Here’s the tale of two consecutive rides on an ice glazed beach comparing my 1 year old Big Fat Larrys and a brand new set of 45NRTH Dillinger Studded tires. The rides were conducted on the same stretch of Lake Michigan beach in East Central Wisconsin at the beginning of January, 2013.
Ride #1 – Sunday with Big Fat Larrys(s) and mis Amigo Darrell
I set up a group ride back in January on one of my favorite little stretches of beach and I don’t know, if it was the Packers losing their playoff game or the fairly potent winter storm that glazed everything with half an inch of ice, the previous night, that limited the group to Darrell & I….but the excuses were numerous and varied. Darrel pulled into the ice glazed lot a little later than me, so while he was getting ready, I rode north along the breakwater to check out a new section of pathway that is under construction in front of the power plant. It really didn’t look all that icy. In the flat light the ground looked like it was covered in mostly snow and I rode up over a berm to the base of where they had placed a big pre-fabbed steel bridge over the power plant’s water outlet. I thought it would make a good picture, so I climbed up the small incline at the end of the bridge and as soon as I lifted thparkle up to about chest level, my feet slipped out from under me, sending the bike and I to the ground, quite unceremoniously! The ground looked like snow, but was glazed in ice. I gingerly rode back towards Darrell and when I got to the top of the berm, I could see Darrell a quarter of a mile down the beach. So our two man group ride started out with Darrell and I riding carefully along the beach…separately.
The conditions were ok in spots, but about 85% of the beach was super sketchy. I lowered my pressure as much as I dared and was still sliding all over the place. I went down a couple of times before I spotted that Darrell had turned around and was riding back towards me. We laughed about getting split up from the very beginning and then talked about the conditions. Darrell told me that he had wiped out really hard right out of the gate from the parking lot down onto the beach. We decided to soldier on from there and continued south. There were sections that you could ride pretty well, right at the surf line. Lake Michigan was low and calm, so waves weren’t the problem. Ice coated beach rocks and iced over creeks and seeps kept things very interesting for us along the way. I found myself looking for spots that had zebra muscle shells protruding from the ice glaze for traction, but there were a few spots where the ice glazed beach rock reduced us to pedestrians. I would say that half of my falls took place, while I was off of the bike. Darrell wasn’t fairing much better, but we kept a slow steady southern course. With the water level being so low and calm, we rode right past the driftwood and down to the Lion’s Den. We gingerly back tracked to the driftwood and took a break up in the crow’s nest. I think I fell down twice just walking on the trail up the arroyo. We broke out some snacks and had a beer, before heading back north towards home.
I tried to ride one of the trickier sections, that we had hike-a-biked on the way out and slammed to the ground in an uncoordinated thud and clatter of ice coated baby heads, rendered teflon slick by mother nature. Darrell provided me some much needed council as I was picking myself up off of the beach. Something about bone density and emergency rooms really hit home with me. With about a mile or so to go, I pinch flatted and limped it back with a couple of stops to add air, we made it back to the truck almost on the rim.
The whole ride I had been thinking about the brand new set of 45NRTH Dillingers sitting on my workbench and how I had to come right back the next day and see how they would handle these challenging conditions. That night, I set to mounting them to Thparkle’s Clownshoes. I gassed them up to 30 psi and they sort of just sat in the middle of the rim with an eighth inch gap between the rim and the tires bead. I brought them into the house to let them warm up and stretch overnight. The next morning, I let the air out and used a little soapy water on the beads. As soon as I inflated them to ~ 25 psi, the beads snapped into place and all systems were go!
Ride#2 – Monday with Dillinger(s) – Just me and Thparkle
With the inevitable deja vu from retracing the previous day’s steps, I arrived back at the icy parking lot next to the power plant and the conditions appeared to be just as they’d been the day before. I started off with 8 psi out front and 10 psi in the rear. My plan was to see if I could ride down to the driftwood without crashing or dabbing. Especially on sections that Darrell and I had to hike-a bike the day before.
The Dillingers tore these conditions up! I found myself looking for smooth glazed sections to carve graceful turns and play on sections that would have sent me sprawling to the ground without studs. It was very much like the first time that I rode a pair of Nokians excellent studded mountain bike tires. The Dillingers studded grip inspired confidence and handled even the loose frosted beach rock sections with ease. Off camber sliding was minimal and the tires have a very predictable secondary grip that is very impressive. Where we had to carefully crawl our way along the surf line without studs, I found that before I knew it I was all the way to lions and headed further south at a nice comfortable pace into uncharted mileage of lakefront (for me). After about an hour I turned about started to head back.
On my way back, I stopped at the driftwood to make some lunch. In addition to running studded tires, I had installed a few Grip Studs to the bottom of my boots. So I stayed upright on the short hike up to the crow’s nest to make lunch. I fired up the stove and made some spicy thai noodles and sipped hot tea with a gorgeous front row seat to the visual splendor that is Lago de Michoacán. After a nice break, I packed up and jumped back on Thparkle for the last stretch of beach on the way back to the truck.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with Big Fat Larrys. I really like BFL’s for beach and trail riding. It just so happened that in these particular icy conditions along with, glare ice, glazed pavement or frozen lake riding, the Dillingers are the optimal tire for the job. I spent a few weeks riding the Dillingers in both snow and bare ice and will be re-installing my Big Fat Larrys, because the Dillingers will be going to Chris Zito for additional testing. In addition to being a member of the MPLS Singlespeed Mafia, Zito is the un-official Mayor of Klode Park Beach and is the tallest of Fat-Bike.com’s Bike Black Ribbon Test Pilots…..and a total riot to ride with!