riding on ice

If your trail looks like this:

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Then you want your tires to look like this:

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The past two weeks have been mild and wet and the snow is mostly gone.  The temperatures dropped the past couple of days leaving lots of ice.  Riding is no longer about floatation – it is about traction.  This is when studded tires come into play.

When it comes to studded tires you have two routes to go; buy ’em or make ’em.  Studded tires for fatbikes, like the Dillinger, sell for $225 each!  That’s a lot of moolah for a set of tires  Thankfully, there are thriftier options, and Slow:biker is nothing if not thrifty (Mrs.Slow:biker says I’m cheap, but that’s another story).

As I stated above, when conditions get icy it’s all about traction, not float, so an alternative is to use your mountain bike.  Studded mountain bike tires, like the Scwalbe Ice Spiker sell for $120, so you can buy two of these for the price of a single Dillinger.  But remember what I said about Slow:biker being cheap thrifty?  How would you like to have a set of studded tires for your mountain bike for less than 10 bucks?  Home-brewed tires are the way to acheive this.

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When the conditions are hard and icy you don’t need the float of a fat tire.

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Buy two boxes of these; one box of 1/2-inch and another box of 3/8-inch. The 1/2-inch ones will be used on the outside edge of your tire while the 3/8-inch ones will be inserted down the middle.

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This is what the screws look like. You want a head that is round and smooth so it doesn’t wear holes in your tube.

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Use an old, worn out tire for this project like this 20 year old Specialized I had lying around or the equally old Fisher below.

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Drive the screws from the inside out, making sure you go through the lug. Use the longer screws on the outside edge, remember, and the shorter ones down the middle. A power screwdriver can really speed this up.

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Now, take an old tube, cut off the valve then split the tube along the inside using scissors.

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Put a little air into the tube you are going to use then wrap the split tube around it. This extra layer of rubber prevents the screw heads from wearing holes in your tube. Cram all this into your tire and inflate.

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The bead on the Fisher was too compromised and wouldn’t stay on the rim so I mounted up this Nokian 288 (that stands for 288 carbide studs) I had lying around. This, too, is about 20 years old, has seen some use, and is still fine.

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If/when you fall on ice it is your elbows and hips that take the hit. If you have armour for those areas, wear it.

I bought some Kahtoola Microspikes a few years ago for trail running and I cannot say enough about them. I use them when running, on lunchtime walks, on our icy driveway and I always carry them with me when hiking in the winter.  They are 59 bucks and will last a lifetime.  I also like to use them when riding on ice.  They work just fine with flat pedals and clipless pedals.

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If you are riding uphill and you stall out what do you do? You put your foot down. Putting your foot down on ice = slip sliding away. Microspikes overcome this. Some people will instead insert a few studs into the sole of their cycling shoe.

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The Microspikes stretch on and off in seconds AND make quite a fashion statement.

So – now you have no excuses.  Get out there and ride.

The Great Meltdown of 2014

No, I am not referring to the hissy fit I threw when I heard “America’s Next Top Model” was being cancelled; I’m talking about the weather (again).

One week ago I was doing this:


Note the big, shit-eating grin. (A Darren McD photo)

Today it was this:

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Note the lack of a shit-eating grin. Also note the lack of snow. The two are related.

What happen?  The Great Meltdown of 2014, that’s what happened.  Last Sunday, the day after the Witless Bay Line Loop ride, the temperature hit a high of 11C. Then Tuesday it went to 7C, quickly followed by Wednesday (11C), Thursday (10C) and Friday (12C).  With those warm temperatures came a lot of rain and the snow didn’t stand a chance.

Snow pack

Check out the change in our snow pack – we went from a metre of snow on the ground to nothing. (Graphic from some CBC website. Used without permission. Sue me – I’ve got nothing to live for now.)

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While out riding today the only snow to be seen was in the ditch.

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This is Shoal Bay Road, a trail that was well packed down by snowmobiles and ATV’s. What snow remains is hanging on for dear life.


Conditions were reported to be good near Cape Spear – mostly bare trail. L-R are Dean, Loyal, Marc and Darren. (Marc K photo)


I know there are some local riders who only just got their fatbikes that are wringing their hands and fretting about their purchase.  To them I make these three points:

1) There is still plenty of winter left.  Good conditions will return.

2) Your fatbike can be used all year round.  Think gravel grinds, bikepacking, backcountry exploring, beaches, et cetera.

3) Consider your fatbike a long-term investment.  You will be riding that bike for many, many winters to come.

a bit about our weather

Environment Canada just published their results of a survey of the weather in the 100 largest cities in Canada over the past 30 years.  They looked at 75 different categories (e.g.  warmest summer, coldest winter, snowiest city, et cetera).  Those of us who live here are well aware of how extreme and variable our weather can be but those of you “from away” might need to be educated a bit.  Here are the categories in which St. John’s, NL , made it into the Top 10:

Foggiest city (days) – 1st

Windiest city year-round – 1st

Windiest winter – 1st

Windiest summer – 1st

Most windy days (40 km/h or more) – 1st

Most hours with low visibility – 1st

Cloudiest skies year-round – 2nd

Most freezing rain days – 2nd

Most wet days – 3rd

Fewest sunny days year-round – 3rd

Lowest average pressure – 3rd

Coolest summer – 3rd

Wettest city (rain and snow) – 5th

Least sunshine year-round – 5th

Most snow days – 6th

Most blowing snow days – 6th

Rainiest city – 8th

Most very wet days (25mm or more) – 9th

Fewest thunderstorm days – 9th

Snowiest city – 9th

Snowiest Spring – 10th

We made the Top 10 in 21 different areas, few of them conducive to good cycling.  Even with my rose coloured glasses on there are only four categories in which we are in the Top 10 that I can see that benefit biking: coolest summer (hey, I said I had my rose coloured glasses on!);  most snow days; snowiest city;  and, snowiest Spring.  The latter three categories, of course, a benefit to those who choose to ride on the snow and clearly a detriment to our brothers and sisters who are dedicated roadies or mountain bikers.  Perhaps now, my faithful readers, you see why I preach the fatbike gospel so often!

witless bay line loop


The Witless Bay Line (WBL) loop is a 50 km ride that follows a snowmobile route out to WBL and then follows a different snowmobile route on the way back in.  You can begin the ride from many places in The Goulds; I have shown it here starting at Power’s Pond Road.


As you can see the first 5 km or so is gaining elevation, then you are on a plateau for awhile before being rewarded with some fun, gradual descent to WBL.  Once you hit the pavement you have two choices; go left (east) and ride WBL itself (which we did) or go right (west) for 1 km to pick up a country road that parallels WBL.

There is one thing that you need to be aware of if attempting this ride; there is a significant water crossing at kilometer 37.  A trestle that used to serve as the crossing point is now gone.  Snowmobilers now wait for the stream to freeze and cross it to the west of the missing trestle.  If we have expereinced a significant thaw or rain (as we often do here) this ice bridge may be compromised or missing altogether.  This leaves the rider to either: a) wade across, or; b) ride back to Bay Bulls and follow the Southern Shore HIghway back to The Goulds.  Thankfully the ice bridge was in place when we got there but it had clearly seen some compromise from the thaw/rain we experienced one week earlier.

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The leg out had firm, fast conditions thanks to the colder temperature and low snowmobile traffic.

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The route out to Witless Bay Line is an established snowmobile trail with some signage to mark the way.

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It was great to see blue sky and sunshine the whole day.



The barrens do strange things to trees.

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“Look, Ma, no hands!” The author in his happy place.
(Darren McD photo)

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Looking east toward Bay Bulls.


The way back is an informal snowmobile route and has its own signage.


There were lots of people out enjoying the day including these two rabbit hunters.

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Conditions got a little soft and squirrley later in the day as the temperature rose and the snowmobile traffic increased. Seen here, Tim gets punished for not staying on the established track.


We dropped our tire pressure to get through some of the soft stuff. Darren adds air back into his tires once we were back on firmer snow.


Sections of the return leg are like a highway – a busy highway.


My fellow riders were sporting new gear; Darren’s bike is now set up with the studded Dillinger’s 120 TPSI.


Darren shows off his new studded tires.

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Tim’s Beargrease now sports lots of new bling.

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Cobrafist pogies.

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Frame bag.

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Seat bag

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The rising moon indicates it is getting late in the day and that our ride is almost complete. Cold beer and salty snacks await us.

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Almost home.


The sun sets and another epic ride is over.