Slick and Tyred

November 19, 2013

So the unexpected downside of having amazing spiked winter tyres for your bike is the amount of emotional energy that goes into deciding when to actually deploy them. The easiest thing would probably be just to put them on the bike in November and keep them on there until the end of March but they are quite heavy and also quite expensive and riding them solidly for five months would wear them out too quickly. On the other hand, swapping the wheels around is not an entirely straightforward process, especially with the dynamo, and is much better done by the other half, for reasons we’ve discussed exhaustively already, so a bit of forward planning is required.

This morning, despite all the dire forecasts, things weren’t looking too bad by the time I ventured out on the bike. Fortunately (or unfortunately) one of the worst spots for ice on our road is the bit just outside our gate so I can usually decide whether or not to risk the ice spikeless by standing on the road and doing the little ‘how slippy is it?’ dance.* Today the verdict was that it was just about doable, with care and so it proved – although I had forgotten just how paranoid-making it is to cycle on a patchily icy road on normal tyres. This meant I spent most of the ride down mentally debating whether I should have just swapped the tyres myself or whether I should get the other half to swap the tyres tonight or whether I should stick it out until the weekend and if so how long before I’d have to take them off again, and the rest looking out for icy patches, leaving no mental cycles for my usual cycling activities of admiring the view, arguing in my head with people who have been wrong on the internet (I always win when I’m on my bike) and thinking deep thoughts.

Which is how I managed to look up and suddenly discover a kestrel flying straight at me, being chased by a raven. Both birds veered off before I had to take evasive action, which given the conditions was probably fortunate. I assume had it been a tractor heading straight for me instead I would have noticed sooner, but I can’t be 100% sure…

Maybe I’ll just put those tyres on and have done with it after all.

*you sort of twist your feet around from side to side along the lines of the dance scene from Pulp Fiction. Best done when no passing dog walkers, farmers or neighbours are watching


All Right, I’m Saying it…

February 6, 2013

… that thing about one of the joys of having a bike is the way you can understand it and fix it yourself? Well, it’s bollocks. OK, maybe not for some people – you know mechanically inclined people who don’t have to mutter ‘lefty, loosy, righty, tighty’ to themselves every time they pick up a spanner, and whose glasses don’t fall off their face whenever they bend down to look at something and who know when you have to give something some welly and when to be gentle, people equipped with that mysterious third hand you need to get a back wheel past the chain and the derailleur and through the brake blocks and past the mudguard and into the bit where the wheel axle goes, and who know indeed what the bit where the wheel axle goes is called, people with a large and inventive swearing vocabulary for every possible mechanical malfunctioning occasion, and their very own tubs of Swarfega because there is nothing – but nothing – more filthy than a winter bike.

I am not that person. The other half is that person, but he’s taking the view that I have to learn how to get the wheels on and off my own bike all by myself if I’m going to have fancy tyres and swap them round on a weekly basis (although he did deign in the end to come and swear at my rear wheel for me when I’d run out of expletives and went and pleaded for help). In theory, of course, he is entirely correct that I should learn these things, and that it would be patronising in the extreme for him to just come and do it for me because I’m a weak and feeble woman who wouldn’t want to break a nail or get her ickle hands dirty. In practice – well I was going to say I could maybe stand to patronised a tiny bit on these occasions but thinking about it, I probably couldn’t. Looks like I’d better get myself my own tub of Swarfega…

Still, the spikey wheels are back on, and the forecast is for more overnight frosts so they can stay on for the duration. And after all the swearing and whining and turning nuts the wrong way and my glasses falling off and getting the wheels on all wonky and my hands filthy I still don’t feel in the least like I’ve got any sort of zen connection with the mechanics of my bike. Although I was extremely pleased to note that there was black ice on the road to night so at least it wasn’t all in vain.


Let it Snow

January 25, 2013

more snow

We woke up this morning to more snow, and then it started snowing like it meant it

What better time for a bike ride?

sheep in snow

I’m sure you’re all bored of me banging on about my new tyres (and believe me, it’s not just you – I’ve told half the village, my writers’ group and pretty much anyone else who was passing and wasn’t able to get away) but, actual bikes aside, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve bought in recent years that I’ve been quite as pleased with. It will take a few years before the tyres can justify themselves in financial terms but in human happiness terms they’ve already paid me back tenfold – and that’s after subtracting the negative effect of everyone I’ve bored rigid extolling their virtues. The last three winters have left me feeling trapped and grumpy whenever I couldn’t ride my bike but this morning, rolling along on the fresh snow, watching a raven doing aerial battle with a buzzard, totally alone apart from a few uncomprehending sheep, I felt invincible (possibly too invincible as I forgot to look out for potholes on one nasty bit of road – but even then, the bike handled fine and I was able to stay upright despite ending up on a crusty pile of ice and snow). The hardest part was getting going after stopping to take pictures – my tyres might be surefooted, but my boots don’t have enough grip to push myself off on the snow.

more snow falling

There’s more snow now – it’s snowed all day and probably even I wouldn’t want to be cycling on the roads at the moment until the cars have had a chance to compact it down a bit. The thaw is forecast to start tomorrow, but even if it doesn’t and it freezes and compacts and hangs around for weeks, I’m just happy to know I will still be able to ride my bike…


I Suppose it was Inevitable…

January 22, 2013
snowy hills

snowy hills

…after the last post that we should wake up to this sort of thing this morning

snow_2 snow_3

Still, it gave me a chance to further road test the tyres and they coped magnificently – although I should in the interests of accuracy point out that coming to a complete stop when travelling downhill on a mixture of ice, slush and snow is still … interesting.

Fortunately, for most of the ride, I was only stopping to take photos, so I could take my time

snow_4
Afterwards, we went out for a walk – cut short half way up the local 1-in-5 hill when things got a little slithery underfoot. Time to invest in spiked shoes as well as spiked tyres? Or leave the hillsides to the sheep until spring…

snow_5


Ice Crispies

January 15, 2013

winter_tyres
‘Oh aye, these’ll cut into the ice all right,’ bike shop man said. ‘Look at the gashes they’ve put in my lino.’

My bike had just been reshod with its spiky new shoes (and I’d just handed over a rather large amount of money) and I was about to set off home over approximately 5 miles of black ice, so I was glad of the reassurance. I knew about the ice, because I’d cycled in on it and it had been a rather stressful experience. You can cycle over ice – you just can’t steer or brake, at least not very much and not very hard. It takes nerve and skill, neither of which I have that much of, which is why I’d got off and walked in a couple of places and pulled over to the side of the verge whenever a car appeared because the edges were worse than the bits where the wheels had been and there’s not really room to overtake or pass without getting close to the edge. Worst of all, I was barely pedalling hard enough to keep warm, making the whole long ride into Bigtown a bit of an ordeal, and not one I wanted to repeat on the way back into the wind.

Setting off, the first impression was the noise – some people liken it to Rice Krispies, but to me it sounds a little like running over a sheet of bubble wrap only much fainter. In fact, the first safety advantage from the spikes is the fact that pedestrians on the shared paths look behind them as you approach, which was a pleasant change and saved me having to warn them I was coming. Then once on the road home and away from the treated roads, I braced myself for the ice and forced myself to pedal onto the first nasty stretch of ice with something approaching confidence. Pretty soon I had a car behind me, hovering on my shoulder, very politely (oh the contrast to yesterday) waiting to pass me, given the conditions on the road. Naturally, I sped up a bit (I try to be polite too) and then, when the road straightened out and widened a bit, looked behind me to encourage the driver to pass (polite driver etiquette round here is that they won’t pass until you acknowledge you’re aware of them). They seemed reluctant, so I found myself pulling over onto the edge, looking back again, until by the time they actually overtook I’d more or less forgotten about my nerves, and the bike was handling as if the ice wasn’t there. After that, I just rode, still keeping a close eye on the road surface and my hands off the front brake, but otherwise as normal and everything was fine. I sailed through the dodgy patches where I’d been forced to walk before – I even negotiated the glacier that crosses our front drive without so much as a whimper of fear. At one point, when I stopped to put on my lights, I put my foot down and was startled at how slick the road surface was that I’d just casually braked to a halt on without incident. I think we can call that a win.

These aren’t even the super-duperest of winter tyres – they’re pretty much the entry levels for spikes. And I have no idea if they’re actually making the bike better at handling the ice, or just making the rider better at thinking they do. Nor do I know how long they’ll last or how they’ll cope on the slightly hillier papershop run. But so far, I’m massively impressed and delighted with my new purchase. Schwalbe Winter Cruisers: I salute you.


Ice-Cycle…

January 11, 2013

In news which appears to have come as a shock to many media organisations, there’s some wintry weather forecast (in January, no less!). It was even more of a shock to me as I was hoping I had warded it off by strategically ordering some very expensive spiked winter tyres for my bike, behaviour which would normally guarantee at least three years of uncharacteristically mild weather. The plan is to buy some new wheels and then fit* the old ones (which are on their last, er, legs) with the studded tyres. Theoretically, this should allow me to swap in and out as the forecast dictates, and prevent excessive wear of the winter tyres, as they otherwise are unlikely to last out the winter. The main problem is that you’re supposed to do 40km on them before the ice comes to bed in the studs, so my timing does appear to be a little off as the tyres themselves won’t arrive to next week – maybe I can ride the bike round and round the shed to bed them in?

I’m half looking forward to this – and half nervous. Looking forward to it because I love it when it snows but I get so frustrated when our ungritted roads become compacted and icy and I’m either stuck indoors or forced to rely on the car. And nervous because when it comes to cycling over ice, I’m a bit of a wuss and I know even studded tyres won’t make it like cycling on dry tarmac, but having shelled out for the tyres, I’ll feel I have to… Hopefully I’ll get over the nerves after one or two successful trips (according to people who’ve got them, the moment usually comes after you’ve cycled 5 miles over black ice without noticing until you get off the bike and fall flat on your bum). After which point, it will probably start raining and not stop till June…

* and by ‘fit’ I mean ‘get the lovely local bike shop to fit’. I’ve done enough Marathon tyre wrangling for a lifetime.


Cabin Fever

December 5, 2012

It’s that time of the year when I have to remind myself that we chose to move to a beautiful but not particularly thickly populated part of the world, and that for 90% of the year that means we get to enjoy our beautiful and beautifully empty rural roads. In particular, we chose a house fairly well off the beaten track, five miles from the nearest shop, eight miles from the nearest town and we reap the full benefit of that in terms of peace and quiet (broken only by the odd fighter-jet skirmish and random sheep invasions), dark and sparkly night skies, hot and cold running red squirrels, views and all the other joys of rural life. In return, we have to remember that nobody’s going to actually grit, let alone plough, every tiny little single-track road, just because some people were foolish enough to live along them.

Which is why, during the other 10% (or so) of the year, I just have to grin and bear the fact that the only reasonable way of getting around at the moment is by car. Never mind cycling – we took a walk down to check the level of the ford (about 2 inches, not frozen yet) and the road alternated between solid ice, crunchy snow on top of ice, black ice, running water, ice on top of snow and the odd stretch of dry clear tarmac: even on two feet, it was pretty dicey. Actually, even getting out of our front door is pretty dicey, although we have bought some grit and treated enough of the yard that we can get to our various sheds, and the car, without risking a broken neck. It’s frustrating when I’m used to being able to get myself most places by bike, or on foot. Nor can I get out on the bike to clear my head or, more importantly, work off the extra couple of slices of buttered toast that seemed like a sensible accompaniment to coffee. Instead, either I arrange a lift somewhere or I just don’t go at all. Nor can I work off the energy in the garden because half the beds are iced over with frozen snow and besides there’s nothing useful to be done.

Thanks to encouragement here and elsewhere, plans are afoot for a set of winter wheels with studded tyres (I couldn’t quite persuade myself I needed a whole winter bike …). Until then, I’ll just have to remember that it won’t actually kill me not to cycle for a week or two, strange as that might seem. I might be a little grumpy but it’s better than being in traction. And we’ll be off to sunnier, if not exactly warmer, climes for Christmas fairly soon so I should be back and pedalling before I go too far insane. Well, any insaner than I already was…


Iced In

December 1, 2012

fern frost on car windscreen
‘You might want to come out and see this before I destroy it,’ the other half said as he went out this morning to clear the ice off the car windscreen. I hadn’t realised but it had rained last night, and then froze hard, so that the car had been decorated all over with lovely delicate frost ferns.

Lovely but a tad dangerous, especially when you’ve a bike to fetch from the bike shop. I had big plans today that I would walk down to the village and catch the lunchtime bus (the other half being off with the car), pick up my mended bike and ride it home. It was a gloriously sunny sparkly sort of a day and the temperature had even crept up above freezing and I set off at first quite enjoying the wintry weather. This lasted about a hundred yards until I reached the first shaded stretch of hill and realised that even if I could walk up it, there was no way I could walk down the other side. And if I couldn’t walk it there was no way I was going to be able to ride. Back I waddled, penguin style, to idly google studded bike tyres and muse the practicalities of winter cycling when you live on a road that they don’t even pretend to grit any more now the school bus has been withdrawn. We love our empty quiet roads, but it’s a bit much to expect anyone to bother clearing them of ice. Especially as they’re more or less passable to those on four wheels as long as you weren’t planning on stopping in a hurry, or turning, or going fast. Just lethal to anyone on two feet or two wheels.

So now my bike is stuck in Bigtown, and I’m stuck in the house contemplating my options. I’m not sure that the economics of studded winter tyres really stacks up for me, although having said that it will probably now freeze solid until half way through March. I’m not sure I’d even trust them, faced with a stretch of black ice: it just seems improbable that they would work. Hmmm. Maybe Santa might oblige? I have been good…

Do you use studded tyres? Do they work? And are they worth it, or should I just face facts and accept that there’s going to be a week or two each year when it’s more sensible to take the car?


Baby it’s Cold Inside

November 28, 2012

Here’s one unexpected benefit of cycling in the winter: staying warm. No, bear with me. Every week I venture out into the cold night to cycle down to choir, sometimes getting drenched and almost always windblown, and get in to the village hall, where I instantly strip off my scary yellow jacket, gloves and hat, full of the joys of autumn and ready to roll while everyone else is still standing round shivering in their fleeces. Clearly that fifteen minutes of pedalling is enough to raise my core body temperature (why does that sound so much more scientific than ‘warm me up’?) for the evening. Tonight, it already being well below freezing before I set off, I wimped out and asked the other half for a lift down and ended up spending the entire evening huddled in my fleece, absolutely frozen. ‘Now you know how the rest of us feel,’ my fellow choir members said a little resentfully when I complained.* Clearly I’ve been overdoing the whole rosy-cheeked fresh-air-and-exercise thing a tiny bit.

The sad part is, I could probably have cycled down perfectly well because the only bit of the road that was actually icy was the patch outside our gate where the permapuddle has turned into a permarink – but that is skiddy. Even the poor hare we started up on the way back had difficulty cornering as it bolted for our gate, its four paws heading in about five different directions. Might need to get some grit on that before I tackle it on two wheels. If only so I can get out in the cold long enough to get warm…

* You’ll be glad to hear I refrained from suggesting that they could always cycle too.


Don’t Just Sit There…

February 9, 2012

Blogging material is a bit light at the moment due to a combination of actual paid work keeping me stuck in the house and utterly miserable weather today making cycling problematic. (Freezing rain – I ask you, what is the point? I was supposed to cycle up to the doctor’s this morning but wimped out after the radio was full of the usual dire warnings of icy roads. The other half scoffed as we drove there along reasonably non-dicey roads but I felt somewhat vindicated when I got out of the car just outside our gate and nearly went flying. A broken bone would have been nasty, of course, but at least I would have been proved right…)

So by way of a public service – and this time for anyone who doesn’t have a mallet finger, but does have an office job – I give you this*, via Doctor Mama. And I would add as my own top tip that you should immediately move to Scotland and start heating your work space solely with a wood burning stove burning not-particularly well-seasoned wood. Not only will you soon be too cold to sit still for long periods of time except under a blanket, but you will need to get up at least every hour to refill it…
* I was pleased to note that the comment thread beneath it was immediately diverted into an unrelated discussion on cycling to work. I have been noticing for a while that the internet is increasingly made out of bicycles. I had thought that that was mostly thanks to Google’s uncanny ability to serve you up what you want and Twitter’s echo chamber effect but maybe it really is. What’s your internet made out of?


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