Sunday, January 29, 2006

Late January

I rode to choir rehearsal again, last Wednesday. I haven't been noting each time I do this and this was my third time this year. Geared up as I was for what is typically the coldest week of the year here, it was 30 degrees out and the challenge was to stay cool enough. Having bought 160-stud Nokian Mount and Ground studded tires in December, January is uncharacteristically warm and the streets were so snow-free that I could have ridden the smooth-tired Atlantis with no problem. And the tide has turned; as I set out there was still some glow in the sky in the west as we pick up a couple of minutes of sunlight a day. A week ago Wednesday we had 9 hrs 13 minutes of daylight; last Wednesday it was 9 hrs 27 mins; in a couple of days it'll be 9 hrs 43 mins. A half hour more daylight in two weeks. It feels good.

You still need lights, though. I see other cyclists out riding with proper lights and I see, sometimes, others riding showing no lights whatsoever. I think these latter people are foolish and may not realize quite how invisible they are to motorists. I've been showing 3 taillights (one on my helmet, one under my seat, one on my pannier) and two headlights (a Blackburn Quadrant, one which doesn't fall off, and an old Nice Light! which actually works pretty well considering it's just 4AAs.) I also have reflector tape on my rear fender.

I tried shearling mittens for the first time. My cycling buddy Paul in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who rides lots more than I do, said he's found that shearling works best of all. He said that he tried lobster mittens but they'd get soaked with sweat and get all clammy but shearling absorbed the sweat, stayed warm and dried out gracefully. I picked up a pair of Acorn Merino Shearling Mittens from Sierra Trading Post for $25 and used a free shipping coupon code (now expired) to keep the cost down. Although they're L/XL, they're a bit small for me (isn't everything?) but were very warm. Of course, 30F is hardly an acid test.

Paul, a retired engineer, has also been performing experiments. I have one of the legendary Jong-Won JSB-500 stainless steel vacuum insulated water bottles. It works great, keeping icy stuff really cold in the summer and coffee or whatever piping hot in the winter. The guy at Bicycle Coffee Systems loved these things. I'd given Paul one. In the autumn of 2004 he had came up and spent three weeks scraping and painting my house, I fed him pizza and beer and in my everlasting thanks gave him a stainless water bottle that cost me $10 on clearance from Things Remembered a couple of years before.

Paul writes:


I don't know why I'm spending time writing to you about this; I guess it's just your lucky day.

I was reading your blog and you mentioned your "excellent Jong Won JSB500 stainless steel thermal water bottle". When I rode to KC to pick up the truck, I took the JSB500 you gave me (thanks) along. The day I left it was cool and misting so I filled it with coffee. It kept the coffee warm for a few hours. I stopped mid morning and had some warm coffee. The next few days I would fill it with ice and Gatorade so that in the afternoon after my Camelbak was empty I would have something cold to drink. JSB500 worked well but for some reason I could not get the coffee taste to wash out of the bottle. And the cap on the JSB500 sucks; it leaks and seems to be the main heat loss point.

Well anyway I bought two other stainless steel thermal water bottles from They are: This one and this one.

These seem to be the same bottle with the second one just having an additional cap with a pull spout. Both bottles also have a nice push-open push-closed stopper and the cutest little drinking cup cap you've ever seen. Both hold 16 oz. They are a loose fit in a water bottle cage so you have to bend the cage in slightly to keep the bottle from rattling.

I tested the three bottles by pouring near-boiling water in each and periodically checking the water temp. The Campmor bottles performed about the same and held heat better than the JSB500. After a couple of hours, the difference was more than 20F. Again, the problem seemed to be with the JSB500's cap.

The first bottle from Campmor is only $10. The second one is $16 with the extra $6 getting you a pull to sip top. I sent back the 16 buck bottle because I can't see trying to sip hot coffee on a bicycle anyway.

So for 10 bucks the Campmor bottle seems like a pretty good bottle. They also sell a 24 oz version for $16, but it's dia is a bit too big for a water bottle cage. I suppose you could bend up an old cage and make it work.

Well that is all for today.



Paul being an engineer and all, I sent him a link to Despair, Inc.: Inspiration

I haven't bought the Campmor bottle yet because I don't want to pay shipping on a $10 item and am not sure I need anything else from them, plus I have two of the JSB-500s. I like these units but they have two weaknesses. First, the flip-up top has a little rubber nipple in the top of it to seal off the drinking spout. On two of my three tops (I bought a spare), this has fallen out, which allows road grit etc to fall into my beverage and my beverage to splash out onto my bike. Second, when you drink from it, there's a little rubber valve arrangement that allows air in to displace the liquid you're sucking out (it's steel, so you can't squeeze it, unless maybe you're on better 'roids than I am). This thing makes an amazingly annoying noise if, for instance, you ride to choir practice and get a latte on the way to enjoy whilst rehearsing, then start sucking on it while your wife the director tries to give the choir instructions. It turns out to be much more politic to pour your caffeinated beverage into a cup to drink from with just the usual slurping and lip-smacking.

I haven't really tried drinking coffee while riding, at least not more than once. The flip-up top seems break-prone in this kind of action and the excellent thermal performance of the JSB-500 ensured that when I tried it I scalded the shit out of my tongue.

In other intensely interesting news, I have been riding Power Grips straps on the Marin rather than my SPD pedals. This allows me to wear some big hiking shoes that easily fit two pairs of socks and keep my toes warm. I pinched the pedals and straps off my son's bike and the straps are a bit short, forcing my foot back a bit and ensuring that last Wednesday I managed to kick my pannier off the rack and into the street. I'll probably buy some new pedals and the XL straps for myself, give Henry back his pedals and fit mine for the shoes I wear for winter riding. In the meantime, I wish I could find a good system to better attach the pannier to the rack, something more positive like Ortlieb's or Carradice's clamps.

My bike lives in a detached garage and never thaws out. I also discovered last week that when I ride through lots of sloppy messy streets then park the bike in the warm church during choir rehearsal, it drops all the slop on the carpet. Fortunately, the bike did this in the side entrance elevator lobby rather than on the main new carpet, but last night and in future weeks I'm going to park it in the kitchen by the floor drain.

I was out this past Saturday and stopped in a couple of bike shops. Interesting items include a built-up 700C Nexus 8 speed wheel with a coaster brake at The Bicycle Chain, a bike shop quite close to me. I have a 68cm Schwinn World Sport I'd like to roadster-ize and have been thinking about the Nexus 8-speed internal hub as a possibility. I feel kind of bad for the store; somebody ordered this up, had them build the wheel then decided they didn't want it. Demand for Nexus wheels probably isn't huge, and here I am intrigued with the Nexus hub idea, but the one I'm interested in is the red-band SG-8R25 (1,550g) not the SG-8C20 (1,990g) with the coaster brake.

Over at the Hub Bike Coop they had a little display of Shimano dynamo hubs including both the $85 DH-3N70 and the new $99 DH-3D71 (but not the DH-3N71), which supposedly has 40% less rolling resistance than the DH-3N70 when the lights are off. This would be a great front hub for the World Sport Roadster though again I managed to resist temptation. The 3D71 they have is the Disk brake-compatible model, the 3N71 they don't have is the non-disk brake compatible. I think you could use the 3D71 on a non-disk brake bike, but you'd end up with a weirdly dished front wheel. I did buy a Topeak rear rack that was discounted because the bolts to attach it to the dropouts were missing. Sheesh, $8 off because $0.50 of bolts are missing? I'll take it!

I stopped in at the Express Bike Shop at Snelling and Marshall in Saint Paul. These guys sell used bikes and I have an interest in a big honkin' three-speed so I can ride in the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour. I despair of finding one, however, but wonder if a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub on the Schwinn World Sport would count? Did they have any S-A hubs? They did, a 1972 one for $6 but the rod and chain shifting mechanism seems to be missing. I looked around; they have a big-framed Maserati built out as a fixed-gear for $195 and, in a world where my 68cm Atlantis and Schwinn frames are as giants among men, they had a custom-built 69cm racing bike! Holy smokes! It was a Watson (?) custom frame and was fitted with running gear, though I didn't pay attention to that, as they also wanted $800 for this unit.

Meanwhile, as I dream of Nexus 8-speeds and 3-watt dynamos and sweat my way around on the Marin kicking my panniers off with my big feet the lengthening days and unseasonably warm weather bring forth thoughts of balmy days ahead. Probably we'll have some more cold weather, we're likely to get socked with some real snowfall before we're done, but things are on the upswing and the priceless sunny balmy days of spring and summer are coming.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sloppy Mess

I haven't ridden much the last couple of weeks; the work involved in doing the Lessons and Carols at church followed by out-of-town visitors to be collected, fed, and taken around, stole away my time. I do love Christmas and New Year's, but it's always a very busy time and the timing of Christmas this year made it busier than usual.

I began to feel a bit bloated and inactive, even though my weight hadn't moved by more than a couple of pounds. Then on the 29th my Uncle John died, my Dad's brother in England. By Saturday the funeral was scheduled for next Thursday and I considered going. Although this sounds a bit morbid, I had carefully hoarded 50,000 Northwest WorldPerks miles for just this eventuality and figured I might try to fly Tuesday to Tuesday. But, I'd have to have some year-end things ready at work before I went. So I rode to work, my last commute of the year.

By Saturday morning the wet 7" snowfall we'd had Thursday was mostly cleared from the roads and it was still pretty warm, right around 30 degrees. I got dressed and rode to work in the slop. I'm happy to say I wasn't the first to ride Lexington, that there were one and for a while two prior sets of bicycle tracks by 10:00AM, though I didn't see the cyclists. Work is 4.8 miles if I ride straight there, more like 5.0 miles if I stop at Caribou to get a fancy-ass coffee in my stainless steel thermal water bottle, like I did Saturday morning.

I'm still pretty new to the Nokian Mount and Ground 160s (see Peter White Cycles for a description of these studded tires) and so set gingerly off. Experienced winter bikers will not be surprised to find that what I ran into wasn't so much treacherous ice patches, not at these moderate temperatures, but rather a slimy salty sloppy mess in the bike lane. I plugged along with no traction issues, riding in the main traffic lane when there was nobody coming, slogging along in the slop when there was. After a mere 5 miles of this, I had nasty buildups of gunk under my downtube, on my derailleur and all over my waterbottle. Fortunately, this particular water bottle is meant to keep your beverage hot (or cold) and not so much to drink out of whilst riding, so I could take it inside and pour the contents out of the grime-covered bottle into my coffee mug.

A couple of hours wrapped up my end-of-month work, and I rode home, stopping in Arthur's Jewelers, looking like a robber with my balaclava on, to get a watch battery replaced, where a very fetching young lady did a great job of feigning interest in winter cycling, then home through the intersection where a pedestrian was killed the night before. They hadn't heard about it at Arthur's; I suppose another dead person is unremarkable when it's something so routine.

My bike gets parked in an unheated garage, so doesn't mess up the house, but my water bottle melted off into a messy puddle on top of the dishwasher. Looking at this mess, I thought that I need to get myself some really good chain lube! I think I also need to extend my fenders, fine for occasional rides in rain with fairly mildly treaded-tires but inadequate protection for riding in slop with aggressive debris-throwing knobbies.

With the work details nailed down, I called Northwest to see about travel. Normally, 50,000 miles is enough for a standard overseas travel reward; normally, January to the U.K. is a low-demand route, low enough that Northwest discontinued their direct Minneapolis to London flight for the winter. However, this isn't quite normal, I'd have to travel Monday or Tuesday to be there in time and these are intensely busy days, the end of holiday travel. Buying a ticket was expensive; even Icelandair through Reykjavik was running $2,200. There were a couple of weird routings down into the $1,700 range, Continental through Orlando or Houston, but that's a still a lot of money. By contrast, a flight three weeks from now is about $500. That's the difficulty of wanting to book on short notice in a blackout-date period. There is no such thing as a bereavement award and the minimum number of miles to book on short notice for flights this week was 100,000. I'm not entirely surprised they remained inflexible in considering 50,000 miles for me to fly; it looks like the actual Northwest routing through Detroit has nothing but Business and First class seats left, and perhaps they have no flexibility in dealing with partner awards through other cities.

And so Uncle John will be buried Thursday and I won't be there. We'd actually talked Christmas Day, when he'd called here to chat and also to talk to his brother, my Dad. John was nearly 86, a British Army veteran of North Africa, Italy and Greece, with seven children, my cousins, and 25 grandchildren. In the funny ways that a family can be buffeted by global affairs, he was all set to move to Persia in the 1950s to work for British Petroleum there when the CIA engineered a coup and installed the Shah of Iran (who would subsequently be overthrown in 1979 and replaced by the mullahs who currently run the country and who are pursuing nuclear technology but for its peaceful uses only, and not to wipe Israel off the map). He did work for BP, but spent his career in London rather than the Middle East. He married a doctor, my Auntie Gwen, and they have lived south of London ever since. It was their 50th anniversary in September 2001 that found us in Britain when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, our last time over. Gwen is still there, and my cousins, John was struggling with cancer, he would have been 86 in a couple of weeks, but it's still a surprise and shock when he actually died. May his soul rest in peace.