Oh Hey.

What’s up everyone?  Hopefully you are all getting your miles in and having a great time, regardless of our never ending winter of doom.  I know I speak for most of the midwestern cyclists (and most other people here also) when I say Mother Nature needs to show a little more kindness to us outdoors type folks.  I had a great time riding in all kinds of crap weather this winter, but GODDAMNIT THERE IS A LIMIT TO MY FAKE ENJOYMENT OF WINTER CYCLING AND WE PASSED THAT POINT ABOUT APRIL 5TH.

Anyway, wanted to check in with a few things.  A few events have passed and I haven’t produced any ride reports or product opinions,  nor any bike trend predictions.  It’s probably been pretty dull for the three of you who read this here bike blog type thing, so here’s an abridged version of the last two months.

CIRREM 10: Didn’t do it BUT I GOT MY SHIRT! (This is my official race report)

Revelate Mag Tank Bag: Tops the list of “don’t leave home without it” gear

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Gent’s Race 7 Careless Whispers

Gent’s Race 8: The Careless Whispers once again proved why we are the longest lasting continuous team by all showing up on time and ready to rock.  I love these guys, and we had a great year again.  Actual ride report to follow.

Project Pink: Has become my main bike for the time being, and it’s proving to be a real beast of an All-Road setup. It’s done the “every type of road” days like a champ, and the “all-road aka roads only” days have been great.

Porcelain Rocket “Nigel” bag: Was very skeptical about this handle bar bag at first, but goddamn if it isn’t some killer kit.  More on that later.

Sinewave Beacon: It’s bulletproof and pricey, one of my favorite combos.  More on that later.

tumblr_namg5c6rap1t8enq1o1_400#RoadIsTheNewGravel: You read it correctly. Gravel is out, road is back in. HTFU, butterstuff, your comfy #supplelife is a lie and gravel is no longer lit.

The Stoker is still stoking away, but now has her own single bike, a Surly Straggler 650b and I’m a little jealous of it. That sea foam green looks great next to Pink. 650b Crew 4 Life. hahaha.

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Good Intentions Tour 2017 lasted a record low of 26 miles. 

I’m planning out this year’s “Good Intentions Tour” and it looks like a toss up between dirt bagging and my normal Bag Bike thing.  I feel like this year should be a ride to another state border and back, seems poignant in today’s political climate. Or maybe it will be blazing hot out and I just stay home and do some grilling.  Who knows?

According to Strava I have ridden 889 miles this year as of 4/17/18.  My low end goal is 5k miles for 2018, so I’m a little behind goal pace.  Those miles will all get made up soon.

That’s it for checking in. Winter, kick rocks. Ride Bikes.

CNB

MO CIRREM, MO PROBLEMS

Yes, I realize that we are only two hours into the actual race, and that even though the conditions are pretty decent (aside from some serious wind), nobody is finishing in two hours.  I mean, some people may be finished at this point, but the finish line is still devoid of whatever you call those people who cross the blah blah blah blah.  Yeah, whatever that whole things was.

Last year I announced to the world that my little know DFL Gravel Racing Career was over, done, finished.  It was time to move on and do fun things, WHICH I HAVE BEEN DOING, but damnit if old habits are hard to break.  I think we can all agree on that point. Unfortunately my drive for bike racing mediocrity overturned my sense of fun and I entered CIRREM.

CIRREM is absolutely the worst, yet achievable, event for me.  It’s “only” 65 miles of gravel, albeit with some nasty climbs here and there, and the weather is definitely a factor in some past failures.  Iowa in February is a weather crapshoot, more crap than shoot.  Last year I had let my health slip and was a total fat ass, out of shape dude that couldn’t even muster a DFL on what would possibly be the nicest day of CIRREM weather ever.  It hurt. I made some changes, lost a grip of weight, decided that I would just take it easy and skip the attempt at heroics, but GODDAMNIT I HAD SOMETHING TO PROVE!

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ACTUAL PICTURE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING INSIDE MY ANKLE

Did my weight loss help my ability to finish?  Did my massive improvement in internal health mean I would be able to finish this thing I started trying back in CIRREM 3 or so? Questions needed to be answered.  It was decided to start really getting some miles in, the end of last year was so busy that I had very little time to bike, and log every single mile.  I rode over 300 in during the last three weeks of January, which isn’t bad in these parts and during our absolute shit winter weather.  Thanks, fat bike. Then I moved to a new house that is rotten with stairs.  Due to my own terrible organizational skills, most of the move was done solo, and during one of those days I reawakened an ankle injury that happened in July of 2016, and took about a year to clear up.  This past Thursday night I rode out to the Cumming Tap to drop off my donation for the race, and on the way back decided to horse it and see how fast I could get to town.  There was a lot of standing up and cranking away, then more beers, then Friday I could barely walk on the ankle at all.  The severe pain has continued today, and I had to make a decision whether to push through it and do all the climbing or rest and hope that this doesn’t screw up my entire year of cycling.  I have some big plans.

So I pulled the plug on my CIRREM around 7am this morning.  I’m really not happy with it, I was as prepared as ever.  The course looks pretty dope, glad they postponed for a week due to very unsafe conditions.  I will be back next year for #11. I will be more prepared, the good lard willing, and smash my own course record of DNF.

Thanks for reading along, and godspeed to all those out there cranking away through the hills, rocks, and wind.

CNB

Tips From The Back Of The Pack

wpid-FxCam_1272290632827.jpgSome race for the glory of the podium.  Some race for the thrill and challenge.  A lot of us are just racing the cutoff times and for the satisfaction of a strong DFL* finish.  I am a one of those types who tends to live in that neighborhood of riders that cause checkpoints to be staffed until the very last minute, a place called The Back Of The Pack.

The Back Of The Pack isn’t a glorious place, but it doesn’t have to be without its good times and fun.  I’ve put together a few tips and tricks here to help those of us BOTP’ers be more successful at last place.

  • Ride your bike: You don’t have to have a personal coach or even a HRM (although monitoring heart rate/power is pretty helpful for distributing physical resources during long distance riding), you really need to simply ride your bike. Ride as much as you can, take a rest day or two here and there.  If you are planning to do a 200 mile event, work your endurance up by riding longer hours in the saddle. Once you can put in a couple 80 mile or more days in a row, you can probably finish that DK200.  The main point is that if you don’t ride your bike, you aren’t going to be any good at riding your bike.
  • Navigation Is Salvation: If you are off the back and relying on cue cards for direction, PAY ATTENTION to what is going on around you.  Riding solo, or even in a group of folks who are having their own struggles, can end poorly if you aren’t practicing the three R’s for yourself: Reading the Cue Card, Remembering The next turn or sequence of turns, Reacting to the landmarks.  It’s easy to sit on someone’s wheel and hope they are navigating properly, but face it: self supported means you are on your own. Too many times racers have taken wrong turns and added to their race mileage because of trusting the person up front, not having a proper light to see road signs, or simply spacing off.  Remember that these events are difficult enough without adding to the challenge with your own personal bonus mileage.  Pay attention to navigation at all times.  Getting lost sucks.

READ, REMEMBER, REACT. Learn it, Live it.

  • Conserve Energy:  It’s REALLY tempting to go hard off the line.  This is probably one of the biggest fails.  You’ve prepared for your event, your legs are feeling fresh, and there is a veritable Excitement Buffet buzz buzzing around the start line feeding your confidence level. The signal happens. It’s go time. Do you:
    • A) Take off like a jackrabbit with the lead pack and blow up shortly after starting?
    • B) Stick with the middle of the pack until you can’t maintain pass and drop off the back or
    • C) Ride your own pace?

It’s always best to ride at your own pace, especially if keeping up with whatever group you’ve opted to ride with is draining your physical resources. Ride smart and if you are feeling fresh at the half way or past, kick it up and burn it on in!

  • Know What To Wear: Some of these events span the course of 24 or 36 hours, and you will see temperature drops and possibly erratic weather changes.  This kind of goes back to riding your bike. When you are doing said riding, do some in shit conditions. Make note of what clothing/shoes/gloves/eyewear works for what temperature/conditions.  I have a mental log of temp ranges and which base layers/outer layers/socks, etc work within those ranges.  I also do a stupid thing I call Training Cold, which involves long rides in cold weather being purposely under-dressed for the conditions (I pack extra layers in a seat pack for safety sake – in case my mom is reading this). This prepares me for sudden unexpected weather changes out on the road when maybe extra warm gear didn’t get packed, or I just don’t feel like stopping to layer up.  My point is DON’T OVERDRESS, if you are super warm and toasty on a 30 degree 4am starting line, you will sweat out in 5 miles. I see folks out on 50 degree days on the bike trails with full on winter gear, helmet covers, lobster claw gloves, and it’s kind of ridiculous. These fine folk are probably not going on a century ride like that, but still.   DON’T OVERDRESS. Sweating out/overheating is a sure fire fast track to failure.
  • Don’t Over Pack: The more weight you are carrying on your bike, the more you are pushing up hills. If you are riding gravel, you are most likely pushing up a LOT of hills, and if you are just fit enough to pull a DFL or back of the pack, an extra pound or five can be enough to wear you down more quickly.  If you are riding a 5-6 hour gravel event do you really need to pack a spare tire?  If you have a drop bag option at the mid point, do you need 6 water bottles on your bike?  Take a good look at what you are using during training. What do you use on the regular? How far are you riding? How far is the event? What are the conditions of the gravel?  Are your tires up to the task? How much food do you really need to carry?  So many questions that can be answered by a pretty simple formula: If you didn’t need it for 100’s of miles of training/preparation, you probably won’t need it for a 100k event.  This subject deserves a post of its own.
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    Bring some comfort er…food

    Bring a few comforts: Yes, don’t over pack, but bring something that motivates you or can comfort you if you pull out. I bring a flask of Wild Turkey 101 on almost every long ride, and on TIV8 I packed that and some Marlboro Reds (yes, I once in a while have a smoke with my whiskey. It’s a terrible habit and I know it).  When my ride went south right out the gate (cold, rainy 4am start, mechanicals from mile 10 on, etc) I reached a point where it was do or die, try to squeak through CP1 or hang a right on the highway and tailwind back to town. I had some whiskey and a smoke, weighed options, and made the hard call to drop out.  You don’t have to drink or smoke, I might be a little extreme, but bring one of your favorite candies or a picture of your family, or an iPod with your favorite playlist, or whatever will comfort you when the chips are fucked.

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    Nope.

    Pick The Right Bike: Obviously, if you have one bike for everything, take that bike. Beats walking 100k.  If you have some options, pick the one that is most comfortable, is geared properly for the amount of climbing, and has the proper tire for the terrain.  You don’t need to try being a hero and ride your loaded fat bike through 100k of climbing, I’ve seen it happen and it wasn’t pretty. I’ve also made the mistake of trying too much climbing on a bike geared for flatter riding (or better climbers), and that kicked my ass entirely too fast.  Come to think of it, I didn’t do great on that bike riding a flat course either.  It was a rough year… Ride what you are comfortable with, could be a Cross Check, a Fargo, a Routt 45, a vintage steel Bianchi, a Beargrease, whatever it is run what gets you to the finish without fighting you the whole way there.

  • PICK THE RIGHT TIRE: OOOOOOWEEEEEE this is a doozy.  We have a 100k gravel race here in Central Iowa called CIRREM.  It’s held around the end of February and it has seen weather from 15 degrees and somehow raining (that year was really weird), to 60 and sunny with a mild breeze.  It’s generally known to be a shit show. On some of the more nasty years, the week leading up to the race has social media buzzing with the query “what tire should I ride?”  If it’s 25 out and the roads are a fresh sheet of ice, don’t try riding slick 28’s. (or old chewed up Michelin Mud 35’s, I did that year and ended up with a cracked rib from wrecking on the ice about a dozen times)  If there is a ton of fresh rock on the road, also don’t ride 28’s. In fact, just don’t ride 28’s on gravel unless your power/weight ratio is in the Pro Peloton range. A file tread 40mm 700c tire is pretty solid choice for any condition, as you can work the tire pressure to adapt to conditions.  Similarly, 650bx47 handles most any gravel condition. Two true “do it all” tire sizes for everything but gnarly single track or ice riding.  If it’s sheets of ice, and you are super cereal, pick up some lightly studded cross tires or bring out the MTB for something more substantial and grippy.  Also, take into consideration that more voluminous tires will provide a little extra cushion, which your arms and back will thank you for on ultra distance stuff.
  • Know when to say when: The best tip I can give is to know your limits.  Riding past your limit is part of endurance racing, indeed, but there is a vast plain of physical and mental badlands that lie somewhere after that 4th or 5th wind.  Know your own personal signs. Dropping out isn’t a crime, but injuring yourself is criminal if you knowingly take things farther than acceptable “too far.” Have an extraction plan (or know the shortcut back to the civilization), means of communication, also see “Bring A Few Comforts” above. I’ve definitely taken things too far and spent weeks recovering from making that mistake, don’t be that person.  Live to ride another day.
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Know when your ride is over, even if it’s not the end of the race. 

This is in no way a comprehensive lesson on “gravel racing,” but if you follow these words, it might help you achieve that DFL finish you’ve always wanted!

Until next time, ride your bike!

CNB

*DFL: Dead Fricken Last. If you aren’t familiar with this term, good for you pal.

Favorites: J-Paks GravelPak

I’ve been a frame bag user for quite some time, using Revelate full frame and Tangle bags on my gravel/fat/mountain rigs, and a sweet Porcelain Rocket custom frame bag (thanks to my deer friend Zen Biking), on my Ti Fargo. I’m a big fan of these convenient packs, but I have one problem. I’m a pack rat and my frame bags end up looking like something out of “Hoarders, Bike Edition.” The “map compartment” side is usually stocked with old cue cards from races past, random keys or mud scraping devices (aka ti tent stakes), licorice ropes, batteries, empty gel packs, and the main compartments are a collection of mini pumps, ancient granola bars, lighters, expired gel packs, gas station trinkets, a goddamn red clown nose (???), crushed beer cans, and it just goes from there.  Basically, my frame bags become a rolling landfill. Pretty rad.

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The J-Paks Gravel Pak on my Salsa Warbird Carbon Gravel Rig Of Doom

Enter my new favorite bike thing: the GravelPak from J-Paks. I picked one of these up a few months back, and it has become my go to for bringing along anything I need on a ride. It’s similar in shape to the ubiquitous seat packs you see on most bikepacking rigs, but it’s smaller and less unwieldy than it’s larger brethren.  There is enough space for a tool kit, phone charger, base layers/jacket, extra gloves/hat (I always carry spares, especially in the cooler months. I like to change out these items about half way through a ride), some food items, maybe even an extra water bottle or can of beer if you feel so inclined without taking up frame space, and you hardly notice the seat pack. Somehow the GravelPak also lends itself to repacking and keeping things organized, and since it is a roll-closure and not something you simply unzip and toss crap in, you are less likely to pack rat away all of those cool (useless) gas station finds.

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GravelPaks in the not so wild. Image ripped off from jpaks.com

The Gravel Pak is great for switching between bikes, its two clipped straps for the seat rails and one very secure velcro strap around the seat post can be easily popped/undone and moved to whatever steed you are riding today. You can have your “winter kit” on hand and move it between your gravel rig, fat bike, whatever bike, and with so much less hassle than undoing 400 velcro straps you find on frame bags.  You can use a regular seat pack for things like this, but the J-Pak bag is like the “Baby Bear’s Porridge” of short to medium range riding. It’s just the right size.

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Hey! Hooman! Paws off my #$%&ing porridge!

Due to the ever changing Iowa winter weather, I have been using this bag between my road bike, my gravel bike, a single speed, and my trusty Mukluk with no problems at all. It’s a sturdy build that shows no signs of wear after over 500 miles of mixed use and many bike swaps. I’m looking forward to a good spring of many more miles with this bad lad, and to maybe picking up a few of J-Paks other offerings from their J-Paks Shop.

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J-Paks GravelPak on my trusty road bike outside Jamaica, IA

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And here it is on the trusty Mukluk. (Thanks, DMPL, for gently shoveling around my steed)

Yeah, that’s it. No crazy stories, just a solid piece of kit that will keep you organized in your travels, and transfers easily between bikes.  Kudos, J-Paks. Thank you for the righteous gear.

Sam, CNB

I Like Bikes.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life with bikes. Riding bikes, looking at bikes, working on bikes, cussing at bikes, modifying bikes, collecting bikes, racing bikes, shopping for bike parts, learning about bikes, talking about bikes, you know. Bikes. I like riding on roads, bike paths, gravel roads, dirt trails, beaches, river beds, snow, ice, wherever. I like frequenting businesses who are bike friendly. I hang out at bike shops. I help race organizers with rides. I’m guilty of putting people I’m hanging out in that situation where they have to excuse themselves because I’ve run in to a bike friend and we are talking in bike.  If you don’t talk bike, like technical bike, not “bikelish” then bike conversations are about the most eye glazing bore fests you can be privy to. I do that. Bikes.

Riding bikes with others is a really great time, but riding alone for me is one of my favorite things to do. It gives me time to clear my head, time to think through things, time to breath fresh air into my lungs and my mind. The sounds of tires crunching through gravel, the wind whistling through the fields, and the thrill of farm dog sprints are all things I long for daily.  Maybe not the dogs haha. I think after all this time I’ve cultivated a bit of a solitary bike life, but it suits me fine. It’s time away from the world while simultaneously exploring the world.

I was bike-only for a 4 years after I realized I didn’t really drive my car so I sold it to make room in my garage for more bikes.

I started Tacopocalypse by bike. It all started during talks on bike rides and after bike rides at the Cumming Tap. When we started doing tacos there was no car or van to transport things, I used giant coolers on a Surly Bill Trailer, or a smaller cooler on a BOB trailer, when it all started. I sometimes rode 40+ miles to gather the groceries needed to make tacos for Tuesday nights. I sometimes rode through blizzards to get to the Cumming Tap to serve tacos. It was pretty brutal. It kept me in decent shape. I am pretty sure it’s the only restaurant in Iowa that was started by bicycle. Woot.

I’m back to pretty much bike-only after a few years of intense business building involving catering, driving big vans to the farmers market, traveling to sell tacos on RAGBRAI, etc. It’s great to be at a spot that I can get back to my roots and do what I need to do on two wheels. I live downtown, a few blocks from one of my restaurants, about two miles from the other. It’s a quick ride to either. There is a grocery store downtown now, it’s really more of a food court/liquor store, but you can get some fresh produce and whatnot there.

Anyway, my point is that I like bikes. You probably like bikes, too, if you’re reading this. If you don’t, maybe reading this will help guide you towards liking bikes. Bikes are good.

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Here are some pictures of some of my bikes, except the purple Masi. That’s Mel’s in Philly that I was graciously allowed to use while visiting. Also that Powderkeg is owned by a great couple (and sometimes ridden by a Marco) who have put it to great use. 

RIDE BIKES.

SAM, CNB

BRTB “Buss Ride To BRR”

Last Saturday marked the thirty-something running of the two-wheeled bull um…run…known to the greater world as BRR or, the Bike Ride to Rippey.  This ride came from humble beginnings, with a few souls braving the brutal Iowa February winter weather to go out for a little bike ride from Perry to Rippey.  Some years it is below zero, windy, and just a handful of riders participate.  Other years, like 2009, it is in the 50s and more than a thousand people come out to party.  Regardless of the weather, the bars of Perry are filled not only with

blah balh blah.  whatever.  You get the point.  BRR: cold February ride.  got it.

A few years ago a man by the name of Steve had this great idea.  BRR isn’t really THAT challenging (the ride from Perry to Rippey and back is about 26 miles), so why not do something like ride gravel from DSM to Perry.  Great Idea.  This year was the fourth running of the GRR2BRR, and would have been my second.

The weather took a huge turn south on Friday, and I was pretty perplexed as to what bike would be the best for the job (which would probably have been my still-unfinished Fargo project).  I had company at home, watched a movie then realized it was after 1 am.  Shit.  I had to pull out of my house by 5:30 am to make it to Steve’s house for the start of the gravel ride.  Of course, I woke up at 7.  They were leaving at 7:30.  Shit.  Time for plan B.

Plan B involved trying to squeeze some 2.1’s onto the Vaya and hauling ass on the trail system to try to catch up with the GRR ride.  Plan B fell quickly by the wayside.

Plan C put me on the Bar Fly bus with no intention of riding a bike whatsoever.  I conferred with a friend who was also taking the bus, and it was decided that leaving the bikes at home was completely acceptable.  I gathered my party partner and headed towards the “Bus Depot”.  (Party Partner had also had plans fall through, so it was officially on)

Ride Report

Fireball got the holeshot, with a whole bottle being finished within three laps around the bus.  This was not an endurance pace day.  After the first bottle went down, the “Pit Bottle” was unleashed and a few more hot laps ensued.  Beer was flowing, then we hit the first barrier.  My “purple drank” four loko was opened and quickly rejected by almost every bus rider.  This left me, party partner, and two other people holding the tail of this grape flavored dragon.   We were about a quarter of the way to Perry.

Things slowed down and the field settled into a sustainable pace.

Okay, I am getting bored again.  So we get to Perry and see a bunch of friends, meet some new friends, and I got assaulted with snowballs and more beard questions/comments than usual.  I understand, the comments flow more freely the colder or hotter it gets.  (Colder=I wish I could grow a beard like that, Hotter=Doesn’t that thing get hot?)  I found the remaining contingent from the GRR2BRR ride, which numbered FOUR.  I knew I had made the right decision.  They GRR folks looked exhausted.  (okay, I had actually made the wrong decision as every mile counts between now and the TI).  We had some fun, then headed to Bouten.

Bouten brought skittles and a wild game of Flippy Cup.  I had never played this game, but since I have spent the greater part of my life being bored and flipping things over (you should see how I amaze convenience store clerks with my ability to flip a cigarette pack into my hand), I was a natural.  Party partner DID have to explain the rules (thanks for attending college, Party Partner) and the first round I messed up, but it was smooth sailing after that.

I don’t have the slightest idea what happened after that.  I think we went back to Des Moines.  I am pretty sure I ate a steak burrito at Abelardo’s.  I do remember waking up sometime in the middle of the night lecturing my cat on how much I hate it when he touches me in my sleep.  Not like THAT.  He kept trying to lay on my legs.

All in all, it was a great not ride.  We all had a good time,  everyone made it home safe.  Thank you Mace, Bill, and the Bar Fly bus for a great time…and saving me from sitting at home whining about not making it to BRR.

CNB

Here Comes The Rain Again

One thing that sticks out in my mind while mounting my bike on lovely Iowa mornings such as this is how many times I hear a phrase of this sort:

Are you riding your bike in this weather?  It’s raining out!

Yes.  It is raining out.  Am I put off by it?  Only because I wish it was snow.  Yes.  I am riding my bike in this weather.  Why wouldn’t I?  I have expended quite an effort to properly equip myself for just about any conditions and the thought that I should not utilise the gear which I have gathered is, to me, laughable.  Bikes are a wonderful thing in the fact that they are adaptable to just about any riding style, weather, ground condition, etc.  Riding in poor weather conditions isn’t some kind of heroic effort worthy of wicked high fives from the four-wheeled masses, but is a gift for some, a neccessity for others, and just plain rad to experience.

I am not writing this to tell the tens out there reading that you shouldn’t strike up a conversation about why a person is riding their bike in inclimate weather.  Actually, I have no idea what the heck I was saying.  Still be impressed with those out there doing it every day, but also use them as an example instead of an exhibit.  YOU TOO can get on a bike in the rain, the snow, the sleet, although you may want to skip blizzards and tsunamis as they are just plain dangerous to begin with.  What do you have to gain besides some astonished faces staring back at you?  The exact same benefits you would reap in sunny, warm weather.  Sure, you might spend more time getting suited up.  Yes, some days you will be soaking wet and miserable.  I look at it like this: if I had to run from my house to get into a car anyway, why not just be outside and deal with it for real?  Why sit around the house all winter thinking about all the fun you had on your bike during the “riding season”?  Get yourself some fenders, some warm/dry clothing, and ride your damn bike.

If you have any questions as to how you should go about getting properly equiped, feel free to ask me…or any of the other “crazies” you see out there riding their bikes.

Extra “Real Bikers Pedal” statement:  Let’s see the average Harley rider break out the hog in sub-freezing temperatures just to go for a fun ride with friends.

CNB