Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ice Riding

Pipe Tobacco and Blog Fodder showed some interest in more information about the ice riding I have participated in for I guess a little over 20 years now.  No better place to start than at the beginning.

I discovered mountain biking in 1985.  I became so enamored with the fat tires combined with the multiple gears, I rode that first bike whenever possible.  I was not happy that for 6 months of the year, my riding was severely limited by ice and snow.  One of the few people I knew who also rode mountain bikes suggested we make some studded tires.  The only studded tire on the market was a joke.  Called the Blizzard, it only had maybe 80 studs per tire.  Okay for bike commuters and city riding, they were useless for serious ice riding .

Without a clue we began to ruin tires with various combinations of screws, nails, and finally real car studs.  I bet I ruined 20-30 tires coming up with a tire system that would work dependably.

While we had quickly discovered that nothing beat real carbide tipped studs, it was the tire liners that were our achilles heel.  Every liner we tried - lawn chair webbing, kevlar sail cloth, another inner tube, and dozens of others always failed.  And they failed at the worst time possible.  Seemed we were always the farthest from our cars or home when they cracked, moved or otherwise allowed the stud to wiggle enough to cause a flat.  One incarnation I came up with got me so excited, I rushed down to Mousam Lake to try them out.  Without the right clothing on, or any spare tubes, I headed up the lake.  The lake is about 4 miles long.  At 4 miles, both tires went flat.  I had to walk back to my truck in bone chilling cold in street shoes and a light jacket.........Ah, the memories of being caught stupid.

Eventually we figured out that another lighter weight tire with the steel bead cut out laid into the studded tire would work and work every time.  The tires were heavy, but they were dependable.   And since there was no decent ice tire out there, I began to produce studded tires for sale.  I guess by the time I stopped making studded tires, I had made and sold over a hundred pairs of them.  Each tire had 200 hand drilled holes that were then stuffed by hand with 200 studs.  When I finally had it down, I could produce a tire in about two hours.  Sold them for $125/pair.  Once the materials were accounted for, that meant I was making maybe 5 bucks an hour.  Oh well, it was all about being a good bike shop anyway.  Some things you do just because.

About 1993, the tire manufacturers caught on.  They began to produce studded tires that not only worked as well as what I was making, but were lighter and were about the same price as I was charging.  I gladly stopped making them and began buying them for re-sale.  Now there are at least 4 companies making studded tires.  The best ones are from Nokian and Swalbe.  The image at the top is of my new Nokian "Extremes" - 296 studs per tire.  They are seriously expensive at around $100/tire regular retail.  But they work fantastic and if treated right, will last many, many winters.

I find it humorous that many folks consider my winter riding to be odd, yet do not even bat an eye at folks who downhill ski, cross country ski, snow shoe, or any of the other outdoor activities humans engage in outside when the temps drop.  Ice riding is just another way to enjoy the outdoors in the cold.  Dress appropriately and the woods and more importantly the lakes become a playground year round.  I love winter riding.  Nothing like the buzz of 600 studs biting into the ice or the sound the lakes make as they crack, groan and settle as the sun heats up their surface.  Frozen creek beds become brand new trails to explore.  Swamps offer whole new areas to explore.   Wild life is often caught off guard and I get the chance to see critters I would not normally see in the woods.  And sometimes an ice fisherman will invite you in for a beer and some conversation.



muddleglum said...

Sounds great!

I keep thinking that you were born about a century and a half too late. This adds more evidence to my surmise.

I live too far south now for tires like that to be worth while. Hey! Frozen creek beds are the greatest! Thanks for the reminder.

Happy New Year!

BBC said...

I can buy a lot of gas and ride around in a heated vehicle for what good winter riding gear costs.

Not that I don't go out in the winter, but I just walk, it doesn't seem to bother the wildlife here.

The Blog Fodder said...

That was fascinating. Do you know if any other aficionados of winter riding developed studded tires independently or can you claim to be the guy who made it happen?

MRMacrum said...

muddleglum - I'll admit that I have been hauled kicking and screaming into the new hi tech world that seems to be our future.

BBC - Walking works, I do it all the time with Stub. As to disturbing the wild life - Now that I have witnessed the serious comeback of many species in my lifetime in the area, I am of a mind that not much disturbs the wildlife other than habitat destruction. They seem to find a way to deal with our presence.

Blog Fodder - No way I can claim any fame regarding studded tires. Independent tinkerers all over the Snow belts had been doing what I was doing. I was not even alone in this state.

I saw a picture once of a bike on the ice in the 1930s. It had spikes an inch long sticking out of the tires. Of course, I knew just as the owner of those tires must have figured out, anything longer than a 16th of an inch sticking out was wasted and did nothing for the traction.

BBC said...

anything longer than a 16th of an inch sticking out was wasted and did nothing for the traction.

If I can get a 16th of it out I can get some traction, and then some action. Oh hell, nevermind.