Winter Cycling - Snow riding techniques?
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I would think I would ride in the snow a lot here in WI but it hardly ever happens. When it does, I find myself ill-prepared for the concentration required. What I want to know, is if there are any techniques or skills I can practice to make the snow riding easier.
Conditions in question:
1. Temps ~ 20F, mostly packed snow, but melting in areas where salted...somewhat slushy with a bit of snow gunk between tire tracks. No warning drop down from packed to slushy areas and frequent slips of the front wheel.
3. Refrozen Slush
I find 3 almost impossible, 2 is a workout but I make progress and 1 is a constant effort to stay upright. I'm riding 2" nasbar studs on my rigid mtn bike, but I still feel like I'm on the verge of falling with condition 1. Is this "normal" or are there things I can do to improve?
That said, I rode to work this morning with conditions 1 and I'm still grinning. Snow riding is a blast!
01-15-07, 09:23 AM
Ruts in slippery conditions are extremely difficult to navigate. They are especially difficult on snow covered roads where it is often difficult or impossible to see the ruts before you encounter them. Things you can do:
Lower the pressure in you tires. This will provide better traction and you will be less likely to slip sidewise into ruts and if you do it is easier to climb back out of them before you fall.
Anticipate the ruts by keeping an eye out for them. If you can ride in virgin snow or ride in the widest car tread mark. Try to transition into and out of melted spots by crossing the intersection between the 2 at right angles.
Other than that I guess you can work on balance and reaction times. I'm guessing MTB trail riding is good experience. The other option is to gain experience by riding on snowy roads when you can get the chance instead of waiting for a commute.
There is really no magic technique to compensate for unstable surface conditions. In other words if the surface that your tires are working on is prone to movement or other instability than riding a bike on said conditions is difficult. I know of no manner of riding that will counteract this.
I've read where some suggest allowing the front wheel to travel in the direction of the slide and not to counter act when it starts to slide, but that has never really worked for me. The worst conditions to ride in are where the surface moves when your tire encounters it. Those are some of the conditions that you described above.
I try an mimimize riding on those types of roads if possible, but i do end up on them, i just try and ride as cautiously as possible. The best condtions are when things are frozen solid or when you have brand new, undisturbed snow.
I had a weekend of riding on sleet here. We ended up with about .75" of sleet on the ground and my studded tires were perfectly suited for these conditions. There was not enough depth to the accumulated substance to make the bike unstable, and the studs were perfect.
Anyway, to answer your question, i don't think you will find a "technique" to counter roads that tend to give way under your bicycle tire. The bicycle is a bad match for those conditions and the best you can do is be careful or avoid those roads all together until they improve.
01-15-07, 09:54 AM
I'm sure not everybody will agree with me but practice riding through sand traps. I use pretty much the same technique on snowy slushy muddy roads trails that I do to get through the ubiquitous sand traps in Moab. Although frozen ruts need more active control, I find I almost have to let the bike wander where it wants to and pretend like I'm riding with no hands in the softer stuff. To much muscling the bike around and the front wheel either stuffs or washes out. To get back on your line you have to use your body, lean whichever way you want to go, and let the bike find its own way there.
I must agree that lower tire pressures will help too. I'm usually down in the range of 35-40 psi when doing my half-dozen or so snow rides every year. I also find studs help very little unless I'm on tightly packed snow or ice. I have a set of studded IRC Mud Max 1.95's that I rarely use. They will maintain traction in anything with their huge knobs but they're a little too narrow to float when conditions are merely soft. I'd rather have the float provided by a 2.2-ish tire with a large volume casing in the softer stuff and then slow down, take my chances, and trust my balance on the ice.
I can tell you these tips.
* When pedalling through snow, slush, mud, sand, or ice... Keep your butt DOWN, shift as low as you need to, and spin if you gotta. Once you stand up to get leverage, you'll start to lose rear wheel traction. Studs will do no good on slush or powder. They might help a little on hardpack.
* When you turn, don't lean a whole lot. You'll need to turn wide. Start steering, and if you're on a squishy surface, you will "plow" a bit before you start turning. I usually hang my inside foot (left foot for a left turn, right foot for right) off the pedal, ready to catch me if the bike slips out from under me. Lean as slightly as possible, once the front tire has some purchase, and ride the corner out. Turning on ice without studs uses a similar technique but you have to be about 5 times more careful. With studs, ice is actually easier to turn on than slush.
* Rough ice (layer of ice textured with sleet, frozen rain, sand, debris from snow plows, or salt) is not bad to ride on. It's harder to get traction, and harder to stop on, but I usually don't feel like i'll fall over. Just be patient. Studs WILL help on rough ice.
* I seldomnly run across "skating rink smooth" ice in large quantities. It's usually rough ice or slush, with the rare patch of glare ice spanning 5-20 feet. If this is the case, I hang my feet off the pedals so I can catch myself, but otherwise use momentum to glide across patches of glare ice. Keep in mind that as long as your wheels are spinning, they are, in essence, a pair of giant gyroscopes that will help keep you upright. Even on ice.
* If you encounter a lot of textured and glare ice, get studded tires.
01-15-07, 11:04 AM
Practicing riding on curbs in the summer lets me follow a packed car track better in deeper snow.
It's also a rather generic MTB skill these days.
Otherwise, letting the bike slide a bit and not trying to use brute force to get it to go in an absolutely straight line speeds things up.
01-15-07, 09:06 PM
Wonderful snowstorm this morning. Just for kicks, took my bike out before going to work (I wasn't going to commute on bike, being very unfamiliar with how my bike would handle). This was fresh powder and impossible to navigate through. Plowed roads covered in slush were better, but still I was concentrating harder than I've ever had to. After picking up a pair of studded Nokians after work, I installed them and went for a short ride tonight. It seemed better, but then again, the roads were plowed. Still, the snow wasn't packed hard, and I found the shifting surfaces kept me sufficiently uncomfortable to make me wonder if I'll ever get used to this.
Sometimes I find actually that snaking a little bit on rutted ice can help my balance. This effect might be placebo (i.e., it doesn't actually help I just think it does), psychological (i.e., it helps me to balance for some reason), or physical (i.e., there are reasons in physics that make this easier). But it seems to somewhat works for me sometimes. Not a magic bullet.
01-15-07, 11:10 PM
ruts are pretty rough. go light in the handling. the bike knows where it wants to travel in the ruts.
the following doesn't apply to the ruts but applies to any slick pavement and white, blue or black ice.
Learn skid turns. under steering is dangerous in slick conditions. if you're not running studs, better to throw the rear end out agressively, get the inside foot sliding along, and skid turn when its uberslick. you'll soon be able to balance on your bike, foot out but not touching the pavement, as you slowly countersteer a graceful, skidded arc into your new desired direction of travel.
I grew up riding in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and skid turns on ice, greazy pavement, and packed snow is the way to go.
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