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.