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  1. #1
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    Optimal bike type and tire type for winter conditions in Chicago?

    I was thinking a mountain or hybrid bike. What do you think?

    I read up and supposedly knobbies grip better in loose snow than slicks (but also accumulate sticky snow), Slicks grip better on ice than knobbies, and narrow tires cut through snow well. Would studed tires be overkill in Chicago?

    What do you guys think the optimal setup would be?

  2. #2
    pro in someone's theory prooftheory's Avatar
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    I believe that @misskaz does some commuting on a fixed-gear bike in the winter in chicago. Slicks do nothing on ice, so yeah I definitely think you should consider studs.

  3. #3
    sqrl misskaz's Avatar
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    Thanks for the mention, I wouldn't have seen this ... Anyway, I don't ride the fixed gear much in the winter but I do ride my Bianchi Volpe (a touring/cyclocross bike) all winter in Chicago.

    Personally I found studded tires to be overkill and not worth the weight/rolling resistance. I wish I hadn't dropped the money on them. Typically Chicago is good about plowing and salting (not counting yesterday when like 90% of my friends wiped out on ice) so I just ride on my Michelin City tires (32 x 700c) or the basic barely knobby cyclocross tires the bike came with.

    In Chicago, just be aggressive about taking the lane if the side of the road or bike lane is not clear, and you should be fine. Fenders are good for when that snow and ice gets pounded into nasty slush by the cars. I could talk all day about clothes if you need tips on that too.

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    sqrl misskaz's Avatar
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    Also if I may, my bike gang had a pretty good writeup last year on winter bike gear and includes a bunch of tire recommendations: The Epic Tiny Fix Guide to #BikeWinter

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    Quote Originally Posted by misskaz View Post
    I could talk all day about clothes if you need tips on that too.
    Yeah, lemme know what you recommend.

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    Also- i have a jamis sputnik i'm partial to. If i like it, do you recommend I switch to somethin else for winter, or should i put those panracer tires on it for winter?

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    And I already have Specialized all condition armadillo tires- not sure if thats good enough or not.

  8. #8
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonny4947 View Post
    I was thinking a mountain or hybrid bike. What do you think?

    I read up and supposedly knobbies grip better in loose snow than slicks (but also accumulate sticky snow), Slicks grip better on ice than knobbies, and narrow tires cut through snow well. Would studed tires be overkill in Chicago?

    What do you guys think the optimal setup would be?
    I'm in Chicago. I have one wheelset with studded tires and another with a semi-slick Schwalbe Marathon Cross. The studded tires only get used about 10 days a year. The semi-slicks are reliable most of the time if care is used.

    I would only use a rigid MTB or Hybrid. Suspension forks are not needed in Chicago.
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  9. #9
    sqrl misskaz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonny4947 View Post
    Yeah, lemme know what you recommend.
    Well, there are two schools of thought in my group of friends. I have a few friends who just wear their normal winter clothes and then have a nice warm puffy coat, hat, scarf and gloves. They are more the type to wear normal clothes on the bike year-round, and techy-y stuff doesn't really fit their style. This definitely works for some people, though I have to wonder if they have sweat glands. If I wore my long down puffy coat on my bike I'd be sweating buckets after 15 minutes.

    For me, I am all about the layers and the tech-ier stuff that handles sweat and doesn't make you overheat. I've accumulated my winter cycling wardrobe over a few years, and almost never pay full price for things. Sierra Trading Post, Eastern Mountain Sports, and other places online often have sales of last years' models or ugly colors. I could never have started out buying all this stuff, even on sale, in a single winter season and I made do with cotton hoodies and old snowboarding gear for a while... Anyway, here's are my recommendations for winter layers:

    Baselayers:
    Icebreaker is the bomb, they have several different weights and thicknesses of wool baselayers but they're all good. I love wool cause if I hang it up when I get home, I can wear it several times before it gets stinky, unlike synthetics. I have one Columbia "omni heat" top and it does keep you REALLY warm but it has issues with sweating and stinkyness that make me not wear it very often. Smartwool tights are nice for warmth, although I (and others I've talked to) have issues with durability - they do get holes in the butt/crotch area within a season.

    Pants:
    No jeans. Otherwise, I tend to combine tights or a baselayer with some kind of cycling tights over top. I just got these Sugoi tights for this winter and like them so far, though my previous pair were some cheap Champion running tights from Target. When it's REALLY cold I'll wear a pair of polarfleece pants I've had for 20 years. Not cute, but warm. I am usually also wearing bike shorts under all this which adds a layer to the butt/thighs area.

    Feet:
    Wool socks. No question. I'm all about knee socks specifically. A friend (former bike messenger) swears by gore-tex socks over a pair of wool socks which I'm interested in trying but haven't found on sale yet. I remove my clipless pedals for platforms+clips+straps so I can wear warm, waterproof boots.

    Top:
    In addition to a baselayer, I'll wear a thin wool sweater - best tip I ever got is to go to discount stores like Marshalls, Ross, TJ Maxx after Christmas and get the xmas gift cashmere sweaters that are all on clearance after the holidays. Thrift stores are good for this too. I add a fleece/softshell, sometimes a puffy down vest, and once it gets below 30 or so, a windproof layer is KEY. Mine is a Patagonia water/wind proof running jacket.

    Hands:
    I have hot hands (heh) so I get away with these Pearl Izumi not very warm gloves until about 30 degrees; colder than that I have to bust out my amazingly warm lobster mitts. Lobster mitts are dorky as hell but damn they are warm.

    Head:
    I have a merino wool reversible cycling cap with earflaps I wear under my helmet that does me fine through all of winter. I have fiddled around with various types of goggles because my eyes tear up like crazy in the cold and I hate how hard it makes it to see (also useful when it's snowing). I tried these skydiving/horseracing ones that I like better than ski goggles (and only $15!) but they do still fog a little, especially waiting at red lights. I wear any old scarf or if it's really cold, a polar fleece neck warmer (or if it's warmish, just a bandana).

    Despite all those words I just typed, a lot is up to personal preference. Like I said, I have some friends that wear big old puffy coats on their bikes and do fine. Other people run warmer or colder and need more or less clothing. You'll figure it out over time. I always figure if I dress poorly for conditions, I can always throw my bike on the bus and get where I need to go. We're in a major city, it's not like we're racing the Iditarod in Alaska.

    Re: bike and tires, my friend rides a Sputnik (fixed, even) year round and it works fine for her. I would give the Armadillos a shot before worrying about dropping money to replace them - if they are too slick, then look into the Panaracers or something grippier.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by misskaz View Post
    Also if I may, my bike gang had a pretty good writeup last year on winter bike gear and includes a bunch of tire recommendations: The Epic Tiny Fix Guide to #BikeWinter
    You must read this. Funny as heck and gets the point across. "...layering up with some legit **** is the biggest difference between the noobs who stay home and the kids who show up at every party in winter looking like badass Mad Max nuclear winter post-apocalyptic cold weather bike punks...." (ref Lorena Cupcake)

    So what if I'm 55, I want to look like a badass Mad Max nuclear winter post-apocalyptic cold weather bike punk.
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  11. #11
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    I live in Milwaukee and we probably have very similar winter road maintenance procedures as Chicago. I actually prefer to have a bike with studded tires on full time during the winter. I think the Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106 are great for this. If you keep them up to maximum pressure, the studs barely even touch the pavement, which is where I keep them most of the time. If the weather changes and/or the roads aren't cleared in time for my commute, I just bring down the tire pressure a few pounds and the studs come in full time contact with the road surface.

    There's a good review of them by Peter White about halfway down on this link:
    http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/studdedtires.asp

  12. #12
    Senior Member Slaninar's Avatar
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    I ride on regular tyres whole winter - currently Continental City Ride and Schwalbe Marathon Green Guard (rear).

    However, for snow days, or when it gets frozen, I take the old MTB with studded Scwalbe Marathon Winter. They last well and they are good for snow and ice - and not too bad for pavement. I could even recommend them for winter. When the snow is too deep for those Marathon Winter tyres, it is too deep for my commute (10 km one way) to arrive within any reasonable time.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member DVC45's Avatar
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    I get by with this


    Studded tires and BB7 brakes. Chainguard, because I wear ski pants when I ride.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barrettscv View Post
    I'm in Chicago. I have one wheelset with studded tires and another with a semi-slick Schwalbe Marathon Cross. The studded tires only get used about 10 days a year. The semi-slicks are reliable most of the time if care is used.

    I would only use a rigid MTB or Hybrid. Suspension forks are not needed in Chicago.
    I'm in chicago. My commuting bike gets studs in November, and they come off in March. The other bike hasn't gotten studs on it, and I ride it when it's dry -- except to commute on, I ride the commute bike every day, because who knows what will happen when I'm at work. If we have a nasty winter, that bike will get studs mounted.

    Even on a day like today -- snow, about 30, and generally slushy and wet, I'll ride the studded tires. I spent most of my ride of cleared streets, and generally on cleared wet pavement, but it's useful to be able to ride through They're aggressively knobby too, so they're useful in slush and snow. And there are always little bits of ice around. (I saw a food delivery guy bite it this afternoon, wheels shot out sideways on him on what looked like clear pavement, but was really some ice.) If it gets cold tonight, all that slush is going to freeze on the side streets, and if I were going anywhere, I'd want studs.

  15. #15
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    I'm up in Ann Arbor, which doesn't have too dissimilar weather, and misskaz's tips resonate with me, particularly in terms of forsaking studs. I'd add to stay on 700c, too; I think they work better in slush than MTB width tires.

    On tires, my personal favs are fresh Kenda Kwick 32s; they have a diamond file tread pattern that works great, but wears fast:



    I'm curious about the mad rep the TServes have; doesn't immediately strike me as a great pattern, but if pickin' tires was that easy... I'll give 'em a shot next year, probably in yellow!
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