what a week

It’s Saturday morning, I’m sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, sore legs and mixed feelings after the last couple of days: it has been quite a commuting experience to say the least.

It all started with freezing cold weather (between -10°C and -15°C) on Monday and Tuesday but roads were clean and apart from the extra time it took to dress up accordingly the daily rides were business as usual and quite enjoyable.

But on Wednesday the weather Gods – for some obscure reason – decided to punish us all and poured thousands of cubic meters of fresh snow all over Stockholm.

“Crews at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport were forced to remove 200,000 cubic metres of snow in the wake of the storm, nearly as much as the 250,000 cubic metres removed for the entire 2011-2012 winter season.” – thelocal.se

And chaos it was. Complete chaos. The city buses were pulled out of service, commuter trains and subways faced severe delays when not cancelled and people had to find a way to get home: a colleague even walked 16 kilometers not even trying to hail a nowhere to be found available cab.

Snow, snow & snow
Snow chaos, svd.se

I half walked, half rode the bike in deep fresh snow between the office and home and made it back in an hour or so (compared to the usual 25 minutes). It felt like the worst ride ever at the time but having the bike with me in those conditions was probably the best choice in retrospect.

Thursday morning’s ride was still a bit rough with not all of the bike lanes cleared and ridable but everything was back in order on Thursday evening.

I can understand how frustrated Stockholmers have felt during the storm – let down by the public transport system having to find an alternative to get home – but let’s face it: which city in the world would have done better? Everything was up and running in less than 24 hours after the first flake came down and I must admin that I am quite impressed by how the situation was handle and the amazing work done by the snow plow crews who have been working 24/7 since then.

same sh*t, different city

When I saw the drawing this afternoon I was pretty sure it was depicting the every day situation on Skeppsbron where cyclists have to ride between the road, tourists buses, tourists wandering and standing in the middle of the bike lane for a better view at the Royal castle, taxi drivers dropping customers wherever they feel like it’s OK, … (the list could go on for pages)

But no. Bekka Wright (the bike commuter & artist behind BikeyFace) lives and bikes in Boston, MA, United States. Looks like the life of bike commuters is pretty much the same on the other side of the Atlantic.

Middle of the road

Schwalbe CX Pro, a week later

A week ago I was mounting Schwalbe CX Pro tires on my commuting bike a few hours before the first snow falls hit Stockholm. Not sure it really was a wise choice at the time I’ve now been riding them for over 100 kilometers and I’m still in one piece.

I took it very easy during the first ride on snow as to get used to the tires and deflated them a bit for a softer steering (it was really bumpy and a bit slippery at 6.5 bars, no kidding!) and better grip after a couple of kilometers. I think I now have a pretty good setup and I’ve not found myself in a delicate situation so far.

Schwalbe CX Pro on the fixed gear bike

Those tires sure do a very good job on fresh and packed snow (no difference whatsoever with summer tires on asphalt even when breaking hard) and are pretty stable on an icier surface (but I’m more careful then as one should be riding studded tires or not).

All in all a very positive first impression and I’m looking forward to the 30 centimeters of fresh snow promised for tomorrow (according to TheLocal). Please stay tuned for more feedback on those tires later.

Schwalbe CX Pro it will be

According to the weather forecast I will soon know whether I took the right decision or not but I finally decided to go for cyclo-cross tires (non-studded) to commute to work during winter.

Weather forecast, Stockholm, Sweden

I’m sure riding non-studded tires might not seem as safe as riding studded tires during the days when roads and bicycle lanes are covered with a thin layer of black ice but non-studded tires will do most of the time.

First of all there are usually only a few days with ice as the streets are cleaned pretty quickly in the city and most of the winter rides will be either on asphalt, fresh or compacted snow. Secondly, studded tires are heavier and harder to drag. I commute by bike because it’s faster and funnier and this would be kind of a “fun killer”. And last but not least I am not really sure studded tires are safer than non-studded tires. Even on ice.

Riding studded tires (would that be on a bike or on a motor vehicle) gives a feeling of safety that lowers the attention one would pay to the road. Studies have shown that there are as many accidents involving studded vehicles than with non-studded vehicles the only difference being the speed (higher for the studded vehicles). Sure I am referring to motor vehicles here but let me tell you something: the first and only time I broke a rib was last winter on a mountain bike… with studded tires.

I put the Schwalbe CX Pro (700×30) on last Monday (I bought them at Fix My Bike in Hammarby Sjöstad and can really recommend the place if you’re after good advice and service). Let’s ride them and be careful on ice then.

I will be late!

That would be the subject of the email I sent to my boss together with a picture of my bike upside down – the rear wheel laying on the pavement – this morning as I stood in windy & chilly Stockholm in front of the first flat tire of 2012 (with the fixie).

I could have had a flat on a worse location but the view over Skeppsholmen and Kastelllholmen did not really ease the frustration when, all pieces apart, I realized I did not bring the right spare tube with me (the vent on the one I had in the bag was just too short for the high profile rim).

I will be late

Hands covered with a sticky mixture of dust and chain lube I mounted everything back together and was considering my two options: I could leave the bike there and pick it up in the evening (if it were to be found) or I could push the bike on the last 2 kilometers to the office.

I chose the latter and made it to the door in half an hour or so just to realize I had forgotten my card to the building. I finally makes my way in after a call to the receptionist and heads to the bathroom for a thorough “clean this oily mess” session when it hits me: “I forgot my lunchbox at home!” (lunchboxing is another very important sport in Sweden – probably as popular as ice Hockey – but that’s off topic).

It took me one hour and fifteen minutes from home to the office (when it usually takes around 20 minutes) so yes it definitely was the worse morning I ever had commuting by bike to work. But now that everything is fixed (new tube and new tires but I will write about that in a coming post) I must say that I can’t wait to ride tomorrow morning. Who says I’m a masochist?

give me a brake!

This morning could have ended pretty badly if it were not for the front brake. Yes I do have a brake on the fixie and I’m glad I did not sacrifice it for aesthetic.

I was rolling down Södermalmstorg (the ugly curvy bit of macadam connecting Hornsgatan to Skeppsbron) when I rode over something that I believe was a small pothole. It was not that deep of a hole but bad enough for the back wheel to slightly move forward from the shock and loosen the tension on the chain.

It took my legs a fraction of a second to realize that what was bound to happen just happened: the chain had fallen off and I was literally coasting at 30+ kph towards the red light. It took another fraction of the same second for the signal to go from the legs up to the brain and down to the left hand before I was pulling on the brake lever and safely stopped on the side of the road.

I read here and there, in books and on Internet forums, stories and statements from hipsters who claim a pure fixed gear bike cannot have brakes. That is just plain wrong and stupid. For your own safety and the safety of others you should and you must have a proper working brake on your horse.

Sweden Bike Expo, Stockholm

I don’t really know what I was expecting from Sweden Bike Expo (a bicycle fair in Stockholm) apart from having a nice time with a couple of friends but in retrospect I must say I was a bit disappointed.

I knew I was going to see bikes, lots of bikes and there were bikes, lots of bikes. Lots of racers and mountain bikes and very few alternatives but one cargo bike, a couple of single speeds, 3 “Dutch bikes” (yes, three), some electric bikes and – maybe it was well hidden and I missed the stand – no cyclo-cross.

Sweden Bike Expo, Stockholm

When you go to a bike fair you must be prepared to see bikes – no doubt about that – but I guess I was looking forward to discovering “new things”, some cool accessories and smaller brands than Trek, Corratec & Scott. To simply put it I was looking forward to seeing things that are not all over the magazines. Some “out of the ordinary bike porn” would have been very appreciated and I certainly did not go to Sweden Bike Expo to buy lycra clothing and tires on sale (the sales area was surprisingly the most popular part of the fair it seems).

But I did find one interesting accessory: the Tacx Lumos. It’s probably not a new concept and might have been around for a while but I’d never seen it before. The Tacx Lumos are basically drop bar caps that replace regular caps but provide better visibility thanks to the back/red & front/white LED lights they are.

Tacx Lumos

Since I don’t ride a racer I haven’t tried them myself but it’s an interesting and rather non-intrusive piece of safety on a commuter bike (if you commute with drop handlebars that is).

Don’t get me wrong though. I was a bit disappointed but I still enjoyed the fair and good company. It was a well spend Saturday morning in November Stockholm and I even got a brand new ice scraper! Seriously? Ice scrappers for goodies on a bicycle fair?

Pedro’s Trixie multi-tool

Riding a bike wouldn’t be fully rewarding if it always took you from A to B no matter the time, the weather or road conditions. So once in a while – often when you’re least excepting it or you’re really in a hurry – your bike will remind you it needs love and make you stop for a minute or two of mechanics intimacy.
And when your bike faces you with a flat tire they’re no escaping its needs for bonding: you have to fix it or you’ll be late to work.

As most of the cyclists I carry a bag when I’m riding so I thought I could open it up and show you what’s in it that helps me handle those situations. The first thing you should do when you have to fix a flat tire is remove the problematic wheel. There are probably guys out there who can patch a tube without dismounting the wheel but I’m not one of them and I’d put on a new tube rather than patch the old one anyway. Tubes are quite cheap and I can’t be bothered to find the hole, apply the glue and patch, … especially when it’s pouring rain or -10 degrees.

I own two sets of wheels which are not of the quick release kind and, even better, are of different standards: 15mm nuts on one set, skewers with Allen key heads on the other. But I found a nifty multi-tool that supports both standards (with different spanner end sizes), has a lockring hook and even a bottle opener (specifications): the Pedro’s Trixie.

Pedro's Trixie

It’s light & flat and therefore easy to fit in a bag. A must have in my opinion even though it’s not that cheap.