Took my 6th bike ride to work for the month of February this morning. It wasn’t all that cold, and no snow anywhere except for a light frosting on some north facing slopes. But all the same, it was more winter-like out that it has been for most of this year. There was some black ice on the back roads and the park, and salt on the main roads. I was happy to be riding studded tires.
Yesterday, I took the car to work for the first time in 2012. The culprit was a combination of a slightly upset stomach and a predicted afternoon snow storm (which, of course, never materialized). Also, not that I’m superstitious or anything, but yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of my fall on ice last February that landed me in the hospital, so it’s probably better that I avoided tempting fate and riding on that day. 🙂 It’s a testament to the warm weather this winter that I made it so far into the year without having to take the car.
I am still liking the Ergon grips I put on my mountain bike last fall, after almost a full winter riding with them. It’s amazing the difference they make in comfort compared to the old generic-grip-and-bar-end combo I used to have on the bike. With the Ergons, my hands stay in a comfortable position, and I no longer have problems with numbness. The grips have small integrated bar-ends, which provide a perfect alternate grip which is particularly nice when going uphill. The only problem with them is that both grips do slip occasionally, despite being fully pushed onto the bars and tightened to spec with a torque wrench. They don’t slip during normal riding, but they’ll slip if I accidentally torque them enough. This isn’t common, but it can happen in certain cases, like when I have to swerve around something, or get the bike moving on an uphill grade in traffic, etc. It might just be that the bar is too slippery. Next time I’m doing maintenance on the bike, I might pull the grips off and rough the ends of the bars up with sandpaper, to see if that prevents it. Stay tuned.
This morning, at long last, I was able to give my studded tires their first true test. We got around an inch of snow Saturday, followed by a nice glaze of ice, plus a little bit of melting and re-freezing action on Sunday and Sunday night. As a result, I had a nice variety of road conditions on which to try out the tires this morning. For the record, these are the “Marathon Winter” tires by Schwalbe, 26″x1.75″, and I’m running them on a 1993 Specialized Rockhopper. These tires are designed mainly for traction on icy roads, more so than for deep snow. Each tire has 200 studs and the tread is not very aggressive.
Most of the roads on my commute were salted into oblivion, and pretty clear. The only icy spots were on overpasses. The real fun was in the state park. The access road I ride into the park never gets touched in the winter, and it was still covered with 1″ of snow, with footprints and tire tracks from those who braved it before me. Despite the Marathons not being snow tires per se, I was able to plow through the snow pretty confidently, with just a bit of side-to-side deflection from the ruts. I wouldn’t even think of riding through that on one of my road bikes. Any more snow, though, and I would have been hiking it. The roads and paved trails inside the park appeared to have been plowed but not salted. There was a lot of ice everywhere, and the tires handled it extremely well, with no slippage at all. I’ve never felt more confident riding on ice. I was actually purposely riding through ice in spots where I could have avoided it. It kind of reminded me of my first ride with fenders, splashing through puddles just for the hell of it.
Anyhow, we have another warmup coming for later this week, so it may be awhile before the tires get tested again. I’d like to test them out on some really hard-core ice, as opposed to the slippery-slushy stuff we had today. This winter just hasn’t been cold enough for that. I guess we’ll see what February brings.
Labor Day is less than a week away, summer is mostly behind us, and thoughts are turning towards the coming fall and winter. To avoid the rush, I’m getting my shopping done early for the cold-weather biking season. After a bit too much excitement with icy roads last winter, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought a set of studded tires. After careful consideration, I went with the “Marathon Winter” tire by Schwalbe. These tires have been well reviewed, and seem to be best suited to the type of riding I’ll be doing: mainly paved roads, with occasional icy patches. I got the 26″ size and will put them on my mountain bike. I plan on putting the tires on in early to mid November, and riding them all winter. I’ll be sure to post my experiences. If they work out well, it’d be nice to get a set for my single speed, which should be able to take 700cx32 tires with studs. However, there wouldn’t be enough room for fenders.
For the past 3 winters, I’ve been using a NiteRider “Sol” headlight. It’s not super bright, but good enough for commuting. Unfortunately, the cable that plugs the light into the battery pack died recently. I can make the light come on if I flex the cable just so, but as soon as I let go, the light goes out. I’m a bit disappointed that the light didn’t last longer. I’m now in the market for a new light. Quality issues notwithstanding, I was thinking about going in a different direction for my next headlight anyhow. The NiteRider, while functional, isn’t the best for commuting. It has a proprietary battery pack that’s expensive to replace, and the o-ring handlebar mount is difficult to deal with when you want to move the light from one bike to another. After 3 years of night commuting, I have a very clear list of things I want in a light:
- It must use non-proprietary batteries, preferably NiMH rechargeable AA or AAA cells.
- It should be as bright, or slightly brighter, than the Sol.
- It should include a daytime flashing mode for visibility, something the Sol lacked (though most of NiteRider’s newer lights include this feature).
- It should be easy to transfer between multiple bikes.
I researched lights, and quickly turned up the Planet Bike “Blaze”. On paper, this looks like the headlight of my dreams. Self contained, takes regular batteries, has a flash mode, has a quick-release mounting bracket, extra brackets available for other bikes, and best of all, ridiculously inexpensive. I actually ordered 2 of them, a 2-watt and a 1-watt model, plus 2 extra mounting brackets, all for less than I paid for my NiteRider back in 2008. I’m already a fan of Planet Bike, but I’ll be an even bigger fan if all this gear works out for me this winter. Stay tuned.