Snow Day at the Community Bike Shop

7 11 2012

Twelve hours, ten inches. It takes a lot of snow to mess with the functioning of this winter city, but that was enough. To mark this occasion, here’s some pictures from BikeWorks South.

Bike shaped object.

Bikes for sale! Buy a bike, get 6 inches of snow free!

Sticky snow.

Tunnel of bikes.

EBC’s tenacious Manitoba maple.

I saw quite a few cyclists on my travels today, and those of us with studded tires handled the slicked up roads well. It sure beats buses that are running 2+ hours late. The temperature’s dropping tonight, though, and the streets have turned to glare ice in places. I took my first fall of the season when my bike caught an icy rut. No biggie as there weren’t any cars around.

Rolling Through a Wacky Winter

27 02 2012

Living on the northern fringe of the Canadian prairie, winter is a serious affair. It’s seriously long, seriously cold, and requires serious adaptation & preparation to really be able to get out and experience it, whether riding a bike or on foot (or skis, or snowshoes, or skates – so many options!). I have a hypothesis that a portion of the traffic I get on this blog in the winter is from other year-round cyclists, trying to figure out who’s the most hardcore (I nominate this guy).

My studded tires have been grinding more pavement than snow & ice this winter.

Except for the this year. Save a couple of cold snaps that I’ve previously posted about, it’s been the warmest winter in memory, with hardly any snow and many days above freezing.

Reflections on a clear street.

It’s meant that riding through the winter has been super easy, and it seems like I have to go out of my way to find any surface to put my studded tires to work.

Sunset on the Globe.

Even an easy winter has its challenges, though, and with all the clear riding I wasn’t giving my chain as much attention as usual.

Oh chain, how have I abused thee? Let me count the ways...

I gave it a thorough cleaning, but it became obvious that is was too little, too late, and that I needed a new chain. Oh well, there were thousands & thousands of kilometers on that chain (no derailleurs make for longer lasting chain), and I knew its time was near, I was just hoping it’d last the winter. It was also a good excuse to break out Porta-Bike.

Have I mentioned how fun this bike is?

This is hardly winter riding.

And this is just wrong for February in E-Ville.

Riding Porta-Bike is always a joy, and I pumped the tires up hard to try to keep the studs off the ground and maximize zippiness. I had a lovely ride, but on the way home noticed a strange bump every time the back wheel went ’round. I pulled over and found a large bulge in the tire, with one of the screws I used for studs dangling from a screw-head sized hole, and another hole sans screw. The bulge was visibly expanding, and I quickly let air out of the tire to prevent an explosion with screw-stud shrapnel.

I took this pic after letting air out of the tire. It was initially even bigger but diffusing a potential bike bomb trumps diligent blogging.

The next day, I replaced the studded tire with a summer tire and marveled at how close that tire came to letting go. The DIY studded tires were lined with a double layer of inner tube, and I think that’s all that kept it from blowing.

Notice how all of the supporting fibers on the inside of the tire have broken in the area the studs were forced out from. Intact screw-stud at the bottom of the pic.

I figured “No big deal, two studded tires is overkill anyway.” and set off on my daily traverse, enjoying the smoothness of the non-studded tire and riding without a jacket.

So then, of course, this happened:

The deities of winter cycling decree that if you remove your winter tires, it will trigger a surprise snow storm.

In E-Ville, winter’ll catch up with you if you don’t take it seriously, even if it’s just for a day. And now, with more snow in the past 48 hours than the rest of the entire winter, winter’s back with a vengence.

Ice, Ice, Baby

23 02 2011

Last week, as I stopped to take a picture of the ice encrusted bike path I ride every day, an old man carrying bags of empties stopped his slow shuffle, gingerly balanced on the junction of the snow bank and the ice sheet and offered me some free advice.

“Turn back! It’s like this all the way.” (FTR, I had already ridden most of the full length of this trail and was on the final block.)

“It’s OK, I’ve got studded tires.” (I find people who try to tell me what’s best for me never want to hear about my studded tires.)

“You can’t ride on that!” (he motions to the ice) “You’ll break an arm!”

“I’ll be OK.”

“No! You can’t ride there! You’re going to break a leg!”

“I’ll be fine.” (I wasn’t in the  mood to again point out my tire studs and explain about angular momentum and torque and how, unlike my (or his) footwear, my studded tires have the traction of a mountain goat.)

“No! I’ve already fallen twice today! It’s too dangerous to bike! You’re going to break an arm and a leg.”

I was getting impatient by this point. “Okay, I’ll turn back after I take this picture.” This response seemed to satisfy and quiet him and he continued down the icy trail. I wonder if he noticed that I didn’t turn back, and just kept on riding down the middle of the skating rink.

There's a bike path under that ice.

The path is straight, flat, there’s no cars, and I’ve got two studded tires, so I’m not bothered by the iciness of it anymore. If you changed any one of those factors, it would be a different story, but I’ve ridden stuff like this enough times and I know this path well enough that I can just relax and roll with the flow. Every winter at some point, I reach a state of winter cycling zen where I stop thinking of all the techniques and technicalities and can just trust my body to do what it does. It’s sorta like remembering how to ride a bike.

There’s been some snow since I took this picture, so at least now I have a layer of packed snow between my tires and the Ice Capades. I love packed snow. When it’s cold out (current temperature -20C, wind chill -32C) I prefer packed snow over asphalt to ride on. The sound of snow creaking is so much nicer than studs grinding away on the pavement. Here’s hoping that it stays for a long time, and when the snow finally melts, it doesn’t refreeze until next fall.

Winter Cycling Dreams

29 11 2010

Last night, I had a dream that all the snow melted and I didn’t need the studded tires on any of my bikes. I could feel warmth from the sun, I didn’t have to bundle up, and my only concerns were the puddles of melted ice everywhere, and which of my summer bikes I should bring out of storage.

Fall seems like a distant memory.

Alas, I awoke to a winter cycling season that has barely started and a frozen white world with warmth only from my blankets and snuggly kitties. I guess it was still better than the dream I had last week where I was riding through deep snow in the bush to escape the zombie apocalypse. Come to think of it, I could really go for some fun off-road snow biking. Minus the zombies, of course.

Twenty Inch Studded Tires

23 11 2010

It’s cold out there, so cold that it feels like riding straight into a slurpee headache, so cold that a slurpee would actually be 20 degrees warmer than it is outside, so cold that my camera refuses to work. Yesterday’s high was -24C, with a windchill of -34C. When you’re riding into the wind the windchill increases, so I took Porta-Bike on the LRT today to avoid the headwind, turning my usual 80 block commute into a 20 block commute (luckily, I was able to avoid rush hour, when bikes are banned from trains). With a tailwind on the way home, though, I rode the whole way and broke quite a sweat.

It was pretty simple to  make a studded tire for the Porta Bike using wood screws and a semi-nubby tire (anything too fat wouldn’t clear the fender). The first step is to figure out where you want to place the studs so that they’ll be engaged when you need them, but mostly out of the way when you’re rolling straight on smooth pavement. Then, take a drill with a narrow bit and drill pilot holes in the tire and insert the wood screws from the inside. Next, take an old tube the same size or larger than the tire, and cut out the valve stem and cut along the inside edge of the tube to make a a liner to prevent the screw heads from damaging the inner tube.

Once you position the liner & the tube, put the tire back on the wheel and pump it up, you will have a rather scary weapon with the sharp screw heads poking out in all directions. Because you, your other bike’s tires, and your favorite sweater are the ones that’ll most likely be hurt, I recommend grinding the ends down. This will also help with fork & fender clearance issues.

Grinding the sharp screw heads off the studded tire.

Porta-Bike has outperformed my expectations in both packed and loose snow,  it actually seems more stable than my other winter bikes. The coaster brake is also a win for winter, as there’s less to freeze or break, it doesn’t lose power when wet and because front brakes are less useful in treacherous conditions anyway. The only drawback is that the smaller wheels that fit so nicely in the door wells of our new LRT cars  don’t take the bigger bumps of hardened snow & ice as well as larger wheels.

Porta-Bike's new tire bling, making studded tires look cute.

I can see myself riding this bike much more this season, so I’m going to do some research about additional steps I can take to protect this old steel bike from the road salt and sand of an E-Ville winter.

A Four Letter Word That Starts With “S”

26 10 2010

Honestly, I’ll take -3C and snowing to +3C and raining any day (well, any day that I have access to a bike with a studded tire). Snow doesn’t soak in and chill you to the bone, you can just brush it off you, and as long as you’re dry, staying warm is a cinch.

First snow on the High Level Bridge.

As the snow started to accumulate last night, I put my new studded tire (Schwalbe Marathon Winter, supposed to be the champagne of studded tires) on the Globe (which I’ve started calling the Glow-Bee, for lack of a more creative name). The tires need to be run out on hard pavement (good, good, goooood, good vibrations) for the first 40km or so, to make sure the studs are permanently affixed, and, as expected, most of the snow that fell on the roads and paths melted away quickly, but I sure was happy to have the studs for the half mile journey across the High Level’s cold bridge deck.

Bring on the tire bling - like riding a diamond encrusted tank!

There’s something about how the snowy crosswind bit at my cheeks, the familiar tingling made strange by it’s absence since spring, that was just so pleasant and refreshing. I always compare the sensation of winter cycling to downhill skiing. You’re going fast, snow’s flying in your face, there’s a cold wind but you’re warm cause you’re exercising, the snow’s creaking, and there’s an underlying feeling of being almost out of control. And it’s a total blast.

Interested in learning more about winter cycling? There are some classes coming up: ECOS is presenting an introduction to winter cycling seminar Nov 5th at noon at the U of A, and EBC is holding a winter cycling discussion on November 12th at 7pm, or you can just walk into either of those two places during drop-in hours and start up a conversation with the mechanics about winter cycling; they have lots of first hand experience to share.