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How much traction do skinny road tires have in snow and slush?

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

How much traction do skinny road tires have in snow and slush?

Old 03-30-15, 06:42 AM
  #1  
mlamb01
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How much traction do skinny road tires have in snow and slush?

Did a ride this past weekend called the Icicle Metric. Its been going on for 42 years now, and it always seems to be cold and windy during this ride. The weather predicted was cold and windy, and maybe some flurries. Turned out to be more of a snowstorm. When I started, the flurries had just started. I was not too concerned... Then the roads became wet, ice started to accumulate on the bike, grass was covered and elevated surfaces were covered, then about 15 miles in the roads were covered in spots. I was out in the middle of nowhere, so I really could not stop. The 2 smallest rear cogs even froze over with ice!

I did stop at one point when the snow completely covered my lane. When I put my foot down, it was slushy and slippery. Amazingly, I was still able to ride on my skinny 23c GPX4000s II tires. I was not going fast, down hills, or around sharp corners, but I stayed up and did not fall, much to my amazement. I know I was lucky that the previous few days was warmer, and the road temp was slightly above freezing. But in some areas, the snow fell faster than the road could melt it.

Anyone else been caught out in a snow, and been surprised they were able to ride with 23c slicks on? I thought it was going to be hopeless, and I was big trouble...
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Old 03-30-15, 06:51 AM
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Just a matter of time. As someone who once rode a motorcycle through a CT winter I'm confident this is a bad idea.
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Old 03-30-15, 07:14 AM
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As seldom as we get snow here, maybe 30 rides total since I began, I don't worry about having tires to handle it. FWIW, with fresh snow up to a couple of inches, even over ice, 23 or 25 tires are not difficult to ride on. After several days it transforms and becomes treacherous, and that's what our northern friends have to deal with.

I get a kick out of commuting in weather that paralyzes local traffic. Drivers think I'm crazy, but little do they know that it's faster, safer and easier. As long as you keep going. I've used 700c-25 and 23 tires in those conditions.
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Old 03-30-15, 07:21 AM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
FWIW, with fresh snow up to a couple of inches, even over ice, 23 or 25 tires are not difficult to ride on.
No.
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Old 03-30-15, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by mlamb01 View Post
Did a ride this past weekend called the Icicle Metric.
Where?
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Old 03-30-15, 07:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Velo Vol View Post
No.
Yes! I haven't found fresh snow over ice to be a serious problem with 700-25 or 700-28. Repeated melting cycles, ruts underneath and the other changes you have to deal with, it IS a problem but first day, generally not.
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Old 03-30-15, 07:59 AM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
As seldom as we get snow here, maybe 30 rides total since I began, I don't worry about having tires to handle it. FWIW, with fresh snow up to a couple of inches, even over ice, 23 or 25 tires are not difficult to ride on. After several days it transforms and becomes treacherous, and that's what our northern friends have to deal with.

I get a kick out of commuting in weather that paralyzes local traffic. Drivers think I'm crazy, but little do they know that it's faster, safer and easier. As long as you keep going. I've used 700c-25 and 23 tires in those conditions.
I just spent a winter in record breaking snow accumulation in Boston, MA. If you haven't heard about the sheer quantity of snow we received here this winter, please get out from under your rock

That being said, I rode three times on my road bike (short rides less than 5 miles) which runs 23c Panasonic Slicks (Evo A). I skidded, could barely brake well, and had slush and ice freeze my derailleur over entirely. I also have a commuter with 35c tires that I felt okay riding, but would have preferred something with studs even. Fresh snow can be "blasted through" so that you clear your own way, but I tried to ride home with my roommate once when 6 inches had accumulated that day. We had to hop off and huff it with our bikes as the snow was deep enough that even when our wheels packed it down, we still slid around.

I think a light dusting can be ridden with narrower slicks, however, ice and built up snow (even when fresh) is unsafe for bikes equipped with 23c tires.
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Old 03-30-15, 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
Where?
Newark, DE. Icicle Metric | White Clay Bicycle Club
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Old 03-30-15, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by bigredkevbot View Post
I just spent a winter in record breaking snow accumulation in Boston, MA. If you haven't heard about the sheer quantity of snow we received here this winter, please get out from under your rock

That being said, I rode three times on my road bike (short rides less than 5 miles) which runs 23c Panasonic Slicks (Evo A). I skidded, could barely brake well, and had slush and ice freeze my derailleur over entirely. I also have a commuter with 35c tires that I felt okay riding, but would have preferred something with studs even. Fresh snow can be "blasted through" so that you clear your own way, but I tried to ride home with my roommate once when 6 inches had accumulated that day. We had to hop off and huff it with our bikes as the snow was deep enough that even when our wheels packed it down, we still slid around.

I think a light dusting can be ridden with narrower slicks, however, ice and built up snow (even when fresh) is unsafe for bikes equipped with 23c tires.
I was hoping to exclude "built up snow" by mentioning "several days" as the counterpoint. Indeed, cycles of thaw/freeze presents more problems. To be specific, I'm talking about fresh snow, as in no old snow underneath it. It's not a big problem with narrow tires even if there was a prior freeze with ice, although of course you still have to be careful.
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Old 03-30-15, 08:38 AM
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Packed snow, you can ride very carefully on but you'll probably wash out a lot and maybe fall.
Ice, hope you like going sideways. Every December I see someone out on their road bike go sideways.

If there's snow there's probably ice, so you need studs. Even 32C tires with studs will work fine, which is the narrowest studded tire they make AFAIK
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Old 03-30-15, 08:54 AM
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interesting.

i commuted this winter with my 700x25 tires a few times thru the snow (had to ride home b/c expecting a huge snow storm) and at most did up to 1 inch (my commute one way is about ~4.5 miles). i often wanted to try at 2 inches-3 inches of snow, but didn't b/c i didn't really know what i was doing so didn't venture out. a friend of ours suggested studded tires and fatter tires if the frame i had allowed for it, but he said if i had to ride in snow, the website icebike is really helpful for that. he also gave me some advice for accidentally sliding while turning and how to get away from a fall.

the problem is, there's not much room for error on NYC streets...so i opted not to find out the hard way. i am curious tho.
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Old 03-30-15, 09:26 AM
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Skinny tires will do fine on light, fluffy, fresh, non-accumulated snow (just try not to corner too aggressively). The theory here is that skinny tires "slice" through the snow and finds the pavement underneath. Of course once the snow begins to settle and harden then not much slicing can be accomplished, hence the need for wider tires with treads. Riding on ice is an entirely different proposition.
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Old 03-30-15, 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by yankeefan View Post
Skinny tires will do fine on light, fluffy, fresh, non-accumulated snow (just try not to corner too aggressively). The theory here is that skinny tires "slice" through the snow and finds the pavement underneath. Of course once the snow begins to settle and harden then not much slicing can be accomplished, hence the need for wider tires with treads. Riding on ice is an entirely different proposition.
I think this works with wet fluffy snow, but even colder more densely falling snow won't be "cut" or "sliced" as it will just get packed around your tire and then you're at the whim of gravity.
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Old 03-30-15, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by yankeefan View Post
...Riding on ice is an entirely different proposition.
My CF bike with 25C tires was in storage from Jan 1 until Mar 24, when I judged the roads dry enough to ride it. This AM I did have to cross a wide patch of ice about five feet long while en route. It came up too suddenly to stop, and my only strategy was to ride across it and keep a perfectly straight course.
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Old 03-30-15, 10:01 AM
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I have ridden 25 cm in the snow a few times, although never intentionally. I find the easiest thing to do is to spin in a lower gear than I would normally use. This gives me more control. I have chipped ice of the drive train of my road bike, but I have a hard time getting through if the snow goes up to the spokes.
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Old 03-30-15, 10:11 AM
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If there's a chance of snow or ice, I don't ride my road bike with 700x25 tires. Instead I ride my touring bike with 700x32 tires with pressure down around 60 psi. Even then I've had trouble with ice and hard-packed snow.
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Old 03-30-15, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by mlamb01 View Post
It snowed that much in that area on Saturday? That's news to me.
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Old 03-30-15, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
It snowed that much in that area on Saturday? That's news to me.
In North East MD is where it got white, so to speak. Later on in the ride up in PA, it did not look like it had snowed or rained at all.
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Old 03-30-15, 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by bigredkevbot View Post
I think a light dusting can be ridden with narrower slicks, however, ice and built up snow (even when fresh) is unsafe for bikes equipped with 23c tires.
A light dustin' in Boston is about a foot, right?
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Old 03-30-15, 11:08 AM
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Originally Posted by mlamb01 View Post
In North East MD is where it got white, so to speak. Later on in the ride up in PA, it did not look like it had snowed or rained at all.
Interesting. We didn't get anything here in Philly. Have you done their Savage Century? Nice ride, although I have only done the metric route. It's a little more "fend for yourself" than most rides as there is only one rest stop, but you hit it twice. The cue sheets point out stores where you can get food and drink for the longer routes.
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Old 03-30-15, 04:25 PM
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I generally regard snow and ice as a good time to resume drinking.
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Old 03-30-15, 10:54 PM
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Originally Posted by bruce19 View Post
A light dustin' in Boston is about a foot, right?
After this miserable winter, yes.

I will say, it's incredible how stable a a bike shod with 700x35 cyclocross knobbies is in the snow.
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Old 03-31-15, 05:31 AM
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I can't count the number of times I have gone down trying to ride on snow covered or slick streets. I now refuse to ride on even wet pavement.
The last time I went down on a 90 degree turn right in front of a truck. The driver stopped to see if I was okay. She said I scared her, I replied it scared me too!
The bad part of slick pavement is you go down so fast there is nothing you can do to prevent it.
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Old 03-31-15, 02:39 PM
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How much traction do skinny road tires have in snow and slush?

^ if you're repeatedly falling on wet pavement, there's a problem.

You certainly can avoid falling in the rain. Watch for painted lines, reduce tire pressure, pick your line carefully in corners. Remain loose.

I've completed a number of crits in the rain without falling. If you can race in the rain.
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