In 1987, while working as a ski patroller during the long months between cycling seasons, he read a magazine story about ice cycling and decided to try it himself. He went to a hardware store, bought a box of sheet-metal screws and began making his own pair of studded tires. "It was like knitting," says King. "It took days and days for me to finish them, and I had no idea what to expect." The tires worked surprisingly well, and for King, bicycling suddenly became a year-round obsession.
Many ice cyclists are like King: former skiers who now complain when there is too much snow, which has a tendency to cover precious ice. Nobody knows quite how many ice cyclists there are in Vermont: Estimates range from a few dozen to several hundred, but everyone agrees the number is growing. One reason is that tires are now much easier to acquire—ice cyclists simply drop by Kevin Harrington's place to purchase a pair.
Harrington, 36, is the president (and sole employee) of Vermont Stud Service, the state's only studded-tire company. Harrington, who advertises in mountain-biking publications but relies largely on word of mouth, has seen his business double each year since he founded it in 1989. His office is a renovated milking room in an old barn in the hamlet of Pawlet. He makes two varieties of tires: 265 studs and 364 studs—the more studs the greater the grip on the ice—and sells them for $55 and $65, respectively.
Both Harrington and his wife, Kathleen, are avid ice cyclists, and the Harringtons' barn doubles as a hangout for local iceheads. Immediately after their conquest of Rattlesnake Mountain, King and his friends drop by for a visit. Ice cyclists seem to have a strange fondness for gory anecdotes, and the conversation for a while is about terrible falls and dramatic endos, and how best to wash blood out of your clothes. Then the cyclists begin planning a midnight ride, which will mean using lights mounted on handlebars or helmets. Finally, a radio is switched on, and everybody listens to the weather report.
"Freezing rain later tonight, with temperatures dropping into the teens by morning," says the forecaster, in a grave voice. The announcer warns people to stay off the roads if at all possible because of the danger of ice buildup. At this, everybody in the barn breaks into great whooping cheers.