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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 03-30-08, 10:16 AM   #1
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Looking for snow tips...

Hey everyone...

I have been commuting daily for four years now, one only in "fair weather" in the cold north of Canada, and three more every day here in Holland. The commuting here is amazing, as it is a way of life for the locals, and not a rare exception. Bike paths on nearly every road, more often than not separated from the main road. Cars at roundabouts and intersections give you the right of way, (even if it is theirs) and are aware of bikes at all times. I end up sharing my bike lanes, even on rainy days, with little old ladies going to market, kids heading to school, and businessmen with ties flapping in the wind. It is fantastic...

My question for all of you...I would like to continue to commute daily, now that I am returning to Canada. Here ,it is miserable weather for many months, but it is only rain - no worries. However, I need some tips on riding in deep snow for my return to Canada - should I get studded tires? Do they really help much?

Has anyone tried the KTrax system for snow - the "snowmobile/tank" like tread on the back, and the ski on the front? Do these actually work, or is it a gimmick?

Any help would be appreciated - I would love to continue to make this a daily routine, it is often the highlight of my work day...
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Old 03-30-08, 10:25 AM   #2
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Studded tires are indispensable if you have mainly plowed roads but might sometimes have ice or snow packed into near-ice surfaces. That's what I face most of the time.
If you're really going to be commuting in deep snow and will not be hitting ice, you want wide knobbies for flotation. If it's going to be a mix of deep snow and ice, then you want the wide knobbies with studs, and be sure to get tires with studs part way up the side of the tread; those are good for climbing out of ruts instead of allowing the rut to throw your bike out from under you.

See - read the page. It's got a ton of good info for lots of different conditions.

Honestly, I have never seen any report on KTrax, but I can't imagine that it's useful. It wouldn't seem to preserve any momentum, and if that's the case you'd probably get there faster and easier on cross-country skis. I've skiied to work a few times.
Work: the 8 hours that separates bike rides.

Last edited by ItsJustMe; 03-30-08 at 10:34 AM.
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Old 03-30-08, 10:36 AM   #3
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Thanks -

Do you have a suggestion for a particular studded tire? The bulk of the winter where I am, I will be in deep snow...(the plows are very slow...)
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Old 03-30-08, 10:39 AM   #4
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I can't offer you any good advice since I generally don't ride in the snow. But there is a Winter Cycling forum here, whose readers may be able to give you some more suggestions. Although apparently activity there tends to die down a bit once Winter ends. Certainly can't hurt to get another thread going there to catch the attention of readers who don't read the Commuter forum.
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Old 03-30-08, 11:04 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Chuck43 View Post
My question for all of you...I would like to continue to commute daily, now that I am returning to Canada. Here ,it is miserable weather for many months, but it is only rain - no worries. However, I need some tips on riding in deep snow for my return to Canada - should I get studded tires? Do they really help much?
The most important factor for snow riding is low tire pressure. The tire must grab the snow like a glove. Standard pressure gauges give up usually at the low end where you need to operate, of less than 25 PSI. Studs are important for ice and a deeper thread is important for deeper snow. What helps you in snow, slows you down on a cleared path so you you need to weight what to use. I end up changing tires with major shifts in weather, usually few times across the season. My current combination for the situation of ice and snow appearing and disappearing, is a Hakkapelliita 106 in the more critical front and a touring tire in the back, with pressure in the tires varying dependent on snow.
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Old 03-30-08, 11:19 AM   #6
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I run two bikes all winter, my usual Bianchi San Jose commuter when the roads are clear and a flat bar mountain bike mounted with Nokian Mount and Ground studded tires with the roads are icy or snowy (or forecasted to be).

You mentioned "deep snow". Be careful with this whatever tires you run. Even 2" of snow is like riding through sand. It will slow you way down and tire you out.

I ride 25 miles round trip, and riding home 12 miles in only 2 inches of snow takes me 75% longer and absolutely drains my energy.
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Old 03-30-08, 12:07 PM   #7
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I was going to mention the deeper snow as well. The eastern stuff is more powder like but even there you will find serious drag in 2 or 3 inches. In cases where you get a 6 inch dump it's best to use some other method for that day and wait for the plows to clear it. Frankly it's soft enough that you are not going to float on the top with any tire you can fit on any bike I've ever seen. And once you're actually plowing through snow you're better off with a narrow tire instead.

Having lived in Ontario for a few years studded tires would be wise since even though there's lots of salt used on the roads you will be finding some nice icey patches here and there.

From a health standpoint I would also advise you to check the temperature in the morning. Generally it was advised that cross country skiing, jogging and other high breathing rate activities should not be done in temperatures much under about -18C. The issue being that the cold air can "burn" the lung tissue due to flash frostbite from breathing hard and fast through your mouth. I used to Xcountry ski in down to -15 and it was OK but I was in the woods where the wind was still rather than out on the road with wind chill to deal with.

Bottom line is I would suggest that you won't be bicycling every day over the winter for health and safety issues (like severe white out conditions during major storms) but with a bit of planning and prep you should be able to ride on the majority of the days. Keep in mind that there will be some days where a major storm blows in while you're at work. Depending on the conditions from a health or road safety standpoint be honest and be prepared to bail and use public transit to get home that night and back the next morning and then ride home on the freshly plowed routes. There's no point in being hurt in the pursuit of trying to stay healthy. Winters in eastern Canada ARE a harsh environment that often pushes the bounds of survivability. You will need to be willing to roll with the events.

Salt is also so common back there that I suggest you will want a winter and a summer bike. The winter bike being considered pretty much as a "consumable". I'm not sure if steel with frame saver or aluminium would be best. I'm thinking that the salt will cause electrolysis issues and possibly corrode even faster than frame savered steel. I've seen mag wheels on cars back there that looked like they had the pox thanks to being used for a couple of winters with chipped clear coats. Or possibly aluminium frame with frame saver to try to avoid this? One sure bet is that ever sliding fit and fastener should be greased during assembly just for this reason.

DOH! I paused and lookedup and realized now that DoB has already covered a lot of this. I'll leave it here now for the health issue though.

Welcome back to Canada.

Last edited by BCRider; 03-30-08 at 12:13 PM.
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Old 03-30-08, 12:19 PM   #8
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-Studded tires are a must. So are fenders for when the snow melts.
-The Trax system is a really cool idea, but does not work all that well around here (Anchorage).
-ALOT of people around here (Anchorage, again) ride Surlys in the winter, but not much for commuting. I haven't needed one.
-I have a back-up route/residential streets such that when it really gets ugly, I have something passable, but the traffic is better
- I run 29" wheels in the deeper stuff (6-9") for odvious reasons. My 29'er is not really set for commuting though, and prefer my standard mountain bike for 6" and under.
-You will find great debates about disk/rim brakes here. For the record, I have had only one rim brake (a early 90's cantileaver) freeze up once, EVER (and it was an unusually crappy day). However, my rear disk brake (cable, not hydraulic) freezes up nearly every time. I could probably fix this, but don't really care most of the time.
-If it is below -10F, I usually give up and drive. Above that, there is little difference between -10F and +20F.
-Ice is no problem, snow up to 6" or so is no problem (but it does slow you down), car snot (slush) is a BIG problem. Plan on walking through this if you have more than 2".
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Old 03-30-08, 12:27 PM   #9
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I was a bike messenger in Milwaukee for 5+ years. I rode in a lot of snow. If you are in un-compacted snow, narrower tires work well. It lets your tire sink down to where it gets grip. I would fly up hills that cars were skidding backwards down (while they were trying to go up).

If your streets are full of hard packed snow, like some parts of minneapolis get, where they just pack it down and don't seem to bother plowing anymore, then fatter tires work better, because you're already down to the firm part, so you just want something to grip a wider area (since it's prone to being bumpy and icy) and keep the pressure a little low so you get more conforming of the tire to the surface.

MIlwaukee put so much salt down, that snow from the night before would usually melt by 11:00am the next day.

I rode studded tires one day only, Nokian hakkapelitta, 4 rows of studs. They are very heavy, and probably have a lot of rolling resistance. There was an ice storm the night before and I needed to ride downtown to do deliveries (as usual). As suggested in the earlier paragraph, the ice was gone by 11. but the studs worked great before then (and after). I tried to make them break loose, but they held firm, and brought me to a controlled stop or turn every time, I was impressed. the end of the day, I was exhausted. I highly recommend the lightest studded tires you can find (fewer studs? titanium?). I'm sure they will still grip great expecially under regular use (not trying to make them break loose) and you won't be as tired when you get home.
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Old 03-30-08, 02:53 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by DoB View Post
You mentioned "deep snow". Be careful with this whatever tires you run. Even 2" of snow is like riding through sand. It will slow you way down and tire you out.

I ride 25 miles round trip, and riding home 12 miles in only 2 inches of snow takes me 75% longer and absolutely drains my energy.
Agree. This was my first winter riding outdoors on any kind of regular basis. I found 2-4 inches of snow (depending on moisture content / heaviness of snow) to be my limit - i.e., where it became far too much pain in the anus to be any fun.

In general, I think riding snow is a lot like riding in sand - slide your butt back to unweight the front wheel, keep your cadence up, etc.
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Old 03-30-08, 03:04 PM   #11
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This winter I rode in temps as cold as -46 C and did not suffer from frostbite of the lungs...wear a mask and breathe in through your nose (this warms the incoming air) and out through your mouth. Understand too that as you are moving you will also increase the wind chill factors over the ambient temperatures.

I ran a studded front tyre with a knobby rear tyre and find I liked the 1.75 width as it rolled faster on clear sections and cut through the snow better than the 2.0 tyre which tend to float / skate a little more.

Less knobs equals more contact area and even more important than the tread pattern is what the tread is made of...some tyres stay far more supple in cold temps and this plays a huge factor in how much traction you get.

You need gear that will keep you warm, dry, and block any wind and having many exchangeable layers is good as you know, the weather here can change on a dime.
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Old 05-29-08, 05:02 PM   #12
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I've been commuting year round in Calgary for a lot of years. On the coldest day or during the worst storm of the winter I'll often get asked "Did you ride your bike in today too?" My answer last time was "It was either that or give the bus company a buck." I suppose it is possible that they will get one off me some day but hopefully only if they pry it out of my cold dead hands.

I use the old 10 and 12 speed bikes with 27 X 1 1/4 tires, and I don't change the pressure or switch to studs for winter. I sought out early shifts and am on the road as early as 5:30 AM so avoid traffic that way. The ice is a problem. If I see it, I am really comfortable riding across it but that took a bit of practice. If it is under snow, packed or loose, and I don't see it, I do tend to thump into the pavement. On average once a winter. I did just cross 60 this year, but that still seems preferable to the time, inconvenience and expense of studded tires. Usually this is at slow speeds and no more than a sore spot for a few days, at the worst.

The sig article is winter cycling, and has more info, which I'd just be repeating here.

best wishes, lloyd
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Old 06-05-08, 07:24 PM   #13
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The most important factor for snow riding is low tire pressure. The tire must grab the snow like a glove.
This assumes you want to float. I've found that for urban winter riding, a high tire pressure with studs actually works better. Here my goal is not to try to float on the crud, but sink cleanly through it to the good ice and pavement. Plus there's rarely more than a foot or two on the roads and when there is it's too light to float on anyway.

The ice is a problem
It doesn't have to be. With good studs the glaze ice rides as good or better than than concrete. Here in Anchorage I kind of miss the ice during the light months because it covers all the potholes.

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