Bike Commuting in the Winter, or Urban Mountain Bike Season

winter commuter

If you can dress to ski in it you can dress to bike in it! I’ve often been asked about riding in the cold, and that’s always been my answer. People pay a lot of money to ski in really cold weather, so biking in it is not too different.

Riding in the winter can be tricky, but I think it’s a fun challenge, just like mountain biking. I was not able to mountain bike or do long road rides for a while because of my job and an over-use injury in my hip. So bike commuting in the winter is now my mountain bike season.

There are similar skills required for both:

  1. You have to take your time around corners,
  2. Power through crusty snow and ice like through rocks,
  3. Stay out of icy ruts, or ride straight until you’re out of it.
  4. Use the front brake less and get your weight over the back wheel on slippery hills.
  5. And you get to pull out you’re gear for it! (A good pair of rain pants that fit over jeans will get used a lot in Colorado.)
  6. Be careful and aware of cars! Both mountain biking and biking in snow or ice can be dangerous, but then cars add an additional danger with bike commuting in the winter.

I know that fat bikes are popular and look fun, but you don’t need a fat bike to commute in snowy conditions.

My nineties era 26″ wheel mountain bike works great for me in snow and ice. The geometry of the bike keeps you upright and over the back wheel, instead of forward like a road frame. Also, it’s lower to the ground than a road bike or 29’er, so I feel more stable, and it’s easier to put a foot down.

Like mountain biking, you really have to pay attention to what you’re riding over, and ride appropriately. In the dead of winter when the ground stays below freezing and snow turns to ice, know there are always slippery spots, especially in the mornings and evenings.

The smooth, clear ice is the most dangerous in my opinion. One slight turn, weight shift or brake and the bike goes out from under you.

crunchy ice
Icy, rutty snow
Ice with ruts
Crunchy but grippy ice

 


 

 

 

 


 

Cold, frozen icy snow in January and February (photos above) is much different than soft, wet snow in the spring (below). The cold, icy snow (above) is harder to turn in and get out of the ruts. But you can ride through the wet, soft spring snow easier and turn out of the ruts easier.

Spring wet snow
Soft, wet, spring snow

Tips from Mountain Biking:

  • Lower your seat for better stability and avoiding falls
  • Lower the air pressure in you tires for better grip, but not too much so that you get a flat
  • Use your front brake less, and never on slippery ice
  • Ride straight out of (icy)ruts
  • Power through (pedal hard!) the crunchy stuff like riding through rocks

Some other tips:

  • Ride in the tire tracks from cars, where the snow is already packed down
  • To avoid cars while navigating icy roads use side streets
  • Keep bike inside at night
  • http://barmitts.com/
  • Dry clean chain often and keep lubed. Chains rust faster in winter weather.
  • BE VISIBLE for cars!
  • Wear good boots and waterproof ski/rain pants.
snowbike
Spring Storm April 2013

Hod carrying these days

20160129_150137A week after my surgeon released me to work from hip surgery, I got a job with a stone mason crew as the hod carrier. And four months later, my hip is doing well.

I still don’t have a car but I am able to catch a ride, carpool, with a couple different co-workers. I did have to bicycle to the job site once. The site is a few miles northeast of the Budweiser plant so it took about 45 minutes to ride there. This got the attention of all the other contractors.  “This guy rode his bike from town then mixed mud and carried hod all day,” I heard an electrician tell another.

So one of the main contractors got wind of this and asked me some questions about my story. When I told him I wanted to get LEED accredited and work with green building, he immediately got his hackles up which led to him complaining about Obama attacking the Wyoming coal industry. That, coupled with riding my bike to work, made him label me as “just a damn hippie.” Then he proceeded to let me know how bicyclists in Wyoming expect to get run off the road so they bail when they here a vehicle behind them, and that’s the way it should be. He rationalized this by saying bikes don’t pay gas taxes so they don’t belong on the road.

There were so many arguments to make against what he was saying. But he had also called me a hypocrite, more or less, because I rode in a vehicle to work. So that’s when I said, “wait a minute, I’m just doing what works for me. I haven’t said anything about what you do. You asked my story, then got offended by it.” He agreed, laughed, and told me to “keep on trying to save the world then.”

But this is what we’re dealing with. Not to put this guy down too much, he’s nice overall, and just a bit of a goofball. He’s not alone with his stance though, many people get offended by others wanting to be green, liberal or even just progressive. Why?

When he was making fun of me for wanting to “save the world”, I asked him about the future of the planet and his children, he laughed and said they’re screwed.

I’ll keep carpooling to work, riding my bike everywhere else, and I’ll keep trying to tactfully point out our careless waste and the need for conservation. They can make fun of me but I’m still planting a seed in some not-so-fertile “ground”.

20160219_075524
The wind blew our wall over, but we salvaged about a third of the block.

 

I thought we were all on Team Earth back then! Part 1

RobsBike_LOGO_smallI started Rob’s Bike Courier Service as my own positive protest to the Iraq war.

I had worked for the city SmartTrips program for four years promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles. During that time Joe Breeze came through town. He was promoting bike commuting, as well as his new commuter bike line. There was a story in the paper about him, and if I remember right part of his reason for going from making mountain bikes to commuter bikes and his brother’s more negative protest to the first gulf war.

When we entered Iraq in 2003, everyone knew it was about oil, and I felt the need to do something, positive. I was very comfortable using a bike for transportation through out the year. I’d done a cross-country bike tour and knew the potential of the bicycle for transport. I knew the town well, had even been a FedEx courier when I moved out here and knew that a bike courier service could not only reduce the amount of gas being burned in town, but could be an example for bike commuting year around.

I worked for the city Natural Areas during the 2004 season and the amount of fuel burned carelessly among the crews and staff drove me crazy. Instead of coming back for the 2005 season, I started Rob’s Bike Courier Service. Instead of being the traditional bike courier service, using mainly just messenger bags delivering documents, I wanted to be a full delivery service. So I paid a welder friend to build a larger, heavy-duty bike trailer for me.

With that trailer I got my first regular job, hauling glass, 400 lbs at a time. I thought that we were all on Team Earth.

Maybe not.

Next post we’ll look into the rest of this and then possibly the Colorado River and the High Park Fire.

Thanks for following my blog.

Push (Reel) Mowers are greener, like bikes, but also cut better!

There are obvious benefits of push (reel) mowers:

  • Push mowers don’t require gas – According to the EPA, Americans use over 800 million gallons of gas per year mowing their lawns and spill over 17 million gallons of fuel, more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
  • Push mowers are quiet.
  • Push mowers don’t pollute or stink up your air – A new gas powered lawn mower produces as much volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions air pollution in one hour of operation as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour, again, EPA statistic.
  • Push mowers are similar to bicycles by being simple, human-powered machines that are easy to maintain or renovatecropped-bike-trailer-mowers.jpg
  • Push mowers are lighter than power mowers.
  • They are less expensive and cost less to maintain and operate than power mowers.
  • No cords or batteries are needed.

But also…scissor cut

Reel mowers cut blades of grass just like a pair of scissors would. There is a back blade, the bed knife, and the moving, reel blades. This smooth, precise cut is better for the grass plant than the cut of a rotary power mower, gas or electric, which cuts with a violent, impact cut, leaving the grass blade jagged and rough.

Golf Courses use reel mowers because of how much better it is for the grass plant. But golf courses usually use tractors to pull multiple reels.

Putting Green push mower

Here is a Putting Green Push Reel Mower, it can cut as low as 1/4″. That is why reel mowers are used for putting greens, the grass can be cut that low when it’s cut with a pair of scissors, or something similar.

Then with the simple gearing between the wheels and the reel, you power the mower by pushing it, which spins the reel, mulawnmower gears 2 - Editedch faster because of the gear ratio.

Any reasonable sized lawn can be mowed with push (reel) mowers. Thicker, lusher lawns might need to be trained, meaning it may take a few times. But these mowers work great on lawns with native grasses that don’t require as much water.

In the West, if you incorporate more xeriscapng and native grasses in your lawn, a push-reel mower is the best choice for your; lawn, grass plants, air, ears, and world!


Craftsman, Scotts, & AmericanScott’s, Craftsman, American and Great States are all built by Great States, and range from $90 – $130 new. All four brands are solid, work well, easy to work on and and have the same replaceable parts (that you can get through Great States website).

Brills became popular 10-15 years ago. They are German made, well-built and designed to be very light, which has it’s pro’s and con’s. They don’t work as well on lusher lawns with Kentucky Bluegrass. They slide and don’t cut so well on thicker lawns, from my experience.

Where an older, heavy one will keep it’s traction and power right through thick grass.

The same is true with the heavier, more expensive Fiskars model, the StaySharp Max Reel Mower, which retails for $250. They are more expensive and a little harder to work on, but are probably worth it. I’ve only worked on a couple Fiskars, and although they were harder to work on, they seem very user friendly and customers said they work very well. The Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower has heavy reel blades for keeping momentum and powering through thick grass and it also has inset wheels so it cuts to the edge.

old mower new roller
I had a friend turn a new roller on a lathe for a customer this past spring.

If you can find an older (1930’s – 1970’s), heavier, push mower at a garage sale then have it sharpened professionally,  you are re-using and you have the older quality. The older, heavier ones work really well when sharpened and tuned up, they just don’t adjust to cut as high as newer ones, but don’t necessarily need to.  A larger roller or longer hangers will raise the bed knife, and therefore raise the cut, also.       


Below, on the left, are two push (reel) mowers that work great, one from the 1930’s and one from 1940’s. Then on the right is a reel mower made in the 1950’s, with a motor on it, because we really need a chainsaw to cut butter!

1930's and 40's era mowers

1950's era mower

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog!

Car-Free Recreation Does NOT Mean Get Rid of your Car

I have a blog post about Car-Free Recreation with a link to the Car-Free Recreation Guide to Northern Colorado that I created in 2008, https://humanpowerworks.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/car-free-recreation/.

Cars are necessary, I never say get rid of them. I just say ‘drive less’, and be aware that our addiction to cars and oil has a large impact. I am no20150703_114422t doing ‘Car-Free Rehab’ for my recent hip scope. A friend let me borrow her car for errands and going to physical therapy until I could ride my bike again.

But the point of Car-Free Recreation is that when you’re going to play outside, stay outside, and get there on a bike. Save the car trips for the rare, or bad weather, adventures.  And then never idle at a trail head and ask anyone who does, not to. 

This is especially for very fit and active people, who are capable of modifying workouts, runs and rides to using a bike instead of a car. Compromise, innovate and be creative. Just leave it parked when when going outside to play. Stay a little closer, buy more touring gear, and build up to longer trips. Why put your bike on your car to go for a ride when you can start your ride from your doorstep?

Look at what Goran Kropp did in the 90’s for the purpose of a Car-Free goran-kropp-660Adventure. He rode to Mt. Everest from Sweden, reached the summit without help or extra oxygen, then rode back to Sweden.

And last week, the women who won the Great Divide Race rode 2,000 miles from her home in Anchorage to the start of the race in Banff. Then she raced the Great Divide Race and won, crushing the previous record.

In Fort Collins there are so many amazing places to play within a an hour round-trip ride, including: Horsetooth Reservoir (and a Cycletote trailer could easily carry a Stand Up Paddleboard or two!), Coyote Ridge, Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge Natural Areas, multiple climbing areas, the soccer complex and so much more!

Then, within a days ride to and a days ride from, we have: The Pawnee Grasslands, Soapstone and Bobcat Ridge Natural Areas (both can be done as one-day, to and from adventures, just pack food and rain gear), Poudre Canyon, Pingree Park and nearby wilderness areas, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

So for the people using the outdoors to recreate and exercise, it’s our responsibility to protect our air quality as much as we can.

I know that Car-Free Recreation can be done at all levels and is so worth it.

Thanks for reading my blog!

So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change

Time story on California’s oil spill..

An oil slick is seen along the coast of Refugio State Beach in Goleta, Calif. on May 19, 2015.
http://time.com/3891739/california-oil-spill-jerry-brown-state-of-emergency/?xid=newsletter-brief

For decades, savvy marketing and advertising has been telling us that we need a chainsaw to cut butter. Because we bought it and continue to spend so much money at the pump, we’ve made some big messes that are going to be hard to clean up.

As long as we keep buying so much gas and consuming so much with heavy transportation costs, things will continue the status quo.

trailer and gas price
Just because we can afford it, doesn’t mean we should burn it!

If someone is a climate denier, one who doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans, there are still so many reasons to conserve, especially oil. That’s the new term right, climate deniers? I like ‘flat-earthers’. Yeah, people used to think the earth was flat also.

So let’s just say that pulling all of this ancient carbon out of the ground, burning it and putting it into the atmosphere, of a closed system, isn’t affecting extreme weather. Let’s say that the extreme weather and earth events are not caused by us and are out of our control.

Here are some other reasons for conserving fossil fuel energy:

Fracking and oil drilling are linked to the unprecedented number of earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states.

 We poison ourselves, our air and water to kill mosquitoes when there are about 20 cases of West Nile virus and one death. But why don’t we have the same attitude toward cars. How many deaths per year are caused by car wrecks? Air pollution? Oil well leaks and explosions? Wars? It’s unnatural what car wrecks do to the human body.  I wish we attacked cars like we did mosquitoes.

Those are reasons for conserving fossil fuel energy other than climate change. But NASA studies climate change. Industry is being affected by it and believes climate change is real. Nike and Coca-cola recently spearheaded a global conference on how climate change is affecting global production. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/science/earth/threat-to-bottom-line-spurs-action-on-climate.html and http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/01/27/coke-nike-call-climate-change-commercial-threat/

bike tour windmills

There are so many ways to conserve oil and other fossil fuels, here are my thoughts:

  • Drive less! – Ride your bike instead when you can, or carpool, combine trips, call ahead, and stay closer. Ride a bike for recreation. If you’re going to play outside, stay outside and get there on a bike! see Car-free Rec blog.
  • Don’t Idle your car! – drive slow and gently to warm it up in the winter, use a blanket or tarp (or garage) to keep it from frosting outside, and wear a coat in the winter. They say turn it off after 30 seconds.  blog coming.
  • Use a reel-push mower for cutting you lawn instead of gas or electric. Blog coming.
  • Buy Local! Cut down on transportation costs and support your local economy. Blog coming.
  • Use a clothes line and hang your clothes to dry – especially in Colorado where it’s so dry with so much sun. Dryers consume the second most energy in homes after refrigerators. Blog coming.LR-11

Thanks for reading!

Rob

The Benefits of Bike Trailers

Bike trailers turn your bike into a cargo-bike, or a sport utility vehicle, so that you can transport whatever you need to, by bicycle!

Tote-10

Bike trailers are relatively light, versatile and made to fit most bikes. So you can probably use your favorite bike to haul your cargo, recycling, golf clubs or whatever! And you can still ride it like you’re supposed to ride a bike. You can stand on the pedals, lean side to side, and lean into turns.

Then you can disconnect it from the bike for easy storage or transport.


Benefits of Bike Trailers:

  • Turn your bike into a cargo bike.
  • Detachable – easy to store or transport.
  • Stability – two-wheeled trailers are very stable with heavy loads or children.
  • Streamlined – trailers are low to the ground and single-wheeled trailers track inline with the bike.
  • Bike can lean – you can ride it like a regular bike and stand on the pedals for more power.
  • Easy to fix flats – the wheels are easy to get to and remove.
  • Kid trailers are a safe option for hauling children. These trailers have seats, harnesses and a barrier, and with two wheels they’re very stable, much more so than a Dutch cargo bike.
  • Bike and trailer weigh 100 times less than a car but 10 times more efficient.

biketour - Glacier (bike only)I pulled a BOB trailer across and around the country, used it for commuting and my bike courier service.

BOB trailers are single-wheel bike trailers that work great for touring and commuting. When touring with a BOB you don’t need to worry about weight distribution like you might with panniers. And for commuting you can haul anything from groceries and laundry to sports gear. The trailer is low to the ground, narrow and with the front pivot it tracks inline with the bike. Check them out at http://www.bobgear.com/bike-trailers.


 

I know bike trailers, these are mine.

four bike trailers

I am also very familiar with cargo-trikes. As Outreach Assistant at Ft. Collins’ SmartTrips program from 2000-2004, I used the program’s Pedal Pick-up from Main Street Pedicabs for everything from hauling for event set-ups to delivering loaner bikes. It is basically a large trike with an enclosed bed in the back, that sits over the rear axle. The one we had came with a rechargeable battery and pedal assisted motor. When the battery ran out of juice the trike was very slow with only pedal power. The rechargeable battery was as heavy as a car battery And didn’t last that long. The design of a trike isn’t as efficient as a bike and trailer in my opinion, which is why trikes often have electric assist motors.


Two wheel trailers offer stability for really heavy loads, especially if you hang the bed low. Heavy payloads are more stable the closer to the ground you get the payload, and the wider the wheels on the trailer.

bbrp photoIn the six years I hauled glass, 400 lb loads at a time, 2000-3,500 lbs every week and 280 tons total, I never had a pay-load tip over.

I could also ride the bike like a regular bicycle, which means I could stand on the pedals and lean the bike to either side for power and efficiency.  I could also disconnect and store my trailers easily.

bike move - couchesI moved twice with only bikes and bike trailers! It took me about 10 trips both times, but it worked.

I’ve also used bike trailers for hauling; groceries, laundry, camping gear, touring gear, soccer gear, climbing gear, gardening supplies, lawnmowers, golf clubs, lumber, dogs and even someone with a torn ACL.


 

Food Coop WBTWDWhen I was pulling my covered trailer around working, I often was asked where can you buy one like mine. I had mine custom built so I always recommended Cycletotes as the best, large capacity, retail trailer made.

Here are a few reasons why I think the Cycletote design works so well;

Tote-5  1) seatpost hitch – attaching the trailer at the seatpost gives the rider a large turning radius and pushes the load from the drive wheel.

2) 700c wheels with high pressure tires give the trailer more rolling momentum than smaller trailer wheels.

Tote-43) And a low hanging cargo-bed makes a heavy load more stable and efficient to pull.

Cycletote frames are built in Ft. Collins with high-grade aluminum and have a lifetime warranty. Check them out at https://cycletote.com/trailers/cargo-and-utility-trailers/


Bikes with trailers are an affordable form of urban transportation but can also get you across the country while being outside the whole time!

Thanks for reading my blog!