The first showing of the best all-time Sci-Fi TV programme (in my view), Thunderbirds, was in 1964, and the series ran up to 1966. Forget Star Wars, this was waaaaaaaay ahead of its time, and set 100 years later (2065-2067) than its production date. For young kids at the time, an episode of Thunderbirds had action, special effects, personalities, hero’s and villains and above all, an amazing music soundtrack. For the uninitiated, Thunderbirds was the name of the 5 technologically advanced land, sea and space rescue craft, and they all formed part of International Rescue, which was run by the Tracy family from a secret island in the Pacific Ocean.
Thunderbirds was also a great 1960s commercial thinking example, because it had ‘the brand’, the programme, the music (you could buy it on vinyl), and a massive range of products so that every kid could play out their own episodes in their bedroom, on the sofa, or in the garden. Magical. The big marketing machine set-off to take over sitting room TV’s and toy shop windows, which they did very effectively. There was even a re-run of the toys in the early 1990s, and demand exceeded supply. Obviously, the original 1960s toys that are left today and haven’t been played-to-destruction by kids, are collectors pieces. Anyway, if you want to know more about Thunderbirds, just check it out on Wiki or YouTube.
Ever since I heard that classic theme to the start of every Thunderbirds programme “5, 4, 3, 2, 1: Thunderbirds Are Go!”, I think about it when I’m about to do something which needs a big, energy start; this could be something at work or my own biking equivalent of launching(-ish) off a cliff at the Red Bull Rampage. Sometimes, you need an epic audio start to really energise the soul. So, the quick ‘Swiss-cheesy’ clip below, which pays homage to Thunderbird 2’s ‘special equipment pod’, will hopefully set the scene for the rest of this post……
Mission day: It is a cold, dry and crisp, Swiss January day, and as in the video, the pod inside Thunderbird 2 contains a special mission bike. This electric mountain bike can climb or descend anything that International Rescue (me) has thrown at it to date, but hasn’t yet been tested in snow and ice? This mission is a test of technology so that in the event of a Alpine call out for the International Rescue team, it’ll do the job. The main test is to assess the grip capability of the newly added ice tyres in fresh and hard-packed snow, as well as solid ice, whether on a road or a lake.
To protect Thunderbirds secret activity, the bike is transferred from the pod of Thunderbird 2 to a VW van. This van provides the undercover disguise so that the test can go ahead in populated areas. The top secret tyre maker (Schwalbe, so don’t tell anyone, cos’ it is ‘maybe’ a secret) has provided their ‘Ice Spiker Pro’ tyres. They were even paid for at a local bike shop (Cycles Colin, Vevey). The bike, an equally secret (even though you can buy one like it) Trek Powerfly 7, launches out of the van and straight out onto a solid ice surface. Grip is phenomenal and the electric motor drives it confidently across the ice. Brake testing on the ice also proves excellent, with no skidding when the brakes are applied. It just grips and stops.
The mission is to cycle out and meet two other undercover, tracked snow vehicles, which are also being tested. The rider (me) speeds out from the ice onto hard packed snow, which has an icy crust. The trail has short, steep climbs and descents, and the bike handles both really well. Speeds up to 50 kmh are recorded in the -4 degrees C temperature. The grip and traction from the motor and tyres ensure that the bike keeps moving across the surface and doesn’t get bogged down in the snow. Even though this is a test of capability, the International Rescue pilot (me) can’t stop smiling from ear to undercover ear. The trail ends and transitions onto a snow and ice covered road. Again, the grip is amazing. The noise from the tyres varies according to the surface. On hard snow, only the whine of the Bosch motor can be heard. On anything else, there is the sound of serious crushing ice.
The first rendezvous is made with a small tracked vehicle (below) that is laden with latest technology and equipment, and which is so secret, I can’t tell you about it here. Honest.
On completion of this first part of the testing mission, the bike is thrashed across snow which has been hard packed, but has now become much more ploughed up by cross-country skiers. Even though the tyre pressures are low, the bike does get bogged down in the deep snow. This was anticipated, and testing notes are made to use much fatter tyres in this environment. Back on the icy roads and trails and the bike races along. The battery is not reducing its power levels as fast as expected, even though it has been used in its eMTB mode for extra traction.
The final rendezvous is made and this vehicle has been left mostly covered in snow, even though it is clearly a tank. It looks like an old tank, which actually disguises its secret interior, now bursting with technology…….
A race back to the VW van takes even less time than the ride out as the pilot (me) has way more confidence in the capability of the bike and tyres. On arrival back at the van, the bike is quickly loaded and then driven off to meet a waiting Thunderbird 2, now obviously in another very secret location. On the flight back to Tracy Island, the data from the test is downloaded inside the pod of Thunderbird 2 and immediately transmitted to those that need it. The test is deemed a great success and International Rescue now have confidence that this type of tyre technology will ensure the success of future winter missions. Fact!
If you are in a part of the world that gets weather like I’ve described above, it really does justify getting some of these tyres whether you’re on an eMTB or just a plain human powered MTB.
On behalf of International Rescue, I’ll be doing more testing. Secretly, of course.
All photos by the author