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.