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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 05-15-09, 11:29 AM   #1
Lebowski
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reflections of my first winter commuting.

I've heard people say "you will never make it through your first winter, just ride as long as you can"

my commute was about 45-50 minutes round trip, so it wasnt really that bad.

well i did make it, i missed two days this winter. it was one of the coldest and most brutal that i can remember. we had tons of snow and it was below zero for a solid month. maybe it was an average winter and i was just up close and personal with it all season that it seemed worse than normal, i dunno.

i rode a rigid single speed 26'' mtb with disc brakes all winter. this next winter i am going to use both of my wheel sets. i am going to get a set of super fat DH tires, 2.5-2.7 inches for snow (i have plenty of clearance) and a nice set of studded tires. perhaps make my own.

i found that i did not need studded tires 90% of the time, they salt so much where i live that i was dealing with either lots of snow or clean pavement.

i am not going to use fenders this next winter, i will wear my rain pants over my work uniform.

i am not going to go single speed this winter, i went back to 27 speed. the granny gear will be of much help in deeper snow.

buy a chain scrubber and use it every day. plan on replacing your chain too. keep it lubed. use good lube, not stuff that will attract lots of sand like i did.

my 29er performed very well in the snow because it has unusually short chain stays, i got excellent traction because so much weight was centered over the rear wheel.

sun glasses are better than goggles most of the time.

i only went down twice this last winter, i did not get hurt either time. being a mountain biker i am used to spilling and got pretty good at it. riding on ice and snow taught me a lot of stuff that i am using on the trails this season.

clothing wasnt that much of an issue, i had it figured out after the first month or so. my advice would to wear as much clothing as possible and take a piece off each day until you figure out your comfort zone.

chewing gun helped me take the edge off of the cold air entering my mouth. my nose always ran so i was forced to breathe through my mouth a lot.

steel toed shoes are surprisingly very very warm, or atleast mine were. i wore ice fishing gloves underneath a pair of snowmobile gloves, my hands sweated most of the time. i carried my balaclava in my coat pocket all the time, even if i thought i did not need it the wind could shift and ruin my ride.

i put lotion on my face every day, i used to put vitamin E oil on my eye lids before every ride so they would not get chapped.

i had a surprising amount of fun riding last winter, i stayed in shape, and everybody thought i was insane. i got really used to cold weather and enjoyed it. it was more of a mental challenge than physical. i realized that i love that kind of stuff, thriving off of adversity and what have you
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Old 05-18-09, 02:21 PM   #2
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Good stuff.

Thanks for the insights. I don't suppose you used any foot retention, did you?
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Old 05-18-09, 02:52 PM   #3
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Interesting.

I'm not a huge fan of fenders for winter riding, but I'm curious - why do you say you won't use fenders next winter?
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Old 05-18-09, 03:51 PM   #4
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i did not use foot retention, at first i did not use it because i was afraid of falling, then as winter progressed i started wearing boots. size 13 boots wont fit in any toe cages i am familiar with. the boots made it easier to climb over snow banks and take short cuts.

its hard to find fenders that work on my mountain bike, its hard to find fenders that fit over huge tires with decent clearance. i didn't even need the fenders 90% of the time, it really wasnt an issue until the snow started to melt. i'll keep the slop guard on my downtube though.
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Old 08-24-09, 12:41 PM   #5
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Thanks for the great post.
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Old 08-24-09, 07:25 PM   #6
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Thank you for the inspiring post. I'm hoping to ride through most of this coming Winter in Denver, although I'll wimp out when we have snow falling. I'll keep watching this forum for insights on how to care for myself and my gear.
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Old 08-25-09, 08:33 PM   #7
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Well I have been doing winter biking for a lot of years. There is something to it that is almost fun. Or at least it resulted in the sig site winter biking article and that was fun.

I prefer to use road tires, and definitely fenders. I do have a single mt bike with 1.25 inch tires but only use that if the snow hasn't been cleared yet, and even then it is just to get some use out of it. (with all the super low gears) But I really do agree about not using studs. With a little practice you get good at riding across even glare wet ice, unless it is sloped. Even then I'd much sooner push the bike a bit than get studded tires.

When the ice is under snow I don't always know until the bike starts to slide and do thump into the pavement once or twice a winter. I have arranged my route and times so this is never in traffic. Usually it is under difficult conditions and at a low rate of speed. I'm 62 now and no sign of brittle bones yet.

I'm thinking of selling T shirts with "The bus company is not going to get a buck offa me." Maybe get a super large one I can wear over my parka.
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Old 08-25-09, 09:49 PM   #8
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I remember, I rented a mountain bike in Arizona. The guy working there had his arm in a sling - broke it mountain biking. He was all non-chalant about it. "Yeah, once this heals up I'll be out biking again. Eventually I'll get old enough where this stuff won't heal up quick any more and I'll have to quit, but until then I'm hittin it as hard as I can!"

If you have that kind of temperament, that's cool. Heck, road racers crash into each and it's really unusual if anyone dies (and when it happens, it usually involves going off a cliff or something). What I mean is - road racers are going a lot faster than you winter biking, and are on a hard road whereas you might land on some snow, so as long as you don't end up under a car you're likely better off than the road racers. And even they have a very low risk of like actually dying or being permanently injured.

But at the same time, I wouldn't call riding without studs over ice "safe". I mean, as has been mentioned in this thread, if you ride without studs in the winter long enough you're going to go down. Because when it happens there's nothing you can really do, it's kinda like rock climbing without a rope (except your risk is typically road rash or a broken bone, not likely death). Once your front tire slips out from under you, you barely have time to react before you hit the ground.

I remember like 6 years ago almost no one had heard of studded tires and I was sitting around in the fall with some people in the bike club and mentioned that I was bummed winter was coming and I wouldn't be able to bike any more. Someone said "You can still bike in the winter, you know!" I had heard this a couple of times before, so I just sat back and casually said "Really?....So you guys bike in the winter, huh? So...have any of you ever broken anything?" Every single one of them had broken a major bone (sometimes an arm, often a collarbone).

In more recent times, I know 2 different guys (in person) who started biking to work through the winter. They both ran just a front studded tire. This last winter was vicious, and both of them went down at some point. Neither was seriously injured, but they both went out and bought a rear studded winter tire - both basically said the same thing "It's not worth $60 and a little drag to go down like that again!"

However, I think worse than riding without studs is riding with steel studs (home made tires are made with steel screws) on paved roads. Not only do they have a terrible ride, but if you've been reading threads about studded tires you'll read person after person who bought a cheap pair of Innova studded tires (steel studs), and halfway through winter lost traction on ice and fell over. When they looked at their tires, the studs had worn down to the same height as the tire. At least when you're riding without studs you know you won't have traction on pure ice - you watch out for it, and are careful when you might be on it. I think it's way worse to *think* that you'll have traction when you don't.

If you're not riding on pavement, home made studs are probably fine. But if you are riding on pavement, the reason why the Nokian and Schwalbe tires are so expensive is because they use "carbide" studs - studs that will last longer than the tire itself will last. It's sounded like those guy's tires will last 2-3 seasons of everyday riding/commuting.

Personally, I run the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires because pumped up to 75psi they're nearly as fast as my regular summer tires, and while they have more grip on ice at lower psi's they still have some at the higher pressure (and obviously it's easy to change the pressure). They're not as great in the snow as a wider tire, I am lucky enough not to have to wade through deep snow on my bike. If I did, I would think about getting a second front rim with like a Nokian Extreme on it and just switch the front wheel.

Anyways, sorry to go on about it. Sounds like you had fun. Glad to hear it!
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Old 08-26-09, 08:40 AM   #9
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Where are you guys? It sounds like you live in places where the stuff on the ground stays frozen for months. Here in NJ, we get heavy snowfalls in some winters and nothing significant other winters. And stuff doesn't usually stay on the ground for more than two or three weeks, this past winter being an exception.
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Old 08-26-09, 09:14 AM   #10
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Where are you guys? It sounds like you live in places where the stuff on the ground stays frozen for months. Here in NJ, we get heavy snowfalls in some winters and nothing significant other winters. And stuff doesn't usually stay on the ground for more than two or three weeks, this past winter being an exception.
I'm in Minnesota, I believe the original poster is in Sheboygan area, WI (according to his profile).
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Old 08-26-09, 09:43 AM   #11
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You guys make 8 months of rain sound positively secure and cheerful :-) I might have a few weeks of snow, but you guys are doing months of snow, I don't have an excuse for a few inches in January. Ice patches are pretty common, tho. Last winter streets were icy for two or three weeks. I'll look into studs.
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Old 08-26-09, 12:08 PM   #12
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I think I've concluded that studded tires are not justified here in Noo Joizy. I might put on knobby tires just on the days things are dicey.
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Old 08-26-09, 12:41 PM   #13
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yeah, it's winter for like 1/2 the year (northern Minnesota),if you ride a bike and live here ..................(our bears are brown not white ,but it is freakin' cold )
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Old 08-26-09, 01:18 PM   #14
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I think I've concluded that studded tires are not justified here in Noo Joizy. I might put on knobby tires just on the days things are dicey.
Don't fool yourself though, knobby tires aren't going to "dig into" the ice any more than skinny tires. Rubber just doesn't grip pure ice at all.

I really, really, really don't mean to sound preachy (especially in this post), I just know that if I go out biking and there *might* be ice on the road, I use at least a front studded tire because I'm just not willing to wipe out. One of the smoother rolling Schwalbe ones like I mentioned. I know, I know, maybe I'm a wimp, but it's just not worth saving $30-$40 and a slight amount of rolling resistance for me in exchange for wiping out. I think if you're riding in the winter without studs long enough, wiping out is inevitable. (The studded tires cost $60-$70, unless you get them half off at the end of the season, but my regular puncture resistant tires cost $30-$40 anyways so it's a $30-$40 difference).
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Old 08-26-09, 04:04 PM   #15
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OK, I hear you. So far, I've avoided going out when there's snow or ice on the ground, which doesn't limit it that much most winters here. I'll either equip myself properly or I'll keep following my old rule.
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Old 08-29-09, 06:20 PM   #16
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I use studs all winter long, the rolling resistance "disappears" (you notice it less) after a week. When spring rolls around and the studs come off it's a treat!

I've never wiped out on ice, don't even care that much if there is ice.

Frankly, I don't think the risk of a busted wrist, twisted ankle or bruised elbow and hip are worth the gains in rolling resistance(3-5% slower MAX), winter commuting ain't a race!

Of course, I do encounter glare ice on side streets and at intersections and stop signs where cars have melted snow and it's frozen back into ice... if you don't have such issues it might not be worth it.
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Old 08-31-09, 08:51 PM   #17
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I just sat back and casually said "Really?....So you guys bike in the winter, huh? So...have any of you ever broken anything?" Every single one of them had broken a major bone (sometimes an arm, often a collarbone).
Interesting post Paul. I hadn't ever associated biking with breaking bones. I did break a collar bone a lot of years ago in the summertime, and that wasn't at a high rate of speed. Just a pedestrian doing something unexpected and getting in the way. I went over the handlebars when I stopped to avoid him.

One thing that I think is important is to avoid the 'speed demon' mentality especially in winter. That isn't my attitude when I ride a bike. It might be from growing up on a farm and just going places with my brother and a friend on bikes. Speed was never an issue and we were just talking and enjoying the rides as much as the destination.

In winter more speed would add to the danger and the problems.

Thought provoking.

best wishes everyone
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Old 09-02-09, 01:28 PM   #18
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I've heard people say "you will never make it through your first winter, just ride as long as you can"

my commute was about 45-50 minutes round trip, so it wasnt really that bad.

well i did make it, i missed two days this winter. it was one of the coldest and most brutal that i can remember. we had tons of snow and it was below zero for a solid month. maybe it was an average winter and i was just up close and personal with it all season that it seemed worse than normal, i dunno.

i rode a rigid single speed 26'' mtb with disc brakes all winter. this next winter i am going to use both of my wheel sets. i am going to get a set of super fat DH tires, 2.5-2.7 inches for snow (i have plenty of clearance) and a nice set of studded tires. perhaps make my own.

i found that i did not need studded tires 90% of the time, they salt so much where i live that i was dealing with either lots of snow or clean pavement.

i am not going to use fenders this next winter, i will wear my rain pants over my work uniform.

...i only went down twice this last winter, i did not get hurt either time. being a mountain biker i am used to spilling and got pretty good at it. riding on ice and snow taught me a lot of stuff that i am using on the trails this season...

i had a surprising amount of fun riding last winter, i stayed in shape, and everybody thought i was insane. i got really used to cold weather and enjoyed it. it was more of a mental challenge than physical. i realized that i love that kind of stuff, thriving off of adversity and what have you

I am now in my second year of reading Bike Forums, and it seems that winter threads start up in August; unbelievable, but I do enjoy winter riding for the reasons described above. Congratulations, in particular noting that you post from Sheboygan, WI.


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I think I've concluded that studded tires are not justified here in Noo Joizy. I might put on knobby tires just on the days things are dicey.
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I ride Route 1 to Norwood and this winter it has been well-tended, so I demurred from buying studded tires. This following post, in reply to a thread, "Studded Tires or Fenders" by a subscriber who could afford only either one or the other, convinced me:

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I dunno, maybe it's my age showing. Here in Rochester, at least along my commute, there's always ice that miraculously didn't get salted away.

I figure gunk washes off quickly and easily. Broken bones would keep me off the bike for weeks while they mend
.
Even though ice patches may be small and easily seen, there may occur emergency situations where it is unavoidable to ride on them. I live by Jim's Law of the Road: No matter how lightly traveled and/or well-paved a road is, a car will likely pass you on the left as you encounter an obstacle [e.g. ice] on the right.

BTW, as posted by many on the Forums, and in my experience, Schwalbe Marathon Winters don't have a noticeable increase in rolling resistance.
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Old 09-03-09, 02:02 AM   #19
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Thanks, good post. My first winter last year also. My view;

Big fat tires, studded. My bike only allows 2.1, Nokian Extremes are excellent. would love to have frame for really fat tires. There were a few days when my setup couldn't go, or me :-)

I never spent more than 2 or 3 hours out at a time, no too cold issues there.
BMX platform peddles, can use any of my winter footwear.
goggles and I use a snowboard helmet, by giro.
Son generator hub and bright lights, also lots of high vis reflective tape.

I put my generator hub/wheel and lights on last week. Temps are dropping, soon all the bears and mosquitos will be gone :-)
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Old 09-03-09, 06:33 AM   #20
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I've been a winter biker before. I only rode a handfull of times during the heart of last winter, but I'm gonna try to do better this year.

For the sake of those who haven't yet done it, I'll add that it's far more exhilarating and satisfying than most people would expect. Staying warm is no problem. Just the opposite; keeping cool (even below zero deg F) is usually the difficult part. It's a great, great feeling being out in weather that's killing the people around you and thinking, "Hey! This isn't so bad...".

The downside is that all the bundling up (and unbundling at the destination) gets a bit old. But it's bearable.

I've never used studded tires. I'll have to give them a try.
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Old 09-09-09, 05:41 PM   #21
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Old 09-12-09, 08:54 AM   #22
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Ice can be an issue,one nice thing about winter is if you do go down you tend to wearing more clothing to soften unexpected go-downs.The most surprising thing I've found while riding frozen rivers is that a soft compound tire will give you more 'bite' on ice it's not studded but you find you get a little better gription so there's more time to react to slipping.Most tires go down really quick, so any slowing of the slip is helpful.One of the better ones I've found is Specialized Pro Control w/Umma-Gumma compound It's aggressive enough for real snow and w/ the softer rubber tends to be more forgiving.I was pretty surprised that the difference was noticable, but it was.
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Old 09-13-09, 07:46 PM   #23
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Good on you Lebowski on your first winter. I'm about even with you across the lake latitude wise. Last year was a fun one wasn't it? I love the looks from my co-workers. I'm actually looking forward to this winter!
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Old 09-13-09, 09:06 PM   #24
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Thanks for that. I found your post to me most informative.

I started bike commuting last February and hardly ever missed a day since then. It was plenty cold at that point but no snow. I'm now thinking about what I'll need to prepare for the white stuff and the ice. I use a Schwinn Fastback for dry days but I have an old school Trek 950 non-suspended MTB that I plan to outfit for the the crap.
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Old 09-14-09, 03:44 PM   #25
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I have a road bike I plan to ride this winter and was curious whether I should replace the tires I have for something more appropriate for the impending snowfall.

My friend, who has been riding in the winter the last few years, offered his advice on the subject: skinny road tires (ie, 25-622) are better for cutting through snow than fat/"treadier" ones (ie, my current 32-622 commuters). For being able to cut the snow, does anyone agree/disagree with this position?
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