Snow and Ice

Some days there are no safe routes to work. Today was the first day back to work after a weekend of snow storms. The snow plows had only worked on the main streets, so all the side streets were a lumpy mess of ice and snow. And since the sides of the roads were piled with snow from the sidewalk snow blowers, I was forced to ride too close to traffic. By the time I got to work, I had spent over a half hour creeping along the streets and hiking through the park for my 2.5 mile commute!

Snowy Bridge

Here are a few of the things I learned and practiced today:

Slow down! The unpredictable terrain caused me to watch my front wheel. Occasionaly I tried to make up time where I had traction, only to come into a dangerous section that I didn’t see coming. I practiced keeping my speed slow enough to react to changing conditions, braking where I had traction before hitting patches of ice.

icy road

Keep a straight line. Wandering around from tire track to tire track is a good way to end up on your head. It’s important to keep an eye on what your front wheel is doing, but remember to scan ahead when possible and pick the best line. Slow way down when taking turns. This is where I had the closest calls today. Luckily I was able to unclip in time and get a foot down before the wheels completely slid out from under me!

Be mindful of what’s behind you. There were times today when I looked back and saw a lot of traffic headed my way. I decided it was safer to get off the road and wait for the cars to pass instead of taking a chance with an automobile close encounter.

Give yourself extra time. I ran into a dead end while trying to cross the park. The snow was too deep to ride, so I decided to backtrack to the road. This wasted some time, but was probably wiser than trudging through 200 yards of snow.

Consider studded snow tires. If you’re serious about commuting through the snow and ice, get some studded snow tires. I had some very aggressive knobby tires on today, and they didn’t do much in the ice. I was always looking for a bit of snow to ride in to make sure I had a little traction. I’ll be shopping around for some snow tires soon. Recommendations please!

Overall, my commute was a great experience. It’s fun to have an adventure before work!

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0 thoughts on “Snow and Ice”

  1. bltt says:

    looks fun to me! we’re enjoying a weird 65-degree spell here in chicago at the moment, but we’ll be back in snow in no time, i’m sure. my ss 29er is great on the snowy sidestreets, but i do get sketchy when things get icy. i’d been wondering about studded tires, so i’m glad you offered a bit of info.
    ps: i gotta say, though, i think that 200 yds of snow sounds like a good time!

  2. Jeff Moser says:

    I was bummed about not going through the park! I couldn’t get enough traction to ride through the snow, and walking in neoprene bootie covered cycling shoes through the snow didn’t seem appealing. Plus my goal was “to get to work”! Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on that mission when you’re having so much fun.

    I’d be curious to try a 29er in the same conditions.

  3. Leaf says:

    Nokian Hakkapeliitta’s work well. I run 35’s on my cyclocross bike. Not nerely as fast as slicks, but they are confident on ice and packed snow. They are kinda spendy, but have a reputation for wearing well.

  4. Jason says:

    Hmmm…. I prefer to use a cycle in bad weather as it is less like to be stopped than a car or motorbike (I only commute 12 miles). I usually point the cycle through thicker snow as it gives the tyres something to bite into. If I can’t see snow it usually means I’m about to cycle on sheet ice which is minimal traction for standard tyres. My concession to poor riding conditions is to keep things smooth to maximise the limited traction.

    Oh, I ride a 29″ ATB with 2″ multi terrain tyres in bad weather.

  5. Heather says:

    I just purchased the Nokian Extremes, and have been out on them three times. The second time we had just received several inches of snow, and I was riding on packed slush. I stayed upright for that ride. I was hoping to test them on ice, what they are made for, by going for a spin on a local pond. Our recent warm spell, high 40s, has nixed that idea. I’ve been wanting to purchase studded tires for years, I finally do, and we get hit with unseasonably warm temperatures. Luckily, I’m in New England, and they say if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.

  6. WheelDancer says:

    I am on my second year of studded tires, first was Nokian Mount and Ground that I had on my Ice Bike, an old Police bike with 26″ wheels. This year I built up a Surley Karate Monkey with 29″ wheels for my winter commuter so I had to get new studded tires. As Peter White talks about on his site, studs need to be made of carbide or they wear out too quickly. I picked up some some Schwalbe Snow Studs with carbide studs and I like them but would prefer a wider tire. I put Schwalbe Big Apple tires on the Monkey for my regular commute and they have a great cushy ride but very little tread. One of the guys at the LBS uses them in the winter and loves them as they are wide and give the snowshoe effect of riding on top of the snow. If they had a bit more tread and carbide studs I think they would be the perfect winter tire; wide enough to ride on top of the snow but studs to save my arse from the black ice.

  7. jason (sd) says:

    I also have Nokian Hakkapeliitta 35’s on my hybrid. Work very well on the ice, also on hard pack and in fresh snow. Maybe it is just me, not as great for the slushy stuff that gets worked up. Kind of like your one picture but a little more melty/dirty. I haven’t tried yet but I wonder if a knobbier tire with studs would be better in the slush.

  8. Quinn says:

    Jeff, great article, All good advise, your commute looked a lot like mine.

    I was considering riding my 456 SS, but I thought I had to many hills to deal with, I also only have Fire XCs for it, so after a few thoughts on setting up my XXIX, so I set it up with HIGH pressure Karma in front and a Low pressure WeirWolf in back, works pretty well!
    29″ makes a Big difference too!

  9. pedkiler#1 says:

    I live in the same town as Jeff and I have been using my pugsly pulling a burley trailer.With what has been stated before me I think I will try studded tires.Another tip I like to use flat pedals on icy days.

  10. Fritz says:

    Even with studded tires, the big challenge for the hard ridged ice like Jeff pictures is avoiding tire diversion crashes, similar to what happens when your wheel gets caught in a railroad track. Like Jeff suggests, looking ahead to see where those ridges go is a good way to get through. I treat the stuff like technical singletrack and hop over a lot of this junk.

    I’m one of those hardcore vehicular cyclist guys, but in these conditions I have no problems using the flexibility of my bike to my advantage by hopping up on the sidewalk, cutting through parks, etc if it makes things easier. If I’ve hit areas of too deep snow, I just push my way through on foot if necessary (which is why gaiters and hiking boots are handy).

  11. Dingbat says:

    Nice pictures! I’m commuting in Chicago (where it was winter a month ago but now it’s monsoon season, as blutt pointed out). One thing I bear in mind as I’m riding on really snowy/icy/etc. streets is that if I take a lane, I’m slowing cars down to the point where they should be going, too! As I rode in December, I saw a car that had just passed me attempt to stop for a crosswalk and go sliding straight through it. The driver was going a fine, even safe, speed for dry pavement, but not so much for the slick stuff.

  12. Jeff Moser says:

    Thanks for all the tire suggestions and comments!

    Today’s commute was similar. Some of the snow had melted, but it was very slick. Whenever I saw a dry stretch of sidewalk, I took it (there were no pedestrians in sight). Not everyone shovels their walk, so there was a lot of hopping on and off the sidewalk like Fritz talked about.

    The key today was smoothness. Slow, smooth pedaling, with no sudden movements! There were some cars that weren’t sure what I was doing, but to take a hand off the bar to signal seemed too dangerous at times.

    I’ll let you all know what snow tires I decide on!

  13. AKDispatch says:

    I have been commuting by bike 24/7 365 here in Northern Southeast Alaska for quite a few years now, all on the road network. We get very heavy snow dumps here, and riding conditions vary from glare ice, dry snow on ice, and wet heavy deep snow.

    Here are some things that are essential in winter time riding conditions:

    1. Studded Tires – Buy them! They are a must, and the more studs the better.

    3. Helmet – need I say more?

    3. Mirrors – don’t ride without them! You need to know what’s coming from behind without turning your head. You need to keep your focus looking forward to changing conditions as much as possible. Besides, you are more likely to be riding in the car lane as plowed snow is piled on the shoulders.

    4. Bright, reflective clothing. You can expect drivers to have reduced visibility due to blowing snow, ice on windshields, etc. You need to stand out. I even wear a safety vest.

    5. Lights, front and rear. Up here in Alaska, we don’t have much daylight in winter. Lights are a necessity. Even with twilight conditions, bright lights are important.

    6. Fenders, both front and rear. Keep the road grime from slinging into your face off that front wheel.

    7. Goggles or face shield in arctic cold, windy conditions. For temps below 10F, you gotta protect your eyes and face. Anyone who downhill skis will tell you how bad your vision gets when cold wind hits and your eyes tear up. You can’t afford poor vision.

    8. Check brakes right off the bat! If you had moisture anywhere in your system, your brake cables may freeze up. This is never a good thing. Additionally, shifting gears may be affected.

    Anyhow, there’s probably more that I’m forgetting, but you get the idea. Winter is my favorite time to ride, so give it a try!

  14. crSteve says:

    The winter commute is great, and I look forward to it on some weird demented level. I just need to allow more time to get to work in the snow and ice.

    Great photos and thanks for sharing.

  15. Redrom says:

    I also built up a Karate Monkey after riding 26″ Mount and Ground on a winter junker. I put the Nokian Extremes on it and so far I like it, but will take some of the air out while it’s slushy/soft (thanks for the reminder). I’m running the Alfine 8 speed and SON generator internal hubs and disk breaks, and really like the handling.

    For Gear, I wear a ski helmet, goggles, wool balaclava, scarf and skull cap, regular work clothes (jeans & button down shirt), heavy wool mid-layer, cotton anorak windbreaker, Duluth firehose cotton overpants lined in wool, and army issue muck lucks with double wool liners. I need different mittens, but rode this morning at -6 very comfortably.

  16. ClubPenguin says:

    Whenever I saw a dry stretch of sidewalk, I took it. Not everyone shovels their walk, so there was a lot of hopping on and off the sidewalk like Fritz talked about.

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