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I’ll admit it. I’m a little jealous that Seattle gets a Snowpocalypse before Chicago does. I take pride in my city’s brutal winters. So now that Seattle has had its fun it’s finally Chicago’s turn to play in the snow. And while Fritz may happily snip zip ties off his bike now that things are back to normal over there I’ve got three inches of snow on the ground and more on the way. In a matter of days the plows will shove all the snow in the valuable lanes of pavement I like to ride in, and soon after that all that snow will be compacted into something far more slippery than snow. So, sure, Seattle gets “battered” once or twice every year, but what about real winter?
What about many sub zero days, lots of scorching cold winds, the possibility of frost bite, snow, ice, more snow, more ice, and the inevitable lake effect misery that is the reality for all us crazy Midwestern winter riders? What good is a bike commute if every time I swerve to avoid a collapsed catch basin or perilous pot hole, I lose traction and end up a pile of painful person underneath my bike? Anyone who has attempted to ride down the lakeshore path will know what it’s like to see the sheen of a vast expanse of ice ahead. When I was younger and I rode my 1977 Trek TX550 through such conditions, I just barreled through and braced for what I knew was going to be a couple of very uncomfortable moments. But that was back when I trusted my patellae wouldn’t shatter upon impact, before I had any sort of thoughts that some injuries are more than just annoying to walk away from and some pain is too great to ignore.
Anyway, what do we do about the dangers of an entire winter of ice and snow?
The Answer is studded tires.
These are the Schwalbe Marathon Winters I like to use. (and that’s Chris in the background)
These things are great. Greater, I might argue, than the zip tie snow chains. And I might argue this because, well, I’m a bit too classy to be uglifying my stately Dutch bike with silly little zip ties. (Kudos to you, Fritz, for choosing such a bright and safe color for your snow chains. Safety first!) Seriously though, if you plan on riding through an entire winter, the studs will save you just when you need saving.
Remember when Fritz boasted of his uncanny placement of the zip ties so that they bit into the ice while cornering? That’s the whole idea behind the placement of the carbide studs in the Schwalbe Marathon Winters. The studs are arranged so that when running at full pressure your tires will primarily be making contact with the road right in the middle, on the rubber. When you start cornering, the studs will do their job. Of course, when the roads do get totally nasty, and the ice and hard pack snow is everywhere, you might just want to lower the pressure and let the carbide studs do their thing all the time. With the increases contact area of a soft tire, the studs give you way more traction.
With 240 metal studs on 700cc tire I feel secure on my ride no matter what I roll over, I’ll keep my wheels underneath me. They also have the Schwalbe standard reflective strip on the side wall which makes me feel not only bijster (very) European but also bijster visible. It’s true. You will sound like a swarm of bees when pedaling along dry clean pavement. But the advantage when you need it is well worth the noise. And when you arrive to work, or the bar, or back home again all in one piece, everyone will be very happy to see you. We’ve got the tires in stock now, and we’ll get just about any size you need. Heck, I’ll even put them on free of charge. That’s how much I care about your safety.
With 240 metal studs on 700cc tire I feel secure on my ride no matter what I roll over, I’ll keep my wheels underneath me. They also have the Schwalbe standard reflective strip on the side wall which makes me feel not only bijster (very) European but also bijster visible.
It’s true. You will sound like a swarm of bees when pedaling along dry clean pavement. But the advantage when you need it is well worth the noise. And when you arrive to work, or the bar, or back home again all in one piece, everyone will be very happy to see you.
We’ve got the tires in stock now, and we’ll get just about any size you need. Heck, I’ll even put them on free of charge. That’s how much I care about your safety.
No matter how much we swear we've learned our lessons, Seattle always seems to get caught by surprise by the snow. There we were, minding our own business with our feet all toasty in our sandals and socks, when the temperature plummeted and it turned into Juneau in January. While this year the City did a much better job than last year at preventing widespread carnage and destruction, we at Dutch Bike Seattle still didn't bring in studded tires because it never snows in Seattle. Even if we had stocked them, I'm not sure they'd sell because it never snows in Seattle, right?
We found something else, though. Something else entirely.
You're not going to believe it at first.
It's quick, it's cheap, and yes, it looks completely ludicrous.
BUT. It works. It works beautifully.
I can accelerate, brake, and corner with aplomb, even on the vile snowpack/sheet ice mix the plows leave in the bike lanes. The zip ties dig nicely into the hardest packed surfaces, but they're thin enough not to bounce the bike around at low speed or on short pavement sections.
I've cunningly positioned the tie heads to dig in as soon as the bike goes into a corner while staying up and off the ground in a straight line. This is the place that the ties are most likely to interfere with the fenders, so if you're installing these yourself be careful to make sure you have or can create the clearance.
It is at this point that I must admit that I didn't dream up this amazing technique. It pains me to admit this not because my ego suffers, but because the zip-tie-DIY-bicycle-snow-chains idea appears to have originated with my favorite bicycle industry whipping boy: fixed gear hipster culture. Several years ago, I'm sure, some bright child with extremely tight pants and an asymmetrical haircut had a genius-caliber idea, and I hate that it wasn't me. So here it is: Fixed gear street bike hipster guys, I'm sorry for the things I've said over the years. It's not true that the only drink you like is 4Loko. It's also not true that you're not allowed to wear shoes that don't match your bikes. You can wear whatever you want. And finally, you have come up with a good idea besides brightly colored deep-section rims.
Fall is here! Which means, for those of us living here in Seattle, rain. A lot of rain. Driving rain. Endless driving rain. I’m pretty sure that last November it actually rained every day. However, any experienced Northwestern cyclist can tell you that the best way to combat the crushing depression of the winter months (other than maybe buying a SAD lamp) is to keep riding your bike! And what this means, is fenders.
There are many different types of fenders. Because I insist on riding completely impractical bikes, my only option are the clip on, or “fairly ineffective,” type of fenders.
These fenders are convenient because they simply clip on to the seat stays and fork blades of the bike, and don't need any eyelets or mounting hardware. They’re inconvenient because they don’t really work very well, and as a result my bike is always dirty
and my feet are always wet and sad.
So, despite the more involved mounting process, full fenders are a better option. They provide much greater coverage, which is great for your bike because it keeps it clean, prolonging the life of your components, and great for you because it keeps you more dry, prolonging the life of your ride. A great example of full fenders are the ones that Fritz has on his bike. Look at that clean bike!
And look at those happy feet!
“But wait!” you might say. “I ride a racy road bike! I don’t have room for fenders! Or eyelets!” Not to worry! Both Fritz and myself have extensive experience putting together custom fenders to fit on even the most race-oriented carbon fiber speed machine. There are several ways we can do this, but our most common method is to actually fabricate some mounts out of rack struts (thin, rectangular pieces of steel) and use these to clear the tight spaces in between the tires and brake calipers. In the case of bikes without eyelets, we can use different types of clamps to keep the fender stays attached to the frame.
So why wait! Get some fenders! Keep your feet dry!
Seems over the last few weeks here in Chicago we've had a snow storm every few days. Eddie, our property manager, begins his snow shoveling rounds many times before 4:00 AM. Shoveling sidewalks is The Law here in the windy city and property owners are fast (and smart) to mitigate their liabilities. Buried under the covers, as I drift in in and out of dreaming my next tropical vacation, I can hear the shovel scraping.
Now for many cities, this sort of weekly winter onslaught results in municipal paralysis (to the delight of all school-free children). In Chicago, four or five inches of snow quickly succumbs to battalions of snow plows, running day and night on all the major boulevards, strewing salt behind them as if the roads are salmon fillet and we are curing gravlax for the holiday. Due to this saline seasoning, the roads remain wet to well below twenty degrees. Cars shoosh by as if it just rained. Truly icy main roads are a rarity, and on the occasion the roads do dry, they just imitate ice like the flats of Bonneville
I do not ever remember applying the adjective awesome to the cold, but today it applies. On my morning Bakfiets ride to the gym, ice formed on my nostril hairs. My breath escaped into giant steam clouds only to freeze as layers of ice on my sunglasses. I suppose there is a point where a gob of spit would freeze before it hits the ground, but it's not quite that cold yet, but seemingly close. NOAA says it's -3 degrees Fahrenheit, that's -19 degrees C for you Swedish astronomy fans. Did I mention it's sunny and the wind is blowing 30-40 mph? That makes the wind chill -30 degrees F. Santa says wear a hat, eye protection and some good gloves. The ride to the gym is less than two miles, so I savored less than ten minutes each way of the invigorating awesomeness that is today's blowing cold.
When it's this cold the accumulated snow, well, it does just that: accumulates. It has no place to go other than under and around parked cars. It doesn't melt, no matter how much salt the DOT Head Chef throws on the pig. Even the randomly strewn blue salt crystals on my Bakfiets cargo cover were encased in ice. I passed several motorists digging out their cars, one, stuck in a rocking back and forward, howling tire dance (with a tip of the cap to Sammy Hagar) called "I can't drive 55" (like it's 55 degrees, that is). No problem for a post-apocalyptic, wool overcoat-clad, studded tire riding Bakfiets pilot. I just plow my bike into the snow bank, hop off and push the guy out of his predicament. Subsequently, we both drive off much happier about the state of motorist-cyclist relations.
Because Chicago is really, truly, unbelievably, billiard table flat, it is universally "Bakfiets-able". The only hills are bridges and valleys, freeway underpasses. This makes it easy to carry whatever I like, wherever I like. About 40 lbs of "stuff" (anything will do, even snow) in the front of the Bakfiets will help the front wheel cut through even the most peanut-buttery snow. Because Bakfiets and rider are together as aerodynamic as a cathederal, wind can just as easily be an enemy as a friend. I ride the narrower tree-lined side streets, where the wind is less ferocious and pedal like a liquor store bandit whenever the wind is to my back, because it is just as likely to be blasting me in the face by the next intersection.