Archive for the ‘Winter bike riding’ Category

A Cold Day in Massachusetts.   Leave a comment

Mount Greylock MA peak ride with Bicyle WorldAs most cyclists know, cycling gives us the opportunity to accomplish things that we might have thought we weren’t capable of doing, while at the same time opening up the risk of absolute and utter failure.  There are times when you’ll knock down a challenge with plenty of room to spare, and there are other times when you bonk 15 miles from the finish, and struggle to make it home.  As the old saying goes, “sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”

There’s a correlation here:  the greater the challenge and risk of failure, the greater feeling of accomplishment when you do succeed.

It was with this thought in mind that I decided to take on a late-season adventure of sorts.  With some time off before starting a new day job, I decided to take a day to scratch a particular ride off of my bucket list.  I decided to head up to Massachusetts and ride up Mount Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts.  The road to the summit is closed for the winter between November 1st and late May, so the October 28th ride would be close to the deadline.

Mount Greylock’s peak measures 3,491 feet, with the base elevation at approximately 1000 feet.  The route from the south climbs approximately 2500 feet in 10 miles (by way of local comparison, Bear Mountain is roughly 1000 feet of climbing in 5 miles).  The planned descent down the north side of the mountain is 2 miles shorter, but has an extra 300 feet of climbing available, so it’s significantly steeper.  The entire road was repaved a couple years ago, so the surface is in great shape, with the exception of the occasional rumble strips warning motorists of hiking trail crossings.

Having committed to the ride, I threw the opportunity out to a group of friends who I thought might want to join me on the trip.  I was rewarded with commitments from 3 other cyclists.  To protect their identities by using only their first names:

  • Mike:  A natural climber.  Weighs less than a decent-sized sandwich.
  • Rick:  The hard man.  Impervious to pain.  Our own Jens Voigt.
  • Eric:  Huge motor.  Willing to ride a road bike anywhere, anytime, for as long as it takes.
  • Me:  The guy with the bad ideas.  Ballast.

We loaded up the bikes and headed north.  The initial weather called for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s.

It’s a 2 ½ hour drive to Lanesboro, MA where we planned to start our ride, and the ride featured all of the typical low-brow, frat house banter that you’d expect between 4 guys stuck in a car for that long.  As we got closer, however, I began to take notice that the “hills” (not even “mountains” at this point) were significant.  We also began to notice that trees, flags, and anything not tied down was listing heavily toward the east as a seemingly constant 25mph wind blew past.  This was going to be serious.  The laughter started to take on a nervous quality.

We finally arrived at the foot of the Ashuwillticook River Trail (I shan’t attempt to spell that again) in Lanesborough, where we’d be concluding our ride.  The route we planned would be a clockwise loop, heading north and up and over Mount Greylock, down to North Adams, and then south back to Lanesborough through a combination of Route 8 and the Ash-etc. Trail.  As we headed out, we were greeted by a full-on headwind, AND a solid mile of climbing before turning north toward the mountain.  On the ½ mile descent down to Route 7, my wind speed was approximately 60mph, but my ground speed barely cleared 25mph.

After a brief flat cruise up Route 7, we turned onto the access road to Greylock, and the road immediately turned upward.  It’s 1 ½ miles until you officially reach the entrance to the park road, and within that short time, we had already climbed 500 feet.

At this point, I’ll stop using the pronoun “we” for a little while as our foursome immediately shattered into 4 individuals, each figuring out their own way to grind up the mountain.  The first 3 miles of the climb offers another 800 feet up to an elevation of 2400’.  It’s especially disheartening as the grade fluctuates between an “easy” 8%, up to sections that routinely hit 12-14%.  While these grades can routinely be found around some of the steeper hills in Westchester County, the knowledge that I had 8 miles until the summit…yes, 8 miles….made me question my own judgment for suggesting this adventure.

Nevertheless, I continued to move forward and upward and was rewarded with a unique feature of the southern approach to the summit:  a descent!  After a total of almost 5 miles of climbing, the road levels out for a couple miles, giving me new lease on life, and temporarily extinguishing the fires burning in my lungs and legs as I rolled along the ridge.

This temporary break was rewarded with the final summit push, a 3 mile section that averages 7%.  It was during this last section where the view really starts to pay off.   Despite the grey skies, the view into the surrounding valleys was spectacular.  The knowledge that I had only very recently been “way down there” was inspiring.  Take THAT, stupid mountain!

Arriving at last (and last) at the summit, and after a brief but mandatory group photo, we faced a new challenge in addition to the twisty descent:  the weather.  It was 10 degrees colder on the summit, and there was no protection from the wind.  By now, the skies had also taken on a darker grey; with clouds that looked like they were itching to start a bar fight.  We briefly debated heading back the way we came, but instead decided to continue down the northward descent.  The cold temperatures, clothing damp from the exertion of the climb, 25mph winds, plus the additional wind speed on the bike created a wind chill scientifically calculated to roughly 1000 degrees below zero.

The first two miles of the 10 mile descent into North Adams are fairly mellow, with mostly gentle curves, and moderate slopes.  Then it gets interesting.  The mountain road is well paved, but it’s steep, with multiple sections at 15% or higher.  It’s also pretty twisty, with a number of steep turns and switchbacks.  So while we could easily cruise up past 45mph on some of the open sections, it was necessary to cut that speed in half to get around many of the curves.  That, in and of itself, is no great feat, but dropping that much speed, while the road is still pointing STRAIGHT DOWN in order to make it through a leaf-strewn switchback is where the laws of physics take on a new urgency.  Throw in the aforementioned rumble strips at trail crossings, and suddenly it’s a video game, played in a freezer, and you’re on your last life with no more quarters in your pocket.

About halfway down, the typical smells of fallen leaves that you’d associate with fall in New England were augmented with a hint of burning rubber, as I began to smell Eric and Mike’s brake pads getting scorched from friction heading into turns ahead of me.  I also noticed that the clearance between my brake levers and handlebar was shrinking as my own pads slowly sacrificed themselves to the mountain at every switchback.

As we regrouped at a crossroads just outside the state park entrance, we were overcome with feelings of exhilaration and giddiness that can only occur after a continuous, adrenaline-fueled brush with disaster.  Of course, the actual banter couldn’t reflect these emotions:  “Wow, were those your brakes I smelled?”  “That was awesome.”  “I almost died.  Four times!”  “Whoa.”  “That was awesome.”  “Wow!”  “I’m cold.” “Holy —-!”  “I know, exactly!”

Finally, we reached town….or more accurately, we reached a place I’ll call “directly above town”.  Horizontally, town was merely feet away, yet we were still hundreds of vertical feet above the main drag.  We had about 2 city blocks to descend the height of a 30 story building.  After the previous 9 miles of descending, the plummet into town was icing on the cake.  As we buzzed past consecutive signs warning of a 19% grade followed by 17%, I pondered how it could be possible to pave streets that steep without all of the wet concrete flowing down to the bottom before it could solidify.

After surviving the harrowing final descent, we collected our wits and contemplated the 15 mile flat ride back to the car.  Rick, at this point, had turned a rather interesting shade of light blue as his body temperature hovered near the single digits.  We decided that we should seek heated shelter and possible nourishment before carrying on.

There was a small pub right at the foot of the descent.  Walking in, the waitress noticed that we were suffering from mild hypothermia, and mentioned that perhaps we would like to sit by the fireplace.  Clearly the bike gods were smiling on us at that point.  As we warmed up, we were entertained by the physical signs of a bodies returning to normal temperatures.  Rick’s attempt at opening up a packet of oyster crackers for his chowder was accompanied with an especially strong shiver, causing him to launch the crackers skyward as if celebrating the return of sensation to his extremities.  We enjoyed watching Mike try to sip his beer while simultaneously risking shattering his teeth due to uncontrollable convulsions blasting through his arms as he warmed up.  In an act of charity, I offered him a straw, and simultaneously considered the dubious choice I had made of ordering a cold beer in an attempt to warm up.

Eventually, with the help of food, drink, and fire, we set out for the final leg of our ride.  As we passed along the eastern flanks of Mount Greylock, we could see the dark and foreboding summit looming almost directly overhead.  The final 15 miles were almost completely flat, with the first half riding southward on Route 8, and picking up the very scenic and uncrowded bike trail in Adams for the remainder of the ride.  In due course, the mountain faded away behind us, and we arrived back at the car, ready to put on warm clothes, crank up the heater, and head home.

We came, we saw, we rode, we froze, we thawed, we conquered.

I’ll be the first to admit that this edition of the blog was written selfishly.  After a somewhat “epic” day, I wanted to try and capture the adventure while it was still fresh in my mind.  Thank you for allowing me this self-indulgence.

In the end, this is one of the best parts of being a cyclist.  Through my bike, I’ve made new friends with whom I now have shared adventures, great memories, and fantastic life experiences.  The best part is that I know that the next time I have a harebrained idea for a far-flung adventure involving bikes, I have a pool of compatriots who will jump at the chance to come along and keep me company.

Go out and have an adventure on your bike.

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Posted November 23, 2013 by bicycleworldny in Cycling in Winter, Winter bike riding

Winter Riding 101   Leave a comment

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Winter Riding 101

Happy New Year from Bicycle World.  So far we’ve had a relatively mild winter, but as we know there are no weather guarantees here in the Northeast, so in this edition we’ll talk about winter.  Believe it or not, you can actually ride year round in almost any weather, if you’re properly prepared for it.  More important, by riding in the winter, you’ll be ahead of the curve from a fitness perspective when spring arrives.

To many, the idea of training in the winter means tortuous hours stuck in a spare room grinding away on an indoor trainer.  While indoor trainers are effective, it can be mentally difficult to ride indoors where the view never changes.  On the other hand, indoor trainers are great for structured training, and you can get a very effective workout in a shorter amount of time if you plan your workouts properly.  Best of all, you’ll never have an interval interrupted by traffic or a red light when you’re on your trainer.  In addition to riding, winter is a great time to cross train.  Hiking, cross country skiing, shoe shoeing, and ice skating are all complimentary activities that can help keep you in good cycling shape over the winter.  Eric Heiden, the 5-time gold medalist for speed skating in the 1980 Winter Olympics used cycling to cross train for skating, and eventually went on to ride alongside Greg LeMond as a professional cyclist on team 7-Eleven in the 1986 Tour de France.

Still, when the weather cooperates, it can be both mentally and physically rewarding to get outside and ride.  Before you do, you need to make sure that you’ve got the right attitude, clothing, skills, and equipment.  Riding in winter is as much a mental challenge as a physical one, and once you’ve overcome the mental aspects, the rest is relatively easy.  Finally, keep in mind that everybody reacts to colder weather differently.  What works for one person might not work for somebody else, so be ready to adapt our recommendations to your own situation and tolerance for cold weather.

The first and most obvious obstacle is overcoming the cold and staying warm and dry on the bike.  More specifically, winter riding means controlling the relationship between the cold outside air and the heat you generate on the bike, while simultaneously staying dry.  Before we dig into specific clothing, it’s important to understand this relationship between temperature and moisture.  When you work hard, you generate heat.  In order to regulate temperature, your body produces sweat which will cool you as it evaporates.  If, however, you cool off before the sweat evaporates, you’ll be cool and wet, and the moisture will rob you of heat and you can become dangerously cold.  Understanding this relationship means that it pays to anticipate the road ahead and prepare for it.  Prior to going into a long climb where effort will peak and speed will drop, you are likely to get warm and sweaty, so before the climb begins, you need to have a way to ventilate the excess heat and moisture.  This can be as easy as unzipping your jersey or jacket.  Once you reach the top of the climb, you need to anticipate that an increase in speed and lower level of exertion will allow your body to cool off, so you need to be prepared to zip back up and trap the heat that you’ve generated.   If it’s wet outside, you have the added challenge of keeping the outside moisture from penetrating your clothing, while still venting heat and moisture from the inside.

Dressing for the cold takes a little extra effort, but isn’t that hard to do if you keep the heat and moisture management principles in mind.  Start with classic layering:  you’ll want outer layers that block the wind and rain, allowing you stay warm.  Next, insulating layers that trap warm air close to your body, should be used, and wicking materials in contact with your skin transport moisture away from your skin to keep you warm.  Finally the ability to adjust airflow across these layers is important.  The typical advice for winter riding is to start every ride feeling a little bit cold since riding will warm you up.

Some of the most versatile winter riding garments include arm warmers, leg/knee warmers, and vests.  Arm warmers can add an extra layer of insulation to your arms, but can easily be removed if you get too warm.  Knee and leg warmers can allow you to ride with your favorite shorts, but keep your legs protected.  Like arm warmers, they can be removed if you get too warm.  Vests do a great job of keeping your core warm by blocking wind and moisture.  In fact, one of the most versatile pieces of cycling apparel is a convertible jacket/vest that can be worn as a regular jacket, or as a vest with the arms removed.  Making an occasional extra stop to adjust these layers is worth the effort and will allow you to stay comfortable longer.  It takes some experimentation to find out what works for you.  A great piece of advice is to keep a log that records what the conditions were when you rode, what you wore, and how it performed.  In doing so, you can easily reference what works best for you under any weather conditions.

If you can’t invest in a full complement of winter riding gear all at once, you may have other options available to you.  Cold weather leggings for running or cross country skiing can be pressed into service on the bike, and work great.  Ski gloves, or even ergonomic work gloves, can be used to keep your hands warm if cycling-specific gloves aren’t an option.  If you don’t have winter shoe covers or riding boots, some strategically placed duct tape on the vents of your shoes, combined with some quality wool socks can keep your feet from freezing.  For insulating layers, practically any fleece or wool layers can keep you warm.  Finally, avoid cotton at all costs.  There’s a saying among backcountry enthusiasts that “cotton kills” because it is a poor insulator and retains water.  A cotton t-shirt will get wet quickly and stay wet for a long time without adding any insulation benefits.

Now that you’re dressed to ride, what can you expect on the roads?  When it’s cold off, there are fewer people out, so traffic tends to be lighter.  With no leaves on trees, you can see what’s coming around bends in the road.  At the same time, hazards like ice, darkness, and low sun angles need to be considered.  It’s a simple fact of physics that water freezes at 32 degrees.  If you find yourself out riding in sub-freezing temperatures, you need to be vigilant about the road ahead.  It’s better to slow down and proceed through potentially slippery areas carefully than to risk it and wipe out, even if it means getting off the bike to negotiate an icy area.  Even if it’s above freezing, you need to look for wet areas where ice may not have fully melted, or shady areas where ice is protected from the sun.  Just because it’s 40 degrees out doesn’t mean that the ground has warmed up to the ambient temperature, and ice may be present.

In winter, days are shorter, and the likelihood of getting caught out after dark increases.  With this in mind, it’s important to have access to lighting, especially if you’re planning a late afternoon ride.  Finally, glare from the sun can actually be more hazardous in winter than summer.  Since the sun angle is lower in the sky, the sun is more likely to be in your eyes at some point, even in the middle of the day.  Trees that have lost their leaves block less of the sun, and if there’s snow on the ground, it can further increase glare.  With all this in mind, it’s not only important for a rider to wear appropriate eye protection, but also to be aware that drivers are more likely to have the sun in their eyes, and not see a cyclist.  As a general rule of thumb, if you’re riding into the sun (eastward in the morning, westward in the afternoon) the same sun glare that’s interfering with your vision will also be hindering the vision of drivers.  If you add in the increase of road grime that’s likely to accumulate on car windshields further increasing glare, selecting routes that minimize oncoming sun glare into consideration is a good idea.

If you dress appropriately and are prepared for potential obstacles, riding in the winter can be a great way to get outdoors, get some exercise, and have fun.  It would be a pity, then, to have your bike break down and prevent you from riding.  The good news is that bikes are durable, and aren’t affected by temperature or moisture.  The winter, however, means salt on the roads.  Road salt loves to eat metal, and splashing through a salty puddle is a great way to get salt into the metal parts of your bike.  Even on dry days, fine salt dust can work its way into your chain and other components and quickly turn them into a rusty mess.  If you’re going to ride in the winter, it’s a good idea to allocate a little extra time after every ride to rinse your bike off and perform some basic maintenance.  If you can get any salt residue off your bike before you store it and lubricate moving parts, you’ll save yourself a headache later.

With this year’s mild winter, there have been plenty of opportunities to get out and ride.  Even if that trend doesn’t continue, by planning accordingly, you can still get out and enjoy your bike the on the next sunny winter day that comes along.

Before I wind up this edition of the blog, I wanted to mention that Bicycle World will be hosting bike maintenance and repair classes on Saturday January 26th and Saturday February 23rd.  Both classes are free, and you’ll learn the basics involved in keeping your bike on the road.  Call the shop at 914-666-4044 to reserve your spot.  While you’re there, you can check out the newly renovated shop area.

Until next time, thanks for reading the Bicycle World Blog.  Feel free to throw us your questions and comments, and we’ll include them in future postings.  Finally, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to the blog for updates, and visit our website (www.bicycleworldny.com) for updates on what’s happening.

Happy winter riding!