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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 11-12-07, 10:37 PM   #1
Chicagoan
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Advice to a future Winter Cyclist

Hi everyone,

My name is Frank. I am 15 years old and I live in Chicago. I am a Sophomore in High School. This year I have been riding my bike to school everyday. It is a flat 6 mile ride mainly on main roads.

I need some advice, because I have never ridden in snow before. I did one time on a road bike and busted my a s s.
I have a few questions.

Do I need studded tires? The roads are plowed pretty well here. I ride a Specialized Crossroads Sport. I just put slicks on it.

Are fenders neccesary if you have a rear rack?
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Old 11-12-07, 11:36 PM   #2
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Do I need studded tires? The roads are plowed pretty well here. I ride a Specialized Crossroads Sport. I just put slicks on it.
You'll probably get quite a few different opinions, but in general studded tires are good on ice and hard-pack snow and are useless or even dangerous (due to being slippery) in slush and on wet or dry pavement. If you ride in the city on well-plowed streets, then studded tires probably won't help you. They're good to have for that one icy day, or for riding on unplowed MUPs in winter though. If you have two sets on wheels, you can quickly swap them based on conditions of the particular day, but that may be a solution that's too expensive.

I am no expert in winter biking (only one winter under my belt), but I can tell you what I did. I used a pretty thick and aggressive knobby tire on the front and my usual slick on the back (too lazy to change it out). It's the front wheel that's in charge of balancing anyway - but then I still was fishtailing with the rear wheel; maybe running a knobby there would have cut down some on that too. But the front knobby definitely helped the overall stability: when both of my tires were slicks, I was sliding all over the place like crazy. There are some people who vote for riding slicks in winter because they "cut through the slash and grab the pavement", but based on my experience I would advise against them. They had almost no traction in winter. But then I only weight 120 pounds; perhaps for heavier riders the results are different.

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Are fenders neccesary if you have a rear rack?
I find fenders highly desirable even if you have a rack. For one, a rear rack won't protect you from dirt and mud kicked up by the front tire. Secondly, a rack is not long enough to stop all the dirt and mud kicked up by the rear tire - you'll still end up with a skunk stripe. Thirdly, a full-coverage fender will protect not only your back, but your drivetrain and your feet - something a rear rack definitely fails to do.
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Old 11-13-07, 07:34 AM   #3
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Frank. Given that you live in Chicago, it seems reasonable to expect to hit some slippery and icy spots now and again. But you're on well-plowed roads most of the time. For those reasons, I would look at a studded tire that isn't overly-aggressive. A good example is the Nokian Hakkapelitta W106, which you can read about on Peter White's page:

http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/studdedtires.asp

Peter recommends the W106 as "a nice tire for road riding when you don't want to be caught unawares by black ice. "

FWIW, I disagree with the poster who claims that studded tires are dangerous on pavements that are not ice-covered. I've found traction on dry pavement, and on wet pavement also, to be just fine. The Nokian studs do not protrude very far, and the rubber will deform around them. You'll hear a bit of clicking when riding on pavement, but plenty of rubber will be in contact with the road.

Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from, my experience winter biking is from one winter (so far!) riding around Munising in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Unlike the case in Chicago, our streets are purposely left with a layer of hard-packed snow and ice to accommodate snowmobilers. I went with Nokian 300s last winter, which are knobby tires with a stud in each knob. Sometimes it was the knobs doing all the work, because the hard-packed snow was soft-enough for the knobs to sink in. Other times it was the studs saving my rear from going down. In spring the city did scrape the streets down to pavement. I still had to ride with studs for awhile, and it was then that I would have preferred something less aggressive like the W106s. Knobby tires on pavement aren't a lot of fun.
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Old 11-13-07, 08:15 AM   #4
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W106s here too. It's a great tyre for riding on roads in winter. Some users have reported they're slippery on wet cobblestone type of pavement. We don't have much of that, so cannot comment on it from personal experience. But on ice and hard packed snow they're great. Studs are durable, you will wear yourself out riding on dry pavement before the studs go.

Definitely get fenders, for all the reasons mentioned above. Personally, I don't like riding clipless in winter. It's not easy finding clipless shoes for really cold weather, as the cleat is a good heat sink. I have a combination clipless/platform pedals so I can choose my footwear freely. YMMV, of course.

Winter riding is a lot of fun, but in really bad conditions it can be hard work. Just makes you faster for the summer!

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Old 11-13-07, 08:46 AM   #5
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I'm with Jonathan and Juda as a happy rider of Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106. Last I checked, they were $37 at BikeStop

They're great in everything but icy ruts (no side studs to assist in climbing out). In hard-pack, slush, the wet or the dry, they're just as grippy and confidence-inspiring as my regular road tires are in the dry. I don't have to change my fairly aggressive habits or riding style, and generally have more traction available than the cars do.

Like all snows, they're heavier and have more rolling resistance, but boy did I fly last March when I put the summer tires back on!

Full fenders are really helpful. True, they can look dorky. But on the plus side, they keep a lot of the slop out of the drivetrain. Front ones also keep it off your face and feet.
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Old 11-13-07, 10:18 AM   #6
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Cities like Chicago are used to snow. They are usually very aggressive about clearing the streets soon after a storm. I spent a winter in Milwaukee some time ago. The streets there were also an extra lane wide so there was space to put snow. That often meant more room for riding. The big danger I saw was a finger of snow here and there that extended out into my cycling space. These would thaw and freeze so that they turned to ice. Once one of those almost flipped me into traffic. But, after plowing and salting do their work, the sun heats the bare pavement enough to melt a lot of what is left and leave dry streets.

As temperatures cool, keep a diary of what you have to wear at different temperatures and wind chills. This makes a handy reference for later when the temperature fluctuates or a year from now when winter is coming again.

Last edited by twobikes; 11-13-07 at 10:21 AM. Reason: correct a spelling error
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Old 11-13-07, 02:27 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by tsl View Post
I'm with Jonathan and Juda as a happy rider of Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106. Last I checked, they were $37 at BikeStop

They're great in everything but icy ruts (no side studs to assist in climbing out). In hard-pack, slush, the wet or the dry, they're just as grippy and confidence-inspiring as my regular road tires are in the dry.
Two of my friends here in Munising have W106s on order. I'm most eager to trade bikes with them once we get some snow on the ground, to compare the W106s to the 300s that I currently ride.

BTW, I second what you said about switching back to regular tires in the spring. It was like I could suddenly fly uphill. Amazing. And I've been able to clean long, steep hills in one go this summer that a year ago would've had me stopping a half-dozen times.

I'm looking forward to this winter, for sure.
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Old 11-13-07, 04:03 PM   #8
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Advice: Buy a set of badass 26" Nokian Hakka WXC 300, then decide you don't like winter riding and sell them to me for a fraction of the cost. k thx bai!
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Old 11-13-07, 07:17 PM   #9
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Studded tires are not necessary here in Chicago. They do a good job on the main roads, and that includes the bike lanes. They even plow and salt the lake front path. Cycling is big here in Chicago and the mayor knows people do it year round. I don't think I have ever seen anyone with studded tires in Chicago.

Last edited by jcwitte; 11-13-07 at 07:23 PM.
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