Festive 500

I took part in the Festive 500 cycling challenge asking you to ride a bit instead of just accumulating delicious christmas food. I do ride in the winter for commuting, errands, and the occasional helping friends move houses, but weekly distances of this kind are usually summer-only.

Background

I live and ride in Uppsala, a university city at 60°N and an adequate distance from Stockholm (capital of Sweden). Riding here is pretty flat, but winter temperatures can swing wildly around zero, with ensuring frozen slush on the roads. Darkness fall about 15 now. I ride mostly for transportation (a bike is often the only vehicle you need here) but also touring, brevets, and a bit of amateur road racing.

Setup

For most journeys i used my Optima Orca "highracer" recumbent bicycle. As far as I know, I have no physical defects - I'm just a somewhat lazy guy that like a comfortable ride. It could be the theme for my Festive 500 - can you ride 500 km comfortably in a not-always-that-inspiring Swedish winter week?

The bike is one of few recumbents I've tried that actually can handle winter somewhat OK - probably because of stable geometry, dual 26" wheels and the Nokia W240 studded tires. It's otherwise pretty basic - 3x8 Deore drivetrain, V-brakes and a simple coil rear damper. OK for 550€ paid ...

Wear

Wool underwear, including socks. An old pair of Diadora SPD shoes one size too large - space enough for double socks. No winter tights at the moment - using double undergarments instead. A simple softshell. Thumb gloves + woolen inner gloves and granny's home-made wrist warmers. A buff could be useful.

Navigation

Navigation is by a simple Android smartphone (Galaxy mini with an internal battery not too fond of cold), oruxmaps and Openstreetmap based maps and routing tools.

The phone also provides music to a 2x2W bluetooth speaker box. My idea is that speakers could provide some cheerful music without the earphone-associated risk of unexpected vehicle or creature encounters.

Music

Finnish tango and brass band marches for fighting the hills, some slightly-modernists like Eland von Koch and Bela Bartok for the distances alone. And what better, when the snow has stopped and the moon is shining brightly over crispy landscape, than Johann Strauss wiener-walzer like "Accelerationen" and "An der schönen blauen Donau"? (and well, yes, I do play the clarinet in the local symphony orchestra)

Lights / electronics

The bike has a built-in electrical system, powered by a 3W mid-range Shimano hub dynamo. Both front and rear lights are run from this system; front light is home-built with 3 * XP-G LED:s with a toggle switch on the handlebars for high/low beam. On the rear of the are bike AC / DC outlets for accessories - most used was my small switching regulator box providing two USB outlets for charging phone / speakers.

In addition, I had a couple of red blinkies (in steady-mode, mind you ...) on the bike (most of the time - note to self : find lights with more secure mounting clips). Extra front lights are two sets of Sigma Powerled EVO 900 lm headlights. Those lights have a nice and round beam, very good for MTB-ing around. Which also means you have to point them quite low indeed to avoid blinding traffic if you do, as I did, ride on the road.

Fuel

Mostly sports drink in an insulated camelback (fast sugars + carrot juice - do I still get hippie points for the latter?). Works fine for about 6 hours, even in -15C. After mentioned time and temperature, it becomes popsicle.

Also bananas, our classical cycling food, is, alas, rather unusable in a frozen state (see illustration - and imagine a sounding "clonk"). Chocolate bars, cookies and figs, luckily, stay edible.

Trips

21 December - prologue

Bike
Tandem
Distance
110 km (not included in Festive 500 total)
Weather
light snow, -5C, wind 3 m/s from NE
Took a tandem trip Uppsala-Gävle with a friend of mine. She wondered it it's indeed possible to ride some distances in the winter, and being science students both of us, a good way of finding out was trying it ...

Getting the long vehicle ready ...

24 December

Bike
DBS
Distance
7 km
Just going to my childhood place and back on my nothing-fancy 3x7-speed bike. It has simple studded tyres, a basic hub dynamo and such. And a Air Zound horn for motorist interaction, but that was not needed tonight. My mother lives in the same city, so going there and meeting the family is usually a feeble 10-minute trip.

26 December - Journey in the dark

Bike
Optima Orca
Distance
3.5km + 88.5km
Weather
rain, around 2C
Looked through my window at the weather. Hesitated, but what do they say about "the weather through your window"?. Took my bike out anyway. It was about as grey as it looked. Maybe a bit more uneven - snow services in the city seems to think of bike paths as good to place to push snow from the roads, rather than actually clearing them ...

The weather from your room ...

Rain in the winter

Road conditions

Still it was actually rideable, even enjoyable in some fashion. The bumpiness ended once outside the city, away from the bike paths. It was cold and raining, probably headwind too, but I was not shivering, and the legs were in working condition.

Fun on the ice

Left the main road 272 and went smaller roads to Östfora and the Siggefora bath and camping (the latter biding its time, waiting for summer). Then straight southwards through mostly forest.

Darkness falls

After some 60 km, I had approached the wonderful village of Järlåsa. I was sweating, but now had to admit that some more layers would indeed be appreciated. Looking for some warm place to change (having a thing for being comfortable, remember?) I found a nice local pizza place.

One minute after getting my hippie veggie-garlic-greek-pizza served, all power went out in the whole village. Our dear pizza guys scrambled their inventory of candles, making it quite a nice place for me and the families celebrating now-something-different-than-christmas-food-please.

A candlelit pizza dinner

Once rolling again (and again going the smaller roads), the rain had turned to snow and then stopped. The world was covered in white and fluffy. So was the roads, and the threes above. The trees were actually covered in white and heavy, and I heard a couple of them fall in the forest during the otherwise silent ride of winter landscape beauty back. (Some had fallen over the road, too)

Where no one had ventured before (in a while at least)

27 December - Intermezzo

Bike
Radon Stage 6.0 hardtail
Distance
8.5km + 2km
MTB trip in the local forest ("Nåsten") with my sister. She has never done MTB before. Still, she outperformed me fair and square. I blame it on my tired legs. Or better, that her bike had a much lower rider mass / tire width ratio. Is some km of bike-pushing OK in the Festive 500? I just sank into the snow under the footprints on many parts of the path. My sister with the Stage Diva

28 December - Roslagen in the cold

Bike
Optima Orca
Distance
3.5km + 142 km
Weather
clear skies, -10 to -15C, strong winds from N

Next major trip went to the east. I drew a trip along some smaller roads in the coastal region "Roslagen" to the east. Going up to Gåvsta, then first checkpoint in Almunge. Next control in Rimbo, and then back trying winter riding along a small road that is fun in a roller-coaster way during summer.

Start of the ride

To Jälla (10 km east of city centre) I went along a surprisingly OK cycle lane. After Jälla, I continued along road 288. From this place it turns into a middle-barrier-road - it's what we cyclists get get when the road authorities in the name of safety (for a select subset of road users) rebuild normal ways with shoulders to shoulder-less 3-lane roads with middle barrier. No actual problems anyway (riding like a predictable vehicle and being lit like a small truck perhaps helps ...)

Pretty OK

From Gåvsta I took smaller and much more picturesque roads towards Länna. Probably unpaved, but hard to know. Banana break in Almunge, and taking a short glance at sleeping rolling stock of the preserved steam-powered railway "Lännakatten".

A cold day

Left half paved for bikes, right unpaved for horses. Works if traffic is not too intense ...

From the lovely little village of Rånäs i followed our narrow-gauge heritage again. From here to Rimbo (which is about 10 km), the railway bed has been turned into a combined cycleway and bridleway. Somewhat surprisingly, it was cleared of snow.

Arriving in Rimbo, it was time for pizza break (notice the expensive-bike-watching friendly parking + seating). I was almost looking for my brevet card - this is a checkpoint on the local 200km brevet. No problem keeping warm during riding, but got quite frozen during the break. A bit tired?

A bit too technical for road riding

The small roller-coaster road was a bit to adventurous in road conditions to really be able to appreciate the rolling curves of the road. Also, now I had headwind again.

On the long way back home, things (but not limbs, except my feet) started getting frozen here and there. My phone battery didn't like being charged in many degrees minus. Put it in an inner pocket, and keep the charge wire going into the jacket. The camelback started acting up - put it inside the jacket too. I probably looked a bit cyborg-ish with wires under the jacket, but the road wasn't exactly crowded with people that care about such. Still, arrived in Uppsala before midnight, riding at "minimum brevet pace".

Animals observed : Several rabbits, a silent deer, and a not very shy young fox, just close to Uppsala. Obviosly curious about the strange creature, but alas scared of the camera.

29 December

Bike
Optima Orca
Distance
3.5 km
Just some transportation in the city again.
The apples still hang on one three, frozen in place.

30 December - an expected journey

Bike
Optima Orca
Distance
64 + 77 km
Weather
light snow, 0C, strong wind from S
Going visiting my aunt and cousins (I latter visited my cosines, studying GIS geometry functions) is a yearly christmas tradition, and traditional ride for me. I went there following the traditional route of the local Audax group - part of it go along a car-free road through a large military field between Håbo-Tibble and Kungsängen. Strong headwind.

On the other hand, a warm (everything is relative) tailwind in the darkness home. Almost felt like a hint of spring.

Could have been useful in Prague 1968. Or at Tiananmen Square ...

The Stäket bridge - entrance to Stockholm

Just me, the road, calm lights of the bike, meditative pedalling and some nice symphony

31 December - to Almunge and back again

Bike
Optima Orca
Distance
100 km
Weather
light rain to moderate sleet, around 2C, medium wind from S
A calm trip to a part of the Almunge road I've never tried before. Also a trip that, admittedly, was calculated to more or less exactly the same length as remaining winter challenge kilometres ...

The telephone battery died at km 96 (at least it managed to save so far), so I added the finish point manually to the GPX file.

The long and not so winding road to Hallstavik

Making a sprint for the hill

31 December - epilogue

Bike
Brompton folder
Distance
5.5km
Weather
dense fog, freezing
End of riding the Festive 500. Just went to the station, took the train to friends in Dalekarlia and found the cottage on the hill where we celebrated new year with campfire and tea. But well - I actually rode bike going to the station and in Falun, so it can be in the list too ...

I was actually riding a bike, yes.

Last km; wish there were studded 349mm tires.

Conclusion

Distance travelled was 509 km. Comfort was generally adequate to good (on several occasions very good), with some exceptions for feet, tiredness (28 December, end of trip) and cold wrists. Remedies for the deficiencies could be shoe covers / front fairing / velomobile, starting rides earlier / riding faster, respective remember granny's wrist warmers (successfully implemented during test period).