Ride the Puddles

Stuff Beginners Should Know (But Almost Never Do): Snow / Ice Riding

Posted by bikezilla on January 30, 2011

This is an particularly dear topic to me, because, as is the aim of this series, I’ve learned these things the hard way. The really hard way. So I’d really have loved it if someone had been around to teach me better.

— Use the proper tires. Unless you have an especial fondness for being tossed to the ground.

Those slick centered tires you love for railtrail riding during the summer? NOT a good choice for snow / ice riding. In fact, they’re a godawful bad choice.

Even after you’ve let out all but the merest bit of air, they’re still not worth a damn. They’ll lose traction vertically and spin, they’ll lose traction horizontally and slip side to side.

What tires SHOULD you use?

I recommend a nice, heavy, non-directional knobby tread up front. Mine is a Continental Gravity. It cost me about $40.

In the back I recommend a similar tread that is also studded. They’re a lil pricey at around $80 each. I’ve only just saved the money for mine, so I’ll be heading to my local bike shop (LBS) soonish to pick one out and order it. I”ll fill you in on my actual choice after I’ve gotten I ride or two into it.

Why only a studded tire in the back?

The studs are recessed. You have to apply weight for them to dig in.

This being the case, the added benefit of the studs gives you such minimal additional grip in the front that it doesn’t seem to be worth the added expense to me.

However, if cost is not an object to you, the added peace of mind may well be worth an additional $40.

— As was already mentioned above, lower your tire pressure in both tires.

If there’s any ice, even if it’s beneath a couple inches of snow, I’ll drop right down to about 10 lbs of pressure per tire.

If it’s pure snow then it depends on how packed it is. I think a firmer tire bites better, but a softer tire sheds snow better.

If you aren’t sure, let out about 20 lbs and see how things track.

— Use a hydration pack, not water bottles.

— Why? Even insulated water bottles aren’t worth a damn in sub-freezing temperatures.

But you can:

1. Fill your hydration pack with hot water (right, you can do that with your water bottles, too, but you can’t . . .)

2. Wear your hydration pack beneath your top two layers.

This’ll hold heat directly in close to your body, AND keep the hydration pack from cooling / freezing rapidly.

WARNING: I ruined a Bell 1.5 liter bladder this way. The seam parted after heating, though it held up for two previous rides. Dammit, I really loved that hydration pack.

So far my Camelback has held up just fine. Will it last the winter? I’ll let you know when I find out.

— Finally, wear yer dang helmet!

You probably get away with not wearing it during summer on gentle trails when conditions are ideal. But if you’re snow / ice riding, you WILL be hitting the ground, hard and regularly.

Your head may not thwap off the ice every time, but when it does, I promise, you’ll so love you’re helmet.

— Ok, THIS is the real “final” last tip.

Knee and elbow pads.

Last time I landed on my knee and elbow it took a solid three weeks for the bruises to go away.

No, I don’t have them yet. But when I go in to pick out my studded rear tire I’ll be investing in a set of these, too.

Ride the puddles, Baby, even if they’re frozen!


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