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Winter Cycling Don't let snow and ice discourage you this winter. The key element to year-round cycling is proper attire! Check out this winter cycling forum to chat with other ice bike fanatics.

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Old 08-09-15, 10:58 AM   #1
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Fat Bike or 29er MTB for (Michigan) Winter Cycling?

Hi Folks - I'm primarily a road rider and my wife & I both have a Cannondale Synapse. I recently upgraded to a carbon model. These are 'endurance/plush' road bikes. They have clearance for a 25-28 tire. I don't trust taking my first Carbon bike out into the Michigan winter this year, but I'm already starting to dread the snow coming.. in August.

I've been contemplating getting a bike for winter once I have the road bikes put up (I know I have a few months still), but am a bit unsure of which route I should take. I would prefer to keep the cost of the winter bike low so that I don't have to feel bad banging it up, as well as leaving more budget to get accessories, more appropriate clothes, etc. as needed.

Liking the road most at heart, I'd imagine I won't be doing much 'off roading' with this bike, but the roads here do get slushy, icy, or otherwise cruddy during the worst of the season. That being said, I'm in Grand Rapids and it's quite bike-friendly. If I turn out to love the bike, though, I wouldn't mind using it for camping trips or unpaved trail riding even during my 'road season'. Cost is still a priority.

Should I get an inexpensive Fat Bike (relative; I know they're practically inverse of eachother), or an inexpensive 29er and put on the widest tires she'll take? It seems I could do the 29er cheaper, but I don't want it to be less than ideal or high-maintenance either.

Opinions are highly appreciated, even if it's just telling me to HTFU and get a 2,000 Surly or Put some studs in and ride my carbon road through 2 feet of snow. If more details are needed let me know!
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Old 08-09-15, 05:42 PM   #2
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I've gone through my first winter last year. I live in Montreal, so we do have some "real" winters (lots of snow, -20 C, etc). If you plan commuting with your bike or stay in the city, get an old beater, with an IHG or single speed, narrow tires, fenders.

If you want to get out and bike in the snow, a fat bike could be an option.
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Old 08-09-15, 05:47 PM   #3
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I'm in a similar situation but consider have you already gone through a winter with any bike? There are many here who have ridden through the winter with either a beater bike or a winterized road bike. I finished my first winter with a beater mountain bike. And because I could not go through fresh snow, I had to take a detour. So that's why I'm considering getting a fat bike. However the cost is unjustifiable if I'm going to spend $1000 just for something being used for the winter. Today I test rode a $1000 fat bike that was selling for $500. I had trouble on the sand. Deflated the tires and tried again and again until I got used to making wide not tight turns. Now I'm looking in youtube for videos showing somebody climbing up hills on a fat bike in loose snow and in sand. Could not find any so far. So even at half the price if I won't be able to climb fresh snow covered hills, then it's money wasted because i'll taking detours with my beater bike anyways.
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Old 08-10-15, 06:46 AM   #4
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I'm in a similar situation but consider have you already gone through a winter with any bike? There are many here who have ridden through the winter with either a beater bike or a winterized road bike. I finished my first winter with a beater mountain bike. And because I could not go through fresh snow, I had to take a detour. So that's why I'm considering getting a fat bike. However the cost is unjustifiable if I'm going to spend $1000 just for something being used for the winter. Today I test rode a $1000 fat bike that was selling for $500. I had trouble on the sand. Deflated the tires and tried again and again until I got used to making wide not tight turns. Now I'm looking in youtube for videos showing somebody climbing up hills on a fat bike in loose snow and in sand. Could not find any so far. So even at half the price if I won't be able to climb fresh snow covered hills, then it's money wasted because i'll taking detours with my beater bike anyways.
Thanks for the input guys! I'm actually looking at a few cheaper fat bikes upon more research. The Mongoose Beast (walmart special) is the absolute bottom of the barrel and there are some interesting reviews and forums about it. Basically, it's a BSO with fat tires. I think if I do end up getting a fat bike, I'll probably commit the sin of test riding a few locally, and then, granted I don't mind going a bit lower quality, picking up one from Bikes Direct or Nashbar. Nashbar has their own 999$ version of a Fat Bike, but with sales you could easily have it for around 800. Bikes Direct has *decent* fat bikes starting around 450, and I'm starting to think about going that route, but I will sure miss the support of the LBS or even Nashbar.

I've attached a few resources I've found regarding some cheaper fat bikes. If you've found a Fat Bike locally for 500$ and you like the ride quality (despite having a hard time climbing on loose-packed stuff), it may be worth jumping on because it's hard to find that even online.

Quite a bit of snow climbing here, definitely some loose-packed areas:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0ti-SSMEog
A bit more info on climbing ftb here:
Can Fat Bikes Climb?- Mtbr.com

Save Up To 60% Off Fat Bikes and Fat Mountain Bicycles from bikesdirect.com
Nashbar Fat Bike
26" Mongoose Beast Men's All-Terrain Fat Tire Mountain, Multiple Colors - Walmart.com

Forums:
Mongoose Beast review etc.... Walmart Fatty!- Mtbr.com
Gravity Bullseye Monster- Mtbr.com
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Old 08-11-15, 08:05 AM   #5
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If your not hitting any trails then stick with a normal bike. I liked my road bike in winter city riding more so then a mountain bike I built up for winter riding. Also remember if you get a fat bike you can usually fit larger wheels (27.5" and 29") besides the fat 26's. Mind you it requires you to build/buy a wheelset for whatever the front and rear spacing since every company seems to have their own standard. lol.

I recently bought a 2016 Farley 5 but looked at a few other models. If your not looking to drop much but want something decent check out a company out of Minnesota call Framed and offer a couple of budget friendly models. Then I tried out the Surly Ice Cream Truck and besides being steel and about triple the price the ride felt the same. Mind you the ICT had higher end components as the Framed 1.0 for $800 came with BB5 brakes and Sram X5 components and being aluminum. For that price you could build up something pretty decent with the entry level model. Toss on some better shifters/derailleurs and tires and not the mention the ICT felt like a tank.

My favorite winter commuter was a Giant OCR1 with studded tires. I had fenders but they normally ended up just getting packed full of snow anyways. I would also go with a single up front as the front gets shifted less often and just caked with snow and ice and just rendered useless. The rear is constantly moving around so normally worked fine depending on the snow type and temps. The mountain bike also had studded tires but just seemed tiring to ride.
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Old 08-11-15, 09:43 AM   #6
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Go with knobbies unless you live in a place snow is going to be on the ground more than a few days of the year.

If you don't deal with snow much, expensive studded tires would be a waste of money.
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Old 08-11-15, 10:01 AM   #7
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My winter bike takes a beating from the salt and snow. Frame is aluminum so (if I wash it) it looks fine. All the components are nothing but rust though. I have to regularly replace drivetrain parts because they just don't last.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to build up a fancy winter bike. Then I remember how trashed my mountain bike got after just that first season of winter riding, and how much it would pain me to see a brand new bike suffer the same fate. Six winters later my bike is just nasty looking.

My recommendation is to not buy a new bike. Get a used bike that is decent enough quality to be worth riding (i.e. not a BSO) but not so nice that you'd hate to see it decay before your eyes.

As far as going with a fat bike or not, I don't find the extra width of my mountain bike tires all that advantageous in the winter. What is very much a benefit is that those tires are studded. I can't imagine studded fat bike tires are cheap, if they're even available.

I think most of the people who ride fat bikes are doing it for the look rather than actual functionality. Kind of like most of the people who drive jacked-up 4x4 trucks that will never see anything rougher than a gravel parking lot.
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Old 08-11-15, 12:35 PM   #8
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Go with knobbies unless you live in a place snow is going to be on the ground more than a few days of the year.

If you don't deal with snow much, expensive studded tires would be a waste of money.
Umm, Michigan has snow.
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Old 08-11-15, 12:40 PM   #9
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Talk to your LBS and see what others are riding. My 2 cents would be a used 29er hardtail or just rigid. With some studded tires. I have 2 dedicated winter bikes, snow, salt and slush take a toll in parts and stuff. Go disc as well. Distance to travel? Looking for racks and fenders too? My roadish bike has a 1x8 drive train with a thumb shifter on the stem, works well in the cold and slush.
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Old 08-11-15, 07:32 PM   #10
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I have commuted through 8 winters and I prefer a bike with 700cc ( 29'er) wheels...A 29'er with studded winter tires will get you through almost anything.
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Old 08-11-15, 07:59 PM   #11
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Thanks for the input everyone. It seems that a (rigid) fat bike would be more ideal when there is a lot of fluffy snow on the ground (6+ in). I'm not sure that I'll be riding during that time, but I would like to keep it as an option.

I can get a sub 500$ Raleigh from my LBS, probably either a 27.5'er MTB or a 29'er. That, or I'm still considering one of the bikes direct fat bikes for 500$.
I prefer buying new to used just because at that price point, (sub 500$) I don't really stand to save a whole lot buying used locally (100$ at most). The drive train on these bikes tends to be far less expensive to maintain, so that's a plus. Low end 8 Speed mountain setups are pretty cheap to just replace parts on compared to the 10/11 speed road parts I'm used to.

It seems 1.5-2.5" studded MTB (27.5-29" wheels) would be better suited for speed and would handle better on ice, but the 26 wheels, 4" fat tires would handle a lot better for anything loose packed and especially a lot of snow. I can always swap out to skinner tires on the Fat bike, but possibly not on the 29er...

Still a bit unsure!
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Old 08-12-15, 01:08 PM   #12
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Some thoughts...

If you are primarily on roads, I would go with a 29er with studded tires. Ice is not something to be tangled with if you don't have the right tools. Make sure they are moderately aggressive to handle snow; I believe you get more of the fluffy white stuff on the east side of Lake Michigan than we do in Madison. I have been riding the Nokian Hakupulita 240, 40mm for 4 years. If the roads aren't cleared immediately after a storm I generally can just cut through the snow down to pavement or ice, whichever is below.

If you are riding off-road or on roads that just get packed down and never cleared, then the equation shifts. For me, the worst riding (where I can reasonably expect to ride, that is) on 40mm tires is packed but uncleared snow, though I rarely need to walk and didn't even fall last year (and I commute daily regardless of weather, so...). Personally, I purchased a fat bike this summer so that I can commute on the lake even after there is snow in it (I ride the lake with studs until the snow gets too deep).

FWIW, you can get studded fat tires, though whether they are as good as studded 29er tires on the road is debatable (and I have no experience with fat studded tires, so I can't comment).

Edit: You might look at getting one of the cheaper fat bikes that has 135/170 mm front/rear hubs and a 29er wheelset with studs to match your wheel spacing (the 135/170 keeps the spare wheelset cheaper).
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Old 08-12-15, 01:33 PM   #13
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Some thoughts...

If you are primarily on roads, I would go with a 29er with studded tires. Ice is not something to be tangled with if you don't have the right tools. Make sure they are moderately aggressive to handle snow; I believe you get more of the fluffy white stuff on the east side of Lake Michigan than we do in Madison. I have been riding the Nokian Hakupulita 240, 40mm for 4 years. If the roads aren't cleared immediately after a storm I generally can just cut through the snow down to pavement or ice, whichever is below.

If you are riding off-road or on roads that just get packed down and never cleared, then the equation shifts. For me, the worst riding (where I can reasonably expect to ride, that is) on 40mm tires is packed but uncleared snow, though I rarely need to walk and didn't even fall last year (and I commute daily regardless of weather, so...). Personally, I purchased a fat bike this summer so that I can commute on the lake even after there is snow in it (I ride the lake with studs until the snow gets too deep).

FWIW, you can get studded fat tires, though whether they are as good as studded 29er tires on the road is debatable (and I have no experience with fat studded tires, so I can't comment).

Edit: You might look at getting one of the cheaper fat bikes that has 135/170 mm front/rear hubs and a 29er wheelset with studs to match your wheel spacing (the 135/170 keeps the spare wheelset cheaper).
Hmmm... All great points. I feel that if I decide to continue to commute on bike with whichever bike I end up with, I will inevitably find myself on pavement/ice, and on unplowed snow - Both packed and loose.

It sounds like a fat bike would be best suited for handling all of the above?
The Fat Bike I'm eyeballing does have 135/170mm spacing and comes with 26" 4"ers, with 80mm wide rims. It seems like there would be clearance for a set of 27.5, possibly 29'ers with smaller tires. It is a disc set so I wouldn't be able to use my road wheels, but if the weather is nice enough to want them, I'll be on the road bike anyways.
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Old 08-14-15, 08:14 AM   #14
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You're going to pedal through 6" of snow? Good luck with that. Maybe MI tends to be dryer and colder than here in MA, We get lots of freeze/thaw with temp swings too. The studded tires work great for those conditions.
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Old 08-14-15, 08:16 AM   #15
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You're going to pedal through 6" of snow? Good luck with that. Maybe MI tends to be dryer and colder than here in MA, We get lots of freeze/thaw with temp swings too. The studded tires work great for those conditions.

If I go studded mountain bike, should I opt for 26/27.5 or 29? Most of the bikes that would be in the price range I'd like to keep this below would likely come with a cheap suspension fork. Any opinions on those - or just avoid them?
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Old 08-14-15, 08:22 AM   #16
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29ers will roll better through chunky, frozen ruts. Just use whatever fork it comes with.
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Old 08-14-15, 03:28 PM   #17
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Winter riding is very hard on suspension components, that's why I prefer rigid forks, no maintenance to worry about...Extreme cold affects suspension and it just doesn't feel all that great, some suspension forks will leak oil or air in very cold weather. Road salt is very corrosive and will kill a suspension components. Rigid fork is the way to go if you plan on doing a lot of winter riding.
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Old 08-15-15, 06:39 AM   #18
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Winter riding is very hard on suspension components, that's why I prefer rigid forks, no maintenance to worry about...Extreme cold affects suspension and it just doesn't feel all that great, some suspension forks will leak oil or air in very cold weather. Road salt is very corrosive and will kill a suspension components. Rigid fork is the way to go if you plan on doing a lot of winter riding.
See.. that's what I figured, and it's my dilemma! The only thing I can buy used locally is BSO's in my price range. If I go to the LBS to get a MTB, there's no way they have Rigid.
However, if I get the Fat Bike I'm eyeballing on BD, I can always put thinner tires on it (albeit it would involve a new wheelset since it comes w/ 80mm)

I feel like I'd have more options for the Fat Bike, since I can always put thinner tires on it... But I can't put 4" tires on the MTB and take it down the beach/pier.
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Old 08-15-15, 07:27 PM   #19
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If you want one bike, another option is to get a 29er (2 x 29" studded tires are a great winter tire), but look for a frame/fork combo that will let you run a 3" x 27.5 tire (has a similar diameter to the 29" wheel). It won't be a true fat bike, but it will give you plenty of float in loose snow. Then you can just swap wheels when you need it. I am guessing you will use the 29 x 2" wheels the most.

I have a 29er with 2" studded tires, and that's what I use most of the winter. I looked at getting a fat bike for "snow days" but they just don't roll well enough when you hit those patches of cleared pavement to be feasible. (I ended up getting a Surly 29+ with 3" tires, which is awesome, but it doesn't get used much.)
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Old 08-16-15, 09:06 PM   #20
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If primarily you're going to be riding on roads, and assuming the roads are semi-cleared, i.e plowed and salted, then you're really only going to feel safe and comfortable on a bike with studded tires. Ice and black ice are lethal without studs, particularly if there's a light dusting of fresh snow on top of ice patches and you can't see the ice. I had two big crashes last winter, one on a 29er Hardtail and one on a Fat bike. Both crashes were on the road, both involved hitting ice patches obscured by fresh snow. Neither bikes had studded tires.

So if you're doing road-riding only, I'd stick to a 29er and get some studded tires. However, fat bikes are great fun off-road in deeper snow. I bought a fat bike last year just for winter trail riding and I now ride the thing year-round on all surfaces.
Personally I wouldn't use a bike shop for a test-ride with the intention of buying online, that doesn't sit well. But whatever works for you. Good luck.
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Old 08-17-15, 07:36 AM   #21
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If primarily you're going to be riding on roads, and assuming the roads are semi-cleared, i.e plowed and salted, then you're really only going to feel safe and comfortable on a bike with studded tires. Ice and black ice are lethal without studs, particularly if there's a light dusting of fresh snow on top of ice patches and you can't see the ice. I had two big crashes last winter, one on a 29er Hardtail and one on a Fat bike. Both crashes were on the road, both involved hitting ice patches obscured by fresh snow. Neither bikes had studded tires.
Late this last February we had a warm stretch and most of our snow melted off. It was so nice that I decided to ride my hybrid to work instead of my regular winter bike with studded tires. The temps were still cold, but the roads looked pretty clear. On this morning I came around a corner in the dark and hit a patch of ice that I didn't see. Before I even knew what had happened I was on the ground. Thankfully the patch was large enough that I slid to a stop on the ice rather than the pavement, so I was bruised up but didn't have any road rash (and even more thankfully didn't rip my brand new jacket - HA!)

I switched back to the bike with studded tires for another few weeks.
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Old 08-17-15, 12:33 PM   #22
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hybrid / cross bike width studded tires will keep your wheels underneath you ..

Ive got an old MTB I break out when the streets Ice up , Plod my way along..

Im in a place where some years it ices over for a week, sometimes not at all .

and so the same Suomi Nokian tires I got direct from Finland, in 1991, are still fine.

Like these : Nokian Mount and Ground W160 Studded Tire good on mixed open pavement and ice.

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Old 08-18-15, 12:02 PM   #23
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Winter riding is very hard on suspension components, that's why I prefer rigid forks, no maintenance to worry about...Extreme cold affects suspension and it just doesn't feel all that great, some suspension forks will leak oil or air in very cold weather. Road salt is very corrosive and will kill a suspension components. Rigid fork is the way to go if you plan on doing a lot of winter riding.
I have had good luck with coil forks in the winter. When the paths get very rutted, I find front sus. very helpful. YRMV
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Old 08-30-15, 12:07 PM   #24
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I have a fatbike that I love, ride it on the beach. For winter commuting, admittedly we don't get a lot of snow here, studded tires are where it's at. When it is snowy enough for the fatbike to shine, everything else is shut down and I don't need to actually go anywhere (nor is anywhere open for me to go to). If they plow regularly in Michigan the surface you'll be riding on is more amenable to mtn bike studded tires than floaty fatbike tires. IGH or SS is a nice touch, don't have to worry about derailers getting slushed over.
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Old 08-31-15, 07:38 PM   #25
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I would not do a fat bike, as there is little extra benefit.

Go with a 29er if that is your next choice. It will make a better rain bike / beater bike / spare commuter / loaner to a friend / errand runner than a fat bike. A fat bike is just so costly for little versatility. The conditions which a fat bike would be better are so few and far between that I would not do it.
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