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Thread: Riding in snow?

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    Riding in snow?

    I am sixty one and recently new to bikes after close to a fifty year period of paying absolutely no attention to bicycles. Many things have changed, but the thing that has changed that freaks me out the most is riding bicycles in snow. When I was a youth and into bicycles it was unheard of. Of course I grew up in Vermont which is very rural and has fierce winters, but no one I knew back then would any more think of taking a bicycle out into the snow than wearing wearing a fur lined parka to go snorkel diving. I left Vermont ten years ago, and I understand that these days the ski areas and such are doing a booming business sponsoring snow bike competitions and similar events. Times have changed.

    I am thinking that I might need to take my bike back on one of my winter visits there and give it a try. My problem is that I have read many recommendations for the proper wheel size and tire type from folks who do this, and few seem to make sense to me. I have never ridden a bike in winter but have done a lot of walking in the same conditions that I would be riding in, and I can't think of a wheel size and tire type that would get you through every road and snow condition that you are going to encounter, other than a fat, wide, studded snow tire. Skinny slicks might be just the ticket for busting through virgin snow, but I would imagine could get you killed real quick on "black ice". As I have said, Vermont is very rural and there are few groomed bike paths. For that matter there are few sidewalks. Most riding will be done in the road. Plowing snow turns the road into "canyons" between two snow cliffs. Everything tends to stay on the sides of the roads and churn up into whatever mix the current temperature will support. It could be some form of ice or sloppy clingy slush. Given the temperature swings of a sunny winter day, you might get to ride in both. I could go on, but my point is that it would seem to me, as one with no experience in winter riding, that the vast variances in conditions that would be encountered with any commute in the winter would rule out any "one size fits all" approach to this problem, with the possible exception of fat, wide, studded tires. Am I wrong?

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    Senior Member RoadTire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by racoonbeast View Post
    I can't think of a wheel size and tire type that would get you through every road and snow condition that you are going to encounter, other than a fat, wide, studded snow tire.
    Nothing will get you through everything. Once the snow gets about 4 inches, all bets are off. The variables are snow type and base - 4 inches of fluff can be handled by 2 in tires, 4 inches of ice crust covered sticky slush and Fat Tires will be hard to push through. They don't "float" over anything - neither does a snowmobile with 16 inch tracks. One big consideration is tire pressure - almost no pressure works amazingly well in snow.

    However - Fat Tires will go through some snow better than 2 inch tires and will pack trails, where the 2 inch tires cut grooves and mess up trails.
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    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by racoonbeast View Post
    I am sixty one and recently new to bikes after close to a fifty year period of paying absolutely no attention to bicycles. Many things have changed, but the thing that has changed that freaks me out the most is riding bicycles in snow. When I was a youth and into bicycles it was unheard of. Of course I grew up in Vermont which is very rural and has fierce winters, but no one I knew back then would any more think of taking a bicycle out into the snow than wearing wearing a fur lined parka to go snorkel diving. I left Vermont ten years ago, and I understand that these days the ski areas and such are doing a booming business sponsoring snow bike competitions and similar events. Times have changed.

    I am thinking that I might need to take my bike back on one of my winter visits there and give it a try. My problem is that I have read many recommendations for the proper wheel size and tire type from folks who do this, and few seem to make sense to me. I have never ridden a bike in winter but have done a lot of walking in the same conditions that I would be riding in, and I can't think of a wheel size and tire type that would get you through every road and snow condition that you are going to encounter, other than a fat, wide, studded snow tire. Skinny slicks might be just the ticket for busting through virgin snow, but I would imagine could get you killed real quick on "black ice". As I have said, Vermont is very rural and there are few groomed bike paths. For that matter there are few sidewalks. Most riding will be done in the road. Plowing snow turns the road into "canyons" between two snow cliffs. Everything tends to stay on the sides of the roads and churn up into whatever mix the current temperature will support. It could be some form of ice or sloppy clingy slush. Given the temperature swings of a sunny winter day, you might get to ride in both. I could go on, but my point is that it would seem to me, as one with no experience in winter riding, that the vast variances in conditions that would be encountered with any commute in the winter would rule out any "one size fits all" approach to this problem, with the possible exception of fat, wide, studded tires. Am I wrong?
    I actually have two sets of studded tires, - one relatively narrow and one wider, though neither are particularly wide. You are right, conditions vary quite a bit. I normally use the "wide" tires which are 40mm. I see several people on fat bikes with tires up to 4 inches wide and those work well in some situations and are a bear in others. 40mm is definitely a compromise but good enough for my 6 mile commute on all but the worst days. I miss maybe two or three days a year due to weather.
    If you're not riding with a psychedelic gecko on your shirt, you ARE having a substandard experience.

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    when it Ices up here , I have an old MTB I drag out , I built drum brake hub wheels, [1991]
    for all weather braking since old frames dont mount discs . Tires: Finland ..

    http://www.suomityres.com/tekniikka/ http://www.suomityres.com/pdf/rengasluettelo.pdf
    Last edited by fietsbob; 07-08-14 at 11:49 AM.

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    If you're talking about riding on roads, it's not a problem. Get studded tires, ride conservatively. Black ice is not a problem.

    The only time ice is a problem for me in the winter is if I have to stop. My bike gets great traction on the ice, my feet, not so much.

    Heavy, wet snow is just all around miserable. I skip the bike and drive if there is more than 4 or 5 inches of unplowed stuff on the roads, if it's heavy. If it's fluff, not a big deal really.

    Nokian makes the tires to get. I use to have W106s but switched to W240s because the extra rows of studs along the sides help prevent getting a tire stuck in a frozen rut, which can take you down.
    Work: the 8 hours that separates bike rides.

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    Senior Member Northwestrider's Avatar
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    If your bike will accommodate them, install fat, studded tires and enjoy the ride

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    Quote Originally Posted by racoonbeast View Post
    Given the temperature swings of a sunny winter day, you might get to ride in both. I could go on, but my point is that it would seem to me, as one with no experience in winter riding, that the vast variances in conditions that would be encountered with any commute in the winter would rule out any "one size fits all" approach to this problem, with the possible exception of fat, wide, studded tires. Am I wrong?
    I live in Minnesota, and you are entirely correct.

    For just ice, one can just get good studded tires (I prefer Schwalbe Marathon Winters). Get Schwalbe or Nokian or something that you know has carbide studs.

    For light snow, the same tire usually works well.

    For more snow, it's really hard. I'd have to write an essay to describe it, but it's difficult. Only about a 4" studded tire on a fat bike is pretty good, and even that has it's limits. I've personally not found that midrange tires like 2" made a huge difference vs 35c Marathon Winters, though others have disagreed with me. Only a 4" really made things better for riding on snow for me.

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    Senior Member Notso_fastLane's Avatar
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    I'd get a trike for the real slippery stuff. Then, sliding around actually becomes fun.

    I think I saw one of these equipped with fat tires somewhere. Looked like fun. Slow and heavy, but fun!

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    I ride in rural VT, year around - including winter. There is no one optimal tire solution, as others have indicated they type of snow and surface conditions determine what works better. If I had to choose one tire, get something with carbide studs that is around 35 mm wide, the Nokian W106 is a good balance. Frozen ruts, even smaller ones, are a challenge, even those tires with studs sort of on the sidewall (eg W240) or equivalent. Studded tires give one an empowered feeling to ride over just about anything, but watch out when you put your foot down. Once, coasting up to a stop light, I stopped nicely over a section of black ice, when I put my foot down- the rest of me followed, I did quite a ballet with my bike to keep from laying on the icy pavement. I locked the brakes and held on to the bike. Lean on your bike if your need to get off on an icy surface
    ride long & prosper

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    Quote Originally Posted by Notso_fastLane View Post
    I'd get a trike for the real slippery stuff. Then, sliding around actually becomes fun.

    I think I saw one of these equipped with fat tires somewhere. Looked like fun. Slow and heavy, but fun!
    My son has a TerraTrike Traveller, schwalbe makes 406 size studded tires. Put a set on the trike, they worked ok. Then just put a single studded on the rear, better performance. Downside to the trike, low clearance, especially under the bike frame and seat. It got all buggered up with snow & slush.
    ride long & prosper

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    I ride in the winter, I have tried an old Schwinn single speed, was ok till the snow is more than 2 inches, tried a 5 Speed old Schwinn, same thing not bad. I tried a mountain bike with 21 speeds, was not too impressed, thought it would be better.

    I was watching this video of these fixed gear guys in Montreal, they all ride their fixies in the snow. They ride fast with no brakes (-: they skid with their wheels locked back and forth in the snow, looks like too much fun.

    So yea this year I will try one of my fixies. What I have found is nothing is too good in the snow, but it is sure fun trying. I am also 61.

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    No two wheeler handles really slick black ice well. Hit that stuff on whatever bike you have (studs/no studs, wide/narrow) and you aren't staying up. The only way to slow right down and pick a path around it or get off and walk - even that can be a challenge sometimes!

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    I'm probably crazy, but on my old bike, I rode with lightly treaded "commuter tires" even in an inch of snow.

    The tricky bit for me was keeping speed down through turns. One wrong input and you wipe out turning. That said, even when everything was shut down and state of emergency, I could still do a lap on my street till road use was allowed in the late morning this past winter.

    Biggest constant problem is how narrow roads can get with half-butted plowing that didn't even clear to the outer lane marker white line. I didn't ride in lane with old bike, so suddenly being forced into traffic on those days was....interesting. With new bike I think I will invest in some studded tires that clear the fenders & brakes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by krobinson103 View Post
    No two wheeler handles really slick black ice well. Hit that stuff on whatever bike you have (studs/no studs, wide/narrow) and you aren't staying up. The only way to slow right down and pick a path around it or get off and walk - even that can be a challenge sometimes!
    I've honestly had more problems with snow or snow and ice combinations than black ice. With studded tires it isn't really that bad, but the tires need to have enough studs.
    If you're not riding with a psychedelic gecko on your shirt, you ARE having a substandard experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by krobinson103 View Post
    No two wheeler handles really slick black ice well. Hit that stuff on whatever bike you have (studs/no studs, wide/narrow) and you aren't staying up. The only way to slow right down and pick a path around it or get off and walk - even that can be a challenge sometimes!
    I don't agree with you at all either, with a good studded tire I've never ever had a problem with any sheer ice. I've ridden on a lake with the slickest ice I've ever seen, roads, etc. Studs worked great with my Schwalbe Marathon winters with 4 rows of studs. I cannot say with certainty that I've run into every possible form of ice, but I do live in Minnesota, it's pretty icy here.

    It's snow + ice that it's impossible to deal with sometimes. Snow by itself is hard to get through, but if you fall over you've typically been slowed down to almost a stop before it happens. Ice is handled great with studs. But snow on top of ice ****s under you, the snow shifts around under your tires while your studs aren't long enough to actually hit and catch on the snow. I would much, much rather ride on pure ice with studded tires than ride on a snow + ice combination.

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    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by krobinson103 View Post
    No two wheeler handles really slick black ice well. Hit that stuff on whatever bike you have (studs/no studs, wide/narrow) and you aren't staying up. The only way to slow right down and pick a path around it or get off and walk - even that can be a challenge sometimes!
    It's obvious that you don't have any experience with studded tires...When I was using Nokian Extremes 294's on my MTB, I could ride on any type of ice I want and never break traction and fall. Climbing icy hills, riding down icy hills, rutted ice, black ice, frozen lakes , never a problem... Walking on ice is actually a lot more risky and dangerous then riding over it on a bike with studs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
    It's obvious that you don't have any experience with studded tires...When I was using Nokian Extremes 294's on my MTB, I could ride on any type of ice I want and never break traction and fall. Climbing icy hills, riding down icy hills, rutted ice, black ice, frozen lakes , never a problem... Walking on ice is actually a lot more risky and dangerous then riding over it on a bike with studs.
    made my own. They work great but on really slick black
    ice they are worse than useless. One spot that never thaws is best avoided. A bit of unpacked snow over saidr however gives.me greater grip with mtb tires with screws added in the valleys. Can't afford commercial tires but my oeffort gets me hrough 90 percent of the winter conditions here.

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    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by krobinson103 View Post
    made my own. They work great but on really slick black
    ice they are worse than useless. One spot that never thaws is best avoided. A bit of unpacked snow over saidr however gives.me greater grip with mtb tires with screws added in the valleys. Can't afford commercial tires but my oeffort gets me hrough 90 percent of the winter conditions here.
    Commercial tires such as Nokians and Schwalbes work great on black ice...I have experimented with homemade tires made with screws and they were good on the icy trails but horrible on pavement, they also wore out very fast, were too heavy, and had too much rolling resistence.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
    Commercial tires such as Nokians and Schwalbes work great on black ice...I have experimented with homemade tires made with screws and they were good on the icy trails but horrible on pavement, they also wore out very fast, were too heavy, and had too much rolling resistence.
    thats why the screws are in the valleys. only engage with any force if the wheel sinks into snow or something soft. Means clear pavement is lesd an issue, rolling resistance is less, but you lose some usefulness on slick ice. Made my second set last winter. Should be good for this coming winter as well. Heavy? Yup, but I'm in no hurry in winter.

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    Black ice cracks me up. Hear it on the news all the time out here in Colorado and it seems like any time there's ice in a roadway it's automatically black ice.

    back in Minnesota where we had real winters, black ice was when you had temperatures below zero and vehicles were sitting in bumper-bumper traffic where the condensation from vehicle exhaust would freeze on the road surface.

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    black ice is just thin ice. I suppose it might be more problematic because studs don't have anything to grip, but I've never really had an issue. Ruts are a problem.

    I made the mistake once of getting off my bike and walking it on ice. Should have kept riding, it was slightly uphill and walking wasn't easy.
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    Vermont sounds like Indiana. When the temp bounces above and below freezing twice daily, ug. It's the refrozen slushy ruts that I find impassable. That and too-deep snow, which we seem to rarely get anymore. Sometimes the ride to work is tolerable, but on the commute home I'm walking because the refreeze is impassable.

    IMO, studded tires will get you through all but deep stuff and refrozen ruts. At that point, it's time for alternative transportation.
    This has to be a tie between re-frozen slushy uneven dirty ice stuff just right of the nicely plowed pavement, and super-glassy ice with a dusting of fresh powder - SalshShark

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    Quote Originally Posted by krobinson103 View Post
    thats why the screws are in the valleys. only engage with any force if the wheel sinks into snow or something soft. Means clear pavement is lesd an issue, rolling resistance is less, but you lose some usefulness on slick ice. Made my second set last winter. Should be good for this coming winter as well. Heavy? Yup, but I'm in no hurry in winter.
    Ok, well, it sounds like it's not handling the black ice as well as a good commercial tire would. Like "wolfchild", given a choice between an ice/snow mix or pure black ice, I always choose the ice and I've never had a tire lose grip on pure ice. In Minnesota, not talking about a state where there's not much ice here.

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    Here in Korea I deal with slush and snow mostly. There isn't much ice as they are really aggressive with the salting. Means I need really knobbly mtb tires with a bit of extra grip just in case.

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