Though it was a relief to get free of the roads and the winds that froze the toes, the snow and woods offered their own harsh realities. Riding was simply impossible at times and demoralizing like a seemingly endless cyclocross sandpit the remainder. Even the downhills took their toll, the half-frozen trails never fully gave you rest, but demanded an incessant attention to the tracks, an effort that I think tested my balance and focus like nothing before, and is largely responsible for my great fatigue.
Putting aside commentary on the difficulty of the day, it must be said that the riding was incredible. The usually vicious and sometimes macabre tricks and turns of the Fells were all smoothed over by the snow. Bombing down the harshest descents is a pleasant and peaceful experience, the snow providing a soft landing should one need to bail. And who among men can deny the satisfaction of an afternoon in the woods on a pure winter day.
The home-brew tire chains had their maiden voyage on this ride. While they did not solve the largest problem of the day, punching through the soft-packed trail, they certainly bought the extra grip needed for conquest of the ascents and ice. Though the chains earned their keep, the best advantage would have come from having the support of wider tires for that extra float. There was at best an 8" wide section of semi-solid trail. Venturing even an inch off of this window increased the work requirement by at least 100%.
But back to the chains. Overall assessment: a worthwhile addition, though the design needs refinement. I was worried that the paved roads to and from the Fells would wear through the stranded brake cable leaving a set of puncture ready wires strapped to my wheel. This proved not to be the issue of the day, though that aspect should be considered for long term use. Rather it was the loss of a wire terminator which left a two of the cables slapping the Yeti and me, though I was able to ride on by wrapping these around a spoke.
While 300-count carbide studded tires may be excessive for the demands of the Resevoir Trail, they are certainly simpler and have the added benefit (?) of encouraging one to ride on frozen lakes (I'm still at heart a West Coast boy - this business of venturing out onto frozen lakes doesn't sit right with me). In short, the tire chains provide enough purchase to make getting up some of the steeper sections of the Fells possible, and at a cost of few dollars, old brake cables and two hours of labor, they should be considered a fine investment. Grade report: interesting concept, utility recognized, economics satisfying, design is cumbersome and a bit unreliable = B- (if I were actually impartial I would give a C+).
Final philosophical extension: Some people choose to wear suspenders, others belts, and others let their pants hang low. Some cyclists hit the trainer and measure their progress in speculation and Watts per kilogram per calorie, others hit the road and endure the thrashings of the winter to exorcise their weakness, and others attempt to live with the seasons establishing a harmony with their world. Each of our stories is complex, mysterious and deep in its own way. If we cannot always express our understanding in words, our actions often speak for us. Our choices provide a commentary on our nature, our history and our intentions.