Melt!

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For more than two weeks, unseasonably warm weather has unearthed the city from under several feet of snow.  My decision to come north for the winter was largely based upon the assumption that reliable snowfall and cold temperatures would ensure good winter riding.  Growing up “back east”, I know as much about winter storms as I do about the January thaw.

For several weeks, the opposite of my assumptions has been true.  While urban riding here in Anchorage has become hazardous without studs, the trails have been fun through nearly every phase of springtime conditions.  Between out-of-town visitors and in-town obligations, we’ve not ridden the singletrack trails in town as much as usual.  But, a loop around the Campbell Tract reminds me that even in changing conditions, the riding here is great fun.  While the trails are in great shape, as Lael can attest– thanks to several hundred Grip Studs in her tires– more than just rubber is needed to get to and from the trails.

I’ve been riding the Shogun Prairie Breaker around town with 26×2.3″ studded tires.  However, I long to get back on the Surly ECR.  Since I’ve finally built a proper front wheel for that bike, I’d like to mount a set of studded tires to the 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims.  The width of the Rabbit Holes is not unlike Snowcat rims, at 44mm, which for many years, were the best equipment available for riding on snow and ice (note: Rabbit Holes are now available for 26″wheels as well).  I’m hoping to mount either a 29×2.35″ 45NRTH Nicotine tire or a 29×2.25″ Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro.  The former is wider (2.35″ vs. 2.25″) while the latter is more aggressively studded (402 vs. 222).

This is what the city usually looks like in April, or May.  Daily thaws lead to swollen streams and plentiful puddles.  Nightly freezes leave the city like a skating rink.

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Harpacked, frozen snow is rideable on a normal mountain bike for the first half of the day.  By mid-afternoon, fatbikes are king, once again.  It is easy to see how studded fatbike tires are valuable.

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Without studs in my tires, I balance precariously atop my Mukluk.  Lael rides casually across this icy trailhead parking lot, although a few more studs would be helpful.  She’s got 164 studs between the two wheels, and about 36 studs in her running shoes.  I think about 120 Grip studs in each Surly Nate tire would be ideal.  Compared to popular studded tires– which claim 240 studs or more– this doesn’t sound like much, but Grip Studs bite better than normal studs as they reach further away from the tire, and deeper into snow and ice.  The hardened carbide tip promises to last for several seasons.

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T-shirts in Anchorage, in January?  Elsewhere, it is snowing in Georgia, and well below freezing in northern Minnesota.  I enjoyed following the Arrowhead 135 race yesterday, including the usual performances from Jay and Tracey Petervary (1st and 1st).  Congrats to fourth place finisher Dave Gray, one of the surly co-captains of a popular bike company that happens to sell a few fatbikes each year.

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The benefit of the freeze-thaw cycle in the woods is that the sides of the trial are partly rideable.  Winter singletrack is usually like riding on a balance beam, for fear of being swallowed by powdery snowbanks.  Now, it is more like bumper bowling.

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Eventually, if the pattern doesn’t reverse itself, we’ll be riding on dead grass and dirt.  More likely, winter will return.  This is not spring, yet.  That is not possible.

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Until then, we’ll enjoy the changing conditions, and celebrate the capacity of fat tires, no matter how much the forecast looks like it was borrowed from the lower 48.  Alabama, can we have our weather back?

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7 thoughts on “Melt!

  1. Thanks for the great posts. I lived in Anchorage for a couple of years and seeing you riding around the familiar trails in town brings back some great memories and makes me quite envious!

  2. I read online (MTBR Forums) that the Nicotine tyre is measuring more like a 2.5″ tyre. I will say though, I do like my ice spikers and am planning on running them on my rabbit holes once built up.

    • Nick, this is precisely the reason I’d like to try the Nicotine tire. I am certain the Ice Spiker Pro is a better ice commuter, but I am hoping to maintain some of the ability to ride the major multi-use trails after the snow returns. I found the Knard/Rabbit Hole to be surprisingly capable. I think the large casing and broad square block will create an effective width much like the Knard. If needed, I could always put a few Grip Studs in the unstudded knobs. A 2.35 Ice Spiker, based upon the Hans Dampf casing, would be welcomed.

      • Hi Nick,
        So after this post we mounted up both tyres on a Rabbit hole rim. I can confirm at 30psi the Nicotine tyre is defiantly not 2.5″. Ice spiker pro was 2.35″ Nicotine 2.39″(Casing Measurements). The tread pattern of the Nicotine looked good for mixed routes although the aggression of the spikes on the Ice Spiker can not be beat IMO.

      • I’ve been sitting the fence for a while about which tire to choose. I know the ice Spikers would be best for ice, but I can’t help thinking about trail riding on the ECR, in which case tire volume is also important. We’ll see if 200+ studs is enough; remember, this is all you get in your Dillingers.

        Thanks for the detailed measurements Was great to meet you two on the trails! we’ll have to meet for a ride soon.

  3. Hey Nick,

    thinking about headed to the southwest next fall. Any tips where to live? good areas for a bike tech to work?

    ideally a bike friendly and easily commutable area would be the dream.

    thanks for the help!

    -Landon
    Boston, MA

    • Landon, I think that both Tucson and Albuquerque could be good. Tucson might be best. Further south and lower in elevation, it is a great winter spot with lots of riding nearby. Scott Morris has been there for years, and his blog show lots of epic trails, including the AZT.

      ABQ was good for us, and has a well-developed urban commuting structure. As well, there are lots and lots of bike shops in town, perhaps even too many. ABQ works for some people, but not others. It isn’t Boston, culturally, but it is a genuine SW city– and an historic highway and railroad town– with all that comes with it. Get in touch with Two Wheel Drive and tell ’em I sent you. At 5000ft, it is chilly in winter, but sunny with little snow, so dry roads and trails most of the winter. Get some sunglasses and a down jacket.

      I also enjoy Flagstaff, but at 6500ft, it isn’t really a winter hide-away. Compared to Boston, any of these places will be a lot sunnier throughout the year, even in the winter. Flagstaff gets some snow, for sure, with peaks above 12,000ft nearby if you really need to straps some skis to your feet.

      Silver City is cool, but too small, with only one small shop.

      Santa Fe– some like it, but I don’t think I could live there. About 5 shops.

      Maybe somewhere in Utah? St. George? Moab? Should be some bike shops.

      Where else? Any other suggestions?

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