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  1. #1
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Teach me how to ride in snow

    I've had difficulty getting started from a dead stop in snow. I doubt better tires would help, but maybe they would. Does my seat need to be lower? Do I need upright handlebars? I either can't pedal hard enough to overcome inertia or my rear tire slips and I don't move forward.

    Here is my bike.

    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

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    Different tires will make a difference.

    If you're slipping on ice, get studded tires.

    If you're slipping on packed snow, get knobby tires like cyclocross or MTB tires.

    Also lower the pressure for a bigger contact patch.

    Works for me.

  3. #3
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    OK, I'll try the pair of knobby tires I have sitting around.

    One problem is that in this area, it often hovers around freezing, so the stuff freezes and melts many times. It leaves a very rough texture, and it's very inconsistent.
    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

    Tom Reingold, noglider@pobox.com
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    on by skijor's Avatar
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    Studded tires, at least the front if you can't afford a set. Take corners very slow.

    Have you checked icebike.com ?...lots of good winter biking info.

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    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Most of the surfaces here are clear. Studded tires are not justified at all. This is New York, not the great white north. My trouble is I ride on a bike path that is not well plowed in the lightly-used section.

    Once I'm going, I seem to handle it fine. I sometimes fishtail and go whooooah, but I stay upright. I haven't fallen yet, so I guess that means I'm not going fast enough.
    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

    Tom Reingold, noglider@pobox.com
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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    On snow you want fatter tires with a low tire pressure. Riding on snow is similar to riding on sand.

    When I used to go snowbiking ... cycling on mtn bike trails when there was a good layer of snow on them ... I used a mtn bike with quite wide tires and I lowered the pressure by 10 or 20 psi.

    Same thing here in Tasmania when we go beach riding ... mtn bikes with wide tires and low pressure.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Jim from Boston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    Most of the surfaces here are clear. Studded tires are not justified at all. This is New York, not the great white north. My trouble is I ride on a bike path that is not well plowed in the lightly-used section.

    Once I'm going, I seem to handle it fine. I sometimes fishtail and go whooooah, but I stay upright. I haven't fallen yet, so I guess that means I'm not going fast enough.
    This morning I rode here in Boston on icy, hard-packed/loose and heavy snow up to abut 2-3 inches, gusty pushing winds, about 19 degrees F, on Marathon Winter studded tires. I could not just push off with my foot on the ground because I could not achieve enough momentum to stay upright. Rather my foot had to be on the pedal ready to push and go forward to stay up. I didn't fall either, but did "fishtail and whoosh."
    Last edited by Jim from Boston; 02-15-15 at 05:28 PM.

  8. #8
    covered in cat fur katsrevenge's Avatar
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    This is something I've had way too much practice with, this year. Lots of snow + lack of plowing... argh.. I ride a balloon tired cruiser. Tires are 2.125x26 size. I keep the pressure sort of low, enough to let the tires plop out a bit. And I take my time. I rarely make contact with the pavement under the snow if it is fresh. I just sort of crunch on through. Once you get the hang of it it is quite fun!

    I'm not knowledgeable enough to say anything about your setup. But I did read (and tried out for myself) that a lower seat and a more upright position that puts the weight over the rear tire is more stable.
    Just one of those dirty pinko commies some people worry about.

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    I used to ride 10 miles each way in Wisconsin on 25mm tires. Nowadays I realize I was just too stupid to realize I couldn't do it. Even on fatbike tires it isn't easy

  10. #10
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    I've had difficulty getting started from a dead stop in snow. I doubt better tires would help, but maybe they would. Does my seat need to be lower? Do I need upright handlebars? I either can't pedal hard enough to overcome inertia or my rear tire slips and I don't move forward.

    Here is my bike.

    Looks like your bike has panaracer pasela tires, they are no good for snow. Change your tires... You don't really need studded tires, but at least get some CX tires with an aggressive tread and run them at a little lower pressure...A lot of people recommend fatter tires but I disagree. In my experience narrower tires are better because they cut through the slush and snow to make contact with the pavement below.

  11. #11
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Yes, Paselas in 35mm. I hope these CX tires I have fit. They might.
    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

    Tom Reingold, noglider@pobox.com
    Residences: West Village, New York City and High Falls, NY
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    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
    This morning I rode here in Boston on icy, hard-packed/loose and heavy snow up to abut 2-3 inches, gusty pushing winds, about 19 degrees F, on Marathon Winter studded tires. I could not just push off with my foot on the ground because I could not achieve enough momentum to stay upright. Rather my foot had to be on the pedal ready to push and go forward to stay up. I didn't fall either, but did "fishtail and whoosh."
    How did you do it? At a standstill, I don't know how to put both feet on pedals. Mind you, the last time I tried, I was smart enough not to use cleated shoes.
    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

    Tom Reingold, noglider@pobox.com
    Residences: West Village, New York City and High Falls, NY
    Blogs: The Experienced Cyclist; noglider's ride blog

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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    ...My trouble is I ride on a bike path that is not well plowed in the lightly-used section.

    Once I'm going, I seem to handle it fine. I sometimes fishtail and go whooooah, but I stay upright. I haven't fallen yet, so I guess that means I'm not going fast enough.
    This is my first winter commuting so Iím still figuring out what works. My tires are 26x2in studded tires.

    I canít ride in fresh snow deeper than 5cm (2in). Thereís too much rolling resistance I just canít get any momentum to pedal right after kick-off. I figure if you are able to start peddling through deep fresh snow, youíll need to be in low gear to keep your wheels moving. I read somewhere that narrow tires will help cut through the snow plus the narrow tires means less contact with the snow making the rolling resistance smaller.

    After a few days, the snow will be packed down. You don't want narrow tires anymore. And if itís through a park, you may get a foot wide path cut by pedestrians. Itíll be bumpy and thatís fine but the hard part is to keep your steering straight so you may be weaving from one side to the other along the foot wide path. Maybe higher gear will help with going straight but I donít want to risk getting thrown off the bike if it suddenly gets jammed in the snow on the side.
    Last edited by Daniel4; 02-15-15 at 10:33 PM.

  14. #14
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    I just checked. The CX tires are 35mm, same as my Paselas. They should fit. But it's just too cold to ride this week. I just took the dog out for her last walk, and it's 5ļF with a wind chill of -15ļF or something. I don't know how to deal with that. I don't think I own enough clothing to handle it, and my trip normally takes me over an hour. Maybe one day I'll be equipped and tough enough to ride in this weather, but not this week.
    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

    Tom Reingold, noglider@pobox.com
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  15. #15
    Senior Member Jim from Boston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
    This morning I rode here in Boston on icy, hard-packed/loose and heavy snow up to abut 2-3 inches, gusty pushing winds, about 19 degrees F, on Marathon Winter studded tires. I could not just push off with my foot on the ground because I could not achieve enough momentum to stay upright. Rather my foot had to be on the pedal ready to push and go forward to stay up…

    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    How did you do it? At a standstill, I don't know how to put both feet on pedals. Mind you, the last time I tried, I was smart enough not to use cleated shoes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel4 View Post
    …My tires are 26x2in studded tires.

    I can’t ride in fresh snow deeper than 5cm (2in). There’s too much rolling resistance I just can’t get any momentum to pedal right after kick-off. I figure if you are able to start peddling through deep fresh snow, you’ll need to be in low gear to keep your wheels moving. I read somewhere that narrow tires will help cut through the snow plus the narrow tires means less contact with the snow making the rolling resistance smaller.

    After a few days, the snow will be packed down. You don't want narrow tires anymore. … Maybe higher gear will help with going straight but I don’t want to risk getting thrown off the bike if it suddenly gets jammed in the snow on the side.
    What I did was put one foot on the pedal (my right, at about mid-level) so I could immediately pedal downwards hard as soon as I rose up on the bike to get rolling enough to stay upright. I was in an intermediate range gear to get the necessary acceleration.

    I kept my feet out of the toeclips, and was going relatively slow, so I didn’t worry about falling. A problem was fogging my goggles and eyeglasses, which depend on windspeed to ventilate away exhaled moisture.
    Last edited by Jim from Boston; 02-16-15 at 09:59 AM.

  16. #16
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    Studded tires help. Alternatively I like the conti winter contact II tires when dealing with roads that reasonably clean. I also like running a bit fatter tire than you are, say a 26 x 2.0.

    When the weather gets really bad, I like a more upright sitting position as well.

  17. #17
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    How did you do it? At a standstill, I don't know how to put both feet on pedals. Mind you, the last time I tried, I was smart enough not to use cleated shoes.
    As with most things related to bicycle handling, mountain biking would teach you how to handle this problem before the end of your first day. That said, your main problem is traction. As others have said studs would be best. Knobbed tires would also work but not quite as well.

    You want to start in a low gear. How low will depend on the surface but, generally, the lower the better. You may also want to lower your saddle when you first start learning. This will allow you to start from the saddle. You have more weight on the rear wheel which will increase the traction so you get a better push-off and a bit more momentum.

    Push off from a stop hard enough to get you rolling but not so hard that you spin the tire. It's a delicate balance. If the tire spins, you may want to go up a gear but be aware that higher gears may not give you enough speed intitially to get your balance once going.

    You also want to unload the front wheel as much as possible. You don't want to do a wheelie but you want the front wheel unweighted. The front wheel will want to dig into the snow and that will slow you down or stop you.

    You will want to turn the front wheel to gain balance...it's a natural reaction...but you want to keep any front wheel movement to as small as possible. The straighter you can start, the quicker you'll find balance.

    You are going to have problems fitting knobs and/or studs to that particular bike if you keep the fenders. Knobbies have a higher profile and it doesn't look like you have much space, especially under the fork. You will have to be creative to make them fit.

    Finally, tire width. I know lots of people say that narrow tires work better but I've never found that to be the case. A narrow tire will dig down into the snow but that's a problem. Your contact patch is smaller and thus your traction is less. Any little correction you make is magnified. Also, when you "dig down into the snow", you have to push all that snow out of the way. It's a lot more work. A really wide tire will float over the snow rather than plow through it. That's the reason that fat bikes work so well in the snow. A 3" to 5" tire doesn't try to find the bottom of the snow pile and floats right over it.

    Finally, all what I said above is more difficult to explain than actually do.
    Stuart Black
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  18. #18
    Senior Member Jim from Boston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    As with most things related to bicycle handling, mountain biking would teach you how to handle this problem before the end of your first day. That said, your main problem is traction. As others have said studs would be best. Knobbed tires would also work but not quite as well.

    ...Finally, all what I said above is more difficult to explain than actually do.
    Well said.

  19. #19
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Thank you, all! @cyccommute, that was particularly helpful. These CX tires look like they'll fit. If they don't fit, I'll remove the fenders for a while. Then the tires will definitely fit.

    What you say about loading the rear wheel makes me think North Road bars would be a good thing. I've been thinking of putting them on my 1971 Super Course. Oh, but that bike has 27" wheels. Darn, so I can't put the CX tires on it.

    And I had suspected that lowering the seat would help but hesitated to try it. I'll try it. I'll use one of those quick release seat binder bolts. I'll mark my seatpost with my default setting.

    Now I have to gather up the courage to ride at all. I walked three quarters of a mile to the subway station this morning, and just that was pretty brutal. I had put Vaseline on my face, but it still hurt. We get pretty heavy winds here, and it was 6ļF.
    I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. --Blaise Pascal

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  20. #20
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    That's the reason that fat bikes work so well in the snow. A 3" to 5" tire doesn't try to find the bottom of the snow pile and floats right over it.
    Fat bikes only work well when the snow condition are ideal...Ideal snow conditions are very rare during winter commuting on city streets. I agree that fatter tires are great on frozen hardpack snow, they're great on off road trails, but they're not so great on heavily salted streets with a lot of slop and half frozen slush.

  21. #21
    ride for a change modernjess's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    As with most things related to bicycle handling, mountain biking would teach you how to handle this problem before the end of your first day. That said, your main problem is traction. As others have said studs would be best. Knobbed tires would also work but not quite as well.

    You want to start in a low gear. How low will depend on the surface but, generally, the lower the better. You may also want to lower your saddle when you first start learning. This will allow you to start from the saddle. You have more weight on the rear wheel which will increase the traction so you get a better push-off and a bit more momentum.

    Push off from a stop hard enough to get you rolling but not so hard that you spin the tire. It's a delicate balance. If the tire spins, you may want to go up a gear but be aware that higher gears may not give you enough speed intitially to get your balance once going.

    You also want to unload the front wheel as much as possible. You don't want to do a wheelie but you want the front wheel unweighted. The front wheel will want to dig into the snow and that will slow you down or stop you.

    You will want to turn the front wheel to gain balance...it's a natural reaction...but you want to keep any front wheel movement to as small as possible. The straighter you can start, the quicker you'll find balance.

    You are going to have problems fitting knobs and/or studs to that particular bike if you keep the fenders. Knobbies have a higher profile and it doesn't look like you have much space, especially under the fork. You will have to be creative to make them fit.

    Finally, tire width. I know lots of people say that narrow tires work better but I've never found that to be the case. A narrow tire will dig down into the snow but that's a problem. Your contact patch is smaller and thus your traction is less. Any little correction you make is magnified. Also, when you "dig down into the snow", you have to push all that snow out of the way. It's a lot more work. A really wide tire will float over the snow rather than plow through it. That's the reason that fat bikes work so well in the snow. A 3" to 5" tire doesn't try to find the bottom of the snow pile and floats right over it.

    Finally, all what I said above is more difficult to explain than actually do.

    +1 very well stated. Perfect advice.

  22. #22
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    I had put Vaseline on my face, but it still hurt. We get pretty heavy winds here, and it was 6ļF.
    I wear a balaclava together with a wool skull cap , double layer keep me warm in the coldest weather.

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    I went back to the park to try out a few things and I just can't do it. I can ride in the tracks that had been packed by pedestrians over a week but I can't cut through new snow. And it's impossible to start a climb from a dead stop.

    Does anyone have a video that demonstrates riding through deep fresh snow at least 5cm or deep snow that's been walked all over after a week leaving a foot wide trench?

    Can't find any on youtube.

    Would prefer not from fat bikes because I want to learn with my current bike.

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    The only thing I can add to this discussion is that the difference between 700x25 slicks and 700x35 knobby cross tires on snow is night and day. Granted, they're on different bikes, but my level of confidence on my cross bike is much, much better.

    I'm indoors for quite sometime as I don't feel like dealing with the ridiculous cold around here (RI) at the moment and the 4' of snow base that has made bike paths vanish and road shoulders very, very narrow.

  25. #25
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
    Fat bikes only work well when the snow condition are ideal...Ideal snow conditions are very rare during winter commuting on city streets. I agree that fatter tires are great on frozen hardpack snow, they're great on off road trails, but they're not so great on heavily salted streets with a lot of slop and half frozen slush.
    First, the nerd in me has to address the "half frozen slush". Assuming a freezing point of 0įC and a boiling point of 100įC, "half frozen" would be the half way point between the freezing point and the boiling point or 50įC which is quite hot. If the slush is at the freezing point, it is frozen...hence the term "freezing"

    But I've never found skinny tires to be any advantage in fresh, packed or slush. They offer no margin of error. When I hit soft spots on skinny tires, the bike slides sideways and control is harder to regain. I find the same with rigid forks. Wide tires (not necessarily fat bike sized), studs and front or even full suspension offer the best control in every snow condition I've encountered.
    Stuart Black
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    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

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