Biking in the snow: A how-to guide

Biking in the ice, snow, and cold is surprisingly fun and easy when you have the right equipment and clothing.

Some foot problems earlier this year kept me off my bike throughout much of the spring and fall--so I've had some of my best rides of the year since it snowed December 20th.

How do you make winter biking both fun and safe?  MoBikeFed's Eric Bunch has a step-by-step guide for converting both your bike and yourself into awesome winter machines:

Step 1: Installed fenders

No amount of Gore Tex is going to keep you and your feet dry from road spray on a wet or snow covered street.  So fenders are an absolute must for any regular bike commuter despite what season we are in. Plus they keep your drive train clean. They keep you clean. I just picked up a new pair of aluminum fenders from Velo Orange for about $60. A little expensive? Sure. But they'll last forever. You can pick up other full-fenders for under $30

It is worth noting that MoBikeFed doesn't endorse any particular manufacturer; we just like what we ride on! 

Step 2: Threw on some studded tires

If you've ever spent any time in mountain states in the winter you are familiar with their automotive counterparts. But studded tires also come in a range of sizes and styles for bicycles as well.

Although I normally try to support local bike shops, I picked up a pair of like-new Nokian tires on ebay for about half the cost of a new set. Mine cost about $80. Now keep in mind these tires (shown right) have 240 studs. I can probably navigate the ice roads of northern Alberta with these; they are a little overkill. A perfectly practical set can be had, brand new, for about the same value as what these cost used.

A wider mountain bike tire or even a super chunky cyclocross tire without studs is generally sufficient to ride snow-packed streets. At 40 mm, my Nokians fit this bill as well. So with the studs and the extra width, these things are like snow shoes for my bike.

Step 3: Modified my fender installation

So the studded tires I bought turned out to be way too wide for the front fender I purchased. Bummer. All was not lost though. I had a set of road bike fenders from Planet Bike (note: Planet Bike is a great supporter of bike advocacy organizations across the U.S.) lying in my bike shed. I installed the front one and called it good. The result: not a single drop of road spray on my ride. These retail for about $40. But, my VO front fender will replace this guy once the tulips start blooming and my three season tires go back on.

Step 4: Got rid of my clipless pedals

I think it's wise to ride with platform pedals in the snow. I speak from experience here folks. Riding in my first Denver blizzard back in '09 I found myself constantly digging snow out of my cleats. Eventually my shoes became so snow packed that I could not longer clip in. This resulted in constant foot-pedal sliding (and subsequent straddling of the top tube--not fun). Plus riding on platforms allows you to don the snow-proof hiking boots. Before I learned this lesson, my feet were constantly cold and wet, my ride was treacherous and snow filled my socks during snow drift portages. 

Step 5: Dressed Warm

I didn't don an Everest exploration suit. But I did wear a good wool base layer (including long johns), my normal flannel shirt and jeans combo, winter hiking boots, an Icelandic sweater (totally overkill--but it's always cool to show up looking like Gordon Lightfoot) and a down jacket. I also wore mittens. My hands are the most needy part of my body when it comes to the cold and I'll sacrifice a little gear shifting dexterity to keep from frostbite. Men, it's also not a bad idea to pick up a pair of windproof underwear. 

I looked pretty much like my normal self despite snow biking when I showed up at the coffee shop. Yes, I typically dress like I live in Reykjavik.  

Send your snowbiking photos to eric.bunch@mobikefed.org

More cold-weather bike and clothing tips online at IceBike.com

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