Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hauling out the big rig

Date: Jan. 24
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 684.8
Hours: 2:15
Temperature upon departure: 23
Snowfall: 11.8" Friday and Saturday

I started taking deep, involuntarily louder breaths with every precarious step up the icy, narrow staircase. My knees begged to just buckle already and my biceps burned, but I couldn't stop now. I had nowhere to go. My palm seared against the top tube of my bicycle, and I tried to climb faster, but I was already feeling faint. I hadn't even planted my final foot on the top stair when I lobbed the ridiculously heavy bike at the porch, letting the rubber bounce a couple times as I caught my breath. I had just climbed two flights of stairs. It would be the hardest thing I had to do all day.

Beyond the trips up the stairs, however, I am becoming more and more accustomed to Pugsley's recent, rapid weight gain. We had a pretty big snowstorm yesterday, and many of my neighbors were out shoveling their driveways. As I puttered by, more than one commented, "That is a big bike." Yes. Yes it is. Gear-laden Pugsley is the SUV of bikes. Obnoxiously obese and a fuel hog at that. But the traction on ice is amazing. I love the effortless downhill speed and the way I can just pulverise hardened blocks of snow into powder. As long as I avert my eyes from the odometer on the uphill climbs, I may be able to stay in denial about Pugsley's weight problem.

I have received some questions lately about why I have decided to go with the gear set-up that I have. The truth is, I may not go with this set-up at all. I am becoming more and more attached to the idea of some designer seatpost and burrito bags by Eric at Epic Designs. The problem is Eric is a one-man show, and a busy one at that, so I can't demand he drop everything for my petty last-minute whims. And the truth is, the stuff-sack set-up isn't terrible. I have the ability position the front sack with all of my clothing to be able to get in and out of it without having to even loosen the straps that lash it to the handlebars. It is not packed very full at all, and compressing it really isn't necessary. But there are still questions about my gear. Keep in mind that I'm a novice, and learning this as I go. But I'll try to answer to the best of my knowledge:

1. Why not go with panniers?
Good question! After all, I own four panniers. They each have handy little pockets to access things in a second. So why would I leave those at home so I can stuff everything in inaccessible compression sacks? Over the years, the use of panniers has become almost nonexistent in snow-bike racing. I can only imagine that enough people have had bad experiences with them to convince the community as a whole to abandon them. I have never actually tried to use them, but I can think of a couple of big disadvantages. One, panniers are not made to lock to the rack. They actually come off rather easily. This could become endlessly annoying in the event of soft, uneven snow where the bike tips over frequently. Imagine losing and having to readjust your bags every few minutes. That would definitely be worse than having to loosen a few frozen straps to get at gear. And two, panniers - especially front panniers - hang really low to the ground. Narrow snowmobile trails usually have tall berms, and scraping bags against both sides of the trail would be a nightmare. Even two simple rear bags may be a bad idea. Part of the reason is weight distribution:

2. Why put all that weight up front?
Snow bikers are fat. We wear a bunch of fat clothing, we ride fat bikes, we carry tons of excess weight in gear that one normally associate more with big-mountain climbers than bicycle racers. We weigh a ton. This weight problem runs counter to the very goal we are trying to achieve: Floating on top of snow. So our best option to weigh a ton and still maximize our ever-elusive floatation is to distribute our fat loads as equally as possible. Since we sit our fat butts on the back of the bike, it makes the most sense to carry as much of our fat gear on the front of the bike as we can. Many of the rigs owned by some of the faster racers look like they're about to tip over out front, but they have almost nothing on back.

3. So why not just get a front rack?
I'd like to, but it's not easy for me here in the land of one-local-bike-shop-that's-closed-for-much-of-the-winter. Everything I try and test has to be bought online, which often means no returns. Trying things I'm not sure about becomes costly. I'm still convinced that lashing my stuff sack to some kind of rack rather than my handlebars won't really achieve much besides having to undo straps from a rack, rather than handlebars. But I am still considering it.

4. So what will you do when it's 15 below and you want the down coat that's in the bottom of your stuff sack?
I'll just have to stop, undo a strap, pull clothing out of the sack and then stuff it back in. Honestly, if it's 15 below or lower, I may end up wearing just about everything I have in that sack anyway. The stuff that I want to be accessible all the time (like food and mittens) will be in easily accessible places like my frame bag and poggies. I'm really not too worried about the minor inconvenience of a stuff sack.

5. Why not use bungee cords?
Frozen straps can be worked loose. Bungee cords that are frozen in a stretched position, on the other hand, are useless.

6. Why not drag a sled?
I have never, never heard anything good about snow cyclists using sleds. And a few have tried. Rolling resistance is really bad on snow to begin with. Add some 4-inch tires, and it gets even worse. Add a sled, and I'm amazed the friction doesn't pull people backward. Sleds also have a habit of tipping over. Geoff thinks he may have devised the perfect sled this year, but during last year's Susitna 100, his sled tipped over at least a dozen times. If this happens while you're running, you'll notice it and correct the problem. If it happens on a bike, you may or may not notice for a while. Backtracking to retrieve lost gear does not sound like my idea of a fun adventure.

So there you go. Have any more questions? Just ask!