Monday, January 04, 2010

It's official:

Well, more than one thing is official.

The first thing is that the Vittoria Randonneur tires on the Swobo Baxter test mule are awesome. I played in the snow a few days after I took delivery of it, but today was the first true test of a commute on bad roads that had been preliminarily cleared a bit.

Saturday, I took the Baxter out to play in an abandoned parking lot, where snow was a good foot deep on average, and 18" in some spots. I thought it'd be cool to get some snowy action photos, but the Baxter would not move. I'll see if I can find some pics in the mess that show how bad it was. The tire would just spin.

I've had The Goat out in 8" deep snow before, and it worked alright, but I'm betting the really knobby tires and 1.95" width had something to do with it. Still, I don't know how well it would've fared in stuff twice as deep. If the tires sink to the ground (likely when it's powdery snow), the wheel is more than half buried, and one's feet will barely clear the snow AT THE TOP of the pedal stroke. That's when you probably would be better off on those 4-inch Surly Endomorphs.

So it's also official: This is the most snow I've ever seen come down without a melt cycle here in Kansas City, and I've lived here for 22 years and change now. The winter of '91-92 is the closest thing in memory, but I think this winter trumps even that one from nearly two decades past.

Lastly, it's official: It's freakin' COLD. 6*F this morning, but it dropped to -1 yesterday morning. I've ridden a short distance at -4F once, and the whole commute at 0F last winter. They're predicting -6 ambient later this week, and at least one local forecaster thinks that it could get into the double-digits below zero.

Therefore, this winter with its cold and snow reminds me of the good old days: growing up in rural Nebraska where 20-inch blizzards were not unheard-of and there were two snow plows for every 1,000 residents.

The morning commute
As I'd stated, the 28mm Vittoria Randonneur tires held up great this morning. On them, I encountered glare ice beneath packed snow, powder, slush, chemical-melted grime and all things in between. The ice required me to be seated in order to progress forward (it was also on an uphill) but the Randos held tough, much to my surprise. This winter does have me pondering the use of commercially available studded tires for my Mountain bike, but that will have to wait for a bit. Two fellow year-rounders I know of have made the jump to studs. I'm betting after FIVE crashes this winter, another friend of mine might be ready to do the same. Me? I'm doing alright with what I have, but this winter is one where I can see a real benefit to studded tires, unlike years past where it was mostly slush, and a really good melt-off happened every 2-3 days.

The brunt of the snow happened almost two weeks ago, Christmas eve into Christmas day. We were to pick up my grandmother in Overland Park, then drive to Stilwell on Christmas morning for breakfast and Christmas festivities. The roads were horrible. 119th Street had barely been cleared, my grandmother's parking lot was untouched, with an average snow depth of 18-24" everywhere, thanks to the wind and the layout of the buildings. It was one of the first times I've ever had a genuine need for full-on 4x4 mode in our Explorer. My brother-in-law's RWD-only Explorer had all kinds of problems. I ended up delivering Christmas presents to them through the un-plowed streets of Olathe, KS.

Here are some of the simple things I did for Christmas this year.

In 1993 or so, I kind of home-schooled for a year. I say kind-of, because I had most of the facts and skills expected of kids older than me, so the reality is, I took a year off from school due to some medical things. I didn't do much traditional course work. I studied under my grandfather, who taught my vocational skills in hopes, I think, that I'd take over his business for him when I came of age. Unfortunately, he passed away before I could do that. That year, however, one of the things we worked on together was this ArcherKit thermometer thing that he'd packratted away in 1977, two whole years before I was even born. Some 16 years later, we worked on it, and got it almost fully functional, but then it got put away before we got to adjusting it and putting the finishing touches on. I found it recently, and finished this project that Grandpa and I had started 13 years ago, and gave it to my mother. Not only is it a RadioShack classic from a completely different era of do-it-yourselfers, but it's of immense sentimental value. I had no qualms leaving the $17.95 price tag sticker intact.

When I was learning to play bass guitar (okay, I'm probably still learning), Dad gave me his practice amplifier. He doesn't really have a practice amp anymore, and I thought I'd build one for him. This one is small enough to fit in a gig bag, and can run off a 9V battery or a power cord that I included. I soldered the circuit inside together myself, modifying some plans I saw online. It's all built into an old satellite speaker for a home theater system. It's not terribly loud, but it's a great little practice amp with a nice tone to it. I also added a headphone jack, which is nice for when you want to clearly hear what you're playing on an electric guitar without disturbing anyone else. Most of the parts for this were salvaged from piles of stuff I had laying around at home. Many of the components were removed from old, broken gadgets and soldered into place.

The device I tried to build for my sister didn't go too well, so I ended up buying a kit that you solder together yourself at the last minute. I decided that instead of soldering it together quickly (I could have pulled it off in about 3 minutes), that I'd give it to my sister in its original packaging, and teach her how to solder. She did great, and now she knows how to solder things.

I also got some cool stuff for Christmas as well, but none of it compares to the real meaning of Christmas, not to mention the gift of seeing my family smile.


John in Calgary said...

Happy New Year Noah.

I am impressed with the level of winter you are willing to take on with a bicycle. I find that anything more than 3 to 4 inches of fresh snow is a real slog. I usually give it a day and let the snow shovelling/plowing clear the way before getting back on my bike.

My winter bike has two studded tires. I use to ride without studs but then we had one winter start with a horendously cold storm right on the heels of an exceptionally warm day. The snow melted on contact with the warm road and then froze. We had 2 inches of solid ice to deal with. It was not only impossible to negotiate with regular tires but the cold weather would not break. We were still dealing with ice 6 weeks later. That's when I got a front studded tire. Loved it...until I hit a rut and the back end swung out on me. The front tire stayed planted but I ended up facing 180 degrees the other way. That was enough of a wake up call to get the rear tire studded too. Now, ice doesn't scare me anymore.

As for temperature, I find anything colder than -20F a bit intimidating. Up here the sun doesn't rise until after 8:30 am so the combination of darkness and blistering cold produces an unsettled feeling that no one and no machine at risk of break down should be out in this kind of weather. It's actually easy to stay warm in -20 to -40F but it is hard to release heat when you are so thoroughly bundled up.

Anyway, good luck with your January commutes.

Anonymous said...

You have a sister? Man, I've been reading this blog for over a year and didn't realize that! (And she's cute! :)


Noah said...

Hah. You can't even see what she actually looks like in that picture. Admit it. You just dig chicks that grok electronics.

I've mentioned her in passing a few times in 2009, and occasionally in earlier years as well.

Scott Redd said...

We've gotten dumped on here in Omaha, too. I don't know the numbers, but it's a lot. Many Omaha cyclists are sticking to their commutes, both with studded tires, and without. This is my second winter with studs, and I highly recommend them. They really do work. If you have the leisure of two bikes, you can leave studs mounted on one bike, and regular tires on the other. Except for about one week between snowfalls, I've had to ride the studded tires, as there are still many side streets and trails that haven't been completely cleared.

Last year I used Innova studded tires and wore the studs down to the rubber. This year I am using Nokian tires with carbide steel studs, and the bike shop tells me I will wear the rubber out before the studs wear down.

Way to keep riding, Noah. Keep it up.

MechanicMatt said...

Love the do it yourself Christmas presents. I wanted to make pocket amps for my brother, girlfriend, and her brother. My nieces always get something that has to be built, painted, or glued. Soo far no complaints from them at all.

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