Snow business

It’s another snow day. Prepare for a curmudgeonly rant.

Schools are closed. Once again, for a storm in the forecast, not for any conditions present at the beginning of the day. When I was a kid we counted years between snow days. Now we count the days or weeks.

Image from National Weather Service, Blizzard of ’78

You’ve doubtless heard about folks who claim to have walked uphill 5 miles both ways to get to school. Obviously, that’s hyperbole. But my brother and I shared a pair of boots. I carried him to school in the morning. He wore the boots and carried me home in the afternoon. He was bigger so we figured he would be stronger in the afternoon. “Oh, you had it easy!” my neighbor says. “You had a pair of boots! We had one boot between us, so we had to carry each other to school while hopping on one foot!”

It was actually easier to get to school in a snowstorm. Being Finlanders, we always had a pair of skis around and they were less size-dependent than boots.

Snow day

We didn’t cancel school because of the cold, and wind chill was not an issue – it was the CRT of its time, an esoteric school of thought known only to meteorologists, not the public.

Now THAT’S cold!

I remember days so cold that, when we talked on the way to school, the words froze in mid-air and we had to carry them into the building and thaw them out in order to have a conversation. If someone was particularly wordy, we’d sometimes have to toss some out when they became too heavy to carry. Conversation would be harder to follow due to the missing words.

Image from Pharo Heating and Cooling

If the roads were too icy, we’d skate to school. Skates were easier to afford than boots, as we had a Skate Exchange, where you could trade outgrown skates in for new ones.

So the next time you hear someone complain about they rough they have it, remember it is nothing like it was in 1948.

Change of season

Informally, there seem to be two transitions from summer to winter biking. Around Thanksgiving it is getting cold enough that the wax-based lubricant on my summer commuting bike stops working well. The wax hardens and falls off. That’s when it is time to mess with the brakes on the winter bike. The hydraulic discs stop well in the wet but need a lot more fiddling than mechanical rim brakes. Last fall, the rear rubbed, so I bled the lines and lubricated the pistons as well as checking pad wear. And the pads, considerably more expensive than rim brake pads, make up for that by wearing out much more quickly;)

Not saying this is a favorite song, just that “seasons change” reminded me of it.

The next change comes around Christmas, when the studded winter tires go on; which means adjusting the disc brakes again. Every time the wheels come off, the brakes need to be re-aligned. Each time I do that, I remind myself again that it is all worth it. Maybe better-quality hydraulic disc brakes work better, as do through-axles to maintain wheel alignment.

This year the two days came together. The “good weather bike” (the Bruce Gordon) just went to the basement, having taken me home from the body shop just last week. The “bad weather bike” (the Spot Brand) got its studded tires at the same time. There is enough unplowed snow (and enough cold to be icy) to run studs now. After a 5″ snowfall, which was plowed, we’ve had multiple light dustings that have turned to ice.

I reached a verdict, which is that Nokian (aka Suomi) studded tires are better than Schwalbe. One of my Schwalbes is missing a few studs and several of the stud mounting holes have become oval instead of round, so the studs shift around and will probably fall out soon. I never lost a stud on a Nokian/Suomi tire. Either they weren’t in stock or the Schwalbes were on sale last time I needed tires. Live and learn.

The first real winter bike ride came right after the tire change. I went to walk the dogs (it’s a mile ride to their house) before dawn and it was a bit nippy outside. The temperature is now up to 3º F (-16 C) a couple of hours after sunrise. Zipping up my winter riding boots for the first time this year, the zipper broke. Time for new boots. There does not seem to be a better way to close boots than laces, though everyone tries. I have been concerned about these zippers for a while. They are “waterproof”, which is handy in the winter, whereas laces are not. Reviews of boots with BOA closures lean toward “they don’t work in winter”. We’ll find out. Velcro wears out and stops working.

My boots were on sale (discontinued) when I bought them. The replacement model that was new then is now on sale (discontinued). After a search, I found one pair in my size in New Jersey via eBay. I’ll have one cold foot ( or wear my Neoprene socks) for a week.

First impressions

I guess I’m getting old. REI had a smart trainer on sale and I bought it. I bought a used dumb trainer 30 years ago while recuperating from an injury that left me one-armed for six weeks. It used magnetic resistance. When it got hot (as they do) the machine screws holding the two magnets in place would work loose, the magnets would fly together, horrible noises would ensue, and I’d have to let it cool down so I wouldn’t burn my fingers, and then put it back together. Loc-tite didn’t solve the problem. Maybe that’s why the previous owner sold it. If I kept the resistance at its lowest setting I could ride for a while. After six weeks I didn’t really care since I rode outside.

After surgery in 2020 I used the trainer again for a while. I knew it would be brief. I rode outside every day to get to and from work, so I didn’t really need a trainer except during recuperation.

I retired in June of this year and knew I would have to ride consciously during the winter – exercise wouldn’t be a normal part of the day. On cold and windy days I haven’t been going out, but I have still ridden at least 4 days/week, which was the retirement plan.

But then I saw the trainer on sale for 40% off. Now, if you want an in-depth review of this, or any, trainer, go to He tests the hell out of things and draws graphs and posts 27 8×10 color glossy photographs, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, explaining what each one was… And if you buy things through the links on his site, he gets a cut and you pay no more; but someone ends up paying for his time and effort for the reviews.

So for the civilians, what is a smart trainer? It connects to your phone or computer via Bluetooth or ANT. You can ride to a video and it will make pedaling more difficult when the video goes uphill, then easier again when it flattens out – resistance is geared to the %age of slope at any given moment (though it never becomes negative like going downhill). You can also run various programs to train specifics. I’m only half-fast, so I was looking for a way to make riding indoors more interesting, not set up a training program. Training? That’s what you do with your dog.

The device is supposed to measure your power output and cadence, show your simulated speed, and synchronize with a heart rate monitor. My heart rate monitor is old and “dumb”, so the trainer can’t see it and shows my heart rate as a constant zero. I do not recommend a heart rate of zero. Since it can’t read my heart rate, the training modules don’t appear to work. Good thing I don’t care.

An aside: these trainers all have variable resistance. Some measure your power output in watts. Where does this power go? It is dissipated as heat. Why doesn’t someone invent/market a trainer that converts that power to electricity? The power could be stored in a battery and/or be used to power the computer running the video you’re watching. I’ve wondered this for more than 30 years and it still hasn’t happened. Were I an engineer, I could be rich by now.

My trainer (an Elite Direto XR) comes with a two week free trial of their software. When I tried to download it to my computer I received a warning that the site couldn’t be trusted to not contain malware. I was able to download the iPhone app from the App Store and then use screen mirroring to see it on the larger screen.

Included in that are some training apps but also actual on-the-road videos so you can ride virtually somewhere you can’t afford to go IRL (in real life). To try it out, I selected and downloaded a short one – only 13 miles long. Not knowing Italian geography nor Giro d’Italia history, I didn’t realize I had chosen an iconic climb to the second highest paved pass in the Alps. The description said “13.1 miles, average slope 0.07%, min slope 0.0%,max slope 0.09%, elevation gain 1,327”. Had I looked closely, or thought about it, I would have realized that those numbers were incongruous. There is a graph of the slope that shows a near-constant climb, and it turns out that that elevation gain is in meters, though the distance is in miles. Other sources indicate the maximum slope is 14% and the average is greater than 7%. It appears they meant 0.07, not 0.07%. It was hard! It seemed much harder than a real climb of similar slope. You can adjust the difficulty level of the device – when I changed it from 100% to 75% it felt more like real life. Is that due to inaccuracy in the machine, internal friction, or just the difference psychologically between being out in nature and being in the spare bedroom? IRL I have climbed 8% average grades for an hour and I’ve climbed short 22% grades. This felt harder than real life.

The video quality is poor. The resolution is not stated, but I got eyestrain looking at it. The video is also jumpy (maybe because I’m riding more slowly than the speed at which it was shot – noted by seeing vehicles coming toward me in slow motion) and motion blur when rounding corners is terrible. The video is poor enough that I can’t read road signs as I pass. The video experience was disconcerting, in that I rode through unlighted (and curving) tunnels during which the screen went black. IRL I would never stay in the saddle in complete blackness without a light. As I got higher, I began to see snow. Eventually I was riding on an icy road in the snow. I wanted my studded tires.

I made the climb in stages. I rested at mile 12. It doesn’t let you save a ride but you can enter a starting point. I restarted at mile 12 for the final push and it was another 5 ½ miles to the summit. Oops. So much for a 13.1 mile total.

IRL you can see the road ahead and gauge the slope. In video, that is hard to see, so you rely on the realtime numbers on the screen, or noticing that it suddenly got much harder to pedal. Even without slope, pedaling seems harder than IRL when the program is running. When I didn’t turn it on and just pedaled to a YouTube video, it was easier.

I tried a YouTube video in Sonoma County, CA shot in 4K and could ride that for an hour without eyestrain. To vary my effort I had to pay attention to the video and shift into a harder gear to simulate climbing, since it wasn’t “smart”.

Sonoma County back road on screen. Ordinary box fan in background.

Riding is more interesting with something to see, and there are lots of expensive accessories out there. You can place your trainer on a pad that costs >$50, or you can use a scrap of indoor/outdoor carpeting for a lot less. (Free in my case since I had it left over.) You can buy specially-marketed fans (because you are going to get really hot and sweaty indoors) for big bucks, or you can just put your own fan on a table at a convenient height. (I use a TV tray table.) You can buy a special desk to place your laptop on while you watch a video. The height you need is odd, so you probably don’t have a table of the right height. You could build one, or you can buy a Manhasset music stand (like the type you see in school music programs) for a lot less than the special desks (and about the cost of the lumber to build something). I am currently borrowing a music stand and it works great.

Indoors is the one place I will ride to music. With noise from the trainer, drivetrain, and fan, you (and anyone you live with) probably don’t want speakers. My bone conduction headphones (from Shokz, also bought from REI on sale) are perfect. I can run a video and also listen to something on YouTube at the same time – and I can still hear if someone wants my attention.

After several days of riding inside, I rode across town after dropping the car for repairs. Outside is still way more fun and I didn’t find myself thinking about how much longer I should ride. I didn’t look at the clock. I knew I’d ride until I got home. The real wind feels better than a fan. Outside smells better than inside. I am not limited by a camera as to where I can look. There was no plan for the trainer to replace “real” riding, and there’s no danger that it will.

Next up – Fulgaz, as my friend Mark ( has contributed video of a couple of my old favorites (The Death Ride, ride around Lake Tahoe) that I can’t wait to try. They also offer a free trial period.

Sugar moon/Purim/Equinox

Here is my St Patrick’s Day Black and Tan, which I should be drinking with hamantaschen. Alas, I made no hamantaschen. A good thing, since I may fail a random drug test after eating too many poppy seed ones.

Image from Cheftimestwo

Also this week, the full moon known by many names arrives. The Ojibwe call it The Sugar Moon for the obvious reason noted in our last post – the maple sap is flowing. The Dakota call it The Worm Moon, as beetle larvae appear out of thawing tree bark. It might also be The Crow Comes Back Moon (northern Ojibwe) and several other names.


Spring arrives Sunday morning (March 22); unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case fall arrives. Along with the previously-mentioned signs of spring, the lakes melt. In early winter, as the lakes freeze, they give up large amounts of heat for the change of state from liquid to solid, resulting in fog. In late winter, as they thaw, they absorb large amounts of heat for the state change from solid to liquid, with the same result.

Fog forming across the lake as it thaws. Ice remains in the foreground, but I wouldn’t want to walk on it.

In other weather-related news, the Good Weather Bike made its first appearance. The studded tires remain on the Bad Weather Bike, anticipating the spring snowstorm.

My local paper runs a list of celebrity birthdays every day. Tuesday, March 15, was a banner day. Saxophonist Charles Lloyd is 84. Bassist Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead) is 82, Singer Mike Love (Beach Boys) is 81. Bandleader Sly Stone is 79. Guitarist Ry Cooder is 75. Drop down a generation and rapper (Black Eyed Peas) is 47.