Welcome to Part I of Roundabout Bicycle's tips for winter biking, featuring my top 3 features of a winter-ready bicycle. Here at Roundabout's, we're also kicking off the season with 15% off select studded tires and affordable gently-used studded tires, with free installation! Please check the main page for full details, and read on below to see if studs are the right choice for you this winter.
Frost on the ground means I was dusting off my "beater bike" this weekend. The weather doesn't quite call for it yet, but still, I love tinkering with this quirky machine. Even though the frame was way too small for me, I couldn't resist buying it second-hand anyway. I've spent many hours since customizing it into the perfect winter ride.
Small frames, with a low top tube or "crossbar", are actually quite advantageous for winter biking. I recall the first time I hit a patch of black ice with this bike on a dark night: it all happened in a blur, and miraculously I found myself standing nonchalantly with the bike neatly lying on its side next to me. Because of the low frame, my legs automatically cleared the bike as it slid away below, instead of taking me with it. Even for less dramatic mishaps, the feeling of having less of an obstruction under you can give added confidence on treacherous roads. However, while intentionally choosing a small frame may suit some people, note how the seat post length has to be exaggerated to compensate, which is not recommended for heavier riders. Alternatively, step-through or "mixte" style road bicycles or modern hybrid/mountain bikes with sloping geometry can provide the same benefits.
Finally, the big question is, should you use studded tires? You can find in-depth breakdowns of this topic elsewhere online, but a worthwhile consideration is that although "winter biking" can conjure a mental image of splashing through a snowstorm in February, the more common hazards are the ones that persist from late fall to early spring, including intermittent patches of black ice and rutty, thawed-and-refrozen roads. Here, studs really make a difference, as they work by biting into the ice to provide an increase in traction, and also penetrate through softer frozen layers to make contact with the road surface underneath. On the other hand, studs can't actually do much in deep snow or packed slush that slide about without providing the needed resistance.