Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bus Racing

About freezing, overcast and minimal wind this afternoon. It was a terrific day to bike home. The roads were relatively dry and I seemed to get all green lights down Roosevelt Road.

The Lakefront Path was pretty clear but frequently wet. From around Chicago Avenue to Oak Street there was about an inch of slushy snow that made biking kind of treacherous. I initially fishtailed and took this as a strong suggestion I slow it down a bit. Once I got to the Oak Street Curve the snow cleared and I just had wet pavement again. When I bike back to work tomorrow morning I'll have a tougher time as I'm sure most of the puddles will be frozen. I moved at a good clip today; between 16 and 19 mph. After leaving the Lakefront Trail I seemed to get mostly green lights again.

On Clark Street just north of Devon I was passed by a shuttle bus operated by the Robinson Bus Company. It was kind of a tight squeeze between the bus and parked cars. But soon thereafter I passed him when he was caught at a light and there began our see-saw battle through traffic. The lead must have changed four or five times all the way to Evanston. On two occasions when we both waited out the light I did my best to swing out wide so he could pass me without worry. But eventually the congestion enabled me to catch up again and zip by. Just north of Howard he passed me with a warning toot. There he gained a huge advantage because there are no traffic lights for the half mile stretch to South Boulevard. I saw he was delayed by a red light but not long enough for me to catch up. I kept him in sight and hoped to reach him at Main Street but I ended up the one delayed at a red light. Once I got going again I saw that traffic continued to slow his progress and I was able to reel him in eventually retaking the lead at Dempster. The lights were now all green but he must have gotten bogged down. Traffic began to lighten up so I really hammered in order to stay out front. Just as I was approaching my left turn on Clark I saw he was on my tail. I signaled my intentions and he graciously allowed me to take the lane leading up to my victory turn. He must have been glad to see me go.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 1994.2 miles
Price of gas: $2.59

Monday, February 26, 2007

Wimped Out Again

I was planning to ride in to work today but the snow and rain over the weekend left the roads really slushy and nasty. I wasn't going to gamble that the Chicago Park District cleared the Lakefront Trail; although they have been pretty good about it. So I took the train in to work instead. While waiting for the Metra at Hubbard Woods I noticed the Green Bay Trail had a good three inches of snow and slush. The Village of Winnetka is usually pretty good about clearing it away but I guess they didn't get to it yet.

My hubs probably need repacking. If I had the proper sized cone wrenches I would have done it over the weekend. Maybe I'll just have some pros do it and save me the time. Kozy's has a pretty good turn around on service so I'll probably give them a call.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cat Hunting

Rico, my 14 year old cat, died last week. He'd been ailing a while and naturally I was really sad to see him go. I adopted him as a kitten when I was single and living in San Diego. I don't know much about animal to human bonding but he probably saw me as his mom. We have another cat and were afraid of her suffering from loneliness so we're looking to adopt another.

I clicked the banner ad for Felines, Inc. from Corehouse.blogspot.com and saw they were at Devon and Paulina, about a block off my route home. So I decided to pay them a visit this afternoon. They close at 6:00 pm but said they usually don't take new visitors after 5:00 pm. So I wanted to make sure I left myself plenty of time to bike the fifteen or so miles there.

I left work early to make it there by 5:00 pm but the stiff east northeasterly winds had other plans for me. On top of that it was much colder than I thought it would be so I didn't layer as much as I normally would have.

I set the cat shelter as the destination in my GPS so I'd be able to track my estimated time of arrival. Early in my ride it seemed I'd get there right at 5:00pm. But as I headed into the stiff winds my ETA kept getting later and later. So I pounded the pedals more. I think my eardrums were getting frost bite. Weird.

I started to hear my chain start to squeak. I guess the White Lightning chain lubricant was starting to wear off after three salty and wet rides. Not bad considering I usually lube my chain about that much anyway.

By the time I got to the Lakefront Trail my ETA was now 5:33pm; not good. Fortunately the path was completely clear for bike riding. Even the Oak Street curve was passable. Once I reached North Avenue Beach I saw I made up a little time. My ETA was now 5:18pm; a little late but not screamingly rude. I already filled out an application, had a list of cats I liked and ones my wife might tolerate so I could save even more time. I was still really pushing myself hard to get there by 5:00pm though. I was in such a hurry to leave work that I didn't refill my water bottle. So I was going to be very thirsty when I got home.

Once off the trail and on the city streets I biked a little more aggressively (but not rudely) than usual to make up more time. When I finally arrived I was bushed. I didn't make the 5:00 pm cut off but they let me take a look around anyway. One of two young ladies there even allowed me to stash my bike in their basement away from avaricious eyes (what a saint!). I looked around, took about a dozen photos for my wife and then I was off again to return at a later date.

It is my brother's birthday so I called him and asked if I could stop by. He lives about a mile up my route. I was glad to sit a while and visit with my brother and his roommate. In fact I really didn't feel like hitting the road again. It was below freezing and I just wanted to continue relaxing. But my wife was expecting me and I hit the road again.

The short siesta did me a bit of good. I biked with a new found energy and made it home without really thinking about it.

Distance Traveled: 24.4 miles
Distance to date: 1969.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.53

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Biking Season Is Here!

It is above freezing so time to start biking in earnest. This morning it was a bit frosty but nothing compared to the chills of the past few weeks. The ride was the most treacherous I've faced however. The combination of thaw and freeze left a lot of black ice on the roads and paths. But it was nice not having to don so much gear before I headed out to bike to work today.

My first of two spills occurred just as I got on the Lakeshore Path off Ardmore. I was speeding to beat the light across Sheriden and just didn't slow down enough for conditions. So I slid and laid the bike down skinning my right knee once again. Fortunately my long johns already had a hole in that area so I wasn't concerned about new damage. My wipe out no doubt broke the morning routine for a truck full of Chicago Park District workers on the path. But no other damage to me or the bike.

The section of the path between Ardmore and Lawrence was plenty wet and icy. There is a lot of snow runoff creating many slippery patches. Further south there were fewer icy spots.

From Oak to Ohio was by far the most challenging. The Oak Street Curve wasn't a problem. I didn't even have to dismount to bike on the ice and snow. But once on the straight-away it was very dicey. There was a path cleared of snow on this stretch but melting snow ran down the slope to the lake creating scores of icy patches. I biked quite slowly fearing a wipe out would send me close to or even into the Lake Michigan. I was glad to be out of there and back on more predictable surfaces.

My second spill was on the curve in the path between Randolph and Monroe. The park slopes and there is a lot of snow run off crossing the path. I fishtailed on some ice and part of my pannier caught the spoke and created the clothespin/baseball card effect. It wasn't much of a spill and was actually a blessing in disguise. Had I maintained the same speed I would have likely cracked up just up ahead where there was all sorts of water and ice.

My bike's shifting suffered the effects of the cold weather and is pretty ineffective. I need to readjust the cable on my rear derailleur because I screwed it all up trying to force it in the cold. So much for my recent tune up.

A block away from the office I noticed my bike had a subtle bounce to it as if it now had full suspension. I was starting to freak thinking I must have busted my frame somewhere but it all looked ok. Then with ironic relief I saw my front tire was going flat. I risked my front rim and limped the rest of the way. I didn't want any of my co-workers spotting me walking my bike or at the side of the road changing the tube. I'd bring the wheel home tonight and change it in the comfort of my basement since I'm not biking home again until Friday.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 1945.5 miles
Price of gas: $2.43

Friday, February 16, 2007

Back In The Saddle

It was 12° and clear so I had no excuse not to bike home today. Work, family, heavy snows and a lack of resolve prevented me from biking for almost two weeks. So I was quite happy to get out there again this evening. Strong south southwesterly winds also helped. I practically coasted home.

The Lakefront Trail had the usual assortment of frozen slush, brackish puddles, hard crusted snow, and chunky salt. For the most part it was passable. The only area that I had to occasionally walk the bike was between Ohio Street Beach and the Oak Street curve. At the ramp adjacent to the Ohio Street Beach there were 2-3' snow drifts blocking the way. So I had to carry the bike and post hole through it. I saw another bicyclist walk his bike all the way down the ramp. I chose to climb aboard as soon as the surface was flat. From the tracks on the ramp I saw a number of bikers preceded me. But it was rough going. What was once slush was now like rippling rock and concrete. Once I got off the ramp and along the flats the bumps lessened a bit. It was smoother going higher up the bank.

Approaching the curve the snow got deeper and I was forced to dismount. The bicyclist in front of me opted to walk his bike near the water where it was pretty flat. Along the wall the snow was blown away forming a slight path. Other bicyclists and pedestrians packed down this path but it was too rough to bike until the path cleared completely.

Naturally the bike path was nearly deserted except for the aforementioned bicyclist and about a dozen runners. But it was a really pleasant ride up the shore; the strong tailwind certainly helped.

The city streets were slightly more hectic than I was used to. I nearly ran into a goof in his beater turning left from oncoming traffic into my path. I fishtailed while avoiding a broadside collision. I angrily slapped at the rear of his car but my heavy mitten rendered the blow to that of a declawed cat. Another pinhead nearly ran into me as she zoomed out of a parking lot. I slowed and flashed my headlamp in her face in yet another impotent gesture.

Wilmette's portion of the Green Bay Trail was impassable. They make absolutely no effort to clear the path of snow. Fortunately they clear their sidewalks because biking on the brick streets really blows. The Kenilworth and Winnetka stretches of the Green Bay Trail were cleared quite nicely however.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 1921.2 miles
Price of gas: $2.39

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Whimp Out

5° and clear but it is just too damn cold for me tonight. I'd planned to ride home but after a trying day at work I just couldn't face the logistics of gearing up for the bike ride home. I knew once I got on the road I'd be fine but I just didn't feel like it for some reason. All the other times I've wanted to just grab the car keys I've overcome the temptation. But not tonight. I also rationalized that I didn't feel like subjecting my bike to the abuse. It is a pretty rugged bike by I'm not sure Cannondale designed it for such extremes. So I'm whimping out. Friday it is going to be in the teens so maybe I'll develop some guts by then.

Distance Traveled: 0.0
Distance to date: 1896.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.35

Monday, February 05, 2007

Really Really Cold Bike Ride

I ventured out this morning with great trepidation. The morning news reported temperatures at -9° and 10 mph westerly winds. I didn’t even want to look at the thermometer outside as it has always read about 5° lower. But venture out I did and it wasn’t that bad. My $9 mittens kept my hands quite warm and the only part of my body that bothered me were my toes.

The subzero temperatures were tougher on my bicycle however. Shifting was initially non-existent but eventually it was just sluggish. My cassette was also acting up. Early in the ride after every time I coasted, I’d pedal but the cassette just spun. Eventually it would catch but I worried I had ruined my hub. After a while it became more reliable but was never 100% on. I was extra careful at intersections because I was never sure I’d be able to accelerate out of trouble.

My glasses frequently fogged up and my balaclava formed a chunk of ice from my freezing breath. I actually had a 1” icicle dangling from my chin; it looked pretty disgusting. I developed a brain before my ride and decided to keep my water bottle in the rear pocket of my jersey instead of the cage. It was obviously tougher to get to but at least it wasn’t frozen. I downed about half of it once I got to Roosevelt Road.

The cold was also tough on my electronics. My Planet Bike blinking lights on the front of my bike and the back of my helmet both gave up. The batteries in my front light are pretty fresh but I think the helmet light is due for a change. The fresh rechargeable batteries in my GPS also ran low much too early. My rear flashing blinker was pretty strong though; which is most important.

The cold is taxing my bicycle’s drive train. From time to time I’ll hear a sickening and chilling snap as the chain pops out from a tooth on my front chain ring. Mostly it is when I’m maneuvering or accelerating. So far I haven’t seen any missing teeth or broken the chain but it is really unsettling.

I was glad to arrive at work but this was actually an enjoyable bike ride. In fact the worst part of the trip was the three minutes or so it took to lock up my bike, detach my pannier, and stow my mittens and helmet. That was when I really felt the cold.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 freaking cold miles
Distance to date: 1896.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.35

Saturday, February 03, 2007

White Lightning

I was in Kozy’s looking to buy some chain lubricant and I decided to try a 4 ounce bottle of White Lightning (about $5). White Lightning is a wax based lubricant that claims to keep the chain and drive train much cleaner than oil based lubricants. I’d read about this product online and figured I’d give it a try. The only downside is the entire chain and gearing has to be degreased before White Lightning can be applied. But since I was planning to remove the chain in order to put on a SRAM power link and my cassette and crank were already pretty clean, degreasing everything wouldn’t be a major problem.

My bike needed a good cleaning from the last few weeks of accumulated grime and salt. Since the near zero temperatures froze the valve to my outdoor faucet, I had to dowse my bike with buckets of water in my garage. Once that was done, I brought the bike into my basement to give it a more thorough cleaning.

I spend about an hour really cleaning the chain, cassette, derailleurs, and chain rings. Goo Gone and a toothbrush got ride of the stubborn grease and grime. But then I had to clean everything again with a detergent to make sure there was no Goo Gone residue that would dissolve the White Lightning.

I was really pleased once I dribbled the White Lightning on the chain and the cassette. The drive train ran and shifted smoothly and I can handle the chain, gears and derailleurs without getting my hands grimey. The true test will be how it works and looks in a month or two.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Got ready to leave work at around 4:45 pm but all the preparation for the cold weather delayed my departure until well after 5:00 pm. Putting on all the layers, gloves, booties, headgear, etc., seemed to take forever. The inside of my mittens were still clammy from perspiration despite over 24 hours to dry. What a bummer. Once I got on the road I saw steam and chimney smoke indicating winds from the southwest. So I thought I'd have a boost on my way home.

I was dressed well and the frigid temperatures didn't bother me for the first part of my ride. After about 15 minutes I thought I might be a bit overdressed as I was beginning to feel a little hot. On the Lakefront Trail near Balbo I took a few pictures of the Chicago skyline. At the Oak Street curve I encountered an intrepid young lady also navigating her way through the piles of ice along the bike path. After that I figure I saw less than six people for the rest of my time on the bike path. It was a pretty lonely ride.

At around Lawrence I was getting pretty dogged ready to be done but still 12 miles from home. Stiff winds were from the west and all the salt on the path was like driving on gravel; I was getting beat down. The areas of my body heading into the wind were chilled while the rest was comfortable or verging on hot. The exposure seemed to be sapping me more than usual. Pedaling alone in the cold darkness gave me nothing to think about except how much I didn't want to be there anymore. I took a drink of my Accelerade figuring I'd better get something in me before it froze.

At Sheridan and Ardmore I ran into another young lady on a bike. I said hello but wasn't in the mood to chat. I wanted to just get on with it. But driving through traffic took my mind off the wind and my growing fatigue. Once I got to the heavier traffic on Clark Street, I'd forgotten my troubles. But the ride from Howard, past Calvary Cemetery, and up Chicago Avenue can be kind of dull. It doesn't seem to get much better/interesting until Main Street.

The cold and accumulating salt and street crime was taxing my drive train. My chain and right pedal developed a steady and annoying squeak. I would have lubed it before I left today but I still hadn't replaced my busted bottle of chain lube.

The rest of the ride was the same old crap. Cold, dark, tired. When I finally arrived home I saw the temperature was only 2°.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 1872.6 miles
Price of gas: $2.28

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Nearly Shorts Weather

It was above 20° this morning with southwesterly winds so I opted to strip down to only one pair of long underwear today. I found my left mitten was still clammy from perspiration the day before. Nothing like putting on wet gear for a cold ride. I guess that's what glove liners are for.

There was light snow the night before but for some reason I didn't wear the usual plastic bags on my feet. Early in the ride I realized the error of my ways. The roads were wet from the snow and salt but not enough to soak my feet; yet my toes got really cold. Despite that I still took a more leisurely pace to work. I was comfortable, the weather was clear, not too windy, so I might as well enjoy myself.

No bicyclists on the Lakefront Trail until around North Avenue I was passed by a guy on a Giant roadbike out for a training ride. He might have been the same guy that passed me last week on my ride home but he didn't have a bag, helmet or intensely bright tail light this time. I greeted him as he glided by and he returned the favor. Just north of the Oak Street curve, he slowed and turned around. I continued on the Lakefront Trail. Except for the light dusting of snow, the curve was passable to myself (and others judging from the tracks). South to Ohio Street was slick and somewhat exciting.

The westbound ride on Roosevelt was hellacious and the winds buffeted me as soon as I got off the bike path. While waiting out a red light on Michigan Avenue, I smiled at a young lady on a fixie turning south and got a smile in return. Splendid. On the uphill section west of Clark I cranked out a measly 8 mph in the bike lane as cars zoomed by me on both sides. Once past Halsted the winds seemed to settle down and it was a routine ride the rest of the way.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 1848.3 miles
Price of gas: $2.28

In Chicago winter, hardy cyclists keep riding

This Reuters article was posted on a number of bicycling sites. I figured I might as well post it as well.

By Michael Hirtzer Tue Jan 30, 6:48 AM ET

CHICAGO, Jan 30 (Reuters Life!) - Four pairs of socks, and Jackson Potter's feet were still icy blocks.

Riding his bicycle to work one Chicago winter morning, high school teacher Potter was too cold to go on. He stopped at a laundromat and asked if the owner could spare any socks.

"He gave me about 10 pairs. I put on four pairs, and my feet were still numb when I got to school," Potter said.

Such is winter in Chicago, dubbed the "Windy City" -- but even subzero temperatures and harsh windy gusts are not enough to deter a growing group of bike riders who cycle year-round...

Click here for the entire article