Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Testing one, two: Done.

Last week our backyard mountain received another 37" atop it's already 400" of snowpack.  Finding rideable conditions has been challenging of late.  Perusing weather websites and webcams I guessed that we'd have a bit of a window on Monday afternoon, so I took a good friend and snowbike newb up for a spin.

Honey light came and went through the day, appearing just often enough, and for just long enough, to make you really appreciate it both when it was there and as soon as it departed.

Jeny is out of town thus I loaned her bike to Skippy, figuring he'd be able to ride more on a known-to-be-amazing snowbike.  This also gave me yet another opportunity to observe the Terrene Johnny 5 tires, and to compare them to my Vee 2XL's.

A recent wind event meant that not everything was rideable, and also that we'd have occasion to do some pushing and very, very low pressure riding.

"When I was 49, it was a very good year..."  Sinatra fans might get that one.

A lack of traffic since that recent wind event meant that we got to do a lot of trailbreaking.  Riding packed track is fun and fast, but the silky silence when rolling over inches of fresh snow is a treat to be savored.

Early on I turned Skippy's steering damper off, explaining that since he'd never ridden snow before, and since there were so many other sensations involved that would be new and potentially confusing to him, that having the damper on might just be too much, too odd, too different from what he was used to feeling.  Too un-bike-like.  He didn't protest.  Very shortly into the ride, he caught up to me at an intersection after having augured in, tipped over into waist deep snow, then taken some time to extract himself.  When finally he'd put himself back on top of the trail surface and caught his breath, he cranked the steering damper down tight for the rest of the ride.  I actually saw him check it a few times later on, to see if there might be yet more damping on offer.

They are nifty little units, and for this kind of riding they are invaluable.

The most notable thing, with respect to the tires we're riding and their attendant differences, came near the end of the ride where there is a short, steep, punchy and not always makable climb.  In summer it taxes you but in winter, with the added weight of the bike, added resistance from so much clothing, added drag from massive tires run at unthinkably low pressures, and a distinct lack of hard riding since months ago, this climb is savage.  

Fortunately it's also pretty short.

As it slowly unfolded in front of us I commented to Skippy that, "We ain't leaving until this thing goes clean."  I didn't actually know if that was possible given current conditions, but I like to set lofty goals.  Skippy went first, making it to a bulge near the middle of the hill where his rear tire spun and he dabbed.  Then I gave it a shot, not waiting long enough for him to clear the trail before trying, because when I got to where he was I couldn't get past him and had to dab.  Back to the bottom for both of us.

On my second try my wheel lightly spun at the aforementioned bulge, but I was able to hunker down and scrabble for traction, and made it past there, and then past the off camber crux, and then rolled over the top, gasping.  I leaned over the top tube and caught breath while watching Skippy give it another go.  He spun out at the same bulge that got him the first time.  After a moment of catching his breath he turned and descended for another crack.  And on that third try his rear tire spun at the same mid-hill bulge.  Curious now how much difference the tires were making, I rolled back down to the bottom and swapped bikes with him.

This time, riding my bike with the Vee 2XL tires, he ripped right up, over the bulge, past the crux, all the way to the top.  I followed on Jeny's bike with the J5's, slipping and spinning and barely, just barely making it over the bulge, then continuing to slip and spin and scramble for traction at the crux, then gasping I made it up over the top.  When finally I'd caught breath enough to speak, we agreed wholeheartedly that the 2XL gave much, much better traction than the J5.

Although we have lots of winter left and (hopefully) hundreds more inches of snow to come, there isn't a lot more to say about these two tires, at least in terms of the conditions that we generally ride them in.  If I need a big tire with studs I'll gladly choose the Johnny 5.  For anything that can be done in the alpine, in winter, without studs, the Vee 2XL has proven to be the superior tire across a range of conditions and riding pressures.

Don't hesitate with questions.


  1. Thank you for sharing so much info, Mike.
    I have two questions. I remember you comparing mechanical and hidraulic disc brakes many moons ago and concluding that the hidraulic ones had much more braking power. Now you're riding with mechanic ones, could you clarify why?
    Have you ever slung your leg over a Christini AWD fat bike? If so, what are your thoughts on them? And I can't help but to wonder what a collaboration between you and Christini would produce.

    1. Hydro brakes have limitations in *very* cold weather. I run mechs on our snowbikes to extend the serviceable range down into the negative unmentionable temps. Rare to need exceptional braking on snow, so we give up power in favor of reliability.

      I rode a Christini maybe 15 years ago. Can't remember being impressed by it in any direction, but would be open to trying again.

  2. Thank you for the explanation, Mike.