When it comes to winter bike commuting, I’m somewhat of a cheater: I only ride to work when it’s convenient.

For example, if I’m meeting someone on the other end of town after work, I drive. But it’s almost always more convenient to throw a leg over the saddle than to reach for the car keys – because I’ve made it that way.

It’s only October, but here in America’s snow boot we know winter is coming! Last year I had the opportunity to become a year-round bike commuter, thanks to a new job with a very convenient location. My not-so-new job has now moved to a new location, and my commute is 4 miles instead of 1, but it’s all do-able even in the winter. Here are some things I did to make it a no-brainer to spin to work on most days rather than driving.

Two Bikes

My biggest cheat is by having two bikes. Being a bike “enthusiast” it’s natural that I have a couple of bikes. Every winter I put winter tires (and fenders) on both of them. They’re strategically set up for varying levels of winter weather, so I just ride which ever one is more appropriate for the weather that morning, or what is forecasted for that day. One bike is for nice winter days, and the other is for harsh winter days.
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As you already know, I’m a fan of Topeak’s rack systems. They work great for carrying kids, groceries, panniers, etc. I’ve gone through a couple iterations of tail lights from Ax-Man Surplus that I usually just stick to the back of the rack with 3M Very High Bond (VHB) double-sided foam tape and some 3M adhesion promoter.

The foam tape, when used with adhesion promoter, works great for all bumps, jumps and falls. The cheap Ax-Man lights however, left something to be desired. One quit after some moisture got into the housing, the other quit because it was just plain cheap – I’d never paid more than $5 for any of them at Ax-Man.

Since I’d already invested over $100 in my front light, I figured it was time to give the back light some love. Continue reading

Now that I got my ham license and some FPV equipment, I needed a way to set it up so that it’s usable at the flying field. Also, don’t let the title fool you – most of the money ($75) was spent on the FPV system itself, (including camera!). Other parts I was able to borrow or steal…

I started with the two-monitor portable DVD system that my kids use to watch movies on road trips. The 1st monitor is the “brain” that has the DVD player. The 2nd monitor simply accepts power and an A/V signal from the 1st. I stole this monitor for use with my ground station. I tested it by powering it on through the cigarette lighter jack and then hooking it up to the FPV receiver. With the FPV transmitter off I saw static instead of the dreaded “blue screen” – which is good!

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I finally jumped into FPV by purchasing my first kit, a Quanum Tx/Rx/Camera package I got for around $60 from HobbyKing while it was on sale.

With it’s 600mW transmit power, it should be more than enough for some field flying, even with trees in the way. But before I fire it up, I needed to get legal. The FCC has a rule called Part 15 about “unlicensed equipment” which states what sort of emissions a device can have to be operated without a radio license. It’s rather complex and the only FCC Part 15 certified FPV systems I’ve seen are 20-25mW. So it was time for me to ante up and get my amateur radio license so I can be a legal, card-carrying operator.

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