One of the things I love about Vermont is that you can either get out to Ski or to Bike on virtually any day of the year, which means there is never any excuse for boredom. That said, we are three days into 40’s and raining, the temp is now hovering around freezing, most of the snow has melted or turned to slush, and frankly it’s gross out there. Many towns across Vermont and upstate NY are without power, trees are down, roads are closed, and they are calling this the worst ice storm since 1998. So the bottom line is the skiing sucks, it’s time to shovel a path to my bike shed!
Last week I bought 40 sturdy black zip-ties, 7 inches long so they’d go around my big beefy tires. I focused on the back wheel since I have plans to upgrade to a Fatty on my Front in a couple weeks – that will be a later post. For now, the gap between each spoke on my rear wheel got a zip tie and I alternated left and right edges of the tread for the zip-nubs to help with grip when I’m rounding a corner. I should point out that this only works if you have disk brakes, if you have cantilever brakes the zip-ties would clearly inhibit your ability to stop! I started working in the rain in my driveway but quickly moved to my parents porch so I could at least start my ride dry and warm! While I worked the ice built up on all outside surfaces, and even brought down a tree behind my house with a distinctive crash.
By the time I was ready to ride, my driveway was glare ice with simply nothing to grip on, so I decided to do my first test on Random Road where at least there’s a bit of sand. It worked like a charm! I had to play around a bit with the placement of the Nubs so they were on the tread enough to grip, but not in a place where they’d hit various parts of my derailleur while I was riding in my low gears. A little trial and error and I got it just right. $4.00 in parts and less than an hour of time and I had chains. Who needs $120 studded tires when you can make your own?
This is a longer rant than I want to write here, but my only complaint with my bike (A Surly Ogre 29er) is that with a 2.5 inch wide rear tire there isn’t much clearance between the tire and the derailleur when you are in your lowest ring on the front. This means if the wheel comes out of true even a little bit it rubs – and you have to be very very careful on zip-tie placement to avoid rubbing even if the wheel is true. I think this is the biggest flaw with my bike and it caused me some trouble on the Divide. Perhaps it’s only because I’m using the largest tire size recommended for this bike, but still I hope they fix the problem in later models – end rant!
Random Road and the County Road were well sanded – so much for a true test of my new studded snow tires. And they call this an ice storm! So I did what any crazy biker would do in the midst of the biggest ice storm of the decade, I headed for the Class 4 (privately maintained) roads. I figured, if nobody’s sanding them, they’ll be icier! And I was right. Camp road was a hockey rink, glare ice in the tire tracks and glare ice buried under three inches of slush everywhere else. I found I did better on just ice than in slush so I stuck to the iciest tire tracks! My soon to be added fatty front tire should make me go better in the slush, stay tuned! My ultimate goal is to be able to go on long rides on the snow machine trails, but we’ll see how that works out if we ever get any real snow.
From there I wound my way up Robinson Hill Road, still seeking out steep hills and glare ice. In general I was way more impressed by my Studs than I expected to be. They gripped really well even when leaning into a turn. I felt steady and confident even on the iciest spots. I even ended the day with a max speed of 32 MPH, probably faster than I would have been going in my car! I thought it said a lot that I only had my wheels slide out from under me once, and I was able to catch myself by sliding at a 45 degree angle with one foot on the ground until I hit a snow bank! I’ve ridden icy roads enough without any studs to really say they help a lot.
At higher elevations, even just up on Robinson Hill Road, it was raining very hard and I quickly got soaked through. As I climbed the hill it briefly turned to sleet which produced a loud “Ting Ting Ting” as it bounced of my bike and helmet, for a while there I was wishing I’d worn my ski goggles. The Ice formations growing on all the trees and bushes were gorgeous, and at times the fog was so thick you couldn’t see very far ahead of your front tire. Some may disagree, but there is an enormous amount of beauty to be found in this type of weather!
All told I rode about ten miles, mostly on class 4 roads in the freezing rain and sleet. It was fabulous! Whenever I’m on a bike trip and planning out my coming days I allow about an hour for every 10 miles I plan to ride over the course of a day. If I am aiming for a 70 mile day, I can safely assume it’ll take somewhere in the range of 7 hours, plus any long breaks. If I want to do a century, I plan on 10 hours of riding and leave early! This is always a rough estimate but I’ve been amazed that it generally holds true in almost any terrain over the course of a day. It was true on pavement on my cross country ride, and it was still mostly true on the back mountain passes of the Great Divide. Sometimes it might take thee hours to half ride half push your bike over eight miles of mountain boulders, but generally ups are followed by downs and it evens itself out. So today I was fascinated to note that I rode 9.8 miles in 64 minutes (plus a few rest breaks to chit chat with neighbors out and about enjoying this rainy winters day). Once again, even on icy back roads, the rough 10 MPH average holds true!
Wet to the bone I headed back home ready to spend the rest of the afternoon drinking hot toddies, wasting time on the internet, and listening to the rain on my roof. The temperature is supposed to drop tomorrow night and freeze all this rainwater and snow melt solid, so I’ll most certainly have more chances to use my new chains before the skiing improves and I put my bike back to bed. Life is good!