Winter biking gearheads and cycling nuts gathered around burn barrels Saturday night at Westchester Lagoon for the annual Ice Criterium around the 400m loop. Two person teams race 10 laps around the glazed oval, switching riders every lap. Teams ride a single bike, passing the “baton” by swapping a pair of boxer shorts worn over top of their clothing. Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pros and Nokian 294 Extremes were well represented.
Nearly silent, slow motion: some days, like Monday, are quieted by school closures and a large snowfall, thus, little traffic. The snow insulates the sounds of the city, and conceals the last browned round of thawed and refrozen snow. The city is anew, and at peace– apart from it’s usual, frantic, caffeinated self.
Bike commuting in Anchorage is both heaven, and hell. A day later the roads are again brown, and rutted, and frozen in place. Pugsleys waver in these conditions, sliding sideways from one misshapen rut to another. Here, studded tires would claw through miniscule mountain and valley of ice on: Northern Lights Boulevard, to Denali or Arctic, left on Tudor, which is no better or worse than International Blvd, then right on the Old Seward Highway to my destination. Unfortunately, I was on the Pugsley, which has large volume tires designed for snow. At home, my 1985 Specialized Stumpjumper is wearing the studded tires I desire, but it’s hard to tell which bike to take when the neighborhood is disguised in sheep’s clothing– fresh snow. The neighborhood streets are a padded playground of snowpiles and untracked powder; the fast-paced boulevards of the real world have long since iced over. A 4 inch studded tire sounds sensible, if necessary. I’m working on it: it’s not available commercially but there are some leads on the internet. The tread is barely thick enough to install shallow studs, which are expensive enough to keep me from trying for now.
Hours past sunset, returning home via the Coastal Trail and the Chester Creek Trail, the snow has been skiied and compacted throughout the day, but the generous footprints of the Endomorph and Larry are still essential to keeping us afloat, and 10 psi keep us comfortable over the now uneven terrain. These conditions are more snow than ice; 2.1″ studded tires would claw and sink.
The solutions, either in practice or theory: install studs on my extra 3.7″ Endomorph tire, continue riding the two bikes without modification, or (theory) have a single bike with large-not-massive tire clearances like the Surly 1×1 or the Troll that will accept a large, studded tire up to 3 in. That tire would be homemade from a DH style tire (such as the Nokian Gazzolodi, at 1500+ g), and thus, very heavy. The option of owning and maintaining one bike is much simpler, and enticing, except that I don’t own either of the aforementioned frames. A 3″ studded tire would excel in icy, urban riding, and icy, rutted trail riding. It may flounder a bit in fresh snow, but would still outperform a 2″ studded tire in every condition except dry pavement. In short, the Surly Troll continues to be incredibly versatile, excelling at a few things, mostly related to it’s gaping tire clearances.
From a commercial perspective, someome needs to begin manufacturing a 4″ studded tire for fatbikes, and a lightweight 2.5-3.0″ studded tire for modern mtb’s like the Troll.
Monday morning, 7 AM, there were two tracks on the Chester Creek Trail– one pair skis, and one fatbike, with the characteristic Endomorph pattern. We were the third and fourth of the day, past fallen trees, moments before the groomers altered the record kept by the night’s snowfall.