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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 02-26-08, 10:15 AM   #1
kmcrawford111
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Partial Commute Home Today Kicked My ***

We're in the middle of some fairly serious snow here. There was 2-4 inches projected. I decided that I would do my partial commute today, which is about 2 miles each way. The ride to work went OK. The ride back was my most difficult yet, and it pains me to say it, beyond my current capabilities. The winds were strong, but not enough to stop me. The snow and cold were virtually non-issues - this winter I've made great strides in adapting to the cold, I've found. But the roads were terrible. I have to hand it to you all-weather riders, because despite my best efforts I would have gone down many times had I not being moving slowly and had one foot ready to unclip and catch myself. The temperature was right around freezing, and the roads were mostly hard-packed snow thanks to cars and much heavier vehicles (I work in a steel mill), but there was also a lot of slush and (surprisingly) ice. One of my Marathon Winters might be able to be deflated a little bit more (I believe it's at about 40 psi, and the low end of the range is 30), but beyond that, I don't know what else I could have done to help.

So, what do you pros do when the roads are that bad? I know some of you don't even have cars. I want to bike as much as possible, and despite my dissapointment today I'm glad I tried. I'm not too keen on buying another set of studded tires, but should I have bought a different model? Something more aggressive? Or have I simply reached the limit of what I should expect to be able to do?

I live near Chicago and I work right on the shore of Lake Michigan - on the more difficult end of the spectrum for this riding, I imagine.
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Old 02-26-08, 11:04 AM   #2
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Yeah, you probably get a lot of lake effect snow and those infamous sudden squalls that have sunk 1000 ships in Lake Michigan.

Worst case--walk. For a 2 mile commute you certainly can do this. This would probably happen in heavy snow. In icy conditions, you're probably better off riding on the studded tires than walking.

Overtrain. Condition your body so that you're more than strong enough to handle the worst weather you need to handle. This means you have to ride more than just your commute. It's amazing how strenuous riding in slop is. Usually I'm concentrating so much on handling the bike that I don't notice how hard I'm working. But when I get home, I'm drenched in sweat and my muscles are still tired the next morning.
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Old 02-26-08, 03:16 PM   #3
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My solution for Anchorage is pretty simple. Traditional pedals, good shoes and big studded tires. I don't break any land speed records, but I also don't fall.
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Old 02-26-08, 03:31 PM   #4
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Yes indeed riding through slop is a hella workout. Gear up and spin spin spin in the crap. Just keep that back wheel moving. If the crap is causing you to float the front and it's washing out all over the place, try to sit back, relax your arms and shoulders because the stress of fighting the bike will just drive your muscles nuts. Just try to keep the front tracking straight. If traffic is agreeable, in that they are willing to share the lane, follow the tire mark of the car that passed before you as it will have less snow in it and you can generally can going a bit that way.

Some days though the snow can be a real monster, just go slow and keep spinning. As soon as your gearing has you straining against the snow all is lost. Keep it up and you'll be a winter expert in no time. This has certainly been the year of trail by snow for many winter commuters.

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Old 02-26-08, 03:46 PM   #5
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This has certainly bene the year of trail by snow for many winter commuters.
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Old 02-27-08, 11:36 AM   #6
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Thanks for the advice. It's not that I wasn't able to physically handle the riding - that was no problem, and I wasn't at all worn out. Had I cycled the whole 7 miles, I'm sure the story would be different, but as I said I did a partial commute to break and and get experience.

The problem is traction - not having enough to keep the bike upright. I found it particularly challenging where cars had turned onto and off of the road I was on and therefore forming hardpack that wasn't parallel to my riding. But even without that I didn't have nearly enough traction. If I were about to fall just a few times, it wouldn't be so bad, but it must have happened at least ten times, and that combined with moderate traffic around led to a sense that it wasn't working out. As I said, I want to bike as much as possible, but not when it involves constantly worrying about taking a fall, especially with cars around.

Something I failed to mention earlier, and didn't think much of until now, is that my rear derailleur hasn't been working properly - I've been able to use only the smallest three or four rear cogs because it won't shift to the others, and now sometimes it doesn't shift at all, which may be related to the weather conditions, I think. I removed my front derailleur, partially because it too had a problem, but also because I've never wanted to use the small ring, and thought it would be best for my fitness to limit myself to the middle ring. It also saved a bit of weight. I've blown off the repair on the rear one and gotten by without the lower gears.

I did try to fix it once, thinking that the cable needed re-tensioned, but my adjustments did not help. I've started to park by bike in the shop where I work, and I usually have free time to work on it there, so next time (hopefully tonight) I'm going to bring my copy of Zinn & The Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance with me, put some good time into it, and hopefully finally get it fixed, or at least find out what I need to get to get it fixed.

What gears do you use when the roads are the worst? It seems to me that using the lower gears might result in more sliding on the ice, and that the higher gears would move the bike too quickly and therefore recklessly. Do you use something in the middle? Do I need more aggressive studs than those on my Marathon Winters for this type of riding?

Again, thanks.

Last edited by kmcrawford111; 02-27-08 at 11:58 AM.
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Old 02-28-08, 07:56 AM   #7
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I think you are over thinking things. It's tough to ride in poor conditions and the narrow lanes in snow from car tires are very difficult to ride in. I don't think there is a magic gear ratio or set of tires that will make it easy. Just tough it out, keep riding, and you will get better at dealing with the conditions.
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Old 02-28-08, 08:14 AM   #8
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I had a nine mile ride last Dec on Christmas in 8-12 inches of snow. It took me almost 2 hrs but the workout was 5 times the intensity and 10 times as fun. Sometimes you just have to realize that a ride in those conditions will take a long time.
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Old 02-28-08, 10:06 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by kmcrawford111 View Post
What gears do you use when the roads are the worst? It seems to me that using the lower gears might result in more sliding on the ice, and that the higher gears would move the bike too quickly and therefore recklessly.
Low gears and spin lightly. The worse the conditions, the lower the gears. The whole reason I have a triple is for snow riding.

It helps a lot to keep your cadence up, making it easier to maintain balance when going slow and getting knocked around by ruts and hardpack. The lighter spin (less torque) keeps the rear wheel from breaking loose. When the rear breaks loose, you lose momentum, and momentum is your friend.

Finally, stay seated. Standing to pedal shifts weight to the front, potentially causing a loss of traction. You may even need to slide back further. Standing also causes you to mash instead of spin. As above, mashing (high torque) can cause the rear to break loose.

Save the workout rides for better conditions. The key in heavy snow is light and easy spinning in low gears.

Last edited by tsl; 02-28-08 at 10:12 AM.
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Old 02-28-08, 10:10 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by kmcrawford111 View Post
<SNIP> The winds were strong, but not enough to stop me. The snow and cold were virtually non-issues - this winter I've made great strides in adapting to the cold, I've found. But the roads were terrible. I have to hand it to you all-weather riders, because despite my best efforts I would have gone down many times had I not being moving slowly and had one foot ready to unclip and catch myself. The temperature was right around freezing, and the roads were mostly hard-packed snow thanks to cars and much heavier vehicles (I work in a steel mill), but there was also a lot of slush and (surprisingly) ice. One of my Marathon Winters might be able to be deflated a little bit more (I believe it's at about 40 psi, and the low end of the range is 30), but beyond that, I don't know what else I could have done to help. <SNIP>.
I have to say that sloppy snow is on of my least favorite conditions. The only thing worse is when the roads are a solid sheet of ice. I don't mind the temperatures. Maybe its because I have 700Cx35 tires that I am able to cut through the snow and get down to the road most of the time. However, any thick slop can cause the front end to move all over the place. I certainly do NOT find it fun... actually it scares the cr@p out of me at times. I do try to stay relaxed, but being on two wheels is not the most stable form of transport. I'd think that being on a 3 wheeler would be much more fun, you can then stop worrying about staying up right and then just blast your way through the snow.

When the roads get sloppy enough I simple skip riding for the day. I have had to skip remarkably few days due to snow, but some of those days I was very glad to be in a 4 wheeled vehicle (also with good snow tires). I don't have to be a hero and ride absolutely 100% of time, but getting as close to 100% is certainly a personal goal.

Happy riding,
André
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Old 03-01-08, 05:11 PM   #11
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Coaster brake rocks, but it's singlespeed. Few days ago came home with both tires soft from neglect, a thin ish layer, maybe 2 inches of sticky heavy snow on the ground, compacting in the front fender cause it's misajusted, acting like a brake. Kicking it repeatedly along to way to get the snow out didn't really help much. 8 kms of being bogged down at low rpm drained me out incredibly fast. Would have loved to have a lower gear or clip-on fenders or something.

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Old 03-01-08, 06:51 PM   #12
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Are you on a MTB? MTB have big knobbies which help, while 700c wheels don't ride or float on top of snow. I have a 3 mile commute and I have walked or carried my bike at least half way many times due to snow accumulations while I am at work.
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Old 03-16-08, 01:40 AM   #13
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Yes I'm using a MTB, with Marathon Winter tires.
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Old 03-20-08, 08:50 PM   #14
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Fender trick

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeanCoutu View Post
Coaster brake rocks, but it's singlespeed. Few days ago came home with both tires soft from neglect, a thin ish layer, maybe 2 inches of sticky heavy snow on the ground, compacting in the front fender cause it's misajusted, acting like a brake. Kicking it repeatedly along to way to get the snow out didn't really help much. 8 kms of being bogged down at low rpm drained me out incredibly fast. Would have loved to have a lower gear or clip-on fenders or something.
A trick I read to keep your fenders from getting jammed up is to adjust them so that the back end of the fender is closer to the tire than the front end.

GB
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