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  1. #1
    Senior Member MEversbergII's Avatar
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    The ideal winter bike

    So if you're brave and or skilled, I suppose almost any bike would do. Some of you guys are pretty awesome and could do it on slicks, I'm sure. I, however, am not.

    If there's snow/ice going on, I try to stick to my hybrid. It has tread (which makes me feel good psychologically) but is a BSO bike that's a little big for me. It has a relatively high center of gravity and I'm learning why rim brakes are less than ideal in the winter (works fine in the rain here, though).

    I'd not given much thought to the idea of a winter bike outside of snow tyres and the occasional pro-29er guy who really likes the large tyres. While tinkering with the fiance's beach cruiser, though, I had a few thoughts. It dawned on me that her cruiser had a few features that would make it better for winter riding than my hybrid.

    Here's my vision of a good "winter bike". Let me know if my reasoning isn't so great. These are in no particular order, and some are obviously more important than others:

    1) Capable of taking snow tyres. This means some good clearance for cleats, and capable of taking a rim that seats commonly available studded tyres. The exact type doesn't really matter here so much.

    2) Wide tyres, like cruisers. A wider tyre would allow for more studs, more contact surface and thus better traction. 1.75", 2", that kind of thing.

    3) Relatively small tyres. 700c -> 29" seems to be pretty popular. However, most wider tyres also tend to have a smaller diameter (but not always!) - 26" seems like a good size. Shorter tyres allow for a higher bottom bracket without putting your bike's CoG as high, or somesuch wizardry.

    4) Low CoG. The lower the center of gravity, the easier it is to control. Lower frames in general might yield less issue if you do fall.

    5) Heavy frame. A heavier frame (as opposed to a lighter one) with a low CoG would be more liable to be easier to control. Puts more weight on the wheels.

    6) Wider wheel base. This makes handling smoother and might prevent spills that shorter wheelbase, "twitchier" bikes may experience.

    7) Step through frame. When you're dressed up and on questionable surfaces, a step through would be easier to operate. These also tend to be heavier and feature a lower CoG.

    8) At least one non-rim brake. Ideal would be a front drum, but a rear coaster brake might be ok. Rim brakes really do have issues with ice. You shouldn't be traveling too fast in icy conditions, but you still need to stop. Having no rim brakes at all might be even better, as there'd be more room for ice to clear.

    9) Hub gearing. I got to experience what icy snow was like in my derailleur. It's crappy.

    10) Enclosed drive drain. This prevents mechanical issues due to ice getting in places it isn't welcome.

    11) Upright or semi-upright posturing. I'd imagine it would spread your weight more evenly between the wheels, and would be better for visibility for all involved.

    12) Good, grippy, well cleated pedals. I have some really grippy ones on my road bike, but basic ones on my hybrid. Found myself wishing I'd moved them over! Snow gets on your shoes, makes pedals slippery. Clips/clipless are probably a bad idea, as they slow how easily you can get out of the pedal if need be. Also, a clipless system doesn't appear to be a good choice for walking in snow, as who knows what that'll end up doing to the mechanism?

    13) Fenders. Yes.

    These are frame/mechanical stuff that would be ideal. Of course, there's the issue of lighting and other assorted visibility things. I thought about panniers on the way in the other day, for putting heavy things in like cars do with their beds/trunks. Bags of sand for them, for example, to increase traction. No idea if that's good for bikes, however.

    So, have I got my head on straight?

    M.

  2. #2
    Senior Member sauze's Avatar
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    I think this is a good list, but it really does depend on location/riding conditions. The one thing I would say is heavier not necessarily being better, and I wouldn't mess with having extra weight on the bike for me when the snow gets REALLY bad and I've got to push or lug my bike around in some manner lighter is very nice. Also I don't think it's going to help traction very much.


    As far as everything else goes SS or hub gearing is nice, disk brakes or hub brakes are nice. Fenders are great, studs are nice for ice.

  3. #3
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    A practical winter bike would be: fender eyelets, rack eyelets, single speed or IGH, and dynamo lights.

    I don't share your opinion on clipless pedals being a bad idea. This is primarily because I have Sidi Diablos, and those were so uncheap that any opportunity that provides for their use will be utilised.

    Also, your hypothetical bike seems to eagerly fit the n+1 ideal that many BFers strive for, whereas my opinion lies that the most practical number of bikes is 3. (Fast and dry bike, fast and wet bike, utility bike.) In France, even the rich don't have triple car-parks unless you live in a manoir, and our wives are even less accommodating to the toys that boys acquire.

  4. #4
    Senior Member MEversbergII's Avatar
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    Sauze: Good point on weight being a lugging drawback. Had to walk my hybrid a lot lately - my roadie I could have just carried!

    KlingOn: What about the CoG oriented considerations?

    Re: Clipless - I've never used them. I've got these janky feet that make me rather nervous of them. In your experience, how well do clipless pedals handle having snow from your shoes jammed in them? I would be concerned that I'd get snow on the cleat (?), pack it in to the pedal and have it refreeze or something.

    M.

  5. #5
    Bicycle Commuter Bluish Green's Avatar
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    Studded tires are an almost certain must-have if you are likely to be crossing any ice.

    I have 7-speed IGH's on both of my bikes, and they sure are nice when the slop is flying. My commute is not very hilly, so I prefer them year-round.

    Fenders and waterproof panniers, plus lights, etc. that you would want for all-weather riding anyways.

    Bar Mitts or poagies on the handlebars are a nice addition to extend the temperature range of your hand gear another 10-20 degrees lower than otherwise.

    I think bike type is less important and more up to individual choice. I do like an upright ride for ice, but it sucks when riding into those hard January headwinds.

  6. #6
    7-speed doomsday prepper ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    Where is weight going to be, but on the wheels?
    Quote Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
    There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
    RUSA #7498

  7. #7
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    This is my version of an ideal winter bike for commuting mainly on ice.


  8. #8
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    A few years ago I decided to build up a bike I had as a winter bike for a project with many of the OPs specifications. It is my daily commuter and hasn't missed a day this winter. I also picked up an entry level cross bike this year with winter in mind, and have been out on it enough to give perspective for the sake of comparison. So here's my take on the things I feel qualified to comment on:

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    1) Capable of taking snow tyres. This means some good clearance for cleats, and capable of taking a rim that seats commonly available studded tyres. The exact type doesn't really matter here so much.
    Agree completely. This is my first year with studs, but they've made handling so much easier. Even if studs are out of the budget, cheap knobbies help handling on snow. Worthless for ice, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    2) Wide tyres, like cruisers. A wider tyre would allow for more studs, more contact surface and thus better traction. 1.75", 2", that kind of thing.
    I do find the bike with wider studded tires (1.75) handles unplowed roads better than the bike with narrow studded tires (35c). Winter riding with strong headwinds can be demanding, so the narrower tires still have their advantages.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    5) Heavy frame. A heavier frame (as opposed to a lighter one) with a low CoG would be more liable to be easier to control. Puts more weight on the wheels.
    Other factors in this specification, specifically the drum brake and IGH, put enough weight on the wheels. Don't need to add any more. I'm up to 44lbs with the SA drum brake hubs, and the bike has an aluminum frame.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    8) At least one non-rim brake. Ideal would be a front drum, but a rear coaster brake might be ok. Rim brakes really do have issues with ice. You shouldn't be traveling too fast in icy conditions, but you still need to stop. Having no rim brakes at all might be even better, as there'd be more room for ice to clear.
    Have drum brakes on both wheels. They don't handle like rim brakes and it's important to get used to the difference, but they are reliable. Locking up the wheels is never an issue. Years ago, I rode a coaster brake in the winter. The brake always worked, and it can actually be fun if you enjoy fishtailing. Not the best choice for safety, however. With regard to the front drum, Sturmey-Archer makes a combo drum brake dynamo hub. It's heavy, but it works. Winter nights last longer than batteries.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    9) Hub gearing. I got to experience what icy snow was like in my derailleur. It's crappy.
    I built my rear wheel with this in mind. Unfortunately, I have problems with the bike not shifting when it gets cold. I check and doublecheck the cable routing and condition, so I blame the cheap twist shifter, at least for now. Unfortunately, SA doesn't have an alternative. I don't know if this is an issue with other brands.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    10) Enclosed drive drain. This prevents mechanical issues due to ice getting in places it isn't welcome.
    The caveat, is that anything that makes it in will be hard to get out. Also, I find its important to inspect and lube the chain regularly, which would be complicated by a fully enclosed drivetrain.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    11) Upright or semi-upright posturing. I'd imagine it would spread your weight more evenly between the wheels, and would be better for visibility for all involved.
    Though I tend to be more upright with snow/ice covered roads, a drop bar rig does provide options. Regarding visibility, I STRONGLY recommend a hub dynamo. A big part of winter is short days and long nights. Since we're talking and "ideal" winter bike, I'd add this spec as part of the requirement myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    12) Good, grippy, well cleated pedals. I have some really grippy ones on my road bike, but basic ones on my hybrid. Found myself wishing I'd moved them over! Snow gets on your shoes, makes pedals slippery. Clips/clipless are probably a bad idea, as they slow how easily you can get out of the pedal if need be. Also, a clipless system doesn't appear to be a good choice for walking in snow, as who knows what that'll end up doing to the mechanism?
    I opt for the compromise using a "flip-flop" pedal. I can clip in when I feel safe, or choose the platform side when its really icy. The platform side also makes it easy to use general purpose footware, which is a plus, though I prefer to wear my winter cycling boots. They take an SPD cleat that still allow me to walk fairly well. They are also the best for keeping my feet warm. I do make a point of inspecting the cleat and greasing as necessary, however.

    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    13) Fenders. Yes.
    Agreed.
    I ♡ Dynamo hubs & have these in my stable: Schmidt SON28 (x2), SA-Sun Race X-FDD, SP PV-8

  9. #9
    Dirt junkie. SnowJob's Avatar
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    The best winter bike is one that will get you from point A to point B with a minimum of death and/or broken bones. Personally, I like my Ss 29er. My wife loves her fatbike.

    Others like having fixed gear bikes with skinnier tires that can cut through the snow and find traction; or upright hybrids with fatter tires, etc etc etc. Generally, any bike with tires, cranks, pedals, and a chain will get you through the majority of winter riding. For those **** days, or for super icy winters (now, for example), throw at least one studded tire on there and test it out. Have a backup plan. The bus can be your friend.

    Oh yeah, and don't be too shy to take the lane. The gutter sucks even worse when it's full of slush, snow, and debris and has a base of thick ice.
    Traitor Ruben :: Redline Monocog :: Surly Pugsley

  10. #10
    Transportation Cyclist turbo1889's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
    . . .

    Here's my vision of a good "winter bike". Let me know if my reasoning isn't so great. . .

    1, 2, & 3 . . .
    The "best" wheel and tire set-up depends upon conditions but in my experience you will have difficulty finding a good selection of good winter tires, especially studded snow tires in any size other then 26" and 700c and thus for many practical reasons that's pretty much what you are limited too unless you want to make your own studded snow tires. For example I'm only aware of like two studded snow tires available for 20" wheels and they are hard to find and get your hands on before they sell out. Know this because I've got bikes I need them for in winter either that or I have to build my own.

    . . . 4, 5, 6, & 7 . . .
    Frame issues, low as possible of center of gravity without compromising ground clearance on both the frame and pedal stroke is good thing, extra weight - only add as much as you have too, don't skimp on components you need for winter riding to save weight but don't be deliberately adding weight for no good reason.

    Also, for two wheel bike you want a "crank forward, flat footed" geometry that puts your feet firmly flat on the ground while seated on the seat without compressing your pedal legs into a less then ideal pedaling arrangement. I find this very important on slick winter roads allowing easily putting a foot down without lifting off the seat at stops and when necessary to prevent a fall due to the bike trying to slide sideways out from under me. Some cruiser bikes have this kind of geometry as do some dutch type city bikes. I just build it in to the frame or adjust the frame to accommodate this myself since I'm a hack and weld guy and a weld your own frame from scratch guy.

    Longer (not wider!) wheelbase on a two wheel bike does help a little so long as you don't go overboard provided you also get the steering geometry right, if you just go longer on the wheelbase and leave the steering geometry aggressive it don't do much good.

    Also, although not good in deep or un-plowed snow or slush due to the extra drag three or more wheel bikes that are not only stable longitudinally but stable side-to-side as well can be a very good option on packed snow and/or ice or just plain slick roads. Personally I'm a fan of upright tadpole trikes for this kind of use. Also, if you can get more then just one wheel in the drive system that can help as well, many trikes with a little custom ingenuity can have two of the three wheels being drive wheels for 2x3 traction. Full AWD is also possible with both trikes and quads (watch the legal issues on the quads many jurisdictions maliciously and prejudicously outlaw them) and its far easier to do AWD on a trike or quad then a conventional two wheel bike. And with such bikes a wider wheelbase does make them more stable.

    . . . 8 . . .
    Yes, going with all non-rim brakes is a wise decision for a winter bike, me personally I like disk brakes which seems to be an option you forgot and went straight to drum and coaster brakes. Although still somewhat exposed and susceptible to icing they are far, far, far better in winter riding conditions then rim brakes.

    . . . 9 & 10 . . .
    As to drive-train although the first impression of many people is to go for an IGH don't forget what happens to those when you get winter moisture especially with road salt inside of them and very few of them are adequately sealed to prevent this when subjected to the grind of true daily winter riding. Also don't forget that many IGH shift controls are also subject to icing up just like derailer systems. Then of course one should also realize that although a rear derailer is often unreliable at best in winter the same is not true for a front derailer which provided its control cable doesn't ice up in its housing is often extremely reliable in winter conditions. My solution thus has been to eliminate the rear derailer and instead rig up a simple and reliable chain tensioner that pulls up on the bottom of the chain loop in its middle and just shift the bike as a three speed using the front derailer only on the three front chain-rings. In most cases I've left the rear multi-sprocket spool in place and I can also change gears on the rear by stopping and manually moving the chain on the rear to a different sprocket if I so desire but the problems with the rear derailer icing up and even jamming up and seizing (been there done that) under winter riding conditions is eliminated.

    . . . 11 . . .
    If your on the roads with cars - ABSOLUTELY !!! If your not then a recumbent that still has some ground clearance could actually be best.

    . . . 12 . . .
    I like big knobby open framed platform pedals like you see on BMX bikes a lot. You can ride with any footwear including big clomper boots with ice cleats on them if need be and any snow or crud on the bottom of your footwear or on the pedals just falls through the open frame design when you apply pressure and you get a good solid grip on the pedals.

    . . . 13 . . .
    Watch it with the fenders, some of the plastic and bamboo wood ones get brittle in the cold and shatter at the slightest impact. Others are too constrictive around the wheel and can cause drag even binding when ice and snow build up inside them and on the tire. Also too constrictive of fenders can prevent the use of chains or make putting them on more of a PITA then it needs to be.

    As to cargo hauled in bags and panniers, don't haul around extra weight just for the sake of doing so good grief, and what you do haul keep it as low as possible and as balanced as possible and don't try to haul too much with just a two wheel bike, anything more then a hundred pounds of cargo load and you start needing at least a trike to be safe and sane on a bike on winter roads.

    Quote Originally Posted by SnowJob View Post
    . . . Oh yeah, and don't be too shy to take the lane. The gutter sucks even worse when it's full of slush, snow, and debris and has a base of thick ice.
    + 1,000 !!!

    I'll shoulder edge ride when there is a decent shoulder edge that is ride-able even if its got snow on it and the main lanes of the road don't on a high speed road because the extra inconvenience is more then worth the safety benefits of not being in the main traffic lane in front of idiot motorists who try to drive multi-ton killing machines 70-mph on winter roads but if that option ain't open or it ain't a high speed road, I'm taking the lane strong and true and there is even more reason to do so in winter then at any other time for safety reasons. Otherwise motorist treat you like you don't exist and the roads get narrower and narrower as the plowed off snow berms build up on the sides as winter progresses and their certainly ain't ANY room for the lanes to accommodate ANYTHING more then just barely one car width and I don't want to be squeezed and squashed when they try to pass me anyway which is what they will do if you don't take the lane when you should.

  11. #11
    Senior Member john4789's Avatar
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    Plenty of TLDRs here so sorry if this is a rehash....

    Wide, flat handle bars:

    If riding through deep snow or slush with ruts, the stuff is going to try and pull your wheel. I ride a SS Full Fender Rigid 26" MTB with studded front tire and stock wide bars. I considered shortening them after riding in above freezing temps for a summer when I bought it thinking ahead to winter. I'm glad I didn't. If I see trouble ahead I widen the grip, slow down, and power through the mess. My grip gets as wide as a baseball grip with the end of the bars in the palms. I have been having a few control issues this winter on the really bad days but all in all has been working very well for me.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by turbo1889 View Post
    Also, for two wheel bike you want a "crank forward, flat footed" geometry that puts your feet firmly flat on the ground while seated on the seat without compressing your pedal legs into a less then ideal pedaling arrangement. I find this very important on slick winter roads allowing easily putting a foot down without lifting off the seat at stops and when necessary to prevent a fall due to the bike trying to slide sideways out from under me.
    A lot of good stuff in your post, but I gotta disagree, at least for me, on this one. Winter biking is nearer to mountain biking than road biking. One of the first things you learn in mountain biking is to shift your weight forward and backward as the conditions dictate. If going up a hill and you need more traction on your rear wheel, go back. If your front wheel is getting skittish, you may want to shift your body forward to help plant it. I would think this difficult to do with a crank forward bike, as you have to stand up vs just slide forward on a more standard geometry.

    Also, I am unsure of the wisdom of trying to get your foot down if you start sliding. While there are occasions that I have successfully saved myself from a fall, I did once have a minor injury to my groin muscle when I couldn't get a firm enough plant, and so my legs started going in opposite directions. The rare times that I do fall on snow and ice, it usually is a skidding fall, so the impact is much less than, say, when I went over my handlebars while mountain biking. I ride flats for the convenience and warmth factors, but I would not choose a winter bike based on how quick I can get a foot out. YMMV.

  13. #13
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    My ideal for the past 6 years...



    Your mileage may vary.

  14. #14
    Senior Member MEversbergII's Avatar
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    Turbo, hell of a post. Lots of good info. Do have a question that I'd like further clarified, though:

    As to drive-train although the first impression of many people is to go for an IGH don't forget what happens to those when you get winter moisture especially with road salt inside of them and very few of them are adequately sealed to prevent this when subjected to the grind of true daily winter riding. Also don't forget that many IGH shift controls are also subject to icing up just like derailer systems. Then of course one should also realize that although a rear derailer is often unreliable at best in winter the same is not true for a front derailer which provided its control cable doesn't ice up in its housing is often extremely reliable in winter conditions. My solution thus has been to eliminate the rear derailer and instead rig up a simple and reliable chain tensioner that pulls up on the bottom of the chain loop in its middle and just shift the bike as a three speed using the front derailer only on the three front chain-rings. In most cases I've left the rear multi-sprocket spool in place and I can also change gears on the rear by stopping and manually moving the chain on the rear to a different sprocket if I so desire but the problems with the rear derailer icing up and even jamming up and seizing (been there done that) under winter riding conditions is eliminated.
    So I'm actually about to replace my junky BSO with derailleur with a IGH bike for (mostly) this exact reason - better weather protection. I'd heard the Nexus series needs more lube when you first get it (which, thank you for reminding me, I need to go start a thread on). How can I better protect a IGH from daily winter (or in the greater sense, wet) riding? Where does most of the trouble enter the hub? Would a chain case (which I'm getting with the bike) help? The one I'm looking at uses grease instead of oil for...some reason...which I would think wouldn't "wash out" as easily (making salt/grit stay longer?) but better repelling water.

    Thanks,
    M.

  15. #15
    Transportation Cyclist turbo1889's Avatar
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    Most of the problems I've had with salt, water, and grime getting into IGHs has been entry through the shifting control mechanism the crud getting in through the hollow axle. I imagine some kind of sealed mechanism on the shifting end of the axle would go a long ways. Inside the frame rotary shift may also be a lot less susceptible and obviously solid axle two speed kick-back shift and two speed centrifugal auto shifting hubs have far less point of entry. Even with a well sealed hub I would still suggest opening up the hub and pulling the guts out every late-spring/early-summer and cleaning it out and re-lubing.

    You don't want your hub to end up looking like this on the inside (clicking on either picture will take you to the website they are from with good reading):





    And then also read this link on the Sheldon Brown site: http://sheldonbrown.com/internal-gears.html#lubrication



    I don't have any pictures of my own to share but I've seen a couple three speeds that were even worse then those pictures due to winter crud getting in through (I believe) the end of the hollow axle where the shifting mechanism enters the hub. I also lost one of those S&A three speed cassette hubs (three speed hub inside of a standard cassette hub so you have both rear derailer gears and a three speed hub on the rear both) on one of my bikes due to not pulling it down and cleaning and re-lubing it often enough. It wasn't a winter bike and I didn't ride it really that much in winter but I still had to replace it due to corrosion damage from water that managed to get inside it and me not pulling it down often enough and cleaning and re-lubing the guts.

    Everyone says IGH for a winter bike, and I do understand why, but I also know that IGH are susceptible to invisible internal corrosion damage if the salt, water, and crud manages to get inside the hub even in small amounts that by the time you start having symptoms that tell you something is wrong its usually already too late for the hub and it has to be replaced. Constant oiling and a well sealed hub with yearly after winter tear down, clean, and full re-lube job is bare minimum maintenance standard for winter bike IGH implementation in my opinion.

  16. #16
    Senior Member elcruxio's Avatar
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    I would like to point out that the optimal winter bike has been developed. It's the fatbike.

    Wide tires that float over the snow, check
    long wheelbase, check
    relaxed geometry for calm handling, check
    possibility for studs, check (although I don't see the appeal)
    Eyelets for basically everything, check
    possibility for rohloff (some models), check

    I don't see a downside. Well, the price is high but then again I don'tbelieve in cheap beaters.

    as a second choice comes the 29+ and third the actual 29er.

  17. #17
    Dirt junkie. SnowJob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by elcruxio View Post

    Wide tires that float over snow.
    Yeah... That doesn't actually happen.

    That's not to say those wide tries don't rock during snowy winter days. low psi, wide tires give you a better traction patch, propelling you through **** that narrow tire bikes wallow in. They can ride over pretty much anything, but they ain't gonna float over snow.

    Source: I steal my wife's Pugs once in a while and ride the **** out of it.
    Last edited by SnowJob; 01-28-14 at 04:19 PM.
    Traitor Ruben :: Redline Monocog :: Surly Pugsley

  18. #18
    Senior Member elcruxio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SnowJob View Post
    Yeah... That doesn't actually happen.

    That's not to say those wide tries don't rock during snowy winter days. low psi, wide tires give you a better traction patch, propelling you through **** that narrow tire bikes wallow in. They can ride over pretty much anything, but they ain't gonna float over snow.

    Source: I steal my wife's Pugs once in a while and ride the **** out of it.
    Depends on the snow. Absolutely nothing is going to help in four feet of powder but if it's even a teeny bit packed a fatbike rocks. Also it's depressing how quickly even 2.5" tires fall through hardpacked snow. It's impossible to comfortably ride snowmobile trails with a regular 29er. I believe it would be difficult even with a 29+

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