How Slippery Is It?
Technical Discussion of Traction on Ice
How Safe Is It?
What are the risks injury in Icebiking
How to figure the Effective Temperature
Winter cycling is seldom about darting off over hill and dale through forest and field.
The first obvious obstacle is the snow. Three feet of snow, even light powder, is hard to
ride through. Five miles through 4 inches of fresh wet snow will leave you drenched in
sweat. Breaking trail in the backcountry with anything more than 5-8 inches is more work
than walking, and almost as fast. This does not mean you are locked out of the woods in
the winter. You can ride through a foot of snow as long as its not real heavy and
wet. It will be slow, but it can be done.
There are lots of areas where the snow is hard packed enough so
that you can ride on top and cover great distances. This might include lakes, trails, back
woods roads and snowmobile trails. Often these places are in recreational areas or parks
that are less heavily used in the summer. In northern Minnesota roads are plowed out onto
the ice so that cabin owners can get to their summer cabins in the winter, and ice fishing
events can be held. In all of these cases the snow is fairly well packed and you can cover
a lot of territory.
Where to Ride?
First, not all areas have that much snow for the full winter, there are
times where there is no snow to speak of. Fall rides along backwoods trails,
just after everyone else has hung the bike up for the winter provide great beauty and
peaceful solitude. After a heavy frost or light snow every twig is fat and fuzzy, and the
leave, now soggy and frozen, no longer pre-announce your arrival. You can move silently
down the back trails and can often see more wildlife than is possible in the dense foliage
After significant amounts of snow has fallen you can follow snowmobile tracks
if you have the right equipment. These guys go pretty fast, so keep a look out for them
(you can hear them for half a mile) and get off the trail. Chat them up and be friendly.
Without them, you wouldn't be able to ride there. Cross country ski trails, if heavily
used and widely packed can also be ridden, but these folks are a lot harder to deal with
than snowmobiles (how dare you spoil their winter solitude!). Well, maybe just the ones
around here are, your skiers may vary.
There are also seldom used logging roads into the back country. These
may get infrequent plowing Often these roads are totally abandoned in winter. If found
before the snow gets really deep, these trails make excellent riding.
Then there are places you can't get to in summer. Rivers and lakes,
once iced over, make great playgrounds, with vast expanses of ice, often wind blown
relatively clear of snow. You then have access to mile of unexplored territory and can go
places you could never access by bike in summer. Take all the usual precautions to make
sure the ice is safe, anything over 3 inches is plenty thick enough. This is the place for
your studded tires.
Recreational ICEBIKE events
There are often once a year events in various cities in which you can participate
without having to be a super jock athlete or have expensive equipment. Some of these
are just a bunch of ICEBIKERS getting together for a winter ride every Saturday morning.
Others are scheduled and publicized through bike shops, local news groups and (of
course) on the ICEBIKE Mailing list.
||Some are rather exciting, and attract quite a crowd. ICEBIKER
Bart Kreps snapped the photo at left at an
event called the St Valentines Day Massacre on the river ice near Toronto, in February
Riders negotiated a heart
shaped course with an intersection that had to be carefully approached because braking
was "iffy". Check out Barts photo page for more excellent shots.
Events of this nature take some planning, and are unlikely to happen in small towns
where there are few winter cyclists.
Simple non-competitive Winter Rides are usually easier to arrange. There are so
few ICEBIKERS in any given town that finding riding partner is may be difficult. It
might be easier just to cajole your summertime riding partners out for a ride on a bright
sunny day. Maybe the local bike club is looking for a winter project. Help
them out on clothing tips, or point them to these web pages, and get them out for a short
jaunt. Who knows, you may make a convert.
Make your first few rides relatively short, especially if going with new ICEBIKERS.
They may not have the proper gear and may get cold. Plan to terminate the
ride at a popular restaurant or deli where hot drinks are available. Sending your
riding buddies off shivering in a car after a cold ride is a good way to get a cold
shoulder when you suggest another outing.
What Kind of Gear?
You can tackle some of these winter oppertunities with normal gear. See out
recommendation on tires. First, if there is any snow
cover at all, reduce your tire pressure. Do this little at a time (and bring a pump).
Since you have a lot of snow for cushioning, you can risk tire pressures that would
guarantee snake-bite in the summer. Twenty, fifteen, even ten or five PSI can be gotten
away with in a few inches of snow or packed snow. Not only does this help keep you from
sinking, it also increases traction significantly. The idea is to put as many square
inches on the ground as possible - exactly the opposite of what you do for fast road
If you spend lots of time at off road winter riding, you should check out the All Weather
Sports SnowCat Rims for a wider track. This is an expensive proposition (the rims are
over twice what a typical MTB rim costs), but they are twice as wide and the places you
can go with really wide rims and super low pressure tires is amazing. These rims were
developed in Alaska for the Iditasport race, the bicycle equivalent of the Iditarod dog
sled race. There is nothing else like them anywhere else. No, you still can't float across
that field of 3 foot deep fluffy snow.
Baring that, get the widest MTB tires you can find and just go for it. It's seldom
fast, but it is always a blast, even the crashing can be fun.
A Day's Outing:
On a winter day, planning an ICEBIKE romp is a little like planning a day snow shoeing
or skiing. The difference is you will probably work harder, and sweat more, so dress
lighter. Sooner or later, you have to stop and rest, drain, and replenish. You can get
rather cold standing around in a fresh coat of sweat.
In addition, your feet, instead of flexing and being down on the ground out of the wind
are in a fixed position and up in the breeze. There is nothing worse than being 20 miles
out in the sticks and realizing your feet are really hurting from the cold. Warm boots are
critically important. You can work up a sweat to cover your need for warmth, but it is
really hard to re-warm your feet. Get off the bike and walk a ways. Better yet, be
prepared with warm equipment. Don't ride summer cycling shoes into winter.
Check the clothing pages for some
recommendations. Plan an additional garment for those rest breaks, something that packs
well, perhaps a fleece vest. A spare pair of dry gloves may be in order, as well as a
warmer stocking hat.
Bring some food. I'm not the one to tell you what to bring. Bring something you can eat
when its almost frozen, because it almost always will be.
Don't forget your lights for the ride home. Don't forget your repair kit. I actually
have fewer breakdowns in winter than in summer, but the minute you forget that patch
And if you have a really cool trip planned, take your