Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Biking

It's been 11 months, so it's high time to update the blog. I've managed to exceed my mileage every month this year over last. I've logged over 300 miles in December, alone. Yesterday should be counted as a mistake, though.

It started when I neglected to check the weather online before leaving home. I had an early meeting and I'd had a late meeting the day before, so I was feeling tight on time. The last weather report I had heard indicated the snow would start in the evening, so I rode the Bianchi road bike that is fitted with 700x32 Nokian A10 studded tires. These tires are ok on the road and have just enough studs to provide a grip on ice patches, but they are not so good in deep snow.

It was cold in the morning. The thermometer said 21 degrees, but it's been reading quite high. I need to move the sending unit location. I made it through the few inches of snow on the dirt road, though not without some excitement on a few rutted sections. There was a little light snow on the side of the road, but it wasn't bad when I had to go into it when cars were over taking me. The thermometer in Williston read 11 degrees, which seemed a lot more accurate.

It started snowing in earnest in the afternoon. I left shortly after 4:00, and traffic was heavy with people heading home for the weekend, trying to beat the storm. I stuck to the rec path all the way to Kimball Ave. There wasn't a lot of traffic heading out, but it wasn't easy riding, especially when I had to pull out of the travel lane. Traffic was really backed up and I couldn't ride to the right of the long line of cars, as the snow was just too deep and loose. I tried, but I was going all over the place, which just wasn't safe with all the cars around. I jogged with the bike to Williston Rd., tried riding it again, gave up, and walked the mile all the way to Tafts Corners. The thermometer read 8 degrees.

I tried riding again, but it was still pretty tough. I let out much of the air in the tires, and that helped a little, but I was very happy that a snow plow came along and cleared the road all the way across the shoulder. Things went better after that, all the way through Williston to the top of French Hill. There, things started to get interesting again. I waited for a line of cars to go by and then followed a panel truck down the hill. Soon, I realized that there was a limit to how much I could get on the brakes, as, even with the crummy brake pads on the bike, I was starting to slide the rear tire. The problem was, even though I wasn't going very fast, I was catching up to the panel truck! That, combined with the fact that it was dark, my glasses were icing and I couldn't really see where I was going, made that descent quite interesting. I stopped at the bottom and called Jeanne, telling her that I wasn't having fun anymore and she headed out to get me. I only made it to the edge of Richmond, a little over two miles farther, before meeting up with her.

I've ridden in the snow before, but hadn't had this much trouble. Of course, everything depends on the conditions, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that biking during snow storms should be avoided, if possible. Heck, driving in snow storms should be avoided. I'm pretty sure I would have been much better off with the Fat Chance, which is sporting wider, knobby Nokians with more studs. The more rugged tires, combined with the upright position of the mountain bike, would have improved traction and low speed maneuverability. If I had seen the weather I would probably still have ridden, but with the other bike. If it had happened again today, I would have driven my truck!

Bottom line: The Nokian A10s are great for clear, sub-zero riding--well, they're probably one of the best alternatives, anyway. It's hard to say that any snow tire is "great." But if you are going to have only one set of snows on your bike, and if you plan to ride in all types of weather, get a more aggressive tire, at least if you live in snow country, like northern Vermont.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Half-way through January with way-more miles than December

After riding back and forth to work (19 miles each way) for four days in a row, I was really beat. I started with my Fat Chance mountain bike (no longer considered a mountain bike according to the younger set, because it lacks any type of suspension). After slogging through mud with the consistency of mashed potatoes, due to the January thaw, I was happy to see the temperature drop below freezing. The Fat Chance has studded Nokian tires in the winter and these things claw out of pretty much anything winter throws in the way, but riding such a long commute sure takes a toll out of my energy reserves. It's amazing how quickly a cyclist can lose that warm-weather muscle tone in the off-season.

I wanted to speed up the commute, so I sprung for a pair of Nokian A10 35 x 700C studded tires. These tires have only 70 or so studs, while the tires I have on the Fat Chance have more than 100. Really aggressive studded tires often have over 300 studs. Still, the A10s have their studs located close to the outside edges and they are staggered. This puts them where you really need them, helping you to climb out of frozen ruts. I came up the hill on my dirt road on knobby tires without studs on my fourth day of riding and fell twice when I got caught in ruts--not something that typically happens to me. I was going quite slow climbing the hill and nothing got hurt or damaged. Riding up the same hill, with the same ruts, on the same bike, but now with the Nokians, I didn't even come close to going over.

The Nokians are still pretty heavy, but they are a lot easier to ride than the more aggressive ones I have on the Fat Chance. I highly recommend them to anyone who is doing winter riding and wants the advantages of studs with the lowest cost in performance. Winter conditions can put treacherous ice in your path without warning. As far as I'm concerned, studded tires are an absolute necessity for winter riding an cold. snowy climates
like Vermont.

I got my Nokians from Peter White Cycles. Peter ships very fast, has many models in stock and offers good prices. Unless you think there is a very good possibility that you will not be putting many miles on them, don't waste your money on tires with steel studs. Pay the money and get carbide studs. You won't regret it. If you live near Burlington, the Old Spokes Home has studded tires in stock. These guys ride their bikes year-round and can give you good advice.