The real test came. The path ahead steepened. And I stood up and pounded on the pedals. The bike surged forward and over the incline as I'd intended it to.
So what was the test? Three inches of snow on top of a layer of ice.
Monday I did another fun arctic commute on The One. But this time I was armed with my new Slipnot Traction System (bike chains).
I'll admit I was skeptical that the chains would benefit me, an "experienced" winter cyclist, but I needed an added boost to my confidence at the beginning of this wintry season. The long debate between studded tires and chains was over. Chains had won out in my mind. But the confirmation was yet to come.
My rationale was that chains are much easier to put on and take off than a set of tires. Theoretically chains should be easier. So based on that assumption I ordered a set of chains.
I chose the small set which are intended to be used on 26x1.9 to 26x2.25 sized tires. The Cannonball X has 26x1.5s and The One has 26x2.1s. My intention, at least initially, was to use The One (Cannondale Trail SL 2 MTB) on snowy days. Then in the future when I replace the tires on the Xtracycle I will be cognizant of the slightly larger size tires needed to work with the chains and go with those.
That was really just a throwaway idea in the beginning, but after using the chains I don't think the long wheelbase will be as much of a liability as I had initially believed. I'm not saying the X will go as well as the shorter wheelbase MTB, but I think it will go better than conventional wisdom would allow. And I'll tell you why.
The chains provided much better sure-wheeledness than I'd predicted, especially on ice. In situations when I would have been squirreling all over the place, or losing all traction, I kept right on going, solidly in a straight line. I could apply as much power as I wanted and the bike moved. When I needed to stop the bike stopped. On a dime. No slip-sliding away.
The major cons I see are this: the chains are not super easy to whip on if yo're riding along and encounter snow or ice. A unit of consumption would be a single ride. Put them on before, take them off after. Anything less is going to be painful. Also, I chose to keep the PSI low in the tires after installing. This will slow you down over a few miles. Combine that factor with slogging through a few inches of snow and you're looking at a serious workout. Maybe not a con?
The second day I encountered a significant amount of hard, dry surfaces. I can see some wear on the chain links. It is apparent that the links could wear through rather quickly and there is no warning against riding on dry pavement anywhere on the packaging or on the website that I could find.
I would recommend limiting dry use, which brings us back to installation and removal on the go. You may want to carry a small pair of pliers to remove the chains if the surface conditions do not warrant their use.
I am satisfied with the Slipnot Traction System. I think they perform well, and even if there are a couple of weaknesses, I think the flexibility over studded tires is a huge selling point. I'll provide an update later in the winter commuting season.