Saturday, December 20, 2008

Zip tie bike tire "chains" II

I woke up to a couple of inches of fresh snow, with more still falling, and 28 degree temps. I headed out from Sellwood about 9 AM, and testing conditions were perfect for the zip tie-re chains:

I decided to head for Mt. Tabor (a local park on a hill). There are a couple of packed down intersections around Ladd's Addition that would make for good start-up traction tests. I cruised through the neighborhoods and emerged on Division. The intersection of Division and 11th was a good first test. I slowed down to hit the red light and put my feet down. Things were good and packed down and slippery from cars spinning out. The light turned green, and I spun out sideways. One more try. Nope. Now, some cars were coming behind, and I had to boot shuffle off the road in shame. I tried again at 12th with the same result.

If this were a winter gear review site, I would only give the zip ties 1 snowflake. They are a good conversation starter at bike racks, and they don't seem to do any harm. But, I think a pair of regular knobby tires beats slicks + ties hands down. Plus, there's that nagging feeling that zip tie-ing your tires on is just asking for a flat. I think I'll cut them off before they wear through and release themselves into the wild.

After sliding around quite a bit on the last steep bit on Lincoln, I turned around at the base of Tabor. I wasn't confident enough to climb the hill. Still, a nice couple of hours out and about. One block had cordoned off their prized sledding hill--nice!

The beard worked better than the zip ties. I give it 4 snowflakes. I would give it 5 if it covered my nose, but then it might become socially awkward. Also, my ears haven't actually turned gray just before falling off. Those are Ear Bags (R), and they work OK. My ears get a little chilly downhill, but they don't freeze, and this way I can wear a brimmed hat. The safety glasses are strictly for looks.

Happy riding, or sledding in laundry baskets (I was too slow with the camera), strange fellow PDXers!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Zip tie bike tire "chains"

Todd Boulanger, Vancouver (WA)'s bike czar, came up with the idea of wrapping zip ties around the rear wheel as lo-fi tire chains, and then ran with it. The hard plastic bands should in theory provide some start up and braking traction. Of course, if you have a rear rim brake, you'll have to disconnect it, and, frankly, that's kind of a deal killer. Since my Azor has hub brakes front and rear, I thought I'd give it a try on both ends. I'm here to report that it can be implemented, and it works well, in theory!

I hadn't realized the extent of Todd's brilliance. While I was focused on the physical effects of thin bands of hard plastic, Todd was looking beyond that to the metaphysical impact of doing something this desperate for a bike ride. Sure enough, with my little black tire charms installed, the snow and ice seemingly melted before me, as if parted by a tiny snowboarding Moses. This was aided by the temperature climbing rapidly to 37 this morning. Still, I don't think we can totally discount the tire charms. For my loyal readers, I managed to snap the following photo on some unspoiled sidewalk snow. It sort of does look like the zip ties could help.

I didn't dare hang around long, though, since nearby I saw fresh tracks from one of our urban cougars (Felis domesticus). I imagine stranded cyclers without tire charms are some of their favored winter prey. Be careful out there.

If things freeze again in the next few days, I may be able to report back with some actual information on the zip ties.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Icy ruts of doom

I had planned to take the bus today, but I just couldn't resist another day pedaling in the snow. Things were still fine in the neighborhood, since there was still a little strip of snow between the glare ice and parked cars. The Springwater Trail was another story. The path was a rutted, icy mess, and I had to summon my extreme inner fear of breaking my collarbone to avoid wiping out. Oh, yeah, and two more "Do you have chains? No? You're brave"s, which I've now come to understand is the polite Portland way of saying "That's really stupid. I'm going to watch you fall now and laugh inwardly."

Well, I got a DNF-icy death ruts after about two miles of wrestling the bike down the trail. I did make it home without falling, as far as you know. Things really are pretty lousy out there. I'd recommend to the 0-3 Portlanders that may read read this blog to only ride on studded tires or in places where sliding under moving cars is unlikely.

At $4 per ice day for bus fare, I calculate that we only need another 36.5 days of this to justify a set of studded tires. Come on, wacky weather patterns!

If I were like Tarik, whose most excellent blog Moscaline has been added to the link list over there, I would have snapped some pics of the icy death ruts and cashed in on my blog gold. Instead, I once again rely on my readers' mighty powers of imagination, which I imagine they have plenty of time to cultivate in the months between my postings.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

PDX powder!

To begin, yes, I have become the Rivendell Reader of the bike blogosphere. Oh, wait, the Reader is still really good when it finally shows up. Anyway...

It actually snowed enough to count here! The grass had to really fight to keep from being almost totally subsumed. For my readers from places with an actual 4th season instead of just an extra shade of gray, the picture below shows what happens to people's minds without a real winter to cool them down. Ah, icy grass sledding, I remember it well from my own youth in east Tennessee.

I was out early and had the first northbound tracks on the path. The snow was perfect this morning. Nice, cold powder and a decent bike is like your first bike ride and first snow all at once. It's really amazing how totally quiet and smooth the ride is. The Dutch bike did great, even though I don't have the best snow tires on it. I can't believe I biked so many Montana winters without discovering drum brakes. Between that and the super rearward weight distribution, I was even able to handle some pretty steep hills without slippage.

The only slight annoyance was that PDX people often feel the need to shout something at a snow biker who's just minding his or her own business. "You're brave!" was second only to "You're crazy!" Seasoned snow bikers know full well that either one makes an embarrassing slide out highly likely until one's safely out of sight. Before I loaded up some sweet directors' chairs scored at the thrift, one kindly old physicist decided to postulate an entire theory on what would happen when I tried to pedal away. Then I rode away without incident. To be fair, his static model probably failed to account for my 20 pounds of wobbling rear ballast, which I believe created a gyroscopic effect that made it impossible to fall. In fact, my bike's still standing straight up in the yard with the chairs wobbling on the rack as I type.

Enjoy what weather you have. Oh, and given this blog's frequency, merry Christmas, and happy Easter!