The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Give blood: ice racing!

Despite the fact that we're having the wimpiest Minnesota "winter" I've ever seen, 2012 turned out to be another good year for the growing trend of ice bike racing. I first tried my hand at homemade studded tires two years ago for the City of Lakes Loppet and decided to give it another try this year. I learned some valuable lessons last time, namely don't skimp on studs. So this time around I had to visit several local hardware stores to come up with enough #8 x 3/8" and #8 x 1/2" pan-head sheet metal screws to get the job done. The pile you see in the top photo is nowhere near the final total I wound up using (I lost count, but I think I had 350-400 studs in the front tire alone).

I also improved my construction process this time, using a 2x4 on end to support the tire while predrilling the lugs from the outside. This serves two purposes: it makes it easier to find the lug from the inside of the tire when installing screws (they're installed with the points facing out) and (this one is conjectural) it reduces the chance of a lug splitting when a screw is installed.

By the time I was done both ends of the 2x4 looked like they had a bad case of termites. And of course the tool end of the screws isn't as pointy as the business end, but you still have to line the tire with something to protect the inner tube. This year I cut up some old inner tubes and held them in place on the inside of the tire with duct tape.
And after several hours of very tedious work, I finally had a bristling set of race tires. Here's a close-up of the front...
...and here's the rear. And yes, my race bike is equipped with V-brakes. Anyone remember those? Something about V-brakes on an old, beat-up Surly 1x1 makes me smile.
The other fun part of this project was rigging up my Bikes at Work trailer to haul my race bike. Not like it was terribly involved--most of the work is done by a Saris fork mount which does a great job of holding the bike in place. I have to wrap the front wheel in a towel (not shown) to keep it from chewing the heck out of everything else while I'm towing. Which brings me to my safety message: it's a rare interaction with ice-racing tires that doesn't involve bloodshed; those babies are sharp!

Which is, of course, the point. With the number of studs I had in these tires, I had incredible grab even on pure ice-rink conditions. I could come screaming into a sharp corner, stick out my inside foot and get off the saddle towards the inside, and pretty much lay the bike down to horizontal without losing control. Though that technique requires building up a good head of steam into every corner, which would require that I be in a little better race fitness than I actually am, but even with both feet on the pedals I could lean the bike over pretty well. I was able to make plenty of outside-of-the-corner passes around riders who were tiptoeing around the track on their factory studded tires.

Altogether it was another fun project, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. Just be prepared to set aside a couple weekend afternoons and have your work gloves handy!

[Edit, Feb 14, 2012--Here are a couple shots of me trying to lean it over on a frozen lake in northern Minnesota on a subzero day. The ice was so hard because of the low temps that I couldn't really pitch it in, but you get the idea...]