The winter of 2009/10 has been cold, icy and packed with snow. OK, it hasn’t exactly been Iditabike conditions but plenty of hardcore Brit cyclists spent much of late December and early January on indoor trainers.
I don’t blame them. Without my spike tyres, I wouldn’t have ventured out much either. I have other winter product favourites but, first, the tyres that have kept me riding, and upright.
STUD U LIKE
When the first few days of snow hit just after Christmas I wondered whether I should fit my spike tyres. They’ve been in storage for years. And for good reason: they’re a faff to fit and make a startling clattering noise on ice-free tarmac.
I studied the weather forecast and was convinced there would be enough black-ice around – about three day’s worth, predicted the Met Office – to make the switch. As it turns out they’re still fitted to the Xtracycle and it’s been my winter workhorse. There’s been a thaw, but black-ice is still an issue and, at the weekend, we got another dump of snow. The spikes stay.
My history with Nokian carbide-studded tyres goes back a long way. I first encountered them in the mid-1980s. Geoff Apps – the ‘father of English mountain biking’ – had been using Nokia 2-inch 650B snow tyres on his early mountain bikes, including the Range Rider. Geoff invited me to stay with him for one of his ‘Wendover Bashes’, some of the very first MTB events in the UK.
This was 1986. I’d spent the previous year touring some of the deserts of the Middle East on a Dawes Ranger. Geoff Apps’ Range Rider – fitted with gripshifts long before SRAM came along – was a much better climber than the Dawes Ranger, partly because of its tyres. By using thick Nokia inner tubes, Geoff was able to run at stupidly low pressures and could climb through mud with a sure footedness I knew I had to have too.
I’ve had Nokia tyres ever since (known as Nokian tyres since the 1990s). They’ve proved strong, and trust-worthy. Heavy, of course, and so the rolling resistance is a severe drawback but, on hard-packed snow, this is a minor consideration.
Over the last few weeks I’ve gone out of my way to find stretches of unsalted road and have confused motorists who’ve assumed as they’re stuck, I should be too. I’ve amused pedestrians who’ve been descending slopes holding on to hand-rails: it shouldn’t be possible to ascend slopes covered with sheet-ice but, taken carefully with no silly sudden moves, it’s been my spiked bike party trick.
According to the latest CTC magazine, UK suppliers of studded tyres have seen sales go through the roof (I shan’t say there was a spike in demand), with Schwalbe and Continental shipping in extra supplies from Germany. If you want to get spiked up, Peter White Cycles of the US has the definitive advice page on ice tyres, including blowing away all the myths about stud ejections and tarmac shredding.
OIL HAVE SOME OF THAT
An awful lot of bike lubes can’t hack winter crud; Chain L can. It’s super gloopy. So sticky, in fact, that when applying, it strings out in a most pleasing fashion.
Technically, it’s a mixture of extreme pressure lubricants in a high film-strength mineral oil base. It also contains rust inhibitors and other additives to improve its longevity and wet-weather performance.
In use, it’s simply amazing. I picked up a sample at Interbike last year and started using it this winter when normal lubes weren’t coping with the extreme weather (extreme for the UK, that is).
There’s a time and a place for dry lubes: winter ain’t the time and NE England ain’t the place. If you ride through foul weather, I can recommend Chain L.
I’m a huge fan of Nikwax products. They’re green and keep me dry.
My breathable shell layers get washed with Techwash, a non-detergent cleanser, and then re-activated with TX.10. I also waterproof my fleece garments with another Nikwax product and, when I’ve got a (stinky) full load of base-layers, wash them in Basewash.
Synthetic shell-, mid- and base-layers work partly because of textile tech but also because of a variety of treatments. Shell garments, for instance, often have Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coatings. These chemical enhancements wear off with every wash because detergents, being surfactants, pull the treatments away from the fabrics. Surfactants do the same job with dirt, loosening bonds and pulling it away from the fabric.
If you don’t re-treat your tech garments, they lose their effectiveness. Washing waterproof jackets in standard detergent is a great way to make them not waterproof. Detergent residue starts pulling water through the fabric.
Nikwax stuff appears expensive, but it’s worth it.
OK, so I’m now stable on black-ice, well-lubed, and cossetted from the vagaries of the British weather but I’m going nowhere if I’m not caffeinated to the eyeballs. I have to start the day with an espresso. Just have to.
A mid-morning long black tastes great in a handlebar-mounted Soma Fabrications’ Morning Rush insulated coffee mug, available in the UK from Fine-Adc (the same guys who now do Action Wipes). Rather conveniently, the Morning Rush mount is the H-27 from CatEye, so you can switch over to an LED at night.
I may have taken the pic outside a snowy Starbucks, but I’m not fuelled by the Great Coffee Satan, my espresso bean of choice is Daterra’s Bruzzi of Brazil, roasted by Pumphrey’s Coffee, a Newcastle fixture since 1750.
That’s 1750 the year, not the hour.