There are those who may feel that biking is a summer sport, a sport meant only for those times that the roads are free of ice and snow. In the past few years, however, most bikes have been getting larger. Getting tougher. And there is now a studded tire available, targeted specifically for mountain bikes.
Studded bicycle tires were originally a product of Finland, developed by a company called Nokian. Brad Carver, of Beemun's Variety in Soldotna, sells the Nokian tire for $109. This tire, at 26 inches, has 296 studs and is, said Carver, "the Cadillac of studded bike tires."
"This tire sheds snow really well," said Carver. "It's a tire for a commuter."
There is another tire available, at a lower price, as well. The IRC Blizzard, a product of Japan, with fewer studs and a narrower width, may not be quite the tire the Nokian is. But, at $43, if you are watching the pennies, it is certainly more affordable.
Michael Seward, 31, an assistant of Carver's and a student at Kenai Peninsula College, has owned a set of Nokians for three years.
"I ride the bike constantly," he said. "The tires are great on street ice or glacial ice. But you can't lay into a corner the way you can on dry pavement."
Seward said that he has saved five times in gasoline what his Trek road bike and tires cost him to purchase.
Seward said that a person has to figure their own tire pressure, based on their weight and riding habits. He weighs 230 pounds, and usually runs his tires at 50 pounds per square inch. A person who weighs less might want to run their tires a bit lower.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Michael Seward pedals to his next stop after working out in a gym in Soldotna last week. An avid rider, Seward said he was on his bike about 300 days last year.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Both Seward and Carver stressed the dangers of riding when the temperatures have just begun to warm, saying that it is better to ride when it is colder than when it is just above freezing and getting slushy.
"Above 28 degrees is when it gets slick," said Carver. "If it's too warm, that's when you start to sink in snow. It may also be too icy to be safe."
Carver also mentioned that, if you are trapped in wet snow and having a hard time pedaling through it, one trick is to lower the pressure in your tires.
"It will be a lot easier to bike through wet snow if your bike's tires are at 20 p.s.i. instead of 30 to 40 p.s.i.," said Carver. "This is because the lower pressure allows for more surface area on the tires, and more traction. The only problem you can run into at lower pressures is the possibility of shearing off your valve-stem."
Anyone considering riding a bike in Alaska might wonder where to ride. Seward rides his bike on the street, all year round. He takes it to the college and the fitness center. But he never rides his bike right after a snowstorm, because of the way plowing is done.
"The roads are too narrow. I wouldn't want to be at fault if an accident occurs."
Seward also stressed the fact that while the residents of Soldotna are always courteous to him when he rides, he thinks that courtesy is earned.
"People think that when you ride a bike in the winter in Alaska, you are an individual, and most Alaskans respect individuality. But I dress properly, in reflective clothing, and I use lights and flashing rear reflectors on my bike," he said. "Drivers are hostile when you are not lit up. They don't want to turn a corner, see you suddenly come out of nowhere, and have to lock up the brakes and go into a spin to avoid you."
The lighting system Seward uses has a rechargeable battery-pack that lasts about five hours. There is also a halogen-powered front light available that uses C batteries. For the rear reflector lights, the choices are many.
"There are at least four choices available to customers," said a salesman at Beemun's. "There are several that you can switch from pulsating, to flashing to a steady red light, depending on your preference."
Carver said that those who don't want to risk the main roads can always choose a good snowmachine trail, if they have studded tires.
"As long as it's cold enough, you can ride a bike on the hardpack. You have to be careful, though, that it isn't too warm," said Carver. "You don't want to sink."
There are a number of bike paths available throughout the Kenai Peninsula. The Chugach National Forest has several trails, among the most popular being Resurrection Trail, Johnson Pass, and Russian Lakes Trail. Resurrection Trail is a 38-mile stretch with a trail head located at Mile 53 of the Sterling Highway and another outside of Hope. All these trails are accessible year-round, for those who are not daunted by the thought of ice and snow.
As always, the Forest Service recommends checking trail conditions and the avalanche forecast before venturing out.
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