Category Archives: Gear

Cold Weather Cycling

It’s been cold the last week or so in Seattle.  Temperatures in the teens and 20s, which is much colder than usual for this time of year.  To be sure, it’s not Duluth or Buffalo cold, but cold in a way we’re not really set up for in Seattle.  Many older homes here, including mine, have no insulation to speak of.  And we go more in for water- and wind-proof jackets than fur-lined parkas.

If we’d had rain or snow along with the cold, I wouldn’t have kept riding to work.  Our hills, narrow streets and inexperienced drivers make it far too dangerous to take the bike out when there’s ice on the pavement.  But – as is typical when it gets this cold here – the frigid air was accompanied by crisp, clear skies (until yesterday morning, when an overnight dew made it scary-slick on the way in).

People often look askance at me for riding in this weather, but honestly, it just takes a few gear adjustments.  And riding on a dazzling clear morning beats hell out of sidling up against crowds of sniveling sickies on the bus, or idling in a car, stuck in downtown holiday shopping traffic.  Here’s how I manage it:

Hands:  I’ve tried a number of different gloves over the years, and I’m convinced there aren’t any cold weather bike gloves that perform below 40 degrees.  As I don’t really need all of the specialty padding for my 3.5 mile commute, I just throw on my ski gloves.  So much better than even my warmest pair of bike gloves.

Head:  I like my simple, thin balaclava.  Decent enough protection for the ears and neck, and can be pulled over the chin and mouth if it’s really cold and windy.  Of course, wearing a balaclava = guaranteed bad hair day. Makes mine all stand straight up.

Neck:  It sucks to hoover up cold air through the neck of your jacket while riding downhill.  Zip-up sweater, balaclava or even a scarf – they all work.  Unfortunately, I forget about my neck half the time when heading out the door.  Brr.

Body:  My ride is short.  A sweater and windproof jacket work fine.  A little cold, but fine.

Legs:  For some reason, the cold doesn’t bother my legs.  I’m in knickers year-round.

Ride: I really appreciate my fixed-gear when the weather drops below freezing.  The connected ride, all the feedback I get with each pedal stroke, makes me far more confident when riding on potentially-frozen streets.

Like someone once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.  And it doesn’t take too much gear to make cold-weather riding work – at least here in Seattle.  Anyone else have any crappy-weather tips and tricks that work to keep them riding?

Tuba Bike Trailer

Know what I’d like to see one of these Kickstarter bike accessory geniuses design? A set of fold-out arms for the back of my bike so I can occupy more space and maybe dissuade the idiots who insist on trying to pass me when I’m taking the lane. Weaving to block them is only so effective, you know.

Failing that, there’s the Tuba Bike Trailer. I’ve not tried a bike trailer yet, but I’ve grown increasingly fond of using my bike to run errands. For bigger loads, I use a combination of grocery bag panniers, backpacks and the MOATMB (Mother of All Timbuk2 Messenger Bags). The Tuba could simplify things; it aims to provide “the same level of convenience and spaciousness as a car’s trunk or backseat.” Not sure I could pull something this big uphill on my fixed gear, but man could you load a lot of groceries and beer in this baby.

Check the Tuba out on Kickstarter – and throw some support their way if you like the idea of moving more errands to pedal power.

All-City Pedals

I know that I’m hard on pedals. I ride single speed, uphill. I’m usually standing in my pedals. And at 200 pounds, I put more strain on those platforms than the average rider.

With that out of the way, I’ve still got to say to All-City: what the hell? I’ve had these Cecil Pro pedals for less than a year. Blown out bearings. I may try to rebuild it, but I expected more out of a pedal that is ostensibly built for fixed gear riding.  But I sure liked the pedals while they worked . . .

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

New PDW Rack

Besides switching over from single-speed to fixed-gear commuting, I’ve added on this cool Portland Design Works Payload Rear Rack with Bamboo Deck (See all Bike Components)

It was a cinch to install (despite having to use the seatstay clamps rather than the braze-ons, given the location of my rear brake) and looks very sharp. Functionality is probably slightly less than a standard rack, given the double-layer tube, and it’s pretty heavy. However, it’s got some well-thought out slots for latching a cargo net, and I’m not exactly concerned about shaving a few ounces off my ride – especially when a rack looks this nice.

Things I’ve packed home on the rack this week:

5 lbs of ribeyes
Big bag of clothes
18 eggs
2 bottles of bourbon


30 Days of Biking – Days 28 & 29

Commuted to work both days. Despite calls for rain all week, I’ve managed to avoid the rain bike and keep riding fixed gear (even if I haven’t avoided all the raindrops).

I’m liking the fixed gear more and more as I get more comfortable with the changes in riding technique it requires. It’s little things like pedal position when stopped and practicing track stands so I can minimize the amount of unclipping needed. I’ve written about my fixed gear experiment over at Commute by Bike – check it out for more details.

Miles: 6, 6
Weather: Overcast

Helmet Laws – an Impediment to Bike Share in Seattle?

According to Seattle Bike Blog, both Seattle U and King County are looking seriously at bikeshare programs, akin to Denver’s B-Cycle program. One interesting point at the end of the article is that our mandatory helmet laws represent an impediment to launching a bikeshare program, and that perhaps we should subsidize helmets or amend the law to exempt bikeshare.

These are two horrible ideas. Subsidizing helmets does nothing to solve the spur-of-the-moment nature of taking a quick ride that makes bike share so appealing (I know . . . let’s also subsidize backpacks to carry the helmets – and then pass a law requiring everyone to carry their helmet at all times!). And excepting bike share creates nothing but ride and enforcement confusion. So here’s a thought – why not just shit-can our mandatory helmet laws? There’s no evidence they do any good, and we can now add “discouraging bike share programs” to the litany of ills visited by this particular little bit of nanny-statism.

This isn’t to say I think wearing a helmet is a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s dumb to ride in the city without one. But it should always be a matter of rider choice. While I’ll always tell you what I think the right choice is, there’s no reason for our government to dictate that choice for you.

New Lights

Arleigh over at Bike Shop Girl posted recently about using lights during the day, which is good advice but not really relevant for bike commuters in Seattle this time of year.  But as our days get longer, I’m sure I’ll be able to put it into practice soon.  And I’ve got new lights – I’ve upgraded the fleet to these Superflash variants (that’s the regular on my rain bike to the left, and the clear version on my Cassaroll).

How’d I choose these lights?  A couple of months ago I was riding up Pine.  A half-block ahead a guy pulled in front of me with the most blinding-ass light I’ve ever seen.  It’s not just the intensity of the flash, or the fact that it flashes to the back and partly to the side.  The pattern is also a kind of eye-catching staccato.  I caught up to him at the light and asked what kind of light he was sporting – “Superflash.”  Sold.

No complaints so far.  The lights seem to be waterproof, and the switch mechanism, while a little stiff, is easy to use even with gloves on.

Planet Bike 3034-1 Blinky Superflash .5 Watt LED with 2 Red LED Tail Lights (Black/Clear Case)