Monday, October 30, 2006

While I was sleeping

Michael Penn, a photographer at the Juneau Empire, took this photo last night at about 12:30 a.m. At that time, I was just about to doze off in an effort to go to bed at a decent hour so I could get up early and take this picture:

Not to disparage the Blackerby Ridge or its fresh coat of velvety snow, but I'm feeling a little cheated. The northern lights only come to Juneau on a clear night once every 487.3 years or so, and I missed them. Missed them so I could wake up marginally early, hike up the geological Stairmaster known as Blackerby Ridge, stair-step my way down, go to work and wait for the end of Daylight Savings Time to kick the sunset up to 4:15 p.m.

I did have a good morning, though, all said and done. The upper portions of Blackerby Ridge are covered in nearly a foot of new snow, deep and heavy atop ice-caked mud and partially frozen streams. I dressed well for the sub-freezing temps but not for the slippery conditions. I spent the last half of the morning wet from the knees and elbows down.

The biking season here is definitely in transition. Geoff and I headed out yesterday morning and didn't make it more than a half mile from the house before we both crashed down on a steep stretch of black ice. It must have been a funny sight to see. I hit the downhill slope and my front wheel slipped almost immediately. I dipped into what I feel was an unusually graceful fall - hanging at a 45-degree angle for several fractions of a second, I tucked slowly into the skid, landing square on my left hip, where I and my bike continued to slide down the road for about 20 feet. Geoff tried to swerve around me and down he went as well, also taking a fairly minor fall - although from his road rash I can tell he wasn't as lucky to land on top of the ice. We decided to turn around right there. I walked the whole way home to put off dealing with major chain suck. I really am going to put my studded tires on my mountain bike now ('tis time). I'm also going to start building up my snow bike.

The beginnings of it came in the mail earlier this week. Right now it's nothing more than a Raleigh frame and 2"-wide snowcat rims. (I love these things. The rim tape doesn't even cover half of the rim's surface.) I have to start buying parts. I still have some decisions to make. Like V-brakes versus disc brakes. How to set up the drive train. I've wrestled with everything from single speed to single-ring crank to triple ring. I think I may just go with the triple ring. Although I like the simplicity of a single speed, I'm more drawn to the versatility of a 27-speed. Weight is truly not an issue with this bike. And although it's nice to have less moving parts that may seize up in the cold, I really believe I'll need the low gearing for new snow or bogged-down slushy conditions. After all, my goal in building up this bike as opposed to just riding Sugar all winter long is to do less walking.

Anyway, if any out there has experience with snow or wide-rimmed bicycles (or just bicycle building in general) and has some good advice for me, don't hesitate to tell me why I'm an idiot. Does anyone know if there's such a thing as gear grease formulated for lower temperatures? Anyone have any bicycle parts lying around that they're looking to get rid of? Your comments are always appreciated.


  1. you might try a white lithium grease. that typically has a wide temperature range....

    peace out, yo!

  2. Some riders use lighter, thinner grease for extreme cold. In Juneau, you'll probably be fine with standard grease.

    I definitely recommend going with disc brakes, which are far more effective in winter, especially when you ride through water. Once ice and/or wet snow builds up on your rims, V-brakes are ineffective. You won't regret using discs.

    Most folks around here use Avid's mechanical disc brakes. They're easy to maintain and you don't have to worry about hydraulics.

  3. i agree with tim on the disc brakes. i have bb7s on my specialized and bb5s on my surly 1x1... never a problem in the cold and wet! put on the studs and you're good to go! :)

    peace out, yo!

  4. Jill...I just went through all these decisions for my Pugsley build. I chose the mechanical Avid BB7 discs over V-brakes. For cold weather it has full housings the entire distance of the cable so that water doesn't get in the housings and freeze up your cables when you are in freezing rain type conditions. The other component I went with, that I'm really happy about, is Paul Component Thumbies. It turns Shimano Barcon (bar end) shifters into bar thumb shifters. The barcon shifters have very few moving parts to break in the cold, unlike many high cost shifters out there today, and will last you a loooong time. I went with a 8 speed/triple chain ring set-up. The 7/8 speed chains are a little heavier duty then a 9 speed chain. Less chance of breaking. Have fun building your new ride!

  5. Jill

    Should I be building one too -- a snow bike -- so we can ride the Bering strait together. I hear it's only sixty miles.

    I am mostly kidding.

    I saw the northern lights in Eastern Washinton as a grad student on the road to California one night. But they never looked like that.

    About the grease. When I first had my Saab the mechanic put "gear" grease in the transmission. 90 weight oil. The Saab I had has a drive chain -- so we all laughed -- because it takes thirty weight. It's all oil.

    Make sure it spins at the temp you want -- if it doesn't heat it up by spinning it -- or reduce the weight of the oil.

    I can't wait to see what kind of trouble you will get into this year.

  6. i'll 2nd the disk comment with all the wet you get... run full housing and full housing for the shifter as well. I'd do a single front ring for simple sake...

    Mabe a 28 thooth front ring then run a 12-34 in back... Company called rock and roll makes a cable lube called cable magic I donno how it work in the cold though...

    I think the paul tumbie is a very good idea as well! Not sure on the grease?

  7. write my coworker at - she bikes up here in Squarebanks even when it is 40 below. if anyone has good advice for the survival of you and your bike, she is the one! although it is not really wet again here until, say, April.

    oh, and riding the Bering Strait? not the greatest idea, although it sounds fun in a torturing yourself kind of way. the ice is always moving; leads open and close. rarely is it solid all the way across - and the pressure ridges are pretty serious obstacles. usually, adventurers get plucked off the ice by a National Guard helicopter.


Feedback is always appreciated!