Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ice Riding with Studded Tires 101

Riding a bicycle in ice and snow can be a daunting task.  Hopefully this blog post and a good set of studded tires will help.  Bicycle tires equipped with carbide studs have been around for many decades.  For people new to snow and ice riding, they make it possible.  The techniques that you learn when riding with studded tires will help you be a better bicycle rider in all conditions.

Here's a short list of things that will help.  It is not, by any means, exhaustive.  Please add to it if you'd like!!!

1) Relax.  Chill.  Everything is gonna be alright.  Ice and gravity want to make things happen quickly.  You need to resist the temptation to act quickly.  Sudden, quick movements will break even studded tires free on the ice and then gravity takes over.  If you relax and move slowly, you’re much more likely to stay upright and let the bike do its work.  The bike wants to roll straight and upright.  Let it do its work.

2) Studded tires do not instantly make you a superhero.  I know that this sounds like a complete contradiction to item #1, but it really isn’t.  Studded tires give you SOME traction where there isn’t much to conventional tires.  They are not, however, infallible.  You need to use them as a tool to guide the bike.  Proper technique is what makes the bike go where you want it to more than studded tires do.  Studded tires just keep you upright long enough to learn good technique.

3) Avoid the ruts:  Melt and freeze cycles mean that ice will get grooves and ruts in it.  If you drop a tire into a rut, the groove in the ice will guide where your bike goes regardless of where you try to steer.  This can cause a problem when the rut takes your bike one direction and your weight goes a different direction.  If your wheel goes into a rut, that’s not the end of the world.  You’ll learn to deal with it.  Remember #1 (Relax!  Chill!)  and #6 (Weight Control will get you out of the rut.)  

4) Momentum is your friend:  There will be a time when you start to feel comfortable on your bike with studded tires.  You’ll get #1 and #6 down to a science.  This is the point where you figure out that riding a little faster makes it easier for the bike to do its job.  

5) Brakes only slow you down:  When traction is high (on pavement and dirt) the brakes become a security blanket.  When in doubt, hit the brakes because they’ll fix a lot of problems.  When traction is hard to find (on ice and snow) the brakes cause many more problems than they solve.  Grabbing a fist full of brake is something that causes the kind of quick action that gets rid of #1 and #6.  You don’t relax and you are no longer in control of where your weight is taking you.  

6) Weight Control:  Steering on ice and snow is more about how you weight your handlebars than how you turn your handlebars.  When traction is hard to find, the best way to steer to the left is to put more weight on your left hand on your handlebars.  This puts the studs on the left side of the tire on edge and starts your turn to the left.  It doesn’t happen quickly, but remember item #1:  Relax.  Chill.  Everything is gonna be alright.  

7) Learn somewhere safe:  Multi-use trails are great for learning how to ride on ice and snow.  They’re not always plowed. When they’re icy, you’re more likely to be the only one out on the trail.  You’ve often got plenty of escape routes.  When in doubt, ride into the soft snow off the side of the trail.  You’ll get a little more traction and also have a soft place to land if the worst happens and you crash.  The important thing is to plan ahead and know where your escape routes are.  Keep an eye on the trail ahead and to the side.  

8) Have fun! 

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