Sunday, December 14, 2008

Icy observations


I took a quick ride over to the hardware store today. That's about 3 miles away. The temperature is reading 11 F right now. There were some strong winds, so I'm thinking with the wind we're in the zero neighborhood.

I stay off the arterial in these conditions. With the plowed up ice chunks on the shoulder, there's just no where to bail out. On the back streets I can go slow and and I can take big, slow, large-radius corners. Turning sharply doesn't work on ice.

So, the observations:

  • Low trail on ice is much easier to control when the front rack is loaded. On the way to the hardware store I just had my U-lock up front. On the way back, I had an addition 10 pounds or so on the rack. Having a bit more weight over the front wheel seemed to stabilize the steering a bit. This makes sense. The thing I love about low trail bikes is how cornering feels, it's very light and requires very little input compared to high trail bikes. On ice, I want a bit more deliberate steering, so by weighting down the front wheel, I have to work the steering a bit more. I wonder if having weight over the front wheel just helps generally? That makes some sense too. Anyway, the difference in perceived stability and handling was marked. And now duly noted.
  • Fixed gear on ice makes so much sense. I've sort of drifted away from riding fixed over the last year or so, but on ice, with studs, it rules. Especially when it's this dang cold. My fingers tips were freezing (even in my fancy lobster claw gloves), so I pulled my fingers out of the mittens and curled them up into fists in the gloves. On a bike that relies on hand brakes, this would not be a wise way to warm your fingers, but on a fixed gear, where you can brake by back pedaling, it works out great. Warm fingers and reasonable control. Descending steepish hills on ice is also fun. You can kind of play with locking up the rear wheel or just grinding really deliberately to slow the bike. 
  • A wind breaking shell layer is absolutely required in this kind of cold. I forgot my rainlegs and even with poly long underwear and reasonably sensible pants, my legs were too cold. It would be interesting to try a longer ride at this temp. I wonder if I could ride for a couple hours in reasonable comfort in single digits?
  • Stuff. There's always stuff. I need to be packing chap stick. I want goggles -- the cool old timey ones. I never been able to figure out how to cover my face w/out fogging up my glasses. When it's around zero, fogging up your glasses means they get a film of ice on them. I really should have foot/hand warmers packed somewhere on the bike. Just in case.

3 comments:

fixed-gear blog said...

Fixed gear + Ice = big big smiles

tlp said...

I'm riding my Raleigh One Way 2008 (fixed) with Schwalbe Marathon Winters. I've gotten three days of ice/snow cycling in so far, one being my commute.

I'm amazed at how well the 35mm tires work with snow. I figured they'd be awesome for ice, but lacking in that department. Not so!

Funny you should mention the finger-warming trick. I did that yesterday while testing out my 8 mile round-trip commute. Fingers didn't get cold today, though (I rode in today in single-digit temperatures). They usually warm up by themselves after I've gotten a good workout.

I'm currently riding platforms on the fixed gear with some inexpensive winter boots and lots of wool socks. It does the trick, and I don't miss the retention. More than once I've put my foot down riding a snow-covered trail, where the bumps, dips and edges are not visible. It's kind of a thrill to roller coaster around on it. No crashes yet.

One thing I like about riding fixed in the winter is the traction feedback. You can tell if you've got a good grip on the surface you're riding on, and can quickly let off on the pedals (both accelerating and braking) if you feel it slip.

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