Riding a bike in the snow
January 21, 2012
It finally snowed, and I had put on snow tires yesterday because of the weather report. I put this off as long as I can because it adds a ton of rolling resistance and messes up the handling, but it’s nice to have traction when things get messy.
Snow tires, for bicycles, are different in three ways. First, they have studs, and the better ones (the ones that last) have studs made from carbide. These dig into the ice, if you hit ice. Second, they look a lot more like offroad tires with tread and lugs for digging into the snow. This varies; snow tires for on-road commuting may not have much extra tread, because the assumption is that the roads are good except where water got on the road and froze. Third, snow tires often use a grippier rubber compound. I notice this on the Nokians; when new, they smell funny.
This time around, it seems like I finally got things figured out. The front wheel (Nokian W240) has better grip on ice (if the front slips, it’s easy to fall down). The rear wheel (Schwalbe Snow Stud) has studs that hit the ice if the bike is tilted (if it is going into a skid), but otherwise has a pretty aggressive tread, because it’s often the case that you don’t have enough traction in the rear to push the bike through heavy snow. Today, I was able to easily ride through three-inch deep snow, which is more than I recall handling happily in the past.
I have a chaincase, which keeps snow/salt/grit off the chain. This is good. Just like snow-ice builds up on the bottomside of cars, it builds up on bicycles:
The bike also has lights run from a dynamo for daytime use, because visibility is less good, and because windshields may be foggy on the inside or iced on the outside.
Actually riding in the snow does involve some extra tricks. At least today, on not very well-plowed roads, the rear end broke loose a couple of times. Just like in a car, you turn into the skid, and just keep going. Good thing about a bike is that (unless you are foolishly bombing downhill), if the snow is deep enough that you are skidding a lot, you won’t be going very fast anyhow.
Cars are a bit of a pain. Their drivers tend to overestimate their traction, so you’d like a little extra space just in case. You also want to stay clear on slushy roads because they spray slush sideways, and who wants that? It might be unacceptable to throw filthy snowballs at strangers, but if you’re in a car, it’s a-ok to spray them with gunk.
For the cold, you want good gloves. I also wear a thin sock hat under my helmet, and grew a beard for the winter cold. For shoes, nothing fancy, just winter boots (I ride a bike with “normal” pedals).
But otherwise, biking in the snow works pretty well.