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Tag Archive: winter cycling

First Impressions: The On-One Fatty

I’ve been riding the On-One Fatty fatbike for a few weeks now, and I am ready to share some initial thoughts with you.

I also want to clarify something before we get started. We reached out to Planet X/On-One USA for this bike primarily to test for our sister site Mtnbikeriders.com after our experiences with fatbikes in Las Vegas last September. But, we thought, “why don’t we try this bike out as a commuter, too?” While we’ve long been advocates of the “you don’t need anything special to be a bike commuter” camp, there ARE times when the right tool for the job is something a bit off the beaten path. Fatbikes, as you can imagine, are definitely not a typical everyday commuter choice for the vast majority of us.

As I mentioned in my introduction, there was almost no snow on the ground when the bike was delivered. I didn’t have to wait long, though, as plenty more came only days later…and proceeded to pile up every couple of days thereafter.

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So far, it has been a lot of fun, but there’s also been a bit of a learning curve. Think of fatbikes as an overgrown mountain bike…but one capable of tackling terrain that may leave a regular MTB spinning its wheels. Riding a fatbike in hairy conditions isn’t always as easy as swinging a leg over and pedaling away, though, as I quickly learned.

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The On-One Fatty features an aluminum frame and a steel fork. I tested the 18″ frame (measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube), and it fit just right (I’m about 5′ 9″). The frame is constructed with a doubled top tube and a low standover height, crucial for when you’ve got to stop in knee-deep snow. That doubled top tube and the overall construction means the Fatty is stiff from front to back; there was ZERO flex even when horsing this brute around in the white stuff.

The parts spec was fine for my purposes — nothing exotic, and everything worked just the way it was supposed to. Remember that we are testing a 1×10 drivetrain, and the newest version of the Fatty comes with a 2×10 for some extra hillclimbing gearing or bailout range if things get really ugly.

The Fatty did well when the snow was packed down or if it was a bit damp and heavy (snow in near-freezing conditions). It did tend to bog down in fresh, dry powder (well below freezing temps) or if the snow was saturated from melting. I asked my fatbike guru Chris Follmer for advice along the way, and he mentioned that generally, ALL fatbikes exhibit the same preferences for snow conditions. Some of that depends on tire tread and pressure, of course. I would like to try other tire patterns to see if some grip better in dry powder than the stock tires that come with the Fatty.

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I did play with pressure, though…going as low as 5 psi, but generally hovering right around 7 psi for the best balance of grip and rolling resistance. On slushy roads or soft, muddy ground, the Fatty sings right along. On dry pavement…well, you can imagine that low pressures mean a sluggish ride. On dry days, I cranked the pressure up around 15 psi to see how the ride was — while there was still a good bit of rolling resistance, I was able to knock out an 18 mile trail/road ride in short order and without too much extra effort. Even with the high pressure (relative to most fatbike uses), there’s a lot of natural suspension effect going on with the huge tire volume. Talk about smooth sailing!

Most fatbikes come with wide handlebars…I mean, REALLY W-I-D-E bars. The El Guapo Ancho bars that came on our test Fatty measure 820mm from end to end! Wide bars are needed to help keep the front end from wallowing out in soft conditions, allowing the rider to apply lots of “body english” as needed. Learning to relax my grip on the bars took me a few rides; at first, I was clenching them pretty tightly and wandering all over the place. Once I discovered that I could track better by relaxing, I started doing that…allowing me to stay in tire ruts made by cars, or packed-down areas on the trail.

Riding the Fatty has been like rolling along on a giant BMX bike — it encourages some horseplay and frolicking in the snow! I really enjoyed the solid lockup of the Avid Elixir hydraulic discs (yes, hydraulic — even in below-zero temps)…it made powerslides on ice an easy thing:

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And, like our friend Vince Rodarte told me, “the Fatty is a wheelie monster!” Oh, how right he was…a big, soft tire and low gearing made it a snap to pop serious wheelies:

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In our formal review in a few weeks, we’ll talk about commuting potential and the particulars of this bike’s running gear. In the meantime, if your commute requires traversing snow, deep sand, mud, or you simply like to take shortcuts over the rough stuff, a fatbike might be just what you’ve been waiting for.

Winter commuting in Ottawa comes with a hefty price tag

A recent article from the Ottawa Citizen caught our eye:

Plowing bike lanes and paths to make winter commuting by bicycle more appealing is a priority for the city, but at a cost it’s not quite ready to pay.

The $200,000-a-year price tag to scrape clean an additional 16 kilometres of pavement all winter puts the city government in a Catch-22: Winter biking is difficult on snowy, slushy, icy roads, so not all that many people do it. But because not all that many people do it, it’s hard to justify the expense of making it easier.

Read the full article by clicking here.

they even plow the bike paths and pedestrian walkways ;)
(photo by Brian Kusler)

I have heard tales that Minneapolis plows some of their bike paths BEFORE the roads…I don’t know if this is true, but I’d sure love to hear from folks who live in areas where it is really snowy: What does YOUR city do to keep bicyclists on the roads once the icy curtain comes down?

I imagine it is a large expense everywhere, not just in Ottawa, to keep the lanes and paths cleared of snow…and I do know that where I live, which has over 330 miles of connected paved bike trails, those trails are at the mercy of Mother Nature and do NOT get plowed.

Review: Watson’s Performance Base Layers

Wouldn’t you know that spring has sprung for a lot of us…but we’ve still got a winter gear review or two in the hopper to share with you?

About a month ago, the good folks from Watson’s offered to send samples of their baselayers for us to try out. At the time, I thought to myself, “but spring is almost here…it’s a little late in the game for thermal baselayers!” Silly me; we’ve gotten two huge snowstorms and a bunch of below-freezing weather since the Watson’s package arrived at my door.

When you look out the window and see this, you’re going to want to add some layers for warmth:

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I was offered a choice from the Watson’s waffle, cotton-blend, and performance lines — and I figured that active use in winter demanded something a little more technical than cotton. Here’s a little bit about the “Performance” line straight from the Watson’s website:

• Wicks moisture away from skin keeping you dry and warm.

• Spandex for 4-way stretch and comfort fit.

• Antimicrobial treatment to control the growth of bacteria keeping the garment fresh and odor free.

• medium weight

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The material is a midweight blend of 85% micro polyester and 15% Spandex. Both top and bottom pieces have a brushed interior for softness against the skin, and an antimicrobial treatment to prevent odors from lingering (you may remember that a few years ago, we wrote about “the stink” in performance wear). The stitching is quality throughout…no rough edges to dig into flesh. These particular baselayers come in black or indigo.

Baselayers should fit snugly to maximize their performance, and the medium size fit me perfectly. I can be a tough fit for a lot of clothing, so this was a definite plus in my book. Both top and bottom fit close without the “sausage casing” effect so many cycling clothes offer. The bottoms have a sort of pouch affair in the crotch for a little extra…ahem…”man room”.

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I wore the Watson’s baselayers cycling, commuting, sledding, snowball fighting and a host of other outdoor activities — they seemed to perform just the way they should have. They add just enough insulation to help on chilly days. Hell, I’ve even been lounging around the house in them when the thought of venturing outdoors is simply too much for me! I would have gotten more action photos for you, but I’m not taking my outerwear off for ANYONE when the needle is south of freezing.

Here’s the best part of the Watson’s baselayers: they are a screaming deal. At a retail price of $19.99 per piece, that’s pretty tough to beat. I know that when my wife outfitted our family with similarly-constructed baselayers from other brands when we first relocated to winterland, she paid a lot more. Watson’s checks all the boxes in terms of material, construction, and odor-resistance at a fraction of what some other brands are charging. I don’t know how they do it, but I wish I had known about them a lot sooner.

And there is no discounting the “superhero” effect — wearing these high-tech baselayers under office attire for your commute is quite empowering!

An additional plus is that my young one loves the way they feel…here’s proof:

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Check out the full line of Watson’s outdoor wear for men, women, and kids by visiting their website.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Review: Cleaning products from Finish Line and White Lightning

I hope everyone has been enjoying their winter commutes…and I hope everyone has been staying on top of winter bike maintenance!

As many of you in colder climates know, road conditions can take a real toll on our bikes at this time of year: from sand to slush to salt and snow, there’s a lot of nastiness we have to contend with on our routes around the city. Regular (meaning at least weekly, or sometimes DAILY, depending on conditions) maintenance makes a huge difference in how our bikes ride over the winter and could mean the difference between pedaling to work or having to catch the bus.

In my neighborhood, I have salt to contend with — as I live near a very high concentration of U.S. servicemen and women, the roads in our area are heavily salted. After all, the military needs to get to work on time in any weather! All that salt is brutal to bike drivetrains, though…a day or two of neglect and you’re looking at a frozen, rusty mess that may not be salvageable.

In the interest of keeping things clean and functional, the good folks at Finish Line and White Lightning both sent cleaning products for us to try out.

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First up is the Finish Line “Starter Kit 1-2-3“, consisting of a small bottle of multipurpose degreaser, a small bottle of Teflon-based dry lube, and a handy cleaning brush. The degreaser is mixed with water and the stiff-bristled brush is used to scrub the chain, cogs and chainrings. Finally, the lube is applied and allowed to set.

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The brush and diluted degreaser made short work of the chain and gears…the bristles on one end of the brush scrub three sides of the chain at once and also get both sides of the chainring, while the long, stiff bristles on the other end reach down into the cogs and derailleur bodies to scrub out embedded grime. The degreaser itself seemed to work quite well in dissolving caked-on crud:

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I should add at this point that I rarely clean my chain in this manner during more temperate months — I’ve long been a user of “homebrew” (1 part synthetic motor oil to 3 parts mineral spirits), which both cleans and lubricates the chain. In the interest of cleaning off the salt and creating a bare, clean chain to try out the Finish Line dry lube, I strayed from my normal maintenance routine. The lube provided in this starter kit seemed to do an adequate job in keeping my chain quiet and smooth, and also seemed to attract less grime than the wetter solution I usually use. That’s a plus when the streets are covered with grit and salt crystals. I could get about 75-100 miles between applications with the Finish Line lube in these miserable winter conditions, so I’m suitably impressed.

Next up is the White Lightning Bamboo Cycle Wipes. I got the single-use packet to try out. Inside the packet is a woven sheet about 5″ x 7″…made of waffle-textured bamboo. It’s saturated with a mild solution to cut grease and grime. Here I am starting with a really yucky bike:

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I gave the bike a good once-over, and it came out quite nicely. These Cycle Wipes were especially effective at cleaning tire sidewalls and the brake tracks on my rims…where so much grossness accumulates after a wet, slushy ride. Here’s what my baby looked like after a good wipedown:

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I was pretty amazed at these Cycle Wipes — they cleaned the whole bike and got snagged repeatedly on teeth and other pointy bits, yet never tore or shredded. The single wipe simply kept on absorbing dirt. Still, I would have liked to have another one on hand to really pretty things up, but hey, my bike’s just going to get dirty again in a day or two!

Here’s the long-suffering wipe after a hard workout. You can see that it survived some pretty rough treatment:

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The Finish Line degreaser and the White Lightning Bamboo Cycle Wipes are both 100% biodegradable, a plus in my book. The Finish Line starter kit retails for around $20.00 — with 3 to 4 degreasings and a whole season of lubing possible with the amounts provided, that’s a decent deal. The White Lightning wipes come in a variety of packages, from a 6-pack box of single packets to a 25-wipe canister. I believe the single packets retail for less than a dollar apiece, and other reviewers report that they can be washed and reused for general purpose cleaning (although I didn’t try that). Keep a packet in your saddlebag for quick roadside cleanup or in your shop toolbox to keep your bike shiny and fresh…the cleaning solution is gentle enough for skin and tough enough for grimy parts.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Bike Your Drive – Top Commuter Basics

Hey there Bike Commuters!  It’s me, Mir.I.Am, and I’ll be the host for our show BIKE – YOUR – DRIVE! (Sponsored by “Log” from BLAMMO!)

Tonight’s guests include the Bike Commuters staff writers: Matt, Ghost Rider, RL, and Elizabeth.  Since we wanted to ride the high of May 2012’s Bike to Work Month (hehe, get it? ride the high, like ride a bike) we thought we’d put together a list of our Top Commuter Basics tips for all you who are biking your drive for the month of May… AND BEYOND.  Make sure to get clicky on the links for more bike commuter basic resources – get ready to bone up on your bike commuting skills, contestants!

“I’ll take Bike Commuting 101, for $500, Trebek!”  Take it away, Sean Connery

1.     Get a Bike – If you find yourself asking “which is the best commuter bike?“, the answer is: Any bike will do!  A hand-me-down, garage revival, or a loaner from a friend.  You don’t need carbon fiber or colorful fixies to get from your house to your work.  Okay, minimum stipulations should include: sufficient air in the tires, brakes that work, and a chain.  Head to your local bike shop to tune-up the rusting garage monster if needed – often times whatever we already have is good enough!  New bike commuters can always graduate to a new bike after they’ve gotten the hang of it.  Try before you buy.

Got questions about what bike to buy? Here’s a handy article that will get you started…sort of a simple “shopping guide” to arm you for your encounters at the local bike shop.

2.     Map it Out – Knowing your route will put your mind at ease like Ritalin on the first day of school.  Check out Google Maps Bike feature for recommended routes in your area, ask an experienced bike commuter to help you pick the most pleasant routes, or contact your local bike organization for comprehensive maps.  You can even take a test ride and bike through your route on a weekend, where you can relax and take as long as you want to figure out the best way for Monday.  We wrote an article a couple years ago about other route mapping Web utilities that may be useful for planning your excursion. For those of you in our audience today with smart phones, click on this link to check out some awesome bikey apps with maps that may also be of interest.

wet commute

Know where you're going before you ride.

3.     Clothing Choice – There are two schools of thought on clothing: those who change at work and those who don’t!  You may consider changing clothes at work if a) you are a “sweater” – any kind of physical activity can make you glisten b) weather is either rainy/snowy or extra hot -OR- c) you just don’t want to wear your work clothes on your bike.  Wear something that won’t rub in the crotch, flap around and snag in your gears or chain, or cuffed shorts/skirt that can get tangled up in your saddle.  If you are biking to work in your work clothes, take it slow and enjoy the scenery!  Liquid soap for a pirate shower in the restroom is easier to carry than a bar, and a small towel to dry off with call be helpful to freshen up.  Cycle Ladies, check out this link for looking fresh after exerting all that energy pedaling to work!  If you are bringing a change of clothes to work, carrying a lunch, or a small dog, jump to item #4!

Puppy transport inspiration!

4.     Carrying Cargo – Whether it’s a rack and panniers, messenger bag, a backpack, or cleverly-rigged purse with small dog, bike commuters need to bring things along the way!  We echo the sentiments of item #1, in that “whatever you already have will probably work just fine.”  Whatever your choice for carrying your clothes, laptop, lunch, or pretty much anything barring children, any backpack lying around the house should do the trick.  The backpack is a great go-to for a no hassle bike commuter cargo containment because a) everybody already has one b) two straps are better than one since they don’t swing around to the front of your body while pedaling -AND- c) you can pretend you are the Rocketeer on your way to work.

From Randonneur to Citaden:  Conversion of a touring bike to city kid and cargo hauler

Rack to the Max: front and back!

5.     Lights – front n’ back. Everyone at Bike Commuters has a passion for blinky lights, make sure you can at least be seen with one white and one red light.  We’ve got so many bike light reviews in our archive that it’s best to just give you the direct link to them all. Here you go…lights for the front, back, sides and everywhere in between!

6.     Invest in a good lock – and learn how to use it effectively. Our article on locking strategy will help you ensure your bike is still there after work. Don’t forget to secure your wheels…we’ve also got a handy article that addresses the various wheel-retention methods.  The best method for avoiding thieves (if your work is okay with it) is to bring your bike inside – unless you work with shady individuals of dodgy moral character.  Scope out the bike parking situation at work, covered bike parking would be best.  Co-workers that are bike commuters may have good tips on the best place to secure your steed.

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So maybe now is not the season to check the weather for SNOW, but you never know!

7.     Check the Weather – before you head out, and be prepared for rain or heat or bitter cold. We discuss raingear, layering for winter weather (not such a big concern now, of course…but file it away for the cooler months), more winter wardrobe tips, and more crucial to the coming months — beating the heat.  Speaking of beating the heat, on a related note, you may want to check out item #8:

8.     Beverages – Depending on how long you will be commuting by bike, a beverage may be necessary! If your commute is longer than a few miles, bring a water bottle.  A cage mounted squeezy water bottle like this one would be perfect.  If you haven’t yet mastered riding with one hand and drinking with the other, you can always grab a swig of water at a stop light or in a greeny pasture.  Another option for carrying a water bottle is to stash them in side pockets on your backpack for easy access (unzipping your bag to search for water at a light could result in fumbling and angry drivers when the light turns green).

The active life...

"Water is the Essence of Beauty...!" - MerMAN.

9.      Repair Kit – any bike commuter should be prepared to tackle basic repair and maintenance issues out on the road, especially tasks like changing a flat. You don’t want to be late to work, do you? Here’s an article that shows a basic toolkit… easy to carry and damn handy when you need it.  There are some great comments in that article, too: simple additions to the toolkit like gloves, a few dollars and – of course – a working cellphone to help bail you out if a breakdown has you stranded.  Remember, it’s quicker to replace the inner tube rather than trying to patch it on the road. You can patch the tube later at home.   If you’re not into toting around 2 tubes, a pump and tire levers, hate getting your hands dirty with repairs, or would just rather opt out for the day in the event of a flat, just bring bus or metro fare and bike in parallel with your public transit system!

10.     Rules of the Road – So now that you’re ready to hit the road in style on two wheels, let’s keep you safe on the road.  Check out our Commuter Tools Page for state-by-state bicycle laws.  The League of American Bicyclists has a simple 6-point Rules of the Road list to help keep the ride safe and fun:

1. Follow the law.
2. Be predictable.
3. Be conspicuous.
4. Think ahead.
5. Ride Ready.
6. Keep your cool.

Plus more Ride Better Tips page offers specifics on riding to the right, signaling, traffic and much more!  Be aware while riding, always be scanning the road for debris, obstacles or jerks.

11.     Get a Bike Buddy – If you don’t feel safe getting out on your bike alone, consider a bike buddy! Chicago has a new program called “Chicago Bike Buddies“. In addition to helping you plan your route and help you gear up for your commute, a buddy also offers support and helps keep you safe out there. There is safety in numbers! Seek out or start a similar program in your neighborhood, or just reach out to anyone else you know who bikes to help get you started. Most of us cyclists love helping fellow cyclists…

Asian Love

Accountabili-buddy. Bike Commuters Unite!

Well contestants and viewers at home, thanks for tuning in on this week’s episode of BIKE – YOUR – DRIVE (Sponsored by “Log” from BLAMMO!)  We hope you enjoyed our show and learned some snazzy Top Commuter Basics Tips – this show is made possible by viewers like you!  For more information on how you can become a Bike Commuter, check out our final link from the League of American Bicyclists.  Make sure to bike your drive next week: same bike time, same bike channel.