Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What you need for Winter Riding

I ride year round. Every day, whether it's raining or snowing I'm out there. When the weather gets really bad, you need to dress correctly for the conditions. You also need to make sure your bike is ready.

Getting your bike ready for winter

I'm not a fan of the winter beater bike concept. I like riding a good well maintained bike all year. So instead I just make sure my bike is up to the task of winter. Either grease and oil the bike for the oncoming salt storm or get a bike shop to do it.

What you should service/grease/oil before winter (and after)
  1. pedals
  2. derailleurs
  3. hubs
  4. bottom bracket
  5. chain


The next big thing is tires.. Chances are your regular tires are not up to the task unless you are riding a mountain bike, and even then, I recommend winter specific tires. I personally use the Continental Top Contact Winter tire. There is now a version II sold by MEC.

This is a winter compound tire without spikes. For most people this is sufficient for winter riding in the city. If you really want to be safe, you can get the Schwalbe Winter tire from MEC. You will gain the piece of mind of protection against slips on ice, but at a cost of lower rolling resistance and weight. 

If you plan to only ride during clear snow free days, you can get away without using winter specific tires. The city does a good job of clearing and salting the roads.


Cascadia II Hybrid Fenders Black
This is probably one of the most important parts on this list. Nobody wants to be covered in road sludge. MEC carries an excellent line of inexpensive yet durable fenders from Planet Bike. I personally use the Cascadia Hybrid Fenders



You need to be as visible as possible in the winter conditions. It's dark out there, and if it's snowing, visibility is poor. The crappy blinking lights you probably have are useless in these conditions. You need a set of high quality bright lights on solid (not blinking) mode. I'm personally a fan of the Lezyne lights. I find them great build quality, good battery tech and bright. I have something similar to the Hecto Drive Pair.

Your Head

As you can see from the picture above, when it gets really cold, I leave no skin exposed. I need glasses to see, so goggles with prescription lenses are a must. If you don't need glasses, then I actually recommend just using a balaclava and leaving your eyes uncovered to prevent fogging up. I also use a Bern "Snowbording" helmet instead of a bike helmet. They are the same as their bicycle helmets except for the liner and the clip for the goggle strap. You don't need to go that far unless like me, you need glasses and don't want to wear contacts (and maybe already ski and have goggles already). 

Some recommended products for cold/wet/winter weather:

  1. MEC Helmet Cover
  2. Ice Breaker Marino Wool Beanie for under your helmet
  3. Ice Breaker Chute
  4. A balaclava that has good ventilation but full coverage
  5. The new version of the balaclava I use, which has a flip back feature so can be used just as a neck warmer easily. 

Your Body

There are several problems you're trying to solve when cycling in cold and wet weather.
  1. Water/Wind proof
  2. Breathable 
  3. Reflective/visible
Unfortunately, an article of clothing that has all of the above costs money. Compromising on the first two points means you'll be miserable. Compromising on the last means you could not make it to your destination as riding in the winter means poor visibility for all.

You can get insulated winter tights, and for longer commutes of greater than 10kms, that's what you might want to get. But my commute is short enough that I like having shells over my regular pants.

You'll also want a warm layer. You probably have something already, but any Marino Wool base layer is great for this application. Ice Breaker has a line of high quality stuff, but MEC has it's own less expensive line as well.

My kit is mostly Gore Bike Wear stuff. However, it seems they have gotten rid of their commuter line, so I'll try to choose the products from their current line that make the most sense:

  1. Gore Active Jacket
  2. Gore Pro Jacket (better but far more expensive)
  3. Gore Active Pant

If you want to spend a less money, and have slightly bulkier clothing, MECs line of cycling specific gear is good value.

  1. MEC Revolution Jacket
  2. MEC Revolution Pants
If you already have good high tech breathable gear, but is none reflective, consider getting:

Your Feet

Now this is the easy one, just wear whatever you want that keeps your feet warm and dry. There is nothing special here. 
Image result for shimano XM9

Unless you want to ride clipless pedals. I highly recommend ordering the Shimano XM9 Gore-Tex shoes. Though they are available in North America now, they are far cheaper from Chain Reaction in the UK.  I have the previous generation of these and they are great. Shimano has very consistent sizing, so if you can figure out what Shimano shoes fit you, it's safe to order them online here.

Your Hands

C5 Gore-Tex Thermo Gloves Neon Yellow/Black
I've left the worst for last. So maybe I'm crazy, but I find that I need a different pair of gloves for every 10 degree temperature difference outside. Having hands that are too cold is horrible, especially for longer rides. Having gloves that are too hot is worse, as first you sweat, and then the damp makes it even colder. Gloves are also highly subjective due to fit and your natural body temperature. 

Here are my recommendations for different temperature ranges.

You'll notice the last option isn't a glove at all. It's actually a giant mit for your bike you slide your hands into. For your hands, then you only need a thin liner. Only for the truly crazy I guess.

Final Words

There are people who are going to read this and scoff. I've spent too much money and it's unnecessary. I've been riding year round for years now and I'm willing to spend the money to be comfortable and dry. This is what I've found I needed to do. Your mileage, of course may vary.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

LG X Power quick review

So my trusty old Google Nexus 5 was starting to be a little less trusty. Specifically the GPS stopped working properly. Looks like the antenna isn't working right but I haven't been able to fix it. At about this same time, I see an announcement for the LG X Power. A mid range smartphone with a huge 4100mah battery. Not only that, but it's available on Wind for free on Wintab. As a Wind customer, I decided to try it out as a temporary replacement until the HTC made Nexus line gets released later this year.

For $250 CAD, this is a great phone. It's got middle of the road specs, but in every case that is fine. I Quad core 1.3Ghz Processor that felt adequate. 16GB of Storage, which is fine since it has a Micro SD card slot. The phone is rather large for my tastes, which makes the 720p screen more noticeable that it would be on a smaller screen. It lacks NFC, but in Canada that is not a huge deal as mobile payments are still being neutered by banks and carriers. LGs flavour of Android is ok, but most can be quickly replaced with stock Google apps, like the launcher. The biggest feature of this phone though is the huge battery. Something that other phones these days is sorely lacking. The big phone of the moment is the OnePlus 3. It's a great phone, if your battery lasts long enough for you to use it. This phone doesn't excel at anything except that you can seriously use the phone all day and still have battery life leftover. 

The biggest let down, and why I ultimately returned the phone, is that the bootloader is locked. This is also why I didn't get any photos of the actual phone I had. LG provides a tool to unlock the bootloaders of their phones. That tool did not support this phone at the time of writing. Even if it did, unlocking is irreversible and voids the warranty. For me this is a must, but if you don't care, I highly recommend this phone as a middle of the road phone.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

While the Britain ponders leaving the EU

I came about these two quotes:

"A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true...I do not deserve a share in governing a hen-roost much less a nation. Nor do most people...The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters."

- C. S. Lewis, Equality

"The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter."

- Winston Churchill

Sad but true.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Biking and camping trip in Quebec's Eastern Townships

+Laura Krick and I along with our friend +Tee Lew took a trip to Quebec. There are many reasons to do this.

  1. Quebec, especially the Eastern Townships, have cycling infrastructure dedicated to long distance cycling.
  2. Quebec cheese.
  3. Quebec Beer.
  4. Beautiful scenery that contains mountains.
Our original trip had to be modified because the weather in the places we wanted to go was not going to be pleasant on the first few days. So instead of going right into the townships, we went to Montreal first.

Day 1

A long drive from Toronto to Montreal. We decided to see a lock on the west end of Montreal and eat at one of the many restaurants on the river shore.

We stayed at a motel that was not that great and I would not recommend it. The rooms smelled of dust and the AC was loud. The WiFi was next to unusable.

Day 2

Tania wanted to see a furniture supplier in Montreal near were we were staying, and we got a chance to tag along to see if there was anything we liked for the house. Tania was successful, we were not. Then off to the first location for our camping trip, Granby. 

We actually stayed in Parc national de la Yamaska ("National" park of Quebec).  It was a very nice park on a man made lake. Sadly Granby seems to the location of at least one abattoir, so depending on which way the wind was blowing, the smell could sometimes be unpleasant.

Laura got very comfortable in no time in her new camp chair. 

It was a lot of setup for one night, but the weather forced our hand.

Day 3

We had breakfast and packed up. This was going to be our first day of biking. Approximately 54KMs from Yamaska to Mt. Orford via Magog.

I had a new setup where my Nikon AW100 was mounted to my handlebars allowing me to take convenient photos as I was riding.

Here you can see the damn that made the lake the park surrounds.

We managed to meet up in Waterloo to have lunch.

The scenery was beautiful.

It took a long while to get to Mt. Orford and setup. So much so that we didn't have enough time or energy to make a meal, so we went to St. Hurbert's which was close to the park for dinner.

Day 4

No biking today.
 Magog is a nice little town the the surrounding countryside has a lot to offer. One of the most important orders of business in this area is visiting the Abbaye De St-Benoît-Du-Lac. This is a modern Abbey, where the monks make cheese and hard cider. We all had a lot of fun shopping there and checking out the Abbey.

Afterwards some more shopping of local fare like jams and soaps.

We also dropped by the local big bike store in Magog where Tania picked up an nice pair of Specialized Cycling shoes and I picked up a Specialized cap. That nights dinner was Steak!

Getting ready to cook.

Day 5

Another day, another camp site to pack up. Due to weather, we had to setup and takedown too often in a short period of time. It put a bit of stress on our trip but that's how it was. Due to how unmotivated we were to take things down quickly, we decided not to do the full ride today from Mt. Orford to Sherbrooke. That would have been over 50KMs. Instead, we all drove to Magog and then set out from there.

This also gave Laura and I the opportunity to take a very special photo. Here we are aprox. 5 years after I proposed to Laura on this spot (or abouts).

Lots of long steady inclines.

Lots of train track crossings as well.

Getting close.

We also decided that we were tired of camping, so we stayed at Hotel Jardins de Ville. It was relatively convenient and very close to the bike highway. Our first order of business after finding a place to stay was dinner. 

+Stephen van Egmond once showed me a place on Rue King that made a great baked potato dish and had a great selection of micro brews. Micro-Brasserie La Mare au Diable, and they now brew their own beer! 

Day 6

We started out our day by having breakfast at one of the Eggsquis location in Sherbrooke. It's similar to Cora's or Egg Smart here in Ontario, but far better than Egg Smart and slightly better that Cora's. We then went to the mall to check out some Quebec brands. Lastly, we went to the best bike shop in Sherbrooke, Vélomania. It's amazing how nice a store like this is in a town much smaller than Toronto.

Now one thing we were dissapointed with up to this point in our trip, was the poutine. Tania was having none of it and directed us to La Belle Province. A chain of diners in Quebec that does indeed serve a very good poutine. 

It was a nice day, but sadly, not warm enough for any swimming.

Observe, Laura on a bike!

Tania with her new matching cycling shoes!

Day 7

This is it, the last day of our trip. We of course had to go back to Eggsquis for our last vacation breakfast.

Then off to a hydro electric power station on our way home, the Beauharnois Hydroelectric Generating Station.

The ride home was otherwise uneventful. Except for this.

Nothing like a fellow cyclist in training!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

PSB M4U 2 headphone failure and fix

I had wanted a nice pair of noise cancelling headphones for some time. The undisputed champion of "noise cancelling" is Bose. At the time this was the QC15, more recently replaced by the QC25. I have tried many NC headphones, and can confirm that the noise cancelling system in these headphones is amazing. However, they are rubbish to actually listen to music on. So after trying out a bunch of headphones, I went with the PSB M4U 2s.

These headphones appealed to me for many reasons. The sound out of them was excellent. They offered not only noise cancelling, but also had a built in amplifier that could be turned on without NC. The cable was removable and could be attached to either side of the headphones. They functioned as a headset. They functioned and sounded great with no battery at all (passive). And lastly, they seamed very well built. No plastic snaps but screws all over, with metal and high quality polycarbonate.

If there was one downside it was the price. And really, the price was justified but I didn't want to spend $400 at the time. I managed to find them used for half that. I have enjoyed wearing these almost every day for over a year. But two weeks ago the left channel just stopped working.

Customer Service & Warranty

I contacted PSB about getting them fixed. I didn't expect warranty service because I purchased them used, but I was expecting to be able to pay to have them fixed. This proved to be false. Unlike PSBs other products, which are made right here in Ontario, Canada, their headphones are made in China. PSB informed me that they do not service out of warranty headphones. I called the two closest authorized PSB dealers, and was informed that they cannot service them because PSB does not supply parts and I should contact PSB directly. I contacted PSB again about getting parts, and they informed me that they do not provide parts. So it appears, that if you have a fault with your M4Us after the 2 year warranty has expired, you're on your own.

The Flaw

First off, these headphones were purchased used. It's very possible that this flaw was fixed in later units. I took apart the left side of my M4Us. As expected, the headphones are well built using hardware instead of glue and plastic snaps. This was until I get it all apart. On the inside it was apparent that PSB chose form over function. The cable used to connect the two halves of the headphones together was wholly inadequate. It was tiny, to facilitate hiding it within the head band.

I've created an image with two areas highlighted. You can see that the individual cables fray where they come out of the sheathing a 1. One of the cables for the speaker was being held by just one copper strand when I took things apart. You can see in the area marked with 2 that another wire had completely come disconnected. 2. also illustrates what I would call the main design or assembly flaw. The cable sheathing terminated right where the housing ends for the main body of the headphone earpiece. I've pulled it out to work on it, but this explains the fraying. The cables were rubbing up against the plastic here. 

Overall, there are 12 conductors coming in through that tiny cable. They are small and fragile. I had another 3 come off their solder joints just while trying to take the unit apart. 

The Fix

You will need the following items to fix these headphones:
  1. #0 Philips screwdriver
  2. #6 Torx Screwdriver
  3. tweezers and/or small needle nose pliers
  4. precision wire cutters
  5. thin masking or electrical tape
  6. precision tip temperature controlled soldering iron
  7. flux
  8. heat shrink tubing
  9. heat source for shrinking the tubing

  1. Take apart the headphones by fist removing the ear padding on the side that has stopped working.
  2. This will expose 4 Philips screws holding the speaker into place.
  3. Be careful pulling the speaker housing away as there is very little slack in the cable.
  4. Twist the speaking housing to get to the two Philips screws holding the main body together.
  5. Place the speaker housing back into the cover for the main body to prevent accidentally dislodging any cables further.
  6. Again, be careful pulling this second part away as there is little slack in the cable.
  7. Use your pliers or tweezers to remove the tape holding down the wire. 
  8. At this point you have enough clearance to start unscrewing the part of the headband that holds the speaker in place. This is where you need the Torx screwdriver. 
  9. Take apart the two halves of the speaker holder, pay attention to the copper spring attached to the metal armature and remove the cable from the cable guide.
  10. Now you have slack in the main cable which will allow you to pull it into the main part of the speaker housing so that you can work.
  11. At this point I would take a photo of all the cables so that you have a reference of what goes where if something has gone wrong later.
  12. Cut away any excess wire that has frayed from any split connections.
  13. Add flux to the two halves of the cable you have to repair and lightly tin the ends (360c was good for this application) 
  14. Cut a small amount of shrink tubing and slide it over one end (I used too much)
  15. Use pliers, or ideally self closing ones to hold the two halves of the cable with a bit of overlap and use your soldering iron to melt the solder together. Try not to burn a whole in the ear padding of the other speaker :(
  16. Let the joint cool sufficiently and then slide the heat shrink tubing over the connection. 
  17. Tug on both ends of the cable to make sure you have a solid connection. 
  18. Use a heat gun or other source to shrink the tubing over the solder joint.
  19. I would also check all the other solder connections at this point and re-solder them if needed. 
  20. At this point I would test the headphones by plugging in a source, putting in batteries and make sure everything works.
  21. Once the test works out, pull the cable out so that only a bit of the housing is left inside the headphones. I used some electrical tape to add some buffer for further fraying.
  22. Then use more tape to hold down the cable so it doesn't get in the way of re-assembly. 
  23. You now have to re-assemble the armature that holds the speaker unit. First lay out the headphone cable into the cable guide. The slack goes at the head-padding end for extension. 
  24. Make sure to place the copper spring in place into the metal armature.
  25. Getting the two halves of the speaker holder together while keeping the cable in place was probably the hardest part of re-assembly. I have no advice other than growing another few limbs
  26. Then re-assemble the main speaker housing in reverse of how it was taken apart. 
There you have it. If you have any questions feel free to comment below and I'll try to answer them. 

Hopefully PSB has fixed this issue in later production runs or plans to. For what is otherwise an excellent pair of headphones.


Independent of this blog post, I have been in contact with PSB above.  Before I published this info, I sent them a further update via their support forums about the issue that I had found. They have offered to sell me a discounted set of M4U 2s. I am taking them up on their offer. First, these are a great sounding pair of cans with great features. This will allow me to have two pairs, but more importantly, a whole spare set of parts for the one pair I really need.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A great example of what is wrong with banking and the progress of technology

So I got spam from UGO Wallet today. It's essentially Google wallet but backed by the banks. Chances are I will never get to use it, or if I do it will be years from now. This is technology at the speed of banks and mobile carriers for you. Google Wallet is not available in Canada. Even in the US, it's starting to be blocked at a lot of retailers.

UGO only supports a small list of phones. You have to be using an NFC SIM Card because the NFC built into almost every modern phone is "Not Good Enough". You have to have support from your carrier, so only Rogers and Telus right now with only minor support from Bell. I'm sure they all want a cut of the action. You're using "Their Phones" after all.

Why is this? User tracking. With Google Wallet, it's Google who gets to track you. That's no good for the big banks, so now they want to track you. Oh, but the cellular companies can block these features, so they come up with this ludicrous NFC SIM concept so that they can lock the feature into their cellular services.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Toronto to almost Kingston

So I set off on my first fully packed bike tour on Thursday after work. This is something I've been wanting to do for ages. I've been planning this in detail for months. Though this is a compromise as I originally wanted to ride from the Bruce Peninsula National Park back to Toronto.

Day 1

I took the Go train after work to Oshawa to bypass what is probably the worst part of a bike ride east. This also allowed me to save a vacation day. This was mostly uneventful other than frantically trying to switch trains at Union with all that baggage.

Darlington provincial park isn't very nice, mostly because you can hear the constant traffic from the 401 and the CN train line. It was also a very cold night. It went down to 2 degrees and my sleeping bag was only rated for 4.

Day 2

The next day was the longest distance of the tour. Just over 100kms to Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Right from the start things were not going well. OPG had closed a part of the waterfront trail, making me loose 5km.
The other problem with the day was the constant head wind. Normally, you want to travel east and not west as the wind tends to come from the west. Not today. I was facing 20-30km winds all day. I had a mid way point marked out in Cobourg, which I was supposed to arrive to at 1pm. Instead, I was in Port Hope at 2pm.
I had lunch at a pub just off the main street. It was nice to sit and be warm away from the wind for an hour.  I was ready to give up on my original plan and tried to cancel my next two camping reservations. I was able to cancel Sand Banks for my last stay, but not that nights stay at Presqu'ile. After the one hour rest and food, plus the thought of failure motivated me to go for it. I had just over 50km to go.
I ended up making it to Cobourg at 3:30pm, 2.5 Hours behind schedule.I went to Green Canoe outfitters in Cobourg, where 2 weeks before, I had ordered a new sleeping bag for +Laura Krick. I then set off to my next camp site. The wind had died down and the going was slightly easier. I saw a lot of fields.
And a lot of views of the lake.
The waterfront trail in these parts isn't well signed, if at all. So someone had gone around making cute heart shaped road signs. Thank you rode sign painter. I love you too.
The last 10kms were very hard, but I finally made it.
The notable thing about this leg of the tour is that it's also my first metric century. I've never ridden 100kms in a single day before. It would be another 4kms from this sign to my actual camp site. The longest 4kms ever. Presqu'ile caters to cyclists with bike lanes on the roads, bike paths and even offering to drive your firewood to you so you don't have to try to lug it on your bike.
First order of business was dinner. I never let myself get hungry on the ride, constantly downing nuts or energy/granola bars. Still, it was nice to sit down and eat a warm meal. Thanks to +Laura Krick for helping me plan those. The MSR Pocket Rocket stove is very good and compact. Thanks to +Jane Sobil for the camp cookware set.

At this point I realized I was not going to make it to Kingston. Luckily, Laura had agreed to pick me up vs. me taking the train back from Kingston. Laura and I discussed me being picked up a day early. That night was one of the deepest sleeps I've ever had. I don't think I woke up once during the night.

Day 3

Though the next day I woke up at 7am, and it was overcast but warm. Laura and I sent a few messages back and forth and we confirmed the pickup to happen in Trenton. She had to drop her days plans which was great of her. That night was supposed to rain right into Sunday. Not a great prospect for camping, or packing up. I decided to head out and see the park and the bike paths it had to offer.

I rode out to the light house at the end of the park. There were a lot of bird watchers all over the park, as the birds like this area. This lighthouse is lime stone covered in ceder.

RVers also like this area

I went back to my camp after riding around. Laura sent me the GPS coordinates of where we would meet because I had screwed up loading maps onto my GPS and only had the basemap and routes for the tour. 
And then packed up and had lunch
The set off to Trenton, the agreed upon pickup location. The weather was really great by this point. The wind had intensified but changed direction. I was cruising at over 30km/h now. I ran into a paramedic fundraising group biking from Toronto to Kingston!
Spent quite a while chatting with some of the riders. They were riding to raise money for a monument to paramedics who have lost their lives. Their ride was a supported ride over two days. I managed to keep up with their pace, even though I was fully loaded until I got stomach cramps from starting out too soon after eating lunch.

I made it to Trenton with 1.5 hours to spare. I was sad I didn't agree with Laura to meet in Belleville instead. The wind and 25 degree temperatures made the ride enjoyable, unlike the previous day.

I did get to ride around Trenton and see the town though. at 1:55pm, Laura arrived to greet a very tired me.

Even though I failed in my goal, I'm happy I did this. I learned a lot about touring and my abilities. I look forward to the next one. You can see my entire ride in Strava.

What I will do better next time around

  1. Only pack the food I will need on the ride itself. Buy lunch and dinner items along the way so I'm not lugging all that food weight.  This will also avoid the expense of freeze dried meals or the unhealthiness (saltiness) of shelf stable packed meals. 
  2. Do not reserve any campgrounds, especially in the Spring and Fall. It costs more at provincial parks to reserve and also forces you to keep to an itinerary you may not be able to keep. 
  3. Purchase and break in a Brooks saddle.
  4. Eat a small lunch and then often during the ride. Stomach cramps suck.
  5. Double check your GPS has all the data you need.
  6. Check wind direction forecast to better plan your distances.
  7. Buy a small multi purpose pot instead of a pot set like I took for weight and packability.

Other thoughts and learnings

One of the things I picked up for this tour are Continental Travel Contact tires. I got the folding versions at an amazing price from Chain Reaction in the UK. These tires have an amazingly low rolling resistance for their size and recommended pressure. I had no flats on the ride. When it was time to traverse gravel or dirt roads/paths, the tires offered enough traction to keep my comfortably controlled with or without load. 

I might look into butterfly bars or trekking bars. These appeal to me much more than drop bars on my commuter, and would allow me to continue using the existing shifter/brake leavers.