What I learned at -39 deg C…

16 12 2008

Pugs own the night.

Pugs own the night

I was visiting some friends this weekend for a festive celebration and decided to ride my Pugsley over to their house.  Although I’ve survived over 30 Canadian winters I seem to learn the same lessons each year.  In the middle of July -15 and -30 deg C both sound cold and I don’t really differentiate them much.  Come winter -15 and -30 are two different beasts. Crank it down to nearly -40 dec C and you’ve got a special kind of suffer-fest on on your hands.

I headed out at 5pm on Saturday lights ablaze and spirits high.  The snow crunched under my tires like styrofoam and my breathe froze my neck warmer solid instantly.  I was starting to remember what -30 deg was like.  As I cranked along the two thin layers on my legs [running tights under bike tights] proved insufficient.  Of course I have warmer layers, but in the cobwebs of my mind I couldn’t recall the last time two layers like this weren’t enough.  I wasn’t painfully cold, but I really hoped I didn’t suffer a mechanical – stopping for an extended period of time was not an option.  Luckily I was at their place in under 45mins with no drama.  The Pugsley was surefooted and didn’t let me down.

After much eating and drinking I couldn’t face an even colder ride home with my minimal leg layers so I slept over figuring riding home in the AM would be more pleasant.  Of course it was even colder in the AM, -39 deg C with windchill, but the roads were empty and I was treated to a beautiful sunrise as I crossed a bridge over the Bow River.

Sunrise over the Bow River

Sunrise over the Bow River

Lessons learned:

  • There is chilly, cold, colder and crazy cold – they are all quite different.
  • I must dress appropriately for the weather.  I’m no hero so better over dress and be able to shed a layer than be riding across town in the dark shivering.
  • I like the sound of fat tries rolling over crunchy styrofoam snow…=-)
  • A Planet Bike Superflash stops working at -39 deg C.
  • A Shimano Alfine IGH keeps shifting smoothly at -39 deg C – at least for the first 45mins.
  • A Surly Pugsley can conquer deep snow…
  • ….as long as there isn’t a curb hidden underneath it…
  • …hitting a curb under the snow at a 45 deg angle can result in the rider being thrown sideways into a parking sign post…
  • …that isn’t a lot of fun!
Downtown Calgary

Downtown Calgary



6 responses

16 12 2008

Plus your camera works–burrr… Now for Baja…
Your Pugsley is a beautiful bike. Enjoy your warm rides. I look forward to seeing the pictures. Take care and be safe…


16 12 2008

Thanks Jim…my camera packed it in shortly after these pictures, but my fingers were getting frozen anyways so perhaps that was a good thing!

16 12 2008

Vik, try some Energizer lithium batteries in the Super Flashes. I’ve had my Super Flashes down to -35 and they still worked with the lithium batteries. The lithium batteries seem to have a fairly constant discharge rate at various temperatures (compared to Alkaline batteries or NiCad etc).

Love the winter photos of Cowtown and the vivid description of Alberta Styro-snow. For those who have not had the pleasure of the really cold prairie weather Vik is describing, you can tell the temperature in Alberta by the type of squeak the super-cold stryofoam snow makes when you ride over it.

Squeak Squeeek!

British Columbia

16 12 2008

My suspicion is that the batteries still had lots of juice, but that the metal contacts in the switch shrunk in the cold breaking the circuit. I say this because I could make the light operate intermittently if I pressed the switch real hard, but as soon as I let go I got nothing. Just a guess though.

16 12 2008

Ya, those Super Flashes are bright but they are not tolerant of extreme weather. A little fiddling sometimes enhances their climatological capabilities. I seal mine with electrical tape to keep out water which makes them self-destruct in extremely wet weather.


17 12 2008

I was out Pugsleying in the cold as well. My cheap MEC flashers worked fine but the batteries stop working after about 20 minutes. I usually rotate them through my pockets with two on my back and two in my pocket at any given time.
I heartily endorse http://www.psolar.com/id5.html balaclavas as a good way to keep warm in that kind of cold. Pedalling a tractor with flat tires makes lots of cold air move through your lungs and having something to warm it up on the way in makes a huge difference.

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