After visiting the North Pennines with Attacus recently and refreshing my memory of how the hell to cycle in the snow. I thought it may be useful, considering current conditions in the UK to share some thoughts.
Maximise your contact points with the road
It's pretty self explanatory this one. Fit the widest tyres on your bike that you possibly can and run a lower pressure. If you know you're going to be riding in snow, then a treaded tyre or even a lightly knobbed mountain bike or cyclocross tyre will give extra grip.
Hook up with a stud
If you can, I would definitely recommend studded tyres. Even the best tyres out there won't grip on sheet ice so the extra spike does really help! If you think you're going to encounter proper black ice — which has a nasty habit of lurking at the bottoms of hills on minor lanes and anywhere water runs off fields, it is worth the investment. These tyres are often CX or MTB only so check your clearances.
Not only is it great for racing on (lower rolling resistance as you have removed an element which causes it) tubeless is also brilliant for the winter. You are able to run super low tyre pressures comfortably I use Hunt Wheels for pretty much everything. Racing, CX, commuting. Another big bonus is the reduced risk of punctures which, honestly, are horrible to fix at the side of the road when you are freezing your tits off.
Loosen the tension on your pedals or go MTB
You may be loosening some pedal efficiency here but it's much more of a safety thing. In the winter, I pretty much only run MTB pedals and shoes. You can still clip in but it's much easier to use that get out of jail free card if you start sliding all over the place. loosening the tension in your pedals (normally a little alan key which dictates how easy or hard it is to clip in or out) may also really help.
Shimano's Di2 groupsets are absolutely fantastic in the winter months. They shift faultlessly and are much easier to maintain. We may all love using old school cable groupsets but I think electronic really is the way forward here.
Fixed Gear or Single Speed?
When the weather is bad, I often resort to my single speed CX bike. It is quite an old school way of thinking, to ride fixed in the winter months. You can also slow a fixed bike down on ice without using the brakes and while maintaining traction and power to the back wheel. That's a very good thing when it's slippery. Having less 'fuss' on the bike also helps. There is less to go wrong. Less to cause a problem on a ride and a much more simple set up, making it easier to maintain.
Lower your saddle
Now I am by NO means a bike fitter, so take this one carefully. Lowering your saddle slightly can help lower your centre of gravity and allow you to get more weight over the rear wheel. I drop mine VERY slightly and tend to sit further back to make sure I have a lot of weight on the rear of the bike. It means it can stop you sliding out.
Look, quite frankly it's jeffing freezing out there. Layer up and keep warm. Pay special attention to your extremities, hands and feet as these are the places that will really feel it. No one wants a finger to drop off after all. Attacus do some awesome winter bits and I am a big fan of the GripGrab gloves and shoe covers.
Choose your roads
Now what I mean here is stay away from un-gritted country lanes. We love them in the summer but honestly in the winter months they can become incredibly dangerous. More heavy traffic roads that have been gritted should be your friend. I often do a ride from London to Windsor and back. The infamous 'cake run'. The roads are generally pretty quiet and are wide and always gritted. It's a solid 140km
Give yourself space
Make sure you are not too close to the curve. This is where there will be melted snow which turns into ice and a lot of crud left over which can easily puncture your tyres. Moving out a little bit also means you have some room to manoeuvre left and right should you so need to. Obviously be aware of other road users and ride safe.
Leading on from this you need to allow yourself longer breaking times. It takes longer to stop safely or even to slow down on icy surfaces. You've probably experienced it a bit when it's wet, but that stoppage time will be even more delayed if it's icy.
Choose your line and be prepared to have to move about on the road. Keep alert and aware of icy patches. Point these out to other cyclists if you are in a group.
DISC BRAKES FOR THE ABSOLUTE WIN
I don't need to say too much here other than they are bloody brilliant in winter months. If you're setting up a specific winter bike, then the extra stopping power and control of disc brakes makes them a no-brainer, and they're less affected by the wet than rim brakes. Wheels last longer, you only have to change the rotor when it wears out with is a hell of a lot cheaper. Hydraulic brakes are great but you can get some very good cable modulated disc brakes as well if you are on more of a budget. My Quirk is set up cable discs and honestly I think they are pretty close to hydraulic.
How to ride on ice
- Lay off the front brake, rely on the rear. If you find yourself on ice, simply pedal smoothly over it.If you do feel like you need to use your brake, use both of them at the same time slowly just to scrub off a little speed.
- Hold your line. I know I have already said it but be careful of your on road positioning and point out dangers to others.
- Keep it smooth, don't make any sudden movements or you will slide out
- Keep pedalling. Keep it smooth and simple
- Don't panic! Try not to stiffen up. Keep calm and relaxed. If you panic, you can often be twitchy which causes problems
- If it's really bad outside, stay in and ride on the turbo! I tend to do sessions of around an hour when time is short on my Wahoo Kickr using Zwift There's no point trying to be a hero.
Most important thing to say is that riding out in the snow can be great fun if you know what you are doing and how to prepare for it!
Enjoy it whilst we have it!
(amazing photos courtisy of Attacus CC)