I loved reading Adam Durand’s recent post (rocbike.com) about, shall we say, spontaneous ice-biking. It can happen to anyone: the evening begins with a warm breeze, but then comes the rain, which soon turns to sleet; and as the temperature keeps dipping, the whole visible world becomes as slick as a “greenwashed” ad from Big Oil. And there you are, the intrepid bicyclist, faced with riding when even walking is a challenge.
The scenario is one of many arguments in favor of studded tires for winter riding. I’ve been using a pair of Nokians this year, after an apprenticeship in past winters with some cheaper but less durable Innovas. The Nokians are peerless (well, maybe equaled by Schwalbe, about whose studded tires I know very little) and well worth the price (the model I have runs about $60 apiece).
When the latest ice storm struck the other day, I had to do my usual commute to the RIT campus, about seven miles one-way from my place, through varied conditions: level streets, a couple gentle hills, some parking-lot-shortcuts, and a good length of untended multi-use trail. After the ice had landed, these surfaces were slippery as all get-out, and worse, textured by a wind-driven splattering effect (the elements as a sort of environmental Jackson Pollock) that added a little bounce to the ride. Still, the tires worked nicely. There were a few times when I felt a bit insecure, as when I went up and then down a steep pedestrian bridge over the Erie Canal. But for the most part, the tires kept me upright and going forward on ice that would have stopped a pedestrian cold.
I’ve got a lot of winter riding under my belt, and the experiences have included more than a few wipe-outs on unexpected or unseen ice. I remember one afternoon a few years back on the Genesee River Trail near the UR campus: it was about 10 degrees F, sunny and clear, and the ground and trail were almost bare. But as I swooped down and around a curve under a railroad bridge, I “encountered” a patch of black ice maybe 20 feet long that covered the full width of the trail. By the time I understood what was ahead, it was too late to take evasive action – or even let out a good ole Tarzan yodel. Down I went, sliding along on my left side as various add-ons from my bike tinkled and scattered on the cold, cold ground. (I instantly recalled an earlier fall on ice, this one at night, when it took me a while to find and reassemble all the little pieces of my headlamp, some of which had skittered under a parked car.) But my bike and I escaped without real injury. And I was glad nobody had been around to witness a most uncool maneuver.
Now cycling life is boring: my studded tires keep me from having more experiences like the above. So what stories am I going to tell my great-grandkids? Surely if you embellish it enough, you can make an absolutely uneventful ride into a heroic journey. I’ll give it a try.