that I took plastic shopping bags and taped them to the front of my shoe covers. Sometimes I don’t trust my psychic self as much as I should.
Got everything packed into the car an hour early and decided not to wait to start heading back. The weather called for a nice tailwind that would be bringing clouds, followed by snow, followed by rain. Seemed like a good thing to beat back to the city. Being 5 degrees colder than the trip out I added another base layer, taller and thicker smartwool socks and my goretex windproof outer gloves to the mix.
Encountered my first problem before leaving the driveway: My trusty Garmin kept freezing at 80% calculated for my route home. Odd, I thought. Will have to give it a kick on the road if it can’t finish before I get lost. I roll out and down the 20% grade that is miller road. This is one of those roads that is broken up by three little flat sections of about 20 meters in length to give you, your car or your brakes a break so you don’t have to do the whole thing in a go. The pavement is dry so I let go of the brakes and let gravity give me a good, long tug and use the flat sections for that carnival-ride-like change in gravity.
About two miles in the Garmin isn’t working it out so I have it try again. Same result. I restart the device. Same result. Judging from the % it must be getting hung up trying to get me over the Hudson river, for which there really is only one option: The George Washington Bridge. Not sure why this thing has forgotten the bridge is there, or maybe it knows something that I don’t. Fine. Plan B: Take me to Fort Lee, NJ. I should be able to find my way to the bridge from there. Calculation is up in a flash and it immediately attempts to send me on a death march down Rte 17, which is a highway. Which I’ve got the Garmin set to *never* send me down.
Since I had route re-calculation on I began the dance of my picking a reasonable parallel-ish road to Rte 17 and have the Garmin re-route until we’re past the point where it wants me there. I do pretty well for a few towns until I get stuck in culdesac hell. I’d been following the compass and figured I was far enough south so I backtrack far enough to make a break across the highway via an overpass and continue southeast.
With my 6 top layers on temperature regulation is about perfect for the weather. The snow begins to fall. Hmm, this is a familiar sight…
Suburbs give way to the poorer working class towns and wet roads. A glance at my clean bottom bracket and front derailleur suggest that my RoadRacer 2 fenders are “working” even though they are missing a part due to my having to cut them to fit under my low-clearance brake calipers. I placed “working” in quotes as the space between my fenders and my tires is probably too tight to consider them fully functional. I don’t have an exact measurement but I would estimate that I’m working with slightly less than a grain of sand. Since there is a lot of sand on the roads the fenders make a lot of noise!
When riding on wet roads flats are always in the back of your mind. I am carrying two spare tubes and the hope is that I will need 0 of them.
After all of these years using a Garmin I’ve finally figured out how to check the map without having it pause my view, causing me to lose my little blue arrow. A quick flick of the finger and I see that Fort Lee is a town away! I begin the climb out of the valley which is slow and wet. The snowflakes are now the size of nickels. I eat a few.
I stop at a red light at the top of the hill and do a quick visual inventory. Something is missing: my front fender! I wonder where that went. I pull over in a sheltered bus stop, remove the support bars so they don’t get caught in my spokes and toss them in the trash. I curse my luck after having worked to prepare for exactly this weather and give the pedals a couple of good turns.
Fort Lee is a cute little town with an old-timey main street lined with little shops and lamp posts. It is possible that the snow gave it a little more quaintness than was deserved. Guess we’ll find out later. I can still see the pavement at this point and everything is still feeling good. I haven’t even had to eat my clif bar yet.
The George Washington bridge finally exposes me to the wind that had been my ally up to this point. It is ripping through the bridge from the north and there is a coating of snow on the bike path. I get into the drops to reduce the sail-effect and to get my center of gravity closer to the ground should a gust set me down and try to blow me off the edge. My tires manage to hold tight but it definitely felt like they were on the edge the entire time.
The temperature is noticeably a few degrees warmer in the city and the roads are a thick, soft slush or thick, wet water. I start spinning trying to balance these three things:
- Keep core temperature right
- Make good time
- Don’t cause too much splashing
Without my fender the water is ricocheting off of my bike’s big down tube and turning to slush as it spritzes onto my shoe covers. A visible layer is forming. Since these are not waterproof I know my time is limited before my feet turn into literal ice cubes. Luckily I am in the home stretch and only 20 minutes from home.
It is easy to “know” your fortune: of having hot water for a bath, of living in a place where food is plentiful and prepared with passion and creativity. You can meditate on this and gain a greater perspective but your body has to be taken far out of its comfort zone to really FEEL it. After I got myself back inside and peeled the three layers off my feet I realized that they must have been chilled so gradually that I didn’t notice how far gone they were. My toes are dark pink and while moving, they are doing so only very slowly. I bring them into the bath tub for a nice warm soak, gradually raising the temperature until there is no pain at my normally preferred temperature.
Since the rest of my family got stranded in NJ by the storm I have the night off. I put on the only sweater in the house that wasn’t packed for the trip and stroll down to my favorite Italian restaurant for some pasta and a glass of chianti. The food is delectable and the combination of the workout, the warm-up bath and the single-minded attention that I can give everything without having to keep tabs on a frenetic 3 year old has put me in a really zen place.
Here in the NorthEast we can certainly get some winter weather, but the typical temperature is just above freezing which is definitely bike-able with the right gear. Here is what I wear:
1, 2, 3: Base Layers
Once you get used to form-fitting lycra it’s hard to put on a tent to go out in the cold. As such I opt for the baclava approach: multiple thin layers. The inner layers wick the moisture away and trap the heat. The upper layers take the edge off the wind coming in.
4: Winter Vest
The windproof fleece-lined vest is one of your best tools for riding in the just-above-freezing zone and probably the only specialized piece of clothing you need down to the mid-30′s. It keeps the most important part of you warm (your core) but allows you to vent off steam via your arms (and chest when you unzip for climbs)
5, 6: Windproof tights, Bibs
You don’t need much on your legs as these big muscles don’t get cold that easily and will obviously be working hard enough to take care of themselves. I do a windproof base layer and then my club bibs because, you know, you have to represent!
7, 8, 9: Shoes that are not too tight, wool socks, shoe covers
Feet are tricky. You need enough insulation to keep them warm but not so much that you become waterlogged. I’ve found a livable combo to be smartwool socks which make a reasonable effort keep you warm while damp. On the outside I like the Castelli Narcisista shoe cover. It’s got a little fleece for insulation and as importantly, don’t look like you’re wearing two giant plastic bags on your feet.
10, 11: Liner gloves and medium weight gloves
Continuing on with the I-don’t-like-baggy-stuff theme I don’t like oversized gloves. I’ve found that you can layer on your hands to the same good effect as your chest. Combine ultra-thin liner gloves beneath a middle weight set of gloves and you’ll not only stay warm, but the liners are thin enough to dry quickly if you stop for coffee and a donut which helps with the motivation to get going again.
12, 13: Helmet, head/ear cover
Being from Minnesota I’m pretty conditioned to the cold and like to use my head to regulate my temperature. In the 40′s you’ll see me wearing swix cross country skiing earmuffs which are paper thin and fit well under a helmet. Once you get closer to freezing I’ll throw on a bandana to retain a little heat.
Shameless plug: You can buy the Jersey, Vest and Bibs pictured here in our shop!
- If you’re going hard you may not want to stop as multiple layers aren’t going to dry out with you wearing them, at least not quickly! Avoid the temptation to grab that coffee and plan your trips so you can go out and back without stopping.
- Your feet and hands are the first to go when it gets cold. If you have room in your pockets you might pack an extra pair of socks and liner gloves. If you do stop some dozens of miles from home changing into these two dry items can provide quite the mental boost!