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  1. #1
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    700x23 on snow and ice? Piece of cake.

    I wanted to describe my commuting experience this winter as a counterpoint to all the threads about winter riding with fat studded tires. I'm not trying to contradict anyone or convince anyone. I just want to mention what's possible and contrast it to what people usually assume is possible. This is just one more data point for your own winter tire decision making process.

    Last winter I rode on 700x35 knobby cyclocross tires. This winter I rode on 700x23 road slicks. I rode through snow, slush, freezing rain, hail, and every other known form of solid/liquid water abomination. I rode on fresh powder and packed snow. I rode during snow storms and I rode long after the snow had melted and refrozen in to sheets and shards of ice. The summary of both winters' experiences is that I had zero mishaps.

    I'm not saying that the wider tires with knobs didn't help. They did help. I'm only saying that this winter I rode just as far, in just as bad of conditions, at higher speeds, and the narrow tire choice didn't negatively impact my safety.*

    What did I gain from this experiment? Aside from slightly shorter commute times, I now have the ability to control a bicycle much more precisely than ever before. When 10cm^2 of smooth rubber is decelerating on black ice, you learn how to better distribute body weight and make infinitesimal braking adjustments to keep going in a straight line. I've commuted every day for many years, but after this one winter experience, all of my cornering, braking, and accelerating is more refined.

    Anyone else using the same smooth skinny tire all year? Pros? Cons?


    *Old safety grouches may now commence lambasting me and blaming me for the skull fractures incurred by their impressionable children.

  2. #2
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    I've done a similar experiment but I used 700x28's. Of course it's possible to ride without studs if you are very careful... but I prefer to use studs as I live in the suburbs and sometimes there is a lot of rutted ice along my commute. I found out that there are some limitations as to where I can ride without studs, when I have studded tires with aggressive knobs I can go anywhere I want to.

  3. #3
    Certified Bike Brat Burton's Avatar
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    I`m guessing snow and ice must be different where you are ....

    Quote Originally Posted by daveizdum View Post
    I wanted to describe my commuting experience this winter as a counterpoint to all the threads about winter riding with fat studded tires. I'm not trying to contradict anyone or convince anyone. I just want to mention what's possible and contrast it to what people usually assume is possible. This is just one more data point for your own winter tire decision making process.

    Last winter I rode on 700x35 knobby cyclocross tires. This winter I rode on 700x23 road slicks. I rode through snow, slush, freezing rain, hail, and every other known form of solid/liquid water abomination. I rode on fresh powder and packed snow. I rode during snow storms and I rode long after the snow had melted and refrozen in to sheets and shards of ice. The summary of both winters' experiences is that I had zero mishaps.

    I'm not saying that the wider tires with knobs didn't help. They did help. I'm only saying that this winter I rode just as far, in just as bad of conditions, at higher speeds, and the narrow tire choice didn't negatively impact my safety.*

    What did I gain from this experiment? Aside from slightly shorter commute times, I now have the ability to control a bicycle much more precisely than ever before. When 10cm^2 of smooth rubber is decelerating on black ice, you learn how to better distribute body weight and make infinitesimal braking adjustments to keep going in a straight line. I've commuted every day for many years, but after this one winter experience, all of my cornering, braking, and accelerating is more refined.

    Anyone else using the same smooth skinny tire all year? Pros? Cons?


    *Old safety grouches may now commence lambasting me and blaming me for the skull fractures incurred by their impressionable children.
    Yeah - I guess I`m one of those riders that uses studded tires. Which is not to say that I was chomping at the bit to go out and spend the completely ridiculous amout that these tires cost me. Quite the opposite in fact - I tried evrything possible to avoid it.

    So yeah - I tried the 700 x 23c road slicks that I run with ocassionally.The first time in snow cured that! THERE IS NO TRACTION! I could spin out the rear wheel in any gear at any speed just by coming onto the pedals hard. And unfortunately their braking performance was just as dismal.

    OK - so I also have a bike with 700 x 33c city slicks so figured that maybe those would do better.Nope! Same issues!

    So next I tried some 700 x 30c cyclocross tires and they actually worked fairly well. Partly because of the aggressive tread and partly because of the softer rubber compound.

    But eventually I bit the bullet and went for studded winter tires because they have a compound designed for the temperatures and nothing can come close to their braking performance on hardpacked snow and ice.

    Driving a bike in conditions and on the same roads which most car drivers have issues controlling their veichles is already a little risky. I like to give myself as much chance as possible.

  4. #4
    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burton View Post
    I`m guessing snow and ice must be different where you are ....
    It probably is.

    I'm guessing that the OP is from a part of the world where whatever snow they get is usually gone after a few days as opposed to compressing to ice and building up (unevenly) over the course of weeks and maybe even months.

    I could be wrong but either way he brings up some valid points. I see plenty of people riding downtown most of the winter on nothing buy skinny slicks. Now, you don't get the icy buildup on the streets downtown like you do in the residential areas, but it's still surprising.

    And there's then there's the ongoing debate over which is better in snow, skinny or fat. Of course the answer to that is: "It depends". One can definitely make the case though for skinny tires.

    There are two things that I pretty much accept as gospel:
    1. Studs do little or nothing for you in snow.
    2. Studs make a huge difference on ice, especially when trying to climb an icy hill.

    That doesn't mean that riding over an icy patch without studs automatically means you're going to be on your ass, but you do have to be a lot more cautious. And there may be some areas where you'd be lucky to go 10 yards without falling, - like our alley
    Last edited by tjspiel; 03-04-11 at 09:16 AM.

  5. #5
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    Davizdum, where is your winter ? Here in New England, winter lasts 4 moths or so, with lots of ice. Studs work really good for me, YRMV.

  6. #6
    Senior Member somedood's Avatar
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    I have had no such luck with slicks, unless it is the slushy stuff.

  7. #7
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    Narrow tires (almost always slicks or semi-slicks) will cut through unpacked snow more easily than wider tires.
    Narrow slicks will have extremely poor traction on snow they can't cut through.
    Wider knobby tires (cross and mountain bike tires) will give you more traction on snow they can't cut through, but will not cut through unpacked snow as easily.
    None of the above will give you much traction on ice.
    Studded tires, which are almost always knobbies, will give impressive traction on ice.

  8. #8
    Happy old man al-wagner's Avatar
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    Could't have said it better myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by Arcanum View Post
    Narrow tires (almost always slicks or semi-slicks) will cut through unpacked snow more easily than wider tires.
    Narrow slicks will have extremely poor traction on snow they can't cut through.
    Wider knobby tires (cross and mountain bike tires) will give you more traction on snow they can't cut through, but will not cut through unpacked snow as easily.
    None of the above will give you much traction on ice.
    Studded tires, which are almost always knobbies, will give impressive traction on ice.
    http://www.thegmbc.com/
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    In New England we have nine months of winter and three months of damned poor sledding.

  9. #9
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    I think I prefer the tires making good traction to me learning to deal with having less traction...

  10. #10
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    I hoped to ride this winter without studded tires, I also hoped for a mild winter :-P.

    I'm just not willing to risk injury from a fall or worse.

    Next winter I'll have one bike with studded tires and second bike with CX tires. If the pavement is 99% dry, I'll use the bike with CX tires. But if ice or snow exists, I'll have a cheaper bike with studded tires.

  11. #11
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    To address some things mentioned so far...

    As stated in the original post, I do ride on hard packed snow and ice. Some seem unwilling to accept this. It's actually pretty easy with practice. I think I could probably ride circles around an ice rink after the 3 months of practice I've just gotten.

    Last winter I experimented with 700x28 slicks. That was actually more difficult. 700x23 has done a better job for me of slicing through snow and making road contact. There is no difference in their ice performance. As mentioned by a few, studs are probably the only way to ride carelessly on ice.

    One more note, I usually ride on well-traveled urban streets to avoid the snow and ice altogether. I'm not intentionally seeking out ice to ride on. The best safety choice of all is not a tire, it's avoidance.

  12. #12
    Senior Member MNBikeguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by daveizdum View Post
    To address some things mentioned so far...
    As stated in the original post, I do ride on hard packed snow and ice. Some seem unwilling to accept this.
    I think you may be mis-reading the posts. From what I read, no one is challenging you're riding on snow and ice. However it would be a fair assumption to say you experience a milder form of winter than many of us are faced with.

    It's actually pretty easy with practice. I think I could probably ride circles around an ice rink after the 3 months of practice I've just gotten.
    I would like to ride with you on that ice rink and compare handling ability - your slicks and my nokian studs. As Scotty would say, you can't change the laws of physics.

    Last winter I experimented with 700x28 slicks. That was actually more difficult. 700x23 has done a better job for me of slicing through snow and making road contact. There is no difference in their ice performance. As mentioned by a few, studs are probably the only way to ride carelessly on ice.
    Unfortunately, many of us are faced with winters where slicing through snow does not lead to "road contact" - it just leads to more compact snow. This may be a large difference in your experience.

    One more note, I usually ride on well-traveled urban streets to avoid the snow and ice altogether. I'm not intentionally seeking out ice to ride on. The best safety choice of all is not a tire, it's avoidance.
    In some geographical areas, I can see the advantage of regular tires over studs for improved road resistance. You need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages based on your riding conditions.
    Last edited by MNBikeguy; 03-04-11 at 02:54 PM.
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  13. #13
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    When I lived in Wisconsin, I rode 25mm tires year-round. I'm sure that studs would have been better, but I only fell once, and that was when there was a layer of water on top of the ice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MNBikeguy View Post
    However it would be a fair assumption to say you experience a milder form of winter than many of us are faced with.

    I would like to ride with you on that ice rink and compare handling ability - your slicks and my nokian studs. As Scotty would say, you can't change the laws of physics.

    Unfortunately, many of us are faced with winters where slicing through snow does not lead to "road contact" - it just leads to more compact snow. This may be a large difference in your experience.
    I live in the Rocky mountains and have ridden through a foot of packed snow with ice underneath. This should be sufficiently wintery for anyone reading my post and contemplating whether I subjected myself to extreme or mild conditions. Making contact with the road is desirable but unnecessary.

    I'm not trying to disprove anything or challenge Newtonian physics. I agree that studs do make a difference. The intention of my post is to raise a debate over the necessity of studded tires versus the assumption of necessity of studded tires. If you have them and love them, then use them. For those without them, wondering if they are needed on all bikes for every rider, my post was intended to tell one version of the other side of the story.

  15. #15
    Very, very Senior Member JPprivate's Avatar
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    There got to be something to what the OP says. I see so many people here in the winter with narrow racing tires. (You know like the old saying , 'Eat dung! Billions of flies can't be wrong').
    But I just crashed yesterday on a sheet of ice; I had just assumed the spring temperatures took care of all the snow and ice and got on my summer bike.

  16. #16
    Senior Member MNBikeguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by daveizdum View Post
    I live in the Rocky mountains and have ridden through a foot of packed snow with ice underneath. This should be sufficiently wintery for anyone reading my post and contemplating whether I subjected myself to extreme or mild conditions. Making contact with the road is desirable but unnecessary.

    I'm not trying to disprove anything or challenge Newtonian physics. I agree that studs do make a difference. The intention of my post is to raise a debate over the necessity of studded tires versus the assumption of necessity of studded tires. If you have them and love them, then use them. For those without them, wondering if they are needed on all bikes for every rider, my post was intended to tell one version of the other side of the story.
    Got ya. fair enough.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member mikeybikes's Avatar
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    In all honesty, I rode every day last winter without studs. This winter I was a real pansy and didn't ride in bad weather though.
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  18. #18
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    After years of riding without studded tires in mountainous places that get real winter, I bought my first pair of studded tires a few weeks ago. Probably won't get to use them that much until next season, but they should make a few of the 10% + road grades around here climbable/descendable when it is icy. I won't be confined to the road then either. Being able to bomb forest roads covered in a few inches of fresh snow over hardpack ice is gonna be a blast. I personally wouldn't choose to do either on 23s.

    You know, I lived in Northern Arizona for a few years and rode very technical, rocky, steep trails on my single speed cyclocross bike. Was it possible? Sure. Was it fun? Absolutely. Were lots of other people running tires almost three times wider than mine? Yep. Bikes with more pivot points and suspension doodads than I could shake a stick at were very popular... probably for similar reasons that knobby studded tires are a popular choice in the winter.

    I am of the thinking that equipment is no substitute for skills, so the bike handling advantages of learning how to ride the winter on skinny rubber gets a big thumbs up from me... in the end though, Ride what you like. There are no objectively "better" choices.
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  19. #19
    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by daveizdum View Post
    I live in the Rocky mountains and have ridden through a foot of packed snow with ice underneath.
    How packed was it? Enough so that you were riding more or less on top? If that's the case then what's underneath or how deep it is doesn't really matter. Two inches of unpacked or lightly packed snow on top of ice is a lot more treacherous.

    To be honest, I suspect you're exaggerating a bit. I can't imagine riding through a foot of snow for any distance.

  20. #20
    Senior Member JAG410's Avatar
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    Pure skill and experience are what makes skinny tires possible. I commuted on my Surly Pugsley all winter, with 3.8" wide knobby tires. No plowed roads needed. No "lines" needed either, just pedal and go. However I tried my cross bike last weekend on 700x38 knobbies and landed on my ass. Much more thought, line choice, and handling skills are needed to make skinny tires work well in the winter. Hats off to those who can make it work for them.

  21. #21
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    Studded tires greatly reduce the stress of riding on ice. I really would not want to ride for an hour in constant fear that I could fall at any moment.

  22. #22
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    How packed was it? Enough so that you were riding more or less on top? If that's the case then what's underneath or how deep it is doesn't really matter. Two inches of unpacked or lightly packed snow on top of ice is a lot more treacherous.

    To be honest, I suspect you're exaggerating a bit. I can't imagine riding through a foot of snow for any distance.
    Snowfall in Colorado can be 95% air.

  23. #23
    Senior Member clasher's Avatar
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    I did this winter with 700x28 gatorskins, they are pretty much slick. I tried to stick to the main roads as I commute at off-peak times so it's not a big deal to take the lane on most of the busy roads I take... anyway, I found that I was fine most of the time as the cars do clear a nice strip of road and the cities put lots of salt down. Some of the trails were treacherous once the snow had been packed down by pedestrians... I guess it was like riding on cobblestones. I also tend to commute at lower speeds when the roads are crap and have found that to be essential regardless of what kind of tires (or vehicle) I'm on.

  24. #24
    Senior Member shouldberiding's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barrettscv View Post
    Snowfall in Colorado can be 95% air.
    I don't remember the last time I saw powder snow in Wisconsin. Lake effect snow is a wee bit different than what the OP is getting in the Rockies.

    Regardless of what the OP may have experienced, my experience tells me that traction is iffy here even with studded tires. I've dropped the bike a few times. Now, my studs are only 700x35 but that's fairly telling when the OP is talking about riding through a foot of snow on slicks. There are a hundred different consistencies of ice and snow. Last time I rode through a foot of snow it nearly killed me.

  25. #25
    LET'S ROLL 1nterceptor's Avatar
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    To the OP, please make a video on your next snowy ride.
    I'd like to learn how to ride on snow and ice with skinny slicks.
    Believe me I tried with my 700 X 25 slicks


    SNOWBOUND by 1nterceptor, on Flickr


    Snowmountains by 1nterceptor, on Flickr

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