A New Winter Biking Experience

Cycling AscentsIt’s not snowed here for a while, but as there was so much (90 cm) and we’re up at 720 metres above sea level, there’s still a decent amount of snow & ice around on the more shaded trails.  Which means that riding my recently acquired mountain bike is a bit of a risky proposition right now.

So after Santa had hopefully solved my problem, and delivered a new set of studded mountain bike tyres, I began to think about starting my 2013 training plan.  Right now, my (very comprehensive!) plan consists of as much time on the turbo a I can stand, along with the occasional outdoor ride to stop me going entirely bonkers after those hours stuck indoors.

P1010880The first challenge was to fit the tyres – any of you roadies who think you’ve got thumbs of steel after changing a particularly tight tyre need to try the same with a mountain bike.  As my rims are pretty sturdy (I hope!) I had to resort to standing on the rim and tyre with each foot, and using that extra leverage (in addition the the now sore thumbs) to finally pop the old tyres off.  This was after I’d managed to break one of my ‘previously thought to be indestructible’ Park tyres levers, which I was not especially pleased about, but hey, I’ve learnt a new technique at least.  Luckily, getting the new tyres on was a lot easier, however I did manage to catch my hands a few times on the studs (I’m not used to tyres being ‘sharp’, and repeatedly forgot).

At last I was ready to go, so I set off out on the main road out of town in order to run them in.  The instructions stated that you need to ride for 25 miles on a tarmac road with heavy breaking in order to ‘bed’ the studs in.  I managed about 5 miles before I’d had enough of that (well I’m sure that there’s a safety factor in there somewhere and being only 65 kg I’m not the sort of rider who’s especially rough on his tyres!).  It was quite strange to ride on tarmac with tyres with bits of metal sticking out – apart from the noise (like a kind of rapid clatter that’s so fast it’s a buzz), they actually seemed to grip quite well.  Apparently on a hard surface, the studs are pressed down into the soft rubber knobs, so you still get a decent rubber / tarmac contact patch.

Once off road, I was keen to try out the studs on ice & snow.  I started off on a trail that was flat and straight, but still had a decent amount of snow except for a narrow path in the middle (that I assume has melted due to people walking o it).  To start with, I stayed away from the snow, and was very pleased that whenever I went over an iced over puddle of patch of hard ice/snow, I hardly felt any change in grip.  Riding on ice was perfect – as it’s flat, and the tyres still had plenty of grip, it was actually better than riding on a rough but frozen ground.  The tyres scrabbled a little over lumps of ice and compacted snow, but nothing worse than if the lumps were made of dirt / earth.

My first warning of the limitations of the tyres was when the narrow strip of dirt began to dwindle and up ahead I saw that it disappeared completely, leaving only snow to ride on.  As the snow was still anywhere between 5 – 15 cm thick here (despite having melted down a lot), I prepared to hop up the little ridge that the snow made which was getting closer and closer.  When I made the jump, I nearly went over the front of the bike, despite not going that fast.  The snow was soft (probably as it had melted in the sun) and dragged on the tyres more than riding on fine sand.  After coming to an un-dignified stop, and fruitlessly trying to get going again (impossible from a standing start as there was too much resistance), I had no choice to walk a little while until I got to the main road (the benefits of having a Garmin 800 with maps to look at how far I still had to go).

The next 1 1/2 hours was spent trying out different conditions – the tyres were great on normal trails (especially good on slippy roots), and as long as I steered clear of loose snow, they dealt with ice, compacted snow, and mud – everything I came across.  I even found a technique for dealing with short stretches of loose snow – sit back a little and pedal as hard as you can – which was good for up to about 100 metres of snow, as long as it didn’t get too deep.  I also found that you can just about see the difference between soft and hard snow, if you keep a good eye on the trail.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the tyres, and by all accounts the tungste carbide studs last as long as the rest of the tyre, so I should get a good few winters out of them.  Seems like I wont have to spend the whole winter cooped up which is great news!



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