Over tyred

December 29, 2020

Pretty as the snow is, as day follows night, ice follows snow. With the next few days forecast to be sunny but barely creeping above freezing, and our road looking like a skating rink, it was time to put the ice tyres on the bike.

Ice covered road

Although first, I had to evict a wannabe fellow traveller.

Snail on bike wheel

Given my well-documented travails getting Marathon tyres on and off my bike, I have opted to use a set of old wheels with the tyres on and swap those instead, which come with their own problems, not least the fact that the back wheel is wider than my normal back wheel. Also, after a wet and filthy winter so far, the bike is suffering a little from neglect as became painfully obvious once I got it upside down and took the wheels off (every year I vow this will be the year that I regularly clean my bike and oil the chain before it starts doing its basket of kittens impression, and every year turns out not to be that year).

underside of bike covered in muck

Having dug a few handfuls of what looked like quite nice topsoil out of the mudguards and then bodged the fact that the rivet holding the rear mudguard away from the wheel was apparently only being held on by said topsoil (hello, duct taping the loose struts out of the way of the wheel) and spent a painful few minutes tightening the wheels, loosening the wheels to straighten them so they didn’t rub the non-centring brakes, tightening the wheels again, accidentally loosening them because ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’ doesn’t work when you’re me and doing this all upside down, and repeating until my fingers were numb, I had a bike with two working spikey wheels and I’d even found all the tools that had managed to dematerialise themselves in the process (hello allen keys that drop out of the socket and just … vanish. Where do you go?).

Then it was time to test them out and as so often happened, I started wondering if I shouldn’t have bothered as soon as I was on the main road. The pleasant ice-krispy sound of the studs on tarmac weren’t able to drown out the noise of a grumbling drive train on an old set of cogs, nor the thrum of a bodged mudguard fouling the rear wheel when under too much pressure. The chain dropped off a couple of times in protest at it all, and after all that effort, it seemed like there was no ice anyway. We might have had snow up round us, but all seemed clear once I’d dropped down into the valley .. at least, until I encountered various groups of walkers doing the ‘penguin dance’ on the black ice along the road. A couple of them commented that I was doing well to stay upright at all, giving me the opportunity to tell them about my ice tyres which – for all their issues – had retained their key magical property of keeping me rubber side down.

snow on hills, green fields

This helped power me back up the hill, for all that each one weighs almost a kilo. There’s no better winter warmer than the smug glow of knowing you’ve got magic tyres on your bike.

And speaking of magic:

I’m hoping these work in the way new rain gear works – i.e. they stop punctures altogether. But failing that, I hope they mean I can actually mend a puncture AND get the tyres back on without creating another one. Because that truly would be magical.

Winter Ready

January 30, 2019

This was the scene that greeted me as I stepped out this morning – and with a meeting to go to, there was no question, it was time to get the ice tyres on the bike again.

ice and snow on road

Despite my love-hate relationship with bike maintenance and my general inability to do anything bike-related quickly (and that includes riding the thing), I did have the weird sensation this morning of actually feeling as if I knew what I was doing. Not only did I efficiently take my tools out of my saddle bag before I’d turned the bike over (top tip!) and remember where I’d put them down, get the wheels on and off with a minimum of fuss, remember to check they were centred and running freely before tightening the bolts, and smoothly adjust the brake pads, but I also took the opportunity to clean and oil the chain and give the bolt on my Brooks a turn or two while I was at it (although I’m still not 100% sure I’m turning it in the right direction because nowhere does it say which way you need to be facing when you decide if you’re turning it clockwise or not). This sensation even survived the discovery that I’d efficiently put the front wheel on the wrong way round, despite having a 50% chance of getting it right AND carefully comparing it with the back wheel before doing so. Indeed, such are my spatial skills, this might actually have reduced my chance of getting it right than if I had left it to chance.

winter ready bike

Suited and booted

This strange sensation lasted approximately 10 minutes, whereupon I suddenly couldn’t turn a pedal and my first thought was ‘oh what have I done to it NOW?’ Fortunately this turned out to be the chain getting snagged on the bolt of my rack because the cogs at the back are slightly closer to the chainstay – a problem, but not actually one of my causing. It means I may be down to just four gears but the two I can’t use are the top ones, so it’s survivable until the current icy weather eases and I can go back to my normal wheels.

sun through winter trees

Meanwhile, I’ll just carry on enjoying the sparkly weather and the all but deserted roads and the unaccustomed feeling of mechanical semi competence. We have to take our satisfactions where we find them, these days.

frost and fog ahead

More Maintenance

January 15, 2016

bike repair tools

For someone who loves her magical ice tyres as much as I do, you might think I was curiously reluctant to actually put them on my bike because – even with yellow warnings of ice from the BBC Terror Centre and actual snow falling out of the actual sky on Wednesday, I was still holding off, thinking that things might clear up a bit in the morning. It was only when we woke to discover that not only was it a bit nippy out, but that the car door had actually frozen shut, that I decided that, maybe I did want my ice tyres on after all and did the other half have time to do it?

But that seemed a tad feeble and, the other half being in a bit of a rush, I thought I’d at least speed the process by getting as much of it done as possible myself. To make the whole thing easier, the tyres are on a pair of spare wheels so I don’t have to wrestle with the spiky things myself but that was where the easy part ends.

The thing is, I’m just not a handy person. I already had the bike turned over (we don’t have a repair stand), when I remembered that all the tools I need to take the wheel off were in the saddlebag which was still attached to the bike. And then the brakes don’t have that handy lever thing (if you’ll excuse the technical terminology) that opens them out to get the tyre past them, so I had to remove a brake pad before the front wheel would come off. And it didn’t help that the spare back wheel is wider than the regular back wheel, nor that the mudguards were full of accumulated crud – and nor indeed that every time I put a tool down it froze to the bench.

tool impressions

‘shadows’ left by the spanner which kept melting into the layer of ice on the bench and then freezing there.

In the end, the other half came out in time to tighten up the wheel nuts and then escaped, having thawed out the car, so in the end I did actually manage to do most of it myself and it only took an hour.* This might actually represent the pinnacle of my bike maintaining activities to date as it included not only working out how to adjust my brakes but also how to remedy the fact that I almost unscrewed the whole brake cable from the front brake thereby rendering the whole magical ice tyres completely pointless.

By the time I had finished, the sun was warming up (not, I was glad to note after all that work, entirely melting all the ice on the road) and I barely had time for a quick test spin to check that everything still worked and briefly enjoy the sparkly frosty weather before chaining myself back to my laptop. I would post a photo, but it was only when I reached into my pocket for my phone to take a view of the snow covered hills that I realised it had fallen out of my pocket on the way (and was at that moment being retrieved by a concerned neighbour). Truly, I sometimes wonder why I am allowed out on my own.

* not counting the half hour of remedial percussive maintenance from the other half this evening to get the mudguards properly clear of the tyres…

Meanwhile, in Weather God Land…

January 8, 2016

‘what’s that she’s whinging on about now? There’s been too much rain recently?’

‘not only that, but it’s too mild

‘I think we can do something about that …’

And so they did

snow faling

It was just fat comedy flakes at first, so I set off for the paper anyway, without bothering to change to my winter wheels with their magical ice tyres. It wasn’t actually all that cold and my main problem initially was the snow melting into my trousers – I’ve never had to ride along brushing the accumulation of snow off my thighs before.

car tracks on snowy road

Having stopped in nearest village for a chat (‘it’s no weather for cycling’ ‘I thought I’d get out before it gets any worse’) and set off again in snow that was now steadily settling I was beginning to regret not having the spikes. It wasn’t too slippery on the fresh snow, but it was getting thick enough that it was quite hard going – and where the few cars had passed the snow was distinctly squirrelly underfoot.

So I stuck to the middle of the road and concentrated on pedalling steadily and smoothly uphill and not gathering too much speed downhill.

snow on trees

And enjoying it.

snow on gate

I was quite pleased to find it was mostly melting on the way back. The night is forecast to be cold, however, so I think the magical ice tyres will be going on …

Eyes Wide Shut

January 16, 2015

falling snow

Hello and welcome to the blog that gets results, as clearly my recent rant has had the Met Office scurrying down to their server room to administer the three-fingered salute to their supercomputer: today’s forecast was spot on, with the snow starting more or less to schedule as we got up this morning, breaking for some sunny intervals and then getting back to business just before lunch. Unfortunately, I have become so used to totally ignoring the forecast, that meant I didn’t take advantage of the said sunny intervals to go and get the paper (and besides the other half was putting my ice tyres back on my bike. Mental note to self: stop being so feeble about your bike maintenance) so I set off just as the snow was getting going again. Not that cycling in snow is really a problem – even without the ice tyres, fresh snow isn’t too bad and of all the forms of precipitation we get around here it’s actually the most pleasant to ride in, although I could have done without it blowing directly into my eyeballs (at one point I was freewheeling down a hill with my eyes screwed shut* thinking ‘this probably isn’t a brilliant idea’).

In fact the only real worry about cycling in the snow is that I get the distinct impression that the few drivers I do encounter think I’m a dangerous lunatic, especially if they’ve seen me cycling along with my eyes shut. Normally on our narrow roads, drivers coming up from behind will hesitate for a few seconds and then (if I haven’t pulled out to take the lane if there’s a bend coming up or some potholes) pass me reasonably promptly. Today I ended up having to pull over to let a couple of them by. Which is better than them just squeezing past me, obviously, but as I’m a nice person it also means I have to cycle a lot faster than I like, while they wait behind me going, ‘Oh my god there’s a nutter out here on a PUSHBIKE! They’re going to fall over! It’s all icy and snowy! What will I do?’, especially as these are mostly my neighbours. Perhaps every set of Marathon Winters should come with a sign for the back of the bike going ‘Panic not, drivers: this bike has magical spiky tyres and can probably stop more safely than you can! Don’t make the poor cyclist hurry up the hill but pass with care! Thank you for your concern.’

snowy hills

Once the drivers had passed, and the snow had stopped and the sun had resumed its sunny intervals, it was all rather lovely.

snowy road

If you’d like to join the ranks of dangerous two-wheeled lunatics (and frankly, who wouldn’t?), our American friends have this fine site where you can pledge to ride to work, whatever the weather, on a day in February. On Friday the 13th to be exact. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh and for those wondering, both Growly Dog AND her sister had a go at me today.

*I do open them at frequent intervals, I’m not completely intrepid

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

The Fine Art of Knowing when to Quit

March 25, 2013

Marvellous as they are, my ice tyres don’t quite manage to cope with the situation where all the snow in the surrounding fields has been blown into the road where it has gone just slushy enough to make even the most intrepid cyclist have to deploy God’s stabilisers just to stay upright.

snow covered road

I had a feeling that every dip and hollow between Nearest Village and the Papershop was going to be similar and so, not being all that intrepid, I turned round and deployed the other half in a car instead.

huge pile of snow

It’s going to be fun when this lot melts…

lambs getting fed

But after dire stories in the news about buried sheep, I was relieved to see these little chaps looking so chipper. Clearly right inside the feed bucket is the place to be this March…

The Wheels on my Bike Go On and Off

February 5, 2013

The Met Office, and its propaganda arm the BBC Terror Centre, bless them, do love a good weather warning, and the direr the better – whether it’s for heavy rain (perhaps they should stick to warning us when it might stop), yellow snow, or the all purpose ‘put a jumper on or you’ll catch your death of cold young lady’. So in the absence of any such warning last night beyond some vague handwaving on the radio about ‘wintry showers’ for ‘and finally, Scotland’, I wasn’t too worried about the forthcoming cold snap – I mean, it is still February after all, and they’d have warned us if anything serious was coming. Even when I came out of last night’s community council meeting and found that there was a bit of slushy snow about, and then a bit more sleet on the ride home, I assumed it was just a passing phase. I did let the cat in – well, I say ‘let’, she has a way of bolting for the door and flattening herself against it when she wants in that makes it impossible not to – because it was a bit nippy out and the sleet was getting thicker. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get up in the morning and be greeted by this


(really must prune that rose bush)

In a fit of optimism last week I swapped out the ice tyres on my bike for my normal ones and I’ve been humming and hawing about how cold it would have to be forecast and for how long before I swapped them back in again…


I think that’s that decision made, anyway…

Ice Crispies

January 15, 2013

‘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.