Saturday, October 4, 2014

Committing to winter cycling

Ten years ago at this time, I was (somewhat nervously) anticipating my first of many winters of cycling. "Fat Bikes" weren't a thing back then, and there wasn't even much info online, except for a few kooks up in Canada who put screws in their tires to get traction on ice. Winter biking a decade ago was something only the most eccentric of cyclists seemed to be doing. I found Peter White Cycles in New Hampshire, and ordered some 700x40 Nokian studded tires from him. Then through a process of trial-and-error, I worked out my wardrobe to deal with the mix of cold air and heat/sweat generated by the exertion. Over the winter of 2004/05, I cobbled together a haphazard pile of equipment and a few tricks to help me survive and even enjoy pedaling through the winter.

Studded tires were not a widely available product at that time. The Nokians I was riding on my bike were regarded as a novelty among my cycling friends. The next Summer, I got a bike shop job at Freewheel. When Summer turned to Fall, the buyer at Freewheel asked me if I thought they should carry studded tires, and asked for my recommendations about what to buy. I thought it was funny that he was treating me like the resident "expert" on this subject. But then I sold a shitload of studded tires. Whenever people came in to ask about putting their bikes on trainers for winter exercise, I showed them the studded tires.

Fast forward to last Winter. That was a tough one, and it really caught me by surprise! The streets around my house were covered in the bumpy, hummocky ice that makes any riding dangerous, especially if there are cars trying to navigate the same streets. I had some of the AMAZING 45NRTH 29x2.35" Nicotine studded tires on my Ogre, which handled the ice ok. But my favored commute route was detoured onto an unplowed path, where I really would have benefited from the 26x4.8" non-studded tires of my Moonlander. Combine the difficult terrain with the frigid temperatures, and I started to lose my nerve for winter cycling.

But this year, I am, perhaps for the first time, making a serious effort to be prepared to ride in almost any conditions we are likely to face this winter. I have been gradually investing in cold-weather clothing that is designed for bicycling, and I took the plunge on a pair of these bad boys.
I am hopeful that these 26x5" studded tires will be as at-home on the ice-cratered and ice-rutted streets as they are in unplowed powder and slush. Yes, they are $250 EACH!!! In my opinion, that price is worth paying if I can be safe and have fun with my cycling during what might be another long, cold winter.


8 comments:

KM said...

Hummocky? I'll bet you cheat at Scrabble.:-)

Jim Thill said...

That's what my geology degree does for me.

Bill Bremner said...

Jim,

I committed to ride all winter last year for the first time. What a year to commit! I rode all but 4 days, those were the days that I had to drive b/c of a dr. appointment or some such bs, not the vortex days. Those I rode. Managed pretty well with my cyclo cross and studs but am so looking forward to the fat bike this winter!

Anonymous said...

What is the coldest outdoor temperature that you have ever ridden in Jim? Do you have any tips for when it gets below freezing?

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Looking forward to my first winter commute season on fat tires and wondering if I should look into fat fenders or just deal with a wardrobe change. What are your thoughts, Jim?

Vince said...

Any more Dillinger 5s in stock? Do you recommend a tubeless setup for the Dillingers/Moonlander? How do you think a Dillinger in the front and the Lou in the back would ride?

Jim Thill said...

Full fenders don't make much sense in winter, but some PDW Mud Shovels will keep most of the slop at bay. I have at least two more Dillinger 5 tires. May be able to order more. I think Dillinger/Lou (or Bud) would be nice. Tubeless is not necessary.