I asked people in our club about the condition of the rail trail. Only one respondant said "you better have studs or fat tires - it's all ice!" So within hours of that response, off I went to the bike shop to get some Kenda Klondikes with studs. They are heavy as hell (almost 1.5lbs each).
Last night as I'm prepping the cross bike for winter-time commuting action by installing these beasts, I run my hands over the spokes on the rear wheel which is now in my lap. I hear a noise, then some movement. Holy crap! I have a broken spoke. So I decide to check the others while I'm at it and holy crap, another one! Two broken spokes, both busted right at the collar of the hub. Both on the drive side, maybe 10 or so spokes apart from each other. In all the thousands of miles I've ridden, I've never had one single broken spoke. I had no idea what to do about them. A few texts exchanged with Matt Remus and I decide I'm riding it with them missing. Safe! The rim was a bit wobbly, but figured it would be worth a try. Better than my other option to install the studded tire on my ROAD bike rim - for I wouldn't have any brakes due to them being rim brake only. Glad I didn't do that.
Next was strategizing the wake up time, leave time and depart location. Wake up time ended up being 4:20 am, leaving the house at 5am. I say "depart location" because having scouted various sections of the rail trail (the most dependable and safest commuting route for me), I knew I was going to be dealing with some rather terrible conditions. It was due to rain that night, then shift to snow later in the afternoon after getting windy - and what was already there, wasn't good.
Past winter-time riding experience also told me that no matter how I'm dressed, if the temps are between 20-40 degrees, I'm good for about 90 minutes of exposure. Less than 20 degrees, and I had better limit my time to 60 minutes or less. Knowing that the route was going to be wet and icy, I guessed at my average speed to be around 10mph, which would leave me with too long of a time to be out on the trail if I left right from home. Also knowing that the trail is not plowed north of 14 mile road, (the first 4 miles of my ride) it would likely spell disaster for a "fun commute" into work. I made the decision to rack the bike and drive to Rockford for my departure there. "Cheating!" some of you say, but wait a minute...I make the rules here! And, what the hell were you doing on January 26 - uh huh - commuting in your warm, comfy, leather encased seat listening to talk radio and screaming at idiots on the road. Sounds great, I'm sooooo jealous. (At least, that's how I talked myself into doing this.)
Entering Rockford. Wet, but pretty.
Anyways, back to the story....leaving from Rockford turned out to be a very good guesstimate on my part. Each trip took about 80 minutes, and I averaged between 10-12mph. Good pace for ice and wet conditions. Things were very wet to begin with, hard to see through my glasses. Cold, but I had all the right layers for warmth and wind/rain protection. I was actually pretty cozy. My rear fender kept my ass from getting wet. (Very important)
The first 2-3 miles were total ice. The Klondikes performed beautifully. So stable and grippy. Only inflated to 60lbs, they stayed nice and pliable and able to grip all ruts. About half way to work, the rain/snow stopped and the wind kicked in. Made it to work in super-happy spirits. What fun to brave the elements and operate on the fringes of "acceptable behavior". ha ha
Later in the day, as I watched the radar to prepare for the ride home, I saw a band of snow coming and it wasn't dissipating but building. Okay, here we go! Put the bat suit on and get out there, man!
Wasn't bad actually. Better than rain. The hardest thing about it though was that the snow was coming down thick enough to cover the road and hide all the ice. I had to rely on shadows and textures from my headlight and then by feel of my bars. Bumpy like a dirt road = ice. Smooth and the clack, clack, clack of the studs = pavement.
Saw two fat bikers, one mountain bike and a few people running/walking dogs on my way home. Everyone seemed jacked to be out in the snow when no one else was. I love the unspoken camaraderie experienced when you roll up on those people.
Early next week looks to be near 40 degrees. That will also be February. Might have to get my next month's worth of commuting within a week from now!
Snowy commuter lane.
Even snowier rail trail. No tracks, fresh snow.
This section was particularly super quiet. My favorite thing about winter riding, the silence.
My reward: Skillet Lasagna with homemade garlic toast. My wife makes a special dinner for my commutes. It just sort of started last year or so. It makes me ride faster so I can get home quicker. Its always something different and she's such a great cook.
I love her for accepting the "affliction" I have for cycling.