Sunday, February 9, 2014

Disaster Redeemed

I spent yesterday working on the fat bike brakes. All day. No exaggeration. From mid morning until well into the night. After I had worked for over an hour on the front brakes (back and forth, repeating the same steps over and over and over, every time hoping that time would be the magic one), I gave up, took a short food break, and switched to the rear brakes. In less than ten minutes, I had the rear brakes adjusted just right. Tight enough to have good stopping power, and no drag at all--perfect. This reassured me enough that I switched back to working on the front brakes. I tried everything. I researched online for more tips, I tried creative approaches with shims and washers. Still, I could not get those brakes adjusted right. I ended up leaving them with a little bit of drag. I figured it was better to have a little drag than not enough stopping power. Thankfully this doesn't apply to everything in my life, but there are things that I have such a hard time leaving alone when they are less than perfect!

I have been having trouble identifying places to ride. Not for lack of research or enthusiasm. I have swung by a few snowmobile trailheads near my house, only to be discouraged that the snow there was deep and soft--not packed down by snowmobile traffic. I have looked for other trailheads that remain elusive--some of the maps I have found online are rough approximations. I'm thinking you kind of have to know where some of these trailheads are in order to find them in the wintertime.

I decided that today was going to be my day for a nice, long trail ride. I packed my fat bike on my car using the new bike rack, loaded a bunch of gear in the car, and headed out. (Look how filthy my car is! I had just washed it the day before. Trying to keep it clean this time of year is an endless losing battle.)

My first destination was a mountain biking trail in Augusta. I might have found the trailhead; I did see footprints heading into the woods. There was no place to park, though, that wasn't right next to a fire hydrant, and the snow looked too deep and soft. So, then, I headed to a trail system in Waterville. I definitely found the trailhead and it looked perfect! The snow looked well-packed and there was no problem with parking. I add the fenders to the bike, threw on my helmet and backpack, and took off.

Not so fast! Riding around the parking lot worked great but, once I headed down the trail, I couldn't move! The wheels just spun; they wouldn't grab any traction. Great, just great. I loaded everything back onto/into the car and headed back home. The whole way home I was doing this catastrophizing thing I can do so well. What if I don't find anywhere to ride my fat bike? What if I can't do the workouts I need to do to prepare for my trip? Etc., etc., etc.

When I got home, instead of going in the house, I jumped on the fat bike and rode up and down my road--five round trips. Turns out that, in these conditions (18 degrees F, sunny, 6 mph wind), my road is the perfect place to ride. Packed snow and dirt surface, enough hills to get a workout, no car traffic, pretty views. I ended up riding over ten miles (a little more than an hour). I felt I had had a good workout and, surprisingly, I did not get bored.

Good News:
  • If I can't ride on snowmobile trails as much as I had planned, maybe I can ride on remote (quiet) dirt roads. I guess more research is called for. Of course, once the weather warms up and these dirt roads become pea-soup soft, a Plan C will be required.
  • It was cold today, but I seemed to have the right clothing on for this ride. I was a little cold when I was heading northeast (into the wind) and a little warm when I was heading southwest (toward the sun). Any colder or windier, and I would need my Moose Mitts to keep my hands warm.
  • I love my fenders! They didn't impede my pedaling even once, they protected me and the bike from flying road/snow debris, and the rear one did not slide down the seat tube at all (as some reviews had led me to anticipate).
  • The bar mount for my phone gives me easy access to it, but I guess I should research gloves that conduct through the fingertips so I don't have to remove them to operate the phone.
  • The app I used to record my ride (Road Bike) worked great--right up until the phone completely died (see Bad News). 
  • Not once did I hear the front brakes dragging. In fact, the brakes worked so well that I didn't even think about them until the ride was over.
Bad News:
  • During the first four miles or so of my ride, the seat felt comfortable. Then, discomfort took over. Good wake-up moment. I need to get a lot more saddle time in to get adjusted to that discomfort so I don't notice it any more.
  • My hands and wrists were the most uncomfortable parts of me on this ride. The hand position on straight handlebars does not feel comfortable after a few miles and there are only so many ways to creatively change positions. I'll have to experiment with gel pads, etc. I will be happy to switch to my road bike and have all those additional hand-placement options.
  • The tube to my hydration pack froze up solid. No surprise there! I was wearing the pack mostly to assess whether I would find cycling with water on my back to be comfortable--and it is. I guess the hydration pack won't work very well in this weather, unless I come up with warming strategies for that tube. (Update: My son says there are insulated covers made for those water tubes. Of course there are.)
  • Riding around in this kind of cold drains the phone's battery really quickly. I guess during this cold I should carry the phone against me inside my jacket, and maybe not continuously use the trip-recording app. More experimentation is warranted. I probably should explore options for powering the phone (maybe a backup battery for the tour?) and for recording sporadic "moments" along a ride instead of recording the entire ride. 
  • I had been planning to take photos during this ride--but the whole phone-dying thing interfered with that idea.
All in all, a good day and a successful ride. Strange way to get to this result. Put the bike on the car and drive around for an hour and a half, and then ride the bike straight out of my driveway.

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