Riding On Snow 101
What happened? Remember the Winters in our past, when we could ride through the winter without any super cold days . . . or snow? Those days seem to be in our rear window now. Instead of bemoaning these climatic changes, why not learn how to roll with them? Riding in snowy weather is a great way to enjoy your favorite sport, but in a new way. The key to having fun on snowy trails is to learn the techniques – which are different from daily trail riding – that you’ll need to master.
For normal trail riding, having your bike’s tires at the right pressure is important for ride quality & grip. But for riding in the snow, you literally cannot ride unless your tires are low. It’s all about floatation. If you don’t spread your body weight over tires with a larger contact patch, they’ll sink deeply into the snow & then it’s amen to you being able to steer or move forward & maintain your momentum.
Before starting your ride, air your tires down significantly. For instance: I weigh 210 & with the 2.6” front tire on my bike, I air it down until it’s a bit “mushy,” as low as 12-15psi. Yes. You read that right. In the rear, where more of my weight is centered, I go down to around 15-18psi. Don’t try riding on the regular, non-snowy, trail at these pressures. The tires will fold over or grab as you try to turn. But, on snow, they’ll do just fine.
Just Riding Along:
With your tires aired down to low pressures, head into the snow. Try to start-off on a descent, flat area or under a tree where snow depths have tapered off. The reason for this is that riding in the snow requires momentum. It’s much harder to start from a dead stop in deep snow. Once you get going, stay in a low/mid-range gear, where you’re spinning many rpm’s. Riding in the snow is about spinning your tires quickly, so that you’re constantly moving forward.
Body position for snow riding is even more important than riding on a dry trail. You’ll want to keep the bulk of your weight just a few inches in front of the rear tire. Keeping minimal weight off the front of the bike helps to prevent the front tire from bogging-down into the snow that it’s try to push through or over. The tire’s low pressure will help, but keeping your weight back is critical because it also prevents you from steering too rapidly. When in snow, you must learn to steer in slow, wide, mellow arcs. Steering in herky-jerky movements, leaning into the corner or weighting the bike’s front-end too much will all result in a “rider down” situation. Think of watching skiers in fresh deep snow, snaking in wide half moons down a mountainside. This is how you need to move while riding in the snow.
It’s inevitable. People begin to ride in a new way or in a new environment, & the mods for that type of riding follow. Snow riding has been around for a long time in regions further north. Here are some mods that riders have already proven to work.
Zip Ties: You can make your own tire “chains” by wrapping zip ties around your tire/rim, between each spoke. The zips should be snug, but not super tight. Remember: the tire must be allowed to flex & move a little bit or it’ll snap.
Studded Tires: Studded bike tires are available. They’ve been shown to work well in icy & snowy conditions. Remember that studs only work on packed snow & ice, consequently, there are not a lot of instances or locations where studs will work. Even most trails are covered in snow that isn’t packed-hard from use.
Screws Through Tires: If you’re a home mechanic, making your own “studded” tires is a possibility. Grab a load of sheet metal screws & go to town screwing them through your tires. Run them from inside your tires to the outside. You’ll need to use a tube (tubeless will likely not work) Also, you’ll need a liner of some kind between the screw heads & the tube. I did this with a few buddies in Utah, back in the day. We cut a tube open, like a filet & pushed it around the inside of the circumference before putting in the tube. It was a LOT of work.
The key with snow riding is to get out & enjoy our trails in a new way. Just like riding a familiar trail at night, riding on a snowy day is a new experience & a new way to have fun. So, gear up & get out there.