Iced In

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of winter cycling when you live on a road that they don’t even pretend to grit any more now the school bus has been withdrawn.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?


19 Responses to Iced In

  1. zungg says:

    I bought a pair in anticipation of some snowy and icy commutes this winter which haven’t yet happened. They’re on my mountain bike, so I don’t have to worry about installing/uninstalling when the weather changes. Anyway I got a chance to try them out on some fairly serious swatches of frozen slush and I didn’t fall off, which I certainly would have on regular tires. I think what they give you is just a bit of confidence that as long as you’re careful, you’ll probably be OK, whereas without studs you can do everything right and still find yourself sprawled ignominiously across the road. I think I’d still be pretty ginger on iced-up corners or gradients though. Looking forward to trying them on a proper ride.

  2. uberuce says:

    Some copy’n’paste from the bowels of
    My demonstrative anecdote is the day last winter when it black ice conditions had been at their most deceptive and evil – rain all previous day, then sub-zero overnight, then a warmer wet air mass blew in before dawn and washed the frost away.

    The clear glass of car windscreens and the mild feel of air told me the roads were merely wet, so I only used the ‘rainy day’ bike handling style as opposed to the more cautious frost/ice variant.

    It wasn’t until I got off my bike at the office and almost faceplanted half a dozen times on the way across the carpark that I realised there had been any ice anywhere, and therefore was shown how good those tyres are.

  3. disgruntled says:

    Hmm, so it sounds like not only do I need a new set of tyres but a whole new winter bike to put them on?

  4. John Gibson says:

    This is more like it. Your last few photos made it look like summer up there.
    Another good pic though.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Studded tyres are great. don’t think of them as being for only one winter. I ‘borrowed’ a slightly used one last winter, rode them until spring, and now have it on again. So you should get a few years out of it.

  6. Parkywife says:

    My Son in law swears by them.

  7. disgruntled says:

    Might have to update my letter to Santa then.

    @John – it certainly hasn’t *felt* like summer up here

  8. Roibeard says:

    I think there’s a peculiarity of balance that ice on which I can’t walk comfortably, I can cycle on (gingerly). It’s possibly a bit like ice skating? Yes, stopping and turning require care, (no leaned corners!) and restarting in the middle of the ice can be almost the hardest part, but making progress is still quicker on two wheels for me. And that’s without studded tyres. To be honest, I enjoy the challenge!

    Might be an idea to try it and see (even in the absence of early Christmas presents), wearing a big coat (for a little padding for the inevitable) and possibly even a pair of padded panniers (similarly!). Yes, you will fall off, but it’s not that far to fall, and speeds are likely to be low.

    The classic walker’s fall (backwards to smack your head off the ice) isn’t what happens, instead you fall sideways (no road rash here!) and the impact is borne by the side (shoulder pads, handlebars and panniers).

    Of course, if any reader is tempted to become a KSI stat, remember that you read this on the internet where there’s all manner of bad advice…


    • welshcyclist says:

      At my age, 62, I think this is bad advice Robert, I’ve come off on ice at low speeds, and because i was travelling slowly managed to save myself from serious injury, but I was stiff for a long time after. This made everything difficult. As far as studded tyres are concerned, for a couple of weeks, no matter how frustrating I find it, they’re just not worth the cost, and so will sit the icy conditions out.

      • disgruntled says:

        I agree! I actually have cycled on ice, and if it’s just a few patches here and there on the flat it’s not too bad – but the combination of rolling hills and long stretches of (invisible) black ice raise the stakes some what (padding or no padding…). Also I just find it to be quite tense, cycling on a dodgy surface – no fun even for the shorter trips, let alone 8 miles back from town

  9. Andy in Germany says:

    If there’s a short section of ice and then a generally clear road, would studded shoes be an economical alternative? This chap seems to have a number of ideas on the subject:

  10. Frits B says:

    What might be useful is this:
    Designed by Dutch designer Cesar van Rongen as we don’t have real winters with continuous snow and ice. It’s a rather recent idea so not yet commercially available this winter but might solve your problem next year.

  11. timoohz says:

    After decades of riding in the winter (in Oulu, Finland) on ice and snow without studded tyres I was sceptical of them too. Then, one spring I saw them on a bargain box at the supermarket and bought one for the front wheen for 15€.

    The city is good at plowing and gritting the bikeways, so for most of the winter it is possible to ride with normal tyres. I’ve even seen someone with narrow, slick road tyres! But especially in the spring there is water and slosh which freezes during the night so the ice will be smooth and very slippery.

    So I tested the studded tyre on these slippery patches and it worked. It’s not like dry asphalt in the summer, but I can trust the bike will stay upright if I’m not turning too tightly. I have a studded tyre on my current bike, too, which should say what I think of them. I probably should get one for the rear wheel too, as that’s the one with brakes…

    -they work, within limits
    -needed with black ice or daily thaw/freeze cycle in the spring

  12. disgruntled says:

    Cheers, I think I’m going to give these a go.

  13. […] In October I won at weeding  but was reduced to begging for comments (keep them coming, incidentally) – while Asbo Buzzard recruited reinforcements. In November I finally gave up on my attempt to singlehandedly keep all of the local livestock where it belongs – and actually managed to write something for publication. And this month – I’ve been dabbling in the law and train driving while thankfully leaving the weather at home […]

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