Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Black Ice!

You think he looks rattled...
Well, I rode to work today on the La Cruz, which is presently shod with 700-40c Schwalbe Land Cruisers. These tires have nice big lugs but no studs. Bad move. As a result of the last storm, a lot of melting, and County efforts to clear sidewalks, there is not only a lot of black ice on the shoulders and bike lanes, but a lot of black ice hidden under snow that has been moved off the sidewalks. I took it very careful this morning, including a rather humorous crab-walk past the North Community Fire Station while riding on snow that turned out to be covering glare ice.

Some suggestions. First, unless you are mentally and logistically equipped for ice riding, consider using another form of transportation until the roads dry out a little. If you are mentally prepared but not fully logistically prepared and insist on riding, consider forswearing bike lanes full of ice and take the lane instead if it is clear and dry. Its legal and logical.  Its better to be predictable than suddenly floundering horizontally into other traffic;  avoiding glare ice on a shoulder or bike lane falls under the caveats of our As Far Right As Practicable laws.  I found it wasn't worth trying to move into and out of the lane on Diamond today, as it confused motorists and had me making steering corrections on ice.

Secondly, beware of Canyon's and Diamond's south sides, as well as other risky bike lanes that collect water by day and ice by night. Some lanes are better than others. Some are a horror show.

Thirdly, and most importantly, if you insist on riding right now, take command of the situation and invest in a good set of studded snows, such as the Schwalbe Marathon Winter or one of the numerous Nokkian ice tires; both brands are described and photographed on Peter White's bicycle shop site. Peter has done an excellent, exhaustive job describing a wide variety of these tires, with recommendations for road, off road, plowed vs. unplowed, etc. I doff my tinfoil hat to Peter's patience and generosity with his knowledge.

You can order studded bike tires through Jim Rickman's Little Jimmy's Wheelhouse , REI, or elsewhere, including, obviously, Peter White. They weigh a psychological ton (close to a kg per tire) but hey, its winter. You need the exercise, right? More importantly, you need to stay upright so spring doesn't find you on the mend from a senseless crash. Actually, some of the studded tires are not that much heavier than my 720 gram per hoop Land Cruisers.

Of course, studded snows don't replace common sense. Be extra conservative out there when riding in icy conditions. While studs can stabilize you on ice, they do so in cooperation with your conservative riding style for such conditions. Besides, as Peter White says, riding aggressively on studded bike tires while on dry pavement will damage or ruin them. That's an expensive hobby.

I made it to work this morning upright but a little rattled from the stress of constant dancing on black ice on a bike not properly equipped for the Los Alamos Ice Follies. I stopped at Hot Rocks for a ceremonial breakfast burrito.  Here, I was cautioned by a fellow bike commuter, who stopped to analyze my bike (yeah, we all do that...) who then told me he had once crashed suddenly on black ice in an intersection in Albuquerque and was temporarily paralyzed from slamming down on his tailbone. He now swears by studded bike tires.

Sheesh. That last one is a scary thought. Lets be careful out there.


Anonymous said...

Rode my Marathon Winter tires this morning. Went right over glare ice I would not try to walk on... no problem at all. As you say, these are heavy, SLOW tires, but you stay upright.

Schwalbe also has the Ice Spiker Pro tire, which is more of an off-road tire and has even more studs.


Anonymous said...

If things keep going the way they are you'll have to convert to ski bike. You can try one out at Sipapu