What a difference a couple of weeks makes. After coffeeneuring #6, I was sure I could pull this challenge off. I mean, two weeks – 4 full days – to make one measly ride to a coffee shop I hadn’t visited before on a previous coffeeneuring ride? Slam dunk, I thought. Piece of cake, I opined. It didn’t start well. Nov. 2nd and 3rd were just raw and ugly days – not cold, just below 0C – but windy and the trails were very icy, so I chose not to ride. With warmer temperatures forecast and still 1 more weekend yet to go, I decided that I would be better prepared for my next opportunity. I would build an ice bike!
I had recently changed out my tires for a new pair and still had the old ones cluttering the garage. I read a bunch of blogs and watched some YouTube videos on how to stud your own tires and figured what the heck – I’ll give this a shot. So I stuck a bunch (about 40) 1/2 inch screws through what was to be my front tire. I took it out for a short test drive on our icy street and the front tire traction was great but the unstudded back tire kept sliding out. So I went to work on the back tire. The old rear tire was almost a slick so, with not as much tread to hold a screw, I decided to use pop rivets on it instead. I was afraid that screws would just push right through the thin casing but rivets, with a washer on the outside, would give almost as good traction as the screws and stay in the tire. The results are in the pictures below. All I had to do now was wait for next weekend and complete the challenge. Again, s’no problem. Well, kind of. Apparently, Mother Nature had her own idea of what s’no problem meant. And a nasty sense of humour.
On Wednesday, the Edmonton area, and St. Albert in particular, had their first real snow storm. Not so much of a storm, really, as there wasn’t much wind, maybe more of an inundation of snow. A temp of just below 0C was enough to cause the initial layer of snow to melt and refreeze into solid ice. It was then covered by another 35 cm (that’s 14 inches for you non-metric people) as the temperature fell throughout the day. No giant windblown drifts, thank goodness – this was a vertical storm not a horizontal one. Still, nothing says “hello winter” like watching a 40-ft long bendy bus slide sideways down an icy street, which happened numerous times in both Edmonton and St. Albert. But I was ever hopeful that the trails and streets would be magically cleared and/or compacted in time for the true test of my ice bike.
Today was the day. It was a bit cool, -11 with a wind chill of -18C, but I wanted to ride on a Friday because there would be a lot less traffic on the roads and fewer people on the trails and Saturday was not going to be any warmer anyway. I had my route scoped out. I even drove part of it this morning to make sure that the one portion of the route that I was most concerned about was plowed. It was, so off I went. For about 20 feet. Our residential street was a mess of deep snow and ruts, unplowed of course. I was hoping that the ruts would be compacted enough that I could ride in them but no way. My 700×35 tires, even with studs, were no match for the deep, loose oatmeal. I had no traction at all, even with the studs. The sidewalks, having been shoveled by the homeowners, were in much better shape so I resorted to them (that’s legal here, btw). I made my way down the sidewalks to a bus route street which was plowed. It was a little better but it’s not like they plowed right down to the pavement so I was still being thrown this way and that by the mealy snow. Not fun when traffic is passing you. When I got to the Red Willow trail and went to turn north, I found that it wasn’t plowed at all! WTF!! Apparently, as I found out from the operator of a trail sweeping machine that I met on the trail and managed to avoid (during our chat, the operator called me “brave” for venturing out in these conditions on a bike. My wife used other adjectives), the city has a deal with the local X-country ski club to leave that portion uncleared so that it can be trackset and used by skiers. There was no other way to get to my appointed coffee shop without going onto busy streets. No bike lanes, no shoulders, not even any sidewalks. Damn. Change of plans. I turned south and decided to see what else nature and the city could throw at me. The trail was icy and incredibly lumpy but, with my new fangled ice tires, I had no problem biting into the ice and maintaining control. Unless I did something stupid, like make an abrupt change in direction to avoid an ice lump or deep rut. But this was a new experience for me, biking in these conditions, and I was learning on-the-job. I never went down on the entire ride though. I finally reached a decision point on the trail – I could turn off to a Starbucks that I hadn’t been to before but would have to do a bunch of walking/pushing the bike through unplowed streets and shopping centre parking lot OR I could continue on down the trail and go to the Arcadia Cafe, which I had previously visited (Coffeeneuring #3). I figured that walking the bike would not be in the true spirit of a coffeeneuring ride so I chose to patronize an independent, locally-owned cafe that I could actually ride to. I also have a much better idea of how to succeed in this challenge next year – with the vagaries of Edmonton weather in late October and November, save the easy ones for last! With the revisit to Arcadia, I guess that I failed the challenge this year 😦 but it was not for lack of trying.
I even saw another cyclist on the way back, on a mountain bike, and noticed that his tire tracks looked twice the width of mine, with a deep tread. My hybrid won’t take mountain bike tires (I’ve already tried) but I think I’ll keep an eye out for some 700×38’s with a more aggressive tread that I can put screws into. They definitely work better than the pop rivets for traction. I was worried about getting a flat – a screw backing out into the tube – but they held really well and were not an issue. Just the damn deep snow!
Thanks MG for coming up with this idea! I doubt that I would have ever tried winter biking if not for accepting the challenge. It was great fun. Although I think that, with the ski hills opening, my biking season is finally over. But I’ll leave the bike in the garage just in case I get the urge.
Date: November 9, 2012
Place: Arcadia Cafe, St. Albert (revisited)
What: Hot chocolate, granola square
Distance: 9.7 km
Details: 2 days after a 35 cm snowfall, on homemade studded tires.