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  1. #1
    Born Again Pagan irclean's Avatar
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    "Pedal-Forward" for Winter Cycling?

    After dealing with Southwestern Ontario's "Snowpocalypse" (more snow in 10 days than normally falls all winter), and missing out on 7 or 8 days of winter commuting, I have been seriously considering a second winter bike; something with fatter tires that would float over deeper snow. My original thought was a SS 29er MTB converted to an Alfine IGH. After reading this thread I'm not so convinced that this would work. The thread contains comments from Pugsley owners who also had trouble riding through deeper snow. This shattered my preconceived notion that the venerable Surly offering was nigh unstoppable as a winter commuter.

    I'm not naive enough to think that a bicycle can't be stopped by inclement weather - this December's snowfall pretty much stopped me cold (no pun intended). IMHO I have an awesome winter commuter; a 2010 Norco Ceres. It has an Alfine IGH and belt drive, which has so far proven its worth in reduction of winter maintenance. It's great not to have to clean my drivetrain after every ride; it seems to be the ideal setup for winter commuting in these parts. To winterize the bike I simply added some full-coverage fenders, studded tires (Schwalbe Marathon Winter), and platform pedals.

    I used the same tires last winter on my "comfort" Schwinn hybrid, and it actually seemed to handle better in the snow. I attribute it to the fact that the Schwinn has a more upright riding position. My Norco is more of a "performance" hybrid and therefore has a more aggressive riding position. Unfortunately this seems to put more of my weight over the front wheel, and in deeper snow this leads to plowing. I learned last year to shift my weight rearward when this happens and that seems to help me to power out of the skid. So... while the Norco has the ideal winter drivetrain, its geometry isn't so great for riding in the snow. That being said, it's fine for the majority of my winter commuting needs, but I'd like something for "those other days". Hence my decision to start this thread.

    This past weekend a friend of mine was admiring my bike during a get-together that we were both attending. He is a 3-season rider, and he leaves the winter cycling to "You young guys". At 43 years of age I'm not sure to whom he was referring, but I accepted the compliment nonetheless. He rides a "pedal-forward" bike; I believe it is an older version of this offering from KHS. As we admired my setup we began musing on the idea that his bike might make an good winter commuter with it's lower center of gravity, geometry that positions the rider with his/her weight rearward, and ease of putting a foot down should the bike tip over.

    Since that conversation I have been pondering the viability of such a setup. Based on my own experience I would want a bike with an IGH, disc or drum brakes, and room for fat tires & fenders. Ideally I'd like belt-drive but I could live with a chain; it was more the maintenance of the cassette, front sprockets, and dérailleurs that left me wanting an IGH for winter commuting. There are a few such bikes out there, Like this one for instance, or I could build one up from a used pedal-forward bike (my LBS just happens to have a couple in their inventory). In either case, it's an expensive proposition for a bike that would only see duty for a few days per year, especially considering that I don't even know if it would work for the duties I intend to impose upon it. That being said it looks like a fun bike for leisurely rides down the MUP with my family.

    So... my long-winded thread leads me to ask this question: Are there any riders out there who use a pedal-forward bike for winter cycling? If so, please share your experience before I spend dime one and thereby suffer the wrath of my significant other.
    Last edited by irclean; 12-21-10 at 03:44 PM.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member JAG410's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by irclean View Post
    The thread contains comments from Pugsley owners who also had trouble riding through deeper snow. This shattered my preconceived notion that the venerable Surly offering was nigh unstoppable as a winter commuter.
    Just to clarify, I was the Pugsley owner that had troubles with the deep snow. I have very little experience in snow (not just on a bike, but in general). Your legs, lungs, and experience may vary. Perhaps the Endomorph rear tire may have helped? Perhaps lower tire pressure? I don't want everyone doubting the Pugsley's capabilities just because I had troubles. Someone else could have just laughed it off and plowed right through the snow. Besides my single misadventure, I still love my Pugsley and insist that there isn't a genre of bike out there that inspires adult giggling and snow-filled bliss more than this fat-tired beast.

  3. #3
    tsl
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    I agree with the rearward weight-shifting being beneficial.

    My first winter was also with a comfort hybrid. My second winter was with my Trek Portland, and man, it took some real adjustments to technique due to the additional weight on the front-end. In fact, the first ride was such a problem, I became despondent over my choice for a a four-season bike.

    Working on my technique led to improvements and by the end of that season, I was fine with it. It takes me just a few rides to get back into winter technique every season.

    You present an interesting proposition with the crank-forward cruiser. Weight shifted to the rear seems like it would really help. However, I find in certain situations, standing on the pedals helps keep the bike from bucking me off. I'm not sure how that would work with a crank-forward. And I have no idea how they climb.

    Tell you what--You buy one, ride it all winter and report back to us. Okay?
    My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.
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  4. #4
    Born Again Pagan irclean's Avatar
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    @JAG410: I'm sure the Pugsley is a blast to ride in almost any conditions, and I wish I owned one. I've only ever seen one in person, and that was at a bike shop in Sarnia, Ontario. I should have asked for a test ride!

    @tsl: Thanks for the reply; I consider you one of the "go-to" members on BF when it comes to winter cycling. I too became somewhat despondent on my choice of 4-season commuter when I discovered its tendency to plow in the deeper snow. Riding the bike through those conditions is challenging but, as was true with my other bike last year, winter commuting makes me a better all-around cyclist. The skills gained through learning to shift my weight and maintain balance transfer well to all types of riding. I assume the same is true of off-road MTB cycling. As for testing my theory; I'm still a student, so perhaps my college would be willing to fund a research project and provide me with the necessary equipment (i.e., a crank-forward bike). While I'm at it I'll ask them to throw in a Pugsley purely for comparative purposes.
    Gettin' my Fred on.

  5. #5
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    You should do a search on fatbikes and snow riding up in alaska. There is a good reason why people use fatbikes for snow riding. A surly pugsly or any other fatbike is as good as it gets, if that doesn't work then nothing else will. If you really want a good snow bike then a Pugsley, Karate monkey or a 1x1 frames are hard to beat ( I have a 1x1 ). These frames are very versatile and can be built up in many different ways.
    Personally if I lived in London, Ontario (a snow capital of southern ontario), I would definetly be riding fatbike.

  6. #6
    Tawp Dawg GriddleCakes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAG410 View Post
    Just to clarify, I was the Pugsley owner that had troubles with the deep snow. I have very little experience in snow (not just on a bike, but in general). Your legs, lungs, and experience may vary. Perhaps the Endomorph rear tire may have helped? Perhaps lower tire pressure?
    According to Surly's website, you can run their fat tires all the way down to 5 psi. If you didn't drop your tire pressure for the last storm, you definitely should try it next time. I drop from 65 psi to 30 psi on my Nokians whenever I ride in soft snow, and it helps.

    irclean, the only issue that I see with a crank forward bike is that you reduce the ability to get up out of the saddle when you need to. Like tsl said, sometimes you need to stand on the pedals to stay on the bike. Like when you're descending a hill covered in bumpy, hardpacked snow and ice. Also, being able to shift your weight on the bike helps when you're trying to clear snow berms, and when you're cornering on ice (a little extra weight in the front tire will help your studs dig in, and the tire's tracking). I've ridden cruisers and it's hard to get up out of the saddle on them.

    A cheaper and less fully committed way to shift your weight rearward would be to elevate your torso and move your hands aft on your current bike. You can do this by running a handlebar with rearward sweep. For example (presented in order of increasingly rearward/upright positioning):

    The Origin8 Space bar or the Soma Clarence bar.

    A north road style bar like the Origin8 Citi Classic, the Soma Oxford bar, or the Nitto Albatross.

    Or go all the way with a set of cruiser bars.

    In addition to changing the handlebars, you can run a shorter stem, or a stem with more rise (Origin8 makes a 1 1/8 threadless stem with 40 degrees of rise, and I personally run Nashbar's adjustable stem at about 55 degrees of rise). FWIW, I run a Nitto Albatross on top of the high rise stem, on top of 50mm of steer tube spacers, and the only way that I could get more of my weight on the rear wheel would be to sit on the rear rack.

    Keep in mind that the downsides to an upright riding position are that you can't ride as aggressively (because you can't shift your weight as far forward), and that you can't duck out of the wind very well (if you ride with north roads, I recommend riding up in the bends to reduce wind resistance). With an upright bike or handlebar, you're basically committing to never breaking 25 mph again. The upside is that you'll have a much more comfortable ride, and have your weight more heavily on the rear wheel for winter.

  7. #7
    tsl
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    Now that I've had time to think about it, BJ member Cosmoline rode an Electra Townie for a couple of winters in Alaska. Might be worth dropping him a PM to see if he'll chime in here. I know he rides an MTB of some sort now.

    As for research, perhaps you could apply to Electra for a grant.

    I had considered shorter, higher stems for my bike in winter but decided against it. The whole reason I do drop bars in the winter is that my commute is dead into the winter winds blowing in from across the lake. (The ride home ain't so bad.) Chicago may have the reputation, but winds are a big thing all across the southern shore of the Lakes.

    Besides, using technique instead of equipment helps me maintain the illusion I have mad skilz.
    My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.
    The perfect day: Riding a bike to the library.—Peter Golkin


    Lucky for me, I work at a library and bike to work.

  8. #8
    Senior Member tjspiel's Avatar
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    I'm far from an expert on technique but commuting in tougher winter conditions is much closer to offroad riding than street riding. Being able to get your butt off the saddle in certain situations can help a lot.

    I have experienced the same thing though. I experimented with an old road bike a couple of winters ago and having the extra weight on the front wheel wasn't good. Shifting my weight back (as I probably learned here) helps. My current bike is an old MTB with drops so I can still get lower to help with the wind when I want too, but overall the riding position is less aggressive.

    Trying to ignore my natural tendency to slow down to a crawl when things get hairy has made a difference too. Some extra momentum can help keep you moving forward in a more or less straight line.

  9. #9
    Senior Member
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    I agree with the two main tips here:
    1. Lower tire pressure
    2. Shift the weight back (I've been told this is how you do sand pits in cross -- I still get stopped by anymore than five feet)

    If you're running a Pugsley in deep snow and aren't at or below 10 psi I have to question why you bought the bike...

  10. #10
    tsl
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    Trying to ignore my natural tendency to slow down to a crawl when things get hairy has made a difference too. Some extra momentum can help keep you moving forward in a more or less straight line.
    +1

    The front will always be subject to sideslips. Some extra momentum makes the difference between a slight wiggle but maintaining general direction, and veering off to the hinterlands.
    My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.
    The perfect day: Riding a bike to the library.—Peter Golkin


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  11. #11
    Born Again Pagan irclean's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
    Personally if I lived in London, Ontario (a snow capital of southern ontario), I would definetly be riding fatbike.
    I do live in London, and I would be riding a fatbike if I could afford it. I don't know if it's the snow capital, but we're certainly in the running this year:



    Quote Originally Posted by GriddleCakes View Post
    A cheaper and less fully committed way to shift your weight rearward would be to elevate your torso and move your hands aft on your current bike. You can do this by running a handlebar with rearward sweep.
    That's a great suggestion! I run trekking bars on my Schwinn and I love them. Their design makes it easy to switch between an upright and a more aero position. I had originally planned to install a set on the Norco, but the bike was so comfortable out of the box I opted for some Ergon GC3 grips instead. Since the Schwinn is parked for the winter I could easily swap the bars and see how they work.

    These bars:



    On this bike:



    Quote Originally Posted by tsl View Post
    Now that I've had time to think about it, BJ member Cosmoline rode an Electra Townie for a couple of winters in Alaska. Might be worth dropping him a PM to see if he'll chime in here. I know he rides an MTB of some sort now.
    I found the thread on his bike; pretty cool. Like any winter bike it has its pros and cons, as reported by Cosmoline, but it sure scores highly on the coolness factor:




    As you mentioned, he did indeed change to a MTB, but you can read about his Electra build here.
    Last edited by irclean; 12-22-10 at 04:11 PM.
    Gettin' my Fred on.

  12. #12
    Senior Member JAG410's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by crhilton View Post
    If you're running a Pugsley in deep snow and aren't at or below 10 psi I have to question why you bought the bike...
    My tire pressure has never been above 10psi. During my deep snow misadventure I had let some pressure out of the rear, probably down to 7psi or so. I'll check and see what it's at before I go riding later today.

  13. #13
    One Man Fast Brick hubcap's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
    Trying to ignore my natural tendency to slow down to a crawl when things get hairy has made a difference too. Some extra momentum can help keep you moving forward in a more or less straight line.
    Yea!! Attack it like a Mel Gibson highlander! Slowing down to scoot through the ice is a death sentence - I have learned this first hand. Coming to a stop after you charge through the ice can be dicy, but it is better when you have aggressive studs. Really though, slow down too much over that rutty, icy stuff instead of cruising on through it and you will be going down on your rump.

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