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  1. #1
    Goon
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    Building a Bike For winter!

    So, I started commuting last year, and stopped during the winter. Picked it up again this year. Now, I am really thinking of commuting in the Winter too. Most of the winter isn't too bad. Plowed roads, and so on, but obviously, you need a bike that can handle deep snow and Ice.

    My current ride is a Modified Rocky Mountain RC30. Modified in that I swapped the Handlebars out (flat bars) for Bullhorns and put on some Ultegra bar end shifters, and got some nice Brake levers for it. other than a Dent I recently discovered, and a few paint scratches, (rocky mountain is notorious for wimpy paint), it's in pretty decent shape, I'd like to keep it that way.

    So I want to build a bike for winter. I've never built a bike before, so I'd like it to be simple.

    First off, what makes a good winter bike?

    My initial thought it a single speed, perhaps fixed gear. This would be nice because it needs less maintenance, and considering it's going to be absorbing salt and grime from the roads, I'd like it to be simple.

    But should the frame be Steel? Aluminum?
    How important is a Suspension on these bikes?
    Should I go with thinner tires, but knobby? or get some MTB super-knobs?
    Is a flat bar better for winter riding?
    For single Speed, what gear ration? high? low? etc etc.
    Is single speed considerably harder on snowy terrain?

    What makes it a good winter bike?

    Some info on my ride:

    I live in Michigan, so from November to March we have snow for the most part.
    My commute is about 8 miles one way. Mostly paved roads. Some hills, but nothing untackleable
    I'm 5'9 124 lbs.
    I like to go fast, though winter riding isn't conducive to fast.

    Thoughts?
    No matter how bad things get, they can't get any better, and they can't get any worse, things are what they are, so you better get used to it Nancy, quit your B*tchin'

    -Church

  2. #2
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    I've ridden two winters in Calgary. The first one on a Kona Dew Hybrid, the second on a Kona Fire Mountain.

    should the frame be Steel? Aluminum? I've heard arguments both ways.

    How important is a Suspension on these bikes? My front suspension on the Fire Mountain froze immediately each ride and was just extra weight. I think it would handle better without it. I don't know if a more expensive fork would have helped.

    Should I go with thinner tires, but knobby? or get some MTB super-knobs? Thinner will dig through the snow down to solid ground which may make for better handling. But if the snow is too deep, they tend to skate sideways. Fatter knobs may handle better in deeper snow (but require more energy to push) and may give better traction on ice. You may want to consider studded tires for better traction.

    Is a flat bar better for winter riding? I never really thought about this one. I can't see myself riding in the drops very often. Bullhorns may be nice for pulling through the deep stuff.

    For single Speed, what gear ration? high? low? etc etc. Keep in mind that you will move slower in winter than in summer. Deep snow is really hard to push through. When the snow is not deep, ice will slow you down.

    Is single speed considerably harder on snowy terrain? I haven't tried it. Only one gear means you cannot adjust for conditions (clear roads in the morning and a big snow fall before you head home). It does make the bike more simple though. I had zero trouble with the gears/shifters on my mountain bike last year, and I'm pretty lazy with the maintenance. Some of the bike couriers here ride skinny tire road bikes converted to fixed gear or single speed year round, so there must be something to it.

    The shifters and cables on my dew froze up often. They did not shift smoothly. However, even when they were really bad I could still get off the bike and move the chain to another gear if needed.

    I have had the pawls in my freewheel freeze, which is no fun in -35 C.

    My commute this winter will be much shorter. I'm thinking about a fixed gear mountain bike with no suspension, but I'll likely stick with the Fire Mountain for most days, and the Dew for light snow days.

    You may want to just pick up a cheap used mountain bike and ride it until you know what changes you want to make. Or throw some studs on your current ride and see how it works for you.

  3. #3
    Goon
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    Quote Originally Posted by idontgetit View Post
    I've ridden two winters in Calgary. The first one on a Kona Dew Hybrid, the second on a Kona Fire Mountain.

    should the frame be Steel? Aluminum? I've heard arguments both ways.

    How important is a Suspension on these bikes? My front suspension on the Fire Mountain froze immediately each ride and was just extra weight. I think it would handle better without it. I don't know if a more expensive fork would have helped.

    Should I go with thinner tires, but knobby? or get some MTB super-knobs? Thinner will dig through the snow down to solid ground which may make for better handling. But if the snow is too deep, they tend to skate sideways. Fatter knobs may handle better in deeper snow (but require more energy to push) and may give better traction on ice. You may want to consider studded tires for better traction.

    Is a flat bar better for winter riding? I never really thought about this one. I can't see myself riding in the drops very often. Bullhorns may be nice for pulling through the deep stuff.

    For single Speed, what gear ration? high? low? etc etc. Keep in mind that you will move slower in winter than in summer. Deep snow is really hard to push through. When the snow is not deep, ice will slow you down.

    Is single speed considerably harder on snowy terrain? I haven't tried it. Only one gear means you cannot adjust for conditions (clear roads in the morning and a big snow fall before you head home). It does make the bike more simple though. I had zero trouble with the gears/shifters on my mountain bike last year, and I'm pretty lazy with the maintenance. Some of the bike couriers here ride skinny tire road bikes converted to fixed gear or single speed year round, so there must be something to it.

    The shifters and cables on my dew froze up often. They did not shift smoothly. However, even when they were really bad I could still get off the bike and move the chain to another gear if needed.

    I have had the pawls in my freewheel freeze, which is no fun in -35 C.

    My commute this winter will be much shorter. I'm thinking about a fixed gear mountain bike with no suspension, but I'll likely stick with the Fire Mountain for most days, and the Dew for light snow days.

    You may want to just pick up a cheap used mountain bike and ride it until you know what changes you want to make. Or throw some studs on your current ride and see how it works for you.
    Thanks for the info!

    The fact that your Shifters froze up and your Pawls froze too makes me lean towards a single speed geared for grannies :-)
    No matter how bad things get, they can't get any better, and they can't get any worse, things are what they are, so you better get used to it Nancy, quit your B*tchin'

    -Church

  4. #4
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    Caveat: the lowest temperature I rode at last year was -25C

    I just ride my mountain bike stock with nokians. I've had no problems with suspension, few problems with shifting, and very few problems with freehub pawls. The pawls seem best when they are old enough that the grease has thinned out, but not so old that they are worn out.

    Is suspension needed? Well if you need it in the summer, there aren't many riding surfaces that are smoother in the winter. But unless you have an adjustable (ie more expensive) fork, it may stiffen enough to do very little

    Shifting? Even crusted over with ice I can usually get two or three gears. Again, my range of *needed gearing* is higher in the winter than in the summer.... think climbing a hill with deep snow into the winter wind on the way to work, and going downhill on salted bare pavement on the way back. ..

  5. #5
    ride for a change modernjess's Avatar
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    i ride and daily commute (15 m RT) a single speed Surly Cross Check year round. No suspension, 700c. I do a bunch of stuff to it for winter though. First of all I have 2 sets of wheels to swap depending on conditions. But mostly once the snow flies and it's below freezing the Nokian 106 35mm studded set stay on. But we can have long stretches of dry weather and the roads are bare. So the swap takes about 60 seconds. One tooth difference on my rear freewheel, is not a problem for chain length.

    My winter conversion also includes switching out the drop bars (my pref. most of the time) for a flat bar with cane creek ergo bar ends. It feels better to me and is more akin to my mountain bike handling skills on the snow and ice. i like the position better, and the wider bars. I throw on wider fenders and I also switch my 3 season 44x16 gearing to 39x17 combo and shorten the chain which I then replace every year when I switch back at the end of winter. I need an easier ratio with the studs for sure.

    Single speed is great in the winter as far as maintaining the bike it's a piece of cake. Nothing much goes wrong. Which I like because getting cought out when it's below zero and really dark is just plain dangerous.

    But I'll admit it single speed in the winter with studded tires and snow ice is hard f'n work. EVERYTHING is harder in the winter, and you are slower, so plan on that too. But it'll help you be in good shape at then end of the season. It's a really fun challenge that i highly recommend. Sound like you're ready. I say go for it.

    Then there's the clothing issue, there is a plethora of good advice in this forum.

  6. #6
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    I too live in Calgary, and have commuted for 7+ winters now.

    My less expensive - Gary Fisher Piranha - ATB bike is actually better on really bad days than my more expensive - Norco Fireball - ATB bike. The Altus shifters continue giving me all 21 speeds, while the LX/XTR shifters freeze up leaving me with about 7 of 27. Only complaint is it doesn't have disc brakes...discs (hydros) are definitely better in all conditions (IMHO).

    But a couple degrees off the worst days, the Norco shifts fine, and is SSSSOOOO much nicer. The alumimum frame is lighter, the range of gears is better, the brakes are more easily modulated, the suspension fork takes the edges off the icy rut (important to us on the high side of 40), etc.

    There are 3 sets of wheels for the Norco - the slicks for spring, fall & really nice winter riding, the mountain wheels for most winter days (weather isn't entirely predictable) and studded front / downhill rear for the really bad days (actually, the studded front is on alot...rubber side down is just so much more fun). Gary Fisher has MEAN Stud on the front/downhill on rear.

    Don

    Note: I have picked up a suspension fork (my kid upgraded his bike) and if it fits the Piranha, the Gary Fisher will have a front disc and suspension for the coming winter.

  7. #7
    Biscuit Boy Cosmoline's Avatar
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    If you're dealing with icy roads, get studded tires. They make a universe of difference. I don't think you need suspension. You'll have a far nicer time if you give yourself some gearing choices instead of a single speed. Conditions can go from glaze ice to wet ice to rhyme ice to light snow on ice to heavy snow on ice to heavy snow on chunder to heavy chunder on ice to drift snow on old snow to packed snow to packed drift snow to snowplow-planted berms back to deep frozen ruts to pavement to concrete to standing water on ice all in one short trip. Each one is a different unique surface with its own problems.
    ''On a bicycle you're not insulated. You're in contact with the landscape and all manner of people you'd never meet if you were in a car. A fat man on a bicycle is nobody's enemy.''

    Tom Vernon.

  8. #8
    Senior Member PsySal's Avatar
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    I have also ridden two winters in Calgary! First was on a Norco Mountaineer (fairly cheap front sus. mtb) and the second on a fixed gear with rigid fork, bullhorns. I had 700x38s with studs, they are schwalbe snow stud I think. Gear ratio was 35x14 which was a little high. Next year will run 35x15.

    Anyhow not surprisingly the fixed gear was way, way better. Here's why:

    1. RD gets gummed up with snow and shifts murkily.
    2. FD gets gummed up with road salt and dies completely.
    3. As another poster mentioned, sus. fork freezes completely (mine got totally gummed up as well, but it was a super cheap steel fork)
    4. Having only one gear means more reliability. This is an asset when you are in terrible conditions, you don't have to worry about chain slippage etc. you can just power through the snow/slush/etc.
    5. Fixed gear I think is nicer than freewheel, because you can control your speed very well on slippy roads. Basically, you can resist fairly easily with your legs and feel immediately if the tires begin to loose traction, and let them roll. Hard to do that with a handbrake.
    6. I have two brakes as well, but only really use them downhill. I'd recommend two brakes for a winter bike, though I can see why people get along fine with only a front brake on their summer fixed gear.
    7. Mittens! You can wear really big mittens if you want to, and not worry about your ability to shift.
    8. Fixed gear riding style tends to be slower and more controlled, not so many sudden stops. This is good style for winter riding, and feels very natural on a fixed gear bike.

    Generally with a SS setup, what I found is it's better to have it slightly fast rather than slow. I had a SS MTB set up and while I could get it up just about any hill it was ultimately really not good for traveling long distances as you'd max out. You'll be slower in winter, for sure, but be at least a little bit optimistic about your ability to push a faster gear up hills.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by modernjess View Post
    i ride and daily commute (15 m RT) a single speed Surly Cross Check year round.
    I saw someone with a crosscheck wearing a Surly Ultimate shirt last week at Lake Harriet... was that you?

    Watching this... sounds interesting.

  10. #10
    Goon
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    So by "faster" gear you mean a higher gear ratio?
    No matter how bad things get, they can't get any better, and they can't get any worse, things are what they are, so you better get used to it Nancy, quit your B*tchin'

    -Church

  11. #11
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    You might try what I am going to do this coming winter. It is a 3x3 single speed made from an old mountain bike. You get the benefit of a single speed for ease of maintenence and less worry. No frozen cables,etc. But you have three gear choices.

    Using a mountain bike crankset with 36,26,20 chainrings and building up a rear cog with a 12,22,28 set of sprockets. Nashbar used to have a rear cassette with these gears on. I hope they still sell it. The idea is to take the gears on the cassette apart and use spacers that will make them align with the front chainrings. So you have a pretty good cruising gear and two easier gears which you choose based on the conditions. You have to loosen the rear wheel a little to manually change the chain but if you select the correct gears to begin with you should be OK for most of your ride.

    In winter you might need anywhere from a good cruising gear to a very low gear to get through snow.

  12. #12
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    I have tossed around SS or not quite a bit. Last year I went with 24 speed. I rarely changed the front chain ring but I did go through the back sprockets a bit. Honestly shifting wasn't a problem. I always kept the chain and derailleur lubricated. I also park in a garage which helps melt the snow and slush off.

    I did however tear apart the bike and clean all the nooks and crannies this spring.

  13. #13
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    i think 2 wheel drive would help in these kinds of conditions. i love riding in the snow. its just magical when its all brand new, never tampered with snow.

    http://www.sportsgifts.com/csg-90018awd2-4-gold.html

  14. #14
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    I dunno about a Jeep bike. I'd get the Christini if I was going to look at an AWD bike:

    http://www.christinibicycles.com/bikes.php





    They've been making them since 1996.

  15. #15
    Senior Member coldfeet's Avatar
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    These appear to be the same bike, I thought at first it was a joke, I've never heard of this before.

  16. #16
    ride for a change modernjess's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Netdewt View Post
    I saw someone with a crosscheck wearing a Surly Ultimate shirt last week at Lake Harriet... was that you?
    Not me. My frame has the Surly decals removed, and I don't have a Surly T-shirt, I haven't been near lake harriet since there was snow on the ground. Too crowded.

    Thanks for asking. There's lot or surlys around here though.

  17. #17
    Goon
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silverexpress View Post
    So you have to stop, hop off the bike, and basically fiddle around with the rear wheel and chain in the cold (36 F to -12 F)? No thanks. Why not spend a little more and get the convience and reliability of an internally geared rear wheel with a built in brake system? You can get 8 speeds out of one - plenty for Michigan.

    I've experienced Michigan commuting in the winter, and salt does real wonders on aluminum and steel. From what I've learned....

    1. Keep everything oiled, and greased.
    2. Fenders, and humongous mud flaps are essential
    3. You might be able to get away with not using studded tires, but for me - I like the extra insurance of getting to work minus a broken wrist or smashed knee. Here in Michigan we do get ice - Black ice too. Period. Check out "Trails Edge Cyclery" near Hines Drive in Northville since they sell some of the best studded tires around - Nokians.
    4. If you get a used bike, go over it with a few cans of Rustoleum before Winter sets in.
    5. It'll be the slowest bike in your stable - especially if you go with studded tires.
    6. I'm thinking of going with internally geared this winter myself.

    Also checkout www.icebike.org
    Funny, I was just thinking about the rustoleum.

    I like the idea of internal gear shifting, but, this winter, I won't have the money for it, so thats why I am looking at fixed. Easy to maintain, reliable, comparatively light, and Cheap.

    Tree Fort Bikes, which is close to where I live is pretty good about being able to order stuff and have it there quick, hopefully they'll be able to order the nokians.
    No matter how bad things get, they can't get any better, and they can't get any worse, things are what they are, so you better get used to it Nancy, quit your B*tchin'

    -Church

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silverexpress View Post
    So you have to stop, hop off the bike, and basically fiddle around with the rear wheel and chain in the cold (36 F to -12 F)? No thanks. Why not spend a little more and get the convience and reliability of an internally geared rear wheel with a built in brake system? You can get 8 speeds out of one - plenty for Michigan.

    Also checkout www.icebike.org
    Agree that an internal hub is the best choice for winter commuting. But this 3 x 3 single speed is a simple and inexpensive method. It's not such a big deal as you think since most of the time you would only be using the 36 and 12 tooth gear combination. This would work for most of the time. The other gears are just bail out gears if you get into trouble or have to push through deep snow.

  19. #19
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    The tech-speak intimidation factor around here can be daunting. I say keep it simple.

    I ride an old cro-mo mountain bike (Specialized) bought back in 1990. I use trigger-shift gearing and enjoy being able to drop down a gear to slog through deep, slushy wheel ruts. I also have big, fat metal studded Nokia tires and love them. They never slip. Big fenders. Lots of clearance. Once a week I take it downstairs to the utility sink where I have a hose hooked up and hose it down, clean the chain with a cloth, and grease 'er up for next week. Take care to grease up the derailers (sp-dc) and run the now cleaned and greased chain through the shifting cycle once or twice to spread the gooey wealth. I find a can of "G96 *** Treatment" works really well for cold weather cleaning and lubing.

    This bike is not fast but I don't go for that in winter. Slow and steady. Have fun hopping over snow-banks BMX ninja-style.

    This takes me through all the snowy-slogging Minnesota can throw at me.

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