OUR ADVERTISERS

Thursday, November 09, 2006

HOW TO RIDE A BIKE IN THE WINTER


Winter sucks! That's my philosophy anyways, if you're lucky enough to live in the snow belt and want to ride in the snow, read on. I don't snow shoe in the forest, I don't snowboard and I don't ski. I just can't stand winter. My only winter sport is to shovel snow out of my driveway because I'm cheap and it is the only exercise I get in the winter months.

14 years ago, that wasn't the case. I had bought my first brand new bike. It was a store variety cheapo mountain bike with side pull caliper brakes. It wasn't much, but it was a lot better than my old ten speed $15 special from the garage sale. I had moved close to my job at the Fire Department and driving to work was just stupid. I had used the $15 special for the entire summer and I had saved enough cash to buy the new bike. It was in November, by the time I had put the whole thing together that faithful day, wouldn't you know it, it started to snow!

My girlfriend told me that it was too bad I couldn't ride my new bike to work. "No way" I said, "If this thing can climb mountains, it can surely handle a little snow." and that's how 7 straight years of going to work 12 months a year started. This little event also pushed me in the bike repair business, I had to ride in the winter and back then bike shops were closed in the winter. I had to be able to fix my bike myself, so I got educated in the realm of bike repair.

But back to winter riding, this article will be how you can do it for as little money as possible. First thing you need, is a crappy bike. I learned that you must sacrifice a bicycle to the harshness of winter if you don't want to destroy your favorite ride. Winter riding can be hard on you, but your machine is equiped with an exposed drivetrain that has to take a lot of abuse from the elements. In the spring, it won't be pretty. Find an inexpensive bike that you are willing to sacrifice.

The Bike

Like I said, the bike you will use to ride in the snow will not have an easy life and its drivetrain will suffer damage even if you are careful. Choose a bike that you don't mind trashing, buy a cheap used one or find one in the trash. Avoid curved racer handlebars, you need to be upright and having an aerodynamic riding position is the least of your concerns.

You will need to put fenders and a rack on that bike. Nothing is worst than riding in cold weather with a wet butt, just make sure that you have plenty of clearance between those fenders and your tires to prevent snow to get packed in there. The rack is necessary to carry your stuff. You need all your skills in snow riding and a backpack will influence your body movements. Put all your gear on the bike so that your body is free to move without any interference.

Tires

Big debate here, chains, studs, knobby, skinny, anything goes and I tried most of them. The main problem in the winter is road conditions. Snow and ice are your main enemies. You would need a specific tire for each condition, but that's not really practical.

I never liked skinny tires since they don't seem to grab well in the snow. I have always used a set of mountain bike knobby tires with the tire pressure down 10 lbs from the prescribed maximum. They are good at eliminating snow build-up on the thread and are decent in most conditions.

I made my own studded bicycle tires with a set of almost finished mountain bike tires. I simply drilled holes in the middle and side threads of the tire and applied small steel nuts and bolts. The nut is on the outside of the tire and the inside is covered with duct tape to protect the tube from the head of the bolt. This works very well, but has a drawbacks. Homemade studded tires are HEAVY, this translates into more energy needed to make the bike go forward. Winter is already a pain to pedal your bike anywhere and this added resistance doesn't help at all. I used them for a month and finally went back to the regular knobbies. I figured that for the few times that I needed to ride on ice, it wasn't worth the trouble. I relied on my riding abilities and in the worst cases, I walked my bike home.

Lubrication

I've tried all sorts of things on my chain and drivetrain to protect them from the elements and nothing is bullet proof. You must wipe down and lube your drivetrain on a regular basis. That's the big secret. Just make sure you use something synthetic and keep the thickness on the light level. Don't forget to lube those exposed brake and derailleur cables. In the spring, change all cables and the chain. If you wait for the Fall to do this, everything will be seized(been there). If they are well lubed, your derailleurs should survive a few seasons, just don't count on this if you have fancy ones, stick with the really cheap stuff.

Brakes

Well the best brakes hands down for winter riding are disk brakes. But if you are in a position to trash a disc brake equiped bike for winter riding, you probably don't and drive around in the winter with a big expensive SUV. If you actually do ride a disc brake equiped bike in the winter, I don't have to tell you that you have it made. For the rest of us who have pad to rim brakes, try avoiding chrome steel rims. They are the worst for any knid of wet braking. If you have no other choice, just keep in mind that you will probably have to plan ahead all of your stopping needs!

How to ride in the snow and ice...

...very carefully. Remember that any time you ride, the actual contact between your bike and the pavement is about the same surface as your thumb. Throw some snow and ice in the mix and it's time to slow things down. Ride slower, don't lean in your turns as much, look ahead and always be conscious of the surface you ride on. This is no time for riding with your mind wandering off somewhere, pay attention! As far as cars go, people will see you most of the time and they are thinking that you are nuts, a bike in the winter is pretty hard to miss.

Safety

A helmet, proper lights, front and back, and a reflective vest are not an option. Do not even consider winter riding without any of these.

Clothing

You don't have to buy expensive winter gear. Just keep in mind that you must put on multiple layers. I had also a good pair of ski gloves and ski goggles with a balaclava(Don't forget to take this off before you go into a store...).

Storage

The best thing to do in the winter is to store your bike inside when you are not using it. Wipe down after everything as melted off. If you are stuck parking it outside, wipe the drivetrain on aregular basis and keep in mind that cables can snap in cold weather. Warm them up before the ride by using them gently a few times before you leave.

In all the years that I rode in the snow, I only fell twice and never broke anything. I loved it and I even preferred it to taking the car when I had the chance. I preferred to get on my bike and be warm within minutes instead of freezing in the car all the way to work. Cold weather, even in the -35C(-30F) range is not that bad. Remember that your worst enemy is the condition of the road surface you're riding on..

Until next time, ride safe and Godspeed.

Gerry

15 comments:

Tuco said...

Hi Gerry:
if you have a second, check out
http://www.gopetition.com/online/10170.html

it's a petition asking the Fed. Gov. to promote cycling in Canada as a preferred means of transportation.

If you're sympathetic to the idea and are able to spread the word to cyclists in Quebec, that'd be much appreciated. Take care!

Gerry Lauzon said...

Why limit ourselves to Quebec, this is the Word WIDE Web. I'll do a post on intiative like yours from all over the world. Keep posted.

Gerry
p.s. Yes I will sign the petition.

Anonymous said...

You may be interested in the following www.icebike.org Very informative winter biking site. I love my cruiser and my BMX, so I built a dedicated single speed mountain bike, with cruiser bars, fenders and a coaster brake. Definetly bomb proof, specially with studded tires.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerry, it's Graham, the mechanic at Disco Velo.

I've rode courier through two winters, one in Toronto and one in Montreal. I've made two dedicated winter bikes, and though you make many well-considered points, I think you'll be surprised at how different my results are from yours.

My dedicated winter beaters sucked. My first one was my old Raleigh mountain bike with knobby tires and fenders with lots of clearance, aluminum rims and V-brakes. I used it for one or two days in the Toronto winter, and on one of those days the snow was really heavy (great, I thought! a good test). I got slopped with slush from passing trucks and between what came down and what came up, my already relatively heavy bike became encrusted with a 5-10 mm layer of ice. The rapid fire gears froze, the fenders caked up, and worst of all the tires (should've tried your low-pressure idea) turned into fat slicks with the treads full of compacted snow.

After that, I said screw mountain bikes and rode far more comfortably and effectively on my late-model Miele 12-speed, with a 700C25 slick on the front and a slightly thicker cyclecross tire on the back. The slick in front slices through the snow like a pizza-cutter, and having a little tread on the rear helps traction without filling up with snow.

My second winter beater was an old Peugeot ladies 10-speed road bike. I put a 27" slick on the front and a 27" (by 1 3/8?) with an aggressive tread on the back. The problem? Its crappy old drivetrain skipped -- the chain would slide on top of the cogs between gears during shifting, and once I was bombing up Sherbrooke and did a faceplant while upshifting. Eventually it got stuck outside the 24-hour bakery where I worked the night shift -- I would have had to bring a blow-torch or a grinder to get that lock off.

After the second beater, I took the advice I think from Luke at Cycletechnic Notre-Dame/Atwater to ride my good bike, but put it in the shower every week or two and spray the entire bike with degreaser (this is easier to do if you are a bachelor).

I built a single-speed to get through last winter in Montreal, and it still looks and works great. Sure the pedal is seized in the crank and so I have non-matching pedals -- when I finally have to replace my crank, I won't have to think about replacing bent and rusted derailleurs, shifters and gear cables.

So I say ride a safe half-decent road or hybrid bike through the winter (single speed is my favourite) -- don't split your resources. Just overhaul your bike with all-new parts in the spring. Water-resistant pants worn under a pair of jeans and over a pair of sweatpants was the best protection I could get. With a good pair of gloves and a hoodie sweatshirt under a water-resistant jacket, you should be able to bike at temperatures as low as -15C and in up to two inches of snow (though usually snow melts off the roads quickly from salt and traffic).

Anonymous said...

P.S. My e-mail is grahamgw at gmail dot com

Gerry Lauzon said...

Thanks for the great comment Graham. Some valuable information in there. Graham wrenches and rides in Montreal, so he knows what he's talking about folks. icebike.org is a very informative website for those interested in winter riding as well.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerry,

I have been winter ridding for a long time. I have a few more tips to add for snowy conditions. Never use your front brake in the snow, it will lock and it will throw you off balance. Since your weight will shift to the front tire and cause your bike to fall left or right. Put as little weight as possible on your front wheel. For Emergency braking, Get off your seat put your left foot on the ground, clench your back brake only, keep your front wheel pointing towards where you want to go, you will coming side ways just like a rally car cornering. Another tip is to stay in the snow tracks cars create in the snow. Remember put very little weight on your front wheel. Kepp on ridding

Gerry Lauzon said...

Thank you for an excellent addition to this article. You are 100% right on what you said. Ride on.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Gerry,

This is my third winter cycle-commuting in Winnipeg (that is, until about -35C. Before the wind chill) and have a couple of tips to add to the list.

Semi-slick cyclocross tires (32c) on a single speed road/hybrid bike have worked great for me. They don't hold too much snow and cut down right to the road.

Also, when turning, don't lean the bike. At all. Rather, keep the bike upright and lean your body off the side of the bike. This allows slightly higher speed cornering.

And absolutely don't rely on your front brake. Rear only. I have also found that road-style caliper brakes work best. There is no need for super powerful brakes that will just lock up early in the snow and ice.

Hope this helps,

Chris

Gerry Lauzon said...

Thank you very much for those valuable tips Chris. Nothing beats hearing from people who actually do this. Somehow I don't miss riding at -35 with gusty winds anymore! Mucho respect to all those of you who still ride in the winter.

Gerry :)

ZAPPDOG said...

HI GERRY
ITS GREAT TO SEE THE HARDCORE RIDERS SHARING TIPS AND INFO. WINTER RIDING IS A BITCH AIN'T IT?? I'VE BEEN DOING IT FOR ABOUT 15 YEARS. PICS OF MY RIDE IN SUMMER TRIM ARE AT
http://unclezapaudiozap.phpbb3now.com/index.php
ITS A PRETTY HIGH END MT. THOSE PICS WERE TAKEN 5 YEARS AGO. WINTER AND SUMMER SETUPS ARE IDENTICAL EXCEPT FOR KNOBBIES @ 30 PSI. I TUNE UP SPRING/FALL. THE ONLY PARTS I'VE REPLACED IN 5 YEARS ARE THE REAR BRAKE PADS. I'M AVERAGING ABOUT 60 MILES A WEEK RIGHT NOW.
A NOTE. I LIVE IN CALGARY WHERE THERE IS A LOT LESS SALT USED ON THE ROADS.
KEEP ON PEDDLIN'
ZAPPDOG

zed said...

ZAPPDOG:
http://img138.imageshack.us/img138/7752/capslockor6.jpg
......
How To Ride A Bike In Winter:

Thanks for the advice.. maybe I will switch to a beat up bicycle from now in the winter months... or shower away all that salt crap they put on the roads.

Anonymous said...

A good bit of advice for riding in the winter I found was making your own snow tires using plastic zipties. Just put a bunch of zipties around your tire and rim.

If your zipties aren't super-thick plastic, there isn't much interference with breaking or bouncing around, but they add just a bit more grip to your tires.

http://www.dutchbikeco.com/_blog/Dutch_Bike_Co_Weblog/post/Seattle_Snowpocalypse/

Morry said...

Hi,
I have been winter riding in Southern Ontario for about 15 years now.
my favourite winter ride is an old steel framed Raleigh 27 inch road bike.Its frame has lots of clearance for fenders and oversized tires and I use alloy wheels to get better brake performance. I have left the original steel derailleurs and brake calipers and with a decent amount of lubrication this has served me well.
The two best pieces of advice I can give are to stay away from indexed shifting on a winter bike and to use steel components where ever possible (corrosion resistance).
Have Fun!

Gerry Lauzon said...

I'm the publisher of this blog and I approve the previous comment. Thanks for sharing Morry.

Gerry :)