Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Frozen hub

Date: Jan. 28
Mileage: 26
January mileage: 755.8
Hours: 2:30
Temperature upon departure: 0

Lows are predicted to reach 10 below 0 tonight. I am going to putter home from work around 11 p.m., pack up my Pugsley, putter up a nearby trail, and try to get some sleep.

But first I wanted to thank Dave Kingsbury and company for their kind contribution. I also want to thank others who have donated to my cause. I have received encouraging words and support from all over the world. It amazes me actually, because this is my fun, and my pain, but your help touches me more than I can really express. So thank you.

This recent cold snap has allowed me to test out some of my new gear in more Iditarod-like temperatures - clear, cold, windy and dry. So far my comfort level while moving in temperatures near zero (and windchills around -15) hasn't varied much from the system I use at 30 degrees. The only changes I've made are a heavier balaclava, an extra layer on top, vapor barrier socks and a vapor barrier vest. I'm not sure yet how I feel about the VB socks. I like the vest. It does a good job of directing most of the sweat moisture to my arms, where it can easily escape out slits in my coat. I think this vest may allow me to wear my shell in colder temperatures, which would be great because it blocks wind entirely. The strangest aspect of my "kit" is that I still feel most comfortable riding with my bare hands in the pogies. I wonder what the temperature would need to be before I feel compelled to wear gloves.

One aspect of cold that few would consider is a diminished ability to "hold it." It's such an annoying problem. One minute, I'll feel perfectly fine. Then, less than five minutes later, I'll be on the verge of a bathroom emergency, stumbling into the tree shelter of some empty suburban lot and hoping against hope that I can strip off all my layers in time.

Today I headed out the North Douglas Highway for a quick spin about a half hour after Geoff left on his daily 20-mile run (That's right. He's doing seven of those this week.) The roads were so icy that I opted for my "featherweight" full-suspension Gary Fisher Sugar, the bike that's spent his twilight years streaming through deep slush and muddy puddles. I can't expect its hubs to be in great condition, but I was a little discouraged when, about 10 miles in, the rear hub started to slip. Any time I stopped pedaling for even a few seconds, even just to coast, the freehub would freeze up and the pedals would cease to propel the bike forward. It took several seconds of frenzied spinning before the pawls engaged and I could keep riding. After this happened several times, I realized I didn't have the option to stop pedaling.

Then at mile 17, it hit ... the bladder pangs. "I can probably hold it for nine more miles," I thought. But only one mile passed before tears started to stream down my face. My whole body shuddered in anticipation of a great, building pressure. By the time red dots started flashing in my line of vision, I knew I was going to pee whether I stopped or not. I quickly decided to opt for the indignity of hitchhiking over the indignity of peeing my pants. I threw the bike in a snowbank and sprinted into the woods.

Sure enough, when I came back, the hub was frozen. I sat beside it with both wheels on the ground, spinning and spinning the pedals with my hand. Nothing happened. I tried lifting up the back wheel and spinning it some more. Nothing. Finally, I shifted down a few gears and spun with as much RPM as I could muster. The hub finally caught and the back wheel started moving. I catapulted myself onto the saddle on shot down the road, promising Sugar that he would go back to being a slush bike soon enough.


  1. the cold definitely does strange things to the body..... it can't be helped. :)

  2. Jill- I read your blog, admire your writing and your pictures, but honey, it's your determination and crazy-wild-constitution that blow me away.
    You've got your fans down here in Florida. You really do.

  3. I get the same thing when skiing. I think it's cuz we sweat a bit less in cold weather so the liquids gotta go somewhere...

  4. Had the same things happen to me while winter cycling in Northern New England (with Shimano freehub bodies). What I did was every fall I would strip the back wheel down until I had the freehub off. Don't take the freehub apart! (I would also do this to a new one) I would spin the freehub (air gun works best) and at the same time apply degreaser to a crack on one side until it started flowing out the opposite end. I would keep applying it until it was clear (as opposed to black) Then I would shoot in some lubricant that would not freeze up. I used a lube that would penetrate then set up as a thin wax layer. This way you get the grease/water/condensation mixture out of the inner-workings. What is happening is the "pawls" are sticking in the compressed position because the grease/condensation has thickened up and froze them open. The big mistake is thinking that you need to grease the hell out of the freehub. They all go bad and no amount of grease in the world will help that, might as well enjoy a working one.

  5. Bill is right. The pawls in your free-hub are freezing. It could be the grease, or it could be water/condensation. Spraying some WD-40 into the freehub might help. It should dilute the grease and displace the water. You might also consider carrying with you a small can of lock de-icer spray like this.


    You can get this at most auto-parts store. I'd guess that it would be in high demand in AK.

    Good luck!


  6. I don't understand your first paragraph of this post, you intended to come home from work at 11.00 p.m., then go up some trail to get some sleep?

  7. I've been riveted by your stories of preparation, practice and experiments. This is truly an epic journey you are undertaking. Part of me is scared/freaked out by idea of the cold and the aloneness of it all but much more of me is excited and enthralled by the adventure.

    You. are going. to. tear. it. up.

    Go Jill!

  8. Jill,

    You probably already know about www.icebike.org, but in case you don't then you may want to view their web page on winterizing freehubs. I trust that you have already had the freehub in the Pugsley winterized.

    This particular web page gives detailed instructions with photos and explanations: http://www.icebike.org/Equipment/freehub.htm and is written by Simon Rakower who is the owner of All Weather Sports in Fairbanks (www.allweathersports.com ). He has outfitted and serviced the bikes of many Iditarod bike racers over the years. At his web site he has lots of tips for racers and winter riding in general.

    FYI: If the grease and/or contaminants in your freehub freezes and the pawls won't engage or disengage, then you can urinate on it to get going again. Even if that doesn't work you will feel much better - guaranteed!

  9. Stumbled across your blog. I read a bit, but I want to say that is a nice picture of that "heavy bike" with those tires that are the size of my camero tires. Kidding. But I honestly do not think I have seen tires that big on a bike. Perhaps I am naive.

    Of course that may be the road biker in me since I only look & purchase road bikes (10) and picked up the only mountain bike (used) I own at a garage sale for our Colorado winters.

    Now, I think want to start to looking for a bike that has tires like that!

  10. Keep up the good work, I just love your blog. I am not even a cyclist, but am moving to Juneau in June and your adventures inspire me to take life head on. Just a side note, I have this hilarious "diary" of a man's few weeks in his first snow. . . those of you that already live in it every day should get a kick out of it! http://juneauecomommie.blogspotcom It's the blog titled "just give me another reason" not to mention your pictures gave me the inspiration for this entry. Thanks again!!!!!

  11. Thanks for the kind comments and advice.

    I actually haven't winterized the Pugsley yet. I ride it in the same crappy slush conditions as the Sugar, so I figured it would be best to wait for the deep-freeze-proofing. I am going to have it done by some pros in Anchorage the week before the race. Plus, I'm replacing the drivetrain, brake pads, cables, tubes, etc. It will be like a new bike.

    Re: BikerBob ... I think you are lending way to much credit in my ability to "aim" :-)

  12. Jill ... lol ... funny comment there! "Aim" would be important, no doubt!

    On a more serious note; according to IceBike, they do suggest riding for a week to break in any new chain you put on the bike. This is good advice and I'd suspect it would apply to the rest of the drivetrain too. Hopefully it'll be cold enough in Juneau to do just that.
    ~ ~ ~ happy trails

  13. Been reading your blog for a couple years now. You are progressing nicely! Having spent many years riding in those conditions you make me miss the "slog"

  14. Actually, all kidding aside too, at those temperatures everybody has difficulty aiming! That is not even considering the trajectory compensation for the wind.

    In lieu of such a desperate measure you can also try breathing warm air on it. However, if there is rust, corrosion, contaminants, steel chips from the pawls or damaged bearings, or broken pawls, then it won't make much difference. That is why I prefer to disassemble and inspect rather than just using a "Morningstar Freehub Buddy" and squeezing "Morningstar Freehub Soup" or "Lubriplate Mag-1" through it.

    I like the Morningstar Freehub Buddy when it is used in conjunction with regular preventative maintenance, but once the freehub starts acting up then it is time to do a visual inspection. Or, if your life may depend on it working in extreme conditions, then I would want to visually inspect it. That is just me.

    In any case, be sure to have a Morningstar Freehub Dust Cap ($6-$7) installed on the right side of the freehub to replace the stock one. The Morningstar Freehub Dust Cap will not distort upon removal like most of the stock ones. Insist that your mechanic show you how to remove and reinstall the Morningstar Freehub Dust Cap. That would give you emergency access on the trail to squeeze some lub or oil in there.

    Make sure they clean and repack the bearings on the left side of the freehub too. I don't think the Morningstar Freehub Buddy helps with them at all. I could be wrong, but unless it is an emergency I always prefer a disassembly and inspection over blindly squeezing lube in there.

    Of course you are having the wheel bearings cleaned, inspected and repacked too. If they are cartiages instead of bearings, then carry spares in case they freeze up too.

    Nevertheless, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of ... trouble.

  15. ride fixed in cold. solve all problems.

  16. In an extension to anonymous comment, you can turn your freewheel into a fixie by zip tieing your block to the spokes. Obviously an emergency measure but one that's got many a touring cyclist through those scary places completely devoid of any kind of bike shop. (I should add that I've never tried it myself and only heard rumour of it).

    I can't imagine riding a fixie in the snow is too easy either.

  17. It took me a couple of paragraphs to figure out you were talking about frozen pawls. Everybody else has already mentioned winterizing the hub and the zip tie trick.

    Trepid, the reason I own a fixie is to ride in snow in ice, mostly to avoid the problem of frozen pawls, derailleurs and cables.

  18. Just found yer blog, looks fun!

    while I'm here I'll second the temporary solution of peeing on the freehub, and third fixed riding in winter.


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