Three Speed October Challenge: Week Two

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In this second week of the Three Speed October Challenge I completed the minimum criteria of three rides of at least three miles. A pair of autumn snowstorms and other logistical problems limited the number of three speed rides and frustratingly prevented me from bringing my third bike into play again. Next week. . .

Day One: Sunday

The snowfall that began on Saturday continued through the night and into Sunday morning. I lingered about the house once again before heading outside. I wheeled my trusty grocery-getting Raleigh 20 Three-speed out of the garage and through the garden, ducking under branches sagging under the weight of the heavy, wet snow.

This ride turned out NOT to be qualifying ride as it was less than the required distance but I include it anyway in the interest of promoting the practicality of three-speeds.

I’d like to claim that the riding conditions were like this:

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. . .but that was just a gust of wind blowing snow off the trees. It was actually fairly pleasant out and looked more like this:

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The snow was already starting to melt on the streets so the trip to the grocery store was a sloppy, slushy ride but the fenders did their job. Once I was finished shopping I loaded up the R20 with the goods. The small wheels and low center of gravity makes this bike practical little cargo carrier. That old two-stay pletscher rack has been often loaded up with far heavier loads than I suspect it was ever meant for – in this case 40 pounds of kitty litter plus two panniers of food.

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Later in the day, I brought out the Raleigh Superbe for a qualifying ride of about 16km, heading down to Whyte Ave for a burger, beer and socializing at the Next Act Pub. By that time, the roads were clear of snow and the temperature had risen to merely bracing. I traveled by way of the Legislature grounds and across the high level bridge. While on the High Level I stopped to take a pic of the new bridge being constructed to replace to old Walterdale Bridge. It’s well behind schedule, but is going to be quite impressive when finally finished – in the pic one can see both the smaller old green bridge and the swooping arches of the new one.

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Day Two – Monday

Monday was Thanksgiving, and my only ride was to pop out on the R20 to The Italian Center Shop to pick up some feast ingredients. This locally owned neighbourhood grocery store has everyday staples as well as lots of interesting imports and is one of my regular stops. It also has a nifty mosaic outside. This trip is usually about a three mile ride exactly, but in this case I forgot my lock and had to double back for it putting it easily over the qualifying distance.

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Day Three – Tuesday

This day’s ride was another 20km round-trip commute on the Superbe. At -6°C it was another brisk morning, but beautiful under a wonderfully illuminated mackerel sky. Much of the snow had melted the previous day and now the resulting roadside puddles were frozen over with a thick layer of ice. The asphalt roads and paths, however, were dry and offered good traction. I was already close to being late for work but I stopped to make my annual frost angel.

And that was all the three speed rides I manged for the week. On Wednesday and Thursday I rode speedier bikes because I was on a tighter schedule. On Friday I rode my winter bike as another snowstorm rolled in, dumping a much greater amount snow, causing traffic havoc as cars slid and spun out on the slushy, icy roads. I chose my route carefully and avoided interacting with the city-wide bumper car madness.

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A spot of brightness.

BONUS THREE SPEED CONTENT!

On Saturday evening, I rode the winter bike to Bikeworks for a bit of after hours bike repair and socializing. While I was there I spotted this gem of a wheel that somebody had donated:

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Sturmey Three Speed Hub with Drum Brake

It didn’t take long for me to convince myself to buy the wheel to use for a future project. I’m thinking I’ll use it to build another winter bike. When temperatures drop below -20°C an old three speed hub keeps working perfectly while freewheels and freehubs sometimes freeze up. And of course, the enclosed drum brake is perfect for nasty winter riding conditions.

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’m the sort person that sometimes rides around with my commuting bike in much worse operating condition than I would recommend to anybody I was helping at Bikeworks to maintain their own machine. Maybe once a person has a certain familiarity with bike maintenance they know how to push components just to the edge of failure before replacing them. Or maybe my DNA would be a perfect source for scientists to finally identify the elusive procrastination gene. Either way, I have recently had a close call with a Just Riding Along sort of catastrophic bike failure. As in “Gosh, I don’t know what happened! I was just riding along when for no reason at all my rear wheel disintegrated into a twisted mass of spokes and rim fragments”.

A few weeks ago I had my winter bike in the stand for a little cleaning and lubrication, when I noticed that the rear wheel seemed to have a hairline crack running along a lengthy portion of the rim. If I noticed that with the bike of a patron at Bikeworks I would recommend that they replace the wheel at once, before riding it any further. In fact, I would be quite insistent. Of course, I did no such thing myself. Instead, I rode my bike to and from work over bumpy, rutted, icy winter roads while slowly getting around to building a new wheel (all the while conspicuously not keeping a close eye on how my old wheel was holding up).

When I finally completed and installed the new wheel, I took a close look at the now shudder-worthy failing wheel. There is a very good chance that even one more trip with the old wheel would have resulted in an “exciting” mechanical failure.

Some of it looked like this. . .

Some of it looked like this. . .

 

Cracked rim

And some of it looked like this.

 

So, don’t do that folks – it’s just stupid. Please replace your wheel promptly. Luckily, my story ended happily, with no accident, and a spiffy new rear wheel installed.

Replacement wheel contructed from ALL used components, built around a nice older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

Replacement wheel constructed from all used components, built around a nice, older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

 

A Fond Farewell to the Deep Cold

Yep. It's dang cold out there.

Cold enough to give an icicle frost-bite.

It’s spring! It’s spring! It’s spring! Tra-la-la-la-la!

Yes, spring temperatures have finally arrived in Edmonton after almost two weeks of January type weather stretching through the end of February and the beginning of March. I’m talking about lows of -29°C with a dollop of windchill on top, as Old Man Winter’s way of saying he’s not about to shuffle off quietly.

I have to admit to feeling somewhat trapped and claustrophobic going into  the last week of February with the weather forecast showing an unremitting deep freeze. Getting through the final freeze of the season is like slowly pedaling up a steep hill, while pulling a trailer filled with bricks, on a bike with under-inflated tires and with the brake pads rubbing on the rim. It takes me three times longer to layer up and get out the door. Furthermore, the commute is a slower one with added effort of moving my heaviest boots in circles, as well as the drag caused by the grease freezing in bike components. 

However, with a few years of Edmonton winter bike commuting under my belt, cycling through the deep cold has become just another routine. Properly prepared the riding can be comfortable and rewarding. 

In very cold weather, all the city buildings are sending out great plumes of condensing water vapour, as the moisture laden exhaust air from the hard-working heating systems mingles with the icy, bone dry air outside. The city looks like it’s on fire.

It doesn’t often snow when it’s very cold. There was a lot of brilliantly blue sky to be enjoyed. When it did snow, it was flurries of beautiful dry powder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA real visual treat that you can sometimes spot during the deep cold are halos around the sun. These are caused as sunlight is reflected and refracted in tiny hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the air. On  one of my morning rides there was a faint haze of diamond dust crystals like a low-lying fog over the city. With the sun just over the horizon, a partial halo appeared in the form of two red and blue pillars flanking the sun. As I rode through Mill Creek ravine, an arc of halo seemed to spring directly up from the trees on the other side of the creek. It was like seeing the end of the rainbow. When I climbed back up to street level, depending on the conditions of light and shadow, the halo fragments sometimes seemed to be just a few feet away, but at other times to be as distant as the sun. Simply magical. Inevitably, my camera does not do it justice.

Ice Halo

Ice Halo

The coldest weather is hopefully now behind us, I’m looking forward to melting snow, bare asphalt and eventually speedy road bikes. With luck, I’ve donned my winter space suit for the last time this winter.

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Windchill & The Winter Cyclist

With the polar vortex instability this winter and the unusually cold weather our southern American neighbours have been experiencing, it’s not surprising that there has been a lot of chatter about windchill. A fellow Edmonton winter cyclist recently referred me to an article from Scientific American on the subject. The article contains some interesting facts about our bodies and how we perceive temperatures but incredibly seems to come to the conclusion that windchill isn’t real or useful value. I was pretty surprised to find this coming from Scientific American.

Windchill temperatures are an important consideration in a frozen country where your morning bike commute might be at -30°C with a brisk northerly wind. The sad truth is you can’t escape the first law of thermodynamics. It’s all about heat transfer. It can be a complicated subject but I’m going to address some of the basic facts.

Our bodies cannot measure temperature. You can’t stick your hand out the window and determine that it’s -28.5°C. It’s kind of similar to the fact that most of us mortals are not able to hear a musical note and determine that it’s A above middle C. With temperatures this means that we can only sense difference between the ambient temperature and the current temperature of the body part we’re exposing to the air (please be judicious in choosing the body part you expose). It’s like hearing two musical notes and being able to know the interval without knowing what the frequency of the notes are.

What our bodies actually sense is heat transfer: heat loss or heat gain. Mostly heat loss, actually. At about 37°C our body is almost always hotter than the surrounding air. Our chemical engine of a body is constantly producing heat that we need to get rid of.  If you ever find yourself in a situation where your body is actually GAINING heat  then you are in serious trouble – heat stroke is a life threatening emergency. On a hot summer day we are only able to slowly shed our excess heat and so we feel hot, on a cold winter day we are more rapidly losing heat and so we feel cold.

This is important when it comes to wind chill. Our sense of temperature is based on how fast we are losing body heat. On a windy day we lose heat faster, and feel colder.

This is why windchill calculations are used. For example, it might tell us that although the air temperature is -20°C, the wind will make us lose body heat at the same rate as if it were -30°C. This is a valid and useful piece of information for people who venture beyond the realms of house and car. The devil is in the details here, however, and determining that heat transfer equivalence  isn’t trivial. Most of the useful information in the Scientific American article speaks to this point.

The Scientific American article asks us to consider the dashboard thermometer of a car. Does it measure a different exterior air temperature when you drive faster? No, of course not, and so the the author dismisses the relevance of windchill. However, giving some consideration to the basic physics of windchill reveals this thought experiment to be flawed. True, the actual temperature of the air does not change as you vary the speed of your vehicle, but the rate at which your vehicle is losing heat IS changing with the airspeed. The vehicle is experiencing a windchill factor and the driver will have to crank up the heat in order to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the car. My house experiences windchill in this fashion – on a cold, windy night I turn up the thermostat, burn more gas and have a higher monthly bill as a result. One could imagine a specific windchill calculation for buildings. The heating engineers certainly already have one.

An unheated inanimate object will experience wind chill until it cools to the same temperature as the surrounding air. A cup of coffee left outside will cool quicker in the wind  than if there was no wind. The coffee will continue cooling until it’s the same temperature as the surrounding air and after that it doesn’t matter how hard the wind blows – the coffee is already at equilibrium. But until that point, you could do a wind chill calculation for the coffee cup.  If your human body reaches the same temperature as the surrounding air when it’s -20°C outside then it also cannot be affected by windchill – besides which, you’d be dead.

Considered from a cycling point of view it then becomes crucial to consider the wind direction when interpreting windchill temperatures. Suppose, Environment Canada tells me that it’s -20°C outside with a windchill of -30 and the wind is coming from the north a 18 kph. Lets consider three basic scenarios that might then happen during my morning commute.

First, if I pedal south at 18 kph then I am travelling at the same speed and direction as the wind and so I experience no windchill. I will only lose heat at a rate for the actual temperature of -20°C.

Second, if a red light causes me to sit unmoving on my bike at an intersection, then I am losing heat at the same rate as on a -30°C calm day.

Thirdly, if I suddenly remember that I forgot my lunch and then turn around head back north INTO the wind then I increase my windchill above the one in the forecast and I lose heat at even faster rate  – and I freeze my stem off if I’m not properly dressed.

I actually consider these factors when I leave the house to go to work each winter day and I use the information to choose my clothing.

 This is why the windchill temperatures are indeed relevant and useful information, and not a figment of a meteorologists imagination. It can be vital to know when you are moving around in dangerous temperatures.

You can read the Scientific American article that put the bee in my bonnet here:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-is-wind-chill-real/

Coyotes & Songbirds

Winter Morning Ride

Winter bike commuting can be a very fine thing. If you were to head down to Mill Creek and conceal yourself in a snowdrift, and patiently wait, peaking out with a periscope, you just might spot me happily cycling past while whistling a jaunty tune or singing a song. On the other hand, you might not want to do that as the warble of this winter cyclist is often off-key. Despite the pleasures of commuting, it’s nice to actually get out for a purely recreational ride sometimes. On Saturday morning I finally managed to do this for this for the first time in a month.

The weather forecast had showed that Saturday was likely going to be the last of day of our two week long unseasonable thaw. We’ve had temperatures as high as +8°C when the normal temperature range for this time of year is between -18°C and -8°C. Knowing this gave me the necessary motivation to set my alarm for early Saturday morning. More importantly, it gave me the motivation to not press the snooze button a dozen times, ultimately ignoring the alarm, sleeping in and then annoying everyone around me by bemoaning the missed cycling opportunity. Shortly before dawn, I was out on the ravine bike and happily zooming down Kinnaird Ravine.

The thaw-freeze cycle has added a slick, icy crust to the boot-tromped, hard-packed snow on the trail. It’s probably treacherous to walk on, but it didn’t bother me much as I did my very best to let the studded tires do all the work. I did travel a bit slower than I normally would. I headed along the north side of the river towards the Capilano pedestrian bridge.

Winter Morning Ride

As I approached the bridge, I could hear some coyotes yipping somewhere ahead. Peering down the river, I thought I could see some shapes moving about on the ice. I rushed onward to get a better view. From the bridge I could see two coyotes scampering around on the river, chasing each other playfully. This was the high point of the ride, and I stopped to watch for a good 15 minutes, breaking out the thermos of tea as well. I tried to take a picture of the animals, but they were a fair distance away, and my rugged little point-and-shoot camera has wretched zoom ability.

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs.  National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs. National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

On the South side of the bridge, I headed back upstream and into some trails with a bit more climbing. There were a few comic moments along this segment. At a couple of spots I spun out and stalled out on a steep, icy climb and had to put my feet down…but it was too icy to walk or even stand easily. In the past I have been reduced to crawling to the side of the trail dragging my bike along. Today I was close enough to the crests to stand and lock the breaks, then use the bike as an anchor, shuffle ahead a few inches, then gingerly slide the bike ahead and repeat the process. Sheer cycling elegance, that’s my style.

Winter Morning Ride

Morning Winter Ride

Down in the riverside trails there was plenty of evidence of our recent unusually windy day. I will forgo my usual sneering at what Edmontonians think qualifies as a windstorm, and admit that it actually was pretty gusty that day.

Winter Morning Ride

Hmmm...should I bunny hop this obsatcle, shoulder my bike cyclocross style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

Hmmm…should I bunny hop this obstacle, shoulder my bike cyclocross-style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

As I was rolling along the path below the golf course, I startled a flock of little songbirds that flew up into the branches of a decrepit old tree and then started crying out a storm of protest at my intrusion. Suddenly suffering from an attack of a sort of digitally induced neo-pavlovian conditioning, I emulated a certain Langholm blogger and got out my camera and attempted to take a photo of the little birds. It turns out that this was actually really difficult to accomplish; the little creatures were in constant motion and my camera is at its worst in low light conditions. Once they decided I wasn’t some sort of bird-eating Sasquatch, they returned to feasting on the frost-wizened berries on the little stand of rowan trees. I found their choice of food to be a dubious one. The local rowan, or American mountain ash is, I think, the same species of tree that we call dogberry back on the east coast. Folks back there make a country wine using these berries. I’ve never yet had a drink of the stuff that I would describe as pleasant, though it certainly “does the job”.

Winter Morning RideAfter this, little of note happened during the ride (other than, ya know, exuberant enjoyment of the beautiful river valley trails and warm weather). I eventually headed back up out of the valley to city street level and headed off to Bikeworks to squeeze in some time at the shop before my family was up and about. The streets were a swampy slurry of water and slush covering lunar ridges of ice. Perfect conditions for creating roadway chaos when the temperature drops.

Winter Morning Ride

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from  +6°C to -16°C.

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from +6°C to -16°C.

Clinton’s Winter Cycling Lexicon

Local winter cycling veteran and fellow Bikeworks volunteer Robert Clinton has written a detailed lexicon naming the various snows and ices that winter cyclists encounter in Edmonton. There is also a heaping helping of winter cycling philosophy and  tips on dealing with these assorted conditions described. I’ve added this document to a new winter cycling tab at the top of my blog and I hope to add some photos of the various snows and ices at some point. Check it out if you ride in winter conditions, are thinking of doing so, or are just morbidly curious about the mindset that produces a winter cyclist. It’s a detailed treatise, so get a hot beverage before you settle down to read.