It Feels Just Like the Real Thing
The winter is in full swing here in the Middle West portion of the country, and riding in the snow and on ice has been one of my favorite activities since I first discovered it’s peaceful allure. I love to ride in the snow. On roads, on trails, or wherever and the more snow coming down from the sky the better. I like the full rainbow of snowfall, from the light dry fluffy stuff that you can blow away to the wet heavy back braking sludge, it’s all fun to ride in. There is something so magical about the quiet and stillness that can be found outdoors in a snowstorm especially on a bike. The bike can get you to places that are even quieter and stiller. Usually that quiet begins with the strong sense of isolation that comes with this activity. When the weather gets foul (or as the news casters would have us believe, “deadly”) people tend to stay inside, which leaves the cold and snowy outside to me, and others who share this strange passion.
It’s funny, I grew up in the Midwest, and I don’t remember the snow, and storms causing quite the amount of panic that they seem to cause today. Blame it on the media, or the government; hell, blame it on me, if you’re into blame. But back in my day (oh yeah, when I was a young fella I never thought it would feel so good to blurt those words out with the bitterness of age firmly entrenched in my soul) we were tougher in the cold and snow. No one on the news ever told us to lock ourselves in our houses and pray for the weather to pass. Perhaps it’s because we would have run them out of town on a rail. Maybe the weather is worse now than it was then, but that’s not what I observe. It is less predictable perhaps, but not worse. Though my powers of observation are far from Sherlock Holmsian.
But I digress. The subject is riding my bike in the snow. It’s important that at this juncture that you understand that what I am about blab on about is the street/neighborhood/commuting/bar runs style of riding and not off-road snow/fat biking. That is awesome too, but that’s not where we are at the moment.
The first year I “discovered” the allure of this activity, I road a multiple geared comfort bike and then an old mountain bike converted to single speed. I ran studded snow tires (which are all the rage these days) and did pretty well. After a couple of years of success combined with laziness, I put off the time I changed the tires on my bike more and more. The last two winters (the former was pretty snowy, but the later was by no means a rough one) I ran slicks the whole time and did just fine. Sure I wiped out, but I do that in the summer, often times while getting on or off my bike. I called out to my friends and anyone who would listen that studs in the winter or any other time of the year were a waste of money, that they were at best a placebo and at worst, a con.
I find and have found that the durometer and compound of the rubber has far more to do with how well it grabs the road in slick, wet or icy conditions. Not to mention the PSI you run the tires at; the lower the pressure the wider your footprint and the better traction you have (Shocked? I know, someone at Surly talking about low-pressure fat tires, unbelievable.). I have ridden studs that slid all over, and slicks that really grab the ice and hug it close. For my money it’s all about the rubber. Or at least that’s what I would have told you three weeks ago.
This winter in Minnesota we’ve had a couple of moderate storms, nothing too spectacular. The first storm we had went on for quite a long time, and by the time the trucks came out to plow, it was too late, and we’ve been left with lots of ice, ruts and mounds to try and maneuver our way through, around and over. This has lead to me doing lots of riding over the ice, and occasionally, I may have had a beer, or a long conversation with Flasky, so I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on my ass and face kissing the ice all intimate like.
I got to the point where my confidence was a bit shaken. So I started the process of trying to figure out how to get my juju back. While thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me: clearly confidence is a mental issue, so I need a mental solution. Something like….DUH DUN DUH, a placebo. Something that will make me feel better and give me confidence. Sure I’m not convinced that the studs will do me any good, but somehow having those little pieces of tungsten in my tires makes them seem like they should do a much better job of keeping me on my bike and off my ass. Just the way the tires look inspire a bit of extra confidence. Sure I’ll still fall, I always do, but when I need my juju back, I’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
So here I am, taking my placebos and smiling like I’ve got the real thing. Does this make me week? Probably.
I’m a week, week man, and I like placebos sometimes, and I make fun of people who use them other times, and that’s how I am. A jerk.
Here is my fixed gear 1x1 that is my winter steed now. Best one I’ve ever had, by a long shot. At the moment I'm back to studs, we'll see how it goes from here.
Go ride in the snow, enjoy the silence and serenity. If it takes a placebo or two to get you out there, who cares? Do what you gotta do to keep that juju.