Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cycling in Sticky Snow: Speed and Funky Fenders

This morning's ride was quite difficult since there was quite a lot of what I've heard some people call "shortbread" snow on all but the busiest streets. "Shortbread" seems pretty apt to me... it is kind of soft and squishy and sticky but not at all wet. Part of the fun of riding in winter, at least for me, is rising to the challenges and learning how to ride better in somewhat ugly conditions, so overall this morning's commute was great.

I wanted to write about this shortbread kind of snow that sticks easily in between the knobs on your tires and on just about anything else it hits. This kind of snow may be one of the best arguments for thinner tires in winter since they would be less likely to get gummed up. I currently use "standard" 1.9 inch MTB tires. They are Schwalbe Snow Studs and they have been fine for several years. The knobs have worn down enough now that sticky snow represents more of a problem than it used to. This morning a couple of things occurred to me that I wanted to mention.

If you have to stop for some reason while riding in the sticky stuff, your tire treads may be full of snow. Resuming riding can be tough, because you need some speed for centrifugal force to throw that sticky snow away and give you some grip back. If you can find a bare spot, even on the wrong side of the road, go to it if it is safe to do so. The small amount of speed it will offer may well clear your tires so they can better handle the next serving of shortbread.

Speaking of throwing snow out of your treads, fenders that are a real boon in the wet can be a real curse in the shortbread. Since my winter ride is a snow-specific Mutant, the fenders are set up in a way that might look wrong, but they work just right in my opinion.

The Front

I originally attached the fender in this funky way because it wouldn't work well with the disc brakes. I think something snapped off of it at one point too and that's when I zip tied that other stay to the fork. As a result, the fender shakes and rattles around quite a bit. Some might find that highly annoying, but the up side is that snow can't stick to it for long!

The Rear

One down side to this shorty fender setup is that it doesn't really protect the bike from the usual upward spray of the rear tire very well. I've always meant to add a bit of metal or something to it to push it back further while still allowing me to attach it to the rear bridge. Thankfully the 2nd best tub in town is there to block any spray until I get around to it.

If the colour of the pics is puzzling you, it is the result of some amber/pink lighting where I work. I didn't sepia tone pictures of my dirty mutant. That would be weird.

I know that designing a bike for such specific conditions is overkill for most people. I also know that many people would prefer a nice looking, attractive bicycle rather than this thing. The last thing I know is that this bike throws off the shortbread like nobody's business and never suffers from buildup under the fenders. Yeeeehawww! 

Thanks for reading! It feels good to write about cycling again, almost as good as cycling itself. Almost. Yer Pal, 


Jon said...

I have a similar bike set up for snow, with two sets of wheels. One set has 26x1.9 studded tires, and the other has 700x35c studded tires.

I am finding that I like the 35c tires a lot in the kind of snow you are talking about.

Oldfool said...

I have experience with snow but not for many years. I'm salting all this info away for future reference. The way things are going in the "global warming" we may be having snow here in the near future.

John Romeo Alpha said...

It's been soooooo long since I rode in stuff like that, I'm sure I would go the same route as you PLUS adding those mits that mount at the end of the bars in a semi-futile effort to stay warm.

RANTWICK said...

Jon - I knew it! My next winter bike (probably years away right now) will probably feature more narrow tires. Your method is great, but I'm too lazy and too often late for work to be switching wheelsets. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Oldfool - Something tells me you have salted away a great many pieces of obscure knowledge... I'll bet they come in handy more often than one might guess!

JRA - It really isn't that hard to stay warm, I swear. I've never used pogies, but I'll bet they could have prevented some achy fingers when I've gone with the wrong gloves.

GhostRider said...


I've heard that spraying the insides of the fenders with non-stick cooking spray (Pam or the like...I am unfamiliar with Canadian equivalents) will help keep the "shortbread" from sticking in there.

Then again, my recollection is pretty foggy; after all, what the HELL does a Florida resident know about snow?!?

RANTWICK said...

Hey, thanks for swingin' by on your big day! We have PAM and other no-name varieties of it. I'm hard pressed to lube my chain often enough, let alone my fenders!

Good tip though, especially for non-mutant riding snow goers. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I was going to go the fender route, but I opted for an Epic Design's Super Twinkie. It doesn't build up snow and you can carry lots of work crapola.

JAT in Seattle said...

the single stay fender cracks me up. When I got a disc braked commuter I struggled - i even bought some 0.125" stainless steel rod for byzantine replacement stays, but the owner of the local co-op bike shop (Charles at Wright Bros) took one look and sold me a pair of long bolts and hollow aluminum barrels (~3cm long to hold the eyelet part of the fender stay clear of the disc mechanism. The long bolts go through the stay through the middle of the aluminum spacer and into the drop-out eyelets. The stays also give the benefit of protecting the brakes from bashing contact with bike racks. I worry a little that in a crash the longer moment arm of the longer bolt might rip the eylet right off the frame, so I just avoid crashing...

RANTWICK said...

JAT - Yeah, that nonsense is worth a chuckle I think. I strongly recommend that you stick with that not crashing plan.

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