Winter Cycling Primer

Those of you in Bozeman noticed that since the weather a few days back the streets are a bit slick. And now, after a couple of days, some salt, and some sunshine they're also pretty messy.

That does not mean, however, that you need to stop commuting by bike, much less stop having fun riding through town.

For fun and effective winter riding, you need to focus a bit more on three things: Tires, clothes, and fenders.

Tires: Carbide Studded. That's it (for BZN, at least). Anything less than two carbide-studded tires won't do crap. Sorry, that's how it is. There's one discount brand (Innova) with hardened steel studs but those tend to wear out faster than the MASH SF crews' rear tires.

Good studded tires are expensive- there's no way around it. But if you're serious about winter commuting they're necessary. Can you imagine a tennis player without wristbands? Exactly.
Expect to spend about $150 on a set. Think of it as an investment (they'll last a few years) and insurance (you'll (usually) stay upright). Now that you've made the decision to get a set, you need to decide on what width. In 700, Schwalbe makes a 35 and 45mm. I've got the 35's, so I might be a bit biased.

But that's only 'cuz they ROCK. Nokian makes 45's as does Kenda. Personally, I prefer the Schwalbe's tread for street use. In 26" the narrowest I've seen is 1.8, again by Schwalbe. Full size 26x2.1 and wider can be had by Nokian and Kenda, but if you're looking for the best all-around winter commuter tire, go with the thinnest you can. A wider tire tends to feel a bit more stable and predictable on glare ice, but will wander and drift when you hit deep/churned snow and slush. Thinner tires with a more rounded profile will cut through the thick mashed-potatoey snow a lot better.

Clothes: Multiple thin layers. Preferably wool. This morning, at 9 degrees I had thin Smartwool underwear top and bottom. Mid-thick wool socks, my favorite Endura knickers, Nike soft-shell jacket, a thin cap under my helmet, and fleese-lines leather hardware store gloves rounded out my ensemble. Since I ride clipless, I got a pair of Pearl Izumi GTX Mid GoreTex cycling shoes. A little bit spendy, but less than dedicated winter cycling shoes and they still provide decent warmth. They also look like sneakers.
Aim for being a bit chilly when you first get on the bike, that way you're less likely to get overheated a few minutes into your ride. Sunglasses with lightly-tinted lenses help to keep yer eyeballs from freezing!

Fenders: You wanna know what's worse than having your girlfriend (or boyfriend) find out your secret miniature dachsund puppy porn collection? Bike commuting without fenders. Really. Even when the temps drop to well below freezing there's still plenty of the messy slushy stuff that will get flung onto your crotch from both wheels. How's that sound, Mr. Poopy-pants?

I'm also a fan of fixed-gear bikes for winter. And summer. Spring and fall too. Anyone who wants to maximize their riding vs. maintenance time should consider one. Plus you have more control in the snow and ice. Unless you're riding like this guy.



erik h said...

great post Mr Dna. If that is your real name!

Stevo Kinevo said...

Actually, DNA is his first name

Singletrack Mind said...

Just a Head's about Schwalbe's. I picked a pair of marathon winter's up for fiddy five a piece from Niagra cycles. Google it.

Anonymous said...

Studded tires are not necessary. Just dont lean into your turns when going around a corner and expect to have your face attached to your head when you peel yourself off the ice.

Mr DNA said...

No, they're not necessary, but neither is a condom in your local crack house/brothel. They are a Really Good idea, though. I went for four years in Bozeman without, and once I got a set, I wondered why I was so stubborn.
BTW, leaning in a turn is a pretty integral component in bicycle dynamics. I choose to have the ability to corner as fast on ice as dry pavement. I choose to feel secure when I'm riding with traffic and I encounter bumpy ice.


samh said...

Not leaning into turns is boring.

Anonymous said...

Not leaning into turns on a bicycle isn't possible within the realm of newtonian physics.

You can only ride really slowly and avoid inclines and that's both boring and not always practical.

samh said...

Yeah, and it's boring too.

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