Sunday, January 27, 2008

Experiment gone awry

Date: Jan. 25
Mileage: 55
January mileage: 739.8
Hours: 6:30
Temperature upon departure: 5

As soon as I finished writing my argument against the use of panniers in snow-bike racing yesterday, I realized that I hadn't even convinced myself. "What was so bad about the use of panniers on a snow bike?" I wondered. Instead of dreaming up imaginary situations, why not try them in real life? Then I came home from work to discover that Geoff had figured out how to attach my cheap, touring-bike rear rack on the front of the Pugsley (I had been complaining about expensive front racks for weeks, and he just up and improvised. That Geoff sure can be innovative.) Anyway, I suddenly had endless options for gear. So today I repacked my bike with
rear saddle bags and the sleeping bag strapped to the front rack. All of my stuff didn't even fill the saddle bags half way. In that, I saw one peril of panniers ... the option for too much stuff.

The weather forecast called for a high of 7 degrees and sustained winds of 25-35 mph with gusts up to 75 mph. That kind of wind promised windchill-simulated temperatures in the minus 20s. I was thrilled. I may be the only person that looks forward to an Arctic blast ... well, me and Doug. Doug, consequently, also inspired me to try out panniers.

Here is a side view of the set-up. It looks even more obnoxious than the first, doesn't it? It is. Riding conditions today were pretty awful across the board. We received a foot of new snow over the weekend that had been windblown everywhere. The spots scraped clean of snow were a solid sheet of glare ice, so slippery that I spun sideways more than once. What wasn't ice was covered in deep, sandy powder. I did a lot of walking just to commute out to the trails, and once I made it to the trails, I fluctuated between bouncy riding, teeth-clenching ice coasting, and walking. Every time I had to walk with the bike, I would continuously bump my panniers with the back of my leg. While riding on bumpy trails, they were jolted around a lot. I had to re-adjust them multiple times. I hadn't reinforced them beyond their stock attachments when I left this morning. That would come back to bite me, hard.

This is what passes for a bike path in the City and Borough of Juneau. After a long, slow morning, I was running late on my way home and trying to ride the through choppy snow across the straightaway. I was thrown around a bit before I finally threw in the towel. I could really feel the weather this morning ... the throat-searing wind and ice cream headaches. But at least I was warm, and working hard. And I was nearly home when my rear tire slid out on ice and I took a somewhat graceful, sideways fall into a snowbank. One of the panniers came off the rack and slid several feet down the road. The other pannier was nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. It was gone.

I launched into a panic and began riding back the way I came, on the wrong side of the road. I just couldn't believe I had lost one of my panniers. As I moved to the right side of the road and the backwards miles continued to tick away, I came to a discouraging acceptance about my situation. I had taken all of my extra Iditarod clothing, clothing that I had tested and become comfortable with, clothing that would cost at least a couple hundred dollars to replace - I had stuffed it into a stupid pannier, and I had lost it.

I backtracked all the way to the bike path, more than six miles from where I fell off my bike. I was already running an hour late for work. I stood at the edge of the path and considered giving up and turning around. Someone had obviously picked up my pack and was probably rifling through it right now, trying on my down coat and warming their fingers in my new mittens. But as I looked across the straightaway, I could see this dark lump about a quarter mile down the trail. It could have been anything. A log. A garbage bag. A dead cat. But somehow I knew, I just knew it was my bag. I threw my bike in the snow and began sprinting toward the lump - as much as a person can sprint in big snow boots through six-inch deep sand snow. I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you ache to run faster but just can't make your legs go. But I was ecstatic with the idea that after more than an hour, my pack could still be sitting in the middle of the trail. When I finally I stumbled up next to it, I felt this surge of relief. My pannier was sitting in plain sight, a spot that could be seen from more than a quarter mile away, and no one had touched it. Either no one went by during that entire stretch of frigid Sunday afternoon, or I am one lucky snowbiker. Except for the fact that I still had eight slow into-the-arctic-wind miles to ride home, the top of my Camelbak hose was frozen, I hadn't had anything to eat, and I was really late for work.

Geoff made sushi for dinner and we traded stories about our terrible days. "You're not going to go with panniers, are you?" he said.

"Well," I said and winced as Wasabi shot up my wind-burned nose. "Maybe next time I'll try them on front."


  1. Two words: dummy cord

    A simple piece of nylon or other cord tied onto the pannier and then onto the rack. Little piece of string is all it is. Gives a big tug when the "dummy" sets in. We use 'em in the Army so Soldiers don't lost their weapons (and other stuff) when they fall asleep.

  2. in the UK you can get panniers made by a company called Carradice which I use - they clamp on to the rack really well

    don't know if you can get them delivered or if you've already tried them.

    UK is rather different - 1/2" of snow is rare!

  3. Your adventures make anything we even try to attempt down here look like absolutely nothing, Jill. You are definitely hard-core and tough. Sorry I've been away so long. I needed a break. I'm happily catching up now.

  4. Sorry, but I had to chuckle at your misfortune. What an influence I am. I feel like I owe you an apology. I always warn people not to follow my lead. I just try to do what works for me. The pannier idea definitely is not an original idea for me. Dave Gray (Surly employee and one of the designers of the Pugsley)won the AH135 last year with a front rack and panniers, frame bag, and a seatpost mounted rear rack.

  5. Whew, you one lucky girl.
    Good to find out what doesn't work. Sushi always works.

  6. So thats why those rear seatpost bags came about. Nothing beats first hand experience. I kinda wish I had your contitions to test with.

    I totally understand the overprepared-ness of gear packing. My packs are practically a rolling bike shop.

    I'm curious what all you've got packed in your gear bags, and what I'm forgetting to pack in mine.

    I think I'll write mine all out and see what I end up with. Simple as possible but no simpler.

    On a side note, have you played with using vapor barriers in your clothing systems? I'm having mixed results, but I think I'm still overdressing.


  7. Excellent post. I have done the same thing and my heart was pounding as you saw your pack off in the distance. I knew it was your pack before you blogged it. Ahh, the journey is the best part!

  8. hi i came over here from fat cyclist - i hail from malta, i've only been in snow 3 times in my life, so i don't have the foggiest idea what it's like to do what you're doing, and it certainly seems quite daunting to say the least, but was wondering why u don't use clipless pedals

  9. I am in the same boat as you are trying to figure this stuff out for the first time. But a a word to the wise. Try pushing your loaded bike in untouched snow and less than perfect trail conditions. Both of which you are going to encounter. I can guarantee you that you will not want those things constantly hitting your legs as you push. And the angle at which you would have to push so that they do not bonk your legs is going to be very uncomfortable and tiring. Also be very careful and cautious running them upfront. The extra weight makes handling the bike very different and once again try pushing you loaded bike with the extra weight upfront. It is not fun! Good Luck..........

  10. Hi Jill,
    I wanted to let you know that I think your blog is awesome. I look forward to reading it every day. I don't know what other blogs you follow. But, I wanted to let you know about the Science of Sport. is written by two sports scientists and they are currently doing a series on exercise in the cold. I thought it could be interesting and useful. Good luck!
    St. Louis, MO

  11. At least you didn't have a laptop in the pannier. Or a tennis bracelet. Or a WMD. Or a baby.

  12. or some dental floss, or your nasal spray.

  13. Oh I feel so bad now... Eek! We actually thought afterwards that you probably want to avoid them around drifted snow when they will sometimes smash into a drift and fall-off and sometimes just foofff through. You never know.

    Still... thanks for sorting that one out for us.

    There is a theory that paniers give you a softer landing when you come of sideways?

    I can also account that they make the bike very difficult to pick up again after a long day.

  14. First off, I gotta say Jill that Geoff is Mister Fixit! Do you pay him by the hour? Perhaps Sushi is payment enough! He is the certainly a handy guy and makes for a perfect Pit Crew Partner. You know, you might want to pace yourself during the Iditarod to be one half hour ahead of him at all times. You'd break down, he'd catch up... make a tool or bike tube drop, then be off into the swirling snows whilst you finish your repair. You fix the Pugster, hop on the Big Rig, catch up ... pass him, break down, and the whole damn scenario plays out once again. Hopefully NOT, Jill says. Hopefully not indeed.

    No, you'll be fine, I shouldn't even joke about it because it might just come to pass. If it does, it's not my fault. End of story. Doug, on the other hand, is totally responsible for pushing you down Pannier Lane at breakneck speed. lol Noooo, just joking Doug. I'd been on the edge of my seat with that suggestion for weeks, but didn't dare to post it. You dared, and you paid for it. Sucka. All joshing aside, I wouldn't have thought about the mechanics of panniers and how difficult it would be to push the bike with those boxes sticking out on Pugsters rear end. Pushing is hard enough when there IS clearance. Jill, I think it's all clear that you know what the heck you're doing. Perhaps we should just keep our yappers shut and enjoy the ride ... 'er ... that is ... enjoy your ride. : )

  15. Jill, I have to apologize, but please know that I do it with a smile and also a bit of a chuckle. As I read your post this morning I couldn't help but smile and laugh. I immediately had a very vivid vision in my mind of you frantically running down that trail to retrieve your wayward pannier. Anyway, I'm happy to hear that all turned out well. Sorry that the experiment didn't meet your expectations. I guess the last thing I'm wondering about is how the front rack worked out. I feel like such an ass.

    Ride On Jill! and as always...

    Nigity - "Keep a smile in your heart."

  16. vw Dave wrote:

    "First off, I gotta say Jill that Geoff is Mister Fixit! Do you pay him by the hour? Perhaps Sushi is payment enough!"

    problem is, I made the sushi for her so somehow this just doesn't all seem to add up.

  17. You know Geoff, I caught that mistake as soon as I posted my comment. Perhaps Jill can make YOU dinner for a change...God knows you're earned it. How does Goldfish Cracker Casserole sound? lol

  18. Your blog makes me miss the snow so much.


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