Category Archives: Obstructed View

Some reasons to not get down on yourself over your winter Strava stats

  • You won’t be putting on the regular miles that you do while the weather is warm so your baseline will be lower
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of all that winter gear
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of perspiration and/or precipitation soaked into all of that extra winter gear
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of your winter bike (you do have a winter beater, right?)
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of Thanksgiving on you (hopefully not, but you know…)
  • You’ll be riding with the extra resistance that good windproof gear brings
  • You’ll be burning extra calories just to stay warm

Speaking of which, I would recommend choosing shorter routes so that you aren’t tempted to stop for hot chocolate once you’re out. Once soggy you finally gets moving into that cold, winter wind you will immediately regret it, followed by getting hypothermia and dying. Happy riding!

What to Wear When It’s 40 Degrees And Raining

Maybe you paid for the ride in advance. Maybe it just so happens that mother nature decides to dump on your one window of opportunity to ride all week. Whatever, it’s 40 and raining and you’re going to get on that horse and ride it. Here is what I wear in these conditions:

winter-layers-40-degrees-with-rain-blog-size

1, 2: Base Layers

Since you will be using a good outer shell or two you can go a little light on the base layers. I choose a heavy (though not fleece lined) long-sleeved Under Armor shirt and a regular short sleeved jersey. Should the clouds break you’ll appreciate being able to let your arms breathe a little if you remove your outer jacket.

3: Winter Vest

A good windproof, fleece lined vest is an important layer because it won’t be too warm under a rain jacket BUT will be warm enough if the rain subsides.

4: Rain Jacket

When its cold enough that its almost snowing you don’t need to bother with gore-tex or anything super high-zoot, but you should consider something cycling-specific. The Capo pictured has a little ventilation under the arms, has an extended back side and most importantly, is clear so your club kit shows through! ;-)

5,6: Windproof tights, Bibs

Even when wet your leg muscles are going to generate plenty of heat. Rainproof pants will be too much for a training ride–stick with two layers of good lycra and you’ll be fine. Avoid thicker fleece as that will just soak up water.

7,8,9: Shoes, wool socks, rainproof shoe covers

I probably shouldn’t have grouped these together but I did. Here is the bottom line: Unless you have rain-specific gore-tex-lined shoes you’re going to get wet so you might as well prepare for it. The Perl Izumi Barrier Pro shoe covers pictured lasted about 50 minutes in a steady drizzle before I could feel that the dampness was more rain than sweat, which brings me to the second point:

Use the right weight of WOOL sock. Too light and you’ll get cold. Too heavy and your feet will feel like they are wringing out sponges with every pedal stroke. You just want a little light insulation. Wool, as you know, will keep you warm even when wet.

10: Cold Water Scuba Diving Gloves

Following the same theme as the shoes you should also know that your hands are going to get wet as well. Bummer. Lucky for you they can remain comfortable. I have an entire writeup on the use of cold water diving gloves for cycling use. They’re pretty good and really the only thing that will work. I just took these babies out for 2.5 hours of non-stop rain and only had wrinkly fingertips as a result.

11, 12: Helmet, cycling cap

I like using a cycling cap in the rain as it helps to keep the rain out of my eyes. Glasses are utterly useless so I leave those at home.

PRO TIP: DRY OUT YOUR SHOES QUICKLY UPON RETURNING. Use a space heater or a hair dryer. Once you start growing stuff in your shoes you will NEVER get the smell out. Believe me. The shoes pictured have been washed, bleached, soaked in baking soda, and more. The faint smell of wrong still lingers.

Be Careful What You Wish For (on eBay)

This year my Breezer mountain bike is celebrating it’s 20th year of mud, road salt and potholes. I’ve ground more than three sets of components into sand and the frame fights on, albeit with a few more chips and dings. It takes time to appreciate it but this is what people mean when they say “steel is real”.

We might just now be turning the corner on the worst winter in memory in NYC and everyone has cabin fever something fierce. While there is no doubt my Titanium road bike can handle the impending mess of the spring melt-off, Dura-ace parts do the same thing as all others when subjected to excessive road debris and buying new drivetrains aftermarket can get really expensive really quick. I decided it was time to take the leap and get a dedicated training bike.

Every once in a while, one of the founding fathers of the Mountain Bike Joe Breeze pokes his head back into the competitive world of cycling and designs a fast bike. Usually they are of the mountain variety but the Venturi road bike has made a couple appearances over the years. It is made of steel and thus not aimed at the road racer but he always outfits them nicely (no less than Ultegra). They carry the old Ignaz Schwinn paint job from the early 1900s and are very unassuming in appearance but toss a set of CRUD fenders on and you’re ready to have some fun in the pre-season!

About three years ago I had set up an eBay alert for this very bike but since they are so exceedingly rare I honestly didn’t expect anything to come of it. Imagine my surprise an email showed up a couple of weeks ago for a listing of last year’s model, unused, for the price of the Ultegra gruppo. I was pretty much obligated. I took shipment of the bike, swapped a few parts for fit and took it out the very next weekend—our first warm day of the year; 50 and sunny with some good snowbank runoff from the road shoulders.

Breezer always sweats the details; the headtube is adorned with a metal depicting Mt. Tam, the birthplace of the Breezer Mountain bike and the home of some very amazing riding (both road and mountain)

Despite (or possibly because of?) some purposefully heavy parts (such as the wheels) it handled very well–it was rock solid on the descents and crosswinds and responded well to mashing on the pedals thanks to an oversize bottom bracket that was designed to accommodate the BB30s that you normally find installed in carbon fiber frames. I would say that this felt a little stiffer than my Titanium racing bike, even though the Ti has a tubes the size of a baseball bat.

The original plan was to ride to stateline but the sun and the momentum from the sprint carried me over the hill and ultimately on to Nyack before my rational mind finally made me turn around as there were still many miles, hills and gusts of wind between there and home.

I will mention the CRUD fenders here, which are an absolutely essential part of any training bike. The reviews you’ve read are accurate: They are a pain in the ass to set up because the tolerances are so tight. I absolutely guarantee that the first time you get them set and spin a wheel something will be rubbing. Once you fiddle with them for a while you’ll get them silent and then you can use them.

The two things to point out in the photo are:

  • The length of the fenders is not only polite for those in your draft, they also do a very good job of keeping all but the spritz off of you. I rode through a lot of water on my first ride wearing normal (non-waterproof) shoe covers on. My feet did not get wet.
  • Look closely near the front deraileur—that little extra swoosh of plastic does an incredible job of preventing your shifter from becoming a sandcastle

So in summary the bike (and a few carefully chosen parts) were all I dreamt they would be. I, on the other hand, wasn’t, but now I have no more excuses. Time to get outside!

Breezer Venturi training bike. This is the last time these parts will ever look this clean.

No Medals for Blizzard Commuters

Bike commuting as a sport does not possess the grace of many of the other winter events that you’re probably watching on the olympics but it does require strength, strategy and exceptional balance.

When a proper blizzard rolls into NYC I follow these rules of survival:

  1. Use major streets. They are the ones that get plowed. Side streets, unlike the suburbs, quickly turn into 3″ deep blocks of rutted ice due to the mild days and cold nights.
  2. Exercise EXTREME caution! I use the opposite-light rule: Wait at the intersection for the light to turn red for the traffic that is going the same direction you are. Enjoy a couple of blocks of having the road to yourself, then pull over and repeat.
  3. Plows travel in packs in New York. If you find one FOLLOW IT AS FAR AS YOU CAN
  4. Know when you’re in over your head—if things are getting really sketchy remember there are (usually) subways

Snow plows travel in packs in New York. Photo credit: Serge Permyakoff

Review: U.S. Divers Cold-Water Diving Gloves. Wait. What?

For all the high-tech gear that cyclists have at their disposal (and there is a lot!), there is one infuriating omission: nobody makes a waterproof glove. I imagine this is mainly because most riders take the day off when the clouds open up, not leaving many people to sell to. Or maybe it’s really hard to make a waterproof glove. I don’t know.

Since the cycling world has turned it’s back on us we need to turn to other industries that have the same problem with moisture. I got a tip to put medical gloves on under my normal winter gloves. I can definitely see this working in a pinch but like chemical toe warmers, I want something that isn’t disposable. Also the medical gloves will hold in moisture and will not provide much insulation on their own so once your outer gloves get soaked your time will be limited.

The answer ended up coming from another niche sport: scuba diving. After trolling the internet I chose the U.S. Divers Cold-Water Diving Gloves based on positive feedback for build quality and durability. If you read the Amazon reviews you’ll find all kinds of displaced cold and wet people. As a matter of fact, none of the top reviews for this product refer to them being used for actual diving!

U.S. Divers cold-water gloves fit snugly and fit nicely under a gore-text shell

The day after they arrived I got the perfect weather to try them out: 40 degrees and raining. These first thing that I noticed is that they don’t repel water, which you might expect from a “waterproof” glove. Water will bead up on your Gore-tex jacket but soak right into the gloves. Despite this, I didn’t feel the water, or the wind. The next thing I knew, I was 20 minutes into your ride and my hands were perfectly warm and happy!

Fit is very good–unlike most long-fingered cycling gloves they have a little give so can stretch your fingers a little more easily to work with brake levers and shifters and such. They go up past the carpal bone which is more than enough height to tuck up under your gore-tex jacket.

The only place where it shows that this is not made specifically for cycling is the palm. Generally the padding for a cycling glove is minimal and strategically placed. With the diving glove the “padding” is just a natural byproduct of the neoprene material which is an even thickness everywhere. I purchased the 3mm version which ended up making my main contact point with my handlebar feel spongy. Despite this, there is no question that these work and are an essential piece in creating a head-to-toe outfit for adverse weather riding.

Grips on the palm are good, but the 3mm thickness of the gloves make your contact point a little spongy feeling.

Pros:

  • Pre-curved and good fit
  • Great price! Since these aren’t made for cycling you don’t pay the cycling premium. If these were made by Perl Izumi they’d probably be $85
  • They work!

Cons:

  • 3mm thickness is a little too spongy
  • They take forever to dry. Like over a day.

Takeaway:

Simply necessary in the rain, especially between 33 and 55 degrees.

Ride Along: Gimbels Long – July 6, 2013

Missing the camaraderie of group riding during the dark, cold months of winter? Fire up this video in HD and join some of the fastest riders in the area under a white hot sun for the Gimbels Long ride.

This workout is 1hr 35 minutes so make sure you have plenty of water and make sure to save some matches for the second half of the ride! While the temperature tempered the climbers (slightly) you’ll be bridging plenty of gaps and keeping the pressure on. Your perseverance will bring you across the line in lead group with the 9th fastest time recorded on the course* (*according to Strava).

Tour of the Battenkill Race Report

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.

Hello Governor.

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.

Some delicious Cambridge, NY mud

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.

Photo Credit E. Glading http://www.flickr.com/photos/eglading/

Photo Credit: E. Glading

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.

A moment of fierceness on one of the dirt climbs

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.

Using a hand-drawn map of the town my family and I went on a natural springs treasure hunt. The water flows freely around the clock and you can drink the water from all of the springs in town.

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.

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Charts and graphs viewable at Garmin

Planet Bike MTB Fenders vs. Cascadia Fenders. Winner: Portlandia

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.

Planet Bike MTB front fender next to Planet Bike Cascadia Fender

A couple of inches make all the difference in the world; now only a light spritz ends up on my shoes and drivetrain.

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:

planet bike MTB rear fender fit with feedback bike stand

Close call: Very little clearance between Planet Bike MTB rear fender and Feedback bike stand

Planet bike cascadia rear fender is too long for the feedback bike stand

Cascadia Rear Fender vs. Feedback bike stand. Cascadia loses.

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.

planet bike mtb fender elevator wheelie

Though it’s a close call, the Planet Bike MTB rear fender is elevator-wheelie capable (and probably wheelie-wheelie capable). It goes without saying that the Cascadia Rear does not do 90˚

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.

Planet Bike Portlandia configuration

The Planet Bike “Portlandia” configuration for urban commuting

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.