You’re allowed to do this on a blog, right? A grab bag of unrelated bits of information that might potentially be of interest to somebody? Anyone?
I’d better put a photo near the top so this doesn’t just look like a wall of words:
John F is moving house and shedding stuff he doesn’t want to move, so he bequeathed me a nice pair of studded winter tires. As well as an unashamedly cheap wheelset. (There’s something almost embarrassing about disc wheels with a rim brake track. And labeling a 2100+g wheelset “zerolite”, well, I actually have to admire that.) But everything has its use, and I was delighted to have the wheelset and tires. Thanks, John F!
It snowed about 4 inches on Monday. On Tuesday I mounted the tires on the wheels, and mounted the wheels on the cross bike.
(By the way, if you ever mount studded tires, be mindful of your muscle-memory habits, like sliding your hands around the tire as you seat the bead. Ouch! Also, after changing out the wheelset I was reminded of how much more I like the bomber Hayes mechanical discs on the single speed, compared to the fussy BB7s on the cross bike.)
The tires are Schwalbe Marathon Winter 35s, and they are impressive. Heavy of course, but well made and tough as hell. I started out with about 20 miles on plowed, paved roads, as per the manufacturer recommendation, to bed in the studs. The tires are noisy, but roll much better than I expected on pavement. Noticeably worse than a similar sized file tread tire, but not hugely worse than a mud tire, and way better than a 2″ MTB tire.
“Plowed” is a relative term, especially here in my town where we have a new highway superintendent who’s still figuring out how things work, and there was a lot of packed snow on the roads. The studs certainly helped. I was washing out regularly, but the studs near the sidewall helped arrest the washouts before the bike went totally sideways.
Riding up toward Mohonk I noticed another set of cross bike tire tracks through the snowpack and wondered who else was dumb enough to be out riding around. When I got to the ridge I figured I might as well get a little work in before hitting the trails, so I did a couple of hill repeats up to the Mountain House gatehouse. Halfway up the climb, the tire track mystery was solved: my teammate Christian was also doing laps on the hill. We were exactly 180 degrees out of phase, meaning one of us was always in the middle of the effort as the other was descending, so we never actually spoke, just nodded like Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf punching the clock. (What? You thought it was Wile E. Coyote in that series? Philistine. I suppose all obsessive-compulsive canid customers of the Acme Corporation look alike to you.)
After a couple of hill repeats, it was off to the trails.
The tires did OK, but it turns out that fresh snow is not really the ideal application for studded 35c tires. The 40c version might have fared a bit better, but there just wasn’t much to grip on. It did feel like excellent cross bike handling practice, not that anyone needs to be doing that in February. Putting studded tires on a cross bike doesn’t make it a fat bike, that’s for sure.
The tires are definitely best on ice, rather than snow. They would be perfect for a winter paved-road commuter. Still, it was fun to ride around the snowy trails to see what would work and what wouldn’t.
Say, were these deer drunk?
Before I set out on the ride, I wrung hands for a bit over whether to run the Stages power meter, or take it off. Back story: Stages is a new entry into the bike power meter market, and their product fills the “simple and cheap” ecological niche. It’s just a single crankarm with an instrument pod epoxied onto it. There are some passionate Stages haters out there, who feel that the lower power measurement accuracy, and the fact that it’s only measuring your left leg, make the device worthless. On the other hand, it’s half the price of any other crank-based power meter, and more versatile than the more accurate but similarly-priced Powertap.
There are good points on both sides of the ledger, and if you’re thinking of getting a power meter, you should do some internet research to understand all of the issues. Personally, I think it’s a fine device as long as you acknowledge what it can and can’t do. If you need more accuracy, you need to pay more and get something different. For base/build training, I think it’s appropriate, and it is very convenient that I can swap the meter onto any of three different bikes, including the single speed, in about 60 seconds.
I bought the Stages at the start of cross season last year, and rode it hard on a lot of rough conditions and singletrack. After a couple of months, I cracked the instrument pod, probably on a rock. You can see the small crack at the right-hand edge of the pod.
The power meter continued to work, but battery life became terrible, maybe a week at best. The crack was letting water in. Stages overnighted me a free replacement.
The replacement worked great for another few months, then batteries started their tragic dying-young routine again, especially if conditions were wet. It turns out that water infiltration is a major problem for this first iteration of Stages power meters. Stages overnighted me another replacement, and also comped me a 3-year warranty. (They are certainly not cutting any corners on customer support.)
The third Stages had a slightly different battery compartment seal. I taped up the crank arm as well, to try to seal the whole device. So far, I’ve had no additional troubles, and this week alone I rode many hours in the rain. But I wasn’t sure if riding through deepish snow would be a good idea. I did end up using the Stages on this ride, and it was completely fine, despite being covered in snow for most of the ride.
So, bottom line, if you have a Stages, tape it up.
A couple of weeks ago I went out for a longish ride. I expected to be back after dark, so I brought lights. While I was out it started snowing heavily. It was a great ride, in a sort of epic hard-man way, but on the way home I made a poor tactical decision to head home down Clove Valley Road, a beautiful but poorly maintained narrow winding road.
I had only brought a headlamp, not the bars-and-helmet setup I use for night MTB, and having a single source of light is really not ideal for seeing the topological detail of what’s in front of you. I had to pick a slow, careful line down the snowy, sandy road, and when cars approached I just got off the bike and stood well off the road until they passed.
As I worked my way home, later than expected, my phone rang, no doubt my wife calling to see if I was still alive. I stopped, but my hands were too numb to even get my phone out of my pocket, much less operate it. It rang a couple more times, but there wasn’t anything I could do; I just pushed on, trying to get home so she could stop worrying. I did eventually get home without incident (unless you consider an upset worried wife to be an “incident.”).
For yesterday’s ride, I thought I’d try out Road ID’s phone app, which would allow my wife to see my location in real-time via the phone GPS and a map server. She absolutely loved this. She only checked it once, but it gave her peace of mind to know that she would be able to see where I was if something bad happened. During the 3-hour ride, the app drew down my phone battery from 100% to about 60%, which is better than I expected. For a very long ride, I’d always want to be sure I had some battery left to make a call if I needed to, so I’d wait until I was heading home before turning the app on.
The app has a couple of other features that I didn’t use, such as alerting people if you stop for more than 5 minutes — who would use that? But it worked exactly right for what I needed. And it’s free.
Hey, yesterday a bald eagle parked itself in our backyard for about a half hour. I guess it was digesting, because eventually it took a majestic crap and then soared off.
Today, it’s just juncos and goldfinches.
And with that, I shall conclude this experiment in free association.
(That is actually a different sunset from the one I posted at the end of my previous post.)
– John S, aka globecanvas