Thursday, October 28, 2010

Weather, traffic and gear - October 28, 2010

Weather, traffic and gear.  Just about covers everything, but I figured if I’m lazy and don’t post for a few days I might as well cover it all.  Of course I may not touch on them in that order.
In this instance I’m going to cover gear first.  I am now running pursuit style bars on Mr.Fixie.  I make the change to accommodate better power and hand position while climbing out of the saddle (something I end up doing a lot), that and it looks better on the bike.  The bar change is great!  I can grab the bar in a natural position and use my upper-body strength to rock the bike more easily than before.  That plus the flat bar brake lever gives me better stopping power compared to the previous lever.
Also upgraded this year are the fenders.  Clip-ons are great if you need a temporary fix and protect you from the worst of the road water, but don’t protect the bike  and only provide about half of the needed coverage.  I have bolt on, full fenders with long buddy flaps on both the front and back.  Running the wider tires (more on that in a second) plus the 27” diameter means my fit is tight but also means that very little stray water is getting on me.
The tires are upgraded to Specialized Armadillo’s with Mr. Tuffy liners.  The combination should prevent flats this winter, which with a bolt on/off rear wheel is a relief.  The other change to the tires is diameter.  I put the widest tires that I could fit 1.25”.  This gives me a lot more tire on the pavement and better traction in the wet.  Of course the downside to having heavy duty tires, with heavy duty liners and a lot of tire contact means that getting them going is a tough job and hills have become a bit more of a challenge.  Not the worst thing in the world as my riding time will drop in half to a third over the winter.
Other changes include a new jacket (my old one finally died).  I went to a Cyclight jacket.  It waterproof, breathable, reflective, blah, blah; but it also has LED’s built into the jacket that give me added visibility.  The jacket is great!  It breaths moderately well and completely cuts the wind.  Even in heavy rain it stays dry and with a couple of little interior pockets I am hoping to have it five years from now.  Also added to my wardrobe is a ball cap style, cycling cap.  It looks utterly ridiculous on me, but it keeps the rain of my glasses, even when it’s blowing over 20 mph.
The rest of my outerwear is the same and has had lots of field testing.  In torrential downpours I can stay completely dry for about an hour, after that it depends.  I can also ride at temperatures down to about twenty degrees with no problem and probably colder, but haven’t had that opportunity yet.
It is definitely heading towards winter in the PNW.  I’m ok with the rain, but two mornings this week I’ve had to ride into 20 +mph winds.  At one point I was having issues getting the bike to go down a six degree slope; the wind was strong enough it felt like I was going up that road instead and was lucky if I was able to hold 10 mph.  In a fair world those winds would be at my back going home.  While there was wind, it was probably half that speed, which I suppose is better than being into the wind both ways.

The other lovely thing with the wind are all the branches on the ground and the threat of them falling on your head.  Helmets have another use!  The best thing about fixed gear is no derailleur to get banged up or ripped off by a tree limb that can’t be avoided.  The carpet of leaves are also pretty but deadly, they impede most traction and cause the roads to be very slippery.  The upside to all of this is that traffic moves slower and while the drivers may wonder at the maniac zipping down the street past them in the blowing rain, I’m moving and they’re not.

All in all traffic has been pretty good.  It generally is on the route I take.  Between my riding style  and the fact that I travel on main through-fairs for bicycle traffic it is rare that I get an unsafe or aggressive driver.  I have watched people carefully pass me to then drive on and four or five blocks later get into a horn blowing competition with another car.  This morning was special though.

At the top of one of the hills there is a “T” junction that I go through.  I travel straight and the traffic goes straight or right.  Pulling up behind a car stopped at the light I move to the right of the lane as on the other side of intersection there is another hill and a fog lane that I like to ride in and get out of the traffics way.  I heard a semi (turned out to be a dump truck), coming up behind me set to turn right, so I scooted myself and my bike over a foot so he had lots of room to pass.  As he got up beside me he slowed and I heard his window being rolled down.  Great!  Some yahoo about to tell me that I was doing something wrong or they didn’t like.

Nope!  He hollered down a good morning, asked how my ride was, commented that the weather should be getting better, etc.  The light turned green and he wished me a good ride before we parted ways.  Weird, not just because it was a truck driver, but just in general.  So I carried on and even with a lot of traffic I had lots of careful passing going down one of the busiest sections of my ride.  The hit another major hill in my commute.

This time it was a metro-bus that surprised me.  This particular road is not structured to accommodate buses well.  They basically pull off the single lane of traffic into the parking area/bike lane for their stops and then back into traffic.  Normally I am either far enough ahead or behind them that there isn’t an issue or on the occasional time I catch one, I pull up behind it and wait, knowing that I can zip around it on the downhill portion if it stops again.

This morning though, the bus had just passed me and I could see someone waiting at the next stop, so I slowed down assuming that the bus would pull in front of me.  I was wrong; instead he stopped in the car lane and waived the pedestrian to cross over to board the bus thus allowing me to continue without being impeded.  WOW!  Of all the drivers that have made me jump, busses normally are at the top of that list so this was a long way from the norm.

I did have an uneventful ride home as well, although maybe there had been an announcement for “extra nice driver day”, because I saw five or six times the number of cyclists then I normally would.  All in all it was a good day to be a bicycle commuter.

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