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  1. #1
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    Snow riding: Gear versus skill?

    Hello, I live at 9,000 feet in the U.S. Rockies and am riding for the first time in winter.

    I have a 17" Specialized HRXC mountain bike with Nokian Extreme 294s. I tried the Mount & Ground 160s and was helpless and hopeless in snow with them, so I bought the Extremes.

    They are helping, but I'm still having a tough time in the snow. About half of my commute is through the forest on steep hills, zigzagging between trees, sometimes on trails and sometimes not. A small portion of my commute is on a paved but unplowed access road. The rest is in town on dirt roads that are generally plowed (though not very well).

    As long as I'm on level ground, which is rarely, I'm OK. On hills, my front tire often slides sideways. When I'm going uphill in snow, my back tire often just spins.

    I'm a small guy -- 5'6" and 130 pounds (168 cm, 59 kg). Right now my Extremes are inflated to 25 PSI. Should I go lower? Am I simply not heavy enough to gain traction?

    Or are there some special skills I need to learn before I can make this work?

    I'm guessing successful winter riding involves a balance of the right gear and the right skills.

    Thanks for your help.

  2. #2
    tsl
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloudrider View Post
    On hills, my front tire often slides sideways. When I'm going uphill in snow, my back tire often just spins.
    Both of these sound like weight distribution. Shift your weight to the rear. That will help the front float and the rear bite in.

    Standing while climbing is definitely to be avoided in slippery stuff. If you must stand to climb, do so hanging off the back of the saddle, not up and leaning out over the bars. Hanging off the back is also preferred for descending, for the same weight-distribution reasons.

    With less weight overall, you need to be smarter about where you put it.

    As for the title question, I think both gear and skills are important, but with skills being much more important. Skills can compensate for gear, but not the other way around.

    I know a guy who commutes daily on an 80s touring bike. Skinny slicks, no studs. He's been riding that way in winter for years and years. I don't know how he does it, and I've ridden with him in some pretty nasty stuff.

    My bike is still 700C, but I can fit 35mm studded tires in it. Even with the studs, if my weight distribution is too far forward, the front catches everything and moves left or right to follow it, and the rear will lose traction.
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  3. #3
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloudrider View Post
    They are helping, but I'm still having a tough time in the snow. About half of my commute is through the forest on steep hills, zigzagging between trees, sometimes on trails and sometimes not. A small portion of my commute is on a paved but unplowed access road. The rest is in town on dirt roads that are generally plowed (though not very well).
    You're riding up and down the Rocky Mopuntains, with not even singletrack trails, just dirt and pine needles under the snow--except half the time you're above the treeline so you don't even get the pine needles? Man you got some huevos to do that in the summer--let alone winter.

    You need a lot more expert help than I can give you. Maybe instead of the internet you should try praying?



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  4. #4
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    All tires wash around in snow.

    Practice.

  5. #5
    Senior Member ken cummings's Avatar
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    When I was commuting on icy roads west of Denver I found I could go straight up or down ice but not across a slope. The tires would just pop out to the downhill side. Even with spikes or studs there just may be some limit. There were a couple of places I did not ride when there was rutted or slick ice. If I had to be there, I got off and walked it.
    This space open

  6. #6
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    +1 to the weight distribution.

    you want to keep your momentum up so when your rear slips on a hill put all your weight back there and ease up on the pedals. if your front starts to slip put some weight on the front, but quick corrective steering is just as important.

    at your weight, you can probably go lower than 25psi on the front wheel.
    Food for thought: if you aren't dead by 2050, you and your entire family will be within a few years from starvation. Now that is a cruel gift to leave for your offspring. ;)
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    Thank you all for the great advice. I definitely have some practicing to do.

    Roody, those snow pics in your post look like my terrain. There's one hill that I have to carry the bike on because I don't have the strength to ride up it (even in summer). I've lived here a few years and still have trouble breathing sometimes at this elevation. In summer, the great challenge is dodging monsoon lightning.

    I will start practicing my weight distribution and maybe lower my PSI a bit. Anything more than 3-4 inches of snow is a challenge right now. I've ridden in as much as 8 inches with the Mount & Grounds. Not easy!

    Although my ride to town is tough, it's very short (a few miles), so I can always hike rather than ride. But of course that's not the point. I bought this bike with some reservations last spring after years of not owning a bike, but as soon as I started using it, I was hooked.

    Thanks again.

  8. #8
    Super Biker Mtn Mike's Avatar
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    I think winter riding is gear and skill equally (like any type of technical riding). You need experience and skill to choose the right gear for the conditions, and practice makes it easier to ride in different conditions.

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    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloudrider View Post
    Thank you all for the great advice. I definitely have some practicing to do.

    Roody, those snow pics in your post look like my terrain. There's one hill that I have to carry the bike on because I don't have the strength to ride up it (even in summer). I've lived here a few years and still have trouble breathing sometimes at this elevation. In summer, the great challenge is dodging monsoon lightning.

    I will start practicing my weight distribution and maybe lower my PSI a bit. Anything more than 3-4 inches of snow is a challenge right now. I've ridden in as much as 8 inches with the Mount & Grounds. Not easy!

    Although my ride to town is tough, it's very short (a few miles), so I can always hike rather than ride. But of course that's not the point. I bought this bike with some reservations last spring after years of not owning a bike, but as soon as I started using it, I was hooked.

    Thanks again
    .
    I really envy you, but it sounds tough. Not just the riding, but it's usually hard to even make a living in the mountains. I wish you had some pics to share with us. So far this winter I can't ride at all (injury) so I'm riding vicariously with the intrepid folks here on bikeforums.

    Good luck shloosing down those mountains--and schlepping up them!


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  10. #10
    Quirky Grifter LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    Perhaps a Surly Pugsley test ride is in order.

    Or maybe homemade spikes might be better than studs for your commute, but I still had to Hike-a-Bike in some of our recent conditions.

    1980ish Free Spirit Sunbird fixed * 1996 Mongoose IBOC Zero-G * 1997 KHS Comp * 1990-ish Scapin * Lemond Buenos Aires Triple

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloudrider View Post
    Hello, I live at 9,000 feet in the U.S. Rockies and am riding for the first time in winter.

    I have a 17" Specialized HRXC mountain bike with Nokian Extreme 294s. I tried the Mount & Ground 160s and was helpless and hopeless in snow with them, so I bought the Extremes.

    They are helping, but I'm still having a tough time in the snow. About half of my commute is through the forest on steep hills, zigzagging between trees, sometimes on trails and sometimes not. A small portion of my commute is on a paved but unplowed access road. The rest is in town on dirt roads that are generally plowed (though not very well).

    As long as I'm on level ground, which is rarely, I'm OK. On hills, my front tire often slides sideways. When I'm going uphill in snow, my back tire often just spins.

    I'm a small guy -- 5'6" and 130 pounds (168 cm, 59 kg). Right now my Extremes are inflated to 25 PSI. Should I go lower? Am I simply not heavy enough to gain traction?

    Or are there some special skills I need to learn before I can make this work?

    I'm guessing successful winter riding involves a balance of the right gear and the right skills.

    Thanks for your help.
    Cloud,

    You might try getting some snowcat rims which are 44mm wide. Then you can run the tires down to even a lower pressure and the wider rim will spread the tire out more. You will probably need long studs on the outside of the tire. Medium one's a little closer in and no studs in the middle of the tire so you can run on the road.

  12. #12
    surly old man jgedwa's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Roody;8084888]You're riding up and down the Rocky Mopuntains, with not even singletrack trails, just dirt and pine needles under the snow--except half the time you're above the treeline so you don't even get the pine needles? Man you got some huevos to do that in the summer--let alone winter.
    [QUOTE]

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  13. #13
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    Thanks for the further tips. Hmm, I'll have to think about those spikes and 44mm rims. I have a Jeep too, but the bike is more fun.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    I really envy you, but it sounds tough. Not just the riding, but it's usually hard to even make a living in the mountains. I wish you had some pics to share with us. So far this winter I can't ride at all (injury) so I'm riding vicariously with the intrepid folks here on bikeforums.
    Sorry about the injury. I'm mostly retired but still do some freelancing via computer.

    I took some pictures today. They don't really do the ride justice, but here is a slide show. There are 34 photos.

    BTW, I did better today, trying to shift my weight more. Just sitting up straight instead of leaning forward helps, except it makes the bars harder to reach. Maybe I need a taller gooseneck. I will learn the art of snow riding.

  14. #14
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    pugsly

  15. #15
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cloudrider View Post
    I took some pictures today. They don't really do the ride justice, but here is a slide show. There are 34 photos.
    Thanks, cloudrider. This comuter won't show the pics. I'm looking forward to seeing them on Tuesday, when I'll have access to a better computer.


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  16. #16
    Wrench Savant balindamood's Avatar
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    It is both skill and gear. For what you are riding on, I think a Pugsly (by Surly) is the way to go. If $2K+ is not worth it (it wasn't for me), going with a snow-cat style rims will help. Attached are pictures on my Rockhopper with 50-mm rims and studs. They barely fit, but they work great, and I can run the tie pressure from 10-15 psi. Some folks run lower than that, but actually glue the tire to the rim with rim cement (for tubular tires). The concept is that the tire beads get spread wide allowing for lower tire pressures and more tire contact. If you can take your bike into a shop which has them, I would definately check to see if they fit before I sunk the money into them. You can get the links for the rims by googling Snowcat, or Speedway Cycles in Anchorage also makes them. Alex also makes a wide downhill rim, I think it is about 40mm+ which is likely cheaper and easier to get.

    I paid $100 each for the hoops, and laced them myself to some hubs I already had. It is a cheaper, albeit not quite as effective, alternative to the Pugsly.



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