Technical FAQ: Successful winter commuting
Cyclocross nationals week is here in the United States and a number of readers have written looking for information on the venue and equipment recommendations. We’ll address two of those letters today, and look back at a recent column on winter commuting.
How do I wash my bike and warm up at nationals?
I’m about to head out to Boulder for nationals and see that you just got a bunch of snow. Looks like it won’t be the balmy weather you seem to have been having the last few weeks!
I’m staying in the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and doubt they’d want me bringing a muddy bike in there. Do you know where I can wash my bike?
What about warming up before the races? I won’t be flying with a stationary trainer, and it looks like it may be too cold and wet to warm up just riding around the area. Is there a place that would have trainers for warming up?
There is a public bike wash at the race venue (Valmont Bike Park). There is also a tent with stationary trainers for warming up in the Athlete Zone. On this map, see the Athlete Zone in the lower right (southeast corner) of the Valmont Bike Park. It is a tall concrete platform raised to height of the inside of a semi truck trailer, because in its former life it was as an industrial-scale indoor egg farm. That also explains the steel superstructure that used to support the corrugated metal walls and roof. It could not be remodeled or rebuilt without a massive expenditure, because the original structure does not adhere to modern building codes. Instead, the walls and roof have been stripped off, and tents have been erected under the steel girders, atop the concrete platform that used to be the floor of the chicken farm.
If you want to have a less-hassle, more upscale version, you can have somebody else wash your bikes, store them overnight, fix them when needed, and provide you with a place to warm up on them. Also in the Athlete Zone, you’ll find Pro Bike Express, a local company offering pro race service to anybody willing to pay for it. For past cyclocross nationals and for last year’s masters worlds, Pro Bike Express hauled bikes and equipment from Boulder and Denver to the venue and provided service there, but this year it will be only offering service at the race and no transport services. It has a 20’x140’ heated tent in the Athlete Zone with warmup and changing facilities as well as mechanics, spare parts, secure bike storage, and a massage therapist, and a barista. In the words of Chandler Snyder, Pro Bike Express’ mechanic, “This year Wes and I have pulled out all the stops and the operation is going to be tenfold what we had going on in Madison (Wisconsin in 2013) and in Louisville (Kentucky).” It’s too late for online registration with them, but they are accepting more clients at the venue.
Should I use mud tires at nationals?
I had Fangos on my wheels for nationals, since that’s what I had heard would be great for Valmont Park out there. But now that it snowed, should I change them? What kind of tires do you recommend? I race on Thursday.
It is cold today (Monday), but it will warm up a lot tomorrow and throughout the week. The official snow depth in Boulder was 10.7 inches as of Saturday night, but we had dustings again Sunday and Monday morning. At Valmont, it looked more like six inches. Forecast highs on Tuesday and Wednesday are in the mid-40s.
I think that it will stay muddy, at least until the weekend. This course uses more grassy hillsides than usually are incorporated in ’cross races at Valmont Park, and I’d be surprised if those did not stay muddy. There is also a crossing of the normally dry creek bed that has never been in a race at Valmont. So, where Fangos and file treads normally are great at Valmont, I would go with mud tires this week.
Using platform pedals in the snow
In a recent column, we addressed a reader letter focusing on studded tires and winter commuting. We received a bit of feedback on winter riding and will publish two notes here.
Peter White has an excellent discussion of different studded tires. I have no connection to his business.
When you are in conditions where you might slip and slide at low speeds, platform pedals can allow you to get your feet on the ground faster than shoes that are cleated in. I am using Shimano M324 pedals. A couple days ago I would have fallen if I was cleated in when taking a tight left turn at a slow jogging speed when my rear tire slide out from under me in loose snow, but with trail running shoes on the platforms, I got my foot on the ground fast enough to prevent a fall. I am using Schwalbe 26×2.0 Marathon Winter tires on one of my touring bikes, and at that time I had 30 psi in front, 50 psi in rear.
My rear pressure might have been too high for the conditions, but that is another topic.
A successful winter commuting set up
I have a 25-mile, paved rain, snow, or shine roundtrip commute in northern Colorado, so I thought I’d chime in.
I commute both on a road bike with slicks and on a ’cross bike with Schwalbe Mondials. The Mondials are slow but reliable in mild to moderate snow and slush.
My “nuclear option” for the worst iciest road conditions is the 700×35 Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tire with 240ish studs. In all of my winter, no-excuses, got-to-get-to-work-on-time commutes, I’ve never flatted or even punctured a Marathon Winter and the ones hanging in my garage now are three winters old and show very little wear.
When it,s very icy I roll at 30-35psi and if my return trip has cleared out (not uncommon here), I can inflate them to 60+ to minimize stud chatter and wear.
I used to be very quick to swap over to the studs if there was any snow on the ground, but over the years my comfort with just lowering the pressure on my semi-knobby commuters has increased dramatically.