Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I'm still biking and bussing all over town. As of noon today, I punched out of the office for the rest of the decade. I head back to work on January 4th, so I've got a much-needed 10-day weekend. I've been a little scarce because I've been slammed at work, and on the home front I've been busy building Christmas presents and working on my not-so-bikey hobbies. In the coming days, I'll show you the things I made. They're all geeky, and not terribly impressive. We're going small this Christmas.

On the way home from the bus stop this afternoon, all my clothes froze. It was 28*F and raining with a headwind gusting to 20 MPH. I had a shell of ice on my shoes and helmet, and frozen beads of rain stuck to my jacket, gloves and pants. Fortunately, the ground was warm enough to keep the pavement from freezing. I got the old "You aren't actually going to ride your bike in this, are you?" as I left the office. I responded with my typical "You aren't actually going to DRIVE in this, are you?" remark. Honestly, today is as bad as it gets, save for had the pavement been frozen. And it really isn't that bad if you're used to outdoor winter sports.

Anyhow, we're hunkered down, enduring a record-breaking Christmas snow storm, drinking hot cocoa by the fire with our kitties. It's been a rough year, but a good one in many ways.

Merry Christmas, all, and keep the shiny side up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The strangest display of human powered transportation you'll see this week

Pizza delivery by skateboard, at about 11:30 AM, right down the middle of Main Street.


It's officially dark when I get to the office, and getting dark by the time I get home in the evening.

I spotted Gray again this morning a little after 5:30, hammering away. I continue to see bicycles on suburban buses downtown, cyclists here and there, and bikes locked up to things. Two winters ago, it was rare to see another bike anywhere once it got below freezing.

There's also a pretty hardcore BMW Motorcycle rider in my building, who pulled in about the same time I did. His is the only motorcycle I see in the designated parking area next to the bike rack at work this time of year. I'm not certain, but I'd bet it's a lot harder to stay warm on a motorcycle than a bicycle, given the higher speeds and relative lethargy. Kudos to that guy, too!

Random Tunage:
Nine Inch Nails - Only
Orgy - Fiction (Dreams In Digital)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mmmmm Tank 7.

More details on KC Beer Blog. I SO, SO love Gomers in Lenexa. I don't even need to ride on a real street to get there. It's all parking lots between home and Gomers. The Baxter is the perfect machine for beer runs.

Nippy Nine

9°F this morning. I can't express enough how much I love having a log of winter riding clothes.

Some time ago, it was 8°F and I had my clothing pretty much nailed. I did have a note to myself that my legs got a bit chilly with just long johns and cargo pants. I just added a layer to my legs and otherwise kept the same setup. It was a perfect, relaxing ride this morning. No sweating. No chills. Moderate effort, a reasonable pace, a warm core with a little breathe to the clothing to let just the right amount of cool air in and warm, humid air out.

This is one of those mornings where I can mark a "1 - Perfect" in my clothing log. This is one for the memory banks and should do great for the range of 5-10°F. The coldest I've ever ridden in and been able to say I had the "perfect" setup was at 19°F until this morning. I've got a lot of "2 - Good!" entries for much colder temperatures, but there's always something wrong. Feet too hot, ears too cold, eyelashes frozen together or stuff like that; where things were REALLY close, but could use a bit of improvement.

I always know I've got the perfect setup when I can actually feel a little bit of the biting cold come in -- not in one place, but diffused. If some air gets in through a zipper of a fairly loose jacket but passes through a few thin layers and distributes itself evenly, that's a good thing. All the good wicking wool and technical synthetic layers in the world won't help at all if there's not a little air flow to carry the moisture off. Soaked fabric can cause hypothermia, but I can say that wool shines here, and even soaking wet retains a lot more insulation than other fabrics.

Similarly, you don't want to allow the layers to get too cold. A cold core will start reducing circulation to the limbs. That's when frostbite or worse happens. So it's a fine balancing act, finding your groove in the cold.

At any rate, I hope those of you who are still out there in the are staying safe and comfortable, whether it's riding, skiing, snowboarding or jogging and whether you're getting around for work and errands or just getting some miles in.

Random Tunage:
Mittelstandskinder Ohne Strom - Live Tropical Fish
Chicane - Saltwater

Monday, December 14, 2009


Well, it started out that way: mid-40s upon departure. The forecast (which I'd dutifully checked last night like a good commuter) said that it would drop down to 18°F by the time I'd be getting out of work. I loaded a pannier up with extra warms for the ride home. I took the Baxter this morning and rode to the bus stop in my work clothes, leaving a bit early so that I could savor the relatively warm weather, and avoid sweating on the way to the bus. The Swobo Baxter BEGS to be ridden and enjoyed; It's hard to ride it without a goofy grin on your face. It certainly doesn't lend itself well to speed, but makes up for it with the fun factor.

At around 8:00 this morning, I was hunkered down over my computer monitor, chipping away at the epic pile of Monday workload. Prodigy - Breathe was setting the pace for my day, being pipelined into my skull through a hefty set of noise-cancelling DJ cans, like a rush of heroin coursing through an addicts veins directly to the deepest reaches of the brain. Tunage gets me through the day. It muffles out the din of gossiping peers, the shuffle and clatter of clumsy co-workers who insist on smacking and dragging their hands on my cubicle wall as they make their way to the coffee machine, the shitter or the copy room. Then I saw the blip. A tiny distraction on my screen. cDude alerted me to the fact that it was, in fact, 19°F already. In just two hours or so, temps had plunged nearly 25 degrees. It looked like this:

I'd dragged enough warmth downtown with me to sustain a 15°F commute home, again, including my work clothes as a functional part of the getup. After all, it's only a few miles when I bridge the trans-urban gap with mass transit. My mind went into graph extrapolation mode, and I had fears of getting out of the office to single digit temperatures. A few miles wouldn't kill me, but it would suck. Plus, I had to hit the post office on the way home.

Fortunately, the final temperature for the end of the work day was spot on. The graph above leveled out and stayed at 18°F most of the day. As I write this, though, the mercury is dropping further, and single-digits are likely for the morning.

At any rate, this is a reminder for you to make sure you look at the whole day's forecast. This time of year, it's not unheard of to have a colder evening commute than your morning commute was. This event was a close call that even has me thinking about leaving one extra layer of warm clothing at the office, just in case evening weather turns out to be more brutal than originally predicted. I already keep a full change of biz-casual at the office (just in case) as well as a towel (Ford Prefect would be proud!) but maybe a set of sweats and a pair of wooly socks left in the filing cabinet drawer or something would be wise.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tricks Of The Trade: Warmness

Elizabeth and I have been cranking out some tips for winter commuting over at

Toes Froze?

Cold Hands?

Snow Biking: Is that even safe?!

Protection from the elements

On keeping a cold-weather clothing log

I tend to put most of my helpful hints over there these days. My guess is you'll start seeing a lot more cold-weather tips.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Swobo Baxter: Day Two

Bike + Bus today.

I could get used to these pizza-cutters. They stop really well, but it's not overbearing.

I had a little different route today, with plenty of loose snow that hadn't been messed with.

In loose snow, these Vittorias work quite well. Very well.

I really want to put a set of these tires on my Trek 1200. I checked (by putting the Baxter's front wheel on my road bike to see how the tire fits) and the 32mm's will fit just fine.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Swobo Baxter: Day One

See more photos of the build and more info on

I'd actually considered riding the Baxter all the way downtown this morning. At 3 degrees, it'd be the third coldest bike-only commute I've done, but I am dealing with these temperatures quite well. I have records of clothing that works in most conditions we get here in KC, so I nailed my clothing spot-on.

The only thing really stopping me was the fact that I hadn't ridden the bike in earnest. I just assembled it, adjusted fitment, and took a bunch of pictures. In hindsight, I'm very, very glad I didn't ride all the way to work on it this morning.

The 32mm Vittoria Randonneur tires surpassed my expectations of traction on the snow and slush, but the bike still got squirrely on me. It gives you a very upright seating position and coupled with the already raised center-of-gravity due to my backpack (versus panniers) it felt like any moment I was rolling on snow could mean a wipeout.

The bike itself feels a bit like a fast cruiser bike. The 8-speed alfine is very widely geared. First is good for climbing, but it's nowhere near as low as the lowest gears on my road bike or mountain bike (both with triple cranks). The highest gear (97 gear inches) is plenty higher than my mountain bike (84 gear inches), but doesn't hold a candle to my road bike's massive 52x12 top gear (114 gear inches). The Baxter should do about 29 MPH at 100 RPM cadence in its top gear, but given the wind resistance of sitting bolt upright, that seems terribly generous unless you have a great tailwind or a long downhill journey.

This evening, I rode the bike all the way home, and let's just say I won't be doing that again. While it rolls more efficiently than my wife's Townie, the experience was roughly similar. So far, this bike's strengths seem many (and I'll save my thoughts for my final review) but comfort for longer distances is not among them. Perhaps a rack and panniers would have made the experience a bit more pleasurable, but this evening had me thinking twice about my decision. All the extra weight in my backpack (layers I didn't need on the much warmer homeward commute) could have been a major culprit here. And the Baxter is sufficiently equipped with eyelets for a rear rack and a set of fenders.

I'll probably continue using the Baxter for bike/bus commuting, though. It is an absolute blast to ride, but I can't do the upright thing for 15 miles in one sitting.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Test Mule Zero

It's from Swobo, and it (for some reason or another) came in a box labeled "Novak." But it's not a Novak. It was also delivered by a hamfisted UPS guy who (as you can see) left it wrong-side up. Somewhere along the line, the box got clobbered, too. Totally lame.

I've never actually built a bike up before. I've taken them apart plenty, and fixed quite a few of them. I've just never taken delivery of a box and turned its contents into a ridable steed. It was pretty easy, though.

More pics tomorrow. I think you'll like it.

That's more like it.

40 MPH winds, -10°F wind chill. Ice, snow and slush everywhere.

Okay, I could have done without the wind, but it was a great morning for a ride.

I answer the question "Is that even safe?!" (as was asked by several cow-orkers) on

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yeah. About those games.

"The Games" as I so irreverently christened them last evening, ended up being a 100% chance of rain at 33°F. FML.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bad news, good news.

The bad news: Remember that I said The Goat needed quite a bit of work? Well, I got it working and have been riding it daily, but never really fixed all the things that need fixing. Friday, things got pretty bad, making the bike a complete pain to ride. It's about time for a major overhaul including a new rear rim/spokes (heck, new wheel?) two new tires, a full set of brake pads, a chain, cassette, and saddle. The chain, cassette and brakes have been replaced several times since I got this bike, but the other stuff has been the same since I bought it more than 3 years ago.

I think I've got it kludged well enough to last me a week or so.

The good news: The Goat doesn't need to last much longer, then I can fix it up over the next 2 months. On behalf of I'm reviewing a pair of slick bikes that should appeal to the urban commuter. The first one will show up this week sometime. I'll test it for about six weeks, send it back, and take on another foster bike for about a month. That should get me through until mid-February or so. Since they're factory demo units, I won't be keeping either of these bikes, and I won't be getting paid to write a review. I'm okay with that, though. I love bike stuff.

Also, my cold-weather ways are probably nothing new for you guys, but check out the post (and the great comments) on my latest article at Bike Commuters for a dose of cold-weather riding tips: You know it's winter when...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


One of several strip malls adjacent to my apartment has been mostly abandoned for the past two years. Eventually, there were no tenants left, however I'm guessing the last of them were forced to leave due to pending re-development. Over the course of the last week, I've watched as the area is reduced to a pile of rubble. You have probably noticed by now that I kind of have this thing about demolition scenes. As of last night, not a single wall stands. Here's hoping there's something interesting and useful being built, not just mid-rise offices or some warehouse.

This morning, I saw the city venting the fire hydrant pipes. jwz would call it a series of tubes.

Random Tunage:
Plumb - Cut
Cher & Peter Cetera - After All

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

30-degree swing

... or close to it. Yesterday, it was 20-something in the morning, 50-something in the afternoon. Mother Nature keeps pushing that "One Last Beautiful Afternoon For Riding" and today looks to be more of the same, but it was warmer this morning.

Last night: a quick stop by Electronics Supply Co. after work. Riding in shorts at the end of November in KC is not normal.

Also, I recently re-shot the front panel of my Sun Ultra 5 because I somehow lost the high resolution version. I think I like this one as a wallpaper better than the last one (highest resolution available).

Click for big.

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