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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 11-19-10, 05:45 PM   #1
silverwolf
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Brakes (Also: Alaska?)

What is your experience with difference types of brakes (u-brakes, cantis, v-brakes, discs) and pads in winter conditions? I've got a hankering to build a slick vintage fixie-type bike but I also have a 26" wheelset and fork with a front disc brake that I could build on.

Also, I may be (eventually) moving up to Alaska but biking would still be important- anyone here from Anchorage or thereabouts with some experience cycling over there?
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Old 11-19-10, 05:57 PM   #2
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I rode V-brakes last winter. There would ice up quite thoroughly on occasion. Squeezing your brakes as hard as you can at a paltry 7 or 8 mph and having nothing happen is disconcerting, to say the least.

This winter I've got hydraulic discs. Haven't had a chance to use them in snow and slush, but it will come.
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Old 11-19-10, 06:23 PM   #3
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Fat tire winter bikes are all set up with disc brakes. The commercial fat bikes -- Surly Pugsley, Fatback, 9 Zero 7, Salsa Mukluk -- all use discs.

Having said that, I use an old non-Fat bike to commute in the winter. It is set up with Snowcat rims and V-brakes. But if I had it to do over, I'd put discs on it.

You can get more Alaska-specific info on the akspoke.com forum.
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Old 11-19-10, 08:33 PM   #4
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I used a v-braked bike through last winter. There were a few times that they iced up and I was left with little braking power. My new bike has disc brakes and already I can tell how much better they bring me to a stop. In the wet there's no comparison at all; discs rule!

Notice icy brakes:

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Old 11-19-10, 09:11 PM   #5
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When I first started commuting year round it was on a MTB with V-brakes, and 99.9% of time they worked great. Only a few times did I experience reduced braking performance due to icing along the rim, and only while riding in wet snow. Disc brakes also perform better than V-brakes when it's wet, but V-brakes will still stop you just fine.

If you're looking to invest in a long term commuter bike, I'd say that disc brakes are the way to go, if only because they don't cause any wear on the rim. Which might not be as much of an issue in Houston, but it's definitely an issue up here in Anchorage where we've got a maritime climate, with a fair amount of rain and a whole lot of snow. The worse time for bicycle components is spring (known locally as "break-up"), or during a mid-winter melt/freeze weather cycle, when all of our stored winter moisture (snow and ice) is suddenly released into the road and onto your drivetrain, mixed heavily with the sand that the Municipality lays down by the ton, and of course the native silt.

As far as cycling in the Anchorage area goes, I think that you'd be pleasantly surprised. There's a core group of single-track mountain bike advocates active in Anchorage working to expand the already impressive amount of mountain biking available locally, and most of the 100+ miles of XC ski trail in the city defaults to dirt bike trails in the summer. If you're into pavement, there are miles upon miles of paved multi-use path, as well regular group ride events heading as far north as Eklutna, and as far south as Seward (which occurs along some of the most beautiful highway that you will ever see, just mountains tumbling straight into the ocean).

But if you're like me and just want to be able to ride your bike to work, to school, to the store, and back home, then I tell you that there is no greater time to be an urban cyclist in Anchorage than right now. I started riding year round back in 2000, moved out of state in 2004, then moved back in 2008. And when I came back, I was blown away by how much more courteous Anchorage drivers had become in their tolerance of cyclists. And with Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (our local bicycle advocacy group) fighting for our rights on the streets, it will only get better. Anchorage is an amazing community, and I don't think that anyone who moves here will regret it.
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Old 11-20-10, 08:12 PM   #6
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You are good to go with a disc brake up front and fixed gear in the back. Stylin.
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Old 11-20-10, 11:08 PM   #7
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Thanks for the response. Griddlecakes, nice to see someone from Alaska posting- I have another question. I found a good deal on a Miyata 610 that had been given the minimalist fixie treatment (700c alloys, fixed gear, drops, etc) that looked very slick and even came with a rack and light for about $100. My question is, can I throw some fenders and wide tires on it and do okay in Alaska or will the weather and environment eat the steel to bits in a year? Also, about what is the thinnest tire you can use in a typical road or trail? The Miayat probably maxes out at 38c or so.
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Old 11-20-10, 11:30 PM   #8
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Assuming the snow and frozen earth in Alaska is roughly similar to that experienced in Minnesota, 38s will be fine; I use 32mm cyclocross tires, and really never have trouble with them.

I had a choice to make with the FrankenHybrid; I put a Karate Monkey fork on it to get rid of the stupid heavy stupid useless stupid crappy stupid suspension fork. The KM fork comes with disc tabs already mounted. So, obviously, running with a disc up front would make total sense. But-and-however, I decided to go with V brakes; it's by far the cheaper alternative, and the icing problem isn't insurmountable. I do make a point of tapping the brakes every quarter mile or so, just to keep the brake track cleaned off. It works pretty well, though the very first stop of the commute in the morning tends to run a little long.
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Old 11-24-10, 01:25 PM   #9
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Update:

Came out of the office at the end of the day and the windward side of my bike was covered in a sheet of ice. I do not know how the old v brakes would cut through the ice to find metal, but my disc brake made short work of the problem.
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Old 11-24-10, 03:21 PM   #10
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My winter bike has Drum brakes in it's hubs.. they always work,
have needed no maintainence for 20 years.
Rims: Sno Cat, Tires: Nokian studded..

when it's warmer, thawed, I have a bike with Magura Hydraulic Rim Brakes..
both are 26'' wheel bikes.
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Old 11-27-10, 07:55 PM   #11
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I drank the disc brake kool-aid hard. Wouldn't willingly have a bike without them.
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Old 12-02-10, 02:45 AM   #12
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Can you use non-disc ? Sure. People did it. I did it. I commuted one Winter, about 15 mi each way (North Pole to Fairbanks) and as long as the snow doesn't ice up the rim you're OK but there WILL be times when your brakes are non-existant so disc are definitely preferable. And if you get discs, I'd recommend cable brakes like BB7's. I took my hydro's off my mtn bike (has Nokia 294 studded tires) and put BB7's just for the better reliability at a good price.
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Old 12-02-10, 08:35 AM   #13
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Can you use non-disc ? Sure. People did it. I did it. I commuted one Winter, about 15 mi each way (North Pole to Fairbanks) and as long as the snow doesn't ice up the rim you're OK but there WILL be times when your brakes are non-existant so disc are definitely preferable.
I haven't had this happen yet. Is it because the snow makes a thin layer of ice that the brake pads can't dislodge? I've had large layers of ice from freezing rain and braking just breaks up the ice off the rim.
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Old 12-02-10, 09:16 AM   #14
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I don't know...I'd guess there is a lot involved...clean, new rims may shed ice better than older worn rims...some brake pads are undoubtedly better than others...most people don't ride in snow that's deep enough to make it to their rims....so as with all things, personal experience with your own conditions trumps everyone else's theories and even everyone else's experience. I do know that "back in the day" iced up rims with no braking was a real consideration, particularly when you didn't need to do any braking for a long period. I can remember being sure to hit my brakes every once in a while to ensure I would keep my rims cleaned up. Now, with discs it just isn't an issue. I'm really, really looking forward to picking up my new pugsley and seeing how that works in snow and haven't even given a thought to braking problems with discs.
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Old 12-02-10, 09:31 AM   #15
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I don't know...I'd guess there is a lot involved...clean, new rims may shed ice better than older worn rims...some brake pads are undoubtedly better than others...most people don't ride in snow that's deep enough to make it to their rims....so as with all things, personal experience with your own conditions trumps everyone else's theories and even everyone else's experience. I do know that "back in the day" iced up rims with no braking was a real consideration, particularly when you didn't need to do any braking for a long period. I can remember being sure to hit my brakes every once in a while to ensure I would keep my rims cleaned up. Now, with discs it just isn't an issue. I'm really, really looking forward to picking up my new pugsley and seeing how that works in snow and haven't even given a thought to braking problems with discs.
Oh ok. I just got a little scared. I'm in the exact situation of not having to brake for long periods of time, so the thought of me reaching for the brakes and nothing happening was a little worrisome.

I agree that disc brakes are awesome though.
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Old 12-02-10, 09:51 AM   #16
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I haven't had this happen yet. Is it because the snow makes a thin layer of ice that the brake pads can't dislodge? I've had large layers of ice from freezing rain and braking just breaks up the ice off the rim.
You can end up with a bunch of snow and slush collecting on the rim and brake pads. It's snow rather than solid sheets of ice, so when you squeeze the brakes it just gets compressed between the rim and brake pads rather than breaking up and falling off. Result: Little or no braking power for some significant distance.

You may or may not need discs to avoid this, depending on your riding habits, but on the other hand you won't have to worry about the possibility if you get discs.

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Old 12-02-10, 09:54 AM   #17
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Does anyone know how well aero levers and drum brakes work together, i think i might try drum brake the canti's work mostly but yesterday i had little to none from all the built up snow.
EDIT: I have the tektro adjustible Long/Short reach levers, does this mean the should work?

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Old 12-02-10, 12:34 PM   #18
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Does anyone know how well aero levers and drum brakes work together, i think i might try drum brake the canti's work mostly but yesterday i had little to none from all the built up snow.
EDIT: I have the tektro adjustible Long/Short reach levers, does this mean the should work?
either tektro V-drops or some problem solver's travel agents should do the trick.
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Old 12-14-10, 08:36 PM   #19
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I've been riding year round, car-free in Anchorage for four winters now. Disks have been working fine, and as long as I keep them in tune they stop my enormous magnitude very effectively. I have not noticed problems in icy weather.

As far as Anchorage GriddleCakes is right it's getting better and better. There's a growing network of very practical bike paths and lanes which you can use in combination with side streets to avoid being killed. But in the winter it is still tough to operate car-free. The sidewalks and bike lanes are used as snow dumps in many places, and the combination of vehicles and temperatures creates some very interesting hazards. One I call "chunder" is hidden blocks of impacted street ice that lie under blankets of new snow. So you're cruising along and BAM. This super high wind we've had on and off in the past month also creates very dense drifts that will stop a tire. It's fun and you never know what you're going to find out the door. Moose, sometimes even bear, will make an appearance on the trails.

There are two commuting approaches--sinking and floating. I use studs and a heavy bike for the sinking option. I'm rock solid on ice, even the worst ice you can imagine. The Nokians and my Kona Hoss do not slip, ever. But in deep drift snow the fat bikes which are lighter weight with big puffy tires will go much faster. Ideally you can have both and switch depending on conditions.
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Old 12-15-10, 02:18 AM   #20
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I'm in midtown. I really recommend finding a place in midtown, because it's close to everything and not too unfriendly. Fairview has the nice layout for bikes if you like living in the crime district. Russian Jack is straight out. Mountain View actually isn't half bad, despite it's awful reputation; mostly it's that it's go lots of minorities in it and that the buildings (following an unfortunate zoning series of events) are mostly absentee owned four plexes on lots that are too small for them.
Honestly most of the stuff i've been hearing is slight overkill. In summer, a road bike is fine. I'm riding on my xtracycle right now with rim brakes and nokian extremes, works okay for me. The sidewalks are maintained pretty well. I actually do a lot of sidewalk riding, because safety be damned, riding in 50 MPH traffic is stressful, the disapproval is palpable. If there is a downside to Anchorage it is its arterial grid around cul de sac layout that results in these high traffic, high speed and high capacity highways that can be a real pain to impossible to avoid.
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