Most of us love a good ride when it’s warm and sunny. But there are those of us who are cut from a different cloth—some of us who actually prefer the winter. And I’m one of them. Call me crazy, but I love the feeling of a snowflake on the tip of my nose. There is something magical about taking your fixie out on a snowy ride. But is it safe to ride a fixed gear bike in the snow?
Riding a fixed gear bike in the snow is safe because your feet are directly attached to the drivetrain. This provides ultimate control in slippery situations. And the minimal parts on a fixed gear are less likely to become corrosive and unresponsive as oppose to other bikes. But there are a lot of safety considerations you must be aware of.
But what makes a fixie superior to other bikes in the snow? How can you prepare for snowy conditions? And what hazards should you be aware of when riding a fixed gear bike in the snow? Let’s discuss.
Is it normal to ride a fixed gear bike in the snow?
There’s a certain thrill to sliding along a snowy road on a bike. The weather might be freezing, and it might not be as comfortable as cycling at other times of the year, but there’s no way I would trade my cycling commute for anything. I love riding my fixed gear bike in the snow. I’m sure sometimes people think I’m nuts, but I often come across other cyclists on snowy days, so I’m not alone.
Here in New York City, we have pretty hardcore winters, but the riding never stops. Some of the most bike-friendly cities are also known for their unforgiving winters. Take Minneapolis, MN, Madison, WI, and Vancouver, BC, for instance. These cities have year-long cycling, rain or shine, snow or otherwise. In Sweden, cycling is often the most popular way to get around, even during the coldest winters. Another Nordic country, Denmark, is famous for its passionate cyclists. Even when it snows, the people of Denmark still mount up. Shouldn’t you?
Want to see a real snow cyclist in action? take a look at this video below. This guy goes to battle with the elements.
Preparing to Ride a Fixed Gear Bike in The Snow?
If you have ever ridden your fixed gear bike in the snow, you know how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected. It’s not just the road conditions you need to watch out for; there’s also other commuters, cars, trucks, and buses, all of which can easily skid on snow or ice. And if a vehicle skids right behind you, you better believe it’s coming at you at full force with no chance of slowing down.
Wear the Right Clothing for Riding in The Snow
If you plan on riding in the snow, make sure you dress appropriately. Exposed skin can be really painful when riding a fixed gear bike in the snow. That windchill will make you wish you took a cab, so bundle up!
You will definitely need a pair of gloves. This is an absolute must. A pair of sunglasses is recommended, as they protect you from sun glare and howling winter winds. Consider picking up a cap or headband that can fit underneath your helmet to keep your ears warm. Thermals are great because they provide an extra layer of warmth without being a too bulky. One thing I’ve found that helps is wearing padded cycling shorts underneath my pants, leggings, or whatever I choose to wear. They give an extra layer of padding and heat-retention, keeping everything warm.
Prepare Your Bikes Tires for Riding in The Snow
Just as you would opt for winter boots to protect your feet when walking in the snow, equipping your bike with winter tires makes a big difference with regards to traction. Of course, No tire will help you if you hit black ice, but on snow, a pair of studded or knobbly winter tires will keep your wheel from skidding while riding your fixed gear bike in the snow. You can even find some winter tires available with metal studs built right in, which provide far better traction on icy surfaces.
No tire will help you if you hit black ice, but on snow, a pair of studded or knobbly winter tires will keep your wheel from skidding
This post form They are a little expensive, but if you got the cash, they are worth checking out. If you have already equipped your fixie with some winter-friendly studded wheels and want to DIY the process, check The Ultimate Guide to Winter Bike Tires and Studded Tires from Icebike.org. A word of warning, though, they’re not very effective on wet roads, they only work well on snowy woads, so you’ll want to switch them out if there’s no snow.
You can even make your own studded tires with zip-ties. Wired.com has a short post on how to treat your bicycle tires with zip ties that’s worth checking out. Word of Caution though. This will only work with fixed gear bikes, not single speed bikes. Reason being that the front caliper brake will obstruct the zip ties. So for this to work, you’ll need to remove. Proceed with caution!
But does it really work? Well, that’s up to debate. I never actually tried the whole zip tie thing, but, I did find this video that proves it to be a bust. To be fair, they did not try this on a fixie, and they were on the road, not on the snow, and they admitted to not properly zip tying the wheels, so hey, maybe it will work for you.
Oh, and don’t forget to release some of the air pressure in your tires. Doing so will create a larger surface area between the tire and road, providing even better traction.
Additional Gear for Riding a Fixed Gear Bike in The Snow.
If your going to be riding you fenders highly as winter streets are usually gushy and wet. And there’s nothing worse than having gritty, salty road-water soaked pants.
It should go without saying, but don’t forget a decent set of lights. It gets darker faster in the winter. And it’s much harder to see a cyclist on the road when it’s snowing. So Make sure to have a powerful tail light to avoid getting plowed down.
And get some studded pedals.
Dealing with Mechanical Hazards
Your bike’s subject to a lot more wear-and-tear in the winter than any other season. Most municipalities counter sleet, snow, or ice with the ever-trusty salt or sand, or a combo of both sometimes, to make roads safer. Unfortunately, both sand and salt are hazardous for your bike.
Salt is highly corrosive, and because of the small size of the particles, it has a habit of getting into even the smallest of spaces (think any moving part, wheel hubs, brake calipers, etc.), which can become corroded if left untreated. And sand isn’t much better, as it can cause excessive friction and grind away at moving parts on your bike. It’s even worse for those riding with dérailleurs, as the sprockets can easily become clogged by salt or sand. This can lead to further damage to gear cables and shifters, which can also become stiff and unresponsive in frigid weather.
Fortunately, fixed gear bikes are minimalist by design, meaning we have fewer parts to maintain and worry about. So you can ride your fixed gear bike in the snow and not have to worry too much about corrosive parts.
Why You Should Ride a Fixed-Gear in The Winter: Fewer Parts
As mentioned, fixed-gear bikes have a minimalist design in terms of gears and other moving parts. That’s why a fixie wins hands down when it comes to winter riding. With a single chain, only two sprockets, pedals, and handlebars, there’s little to go wrong or be affected by the salt or sand, as described previously. You’ll save a load of time on cleaning and maintenance with a fixed-gear bike in the snow. Just make sure to keep your chain well lubricated, and your eyes peeled, and you’re good to go!
How to Brake when Riding a Fixed Gear Bike in The Snow?
Those who have experienced riding a fixed-gear bike know that stopping can be something of a nightmare until you get the hang of it. So, what’s the trick? Anyone who has driven a car in slippery road conditions might have heard of or tired engine braking. Engine braking is achieved by decreasing the speed of the vehicle by shifting down gears.
This is more effective than simply using the vehicle’s disc brakes to slow down. The main benefit is – greater control, and that’s important in bad weather conditions. Reducing engine speed to brake can help prevent locking the wheels, which is a common problem when using the brakes to slow the vehicle in slippery conditions. You maintain better traction and greater control of the vehicle.
What does this have to do with riding a fixed-gear bike? Well, it’s the only design of a bike that allows you to stop without applying the brakes. And when riding in the winter, this has a lot of benefits. You’re more likely to stay mounted and not have the bike shoot out from under you. Slowing your pedaling speed slows the bike, allowing you to maintain traction and control without using the brakes—the same as using engine braking in a car or other vehicles.
So, a fixed-gear bike is totally safer for winter riding, especially when road conditions are slippery.
Riding your fixed gear bike in the snow can be enjoyable, convenient, and safe, You just have to do it right. So, when it comes to riding in the winter, not only can you ride a fixed-gear bike, but it might just be your safest option.