Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The First Day That I Wish I Hadn't Taken My Bike

I've been bike commuting since late November, 2006, and every day I've biked I've felt better for it. Well, not today. It has nothing to do with fitness, the cold, etc. It has everything to do with fear for my life.

Perhaps I should have given it up earlier than I did today, when I got across Olentangy River Road and finally just hopped the curb and walked the rest of the way. But I figured that Dodridge/Ackerman and Olentangy would be cleared off. It wasn't. And in previous snowy weather, I didn't have nearly the problems I did today.

I was slipping and sliding all over the place. I didn't feel comfortable at all, and with cars going past me (even at their reduced speed) I still didn't feel like I was safe.

My bike has big knobby tires on it. Normally, that's enough to plow through whatever snow is there. Not today.

Do those of you who ride the snow regularly have luck with studded tires? I don't want to have to limit myself to Columbus's bus schedule (which, though improving, is still lacking due to lack of ridership), but I certainly don't want to have to risk falling just to get to work. Where do you get them? Which brands work the best for you?

Keep in mind here: I'm not a sport cyclist. I don't care one iota about keeping my bike's weight down. My bike is purely for commuting. So any discussion of how much the tires weigh will pretty much be ignored by me, because it just doesn't matter to me.

People, not speed.

15 comments:

  1. I've been using Innova brand studded tires, here in Denver, and I've had good luck with them. I found them online, somewhere. Check out my blog for more details.

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  2. I spoke with folks at my local bicycle shop about which way to go for a Flagstaff winter - studded tires or just wide ones with major treads. This one staffer I really respect told me she doesn't care for studded tires given our winters - big snow storms, lots of sun, major shifts in temperatures during the days. If you face consistent ice, studded tires can apparently be a blessing. But they are a disaster on roads that are wet. You find yourself sliding all over. So I ride with big old fat tires in the winter - very slowly. There are some days with lots of ice that I just simply dismount and walk. The next day though the ice melts and I am riding through small ponds, so studded tires would just not work...

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  3. Crotach brings up a good point - I was just assuming studded tires would be better in the snow. We've been having very variable winter weather this year, and I might end up being in better shape if I just got an extra set of wheels with studded tires so I could switch them off and on as needed. How many of you go this route?

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  4. I wouldn't recommend studded tires for Columbus. I've ridden more days like today than I care to think of (except that I didn't ride today) and I've found that my biggest concern is the other people on the roads. I ride my slicks year round. I think it helps on slippy days that I'm riding a fixie because I can feel the slip and adjust immediately.

    As to the other traffic on the road. Well, you know as well as I do how unpredictable Columbus drivers are. I think it has to do with the fact that we have so many southerners that have moved here and just don't know how to deal with this weather. People often don't clean their windows off enough to get a good view of cyclists, etc. All of this spells danger for you and I.

    The reason I skipped today was more about my daughter than anything else. If I weren't the sole support for the family or there was a greater respect for cyclists in this town then I would've ridden. As of this year though I've decided to find alternate transport on days that I know I'm seriously risking my health by cycling. It makes me sad to say that but I believe it is a reality.

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  5. Great points, Andrew. I'm not the sole bread-winner in our house, but I am the one with the great benefits, including medical. So perhaps it behooves us all to be a bit more careful instead of pushing the issue on days when we really shouldn't.

    I'm curious, though, why do you recommend against studded tires?

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  6. I too questioned my sanity on the ride in today. Once on the bike trail from Clintonville to campus it was much better, the fresh snow was a fairly good surface to ride on and Woody Hayes Dr. was is good shape (the slush was not too bad.)

    If you do go the route of a second set of tires, remember there may be some necessary adjustments to brakes, derailleur, fender, etc... I have 2 sets of wheels for my commuter (25 or 32c tires), and the rims/hubs are different enough to require 15 minutes extra work in addition to just swapping the wheels.

    Never had studded, I'm interested in how they work for you in Columbus weather (thought they were better for heavy ice, which is a small number of days per year.)

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  7. Perhaps my call for studded tires is premature, then. I was thinking that anything that provided a little more "grab" on the road would be good in such deep snow as we've had the past couple days, but perhaps I've asked the wrong question.

    Here's what I do have, currently: my bike's tires are very knobby Specialized tires, 26x1.95. Most of the time they do great. Today, they were not good at all. They were falling into ruts and slipping and sliding all over the place. What suggestions do you have for this situation on the road?

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  8. I bet some 23c tires would have cut right through the snow ruts this morning, I bet the slicks that Andrew mentioned are pretty thin, not that I'm advocating these.

    Another option is try the other direction and reduce tire pressure with the tires you have. Lively tires, bumps and slickness are not a good combination.

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  9. Amazing. That goes against everything that makes sense to me in my head - the idea that knobbier tires would give better traction seems a no-brainer. Well, I guess I have no brain. ;)

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  10. I use Schwalbe Snow Studs. The studs (as others have mentioned) are only really any good on ice, which I hit a fair bit of on the trails and occasionally on the roads. A lot of people in Halifax who live and work downtown use road bikes (often fixies) with skinny tyres; they cut through the slushy snow and work fine, and the roads are heavily salted and ploughed enough that wide tyres aren't needed. Studded tyres can also make you lose grip on clean roads as the metal studs will slip.

    If the snow gets deep enough there's no tyre that will be a complete solution. All you can do is trust your bike handling skills! The main tip I can give is to sit far back so there's lots of weight on the rear tyre (bikes being rear wheel drive vehicles) and hold the handlebars loosely and let them flop a little... but not too much!

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  11. Great tips, Steve. I know I was huddled over my handlebars and had a death-grip on them, so perhaps that was part of the problem. The death grip was something I tried to rectify as soon as I realized I was doing it, but of course, the next slip I took resulted in the crushing grip once again.

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  12. The point about loose handlebar grip is important. Just like riding dirt bikes you want to give the front end a little more freeplay and act almost as if you're on a unicycle. I'm against the studs in C-Bus just because they are really only useful on true ice where as on snow/slush/dry pavement they're actually a bit of a hinderance. I do run pretty thin slicks just because I haven't found enough of a benefit from other tires to mess with it. Again, I think the fixed gear gives me an advantage in this case.

    Well, enjoy your valentines day and the dryer streets today! I'm hoping to celebrate my birthday today with maybe some new lights or a new piece of wool cycling gear!

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  13. I got studded tires here in Urbana, IL. I have had *no* trouble with them in wet stuff. I got sort of "entry level" ones - Hakkapeliitta Nokians that aren't "extreme." THey have been awesome in our snow that looks an awful lot like your picture. I have an Xtracycle too but mostly I have been riding the studded Gazelle because we've so often at least had snow or freezing rain in the forecast, and the Gazelle is my ride of choice in single digit temps 'cause it's so heavy I *have* to generate heat to get to school :)
    My bike shop guys talked me out of studs last year... but on the basis that we generally get oh,3 studworthy days in a season. Then we got 15 inches last February and I made the call... and we've had at least a dozen studworthy days, and between then and now I sold my car.
    I'd check out the "studs lite." Traction is such a wonderful, wonderful thing.

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  14. Jamie, are you having problems with ruts that are frozen nearly solid?

    Skinny road tires work great for soft snow but they're kind of lousy when it's bumpy hard stuff.

    Studded tires help quite a bit to help you get through the rough hard ruts, but better than that is developing bike handling skills like the kind required for technical mountain biking. Hopping logs on singletrack translates well to icebiking across deep icy ruts.

    As has been mentioned, don't do the death grip. You want to be able to shift your weight front to back as needed to get over those bumpy sections.

    2 studded tires are better, but one on the front is adequate. You can get two front wheels -- one studded and the other not -- and just swap out that front wheel as conditions require. I've never had problems with sliding out in wet rain before.

    Finally, there's no shame in walking the bike when necessary!

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  15. Fritz - walking is exactly what I did after a while!

    The snow I was going through was fairly wet, but it wasn't a mass of icy ruts, it was freshly fallen. The problem was, now that I've thought it over and read the above comments, that the tires were TOO wide, and instead of slicing through the snow, they were sort of sliding over the snow.

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