Archive for December, 2010

Tire Review: Michelin WildRac’R 29 x 2.1

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

When Michelin sent us a test pair of the WildRac’R 29 x 2.1 tires to try I was completely pumped.  It uses a re-released tread design, one that in the past always caught my eye but I never got to for various reasons.  The tread gave away that this tire would be pretty fast, wildly grippy, and could rip into corners due to angled side knobs.  What immediately impressed me was the idea of designing the rear treads to be reversed for enhanced traction in climbs.

wildracr I was stoked.  I mounted them on my wheels that night, and the next morning headed out to hit the Michigan single track.  It was early Fall, one of my favorite times to ride.  The trail was dry but not sandy, the leaves barely started falling – it made for a great day to ride.

I took to these tires quickly, though the ride was quite a bit different than I was used to – 29 x 2.1 Kenda Small Block 8’s.  The Small Blocks are a really low profile, fast rolling tire with tightly spaced knobs that can lose it in corners and sand if you’re not careful.  With that in mind, here is my rundown on the Michelin WildRac’R tires after a good couple months of Fall riding.

Pros:

The tread design of these tires makes for both decent speed and traction.  A lower tread profile and closely spaced knobs allow the tire to roll pretty quickly, while the angled side knobs provide great cornering abilities.  These tires are not wildly fast or wildly grippy; they have a great combination of both, and the strength of the WildRac’R is the blend it provides.

I was really impressed with the cornering.  The angled side knobs, coupled with the wider footprint of 29er tires and a lower PSI, provided for great confidence hitting corners at speed.  I’m generally a pretty wimpy rider as far as taking risks and pushing the limits, but the traction provided by these tires had me experimenting with how fast and how hard I could lean into corners – and it was definitely more than something like the Kenda Small Block 8’s would allow. (more…)

Shake A Leg!

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

The winter stretch is probably the laziest time of the year.  Racing season is over, riding in the cold is definitely doable but less accessible, and the days are shorter.  My theory is that the lazy season sets in at the end of November.  For me, it’s sparked by the massive amounts of food consumed at Thanskgiving, which generally is enough to slow down my activity level for at least a couple weeks.  Then extreme feasting and chilling at Christmas parties and New Years, coupled with vacation for each of these holidays renders me pretty much useless.

But with the first week of January, the bug sets in to do something; run, bike, or at least do something other than watch James Bond marathons on TBS.  If you fall trap to the same dilemma, heres what I’ve found works pretty well:

  • Ride outside!
    • Commuting is a great way to get some miles in, and is probably not as difficult as you think.  We ran a segment a couple weeks back on the basics of winter commuting, here’s part 1 if you missed it.
    • Dirt Road riding is fun, great exercise, and quite liberating this time of the year.  We talked about dirt road riding in the fall here.
    • Mountain Biking in winter is often possible depending on your location.  As long as the trails are open and the snow is relatively packed down, biking in the woods is a lot of fun.  Use studded tires for extra traction in case of ice.
  • Ride inside!
    • Bicycle trainers allow you to get very similar exercise from cycling but with the warmth and accessibility of doing it within your own home.   Last year we talked about getting fit during the winter months, which covers the basics of trainer techniques and ways to make it more exciting than simply bicycling in one place.  Check that out here.
  • “Cross-Training”
    • Its basically a fancy word for doing some kind of exercise other than biking  to strengthen areas that the bike misses.  Jogging, walking, and weight lifting are the more common cross-training activities.
    • Yoga is one of my favorites.  Like biking, it helps clear the mind, and the focus on stretching helps out areas like the back and shoulders that can get stiff while cycling.  Plus, family members get to watch you fall over while trying to balance in funny positions.  Yoga for Athletes is great for beginners, even for the least flexible.

A Non-Studded Tire for Winter-Specific Riding

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

For those of us who have bit it in icy weather (its not difficult to do), you know that studded tires are more or less a necessity for riding in wintry conditions.  They dig in to ice, allowing for much better traction and making winter riding a lot more fun and safe.  For us in Michigan and in many other parts of the country, there is really nothing that substitutes a good pair of studded tires, especially for mountain biking and commuting in the ice and snow.

However studded tires do have some downsides:

  • The rolling resistance of studs, while not unbearable, does increase quite a bit.  This makes it more difficult to pedal, which results in one of two things:
    • (a.) decreased speed, or  
    • (b.) increased volume of your already massive quads
  • They work great on ice, but provide no benefit on pavement.  For riders who face lots of dry pavement and very little ice, the studs can wear down prematurely.

Riders who commute on dry roads but do see random splatterings of ice in small amounts get little benefit from studs, but  Continental has come to the rescue with their Top Contact Winter tires. 

topcontactwinter_uv

These tires, available in 700c and 26″ sizes, provide a studless tire that works great for winter and cold weather commuting.  The PolyX Breaker rubber compound combined with an agressive yet tightly spaced tread design offers much better grip and durability than any all-weather tires on the market, and will keep you upright should you hit that patch of ice or packed snow.

Though The Top Contact Winter will provide better traction on the ice than other all-season tires, its not designed to compete with studded tires.  Rather its an alternative for the cyclist who rides in below freezing temperatures on roads and paths that are regularly maintained.

So if studded tires never sounded good due to their bulk and slow rolling, try out the Continental Top Contact Winter tires.   They offer better grip and stability in icy conditions than any other tire on the market, without the negatives of going studded.

Winter Commuting 101 at The Corner Brewery

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
alanblog

Winter is here, is your bike ready?  Ben and Brian will be at the Corner Brewery in Monday, Dec. 20th with tips and tricks to make your bike the best it can be for the snow and ice.  They’ll be going through all the things needed to make your winter cycling fun, effective, and safe, and available to answer all of your questions.  Come by for advice, free door prizes, good company, and delicious beer!

Highlights:

  • Free door prizes – cold weather clothes, gear, and more!
  • Free pamphlet on how to keep your bike in great working condition
  • Hang out with other winter cyclists!
  • The rest of the Tree Fort Bikes crew will be there after the shop closes to relax, answer questions, and talk bike.

Details:

  • Monday, Dec 20th @ 7:00 pm
  • Corner Brewery, 720 Norris Street, Ypsilanti MI
  • Price: free!
  • 21+

Some Thoughts on Gravel Roads

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Dirt Road Riding  A couple weeks back we had a write up highlighting the new book Dirt Road Washtenaw: Biking the Back Roads, written by local cycling guru Rob Pulcipher.  Well since cyclocross season is now over, my weekends are far less occupied and I’ve taken to exploring some of the routes in Rob’s book.  I have to say, gravel road riding is a blast, and I’m so pumped about a new found love that I’ve got to say a few things about it.

These Michigan gravel roads in late Fall are beautiful, peaceful, and overall amazing – passing by small family farms, private woods, rivers and streams, one lane bridges, cemeteries, historic churches.  There are barely any cars, and when they do come by it’s such a rare occasion and at slower speeds that it’s not even a bother.   The scenery is always changing and some of the views are absolutely spectacular.
(more…)

Winter Commuting: Part 3 – The Clothing

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Our final installment on winter bicycle commuting will take a look at the potentially most important part of cycling in cold weather – clothing and cold weather gear.  Part 1 went over the basics, part 2 looked extensively at the stuff to outfit the bike, and now in part 3 we will take a look at accessories and gear to outfit the rider. 

These are our recommendations on products that will keep you warm and comfortable riding throughout the winter months.  We’ll start at the feet, and work our way on up.

Feet

Like stated earlier, cycling shoes and clipless pedals can work OK if you use booties for insulation, but otherwise we suggest using flat pedals, Power Grips, and winter boots for the best warmth without reducing pedaling efficiency (check here if you missed it).

The best way to keep your feet warm (other than good boots) is good socks.  Depending on temperature and shoe fit, the types of socks to use may vary for you.  Here are some general sock rules we’ve found that work best for keeping your feet nice and toasty:

  1. Leave some room.  Wearing 4 pairs of socks, insulating it may be, leaves no room for the toes to move around inside the shoe.  Since you can’t move toes at all, circulation to the foot slows and your feet will get cold quickly.  It’s generally better to use one sock and keep some room than to layer too many socks and have the toes be restricted.
  2. Wool works wonders.  Nice wool socks are awesome for several reasons.  They are super warm, the retain heat when wet, and they don’t retain sent (your co-workers will thank you for that one).
  3. Layer socks in the extra cold.  Just like layering for the rest of the body, use a thin wicking sock for the base, and a thicker insulating wool style sock at the outer layer.  Your shell, of course, should be a water proof, insulating boot.

Socks for the cold:

  • Wigwam Merion Wool Comfort Sock – The best you can ask for in a wool sock – warm, comfortable, breathable, and stink-free!  Use it as an outer sock layer on extra cold days
  • Wigwam Weather Shield Sock – One of the warmest socks we carry, with a tall neck and hugging design for extra warmth throughout the foot.
  • Smartwool PhD Lite ¾ Crew Sock – A base layer sock for wicking and warmth.  Easily layers due to its thin design, and wool provides excellent wick without the stink. (more…)

Winter Commuting: Part 2 – The Bike

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

This is the second installment of our three part series focusing on winter commuting.  Part 1 went over the fundamentals; the bare necessities that we suggest for riding in cold weather (in case you missed it).  With that out of the way, we’re now going to focus on killer products and handy techniques that will make your winter commute more enjoyable. 

This post is all about the bike.  We’ll be taking a good look at the parts, accessories, and maintenance that will help turn your bicycle into a sick all weather commuter.  So get your gloves and grow your beard (if applicable) – its winter and time to ride! (more…)