Sunday, December 18, 2011

Colorado Winter = Studded Tires

Colorado winters are hard on the cyclist. Last year for the first time in 5 years I took the entire winter off of cycling. I decided to get a ski pass and do some cross training instead of suffer through another winter of cycling and indoor riding on the rollers. As much as I enjoyed skiing again, (it had been 15 years), it just wasn’t cycling... where my heart is. Worse than suffering through the cold, my cycling suffered horribly last year as a result. I never got my groove back until the cycling season was over -right as I was getting back into it, everyone was hanging their bikes up for the year, again. The years prior I always rode, many of the 15 degree days too, and I suffered. Well not this year. No more freezing to death, no more cold toes, and especially no more kissing the pavement when I miss-judge the snow and ice. Armed with some new winter gear and new Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Road Bike Tires I plan to ride all winter long. Never riding on studded snow tires up until this last Colorado snow storm I thought I'd take a couple ride photos and add a couple comments...

I choose the Schwalbe Marathon Winter in the 700x35c size. Each tire has 240 Carbide Studs, weighs a hefty 910 grams, 2-1/2 times as much as your typical cross tire. Recommended pressure of 38-85 psi, and the key to the versatility of this tire. It uses an extremely stiff and durable sidewall that enables low pressure that allow all the studs to make contact with the road and give you incredible traction. I mounted them on some cheaper spare wheels so could easily swap them back and forth with my cross tires/wheels. If I was a commuter, or as we get a little deeper into winter, they'll probably just stay on the bike. The nice thing about this tire and tread design is you can increase the tire pressure to the point where the carbide studs don’t make contact with the road, making them a little more friendly on dry roads. Head out in the morning when it’s dry and by the end of the day it's turned to shit!? No problem, drop some pressure and you're riding with a big old grin on your face.

So how well do they work? Holy shit is how, I can't express enough the confidence these tires inspire on the snow and ice! How about coming down Lookout Mountain in this at 25 mph kind of traction!! As a comparison it's probably equivalent to riding on a loose gravel road when on hard packed snow and ice. On sheer ice, put it this way, I would rather be on my bike with these tires than walking in boots with vibram soles.

Temp, 15.1 deg. You get some funny looks on days like these...

After a couple of rides, just like they had warned, I lost 5 carbide studs, all in the rear tire. I had read this in the reviews so when I ordered the tires I also ordered an extra bag of carbide studs. I couldn’t stand the idea of missing studs and I didn’t even own them yet. I passed on the install tool and thought I would just figure something out when the time comes. Well the time came and without the tool you're not getting replacement studs back in those tires, so either get the tool or make one like I did and make short work of it. I just copied the 'look' of the 'original' tool as best I could and it worked great. I used a piece of solid 1/4" steel from my shop, drilled a 9/64" hole in the end of it, ground a tapper down to the new center hole, hammered it into the proper shape and presto, cheap tool that works wonders for replacing studs.

If you ride in the winter and want to ride something other than your trainer or just on clear days, do yourself a favor and buy some studded snow tires. Looking for a good recommendation, the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires rock!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In search of that new route…

Every weekend I know I’m riding somewhere, I just need to figure out what to do and where to go. I can only ride the same rides, the same roads, for so long. I need to explore like a lone wolf. After I read the Bike Snob by Christopher Koelle, a must read btw, I knew I was and will forever be a Lone Wolf.

From Bike Snob... you will love this small book!

I needed a new ride, my ride of the last 6 weekends, 50 miles on the Platte, Cherry Creek, Highline Canal, Sand Creek, and Clear Creek was getting old. I started with Google maps and narrowed it down to an area I liked- an area with at least some dirt roads. I settled on Pike National Forest.

Click here for my Garmin route.

During the summer you’ll find a constant stream of motorcycles riding from Pine Junction to Woodland Park for this beautiful stretch of road. There were a few riders out yesterday. I put together a loop of 40 miles, 25 miles of pavement and 15 miles of gravel, just over 3,000’ of climbing, and fuel/coffee stop in Deckers. Aside from being the windiest day of the year it turned out to be a fantastic route. Wide shoulder along Deckers Rd, Co Rd 126, an epic 7 miles of  8% climbing, and one of my favorite dirt roads in the state. I’ve ridden motorcycles in the area since 1982 and knew it would be perfect for long adventures on the right bicycle.

Deckers Rd looking back as you climb, the burn area from the Hayman Fire is on my left to the West.
That’s a welcoming sign, 8% grade for 4 miles! It would have been a blast had it not been for the winds yesterday. At one point, I was doing just over 40 mph and a gust of wind instantly slowed me down to just over 20 mph and about threw me off the road. Any other time I’m sure you could set a top speed record on this decent.

My buddy Brian Smith, a relatively new rider that I talked into joining me. That’s the beauty of new guys, they don’t know any better and if they have an adventurous spirit like Brian you can talk them into new rides. He’ll never look at this blog… he does have a cool Masi!

Town of Deckers, supplies and coffee if needed. Here you bust a left.

Transition to gravel! I road with 35c cross tires and was comfortable all day, Brian used a 28c Continental Top Contact that he said was a little squirrelly on the gravel. Of course he had 90 psi in those tires. It's hard to convince some people more air isn’t necessarily faster.  

You ride along the South Fork of the South Platte River... it’s really spectacular through here!

Historic South Platte Hotel. Built around the turn of the century by the Zang Brewing company. Once the town of Symes, now the South Platte Hotel  is the only building still standing. It was once a railroad stop on the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad. Just like Phantom Canyon on the Gold Belt Century, old railroad grades that are now dirt roads make for ideal cycling.

The North fork of the South Platte.

Even though the town of Foxton shows up on the map you won’t find any supplies here…

The old post office in the town of Buffalo Creek, a welcome sight after a 5-mile ride up river in a vicious head wind. There is a little store in the old building where you can get sodas and things if needed.

For the first time out, I drove to and started in Buffalo Creek. Now that I’ve done the ride, I would recommend driving down Foxton Rd from Hwy 285 and parking in one of the many pullouts when you get to the Platte River Rd. We rode the route counter-clockwise and got the climbing done early. If you park where Foxton Rd meets the Platte you could ride it in either direction!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gear Ratio's

So you want to build or gear your fixed gear with that money gear, the one gear that does it all, for every rider, in every condition. Does it even exist? Sure it does. 70 gear inches. Go ahead and test me on it... given enough miles I believe you’ll concur. After 4 years of hard core Fixed Gear and Single Speed riding, that would be my gear if I could only choose one. If I had to ride coast to coast, that would be it. It’s the gear I’ve seen more veteran fixie riders choose, especially ‘century’ riders. So if you’re looking for a starting place use a gear calculator like you’ll find at and set yourself up with 70 gear inches. You can get there 20 different ways, so before you buy a new chainring or rear cog/freewheel, check and see if you can make it work with something you already have... chances are you’ll get close enough. How close is close enough? 68-75 to start.
Just one of the cool things to come from Surly, the Dingle Cog.

If you're stronger than all your buddies combined, go a little on the big side, or if your just starting out, a little less. After you get all jiggy with it you can optimize your skid patches too, the more the better. Example, the most common fixie ring is probably the 48t, combined with a 18t cog/freewheel you get your 70.1 gear inches, right on the money but only 3 skid patches, ouch. I chose a 49t ring, combined with the 17t, 18t or 19t, for 75.8, 71.6, 67.8 gear inches, and 17, 18 and 19 skid patches. So some combos are better than others. But I’m not going be skidding you say, not yet… Just the power decelerating hard is enough to spread that energy to more than 3 places on the rear tire. In a perfect world you’ll need/want a couple gear ratios, given your frame can take up the chain slack and your brakes can reach. I use a 2 tooth swing from my low to high gear on my White Industries ENO hub.

2 teeth difference in a rear cog is equal to 8 gear inches with my front ring and enough to cruise all day at 17-21 mph and climb at mountain at 7-9 mph. I have a White Industries freewheel that has both a 17t and 19t side by side, you must use a 3/32” chain with these, not the 1/8” track chain. I use a 17t cog for fixed riding, I rarely climb in it, just rolling hills and flat land rides up to 100 miles. The 19t freewheel for climbing and when I’m tired, and the 17t freewheel for fast group rides and centuries.  

White Industries DOS Freewheel. Hands down, the nicest, and last, freewheel you'll buy! Rebuild able too!! Only available in 16/18t or 17/19t so plan accordingly...

A good combination for those with flip-flop hubs and old road bike conversions is a fixed gear on one side and a freewheel 1-2t larger on the other. Most frames can handle a 1t tooth jump as well as the brakes without a need for re-adjustment. Then you can climb hills, descend and have a bailout gear if you're far from home and spent with a freewheel. If you have only a fixed gear hub you can still use a freewheel in place of a cog, just not the other way around.
Here is a fun one, the Sturmey Archer SX3, a 3 speed internal fixed gear hub introduced in 2010. With a 52t ring and a 16t cog I have a 53.6", 64.3" and 85.7" gears! Spaced a little far for my liking, and this is considered as a close ratio. The original, extremely rare, Sturmey Archer ASC fixed gear 3-speed hub was a true close ratio racing hub built in the early 50's.

With the right gear ratio you can go on a group rides and not get dropped on the hills or the flats, and that’s when you know you’ve found your right gear ratio! If you can keep up on the climbs but get dropped on the flats you need a taller/harder gear, if you can’t climb but do fine on the flats you’ll need a shorter/easier gear. My fixed gear is the ultimate riding workout, but I’m limited to a top speed of just over 30 mph, and only for a short period, and that’s where I find my freewheel comes in handy, just tuck into someone’s draft on a downhill and there is no top end limit…

If you look closely at my rear wheel you'll see my new custom 'knock-offs'. Still a work in progress, it allows me to make a quick gear change or flip the wheel without the use of tools.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The quest for the perfect bicycle tire.

You're looking to explore some more remote areas on dirt roads, with so many tire choices where do you start? Let me share with you what I’ve discovered over the years of riding thousands of miles on dirt and asphalt. Size does matter; nobody wants to head out into the ocean with a canoe!

You need a tire that can effectively absorb rocks and road shock like washboards without getting a pinch flat or damaging your rim and allow you to keep control of the bike. The heavier you are and the more gear you like to carry the larger volume tire you’ll want.

What a bigger tire is... More comfortable, less prone to ‘pinch’ flats (big in the dirt), more control, better traction, easier on wheels. What a smaller tire is... Less traction, less comfort, potential flats or wheel damage, and a lot Faster.

The larger the tire the less air pressure you can run, so a bigger tire gets more comfortable at lower pressures. If you have say a 25c you can only reduce the pressure to around 85 psi before you’ll have problems with flats. A 35c can handle pressures from 40-60 psi, so it’s a much smoother ride.

Another factor that you have to consider when selecting a tire is your ability. Fast means nothing if you can’t relax or end up on the ground. A skilled rider can get away with a smaller volume tire because they’re usually better at control and avoiding and/or jumping obstacles.

So, why not just always run as big a tire as you can fit into your frame for everything? A fast tire is a fast tire, even on the dirt, especially when your 60 miles into your ride and starting to suffer. Sometimes getting to the finish line quicker is better than taking much longer even if you’re riding in temporary comfort, because it’s only a matter of time before some type of fatigue sets in.

Schwalbe big apple's on a 29er, my vintage Paramount with 28c Ruffy Tuffy's on South Table Mountain, Golden Co.

I personally like road tires in the 28c for everything, I can ride them anywhere and fast, on the dirt with slightly lower pressures around 75 up front and 85 in the rear, I’m 185lbs. I’ve ridden many dirt century’s with tires that size, from cheap Kenda’s, Rivendell’s Ruffy Tuffy’s and now my Continental Gatorskins without any problems. I buy tires with a belt for flat protection, the expensive ones have no real weight penalty, and there’s no glory in a flat repair on the side of the road. I’ve never had a problem with expensive road rubber breaking down, or wearing out any faster on the dirt either. I’ve done a lot of dirt miles on what I like to call a 50/50 ride, road paved asphalt and gravel roads, on Michelin Pro Race 3’s and now my Continental Gran Pre 4000’s in the 25c size.

When I explore new dirt roads I use a 32-35c Cross tire with tight and fast knobby’s, I want the traction to explore single track trails, climb mountains and ride cobble stone paths without any problems, also works well in limited traction conditions like sand and snow. If I’m setting out to ride 100 miles on dirt roads I don’t need a slow tire holding a good man down so I look to my 28c. A 28c fast road slick, the default tire, the tire that can do it all in a pinch, something like the Continental Gatorskins, good for the road and 99% of all dirt roads suitable to drive a car on. A fast 25c road slick, for longer 50/50 rides or dirt detours on maintained dirt roads.

There is a place for Fat tires.
For the record I have never ridden anything larger than a 33c in a road tire. Up until a month ago I didn’t own a bike that would accept anything larger 33c, except my 29er, and there was no need. I did ride Rivendell’s 33.3c Jack Brown tires for a summer on dirt roads all over Elizabeth County east of I25 and between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs. An extremely comfortable tire, but I went back to the 28c tires. If you prefer comfort over speed this is a fantastic tire choice, and I doubt you will ever get a flat. My rides tend to be longer than shorter, if you aren’t riding huge miles you might consider a larger tire like this.

Single track trails like this are best suited to 35c cross tires or greater.

A couple years ago I rode the Dirty Century in Elizabeth. I show up with my Schwinn single speed riding on a set of 28c Ruffy Tuffy’s... everyone looked skeptical. There was also a group of riders there to represent one of Denver’s ‘cool’ bike shops, all on sweet bikes like the Surly Long Haul Trucker. I mean these things were equipped right, all the cool stuff including racks with leather and canvas bags and of course the proper huge Schwalbe adventure touring tire. Although they looked like the authorities at the start, they never made it to the finish… all of them bailed at some point and returned to the start. They were the first alright, first to bail and first to get the after party started. Here is something else to consider, for years before all these fat tires were available there were 3 basic tire sizes to choose from for your road bike. 27x1”, 27x1-1/8”, 27x1-1/4”. Equivalent to 25c, 28c, and 32c by today. And there was a lot of kids including myself riding there Varsity’s, Continental’s and Paramount’s all over rural America. Moral of the story, big tires are cool, but not that cool.

Tire air pressure is everything on the dirt, when you have it right any tire can be reasonably comfortable. Drop a few psi when going from the pavement to the dirt and it will improve your ride, mellow out the road harmonics that vibrate all the way through the bike and handle bars. You should see the tire deflect under your weight, slightly mushrooming, for all tire sizes. If you let out too much air out your bike will feel sluggish, especially in the rear, and you’ll be prone to pinch flats over pot holes or large diameter rocks in the road. A pinch flat is when the tire meets the rim with such force it pinches the tube and slices it, looks like a snake bite, and ruins a tube. Can be patched if needed but more difficult than a goat head, best to carry extra tubes. I like to carry a good hand pump as well, nice for dialing in the air pressure if you let too much out and for going back to pavement, with a good pump it only takes a couple minutes. Remember your 7 P’s; Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

Thanks to Robert for encouraging me to post more info!