riding in snow and ice

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by braindigitalis, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. braindigitalis

    braindigitalis Wet weather sucks!

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    Hi all,

    That time of year looms upon us once more where the white stuff appears and causes us issues with riding ;-)

    Everyone i speak to says to avoid snow on a bike, and this is common sense, however it's still good to know what to do if youre caught out in it -- you can hardly leave the bike parked up 15 miles from home, in a dodgy neighbourhood and then catch the bus home, right?

    So, i'm after general tips and advice for coping with snow and ice, beyond the obvious 'slow down, take it easy, keep the revs very low and be prepared to put your feet down, watch where you put them' :-)

    All advice welcome for a relative newbie, with very little fear of the weather on a non-adv bike!
    #1
  2. DAKEZ

    DAKEZ Long timer

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  3. Ceri JC

    Ceri JC UK GSer

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    In the UK, unless you're really out in the sticks, main roads tend to be gritted reasonably well. In my experience, you generally tend to crash either right at the start or end of your journey, when you're on the smaller roads that haven't been gritted at all.

    Studded tyres are great for when the snow is heavy and turning to ice. They're illegal in the UK mind, and even if they weren't, we seldom get enough coverage to warrant them.

    As a get you home measure, snow chains, ideally carried somewhere low down on the bike when not in use are probably the best. Snow chains are hard to come by for motorcycles in the UK, but Nippy Normans (Wunderlich dealer) will be able to sort you out. A few weeks lead time will be needed, mind. I find the biggest danger with them is your own laziness; the temptation to not put them on for "only" half a mile to the gritted main road is immense. The only time I have been pinned under my GS was doing this when I was in a rush. Now I have a rule which is if I'm in any doubt as to fit them or not, I stop and put them on. Only run them on sports touring tyres or things like heindau scouts; anything more knobbly and the chain will tend to fall between the knobs and they become useless.

    Learning to ride offroad will get you used to the bike slithering around and give you more of a chance of identifying when it is going to lose grip and also how to go about saving it when it does go.

    Bar muffs are essential, heated grips are nice and a bit of duct tape round your levers makes them a bit less cold to touch.

    Don't be afraid to ride with your feet out as "outriggers" when it's icy. It looks stupid, but if you don't do it, you have to have faster reactions to dab a foot down to save it when it starts to go.

    Make sure you stay warm; when you're cold your reactions slow and your finesse on the levers is lost. Both lethal in poor conditions!

    Good luck :)
    #3
  4. windmill

    windmill Long timer

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    All depends on you and the conditions,

    Some conditions like fresh dry snow you'll be fine on regular street tires, typical conditions like compact snow you'll need some traction enhancement like snow tires or studs, knobbies work best in wet slush, really bad conditions like fresh snow on compact snow or ice, or frozen hard slush will require chains or ice screws.
    My solution is a 2wd Ural, studded tire, chains if needed, and lots of practice. Snow riding has become my favorite type of recreational riding.

    Riding in snow is doable and fun if you are properly prepared for the conditions and learn how to do it in a safe place before doing it around other vehicles .It's not something to be done casually.

    [​IMG]
    #4
  5. SnowMule

    SnowMule [angry moth noises]

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    "No such thing as bad weather, just inadequate gear." :deal

    Tire studs are for real. :nod

    [​IMG]
    #5
  6. Smoke Eater 3

    Smoke Eater 3 Been here awhile

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    Has anyone found a good cold weather tire? One that stays flexible when it's cold out. That's why studless car tires work so well. The outer layer of rubber is more pliable on cold asphalt. I'm hoping to find something like Bridgestone Blizzaks for my bike.
    #6
  7. randyo

    randyo Long timer

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    yep, studded Karoo in front, 205-50-17 General Altimax Arctic (not studded) in back

    Darkside is the way to go, an experiment that was successful beyond my wildest expectations

    there is absolutely no weather I won't ride in

    I not only make headway, I travel at the same speeds or faster than I would with my Jeep Cherokee
    #7
  8. MrBob

    MrBob Out there

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    You'd be surprised to learn how stable your bike can be in snow. I ride year-round and rule #1 for me is: No Sudden Movements. Keep your movements smooth and gradual and weight centered. There are street bike tires that may work better in the snow but I've personally never noticed much difference. I lower my tire pressure some but not a lot.
    If you stay warm your movements will be smoother and your judgement better.

    [​IMG]
    #8
  9. Fast1

    Fast1 Twisted Throttle

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    Snow/ice riding can offer some excitement on a boring day with aired down off road tires but I'd be more worried about some idiot in a cage sliding into me at a stop light/sign or sliding over the center line on a corner than anything else.

    Hope you use extreme caution for those cages..

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    #9
  10. RRVT

    RRVT Wild and Crazy Guy

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    If you are going to be serious about it, this post has a lot of good information. Like others said, it can be done but how well it will work for you depends on your motorcycle, tires, conditions, experience, etc. But regardless of how good you are, or how good your studded tires are, the danger of falling or getting hit by a car is much greater.

    I rode the last four winters but typically avoid going out when it's icy or snowy for the reason I stated above. I go to work and back, or to the store, but I always wait two nights after a snow fall. By then the roads here in Vermont are salted enough that you can always find a dry spot to ride on. Once I got caught in a snowstorm 15 miles away from home and was surprised how well the bike was doing with a TKC in the front, up to 1 inch of snow. Once it got more slippery, I rode in second gear on the shoulder with my feet stretched out. That went pretty well and I got a lot of cheers and thumb ups from passing cars. There was a scary moment when I was going down a steep hill with a sharp right turn at the bottom and the front brake wasn't slowing the bike enough. I was afraid to lift my leg to use the back brake but I ended up pressing both feet against the road and it slowed me enough that I was able to make the turn without crossing to the opposite lane. I thought I was going to make it home but once the temperature dropped to 27, it started freezing under. I had two pucker moments and I noticed cars sliding and pedestrians wiping out on sidewalks so I parked at the dealer 4 miles away from my house.

    If you ever get stuck in a snow fall, try it for a while, do test braking, and see how it goes. The bike will do better than you would expect but you have to do it the same way hedgehogs need to make love - VERY CAREFULLY. A lot of it is like riding on gravel - read the road and pick the path of least resistance. In the first 30 minutes or so the heat from car tires should leave two tracks that you can ride on, then just be careful with turns and stopping. But I would definitely avoid highways.
    #10
  11. randyo

    randyo Long timer

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    I learned to stay away from tracks, they are many times black ice, while I have my bike setup well enuf that I can ride on ice, its harder to judge changes in surface traction. If its white, the traction is more consistent

    I also disagree with any recomendations to use your feet as outriggers, you are no longer balancing the bike, only take your feet off the pegs the same as you do on dry pavement when you stop

    my experience is not commuting (I work at home) but travelling to various destinations as far as 100 miles away each way during winter storm events, and of course my annual StupidBowl Sunday Kanc Ride

    [​IMG]

    I usually roll my bike to side of road and them put gear on. The most important thing I have learned for winter riding is start warm and dry, do not work up a sweat getting your bike out. Even if I have to go so far as take a shower and dry off after shoveling a path thru the 3 ft deep snowbank the town plows left at the bottom of my driveway

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    when I look out the window and see this, I think, "its always a good day for a ride "
    [​IMG]

    and always meet friendly people along the way

    [​IMG]

    and sometimes just riding over to the pond to have a good time

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    #11
  12. MrBob

    MrBob Out there

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    Yesterday, as I was riding home in a snowfall, I thought of two more survival methods that I use in cold and slippery weather.
    The first, stay away from the front brake. It's okay to use it on dry surfaces but if the back wheel breaks loose you'll still have steering if you keep the front from locking.
    The second is to try to keep the brakes clear by periodically gently applying pressure on them when you don't need them so they're less likely to grab when you do.
    It's all about being smooth.
    #12
  13. dirtyron

    dirtyron never grew up

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    i rode all winter last year rode my daughter to school and back. dam mercedes diesel won't start. dr350, small is good.non dot knobbys. NO sudden movements. cautious as hell. stay warm. the only casualty is it put my daughter off bikes
    #13
  14. braindigitalis

    braindigitalis Wet weather sucks!

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    This one is probably the most important of all! In fact, this one saved my ass and my bike on the way to work a few minutes ago when I had to stop a little faster than I had liked. The back end was lost, completely wagging around like a dogs tail for a good four seconds. Lucky because I was only using the back brakes I was able to recover the bike and stay shiny side up... Ice is scaaaaary! ...but what a rush lol....
    #14
  15. aeneas

    aeneas Adventurer

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    Don't know if there's much more than that :)
    Anyway I'll describe my experience in snow the last years. I'm in Belgium, so pretty similar to you in the UK regarding snow and temperatures, road types and conditions, ..
    I had a Yamaha YBR125 to commute to work, even in snow. (now have an F800R, not sure yet how that will handle).
    So a motorcycle with regular street tyres, driving in city traffic / small part of highway to get home. Usually have to get home when the snow started unexpected and roads haven't been cleaned yet. (the second day the main roads have enough salt on them that snow is not an issue anymore, only the smaller streets are full of ice then).
    This is not about driving a dirt bike with studded tires in open areas with snow and having fun and drifting - it's me getting home on a street bike in in a large city with streets full of cars.

    Most important is to keep your balance. Take corners slow so you don't have to lean into them. When the bike starts to slide when it's a bit sideways it'll go down. I keep my legs extended so my feet are an inch above the ground, to keep my point of gravity lower. A few times I was able to put my feet on the ground and just pull the bike to keep it upright when it started to slide away. Speed on straight streets is 20 to 50km/h, corners are about 10/15 kmh.

    Grip depends of the type of road and the type of snow. Fresh snow usually gives better grip than the grey wet slush you get when cars drive trough it. So then I use the middle of the road, fresh snow. Gives quite good traction and it's possible to accelerate.
    After a night of freezing, this clean snow becames too slippery, then it's usually better to drive on the compacted snow/ice in the lines from car tires.

    Select the streets you take depending on road type, how busy they are, ..
    I have some streets with cobblestones and a sort of tile. Very slippery when it rains, and just impossible to drive on in fresh snow that's crushed by cars. On one of these streets I use a dedicated concrete bicycle path.

    As others said, try to use the back brake, and watch well in advance for cars coming from side streets, bends in the road, .. just let go of the gas in advance, drive smooth. Better to keep driving at a steady slow speed than to accelerate and brake all the time. Your braking distance becomes very long, sometimes you just have to let go of the throttle and let the bike slow down itself without using the brakes at all..
    Especially on a highway in fresh snow you can get good grip, I drive up to 50 to 60 km/h. Sometimes there are less cars on the highway and they drive 80/90 in fresh snow, don't try to keep up.. You can accelerate and drive at that speed, but your brake distance is just too long.

    Starting from stopped (at a traffic light) was usually most problematic. First day with fresh snow it's ok, you have grip. Second day at every traffic light there are ice patches and the back slides away. Be really gentle then with the throttle then..
    #15
  16. Seppo

    Seppo Been here awhile

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    hey fast, looks like we both enjoy our huskys in the snow!

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/-7I7yusfxPo?list=UUL2VzG_6hnpGqJDv8qWWfyA&amp;hl=de_DE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
    #16
  17. Ceri JC

    Ceri JC UK GSer

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    OP, as you're in the UK, don't set your heart on a 2WD Ural; not road legal here (as the sidecar can't be moved over to the 'pavement side') A real shame; I'd be tempted by one for winter rallies if they were.

    As others have said, you can get away with sports touring tyres (even on a sportsbike) if you take it easy and the snow is fresh. I managed 10 miles of (brand new snow) on mostly closed roads up in Scotland on my SV650s.
    #17
  18. PeterW

    PeterW Long timer

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    Snow isn't a real problem until it gets to axle height, then forward progress ceases shortly after.

    Ice is the problem child. I've ridden on ice, my weapon of choice was a low capacity 2-stroke running 2 gears too high - not enough torque to pull the skin off a rice pudding. Until it got really lethal lack of grip wasn't a real issue.

    And go for grip wherever you can find it, the gravel on the centreline that you'd normally avoid, even the rocks sticking out of the frozen gutters.
    It's possible to get through insane stuff if you are prepared to ride slow enough - not that speed itself is a problem, but you need a LOT of room to be able to peel off speed for corners.

    And yeah, not fun at all in traffic.

    Pete
    #18
  19. atomicalex

    atomicalex silly aluminum boxes

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    One common thread I get here is that the best way to ride in the snow is on a tiny bike.

    Hmmmm. I need to go shopping!
    #19
  20. Ceri JC

    Ceri JC UK GSer

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    I had a 110cc Pit Bike (it was BMX-sized and you ride it standing up, it wasn't one of the really small ones). I had a second set of wheels fitted with knobblies that I snow spiked. Unbelievable how good it was in the snow/ice. The expression on a dog walker's face as I went by with the bike lent over was hilarious. From where they were standing, they probably had no idea it was studded. If it was road legal, it'd be a great ice/snow bike; top speed of about 40mph, but if you're only going through town, that's not a problem and you'd not be going much faster on a big bike when conditions are really bad. The only limiting factor was a lack of grunt on the really steep hills and that the ground clearance ran out quickly in deep snow.

    High maintenance, but who cares if you're only using it for a few days a year? Cheap too; cost me under £500 delivered in a crate, including the cost of the spare wheels and spikes. About 3 hours to assemble and spike it.
    #20