Winter cycling: why installing the right tires is essential

November 27, 2014

If you're an avid cyclist, but fear winter's slick roads, change your tires. When it comes to winter cycling, here's why installing the right tires is essential to riding more confidently and having more fun.
If you've ever ridden your bicycle in winter conditions, you know the most important accessory is your tires. They keep you on the road, prevent you from slipping in tight turns, and enable you to get safely from point A to point B.

To ensure your safety and the performance of your bicycle in winter, there are some basic things to consider that will help you ride more confidently and have more fun:

Tire pressure: over or underinflated?

If your tire is very hard or overinflated, you’ll expend less energy peddling forward especially in the snow, slush and on dry pavement. The downside is you’ll lose traction on slippery or icy surfaces. In snowy conditions, an underinflated tire is much more effective because more of the tread is in contact with the road surface.

Tires: wider or thinner?

You may assume that you’d be better off with wider tires, such as mountain bike tires, to grip slippery surfaces. A wider tire provides good grip and a better bite, which is very handy.

However, thin tires, like those on city bikes, have a big advantage: they literally cut right through the snow, making it easier to clear a path to move forward more quickly and with less effort. Furthermore, once you’re back on an asphalt surface, you will ride like you do in summer without expending the additional energy required by a wide tire.

Keep in mind that you probably can’t outfit your city bike with knobby mountain bike tires.

Spiked or studded tires?

If you frequently ride on icy surfaces, or you are particularly nervous when you ride, studded tires are the way to go. Unfortunately, their useful effects stop there. Some disadvantages include the fact they are noisy, slippery on dry pavement and unnecessary in snow. They are also more expensive that other tires.

Tire spikes, meanwhile, are useful and won’t slow you down. The ideal tire is thin with spikes, such as cyclocross tires, which are built for racing on mixed terrain including road, mountain, mud and grass. They offer the best of both worlds, and are why installing the right tires is essential for your safety and enjoyment of the sport.

One last piece of advice: avoid buying a high-end performance bike for winter. The rust and calcium damage will quickly take its toll. Instead of dropping $2000 on a bike, invest in a good set of winter tires. The peace of mind that goes with being ready for winter's worst road conditions means you'll spend less time fretting about safety and more time enjoying your ride.

Winter cycling: why installing the right tires is essential
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