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Preparing for a Siberian Cycling Expedition; Only a Couple Weeks Left

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Preparations begin for Siberian Cycling Expedition

With only 18 days left until our departure date, planning efforts and gear modifications are in full swing! One of our principle challenges is to anticipate the conditions which we will encounter during our 35-day circumnavigation of Lake Baikal and make all preparations ahead of time to ensure a successful adventure.

An obvious concern is staying warm. As cyclists, we are all familiar with the difficulty of keeping hands and feet warm during cold weather riding. We examined the systems in use by mid-west winter cyclists and Alaskan Iditabike participants, discussed the pros and cons of various shoe and pedal systems, and eventually decided that for our needs a warm winter boot matched to a flat pedal with power straps is the safest choice. Although it would be nice to use an SPD-type pedal, the risks of mechanical failure as well as the difficulty of mounting a cleat to a winter boot made us decide to keep things simple. We will be doing a lot of walking, and any hole through the sole of the shoe allows cold and moisture to penetrate the inside of the boot.

The boot of choice? – the Kamik Cody rated to -78 degrees Celsius. It is a bulky boot, but cold feet could ruin the trip, and it will be nice not to have to flee to the sleeping bags as soon as the sun goes down at night. Choosing a system for hands was not as difficult. We will bring insulated shell mittens for riding and a pair of good windproof fleece gloves for tasks that demand a lot of dexterity.

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The pedal system was a little trickier. Due to the large size of the boot we wanted to use a platform pedal, but the power straps are designed to work with standard-size pedals. With a lot of grinding with a bench grinder and Dremel tool we managed to clear away enough of the pedal body to attach the extra-long power strap mounting hardware. This system should give us plenty of contact with the pedal and provide decent efficiency while still being simple and reliable. In the photo you can see the silver areas where we had to grind away the pedal body to custom fit the power straps. The grind marks in the center are from having to angle the Dremel tool inside the pedal body to clear an area for the bolts to pass through the pedal cage.

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While we expect some days of sunshine and moderate temperatures around -15 degrees Celsius, we must also be prepared for winter storms and periods of cold down to -40 degrees Celsius. Our clothing systems vary a lot depending on the individual. I have decided on the following layered system which will hopefully keep me warm in the worst conditions on Baikal:

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Smart Wool 100% Merino Wool base layer tops and bottoms
Smart Wool 100% Merino Wool extra-thick socks
Sherpa Adventure Gear Polartec fleece jacket
Sherpa Adventure Gear Primaloft pants and jacket
Hard shell windproof pant
Insulated Shell mittens
Windstopper Pro Balaclava (face mask)
Ski goggles

But we don’t just have to keep ourselves from freezing… The grease in all the moving parts on a bicycle can freeze up in temperatures below -15 degrees Celsius and create all kinds of problems. The freehub (cassette) body is an especially important component to keep from freezing. If the palls in the freehub body freeze they fail to engage the inner splines in the hub and pedaling forward yields the same of momentum as pedaling backwards, i.e. nothing happens whatsoever. This would be a bad thing. To prevent this and other possible problems, we have changed the grease in every bearing assembly on the bike: bottom brackets, hubs, pedals, headsets, and freehub bodies. Instead of a standard bicycle or automotive grease, we are using specially formulated grease that comes highly recommended by many Alaskan winter cyclists – Lubriplate Mag-1 Extreme Temperature grease rated to -50 degrees Celsius. This should keep our bearing assemblies running smooth and friction free even in the coldest temperatures.

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Another challenge that we had to deal with in preparing for our trip was mounting our Axiom Odyssey rear rack to our bikes. We will be running a two-speed “single-speed” type set up with 2 chainrings in the front, and two cogs in the back. The chainrings and cogs will have a two-tooth difference, so we will be able to change gears by moving the position of the chain without changing chain tension. Our frames use horizontal sliders with single-speed drop-outs, but there are no braze-ons for a rear rack. We had a special triangular piece of stainless steel fabricated by our friend and fellow cyclist Jason Elliot at Elliot’s Specialty Sheet Metal here in Eugene, OR. They work perfectly. They bolt directly on to the slider using the main slider bolts, and keep the rack independent of the rear wheel and any tension adjustment in the chain.

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Mounting the upper stays of the rack was simple thanks to the Axiom Trekk Seat Collar. These are especially useful in 29-inch mountain bike applications, as even with a full-size frame the rack is higher than the intersection of seat stays and seat tube where rack mounts are usually located. Adjust-ability of the Odyssey rack is also very simple thanks to the sliding stays, which accommodate an exceptionally large range of positions.

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With a bit more than 2 weeks to go the anticipation is climbing dramatically. There is still so much to do, but the fact that this long-planned trip is finally coming to fruition is becoming more and more evident each day. It is still hard for me to believe that in less than 20 days we will head out from the Siberian city of Irkutsk along the frozen Angara River to begin our month-long circumnavigation of the deepest and oldest lake in the world, Lake Baikal. Check us out at www.cyclebaikal.com

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