In this edition of the OOFD newsletter, Kyle Millns, Bryan McClaran, and Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin chat about winter riding. Three Logan Square residents who race for Intent Strength & Multisport, commute year-round, and host the non-suburban version of their team’s group ride. Additionally, Jeremy spent 18 months living in a research station in Antarctica.
Two of them, Kyle and Bryan, host the Frostbite 50, a roughly fifty-mile ride that occurs on the first Saturday in February. This infamous ride crosses state lines twice, visits three breweries, and may or may not have a rolling bar! They recorded a conversation for us while driving to Aurora, IL, where they were (not surprisingly) gearing up to ride fat bikes in 10-degree weather.
Let’s see what they have to say about winter cycling, and the sheer awesomeness that is the FB50:
Note: All three of these guys tend to get excited and ramble a bit, so this has been edited for brevity
Bryan: Ok, so, Frostbite 50. Is it three years now?
Kyle: It’ll be three, yeah.
(Note: It started four years ago, but this is the third occurrence of the FB50. We skipped 2015, because Bryan was unable to ride a bike.)
B: Four years ago, we got bored and decided to go for a ride on a day that the temperature peaked at-
K: Twenty something?
B: Somewhere around there. It sucked, we were freezing, and I think we both got minor “frostnip”. I think that’s the term for it. And then we stupidly decided to do it again. And invite a bunch of people. And involve drinking. So, that’s the gist of the Frostbite 50.
K: The first year we didn’t even have any drinking on the other end. We just rode to the Indiana border and back, which was somewhat uneventful.
B: Well, we were gonna go to Parts & Labor at the end of it, because we talked about that on the way back, and then when we both got home and showered, we didn’t wanna leave the warmth of our houses again. Also, our significant others didn’t want to leave the warmth of their houses. Which was reasonable.
K: Also, I think the cold took any will to move out of us. I was solidly exhausted after that.
B: Yeah, it kinda sucked, a lot. I also tried to convince you that we should go to the casino, because it was visible from where we were standing at the border.
K: The first year, I did it on my single speed, which was the only time I did that. Single speed in the winter works really well, because there’s not a lot to go wrong. But, on long distances, you’re eventually gonna bonk and not have any way to make it easier on yourself.
B: Right! Which is why this year, I’m probably going to do it on a fixed gear. Because I’m not the smartest man.
K: So, the first stupid thing that happened was you couldn’t find shoe covers anywhere.
Jeremy: We should talk about what shoe covers are and why they’re important!
B: Oh. Right.
K: Shoe covers are ways of taking your shoes that are comfortable in spring, summer, and fall, and making it so that all the ventilation and stuff doesn’t make your feet freeze during the winter.
B: Also, some of them add water resistance:
K: Typically, a neoprene bootie that goes over your shoe. There’s also the old Belgian version of just taking some old wool socks and stomping your cleats through. Keeps wind, water, and cold out.
B: The one drawback is that there’s still a big hole in the bottom for your cleat, and then the bottom of your cycling shoe has a permeable area where the cleat moves back and forth when you’re adjusting placement. Quick fixes for that are to use plumbers caulk around the cleat area of the shoe after you’ve set your cleat placement. Also, if you take an old credit card and glue it down over the cleat area on the inside, that helps some with the wind.
K: Yeah, and while the show covers add warmth, since they hook over and are often made of neoprene, they tend to be slipperier in slushy frozen conditions, so when you need to put a foot down, they will be less stable. Did we even have fenders on the bikes?
B: I had a clip on.
K: I think I had full fenders.
B: You also got two flats somehow.
B: Ten miles in, and we still decided to go for it, even though we had one tube left between the two of us.
K: Yes. Also, bring more spare tubes than you think you’ll need in winter, because the last thing you want is to be stranded in the cold.
B: Yeah, also, puncture resistant tires are grand, because the second-to-last thing you want is to be changing tires bare handed on the side of the road when it’s zero degrees out. Your hands will never be warm again. (Note: Bryan changes tires bare handed, even in the winter, because gloves are bulky and he hates them, though they can be a necessary evil.)
K: We’ve tried pretty much all the tricks in the book to keep our bottles from freezing, including insulated bottles which had whiskey added to the water to make it tastier and less likely to freeze or hot tea in the bottle, neither of which really helped long enough, but it definitely helps longer than a normal bottle would.
B: For sure. My whiskey bottles turn into slushies. The problem, though, is the valves freeze up. The Camelbak insulated bottles are fantastic in the winter for keeping your water from freezing solid for a good while, but realistically the awesome valve they have on them does freeze solid. The Purist bottle valves don’t freeze as much, because there aren’t any moving parts: it’s just a big old hole that water comes out of. Okay, so let’s talk about winter clothing and stuff...
B: All of the layers. Don’t try to do one big heavy layer, because you’ll over heat and won’t be able to take it off without being too cold. Layers of thin technical fabrics or merino wool. Merino is your friend. It’s not the most hi-tech thing, it is not the most expensive thing, but it is the best thing. We’re on our way to a ride right now and I’m wearing at least three pieces of merino clothing.
K: Something that’s worth noting with jackets and coats and whatever top layers: Things that are meant to keep you warm under low effort situations will tend to overheat in the pits and in the back, so if you can find something with-
All: Pit Zips!
J: One other thing that’s worth noting is that it’s better to be slightly on the chilly side and not sweating than to be warm and start sweating, because once you get warm you’ll start sweating and the moisture makes it much harder to get warm again.
B: For sure.
K: Yeah -- and cotton is death in the cold. No matter what else, tech fabric or wool or whatever, avoid cotton!
J: I mean, we’re going to a very cold ride right now and I’m wearing a cotton t-shirt, so…
B: Ok, if you must wear cotton to add another layer for warmth, try not to use it as the layer against your skin. It has no moisture wicking.
K: I commute to work and try to be able to transition straight into work time from whatever I have been riding in, so that typically means windproof waterproof slacks, occasionally a cotton sweater or something, but I generally have a wool base layer under it.
B: Which, by the way, for windproof waterproof slacks, Swrve makes great ones. Levi’s Commuter series are great until the first time you wash them. Yeah, there’s a whole debate about whether you should wash denim anyhow, but I’m not going to get into that right now.
K: Carhartt insulated jeans work well, or just any jeans you like plus a base layer. If you’re made of money, Outlier makes some really nice pants, but to the tune of $200+ a pair.
B: What else? Balaclavas! They’re great.
K: Balaclavas are great. The one problem is that if you wear glasses or goggles, they tend to redirect your breath up into your glasses or goggles.
J: They do make balaclavas with articulated face panels and vented nose shields that direct all your breath downward. Those are the best. Another good thing you could do is not cover your nose, and on your goggles, attach a piece of fabric with some glue or some tape to keep the wind off your nose.
B: Specialized makes great double layer gloves. Again, layers are key.
K: 45NRTH makes a similar thing.
B: Yeah, pretty much anything 45NRTH makes is great for winter. Oh, and pogies are fantastic.
J: Yeah, pogies or bar mitts.
K: Yeah, you can run bar mitts and just have a light glove under it. It’s pretty much a neoprene shield that keeps the wind off you, which keeps wind off you, which is a lot of it for extremities. A liner glove with a larger glove over it works well, because you’re trapping more air, and the air is what keeps you warm.
J: Double wrapping cork bar tape adds a layer of insulation to keep the bars from making your hands cold, or wrapping an old inner tube under cork bar tape. It’s also super cushy and comfortable for long distances.
K: Yeah, something that’s not immediately obvious is how cold your metal components will get.
B: If you’re gonna wear tights, my personal feeling is that it’s better to have padded bib shorts with non-padded bib tights over them. I guess that’s just personal preference, but again layers. Bike choice: I’m a big fan in the winter of fixed gear, because you have 100% positive traction in the rear, and as soon as it slips, you know it. As opposed to a freewheel, where if the wheel loses traction and slips, you kinda maybe might know it.
K: Salt on the roads is absolute hell on drivetrain components.
J: And paint.
B: It’s just hell in general.
K: Single speed with a track chain that you’re willing to throw away at the end of the season has been my approach.
B: Lastly, accept the fact that you are going to fall on the ice at some point during the winter.
OOFD: If you’re interested in heading out for the upcoming Frostbite 50, the group will be leaving from the Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square at 8am on February 4, 2017. Bring your ID and money for beer and food, as they are going to be visiting three breweries. The breweries do check ID at the door, so we must ask that you’re over 21 in order to come along. If you participate, let Kyle, Bryan, or Jeremy know that OOFD sent you!
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