Saturday, February 25, 2012

Biking on Ice




Fishtailing on purpose


Randy riding my all purpose mountain bike I've sometimes referred to as my "Fakendell" because it's paint job looks deceptively like the colors of a Rivendell Atlantis


At the starting line



Last weekend we had a blast goofing around on the ice of Lake Champlain on both bikes and skates.

Since the winter has been almost completely bereft of snow, skating is kind of the obvious choice.I was vaguely aware that there was some activity going on up on the lake centered around skating and biking on the ice and whatnot. Turns out there was a whole series of playful yet organized races and other events organized under the banner of Great Ice, centered on enjoying being out on the ice, and as luck would have it the day we decided to head up there were a series of fun bike races planned. It was early in the day when we decided to go and the sun was out and we didn't have any other commitments so I flew into action and got a bike I've had in a state of semi-disassembly for the last couple of years down off the hook in the basement, threw on the studded tires, replaced the shifter cable, mounted a saddle and called it good. Nance grabbed skates and we drove up to North Hero, which is a village up in the Champlain Islands.

When we got there there were awards for the kids who had participated in the fishing derby and there were some impressive fish. After registering I got myself ready to take part in the bike races. There weren't that many cyclists there so it wasn't like a big scary scene or anything--the guys that were there were glad to have another biker to fill things out a little. I've never ridden a bike on glare ice before, soI tried getting used to accelerating and turning and all that. I wasn't falling, but it felt like I could easily. My sense was I'd have to take corners pretty carefully and certainly not lean into them.

The first event was a drag race down a long strip. I did poorly but it wasn't so much a matter of ability as it was the nature of my studded tires compared to other guys who had installed a zillion sheet metal screws so their tires really had spikes whereas mine were nubs. The next race was a kilometer loop. I did poorly again for the same reason. At that point if felt like just staying up was impressive enough. When I got to try out some of the spiked bikes the difference was such that it didn't even feel like you were on ice, you just went as though you were riding on crunchy snow.

Nancy cheered me on a bunch and did some skating as well. There were people there who were skating on what are called Nordic skates, which are a lot like a mix of a speed skate and a cross-country ski. You wear x-country ski boots and click into the binding like you would a ski, so your heel is free. The skate its self is very long and flat except for a little curve at the front. It seems to be the new big thing and apparently very fast. You can rent them at Hero's Welcome, the general store right on the bay.

That night I called Lize and Randy and raved about what an excellent day we'd had and encouraged them to go give it a try when they got the chance. It turned out the next morning they decided to head up to check it out themselves. When I heard they were going I couldn't resist the opportunity to go indulge in another round of fun, despite bailing on some responsibilities at home.

Randy brought a bike with spiky tires and we had a great time just cruising around. Here's the interesting part: he tried out my bike and discovered that in fact the tires on my bike have an amazing ability to SEEM like you are going to go over but when the bike is angled over a little, the studs grip and you just go faster. His discovery totally changed my sense of riding and I found myself almost slaloming on the bike, swishing my rear wheel for grip and cruising on the center. It seems that the designers of the tires really knew what they were doing --it just wasn't obvious at first. I left the first day's races thinking I'd need to spike out my tires to really compete, but now I think maybe what I've got is really right on because you can get the grip you need if you swish a bit, but you don't have the resistance that a million long spike create

Maia and Solveig and Lize skated around a bunch and I had fun with the girls breaking open the semi-frozen holes in the ice left by fishermen. Lize rented a pair of Nordic blades and was pretty into the experience. Given that she and Randy are dedicated skate skiers, this seems like a natural cross-over.